The Top 30 Albums of 2011

We realize that everyone and at least 2 of their cousins does a year-end “Best-Of” list but we wanted to make the unique voice that is Weeping Elvis heard.

It was a bit like herding cats to get our votes in as we laboriously and tenderly burned up iTunes and Spotify until the very last second. We, the six editors of Weeping Elvis, along with fourteen other music industry pros and listeners of discriminating taste, picked our favorites to come up with what we feel is a great representation of a good year in music. We tabulated votes on up to thirty of each individual’s favorite albums of the year, with their favorite album receiving the highest possible number of points.  We certainly had difficulty with the math but with the help of the Schoolhouse Rocks multiplication table songs and that new math they are teaching these days we got it done .

Love us for reaffirming your choices…curse us for leaving off your favorite…revile us for what you say is “such an obvious choice”.  But use this list to expand your musical taste a bit and dig something new. And by all means let us hear from you with comments “yay” or “nay”.

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30) Dum Dum Girls - Only In Dreams
Do you like retro-chic goth chicas who combine the girliness of The Ronettes, vocals reminiscent of Throwing Muses, and the dreamy mysteriousness of Hope Sandoval?  Do you like it with an occasional nostalgic dollop of surfrider guitar? Of course you do…especially in your dreams.  –BEHRNSIE

 

29) The Joy Formidable - The Big Roar
In sheer decibel output over pounds per square inch, The Joy Formidable is the equivalent of strapping a rocket engine to a Go-Kart. Who knew a girl who looks like a Final Fantasy character could make that much awesome noise? The Big Roar is the most-aptly titled album since Sugar Ray’s 14:59.  – JEEVES

 


28) Cults Cults
From their 2010 inception to their delivery of one of 2011’s best debut albums, Cults didn’t just hit the ground running, they took flight like a Harrier Jet. Lilting, melodic, and catchy as all get out. If you’re absentmindedly humming a song while going about your day, and you own a fixed-speed bicycle and donate to NPR, chances are it’s a song by these Manhattanites.- JEEVES

 

27) The Strokes Angles
In 2001, The Strokes and The White Stripes roared onto the scene and helped to save Rock-n-Roll from Diet Grunge bands like Silverchair, restoring swagger, sexiness, and sass to a faux-flannel rock genre in dire need of it. A decade later, they came back after an extended absence (and rumors of their demise) with Angles, their best record since their debut Is This It—signaling to the New York hipster scene that they spawned that they are back to reclaim the indie rock crown from cute, cuddly, twee Brooklyn scenesters who have done their best to bleed the genre of any semblance of urgency and danger. On infectious 80s-inspired pop gems like “Under Cover of Darkness,” “Machu Piccu,” and “Taken for a Fool,” they resurrect the attitude and angular dual guitar attack that put them on the map. But don’t let the cheesy 80s Rubix Cube cover art fool you—this is no mere retro record. It is a path to the future for indie rock. – HUEY

 

26) Fucked Up - David Comes To Life
The “rock opera” format rides again in this unconventional version of what Tommy and American Idiot begot. Some might say Fucked Up is just a solid rock band but after hearing this opus, I check myself by it anytime I say that something is “punk” as this band TRULY is. – CLEM

 

 

25) Beirut - The Rip Tide
Some music puts people in “the mood”.  Some music conjures up visions of gypsy girl fights waged in the presence of Commander Bond.  Beirut somehow pulls off both while serving up songs that would contend for the honor of being the last song played at Indie Rock Prom.  – BEHRNSIE

 

 

24) The Weeknd - House Of Balloons
One of my darker memories is being repetitively subjected to a smooth jazz station when I would head out with a photog to cover stories for the local NBC affiliate in high school. Suffice to say, it has to be a pretty remarkable piece of music for me to warmly embrace anything related to R&B.  Somehow, Abel Tesfaye’s crooning has managed to conquer those unhappy memories and a strong aversion to songs that drop the word “niggaz”.

So, yeah, this isn’t my usual ball of yarn. I’m just not an R&B guy. (Of course, according to Wikipedia The Weeknd’s music is “Unclassifiable”.)  However, I do love the ethereal nature of Massive Attack, Portishead, and related artists.  Somehow, this album takes that trip-hop sensibility, creates an atmosphere of suspense and forboding, and fuses it with soulful songs of longing in the loins.  - BEHRNSIE

23) TV On The RadioNine Types Of Light
Sophisticated, lush, driving are all words that coming to mind to describe the fourth, and probably most accessible album from Brooklyn’s TVOR. - FERRISE

 

 

22) Elbow - Build A Rocket Boys
Guy Harvey and Co. build a lush, beautiful tapestry of sound and song that slowly grows, rises and peaks like Ravel’s “Bolero”. The vocals and arrangements would make So and early Genesis-era Peter Gabriel proud on this eminently musical, moving piece of ear candy. – CLEM

 

 

21) Wild Flag - Wild Flag
“Hey let’s put a band together” is a phrase uttered by many the start-up musician but when you’re Carrie Brownstein of Portlandia / Sleater-Kinney fame and Janet Weiss also of SK and who also contributed to Stephen Malkmus’ and Conner Oberst’s work, it’s a statement taken a lot more seriously. This raucous, eponymous, inaugural effort feels like a later release from an established act. It’s pop/punkish beats, solid guitar work and emotionally charged vocals make this the album The Bangles always dreamed they could have made. Along with Warpaint, Wildflag claims a top spot on the list of really great new bands that just happen to be made up of women. - CLEM

 


20) Foster The People - Torches
After catching them at Sasquatch in May and having the song that was everywhere like Superman (“Pumped Up Kicks”) constantly thrust upon me, I preminisced these young hipsters a breakout act (me a and every other musical pundit)…their crowd at Lollapalooza, strong sales and practically every cut on this album being everywhere proved us all right. While not necessarily The White Album, it’s a great collection of pop records all the same. It even “has a good beat…I’ll give it an 8 Dick!”  – CLEM

 

19) Girls - Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
Indie rock, by way of San Francisco, with a mostly wistful sensibility evoking The Zombies or The Beach Boys, but without tipping their hand to the point of aping someone else’s sound. “Die” is a stand out track, from songwriter Christopher Owens, which has an epic, 70′s rock feel.- FERRISE

 

 


18) Yuck - Yuck
The year’s most ironic band and album name, while not quite as lo-fi, definitely smacks of Pavement and as it doesn’t seem we are going to get anything new from them this fills the void nicely. But don’t get me wrong, it completely stands on it’s own. If there is such a thing as chill alt-rock this is it but it is not without it’s undercurrent of passionate emotional drive. A really great listen.- CLEM

 

17) Tom Waits - Bad As Me
Tom Waits is arguably America’s second greatest living songwriter. Not unlike our greatest living songwriter (spoiler alert—it’s still Bob Dylan), Waits refuses to go gently into that dark night, releasing some of the most poignant, compelling, and important work of his career after his 60th birthday. Unlike Mr. Dylan, however, Waits’ voice is still up for the task—on Bad As Me, his trademark raspy, warbled growl perfectly suits the wizened, darkly comic material, sounding more than ever like honey poured atop the rusted shards of torn up railroad tracks.

With Keith Richards weaving in soulful licks on much of the record, Waits takes us on a guided tour of the American Songbook’s weird, seedy underbelly.  All the while, he bellows like a carnival barker, compelling us to hop on our feet at sunset and dance, hop in a car at sunrise and drive, and in between, hop into a bottle of fairground bourbon and steep—because as “the last leaf on the tree,” he knows that “the only way down from the gallows is to swing.”  – HUEY

 


16) The Civil Wars - Barton Hollow
After languishing in the unseen parts of the Nashville record biz, this duo launches a gem of their own on the good ole boys/powers that be. It’s part folk, a dose of the good country, a nice dollop Americana, and that acoustic sound I can’t get enough of. There’s some really great songwriting to boot. But mostly it’s just gorgeous to listen to. – CLEM

 

 

15) PJ Harvey - Let England Shake
As far as concept albums go, the horror of World War One is hardly de rigueur subject matter for the modern rock genre. Only PJ Harvey could pull off such a daunting and epic project and make it not only relevant for modern listeners, but vital. Set to haunting, angelic melodies reminiscent of Kurt Weil, Patti Smith, and even Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues,” Let England Shake is sweeping, violent, and raw. Amid choral grandeur, Ms. Harvey brilliantly and beautifully exposes the notion that war is glorious as nothing but a timeless lie.  – HUEY

 

14) Lykke Li - Wounded Rhymes
Perhaps the most aptly titled album of the year, an aura of wistful melancholy surrounds Ms. Li’s departure from the sparser arrangements found on her debut album.  Throughout, one gets the sense that she’s surprised by another’s misanthropy, more so because of an idealistic youthful innocence that she doesn’t want to admit has been shattered than by the nature of the treatment itself.  Her lyrics and music connect seamlessly and symbolically to expose her longing for purity and a desire to think the best of others while at the same time feeling a magnetic connection to her debasement.  These are contradictory ideas, for sure, but the complex rhythms and melodies found on her sophomore release are a fitting complement to the Stockholm Syndrome this Swedish chanteuse seemingly embraces. Sadness may be her boyfriend, but she revels in the relationship in a way that doesn’t once feel tedious.  -  BEHRNSIE

 


13) Dawes - Nothing Is Wrong
The Laurel Canyon sound of the ‘70′s is alive and well in this emotionally chill yet musically exciting act. At times I swear I have gotten in Mr. Peabody’s “Way-Back” machine and landed at a Jackson Brown/Karla Bonoff/Eagles triple bill on The Sunset Strip circa 1979.  – CLEM

 

 

12) Foo Fighters - Wasting Light
This is the disc with which the Foos solidified their place in a now exceedingly rare category: American-bred stadium rock acts. Sure, you might be able to throw Pearl Jam and the Dave Matthews Band in there with them, but PJ and DMB will always have a more niche appeal than the capital-R Rock of Dave Grohl & Co, which seems to transcend taste and genre. Recorded in Dave’s garage, this disc might not have as many lapel-grabbing singles as past efforts, but it’s arguably their most cohesive listen. Nearly everything here works, from the proto metal of “White Limo” to the light and shade of album’s hidden gem, “One of These Days,” which lulls you with a quiet, arpeggiated verse, before blasting off with a fist pumper of a refrain.  – SIR DUKE

Pat Smear back in the band, and a track with Bob Mould; what’s not to love? – FERRISE

 


11) M83 - Hurry Up We’re Dreaming
The digital reverb units are earning their overtime pay on this one (maybe they are more popular and work cheaper in France) but this lush even beautiful double-album of anthemic, expansive and grooving songs is a sheer joy to listen to!  – CLEM

 

 

10) Ryan Adams - Ashes and Fire
Admit it—after 13 albums in 11 years, every time you hear about a new Ryan Adams release, there’s a part of you that inevitably asks “does the world really need another Ryan Adams record so soon”?  After listening to Ashes & Fire, you’ll never ask that question again.

This prayerful collection of broken heart ballads recalls vintage Gram Parsons, with high, lilting vocals that float into the fragile dawn. The delicate guitar work, lap steel, and backing vocals and piano (from guests Norah Jones and Benmont Tench) are masterfully captured by master producer Glyn Johns. This is Adams at his most remorseful, yet hopeful: a man awakening from wages of addiction and indifference, still somehow believing in love and redemption, praying for one day’s break from the weight of his own mistakes.  – HUEY

 


9) R.E.M. - Collapse Into Now
Remember how happy you were when Monster came out and R.E.M. returned to rock? This is that. Again. – JEEVES

Their best album since Bill Berry left the band. Solid and at times magical offering that in hindsight give clues to their impending break up. Leaving on a high note.  – FERRISE

 


8 ) Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
Vocals have not sounded like this since The Beach Boys made their Pet Sounds, CSNY saw thru “Suite Judy Blue Eyes” and Yes brought us Close To The Edge. Some say the last thing we need is another hippie, folksy band from the Pacific Northwest. Well I’ll take it all day long and then some. Are they a TRUE folk band as The Grammys might have us think? Well, not to me but whatever they are, these are “Blues” that I am gladly willing to have.- CLEM

 

7) Radiohead - The King of Limbs
Since the ‘90s, we’ve known that Radiohead simply operates on a different plane than the rest of us.  They continue to upend expectations and usurp the powers traditionally reserved for record companies by putting out record after record that can only be characterized as what it is….art.  Many hated Kid A when it was initially released, and TKOL wasn’t exactly warmly embraced, either. But, its intricate composition and non-traditional form make it worthy of listen after listen.  Also, it serves as a palette for remixing, which again upends convention and offers a level of interactivity that few bands have even contemplated, let alone executed brilliantly.  – BEHRNSIE

 

6) Bon Iver - Bon Iver
The thinking man’s Jack Johnson, Bon Iver continued further honing his niche of simultaneously contradictory music this year. His songs are somberly uplifting, charismatically depressing, hauntingly upbeat, spiritedly melancholy, honestly sensual, and altogether fantastic. His ability to have you feel almost every emotion at the same time, from a single line in song borders on CIA-style manipulation. His chord progressions are delivered with meticulous ease. His harmonies are amazing and unattainable. Whether alone and acoustic, or backed by a 14-piece band, string quartet and a horn section, his music fits into whatever space you need it to. He’s what you’d get if Fiona Apple were Dave Matthews.  – JEEVES

This is first-rate music for people who think Death Cab for Cutie is too loud / too fast / not sufficiently self-involved.  – BEHRNISE

 


5) Adele - 21
Nicely deserved success for such a young artist and bonus points for her songwriting partner, Dan Wilson for “Someone Like You”. He’s formerly of Semisonic, and at 50 is at the high point of his career with Adele. – FERRISE

 

 

4) My Morning Jacket - Circuital
Yeah, “you gotta hear ‘em live!” but this album is awfully damn good. If you must attach a genre moniker “alternative” would be the closest but it is ultimately undefinable. There are somewhat odd “proggy” and southern rock parts in the mix but it all works together for a completely unique and somewhat mystical whole. Maybe a bit simplistic sounding on first listen but further “spins” on the iPod reveal a subtle yet definite harmonic stretching of what the ear wants to hear but without making it inaccessible. We know lead singer/writer Jim James is slightly left of center but that just adds another completely unique facet. Having maybe one of the best drummers in rock doesn’t hurt either.– CLEM

 

3) Wilco - The Whole Love
After its first couple of albums, Wilco could’ve easily settled into a comfortable alt-country groove as indie rock’s twangy Americana darlings. Instead, they embraced a course of continual experimentation and evolution, and they became the embodiment of indie rock street cred, the American equivalent of Radiohead. Not unlike Radiohead or Sonic Youth, not all of their musical frolics and detours were all that, shall we say, melodic.

On The Whole Love, Wilco emerges through the looking glass with a re-calibrated “signal to noise ratio” on its most melodic, earnest, and best album since 2001’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.  Or, as my wife puts it, “more music, less feedback wank.” Despite opening with a 7-minute opus (“Art of Almost”), Jeff Tweedy and his band-mates ease back into their stripped-down, introspective, alt-country roots on songs like the downright sunny “It Dawned on Me,” the quirky but catchy “I Might” and the ragtime ditty “Capitol City.” Tweedy’s voice and lyrics are at their most vulnerable and forlorn on twangy torch songs like “Message from Mid-Bar” (a song title worthy of golden era Merle Haggard or Faron Young!) and the richly harmonic “Open Mind.”

The Whole Love is like an old friend who’s come back from a long trip to someplace strange: after a few beers and a few minutes, you’re reminded how warmly you remember them. Welcome back Wilco, we’ve missed you! – HUEY

 


2) The Black Keys - El Camino
These Nashville transplants by way of Ohio give us circa 60s Soul a la Wilson Picket mixed with Muscle Shoals era Stones.  – SIR DUKE

Hand claps, fuzz boxes and catchy melodies galore made this the turn-it-up-loud album of the year. – FERRISE

The textbook definition of aural sex.  – JEEVES

 

1)     The Decemberists - The King Is Dead
This album is the textbook definition of cohesive…it just all fits together so well. Great writing (not as conceptual or odd as past Colin Meloy’s work), great playing, crisp production and the icing of Gillian Welch’s sweet voice and R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck playing sidemen. From the raucous “Down By the Water” to the plaintive “Don’t Carry It All” and the evocative melancholy of “June” and “January” hymns…it just all works so well and I couldn’t love it more.  – CLEM

I love every song on this album. I listened to this during my commute between Baltimore and DC early in the new year. It was the perfect winter soundtrack.  – FERRISE

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oLSOzcEQjiE[/youtube]

 

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