Originally I was just going to do a top ten and be done with it. I got my ten selected, took a look, and thought about how much music got left off. It isn’t 20-11’s fault that so much great music came out this year, so why punish them? Last year I separated things into lists for local bands and national acts. This year I’ve made it all-inclusive. You’ll notice some great Chicago acts as well as a few more mainstream albums.
You’ll also notice that almost all of the albums in part one had songs featured in my Top 30 Tracks Of 2011. These aren’t in the top ten, so they remained eligible.
20. Wolfgang Jay–And We Move
One of my favorite discoveries of this year was Wolfgang Jay, a local Chicago band that mixes fun dance music with Depeche Mode-type moodiness. On top of putting out a really solid debut album, their live show is a lot of fun. The one I saw featured awesome performances of songs like “One Piece At A Time,” as well as covers of Duran Duran and Chk Chk Chk.
19. Abigail Washburn–City Of Refuge
This was one of the very first albums I reviewed for this site, and as such it will always hold a special place for me. The fact that it’s some of the best music I heard all year is just a bonus. Of all the albums that I’ve spun over the last twelve months, this one is easily in the most listened category. It’s never over-complicated, so you can just sit back and enjoy everything it has to offer. Great rootsy americana music.
18. The Vaccines–What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?
When this album came out, I tried to make the argument that it should win the Barclaycard Mercury Prize. Apparently the voters don’t read the site, because the award went to PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake. While I couldn’t make it through Harvey’s album once, I’ve listened to this Vaccines record easily a hundred times. They’re picking up where bands like Franz Ferdinand and The Cribs left off.
17. The Mountain Goats–All Eternals Deck
John Darnielle has written some of the greatest albums of the last twenty years. As such, he is a little cursed by having every new album compared to his previous work. Is All Eternals Deck as good as The Sunset Tree or Tallahassee? No. Is it better than 99% of the music that gets put out these days? Absolutely.
16. Childish Gambino–Camp
In a year where most of the heavywights of hip-hop either misfired or didn’t release anything, it was up to indie kids like Donald Glover to keep things going. This album dropped the same day as Drake’s newest LP, and while Take Care showed what can go wrong with a record filled with sincere emotion and self-analyzing, Gambino showed what can go right.
15. Dastardly–May You Never
One of my absolute favorite Chicago bands over the past year. They play country music on this album, but it isn’t the country music you hear by Toby Keith or Shania Twain. It’s more like the music you hear by Hank WIlliams or Jimmie Rodgers. It’s got modern touches, of course-like a lot of cursing, but mainly it’s just old-fashioned and amazing.
14. Ezra Furman and the Harpoons–Mysterious Power
Another Chicago act that has sadly taken to San Francisco for a while. This album came out in April and includes some of the finest songwriting I heard this year. The song “Mysterious Power” made the top ten on my Top Tracks this year, and I probably could have included a couple other gems off this one, like “Blood Sucking Whore” or “Don’t Turn Your Back On Love.”
13. Tom Waits–Bad As Me
There isn’t anything I can say about Tom Waits that hasn’t already been said. His newest release proves that after 4 decades of great work, he can still get it done with the best of them. If you haven’t opened yourself up to the power of Waits, the time is now.
12. Frank Ocean–Nostalgia, Ultra
If you had told me six months ago that someone from the Odd Future group would make my top twenty albums, I would have assumed that it must be Tyler the Creator’s Goblin. After strong work on Watch The Throne, I heard Ocean’s free-flowing solo debut. It’s a great batch of songs that proves how well sampling can work when done correctly.
11. The Felice Brothers–Celebration, Florida
With their latest record, The Felice Brothers have really embraced their unique sound and created something unlike any other album released this year. It’s equal parts haunting, rocking, and bizarre at times, while also being deeply personal and sometimes spiritual. James and Ian both do a great job vocally, and Christmas Clapton gets into it a bit more on this one. Great band who hopefully get some much-deserved recognition for this.