I have to first say that my starting point was 27 albums that were in a regular rotation, many of which I would say are in the 8-9 range out of 10. Some I listened to a lot at first but petered out as the year progressed. It was a very good year for music, particularly live music (nod to the folks at P/R/T and 88.9)
I'm going to start off with the just misses (there are a lot of them). Not really in any firm order.
Beirut-The Rip Tide
Bon Iver-Bon Iver
Explosions in the Sky-Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
Jessica Lea Mayfield-Tell Me
M83-Hurry Up, We're Dreaming
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks-Mirror Traffic
Okkervil River-I Am Very Far
Portugal. the Man-In the Mountain, In the Cloud
Kurt Vile-Smoke Ring for my Halo
Deer Tick-Divine Providence
Youth Lagoon-The Year of Hibernation
The War on Drugs-Slave Ambient
Smith Westerns-Dye it Blond
I'm not much for words when it comes to describing why I like a certain artist/music/song/album. I have a sweet spot that falls somewhere in the vicinity of The Grateful Dead, Neil Young, Pink Floyd, and Wilco.
Drum roll please............................
10. Charles Bradley-No Time for Dreaming
I've pretty much poo-pooed the neo-soul movement. Yeah, I know, they all put on energetic performances and people get out and dance, which I guess is fun. They make me feel too old. Charles Bradley does something different for me. He's got funk. He's a little bit James Brown and a little bit Marvin Gaye and a little bit of Robert Cray. He's a whole lot of cool and he's a killer performer. Glad someone finally discovered this guy. Standouts are I Believe in you Love and The World is Going up in Flames. My friend Tommy is front and center in this vid.
9. Atlas Sound-Parallax
A little bit of me feels like I'm jumping ship when I put albums like this on my list. I felt the same way about Merriweather Post Pavilion by Animal Collective. I think this album has just enough Joy Division, Radiohead, and Pavement in it to keep me interested and entertained. Standouts are The Shakes, Parallax, and Mona Lisa. Really a beautiful album.
8. TV on the Radio-Nine Types of Light
I've always appreciated TVOTR. They have an interesting sound which is tough to classify. They are chameleonesque. I know that's not really a word. I like their Afro-sound, their horns, their beat. Tunde Adebimpe is a showman and shows a great range of styles. I think it's their best effort to date. They put on a killer show. One of the best of the year.
7. Ryan Adams-Ashes & Fire
By Ryan's standards, this one took a while. It was worth the wait. Every tune I would classify as a nice little ditty. He's the consummate song writer. He writes music that most people can identify with. He also has a top notch band backing him up. Stand outs on the album are Lucky Now, Dirty Rain, Invisible Riverside and Do I Wait, which builds up more so than any other track on the album.
This is certainly going to be a popular pick on Top 10 lists, and with good reason. It's interesting and fun music. Hard to turn off. Super funky beats. I have no idea what any of the songs mean, but I don't care. They were incredible live. I'm guessing the sky is the limit for this band. Probably will play to huge crowds at festivals for quite some time.
5. The Head and The Heart-The Head and the Heart
I've dubbed these cats the Mumford & Sons of 2011. Very well written and performed music from a humble group of musicians. The fact that many of my favorite bands have had them open for them over the past year speaks loudly. I would be hard pressed to find someone that had something bad to say about their debut or their live performances. They are foot-stompin fun with tight harmonies and a Northwest sensibility/appreciation for good modern folk. The whole album is really good. My daughter and wife both like them a lot.
4. My Morning Jacket-Circuital
I have to be honest, at first I really didn't get into the album, then I really got it and loved it. My Morning Jacket can't be taken too seriously. They like to have fun and can be a bit campy. I guess I'm kind of the same way. That's probably why they have been my favorite band over the past decade. What makes this album particularly good is how it transfers live. The music is powerful and gives every band member an opportunity to shine without having silly guitar solos or stage clearing drum solos. I have to be honest about something else, I haven't listened to this album in probably five months. MMJ is meant to be heard live. I listen to concert bootlegs before albums without fail. Standouts include the one-two punch of Victory Dance-Circuital. Pretty tough to find an album with a better opening two songs. Slow Slow Tune is just gorgeous and Holding on to Black Metal is both undeniably goofy and wild live.
3. City and Colour-Little Hell
This album just does it for me. I've yet to find and occasion that it doesn't fit into well. Dallas Green has one of the most beautiful voices out there. I have a hard time putting my finger on what it is about this album. It's a little Neil Young, a little Big Head Todd, a little Ryan Adams. A lot of good. Grand Optimist is my number two song of the year. Not a dud on the whole album. My #1 and #2 for the year can't say that.
2. Wilco-The Whole Love
I have to confess something. I'm a little late to the Wilco bandwagon. I always thought of them as just another Chicago band that other people liked. I discovered I was wrong probably around 2006 when I listened to A Ghost is Born for the first time. I wasn't totally hooked, yet. I think it wasn't until my first Wilco show in 2007 that I caught the bug fully. From that point forward they have been a mainstay in my rotation. The Whole Love is a whole lot of good. The good songs are incredible, but there are some duds (for me). Song of the year is a toss up between Art of Almost and One Sunday Morning. The rest of the album is really good, but I just can't get into Capital City or Standing O. The good makes up for the bad easily in this case.
The two sides of Wilco:
1. The Decemberists-The King is Dead
Ok, I'll preface this by stating that I think they can't do wrong. Since I discovered The Decemberists in 2005, my vocabulary has increase five fold. Thanks Colin! I love this album and so do my wife and daughter. I think they like it because they can hear every word and sing along. Some of you may have driven by us and seen us singing in unison. Yep, we're geeks. We/I love this kind of Americana. Bottom line is that this album rocks (Down by the Water, This is Why we Fight). It also makes me weep (June Hymn). They are in my top three for live acts. I'm not sure where this albums falls in my rank order for Decemberists' albums, but it's really well done. Btw-this was a game time decision switcheroo from #2 to #1.
I've spent too much time looking at my list and my descriptions. Please excuse typeos, grammar, punctuation and spelling errors. Edit: The list has stayed the same, but I switched the order a bit. Might happen again.