Class of 2011: The Overachievers

December 19, 2011
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There were countless releases in 2011 and ILSUDH2 got through over 600 of them.  Although it was very hard to decide what would make the list in this uneven year of music, these are the albums that defined 2011 for this blog.

In order to give a clear picture of the past year, this list includes 40 albums — rock, pop, hip-hop, country, hardcore, metal, electronic, experimental and all those subgenres in between are represented — in an order (that changes day-to-day) based on a variety of factors such as originality, how the album compared to expectations, and just how big of an impact it had on ILSUDH2’s year.  Like any list, this is the opinion of this blog alone.  There will be gaping holes.  Some of you will make ‘dissociative identity disorder’ accusations, while even more of you will disagree with the selections (and order) presented here.  But there will be no apologies and there will be very few explanations on why each of these albums deserve to be here, and more importantly, why other albums don’t.  These are simply the albums that stood out from the masses — these are ILSUDH2’s Favorite Albums of 2011.

* Spotify playlist at bottom of post

40. Everything from Suburban Home (and Greater Than) Records
(Michael Dean Damron, Micah Schnabel, Lizzie Huffman, Have Gun Will Travel, Snake Rattle Rattle Snake)

be beautiful and tragic like some Leonard Cohen song

Michael Dean Damron – Dolls
Micah Schnabel – Sid and Nancy
Lizzie Huffman – Makers Mark
Have Gun, Will Travel – Katharine, Don’t Fall Off The Wagon
Snake Rattle Rattle Snake – NOPD

39. SBTRKT – SBTRKT
(Young Turks, 2011)

giving me the coldest stare, like you don’t even know I’m here

SBTRKT – Wildfire

38. Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean
(Warner Bros, 2011)

but no one likes a beggar slightly overdressed

Iron & Wine – Walking Far From Home

37. Opeth – Heritage
(Roadrunner, 2011)

god is dead

Opeth – The Devil’s Orchard

36. Kanye West & Jay-Z – Watch The Throne
(Roc-A-Fella, 2011)

what’s a god to a non-believer?

The Throne – Otis

35. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
(Mute, 2011)

the city is my church

M83Midnight City

34. Youth Lagoon – The Year of Hibernation
(Fat Possum, 2011)

you camped out in my mind and told me evil things

Youth Lagoon – Afternoon

33. Zola Jesus – Conatus
(Sacred Bones, 2011)

safer on the inside, I know I’m home

Zola Jesus – Vessel

32. Nicolas Jaar – Space Is Only Noise
(Circus Company, 2011)

space is only noise if you can see’

Nicolas Jaar – Space Is Only Noise If You Can See

31. Andrew Jackson Jihad – Knife Man
(Asian Man Records, 2011)

I hate whiny songs like this but I can’t afford a therapist

Andrew Jackson Jihad – Hate, Rain on Me

30. The Middle East – I Want That You Are Always Happy‎
(Spunk, 2011)

can’t stop dreaming about your funeral day

The Middle East – Land Of The Bloody Unknown

29. SubRosa – No Help For The Mighty One
(Profound Lore, 2011)

how long must my journey go

SubRosa – Borrowed Time Borrowed Eyes

28. WU LYF – Go Tell Fire To The Mountain
(LYF Recordings, 2011)

I’m so scared of all my dreams

WU LYF – Heavy Pop

27. Liturgy – Aesthethica
(Thrill Jockey, 2011)

an abyss spits out another abyss

Liturgy – Generation

26. Death Grips – Exmilitary
(Third World, 2011)

I’m the king, I run the underworld…the game is mine, I deal the cards

Death Grips ft. Mexican Girl – Lord of the Game

25. Future Islands – On the Water
(Thrill Jockey, 2011)

this song won’t change a thing

Future Islands – Balance

24. Okkervil River – I Am Very Far
(Jagjaguwar, 2011)

fallen in the valley of the rock and roll dead

Okkervil River – Your Past Life as a Blast

23. Frank Turner – England Keep My Bones
(Epitaph, 2011)

life is short, but it feels much longer

Frank Turner – Peggy Sang the Blues

22. Gem Club – Breakers
(Hardly Art, 2011)

the horses in my heart are chained

Gem Club – Breakers

21. Active Child – You Are All I See
(Vagrant, 2011)

I wish I could change enough to be yours

Active Child – Hanging On

20. Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes
(Atlantic, 2011)

we will live longer than I will

Lykke Li – I Follow Rivers

19. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Hysterical
(self-released, 2011)

but it’s just kids beginning to make the same mistakes

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Same Mistake

18. Kate Bush – 50 Words For Snow
(ANTI-, 2011)

drifting, twisting, terrablizza, shovelcrusted, snow

Kate Bush – Misty

17. The Antlers – Burst Apart
(Frenchkiss, 2011)

rolled together with a burning paper heart

The Antlers – Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out

 

16. 40 Watt Sun – The Inside Room
(Metal Blade, 2011)

something that I thought I could never give away

40 Watt SunCarry Me Home

15. Bon Iver – Bon Iver
(Jagjaguwar, 2011)

danger has been stole away

Bon Iver – Holocene

 14. Drake – Take Care
(Young Money, Cash Money, 2011)

this ain’t no fucking sing-along, so girl, what you singing for?

Drake – Headlines

13. Kendrick Lamar – Section 80
(Top Dawg, 2011)

don’t ask for your favorite rapper (he dead)

Kendrick Lamar – A.D.H.D.

12. The Decemberists – The King Is Dead
(Capitol, 2011)

so raise a glass to turnings of the season

The Decemberists – Calamity Song

11. Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost
(True Panther, 2011)

love, it’s just a song

Girls – Vomit

10. The Men – Leave Home
(Sacred Bones, 2011)

die, I would die

Listening to Leave Home brings to mind a quote made famous by Thurston Moore, ‘I think we should destroy the bogus capitalist process that is destroying youth culture‘.  Maybe it’s the obvious Sonic Youth influences, maybe it’s the fact that they literally sound like they are destroying something (might as well be the capitalist process) about halfway through LADOCH.  Whatever it is, Leave Home is true aggression in the form of reverb-laden noise — something rarely found this side of the year punk broke.  This is not an easy listen — the band fuses the harshest elements of doom, hardcore and noise rock into something so important in a year when many bands are accused of becoming ‘dad rock’.

The Men – If You Leave…

09. Yuck – Yuck
(Fat Possum, 2011)

tell me when the pain kicks in

Fuzzy, reverb-soaked 90′s indie rock in the vein of Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus and Mary Chain, with some Sebadoh thrown in for good measure.  Wearing their influences like a badge, Yuck still manage to sound fresh.  Maybe it’s the bizarre videos, maybe it’s their surprisingly mature musical aptitude, or maybe it’s just because they don’t come off as ‘cute’ like so many of their contemporaries — whatever it is, Yuck earned their spot among the best of the year, despite their awful artwork.

Yuck – Rubber

08. Touché Amoré – Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me
(Deathwish, 2011)

I’d rather play dead than play catch up

Touché Amoré belong to a group of like-minded bands — bands that harbor a love for the post-hardcore movement of the past.  These guys are emotional as hell, but instead of sitting in a corner sulking about it, they are going to let you know just how fucking angry they are.  If you want to listen, great — if not, oh well — because after all, being on a stage is a lot more fun than on a therapists couch.

Touché Amoré – Method Act

07. Fucked Up – David Comes To Life
(Matador, 2011)

trying to smile through gritted teeth

A hardcore concept album concerning a heartbroken factory worker?  An 80-minute album of epic proportions from a band that built their base with 7″‘s overflowing with screw-you-in-your-face political punk rock?  The end, right?  They literally fucked up, right?  Wrong.  This album is long, it is epic and there are times I would call it alternative rock (gasp!) more than hardcore, but after spending countless hours reliving David‘s journey, there are no regrets.

Fucked Up – Queen of Hearts

06. Deafheaven – Roads to Judah
(Deathwish Inc., 2011)

bathing in the summer night’s cold, and in the black of night, I feel so old

Having been a band for just over a year, San Francisco’s Deafheaven made quite an impact on 2011.  Call it black metal, call it post-rock with shoegaze/hardcore tendencies, call it hipster metal or call it the future, Roads to Judah is a beautifully hideous piece of work, just like the Tenderloin neighborhood it was born in.

Deafheaven – Unrequited

05. Tom Waits – Bad As Me
(ANTI-, 2011)

the autumn took the rest but they won’t take me

Bad As Me was well worth the wait.  Ballads, blues explosions, waltzes and whispers.  Gasoline guzzling gruff vocals, falsettos and even some relatively ‘clean’ vocals.  There are songs that are so original they sound like nothing you’ve ever heard, from Waits or anyone else, and then there are songs that would not sound out of place on Nighthawks at the Diner or Frank’s Wild Years.  Waits wanted to include 19 tracks, but Kathleen convinced him to edit down to 12 — ‘get in and get out‘.   This is sound advice in our era of instant gratification, but it is also one of the reasons this album didn’t make the top spot — it is essentially just a collection of songs — incredible songs, but there is something missing here that has existed on every Waits’ album since the mid-80’s.  It’s almost as if this is the first album that exists in the world we all live in, rather than Waits’ World — the world of rain dogs, eyeball kids, and neighbors building mysterious objects in their garages.  But knowing there was enough material for 19 songs provides hope that another album is less than a decade away.  Although, even if isn’t, I can think of worse ways to spend 10 years than listening to these 12 tracks over and over and over again…

Tom Waits - Last Leaf

04. James Blake – James Blake
(A&M / ATLAS, 2011)

never told her where the fear comes from

In a year that saw the attempted murder of dubstep by a gang of ‘brostep’ artists led by Rusko and Skrillex, the chosen savior came in the form of a 22-year-old kid from London.  There had been many singing the praises of James Blake before the debut of his eponymous full length album back in February, but none were prepared for the soulfulness found in tracks such as The Wihelm Scream, To Care (Like You), and especially in his covers of Feist’s Limit To Your Love and Joni Mitchell’s A Case of You.  In 2011, Blake proved himself much more than a dubstep producer — showcasing a singing voice not unlike that of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, and incredible skills at the piano.  Late adoption of this album created such a buzz that his live performances became the unlikely ‘hot ticket’ of the year.  Is James Blake the future of dustep?  That remains to be seen.  In fact, it’s possible he just may be the future beyond this subgenre altogether.

James Blake – The Wihelm Scream

 03. The Weeknd – House of Balloons
(self-released, 2011)

I always want you when I’m coming down

When 20-year-old Abel Tesfaye warns ‘you don’t know what’s in store‘, he does so without a hint of the brash braggadocio you’ve come to expect from a young r&b talent.  House of Balloons is a record (mixtape) that takes the listener on a journey through some dark places, and into the future where indie, electronic, r&b and hip-hop mash together in a drug infused orgy.  Unlike many of his peers, The Weeknd does not shy away from the harsh realities of the scene — the camera does not pan away when things get ugly.  These tracks flow in slow motion from the purple Promethazine haze of the evening, through the cocaine night and the marijuana morning — lasting longer than the party and afterparty — into the next day and the eventual comedown.  It has yet to be seen if this young Canadian will be able to repeat the success of this debut mixtape (Thursday did not live up), but House of Balloons provides a glimpse behind the curtains and under the covers of a dangerous scene, and although it might be from a safe distance, you still might want to be high for this.

The Weeknd – High For This

02. Wolves in the Throne Room – Celestial Lineage
(Southern Lord, 2011)

night born songs descend by moonlight

The last chapter in a trilogy that started in 2007 just may be the last chapter for Wolves in the Throne Room in their current form.  More than an album, Celestial Lineage acts as a conduit onto a ‘Cascadian eco-spiritual‘ plane — defining ‘the process of creating a culture from its first spark to a certain place of maturity‘.  There are very few bands exerting this type of imagination, or creativity, these days, and conversations with the brothers Weaver paint a picture of an even more fractured reality to come.  When music is described as ‘way more psychedelic, way more spaced out, way more droning and astral and root, moss, echoes‘, you can’t help but hope these ‘black metal hippie farmers’ continue to chip away at the virtual structure of metal, because when it all comes crashing down, it will be a beautiful disaster.

Wolves in the Throne Room – Thuja Magus Imperium

01. Chelsea Wolfe – Apokalypsis
(Pendu Sound, 2011)

we could be two straight lines in a crooked world

It would be a lie to say Apokalypsis was the initial choice for the #1 spot, and valid arguments can be made for better albums this year, but the tracks contained behind those hallow eyes have been haunting headphones since Ἀποκάλυψις became available for download late last year.  So, when it came time to choose one album to define the past year, the choice became obvious.  In a time when self-proclaimed prophets are declaring the end of the world — a time in which many would consider the Apocalypse a sweet relief —  Chelsea Wolfe (the woman and the band) provide a preview of a possible future; a map through the wastelands of an abused Earth.  While the sheep are being led along the road to perdition with increasingly safe sounds, the wolves among us are deserting the flock for something more challenging — something that can mirror the beauty and the grotesque in the world in which we dwell.  Go ahead and make the arguments.  List all the ‘better’ albums that were released over the past twelve months.  But while you’re at it, listen to Apokalypsis again and try to identify a better soundtrack for these times.  This is a band that spent the past year on stages around the world with acts as diverse as How To Dress Well, The Black Heart Procession, Liturgy, Julianna Barwick and Wolves in the Throne Room — a band comfortable among many subcultures in these end of days — a band, and an album, whom in return is embraced by those many subcultures. The album closes with Ms. Wolfe questioning what is happening to her, suggesting it is not over yet, and if the destruction of our planet is not imminent, at least we can find solace in the fact that the woes of this world inspire documents such as Apokalypsis.

Chelsea Wolfe – Tracks (Tall Bodies)

Unlistable:
Louis C.K. – Hilarious
(Comedy Central Records, 2011)
Couldn’t find a place for this on the list, but it just might be the best thing put to record in 2011!
Louis C.K. – Cells Phones and Flying

Favorite Albums of 2011

Favorite Albums 2011:
40. Suburban Home Records
39. SBTRKT – SBTRKT
38. Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean
37. Opeth – Heritage
36. Kanye West & Jay-Z – Watch The Throne
35. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
34. Youth Lagoon – The Year of Hibernation
33. Zola Jesus – Conatus
32. Nicolas Jaar – Space Is Only Noise
31. Andrew Jackson Jihad – Knife Man
30. The Middle East – I Want That You Are Always Happy‎
29. SubRosa – No Help For The Mighty One
28. WU LYF – Go Tell Fire To The Mountain
27. Liturgy – Aesthethica
26. Death Grips – Exmilitary
25. Future Islands – On the Water
24. Okkervil River – I Am Very Far
23. Frank Turner – England Keep My Bones
22. Gem Club – Breakers
21. Active Child – You Are All I See
20. Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes
19. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Hysterical
18. Kate Bush – 50 Words For Snow
17. The Antlers – Burst Apart
16. 40 Watt Sun – The Inside Room
15. Bon Iver – Bon Iver
14. Drake – Take Care
13. Kendrick Lamar – Section 80
12. The Decemberists – The King Is Dead
11. Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost
10. The Men – Leave Home
09. Yuck – Yuck
08. Touché Amoré – Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me
07. Fucked Up – David Comes To Life
06. Deafheaven – Roads to Judah
05. Tom Waits – Bad As Me
04. James Blake – James Blake
03. The Weeknd – House of Balloons
02. Wolves in the Throne Room – Celestial Lineage
01. Chelsea Wolfe – Apokalypsis

Remember Class of 2010
Class of 2011: The Freshmen
Class of 2011: The Performers
Class of 2011: The Short Bus
Class of 2011: MVPs
Class of 2011: Children of the Damned
Class of 2011: The Overachievers
Class of 2011: The Soundtrack

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