1. M83, “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming”
M83’s Anthony Gonzalez went all out this year with his most ambitious project to date — the epic double-album “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming.”
The hype for this altbum reached a fever pitch when the first single “Midnight City” was released in mid-July. Fans of the French musician quickly realized the buzz was well-deserved. Filled with crescendo after crescendo, “Midnight” peaks with a glorious saxophone solo, of all things.
An agonizing two months later, “Hurry Up” was released in full, uncovering M83’s departure from grandiose, 10-minute instrumentals. Instead, this double-LP has an eclectic array of singles brought together by numerous interludes, including the adorable “Raconte-Moi Une Histoire.”
“Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming” is a true listening experience. Coming in at just over 72 minutes, the record will have you come out the other side feeling refreshed and ready to take on the world, just as you would after a great dream.
— Jonathan Streetman
2. Fucked Up, “David Comes to Life”
In a genre as ostensibly bent on upsetting the system as punk rock, the most subversive act of all is revolting against punk itself. Toronto’s Fucked Up did just that with the brilliant rock opera “David Comes to Life,” which sees the band’s knack for wall-of-guitars melody and abrasive D.C. hardcore colliding more effectively than ever.
— Brad Sanders
3. Bon Iver, “Bon Iver, Bon Iver”
After the unexpected success of his mostly acoustic debut LP, “For Emma, Forever Ago” in 2008, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon regrouped, assembled his dream team and sonically expanded his sound by light-years. The result is “Bon Iver, Bon Iver,” a polarizing sophomore effort that paints enormous, surreal landscapes of sound through 10 individual song ideas, each as earthly and human as the guy who once spent a whole winter in a cabin with his guitar.
— Steven Arroyo
4. Destroyer, “Kaputt”
Is there an award for smoothest album of the year? Afloat on icy synths, each song on “Kaputt” is lit up by saxophone flourishes and sealed with perfectly airy production. It’s a triumph in streamlined pop, a far cry from Destroyer’s usual theatrics. Indie elder Dan Bejar’s smoldering deadpan delivers his most accomplished poetry yet, all “rock ’n’ roll” mythos and cityscapes of the soul. Nihilism has never sounded so cool.
— Patrick Beane
5. The Weeknd, “House of Balloons”
When Weeknd creator Abel Tesfaye suggests, “Trust me, girl, you’ll wanna be high for this” on the opening track of “House of Balloons,” the lines serve as a guide for both the song and the whole mixtape: best enjoyed with some powder on the tables, some drank in the cup and some female company. Usually assisted by that trifecta, Tesfaye spearheaded the indie-friendly R&B movement of 2011 with his druggy, hazy version that was both flamboyantly sexy and coolly mysterious.
— Adam Lukach
6. St. Vincent, “Strange Mercy”
“Strange Mercy” introduced the world to a darker side of St. Vincent, a side that’s fed up with the machine. Gorgeous in her anguish, Annie Clark solidified herself as the most haunting voice in music. And damn, can she shred on guitar.
7. PJ Harvey, “Let England Shake”
It’s a little ironic that the PJ Harvey record with the mellowest instrumentation is also the darkest one. These 12 harrowing tales of World War I lyrically recall the poetry of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, and in what may be her best performance ever, Harvey’s clarion vocals soar above the mix like an artillery shell over no-man’s-land.
8. Smith Westerns, “Dye It Blonde”
“Dye it Blonde”’s early Beatles-inspired hooks and billet-doux lyrics mixed with some swooping T. Rex guitar have made for the sunniest indie pop rock record of 2011. The bouncy pianos on “Imagine Pt. 3” carry that glittery sensation throughout the album. Although still young, Chicago’s Smith Westerns have really matured from their lo-fi roots.
— Brian Welk
9. tUnE-yArDs, “w h o k i l l”
Merrill Garbus is a wizard of elaborate percussion and vocal looping on “w h o k i l l,” and her exotic, unclassifiable arrangements are an infectious blast. Her interchangeably kooky and soothing voice is an instrument on its own on tracks “Gangsta” and “Bizness,” and it blends wonderfully with a cacophony of ukulele and saxophones.
10. Drake, “Take Care”
Drake has delivered the spiritual successor to “So Far Gone,” a blockbuster album’s album featuring some of the year’s best production and arguably its best song, “Marvin’s Room”. The most telling line here is, “I swear it’s been two years since somebody asked me who I was.” We sense it’s something he has to ask himself. “Take Care” is a bittersweet toast to his fans and haters, somewhere between braggadocio and lament.
11. Youth Lagoon, “The Year of Hibernation”
12. Fleet Foxes, “Helplessness Blues”
13. Das Racist, “Relax”
14. Cults, “Cults”
In the Name Of
15. The War on Drugs, “Slave Ambient”
16. Neon Indian, “Era Extraña”
Mom + Pop
17. WU LYF, “Go Tell Fire to the Mountain”
18. The Joy Formidable, “The Big Roar”
19. Frank Ocean, “Nostalgia, Ultra”
20. Wolves in the Throne Room, “Celestial Lineage”
21. James Blake, “James Blake”
22. Kate Bush, “50 Words for Snow”
23. The Horrible Crowes, “Elsie”
Side One Dummy
24. Beyoncé, “4”
25. Grouper, “A I A”