1. Bon Iver – Bon Iver
There’s a moment in his interview with Spin about the former-veternary-clinic recording studio where Justin Vernon mentions living amongst a bunch of people both involved in the album’s creation and not, all of them making art in close proximity, three miles from where he grew up. He describes it as “kinda like this art space but for people from Wisconsin so its not like this weird thing where it feels like an art space, it just feels like a place where a lot of things happen;” more than just the sound and feel of such a place comes through on Bon Iver’s followup as arguably all of the track names designate places ficitonal and non: “Minnesota, WI”, “Wash.”, “Michicant”. Made after a stint in Hawaii with Kanye in Hawaii, beginning in Heath Ledger honoring track “Perth” (see: Birth) and ending with the excellent “Beth/Rest” (see: Death), Bon Iver is the sound of transcendence: transcending his former sound and his former context (alone in the woods) to create something wonderful.
Key Track: “Beth/Rest” ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9UtQe0JOCnM )
2. Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost
It’s title referring to the spiritual reverence with which many hold music, Girls third release sees the perfect meld of Chet White’s Pink-Floyd-Meets-Surf-Rock production and Christopher Owens’ Puppy-Eyed-Elvis-Costello vocals that was already stunning in last year’s Broken Dreams Club EP.
Key Track: “Vomit” ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ze6rg4ixjOI )
3. Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo
Filled with songs feeling as though they come at the wasted end of a wasted day, Vile’s breakthrough Smoke Ring For My Halo is the sound of a morning that could use more sleep, an evening you guess you’re alive, and, to steal another line from the closing track, a sleepwalk through a ghost town.
Key Track: “Ghost Town” ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gu9K40JjMx0 )
4. James Blake – James Blake
Attacking the machismo focused, “pissing competition” that is current dubstep both vocally (http://pitchfork.com/news/44141-echo-chamber-james-blake/) and in music style (see his 3 EPs from last year), James Blake became the big name of Post-Dubstep, refining the sound he took too far in the Klavierwerke EP and not far enough in the CMYK EP and creating something simple and devastating.
Key Track: “The Wilhelm Scream” ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MVgEaDemxjc )
5. The Weeknd – House of Balloons
Remaning anonymous for a surprisingly amount of time after a major shout out from fellow Canadian Drake, Abel Tesfaye’s The Weeknd person indulges in cooing vocals, darkly lusty lyricism, and a variety of other substances over the course of this astounding debut mixtape.
Key Track: “Wicked Games” ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ypE5tsnsPVQ )
6. Feist – Metals
Sounding like the female version of Bon Iver’s self-titled release (and both utilize arrangements by Colin Stetson), Feist’s Metals is less a reaction to the fame resulting from 2007’s The Reminder as an ignorance of the typical indulgence of rock stars, using her success to record in a barn in Big Sur and take her time to create a personally satisfying recording of long gestating track “Anti-Pioneer”.
Key Track: “Anti-Pioneer” ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7UZFWd8mx-U )
7. Jay-Z/Kanye West – Watch the Throne
Former-drug-Dealing, still-classically-cool family man together again with the Indulgent party boy who likes art type girls: the results are as fun as you’d expect and surprisingly heavy as Jay-Z and Kanye meditate on future sons (and all before Beyoncé’s big reveal at this year’s VMA’s).
Key Track: “Otis” ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BoEKWtgJQAU )
8. Washed Out – Within and Without
2011 was the year that Chillwave doubled down on its place in the music tapestry after its emergence two years ago as spearheading artists like Neon Indian, Toro y Moi, and Washed Out released follow-ups to their debuts: Neon Indian dove into synthesizers and madness while Toro Y Moi rounded up a live band and some Stevie Wonder records but neither were as successful as Washed Out’s Ben H. Allen (Deerhunter, Animal Collective) produced Within and Without that stands as a counterpoint to The Weeknd’s lusty adventures with its sensual, longing sound/album cover and its position as a dedication to his new wife.
Key Track: “Amor Fati” ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7fYnfE5Cycg )
9. Panda Bear – Tomboy
Beginning to gain the status of Chillwave godfather (amongst other things) for 2007’s Person Pitch, Panda Bear’s follow-up Tomboy ignores his cultural position and makes the least dad-rock sounding dad-rock album, writing songs from a basement in Portugal both about and to support his family and status as a father.
Key Track: “Slow Motion” ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ycw2RnSo7Q4 )
10. War on Drugs – Slave Ambient
It’s hard not to compare The War on Drugs with the music of former member Kurt Vile but like their still occurring collaborations (Vile plays on opener “Best Night” and lead singer Adam Granduciel plays on some of Vile’s Square Shells EP), there is great success in placing them close together as The War on Drugs is Beer to Vile’s bong, Springsteen and Dylan to his Neil Young, and interaction to Vile’s introspection.
Key Track: “Brothers” ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9JB5YLCwgk&feature=related )