Stereogum's Top 50 Albums Of 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)

//

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

//

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

//

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

//

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:

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Comments (415)
  1. People are always hating on lists. I don’t understand how Drake got #2. He’s awful.

    But overall this is a really great list. I’m impressed. Good work Stereogum.

  2. Girls? I dunno. Tough year to pick a standout.

  3. Both Washed Out and Real Estate didn’t get as much love as they deserved. Also, Julian Lynch continually gets slammed. And no Cass McCombs? He produced two superb albums in one year.

    Maybe my music tastes are diverging from the stereogum/p4k crowd, but man what a lame year in music overall.

  4. Normally I wouldn’t want to add to the rapidly expanding (and unfortunately easily dismissed) heap of “How did you miss ______?” or however you want to phrase it, but since you included Wilco, Kurt Vile, Fleet Foxes, and Ryan Adams (+ Youth Lagoon who is kind of singer/songwritery or tries to be), all of whom are certainly in the same ball park as Bill Callahan, how could you possibly leave Apocalypse completely off this list (and even the runners-up)? There’s more complexity both musically and lyrically in those seven songs than at least half of these albums. While I appreciate all of them, I really want to hear a case that says Robin Pecknold, Justin Vernon, Kurt Vile or (perhaps even the closest in talent) Jeff Tweedy are better songwriters or can say more with the same level of elegance as Bill Callahan. And to top it off you’ve got no love for Drag City at all. No Bonnie Prince Billy, no Ty Segall, no CAVE. It’s pretty disappointing.

    • Second this. Callahan’s music isn’t showy, but the songwriting is stellar and he has a knack for arrangement; there’s real beauty in the sparseness of those tracks and the rumble of his voice.

  5. I can’t say I agree with everything on this list, but damn if that top 4 isn’t the most eclectic collection of albums you’ll see at the top of a year end list.

    Good Job Stereogum.

  6. my first impression was that this is a damn fine list. and on second glance, i still think it is. but there’s a pretty substantial number of my favorite 2011 releases mysteriously absent – and since this is stereogum, YOU’RE ALL GONNA HEAR ABOUT IT RIGHT NOW!

    danny brown, the war on drugs, starfucker – all top 10′s for me. not here. whaaaa??? (then again, starfucker never gets any love anywhere, so i’m not too surprised on that one)

    also, you seem to have forgotten about some fantastic albums from white denim, thee oh sees, tennis, cults, 9th wonder, grouplove, little dragon, fool’s gold, mayer hawthorne, penguin prison, blu, fred falke, male bonding, and the horrors. i trust that this is a mere oversight. but in the event that it’s not… agree to disagree.

  7. I must listen to this Soft Moon EP ! If it’s REALLY better than Rainforest then I’m in for a treat!

    So I’m just gong to quietly add my Top 5 album now, hidden at the bottom of the comments:

    1. Destroyer – “Kaputt”
    2. Shabazz Palaces – “Black Up”
    3. Wild Beasts – “Smother”
    4. John Maus – “We Must Become The Pitiless Censors of Ourselves”
    5. The Field – “Looping State of Mind”

    Great List though Stereogum. Overall, great list.

  8. The Drake record is only a third of what the Explosions in the Sky record is.

    (Think about it.)

  9. favorite list i’ve seen thus far, though i think several amazing albums are missing: My Morning Jacket, Danny Brown, Wu Lyf, Grouplove, Handsome Furs, Shabazz Palaces, Jacuzzi Boys, the Decemberists.

  10. Destroyer and Tune Yards top my list…also, Bill Callahan and Tom Waits deserve to be on a top albums list. I really enjoyed both of those records.

  11. Where is EL CAMINO? WTH?

  12. Where the fuck is Bill Callahan and War on Drugs?

  13. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

  14. War on Drugs?!

  15. It seems like pretty much every single band decided to release an album this year.

  16. They’re definitely missing some great albums.
    Lucinda Williams-Blessed
    Oupa-Forget
    Night Beats-Night Beats
    Crash of Rhinos-Distal
    Joyce Manor-Joyce Manor
    Stephen Malkmus-Mirror Traffic
    Sonny & The Sunsets-Hit After Hit
    A.A. Bondy-Believers
    Mikal Cronin-Mikal Cronin
    Royal Headache-Royal Headache
    Johnny Foreigner-Johnny Foreigner Vs. Everything
    Gil Scott-Heron & Jamie Xx-We’re New Here
    Frank Turner-England Keep My Bones
    Total Control-Henge Beat
    Magic Trick-The Glad Birth of Love
    Dirty Beaches-Badlands
    David Kilgour-Left By Soft
    Cymbals Eat Guitars-Lenses Alien
    BOAT-Dress Like Your Idols
    The Bats-Free All The Monsters
    Bart & Friends-Stories With The Endings Changed
    Amor De Dias-Street Of The Love Of Days
    and last but not least:
    GOODBYE BREAD BY TY SEGALL????????
    Disappointed in you Stereogum, disappointed. It’s okay though, because you had Girls at number one, and that’s definitely one of the best of the year

    • HEY CORY YOU MISSED SOME ALBUMS ON YOUR MISSED ALBUMS LIST
      G-unit- Still G
      Dr Dre – Still Dre
      Stillborn – Album Title
      Crimbles – Rhymes with Cymbals
      DogCats – The Pony Awards
      ***))) – Fuck City
      Dragon Dildo – Tiny Princess Sweetheart
      Bandname_John89@hotmail.com – I’ll die for You
      Bon Iver – Bon Iver

      Disappointed in you Cory. It’s okay though because you’re correct that the Cymbals Eat Guitars album is good.

  17. No Chad Vangaalen fans here?

    • seriously!! he is getting NO love on the top albums lists. i think it’s my #1.

      on a side note…ANGERRRRRRR RAARRROIUBGPISJnisbapdsgiabu

  18. My only complaint is that St. Vincent could, and should be in my opinion, in the top ten. At least it should displace Fucked Up. Solid list though.

  19. The list is great, and I’m not questioning what should or shouldn’t be on it, but I just felt like saying that I guess I’m the only one who enjoyed that Class Actress album this year.

  20. I hate lists. I think they included awesome albums, don’t really care about the order in which they appear.

    That being said, I’m actually liking Girls in number 1.

    PS: I’m also missing Shabazz Palaces and The Horrors.

  21. It’s a nice list. Everyone will have something to like (Austra, Yuck, and M83 back-to-back-to-back) and not like (Beyonce?). For me, the Vaccines would richly deserve to be on any top 50, as would Generationals, Anna Calvi, Cults, Lykki Li, Battles, Joy Formidable, the Wombats, Civil Wars, and Wye Oak.

  22. I like Girls but does it seem to anyone else that the whole album has quotes around it? The “transcendent lyrical neediness” mentioned seems more referential than sincere to me.

  23. No Tom Waits or Wu Lyf? :(

    Also, Destroyer should be higher.

  24. What, no John Maus?!?

  25. i enjoy me some ryan adams, but ryan adams > bill callahan? hmm…

  26. This isn’t an omission complaint, just random things on my mind:

    a) Did anybody else really enjoy Collpase Into Now? I’ve listened to it several times more than I have any other R.E.M. album since New Adventures in Hi-Fi, without abandoning it for the classics on my semi-regular spins of R.E.M. If anyone deserves it’s a legacy spot, it’s REM.

    b) Can we count The Smile Sessions as a new release. After all, it’s the first time it’s been released (officially) (as a full album) (with the original Beach Boys 1967 recordings). If so, that’s an easy #1 for me. Although it’s a bit derivative of Panda Bear.

  27. Time to roll out my General Theory of “Top Album” Lists. Written in 2007, I’m always amazed at how prescient it is.

    #1 Shocking selection of an unexpected record that will get people to comment on my site
    #2 More mainstream indie record that was a bit better than #1 if I’m honest
    #3 Big-name Indie veterans who released their best record three years ago
    #4 New band that was hyped during the spring/summer
    #5 Top-selling Hip-hop record to show my inclusiveness
    #6 Record from a girl singer to show my inclusiveness
    #7 Best record of the year, but it came out in April, so it’s not hot anymore
    #8 Second-best record of the year, but it came out in January and leaked in November of last year
    #9 Comeback album from a band you thought broke up six years ago
    #10 Kanye West

    • hahaha, don’t forget #28 Radiohead, must show respect to the best band on the planet, BUT, they’re old and not new-fresh-hip and don’t have Bear or Deer in their name, SO…gotta keep ‘em humble:) genius.

  28. no black lips…no woods…that’s cool, guys

  29. I thought Yacht’s new album was really solid. I’m surprised that no one else is surprised by the lack of it at least somewhere on this list.

  30. My top 5 in order are; Bon Iver, M83, Austra, John Maus and Active Child.

  31. THANK FUCKING GOD A BLOG ACTUALLY GOT THE BEST ALBUM OF THE YEAR RIGHT. GIRLS <3

  32. as a whole i like this list, but the top 10 makes me scratch my head a bit. actually, a lot. a whole lot.

  33. Shout out to The Weeknd And that OvOxO #5 and Shout out to Kendrick lamar and Top Daw ENT

    Drake aint no surprise but Shout out to him as well!

  34. Shout out to The Weeknd And that OvOxO #5 and Shout out to Kendrick lamar and Top Daw ENT

    Drake aint no surprise but Shout out to him as well!

  35. In the honorable mentions, it’s King Creosote and John Hopkins–if anyone goes looking for it. I think King Creole is an Elvis Presley song?

  36. Am I the only one who feels like Mastodon is getting shafted?

  37. BRO! NO SHABIZZY PALIZZY???!?! FOR CEREAL?!?!?!?!

    shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. fart. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces. shabazz. palaces.

  38. no Black Keys?

  39. im i the only one with Dirty Beaches’ Badlands as my number 1?

    my top 3:

    wander/wonder – balam acab
    badlands – dirty beaches
    strange mercy – st. vincent

    oh and my music columns back today, spam!
    http://www.austinchronicle.com/blogs/gay-place/2011-12-05/music-mo-nday/

    • Have you seen him live? I mean, when I saw him he had no band, and man, did he need one. I was expecting him to pick up an instrument and play it at any moment. It happened on maybe two songs. He obviously knew something about how to play a guitar, but for some reason he was not really eager to display these skills for the audience. The rest was piped in music and him walking around and vocalizing here and there…and combing his hair. I can’t remember the last time my opinion of a person’s recorded work was so vastly different from my opinion of their performing abilities.

    • that guy can’t sing

  40. Seem to agree with most of this list (not all of course) just the order of the stuff is different from my view, but making a list everyone likes is nearly impossible so good job Gum

  41. Two I think need recognition: the beautiful Hello Sadness from Los Campesinos! and Pala from Friendly Fires, especially FF. That record is so damn glorious and fun, really filled the dance band void for me left by LCD. Also, watch out for The Roots’ undun!

  42. Does anyone on here even know who I Break Horses are?

  43. love the fact asap in there. overall good list

    true story: I listened to ‘take care’ and I seriously thought I had anhedonia given the fact that it is highly touted on this site as solipsistic gold!
    making a list that’s ‘seen’ as credible is incredibly difficult. It must be even more difficult when you HAVE to put take care at number higher than proper albums. (the reasons for which will remain a mystery, a payola shaped silhouette of a mystery).

    I’ll stop with the drake bashing. He’s perfectly fine. ok. will do. not really that offensive. largely unobjectionable. innocuous (unless in the face of heterosexuality, not my words). benign.

  44. I’m sure at least 5 people have already mentioned this so far, but come on, for all the shit you guys got about Shabazz Palaces this year, you’re still ignoring it??

  45. Fucked Up sounds really fucked up.

  46. Drake, of all people, beat PJ Harvey to the #2 spot? LMAO Yeah, sure thing Stereogum.

  47. I feel like I am in some Bizarro universe every time I see Drake on a list like this. I have listened multiple times and every time I come away from it thinking the “music” is comically bad. This is Lil Wayne all over again.

    • I literally could not agree more. While admittedly an acquired taste, Death Grips ‘ExMilitary’ was by far my favourite hip-hop album this year, closely followed by Shabazz Palaces. Drake is just toe curlingly awful, and the same goes for Watch The Throne.

      • Yeah Watch the Throne is on the list based on reputation alone, but it is like the White Album compared to Drake imo.

        Also, where is Miranda Lambert!?!?!??!

  48. I swear… Every list this year is totally different.

  49. ahem……….Mirror Traffic

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