10. Shabazz Palaces - Black Up (Sub Pop). This former member of Digable Planets, put out one of the most stand out hip hop releases of the year. Released on Sub Pop records, Black Up is full of layers and textures that you would never find in a hip hop album. Check out his performance earlier this year on KEXP.
Highlight track: "Swerve..."
9. Lianne La Havas - Lost & Found (Warner Bros). When Bon Iver's Justin Vernon was so blown away by someone's performance on Jools Holland and then ask that artist to open for Bon Iver's tour on the spot, you have to be something special. That something special is Lianne La Havas out of England. I have been checking her music out since the middle of 2011, and featuring her on my show Rhythm Lab Radio. Some say she is where Corrine Bailey Rae left off. However, she is much more than that. Just listen to her EP Lost & Found and you will realize that she is something really special. Check out the standout track and video for "No Room For Doubt" featuring Willy Mason, and you can see why Justin Vernon was blown away.
8. Thundercat - The Golden Age Of Apocalypse (Brainfeeder). What do you get when you take the bassist for Suicidal Tendancies, who also worked with Erykah Badu ands Snoop Dogg, and team him up with Flying Lotus? You get my number 8 album of 2011. Stephen Bruner aka Thundercat created a masterpiece with Flying Lotus to produced his debut release The Golden Age of Apocalypse. Thundercat takes hip hop, electronic music and jazz and integrates it seamlessly into one amazing debut release.
7. Jamie Woon - Mirrorwriting (Polydor/Candent). When it comes to today's R&B, I have to say the Brits are doing it better than the States. The Brits are more willing to break the mold and bring in new influences to R&B such as electronic music, rock, and more. Jamie Woon put one of those groundbreaking albums that could redefine what R&B can be. Woon's voice is soulful and haunting at the same time. Not only a singer/songwriter, Woon is also a producer, which probably what make this album really special. Even Pitchfork agrees.
Check out our(88Nine) interview with Woon at this past SXSW.
6. The Weeknd - House Of Balloons (Self-Released). All I can say about this Canadian artist is DAMN!!! To be honest, when The Weeknd's first mixtape dropped, I ignored it for a few weeks (probably one of the biggest music related mistakes I made in 2011). The Weeknd, similar to Jamie Woon, took R&B in to places I didn't think was possible. If R&B and urban music had an answer to Bon Iver, it would be The Weeknd. House of Balloons reminds me of early Massive Attack, Portishead, but instead of being made in Bristol, it was made with a street sensilbility that can be only found in North America. Even Florence & The Machine was blown away, that they asked The Weeknd to remix their new single "Shake It Out." What makes this even better, is that the album is FREE. The Weeknd have released two other mixtapes, but House of Balloons is an instant classic.
5. Michael Kiwanuka - Tell Me A Tale (Communion Records). Michael Kiwanuka's voice is the best soulful voice since Bill Withers. Kiwanuka doesn't mimick Bill Wither voice, but has his own unique sound that blends the sound of the 60's soul with a subtle influence of the music of Fela Kuti. A true present and future gem. With a full release on the way in 2012, he will definitely be on my best of 2012 list.
4. Bon Iver - Bon Iver (Jagjaguwar). This album is when I became a true fan of Justin Vernon. Their sophomore album is simply lush and beautiful. A solid album from the beginning to the end. Even though the album might be considered folk/indie, it has a definite soulful quality. Vernon's voice is versatile and fits well with all the songs. After seeing Bon Iver live this past summer, the album earned a spot in my top 5 of 2011. Now, I'm waiting for Vernon to do a funk album or collaborate with The Weeknd.
3. Little Dragon - Ritual Union (Peacefrog). Ritual Union is Little Dragon's third album and one of their best releases. This group from Sweden made an album that is playful and fun to listen to over and over. Little Dragon is one of those groups who can redefine R&B and urban music and they do it very well on this album. Watching Little Dragon perform these songs live only proves why Ritual Union is number 3.
2. James Blake - James Blake (Universal Republic). I knew James Blake initially as an electronic producer, an amazing producer. Blake put out some amazing releases on the label R&S records. He recently put out a new EP entitled Love What Happened Here, which is simply gorgeous. But when he took his style of production and blended with his minimal, but rich voice, Blake create a masterpiece. Blake not only created an amazing piece of sonic art, but he change the perceptions and stereotypes of what electronic music is and can be. The production on his album sounded like nothing in 2011 or even in 2010. His cover of Feist's "Limit To Your Love" blew me away. It still surprises me that people I know who are not fans of electronic music, love this album.
1. SBTRKT - SBTRKT (Young Turks). England's SBTRKT dominated my playlist all year with their first single "Wildfire" featuring Little Dragon's Yukimi Nagano. It is my favorite track of the year, and when I got my hands on the full length, it solidified it's position as my number 1 album of 2011. Blending sounds of hip hop, soul, reggae, electronic into something that put a smile on my face everytime I listened to it. Then I saw SBTRKT live in Chicago. Best live performance of 2011!!! SBTRKT's album is not only filled with dance cuts, but with amazing songs. When you can listen to an album, while chilling at home and at a different time it can make you dance, you have something truly unique and special.
James Vincent McMorrow - Early in The Morning
TV On The Radio - Nine Types Of Lights
Lana Del Rey - Video Games/Blue Jeans
Clams Casino - Instrumentals
Jono McCleery - There Is
Alex Clare - Lateness of the Hour
Jamie xx - Far Nearer
Ghostpoet - Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam
CREEP - You/Days
Toro Y Moi - Freaking Out/Underneath the Pine