Steve’s Top 10 Most Dug Albums of 2011

Last year, I didn't listen to enough albums to make anything more than a top five list. That was not the case this year. Here are my ten favorite albums of 2011. These are the ones that I spent the most time with because they sounded good and, more importantly, because they spoke to me.

Most of these albums have been covered on Those Who Dig this past year. I've provided links to that coverage, which will allow you to read more about the albums and hear at least one more song. Also, every album title links to a place you can purchase it if you are so inclined.

10. e-dubble – Written Thursday: The Freestyle Friday Mixtape

e-dubble – Hampden Parks

I don't know if this technically counts because it's a mixtape – one composed mainly of tracks from 2010 – but there was no way I could leave this off my list. It probably should be higher, as I don't think any other album hit me more directly with such frequency than Written Thursday. e-dubble is a creative producer, an excellent MC, and his message of self-actualization was exactly what I needed during this transitional year of my life.

For my review click here. For other e-dubble tracks on TWD, click here, here, here, and here.

9. Memphis – Here Comes A City

Memphis – Reservoir

This isn't a flashy album, but for those who dig well-crafted, engaging indie pop, Here Comes a City is a very nice place to spend some time.

For my review, click here.

8. Sleeping in the Aviary – You and Me, Ghost

Sleeping in the Aviary – Love Police

This is twelve tight, 1950s/1960s pop-inspired (both energetic burners and big band-type slow dances) songs that are all about girls. Just try and not dig it! Also, a great live act.

For my review, click here. For an interview with the band, click here.

7. Wye Oak – Civilian

Wye Oak – Civilian

This was one of my most anticipated releases of 2011 and it did not disappoint. I love how Wye Oak always seems to be a much bigger band than the duo they are; it makes you wonder what other bands that have more members but don't sound nearly as fully realized are doing wrong. I often struggle to describe their sound in ways that aren't simplistic. Is saying it's a combination of a great voice, guitar, and drums enough? Probably not. All I know is, when their music comes on, I can't help getting totally sucked in.

I didn't write about this on TWD, so how about another track? Wye Oak – Hot As Day

Also, they did another awesome performance for AVClub Undercover this year. Check that out here.

6. Yuck – [self-titled]

Yuck – Operation

First, there's the artwork and band name – not something that passes the "judge a book by its cover" test. Then there's that fact that some people knock this album as derivative. Neither could stop me from enjoying the hell out of Yuck. This is the kind of sound I dream about: lots of fuzzy guitars, loud-soft dynamics, initially inscrutable words delivered through unassailable melodies, and a rhythm section that anchors it perfectly. Why wouldn't I love a band that loves a lot of bands I love and sounds so great? "Operation" just might be the chorus of the year. I want to be well-designed, indeed.

Another I didn't review on TWD. Another awesome track instead: Yuck – Georgia

5. Aurelio – Laru Beya

Aurelio – Yange

To me, Laru Beya is proof that music is a universal language. I don't understand most of the words and I knew nothing about Garifuna culture, but I had no problem entering the world Aurelio Martinez and his huge cast of fellow performers joyfully created and loving what I heard there. It was like a sonic vacation, one I encourage everyone to take. It mixes the exotic of a new culture with the common of the human experience. All of it is beautiful. My enjoyment of this album was enhanced by the best liner notes I read all year.

For my review, click here.

4. Timber Timbre – Creep On Creepin' On

Timber Timbre – Bad Ritual

No other album on this list did quite as good a job at creating a vivid, cohesive atmosphere as Creep On Creepin' On, which is indeed creepy. But it is also riveting. It felt like watching a noir film scored by a 1930s jazz/doo-wop band fronted by a werewolf Elvis.

For my review, click here.

3. Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean

Iron & Wine – Rabbit Will Run

It is a little scary how good Iron & Wine really is. Each album represents a step forward and each time without fail it feels sneakily effortless. Sam Beam is one of my favorite songwriters, an incredible craftsman of both sound and word. I think I like Kiss Each Other Clean so much because it represents the best kind of development for an artist: integrating the new and different with the familiar and loved. I also like it because it's really, really good.

For my review, click here. Kyle also loved this album, it's on his list (with another great song) here.


2. Feist – Metals

Feist – The Bad In Each Other

2011 was a very contemplative year for me, which is probably why I fell so hard for Metals. In this album, I found a mirroring of my own processes of grappling with the past, of wondering about the future, and of considering people that come in and out of life. I found a connection between rumination and nature that resonated on a deeply personal level. And I found a gorgeous soundscape to return to again and again.

For my review, click here.

1. EMA – Past Life Martyred Saints

EMA – Red Star

It's a strange phenomenon that the further I get down the list, the harder it is to put into words why I love an album so much. I feel like words never do the best music justice because the true reason something is your favorite comes from the gut. Past Life Martyred Saints is my number one album of the year because of that – it just feels right.

From the first time I heard "California," (my favorite song of the year) I was hopelessly ensnared. This record is an astonishing mix of power and vulnerability. It reminds me of other bands I dig, yet it never once feels like anything else but a pure representation of Erika M. Anderson's unique vision. The opening odyssey of the "Grey Ship," the straddling of a hurricane and its eye on "California," the zen harmonies of "Anteroom," the apocalyptic danceiness of "Milkman," the rough but strangely affecting a capella on "Coda,"  the palpable pain of "Marked," the slow unfurling of "Breakfast," the beautiful chaos of "Butterfly Knife," – these are just a sampling of the highlights.

And then there's the stunning album closer "Red Star," whose final two minutes contain my favorite musical moment of the year. After the slow build of the song – not to mention the entire journey of the whole album – EMA singing "I know nothing lasts forever, if you won't love me someone will" is a volacano erupting, a star going supernova. To me, this is a manifestation of potential energy becoming kinetic, of all of Past Life Martyred Saints sentiment and emotional highs and lows coalescing into an urgent, undeniable need to just fucking live, and with the churning musical backdrop, it is achieves that rare, perfect transcendence I always hope to find as a listener. It's the last and perhaps most powerful highlight on an album full of them.

I didn't review this album on TWD, but I did post on EMA. Check out the video for "California" here and b-side "Angelo" here.

***

2011 will always be a memorable year for me and the music here was certainly a reason for that. Thank you all for reading Those Who Dig throughout. I'm very excited about what 2012 holds and I hope you will join us. Of course, we aren't done yet for this year, but it seemed like the best time to say that.

Other Best of 2011 Posts:

Steve

Steve (@SteveWhoDigs) digs music with strong imagery and emotional resonance and musicians that bring passion to everything they do. He likes to write about music that speaks to him in some way, to explore music’s connections with other creative arts and with place, and to interview artists about their awesome projects. He’s currently based in Brooklyn.

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