MY Top Ten Albums of 2011

by Sam Mantell

Follow @SLMantell

            I’ve done some thinking and I’ve compiled a list of what I think are the best ten albums of 2011. I feel very strongly about it, as there are clear standouts.  They struck that chord, that sudden onset of recalled senses from a time when I was hearing something and understanding it because it highlighted everything I was doing right then. I’d get all filled up inside. Knowing that I’d made the right music choice, right then, was enough to strike all of those senses into my memory. That time was memorable because of music. I can attribute more good memories to these ten albums and artists more than any other album that came out this year.

            Of course, it wasn’t all good times.

Dear Bon Iver, did you intend for me to struggle with you? Did you know me too well? Did you invite my loathing, knowing that the trial and tribulation that was my journey with you would make my love stronger? Did you see me making Watch the Throne my Number One? Well, I love you, darling, but you’re a real bitch for it.

1) JAY Z & KanYe West- Watch the Throne

I blogged about this earlier in the year with a somewhat negative tone I believe. But, despite my belief in my own assessment capabilities, I continued to listen constantly for a long time after that. And I think it’s the longevity of the album that solidifies this number one spot.  You just have to throw your hands up when this album plays through. I’ve never done so much bouncing around in my living room. For everything that it was hyped up to be, it didn’t miss a beat. Some creepy interlude? Well, it doesn’t sound bad and it is Kanye (and Jay-Z, I guess…) after all soooo SURE! Seriously though, Watch the Throne stuck around, for me and for a lot of people I know, for a long time. And it’s still around.

2) Bon Iver- Bon Iver

I don’t want to talk about it. All I’ll say is, it is a masterpiece and I think there’s still a large portion of that album that is beyond my understanding. But, I had a strong dose of that understanding once, in October I believe, because Mindy Stephan had mentioned reading lyrics along with listening. So I did that, and I nearly wept. My emotions were that of regret. Regret at my betrayal, regret at time wasted because it wasn’t what I wanted, not knowing that I couldn’t have wanted what I had been given because I hadn’t known something so grand existed. They put a vision in my head, a landscape before my ears. For the trouble, it gets number two. Sorry.

3) Fleet Foxes- Helplessness Blues

This album is amazing top to bottom. Robin Pecknold is laying himself out for us to see. The whole effort speaks a tale of longing for the impossible. Time can’t be turned back, and so the things that bring the sharpest hint of pleasure to the mind exist only in memory. It speaks of an unwillingness to move forward or anywhere at all, stuck, afraid to get any further from the time when the memories were made. But it’s not without a light at the end of the tunnel. A beautiful tale.

4) The Weeknd– House of Balloons/Thursday

I include both because we knew there was going to be a trilogy from the beginning. The mystery and fantasy shrouding House of Balloons in darkness captured my attention (and Tweeting) for a long time. I don’t think I’d heard anything like it before, although it’s out there. It led me to SBTRKT as well, and added hype and appreciation for Take Care. Thursday serves as a great second installment and Echoes of Silence is looking dangerously dark. Amazing job by an amazing artist.



5) Toro Y Moi- Underneath the Pine

Chazwick Bundick pulls together all of his awesomeness glimpsed in previous albums and gives us a real groovy third.There’s a slipstream running through Underneath the Pine, and if it catches you unawares, don’t fight it. Suuure, it might be a little weird, but hey, so were The Doors. It’s a comparison, but simply a suggestive one. Give it a try.


6) Cults– CultsCults gets stuck in your head and it follows you wherever you go. If there’s sunshine and a little breeze and some Cults, things can’t be that bad. I had a lot of fun listening to this album and I’m excited for what they have next. And at least it’s actually a girl singing, and not a guy that sounds like a girl.
7) The Antlers– Burst Apart

After Hospice, I was prepared to be through with this album after a listen or two. I was proven wrong, however, and by the end of hearing Rolled Together for the first time, I was converted. Different sound, better mood.



8) Kurt Vile– Smoke Ring for my Halo

Turned off by his name at first, but randomly decided to give this album a listen. This music is far from defined by it’s creator’s name (duh).






9) Feist– Metals

Great stuff, just right for the fall.’




10) Drake- Take Care; The Dodos- No Color; Tune Yards- W H O K I L L; Girls- Father, Son, Holy Ghost; A$AP Rocky– LiveLoveA

These guys all got heavy consideration, but in the end, finding any reason to take them out at all kept them out altogether. Each one was a tent pole in my various and sundry “kicks”. There are gems to be found in each one, but there were also things I kinda went “huh?” at. Except for Drake, A$AP Rocky, and The Black Keys. They just came on too late in the year to pass the longevity test.

So there you have it. I tried not to look at any other lists before I made mine. I snuck a peak at NPR’s 50 best of the year, albums A-B and that’s ALL. Feel free to blast me. I put a lot of thought into this. Coming soon, a list of all the year’s albums regardless of year of release.


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