Hey now – it’s another presumptuous and pretentious Top 10 of 2011 list! Well…yeah. Fuck you. But how can I not? In true Littlest Winslow form, this post is being presented all 2012-style. But hey – last year I posted this in March. (Really, Nick? Fucking March? I couldn’t be bothered to type something up quicker than that? It’s no wonder I have like 10 readers. At least 10!) I’m going to try to keep this short and snappy – and as always – holler at me with your picks or to tell me what an asshole I am.
I’ll put my thing down, flip it, and reverse it.
It’s hard to leave Gaga off this list. She’s basically like the modern day Madonna – ubiquitous, unavoidable, trend-setting. Although the album A) wasn’t as good as I thought it would be, B) wasn’t as huge as I thought it would be, and C) was slightly too flamboyant, I still have to give the Queen-in-training credit simply for the amount of times I blasted “The Edge of Glory” on repeat in my car while jammin’ to the sweet, sweet sax of Clarence Clemons (RIP). Gaga has staying power, man. You may hate Pop and you may hate her, but she is a head turner. No doubt. Best Tracks: “Marry the Night,” “The Edge of Glory,” “You and I”
9. The Decemberists – The King is Dead
The Decemberists are perhaps one of the most consistent bands of our time. Every effort is just as strong as the last. And man, do they pack a punch. All members are multi-instrumentalists and they harmonize like beautiful angels flying oh, so high in the sky. The King is Dead is Indie Folk at its best. In a year that was primarily dominated by Indie Pop and Hard Rock, the Decemberists hold their own here. Ten tracks. Short, sweet, polished. Best Tracks: There are really no throwaways here. However: “Don’t Carry It All,” “Calamity Song,” and “Down by the Water” are a cut above the rest.
8. Ida Maria – Katla
Hands down, the most underrated record of the year. I can’t believe this album didn’t catch here in the states. Katla is fucking badass. Ida Maria showcases her versatility here. From hard rock, to pop, to doowop and swing, to mariachi, to stoner grunge rock…um…you get it already? She’s a Norwegian firecracker who destroyed her debut album with a sophomore effort that is bold, fearless, and in your face. Best Tracks: Look no further than the 9-minute-plus “Devil” to see what she’s capable of. Still hungry? So is she: “I Eat Boys Like You for Breakfast” and “Bad Karma.”
7. Wild Flag – Wild Flag
Let’s face it: Carrie Brownstein is the coolest. Besides the fact that she’s a third of one of the raddest riot grrrl/indie rock acts to come out of the Pacific Northwest in the 90’s, and forgetting that she’s now showing off her comedic chops on IFC’s Portlandia, Brownstein and company still have some insane street cred. That’s because the debut album of Wild Flag is completely worthy of any and all of the accoldates its been receiving since its release in September of 2011. Nearly a decade later, Brownstein is still delivering top-notch indie rock full of solid rhythms, tons of keys (!), and bitchin’ riffs. It’s a slow burn that grows on you, and before you know it, you’ll be humming the beats and singing along without the headphones planted firmly in your ears. Best Tracks: “Romance,” “Boom,” “Racehorse.”
6. The Black Keys – El Camino
The Black Keys have done it. They’ve tackled mainstream success while still keeping their cred, a feat which lesser bands like Kings of Leon failed miserably at accomplishing. Miiiiserablyyy. Although I wasn’t a huge fan of Brothers, El Camino is incredibly strong. It’s shorter than its predecesssor, sleeker and tighter. A duo going at it alone is always impressive too. You just have to love their vintage garage sound. Best Tracks: “Gold on the Ceiling,” “Run Right Back,” “Lonely Boy.”
5. Foster the People – Torches
Man, did I drag my feet on this one. I didn’t want to like it when I heard it, and hell, once I started digging it I still didn’t want to include it on this list. This is clearly the trendy/hipster portion of this countdown. But damn-it-all-to-hell! Have you heard “Pumped Up Kicks”? Of course, you have! How could you have escaped it? It was probably one of the best singles of the year, as well. That song infested my brain, nearly rotting my insides. What should’ve been a one-hit-wonder was backed by an amazing, catchy, addicting, guilty-pleasure-inducing collection of indie-pop melodies that turned out to be irresistable. Best Tracks: “Pumped Up Kicks,” “Houdini,” “Helena Beat.”
4. Adele – 21
There’s just something about the simplicity of a girl and her piano. What can be said about Adele that hasn’t been uttered already since the debut of 19? That voice! If you’ve ever heard her open her mouth and haven’t been totally enthralled, you’re dead inside. Sure, it’s an album mostly filled with ballads, which may or may not be your thang, but you’ve got to respect talent. And Adele’s got plenty of it. I’m eagerly anticipating every step of her musical journey. Best Tracks: “Rolling in the Deep” (duh), “Set Fire to the Rain,” “Someone Like You.”
3. The Joy Formidable – A Balloon Called Moaning
Hailing from North Wales, The Joy Formidable is a relatively new band that released one of the best alternative rock albums of the last decade. OK…so it’s technically a mini-album (their actual debut The Big Roar hits the U.S. in March). Still, The Joy Formidable’s instrumentation, lyrics, and huuuge sound comes from a power-charged trio led by the pint-sized frontwoman Ritzy Bryan. The sound is just as epic live, even in an arena setting – a platform where smaller bands sometimes get drowned out (Dave Grohl heard them on the radio and nabbed them as an opener for the Foo’s Wasting Light tour). From start to finish, A Balloon Called Moaning amps you up. It’s a record that just excited the hell out of me this year. Best Tracks: “Whirring,” “The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade,” “Cradle.”
2. Architecture in Helsinki – Moment Bends
If Ida Maria’s Katla was the most underrated record of the year, Architecture in Helsinki is the most underrated band of the year. Moment Bends was released quietly in May here in the states and is probably the best Pop album in the year. Hell, it almost made the #1 spot. It’s a disc you play from start-to-finish. Good for parties, work and the car! Bonus. This five-some boasts a group of talented musicians that even rock such rarities as the glockenspiel and melodica. Horns and keys ablaze, just like in previous endeavors, Architecture’s 2011 release is non-stop fun and their live show backs it up entirely. Best Tracks: “Escapee” was easily one of my favorite songs of the year, “Contact High,” “Desert Island.”
1. Foo Fighters – Wasting Light
Although I put heavy weight on an album’s personal affect on me, whether lyrically or musically, I still believe that the best albums of the year should at least capture a portion of the zeitgeist. Sure, many of the albums on this list may not have accomplished that, but I still feel strongly that the best music of the year should have accomplished something. They should turn heads, be respected equally by critics and fans alike, and be created passionately and honestly. Wasting Light is a great example of this criteria and completely deserves a spot in any Top 10 of 2011 list. Dave Grohl and the Foos went old school on this one, recording the album in Grohl’s garage using entirely analogue equipment until the post-mastering stage. They brought in Butch Vig to produce (Garbage drummer, Producer of Nevermind and countless other records), and had guest musicians such as Bob Mould (Hüsker Dü) and Krist Novoselic (Nirvana). They even tossed a piece of the original master tape into every unit sold (style points!). All of these cool technicalities aside, the album just fucking rocks. It’s one of the loudest and proudest of the Foo Fighters’ career and by far, the best Rock record of the year. The album had a nice blend of radio friendly singles, such as “Rope” and “Walk,” while going balls-out heavy on “White Limo” and “Bridge Burning.” Because of this blend of artistry, production, and killer material, Wasting Light is The Littlest Winslow’s #1 album of the year. Best Tracks: All of ’em.
As if this wasn’t long enough…here are a few honorable mentions that would’ve made the cut had I had the patience to put together a Top 20:
The Parlor Mob – Dogs
Smith Westerns – Dye It Blonde
The Rapture – In the Grace of Your Love
Holy Ghost – Holy Ghost
Cults – Cults
Dum Dum Girls – Only in Dreams
Yuck – Yuck
Mr. Heavenly – Out of Love
Florence and the Machine – Ceremonials