WAMH’s Year End Album Countdown

Hey everyone,

This year, we at WAMH decided to put together a list of our favorite albums that came out in the past year. There was a lot of variety between the 6 individual lists that were used to make up the year end list but at least the top 8 or 10 records represent some sort of consensus. So here it is:

T-25. The Caretaker – An Empty Bliss Beyond This World

“In describing this album to me, Hope Wen said “I feel like I am listening to ghosts as they ballroom dance, but it isn’t frightening, and almost warm.” I think that’s an accurate description. Conceived as a way of capturing the experience of Alzheimer’s, Leyland Kirby looped old early 20th century ballroom recordings together to construct this album. What makes it seem so important is how effectively it goes from moments of sonic clarity to moments of little more than record hiss. But more than that, this is a beautiful record, one that’s as listenable and immersive as an experimental record can possibly be.” – Spencer Adams


T-25. Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo


T-23. The Black Keys – El Camino

“It’s comforting that someone is still making music that sounds like this—and making it well. There’s no gimmick—it’s rock, it’s straightforward, it’s fun, and it makes me pretend I’m the guy from the “Lonely Boy” video when I’m alone in my car.  The little sticker on the front of the CD doesn’t talk about hit singles or collaborators or glowing NPR reviews—it just says “Play It Loud”.  That’s a sentiment I can get behind.” – Leah Fine


T-23. Marissa Nadler – Marissa Nadler


T-21. Atlas Sound – Parallax

“Incredibly prolific, self-avowedly monomaniacal, and outspoken to a fault, Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox never does anything halfway. It’s unsurprising, then, that when he records solo under the name Atlas Sound, he goes all the way solo. Cox wrote, composed and recorded everything on the third Atlas Sound album, Parallax, on twenty-one different instruments, ranging from Telecaster to rhythm box to “collage.” This level of control allows Cox to go wherever he wants with his music, and on Parallax, he’s chosen to travel inward. The record takes the listener on a sonic and emotional journey into Cox’s interior landscape, with results that are often beautiful, sometimes difficult, and always interesting.” Taken from a review by Cara Giamo ’11


T-21. Krallice – Diotima

“Perhaps I overrate this album because it was the first metal album I got really, really into. Maybe it’s not quite next-Dead As Dreams good like I imagine it to be. With some distance, perhaps I won’t consider this the best metal album of the year. But for now, I know I’d rather be listening to Krallice than any other metal band on the planet. Diotima still sends chills down my spine every time I listen to it. It’s the type of album that’s constantly unveiling some new facet (I remember the first time I noticed the precision with which the bass guitar weaves in and out of the album’s layers of pitch blackness). In a year where black metal made significant strides in terms of entering into the indie consciousness, Diotima, for my money, was the darkest, most despairing, and ultimately most heart-racingly thrilling black metal album of them all.” – Spencer Adams


T-18. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy

“Covering The Pop Group and Big Black this year, St. Vincent showed that she’s a total badass, a quality that all the indie dudes crushing on her might not recognize. But it’s not like she doesn’t have a badass strain in her own music. The songs on Strange Mercy might not bleed with the same force of EMA’s new album or pummel like Fucked Up does, but they’re mighty dark. The complaint I heard leveled against this album when it was reviewed on stereogum was that, as good as the songs are, St. Vincent never lets loose. I think that’s flat out wrong. She sounds angry and unleashed with the best of them, for my money. And it’s easy for us indie types to focus on songcraft, texture, and stuff like that but let’s not forget that what she does with a guitar is pretty killer also.” – Spencer Adams


T-18. Tom Waits – Bad As Me

“Of all the oldies continuing to release new material – Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, the always shitty U2, etc. – Tom Waits is the one who still has the most to offer. He sounded aged in the 70s and 80s so now that he actually is, his underground wisdom and general whiskey and cigarettes tinged badassery feel all the more poignant.” – Spencer Adams


T – 18. John Luther Adams – Four Thousand Holes

“It’s a contemporary classical piece for piano, percussion, and electronics based on the chords from “A Day in the Life.” Listen with headphones.” – Chris Spaide


17. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

“Before this album was released, Fleet Foxes were quickly becoming one of those bands that I had really liked once upon a time but now mostly skipped when they came up on shuffle.  Helplessness Blues helped me remember why I’d liked them so much in the first place.  Sure, some of the cheesiness (“I was brought up believing I was somehow unique/Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes..) gets to me, but the straight-up prettiness more than makes up for it.” – Leah Fine

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UGhtk0jdFGc (watch the music video. It’s awesome)

T-15. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake

“It seems like just about every British music blog and magazine has given album of the year nods to Let England Shake. And with good reason. Even for someone like me who’s never really vibed to PJ Harvey before, this bitter political screed is immediately striking. It’s arguably a bit over the top in places but it more than makes up for that with dark humor (as in the repetition of the line “what if I take my problems to the United Nations?”) and a murky atmosphere (particularly on “All and Everyone” and “In the Dark Places”) that feels reminiscent of the Bonnie Prince Billy’s classic I See a Darkness.” – Spencer Adams


T-15. Mates of State – Mountaintops

“SOMEONE has to rep that awesome Mates of State album.” – Wesley Straton


14. Okkervil RiverI Am Very Far

“This came out at more or less the same time as the Fleet Foxes album, which was sort of a bummer because it didn’t get much attention.  The details make this album—the cassette-player solo on “Piratess” or the gorgeous backup vocals on “Hanging from a Hit”—but it’s also just sort of generally badass and dark in an unimposing, genuine way.” – Leah Fine


13. Drake – Take Care

Hey look. It’s Jimmy Brooks!


12. The Mountain Goats – All Eternals Deck

“As far as WAMH (myself included) is concerned, The Mountain Goats can do no wrong. John Darnielle was writing hit records on Zopilote Machine and he still is now. And if you think there’s nothing new here, look no further than “High Hawk Season”, one of the best barbershop quartet anthems I’ve heard in years.” – Spencer Adams


11. Beirut – The Rip Tide

“Beirut was one of many bands I was more or less apathetic towards before this year.  Zach Condon’s voice was always just a bit too maudlin and warbly for my taste, and his gypsy circus songs only aggravated its extravagance.  But this album gets it right—the unmistakable voice is still here, of course, but the straightforward sentiment and execution of these songs balances it perfectly.” – Leah Fine


10. Real Estate – Days

“I was pretty convinced I hated this album when it came out. It seemed like yet another chill, breezy, and altogether vapid indie release (see Era Extrana, Underneath the Pine, Within and Without, etc.). But ultimately, I caved and decided to give this one a second chance. And boy has it been worth it. While chill and breezy, Real Estate go so far beyond their trendy, indie peers by not being at all vapid. This sentimental look at careless suburban life (which is much better and far less preachy than last year’s The Suburbs) contains some of the best images indie lyricisim had to offer this year (ie “aimless drives through green aisles”, “see the cars on the 95/cutting through like a sharpened knife”), images that resonated oh so deeply with a lifetime suburban kid like me. As I’ve driven around Northern Virginia (suburbia USA for those not familiar) in the past few days, no music has resonated more than that on Days.” – Spencer Adams


9. Frank Ocean – Nostalgia/Ultra

“Until Tyler the Creator and his crew of insolent teen buddies grow up, Frank Ocean will continue to be the only important, interesting Odd Future dude. This guy has the OF swag in that his music sounds troubled, vulnerable, and uncomfortable. But it’s lightyears ahead of Goblin, Bastard, Radical, and even Earl because it builds its swag on subtlety. The way Frank Ocean brags about his car like only a hip-hop dude can as a way of building up to a fantastical suicide, the way “American Wedding” seems sort of like Kanye’s “Hell of a Life” until you realize that his one day bride is a grad student in the midst of writing a term paper on hijab, the way “Novacane” uses its title image as a metaphor for the numbing effects that sex has on a med student paying for college by doing porn and the loving narrator who’s caught up in her cocaine-fueled lifestyle – this stuff has a novelist’s eye for poignant details. That’s why it’s so swagged out.” – Spencer Adams


T-7. EMA – Past Life Martyred Saints

“IMO, this was the year’s best guitar-driven album. Erika M. Anderson’s sounds so full of raw pain throughout this album that you can’t help but cringe each time you listen. But where this album truly bleeds, what makes it so visceral and hard to bear, is how submissive it is. EMA’s been abused, finds herself addicted to drugs, and watches the struggles of her friends, and just seems to accept it all. Nothing hurts as bad as the much talked about line in the song’s emotional centerpiece (“Marked”): “I wish that every time you touched me left a mark.” It’s easy to be turned off by the sentiments expressed, and the lifestyle captured on Past Life, but for anyone with a tolerance for experiencing pain through their favorite art, this album is pretty unparalleled.” – Spencer Adams


T-7. Youth Lagoon – The Year of Hibernation

Sometimes while listening to this album I just want to pinch his ears and tell him to speak up and stop mumbling, dammit.  But then that drum machine kicks and the songs open up and it turns out Mr. Mumbles was justified all along.” – Leah Fine


6. James Blake – James Blake

“This seems to be the year’s great love-it-or-hate-it record. In fact, there’s perhaps more partisanship over this record in the indiesphere right now than there is in congress. I, for one, count myself as one of those who find this record to be a revolutionary reinvention of singer-songwriter music, one that relies as much on sonic manipulation as songcraft. James Blake has an inexplicably soulful voice and what makes this record so daring in my mind, is how willing he is to play with, affect, and manipulate it. It’ll be interesting to see 1) where JB goes from here and 2) whether this record proves to be as gamechanging as people like me think it is.” – Spencer Adams

5. Shabazz Palaces – Black Up

“Two of the best albums of last year were Janelle Monae’s maximalist pop masterpiece The Archandroid and Flying Lotus’s futuristic electrojazz Cosmogramma. These two records themselves hardly line up at all, Janelle Monae’s being immediate, poppy, and readymade for mainstream success while FlyLo’s was difficult, intricately layered, and somewhat downbeat. Shabazz Palaces (fronted by a renewed Butterfly now going by the name Palaceer Lazomo) manages to meld the best qualities from these two disparate 2010 masterpieces into the year’s best hip-hop album, an afrofuturistic work that combines some of the most forward-thinking hip-hop beats of all time with sharp lyricism, and an immediately striking pop-jazz energy.” – Spencer Adams


4. The Weeknd – House of Balloons

“Years down the line, this might end up being considered the year’s Important Album (see the AV Club article on the subject). Despite coming out of nowhere, The Weeknd’s first mixtape of the year seemed about as universally beloved as is possible in today’s musical world, while pointing towards an entirely new indie-indebted way of constructing R&B (this is surely the most gamechanging R&B record since Voodoo). By year end, every indie kid and their grandmother was bumping this, and The Weeknd was featured on Drake’s also much-beloved album. And all from a guy who writes songs that are about as dark and depraved as the parties and underworlds featured in Gaspar Noe’s last two films. As at least one commentator I’ve read has said, more than anything, what makes House of Balloons so incredibly listenable is just how good it sounds. The production is pitch perfect, the vocals are smooth, and the hooks are endlessly rewarding.” – Spencer Adams


3. tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l

“Our favorite five college alum since Elliott Smith, Merrill Garbus is both an electric performer and an unsurprisingly smart purveyor of hipster angst. Don’t shrug at the words “hipster angst.” This isn’t the mindless rich kid angst that Sofia Coppolla so loves to capture in her movies. Rather, w h o k i l l is a deeply political and sociological album. Garbus is perceptive, frustrated, confused, and more than anything else she sounds refreshingly alive as she struggles with her own observations.” – Spencer Adams


2. Bon Iver – Bon Iver

“No one can genre-flip better than Justin Vernon can.  From For Emma to a foray into auto-tune and Kanye to the Twilight soundtrack to ‘80s schlock, Bon Iver makes everything work.  On listening to this album, suddenly I think I like, or at least vaguely understand, Bonnie Raitt and Bruce Hornsby.  Plus Holocene is just beautiful and nerdily named and its repeated “I was not magnificent” shows just how quietly brilliant Vernon’s lyrics can be when they’re comprehendible.” – Leah Fine


1. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

“I’d be completely fine if this synth-and-saxaphone 1980’s revival deal passed without further contributions to the genre, and substantial moments of this album wouldn’t seem out of place on the Breakfast Club soundtrack.  That said, if anyone could make me appreciate this sort of music, it’d be M83.  The openness and triumphant spirit of this album take something [in my opinion] painfully dated and make it timeless.” – Leah Fine

“This album is my church!” – Spencer Adams


Individual Lists:

Spencer Adams

1. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

2. EMA – Past Life Martyred Saints

3. Shabazz Palaces – Black Up

4. Krallice – Diotima

5. tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l

6. The Caretaker - An Empty Bliss Beyond This World

7. Real Estate – Days

8. James Blake – James Blake

9. Frank Ocean – Nostalgia/Ultra

10. Fucked Up – David Comes to Life

11. Youth Lagoon - The Year of Hibernation

12. The Weeknd – House of Balloons

13. Bon Iver – Bon Iver

14. Tombs – Path of Totality

15. Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972

Tony Russo:

1. The Weeknd – House of Balloons/Thursday

2. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake

3. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy

4. Atlas Sound – Parallax

5. Marissa Nadler – Marissa Nadler

6. Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring for My Halo/So Outta Reach EP

7. Youth Lagoon – The Year of Hibernation

8. A$AP Rocky – Livelovea$ap

9. The Field – Looping State of Mind

10. Drake – Take Care

11. Real Estate – Days

12. Shabazz Palaces – Black Up

13. EMA – Past Life Martyred Saints

14. Ty Segall – Goodbye Bread

15. Bon Iver – Bon Iver

Chris Spaide:

Top 5:

Bon Iver – Bon Iver

James Blake – James Blake

John Luther Adams – Four Thousand Holes

Tom Waits – Bad As Me

tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l

Second Place:

Drake – Take Care

EMA – Past Life Martyred Saints

Frank Ocean – Nostalgia/Ultra

Quatuor Ebene – Fiction

Real Estate – Days

Third Place:

Bjork – Biophilia

The Mountain Goats – All Eternals Deck

Steve Reich – WTC 9/11, Mallet Quartet, Dance Patterns

The Weeknd – House of Balloons

WU Lyf – Go Tell Fire to the Mountain

Matt McLellan:

T-1. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

T-1. Shabazz Palaces - Black Up

Next 8:

Bon Iver – Bon Iver

Destroyer – Kaputt

Frank Ocean – Nostalgia/Ultra

Gil Scott-Heron vs. Jamie xx – We’re New Here

Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost

James Blake – James Blake

Smith Westerns – Dye It Blonde

The Weeknd – House of Balloons

Wesley Straton

1. The Mountain Goats – All Eternals Deck

2. Mates of State – Mountaintops

3. tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l

4. Beirut – The Rip Tide

5. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

Leah Fine

1. Okkervil River – I Am Very Far

T-2. Bon Iver – Bon Iver

T-2. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes

T-4. Beirut – The Rip Tide

T-4. The Black Keys – El Camino

T-4. Youth Lagoon – The Year of Hibernation

7. Cults – Cults

I had a hard time putting this album on my list just because it doesn’t feel like a 2011 release—the slow trickle of singles and the slow build of hype makes it feel like Cults have been around forever.  And any time another one of those singles appeared, I expected to dislike it—this isn’t my kind of music.  It’s too sweet and glockenspiely.  And yet, song after song, month after month, blog post after blog post, Cults stuck with me.  I guess there’s just enough vengefulness to balance out the cute.

8. TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light

TV on the Radio has always appealed to me most with their slower, heavier songs, so Dear Science’s upbeat schizophrenia didn’t really do it for me.  Nine Types of Light takes the songs that worked—“DlZ”, “Family Tree”—and more or less makes a whole album out of them.  “Will Do” and “You” are right in my comfort zone—but then they swing a left hook with “Caffeinated Consciousness” and make me wonder why I ever doubted them at all.

9. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

10. The Low Anthem – Smart Flesh

It’s hard to call this album one of the best of the year, because the Low Anthem’s studio albums have never really lived up to the potential they show in their live performances.  They’ve heavily emphasized how this album was recorded in an abandoned pasta sauce factory, but it leaves everything sounding a bit hollow and grating.  Still, this album succeeds for its pure loveliness and creativity—the Low Anthem may be NPR fodder, with their singing saws and clarinets and folksy sensibilities, but they do seem genuine.

One thought on “WAMH’s Year End Album Countdown

  1. ben

    Very nice list; one thing though about the Atlas Sound record — Bradford went to a proper studio, with a producer, to make that record; http://4ad.com/releases/21382
    It’s refreshing to hear a properly produced record sound so carefree and “un”produced”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>