List

Stereogum’s Top 50 Albums Of 2011

By Stereogum / December 5, 2011

2011 was the year music learned to float. Actually, that’s not true at all; music has been reaching for feelings of tidal drift since the first Gregorian monks figured out how to chant, or maybe since the first caveman licked a frog and figured out that his grunts got extra-spacey. But surveying our 2011 top 50, ethereal haze is something that’s reached across genre lines to touch all corners of the musical globe.

In indie rock, Bon Iver’s slippery blend of smooth-rock sounds and abstract-jazz ideas shared a certain starry-eyed afghan-rug appeal with Gang Gang Dance’s worldly stoner pulses, Kate Bush’s daffy piano odysseys, M83’s synth fantasias, and Oneohtrix Point Never’s Casio-addled nostalgia-play. In rap, the so-called “cloud rap” aesthetic wafted through Clams Casino’s astral instrumental thump, ASAP Rocky’s stylized Southern-rap love letters, and Kendrick Lamar’s wordy self-examinations, even manifesting in big blockbuster opuses like Drake’s emo masterstroke and Kanye West and Jay-Z’s superstar summit. In electronic music, Pictureplane, Nicolas Jaar, and James Blake zoned the fuck out in some extremely different ways. Even R&B saw the rise of pill-popping auteurs like the Weeknd and Frank Ocean.

Elsewhere in the top 50, there’s a certain blood-and-fire darkness that encompasses Fucked Up’s roaring punk opera, EMA’s feral intensity, PJ Harvey’s battlefield expressionism, Iceage’s elusive jittercore, and Cold Cave’s wounded-animal dance parties. And we didn’t plan things out this way, but Austra and Zola Jesus ended up back-to-back at #14 and #15, presumably the most howlingly goth one-two punch in top-50 history.

But our #1 album of the year, though it has moments of both drift and wail, exists outside those trends. It’s a thing entirely unto itself: A great work of classical po songwriting, of perfectly calibrated recording, and of transcendent lyrical neediness. And it could’ve just as easily dropped in 1981, 1991, or 2001.

Here is the Stereogum editorial staff’s favorite LPs and EPs of 2011:

STEREOGUM’S TOP 50 ALBUMS OF 2011

Youth Lagoon - The Year Of Hibernation50 Youth LagoonThe Year Of Hibernation (Fat Possum)

Toro Y Moi - Underneath The Pine49 Toro Y MoiUnderneath The Pine (Carpark)

Oddisee - Rock Creek Park48 OddiseeRock Creek Park (Mello Music Group)

Wilco - The Whole Love47 WilcoThe Whole Love (dBpm)

tUnE-yArDs - w h o k i l l46 tUnE-yArDsw h o k i l l (4AD)

Adele - 2145 Adele21 (XL)

James Blake - James Blake44 James BlakeJames Blake (A&M/ATLAS)

Twin Sister - In Heaven43 Twin SisterIn Heaven (Domino)

Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Unknown Mortal Orchestra42 Unknown Mortal OrchestraUnknown Mortal Orchestra (Fat Possum)

Das Racist - Relax41 Das RacistRelax (Greedhead)

Kendrick Lamar - Section.8040 Kendrick LamarSection.80 (Top Dawg)

Nicolas Jaar - Space Is Only Noise39 Nicolas JaarSpace Is Only Noise (Circus Company)

The Antlers - Burst Apart38 The AntlersBurst Apart (Frenchkiss)

Smith Westerns - Dye It Blonde37 Smith WesternsDye It Blonde (Fat Possum)

Cut Copy - Zonoscope36 Cut CopyZonoscope (Modular)

Atlas Sound - Parallax35 Atlas SoundParallax (4AD)

Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring For My Halo34 Kurt VileSmoke Ring For My Halo (Matador)

SBTRKT - SBTRKT33 SBTRKTSBTRKT (Young Turks)

St. Vincent - Strange Mercy32 St. VincentStrange Mercy (4AD)

Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues31 Fleet FoxesHelplessness Blues (Sub Pop)

Radiohead - The King Of Limbs30 RadioheadThe King Of Limbs (XL/TBD)

Washed Out - Within And Without29 Washed OutWithin And Without (Sub Pop)

Pictureplane - Thee Physical28 PictureplaneThee Physical (Lovepump United)

Destroyer - Kaputt27 DestroyerKaputt (Merge)

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart - Belong26 The Pains Of Being Pure At HeartBelong (Slumberland)

25 Cold CaveCherish The Light Years (Matador)

Frank Ocean - Nostalgia, Ultra24 Frank OceanNostalgia, Ultra (self-released)

Wild Flag - Wild Flag23 Wild FlagWild Flag (Merge)

Ryan Adams - Ashes & Fire22 Ryan AdamsAshes & Fire (Capitol / Pax-Am)

Clams Casino - Instrumentals21 Clams CasinoInstrumental Mixtape (self-released)

Real Estate - Days20 Real EstateDays (Domino)

Iceage - New Brigade19 IceageNew Brigade (Dais)

18 Beyoncé4 (Columbia)

Oneohtrix Point Never - Replica17 Oneohtrix Point NeverReplica (Mexican Summer/Software)

Neon Indian - Era Extraña16 Neon IndianEra Extraña (Mom & Pop/Static Tongues)

Zola Jesus - Conatus15 Zola JesusConatus (Sacred Bones)

Austra - Feel It Break14 AustraFeel It Break (Domino/Paper Bag)

Yuck- Yuck13 YuckYuck (Fat Possum)

M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming12 M83Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (Mute)

Kate Bush - 50 Words For Snow11 Kate Bush50 Words For Snow (Anti-/Fish People)

Jay-Z And Kanye West - Watch The Throne10 Jay-Z And Kanye WestWatch The Throne (Def Jam/Roc-A-Fella/Roc Nation)

ASAP Rocky - LIVELOVEASAP09 ASAP RockyLIVELOVEA$AP (self-released)

PJ Harvey - Let England Shake08 PJ HarveyLet England Shake (Island)

EMA - Past Life Martyred Saints07 EMAPast Life Martyred Saints (Souterrain Transmissions)

Gang Gang Dance - Eye Contact06 Gang Gang DanceEye Contact (4AD)

The Weeknd - House Of Balloons05 The WeekndHouse Of Balloons (self-released)

Fucked Up - David Comes To Life04 Fucked UpDavid Comes To Life (Matador)

Bon Iver - Bon Iver Bon Iver03 Bon IverBon Iver, Bon Iver (Jagjaguwar)

Drake - Take Care02 DrakeTake Care (Young Money)

Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost01 GirlsFather, Son, Holy Ghost (Matador/True Panther Sounds)

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Here’s that list in more copy/paste friendly format so you can post on your LiveJournal:

50 Youth LagoonThe Year Of Hibernation
49 Toro Y MoiUnderneath The Pine
48 OddiseeRock Creek Park
47 WilcoThe Whole Love
46 tUnE-yArDsw h o k i l l
45 Adele21
44 James BlakeJames Blake
43 Twin SisterIn Heaven
42 Unknown Mortal OrchestraUnknown Mortal Orchestra
41 Das RacistRelax
40 Kendrick LamarSection.80
39 Nicolas JaarSpace Is Only Noise
38 Burst ApartBurst Apart
37 Smith WesternsDye It Blonde
36 Cut CopyZonoscope
35 Atlas SoundParallax
34 Kurt VileSmoke Ring For My Halo
33 SBTRKTSBTRKT
32 St. VincentStrange Mercy
31 Fleet FoxesHelplessness Blues
30 RadioheadThe King Of Limbs
29 Washed OutWithin And Without
28 PictureplaneThee Physical
27 DestroyerKaputt
26 The Pains Of Being Pure At HeartBelong
25 Cold CaveCherish The Light Years
24 Frank OceanNostalgia, Ultra
23 Wild FlagWild Flag
22 Ryan AdamsAshes & Fire
21 Clams CasinoInstrumental Mixtape
20 Real EstateDays
19 IceageNew Brigade
18 Beyoncé4
17 Oneohtrix Point NeverReplica
16 Neon IndianEra Extraña
15 Zola JesusConatus
14 AustraFeel It Break
13 YuckYuck
12 M83Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
11 Kate Bush50 Words For Snow
10 Kanye West & Jay-ZWatch The Throne
09 ASAP RockyLIVELOVEA$AP
08 PJ HarveyLet England Shake
07 EMAPast Life Martyred Saints
06 Gang Gang DanceEye Contact
05 The WeekndHouse Of Balloons
04 Fucked UpDavid Comes To Life
03 Bon IverBon Iver
02 DrakeTake Care
01 GirlsFather, Son, Holy Ghost

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Coming up with the Stereogum list meant leaving out some personal favorites of our four staff members:

HONORABLE MENTIONS
SCOTT
01 Jonathan WilsonGentle Spirit
02 OpethHeritage
03 LowC’mon
04 King Creosote & Jon HopkinsDiamond Mine
05 QuiltQuilt

AMRIT
01 Future IslandsOn The Water
02 araabmuzikElectronic Dream
03 The MenLeave Home
04 Julianna BarwickThe Magic Place
05 Pure XPleasure

TOM
01 Don Trip & StarlitoStep Brothers
02 FiendTennis Shoes And Tuxedos
03 TKO CaponeTropical Swaggin Duh
04 G-SideIsland
05 Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquireLost In Translation

CORBAN
01 Lil BI’m Gay (I’m Happy)
02 Katy BOn A Mission
03 Vivian GirlsShare The Joy
04 R. KellyLove Letter
05 Sleep ∞ OverForever

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And below, our favorite EPs:

STEREOGUM’S TOP 5 EPS OF 2011
01 The Soft Moon – Total Decay
02 Clams Casino – Rainforest
03 Elite Gymnastics – Ruin
04 Light Asylum – In Tension
05 Holy Other – With U

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Feel free to express your (dis)pleasure with the results on this post, or by voting in The Gummys, which you have one more day to enter! Here are some other publications’ lists we’ve been highlighting: