It used to be that getting old, by which I mean turning 30, meant you gave up on new music. I turned 30 this year, but instead of ignoring new music, I ignored old music.
I listened to about 250 new releases this year, as well as another 100 or so new-to-me albums from previous years. Which didn’t leave a whole lot of time for the classics, or even personal favorites. Inevitably, that changes the way I listen. The sheer volume of new music I’m consuming these days means that I’m listening restlessly rather than patiently, always on the hunt for the next great thing instead of focusing on what I already have.
The records that I adore the most are the ones that calm that restlessness, that silence the voice in my head constantly asking whether maybe there’s something better out there that I haven’t heard yet. Finding a great album means I can quit the hunt, rest, and enjoy the music — at least for a little while.
In no particular order, then, here are 28 of the new records that stopped me in my tracks in 2011:
- Bon Iver - Bon Iver || There are several genuinely great songs on Bon Iver. But it’s the album’s full-length sweep — its sense of self, and completeness — that gives it its power.
- Drake - Take Care || Like everyone, I appreciate Drake because he’s confessional, funny, dry, self-conscious, an entertaining diarist as much as (or more than) a hip-hop technician. But I think what I enjoy most about his music are the moody soundscapes, which go a long way toward establishing the sexy, sly, self-deprecating world he seems to live in.
- The Weeknd - House of Balloons
- The Weeknd - Thursday
- The Weeknd - Echoes of Silence || It’s hard to say which of The Weeknd’s three 2011 releases is the best. House of Balloons, a sort of deconstructed R&B record, had the biggest impact, and was the most startling just because it was so self-assured, so perfectly conceived and executed — even as a free-download debut. It would have been a hard act for anyone to follow up, but The Weeknd delivered — twice! Indeed, if anything, the pre-Christmas Echoes, which further twists and subverts current R&B/hip-hop paradigms to brilliant effect, suggests that The Weeknd is getting better, honing its sound and ideas rather than running dry. As far as I’m concerned, musically, 2011 belongs to The Weeknd.
- Feist - Metals
- Class Actress - Rapprocher
- Iron & Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean || This seems to have been overlooked in a lot of best-of lists. I’m surprised! Maybe it has something to do with the fact that it was released in January? Regardless, it’s a lush, beautiful record that, like Bon Iver, needs to be listened to as a complete record rather than a collection of singles.
- Jay-Z and Kayne West - Watch the Throne || I was actually kind of disappointed by this record after Kanye’s glorious Dark Twisted Fantasy. Eventually, I came around. Watch the Throne isn’t as rich in its pleasures, but as indulgently shallow hip-pop goes, it does the job.
- Kendrick Lamar - Section.80
- Lykke Li - Wounded Rhymes
- Killer Mike - Pl3dge || Killer Mike is the sort of rapper who gives the sense that he’d be a great talk show host, or columnist. He has strong opinions, and they’re interesting, and he works hard to share them in a way that’s engaging and entertaining.
- Purity Ring - Ungirthed 7” || I fully expect that whatever full-length Purity Ring releases next year will end up near the top of my best-of-2012 list.
- St. Vincent - Strange Mercy
- Shabazz Palaces - Black Up
- TV on the Radio - Nine Types of Light || Another early-year release that seems to have been overlooked in the year end lists.
- Twin Sister - In Heaven
- Tyler, The Creator - Goblin
- Curren$y - Weekend at Burnie’s
- Danny Brown - XXX || This is a really weird record. Imagine if David Lynch made a movie about a Muppet rapper and you start to get the idea.
- Das Racist - Relax
- EMA - Past Life Martyred Saints
- Hooray for Earth - True Loves || Big sound. Big hooks. A vibe that’s part Animal Collective, part “Kids”-era MGMT. Why aren’t these guys huge yet?
- My Brightest Diamond - All Things Will Unwind
- Toro Y Moi - Underneath the Pine
- Toro Y Moi - Freaking Out
- Maria Minerva - Sacred and Profane Love
- Office of Future Plans - Office of Future Plans || I loved Burning Airlines. I loved Jawbox. So it’s not really surprising that I also love this new J. Robbins project, Office of Future Plans.