Judging by the article's somewhat less-than-ambiguous title, and the fact that anyone reading this is more likely than not a music nut well-versed with wandering around the net, there's not much need for a wordy introduction here. But let's do that anyway! 2010 set the bar staggeringly high, and it's nothing short of a marvel that 2011 measured up with such apparent ease. From artsy pop sirens to dubstep wunderkinds to old hip-hop favorites, the year was dominated with heavy hitters, to say the least. So let's stop rambling and survey the year's wreckage with an another needlessly large countdown, shall we?
100. Grouplove - Never Trust a Happy Song
There's something to be said for music with such an infectious catchiness to it that any lack of originality is completely forgiven. Which is not to call Grouplove's debut derivative or unoriginal at all; while this lovely slice of summery indie pop goodness is sprinkled all throughout with familiar sounds and influences, everything fits wonderfully with the band's own individual stamp. Not only does Never Trust a Happy Song give off such an absurdly good and energetic vibe, it puts 2011 indie contemporaries Foster the People and The Drums to shame with its impressive consistency.
Recommended Tracks: Lovely Cup, Love Will Save Your Soul
99. Little Scream - The Golden Record
Laurel Sprengelmeyer (who painted the cover art herself) proves to have quite the Midas touch with her debut, the aptly titled The Golden Record. While the bulk of this album's material points to folk, Sprengelmeyer tries her hand at incorporating a number of different styles, resulting in a surprisingly effective blend. The mood ranges from sad and wistful to restless with not just a startling lack of difficulty, but such a genuine nature that the music doesn't once feel as if crafted by an overly eager musician trying too hard, which can be a tremendously difficult pitfall to avoid with such ambition, and that could well be Little Scream's greatest strength.
Recommended Tracks: The Heron and the Fox, Black Cloud
98. The King Blues - Punk & Poetry
Not to say that I'm the biggest fan of The Clash, but honestly, they're just one of those bands where you'd be hardpressed to find someone who doesn't at least respect them. Enter The King Blues, who carry the same spirit of playing with punk rock not just in how it can sound, but what it can say, and they do a marvelous job with their third LP. Outspoken vocalist Jonny "Itch" Fox's subject matter ranges from tender love songs to taking fierce socio-political stances at the drop of a dime (and sounding just as passionate every time) while the band behind him toys with styles as disparate as dancehall and doo wop. And with as long the gamut they run is, the band makes it feel as if it shouldn't be any other way.
Recommended Tracks: The Future's Not What It Used to Be, Five Bottles of Shampoo
97. Cass McCombs - Wit's End
As bleak as Wit's End can come across, it's admirable just how damn mesmerizing it is. McCombs has such a knack for emanating his influences (Syd Barrett and Nick Drake, to name a few) while making his melancholic songwriting his own. The songs express themselves by way of storytelling, venting, and even at times rambling, and each one is like a successful, dark little experiment. And Wit's End is a dark listen, even unbearably so at times, but there is such attention to detail and such a feel of authenticity behind it that it's unimaginable for a fan of any folk between 1965 and today to not find something they would like here.
Recommended Tracks: The Lonely Doll, Buried Alive
96. Tombs - Path of Totality
For an album stumbled upon simply because it shares its title with Korn's latest misguided attempt at reclaiming relevancy, Tombs' fourth full-length is a find and a half; as intelligent as it is blistering, and a great direction in which to send someone who wonders where the hell Neurosis has been hiding. Totality has got a serious kick to it, sludging and thrashing its way through impressively intricate progressions and building up to downright explosive peaks. Booming, raging, and even morose at times, Tombs exhibits a depth in metal that just isn't as common as it used to be.
Recommended Tracks: To Cross the Land, Cold Dark Eyes
95. DeVotchKa - 100 Lovers
One of the most culturally rich bands around, DeVotchKa (don't you DARE leave out that typeset!) returned this year with essentially more of the same; an album that may not be as cohesive as it could, but songs that absolutely nail any aspect of world music they attempt, incorporating it seamlessly with their gentle brand of indie rock. With such a unique style, and what with how every Devotchka record (see? Doesn't that look HORRIBLE?) takes its listener on a such a convincing musical journey around the world, it's hard to fault the band for the few flaws they do show.
Recommended Tracks: All the Sand in All the Sea, Exhaustible
94. Necro Deathmort - Music of Bleak Origin
Utterly bizarre. Music of Bleak Origin couldn't possibly have a more appropriate title; pitch black from start to finish, with so many heavy and dark genres thrown together to create something that's soul crushing in its own special way. It pounds like industrial, it deafens in the same way that drone does, and it maintains a barely concealed beauty underneath all the ugliness in a way that shoegaze always has. Bleak grabs you immediately, and holds your attention as only something mildly disturbing can. To put it plainly, there's an extremely good chance that you've never heard anything quite like this.
Recommended Tracks: For Your Own Good, Blizzard
93. Banner Pilot - Heart Beats Pacific
Banner Pilot's third effort finds the quartet doing what they do best, crafting catchy pop punk with just enough edge to keep it interesting. And like the best outfits in this scene, Banner Pilot has a way of making the most silly and every day things sound absolutely brilliant by merely singing about it with a soaring poppy chorus. "So if you wanna stay up all night, we can hit the record shops or just stay in bed drinking Spanish Reds, waiting for the rain to stop." A band this good can make just about anything sound great.
Recommended Tracks: Forty Degrees, Spanish Reds
92. The Horrible Crowes - Elsie
It doesn't really come as a surprise that something so bluesy, dirty, and downright raw could come from a side project of The Gaslight Anthem's Brian Fallon, but that doesn't make it any less impressive. Fallon is known for his outstanding storytelling abilities and lyricism, and these truly take the stage on Elsie; loneliness, anguish, and frustration are evident in even the most raucous numbers, but they're no more prevalent than the hope and resilience that are able to register in the saddest and most pensive of the tracks. As direct as it is complex, Elsie is quite the emotional trip.
Recommended Tracks: Sugar, Ladykiller
91. Sims - Bad Time Zoo
Yet another obscenely talented MC on the Doomtree roster, Sims' sophomore record boasts incredibly catchy and seemingly radio-tailored beats that are too fun to not get your head nodding. On top of this, however, is an impressive flow expressing quite a few ideas and protests that almost don't fit the music's unbridled merriment; politicians, technology, ignorance, greed, solipsism, and several more topics make up quite the conversational buffet that is Bad Time Zoo's lyrical platter. The great thing is, though, that the music and lyrics balance each other out perfectly, and you can be in the mood for only one and still enjoy the shit out of this.
Recommended Tracks: Burn It Down, Weight
90. Jenny Hval - Viscera
In a word, sexy. Not many singers can let their looming voice carry the brunt of an album, much less blurt out words like "clitoris" or "erection" so offhandedly yet with such profound effect. Viscera is just that, a woman embracing her sexuality from the inside out and expressing it with music and vocals that are thoroughly dripping with lust. Hval manages a peculiar balance musically as well, keeping her melodies and instrumentation with a strong variance yet with an unmistakable uniform sound to the album as a whole. As engaging as it is challenging. And as you may have guessed, quite thought provoking as well. Ehm... if you'll excuse me, I need to regain my focus.
Recommended Tracks: Blood Flight, This Is a Thirst
89. Thrice - Major/Minor
Seeing the ever-evolving Thrice on an end-of-the-year list isn't exactly a shocker, is it? Thrice is that rare beast in music who never sounds like anybody but themselves, though gives you something new every time, and Major/Minor is of course no exception. And while the atmosphere and melodies are more than enough to carry this album, it's is a stunner if only for that voice. Dustin Kensrue's rasp has so much character in it that the "singing the phone book" cliche most definitely applies here, making the already stripped down affair sound even more raw and pack even more of an emotional punch. Thrice, you've done it again.
Recommended Tracks: Yellow Belly, Treading Paper
88. Sarah Fimm - Near Infinite Possibility
Let's pretend for a moment that Dredg and their god-awful "dark pop" doesn't exist for a moment, and simply embrace the notion of a pop-rock singer/songwriter embracing a bit of a dark edge to their somewhat radio friendly approach, and this is roughly what you get. Sarah Fimm has got more than just a touch of Sarah McLachlan in her, but she is far more daring and eclectic, and on this outing she is wearing her heart on both sleeves. There may be a bit of a streamlined sound here, but make no mistake - the emotion boiling underneath the surface is very real. Dredg may have coined the term referring to dark pop, but this is the real thing.
Recommended Tracks: Invisible Satellites, Disappear
87. Modeselektor - Monkeytown
Perhaps, for whatever reason, the German duo feared that their already staggering collection of electronic styles was in danger of growing stale, and that could be why Monkeytown is so eclectic (even more so than their flooring first two albums). In any case, one can only assume that Modeselektor wanted to go even more all out this time around; more guest spots, a more dizzying array of genres blended together, and more densely packed tracks. There is so much going on here that it can take a while to digest; which isn't to suggest that Monkeytown isn't concise, of course. In fact, it's an absolute joy to feel growing on you.
Recommended Tracks: Berlin, This (feat. Thom Yorke)
86. Onry Ozzborn - Hold On for Dear Life
The vocal half of Dark Time Sunshine (who released the tremendous Vessel just last year) returns with his fourth solo album, and it's loaded with great beats and smart rhymes, both of which come with an extremely dynamic delivery. Alternately fun and gripping, it's not how much he has to say (and there is quite a lot) so much as how he says it; Onry Ozzborn is extremely inventive with his wordplay and with how he stacks the rhymes in his flow. Absolutely relentless.
Recommended Tracks: All to Herself, Electric Dreams
85. Laura Marling - A Creature I Don't Know
Fresh off the heels of last year's spectacular I Speak Because I Can, Laura Marling churns out yet another excellent piece of folk, forcing me to gush for the second consecutive year about the twenty-one year old with a beautiful, textured voice which spouts out words that sound like they once belonged to a poet of old. It's astounding how not only can she pour her soul to such a complete degree into her gentle music, but how eloquently she does it. And she's just getting started.
Recommended Tracks: The Beast, Rest in the Bed
84. Givers - In Light
For better and for worse (depending on your taste, of course), Givers' debut In Light debut LP more than made up for the absence of a Vampire Weekend release in 2011. All the bright, bubbling melodies, the worldly influences, and that cheerful attitude are present, though it could be argued that Givers offer even more eclecticism and dynamism. These guys seem to go through so many different modes (check out the seemingly random celtic jam on Atlantic and how startlingly well it fits) but don't lose their focus once.
Recommended Tracks: Meantime, Noche Nada (A Lot from Me)
83. Sebastian - Total
Given how watered down the electro house scene has gotten with knob twiddlers getting by on bells, whistles, and bass farts, it's become easy to forget that it doesn't have to be complex to sound great; you can mess around with random noises all you want, but for fuck's sake, give it some melody! Thankfully, French producer Sebastian has got the balance down pat. As abrasive as the music can be, there's not only a pounding beat demanding you to stop whatever you're doing and to just have fun and fucking dance, but the melodies are too damn catchy to ignore. And this, my friends, is what good dance music is all about.
Recommended Tracks: Embody, Tetra
82. The War on Drugs - Slave Ambient
It's an amazing thing when an album can tell you "yeah, I've been there." Slave Ambient gives off this feel not just in how worn and genuinely destitute it sounds, but simply because the way it embraces its influences is so satisfyingly honest. Vocalist Adam Granduciel doesn't resemble Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan so much as he happens to be in the same boat; an everyman who just wants his story to be told and has extraordinary means with which to do so, backed by a band which is every bit as capable. With so many nods to the past, the mere fact that Slave wouldn't be at home in any other era is mesmerizing alone.
Recommended Tracks: I Was There, Your Love Is Calling My Name
81. Amatorski - TBC
Sometimes something can sound very fragile at first, and lures you in with the gentle sound it initially projects, but underneath the surface it's a crisp, and at times menacing beast. Belgian act Amatorski pulls this off with remarkable ease, resulting in what many have dubbed a hybrid of Portishead and Sigur Rós, a description which is a tad more accurate than one might expect. Delicate and beautiful, yet with a strong sense of foreboding, and the different sensibilities harmonize wonderfully.
Recommended Tracks: Never Told, 22 Februar
80. Toxic Holocaust - Conjure and Command
No self-respecting metalhead in this day and age is unfamiliar with any given band trying to replicate the thrash sound from the days of old. However, there is certainly something to be said for a band that takes the basic sound and runs off in their own direction with it. Throwing in just a touch of black metal, Toxic Holocaust really sets themselves apart from their thrash contemporaries on Conjure and Command just in how uncompromising it is. The band is not interested in following a template so much as using it for a stepping stone; Conjure may thrash harder than just about anything else in 2011, but it truly is something all on its own.
Recommended Tracks: Agony of the Damned, I Am Disease
79. Samiyam - Sam Baker's Album
As doomed as this already was to J Dilla comparisons (prior to release, even), the slightly melancholic nature lying just beneath the surface of the funky boom bap beats was bound to grab at least a few on their own merit. Thankfully, Samiyam is a more than capable producer, and molds all the influences into his own brand of instrumental hip-hop, from the wonky bass to the 8-bit synths. Even more crucially, the tracks never go longer than they need to; While an album having seventeen songs can give off a bit of a daunting feel, no idea is pushed any more than is necessary, and everything flows to a spectacular degree.
Recommended Tracks: Where Am I?, My Buddy
78. Thursday - No Devolución
One of the finest swansongs in recent years. Thursday have always had quite the flair for the dramatic, and it makes all too much sense that (what seems to be) their final release pushes it to the furthest edges possible without coming across as over the top. With aggression and utter beauty meeting halfway, No Devolución strikes an incredibly new sound for the band without ever sounding like anybody else. As vocalist Geoff Rickly said of the drive behind the album's writing process, "You know what? Who cares? Let's say our career is over tomorrow, who fucking cares? Let's make something beautiful." Only a fool would say that the band didn't accomplish exactly this...
Recommended Tracks: Darker Forest, Empty Glass
77. Beastie Boys - Hot Sauce Committee, Part Two
An issue that often arises for a band which has experienced twenty-plus years of consistent success is relentless fanboy-isms regarding anything they may put out. Well, as a rabid Beastie fan who didn't care much for To the 5 Boroughs (or The Mix-Up, for that matter), I can honestly call bullshit. The Beasties may not be in completely top form here, but anyone who denies that Hot Sauce finds them firing on all cylinders in a way they haven't in over a decade is lying to themselves. Everything our beloved New York based trio has excelled at (rapid fire trade-offs, random bursts of punk, making sure to have fun above all else, etc.) is here in spades. What's not to love?
Recommended Tracks: Nonstop Disco Powerpack, Lee Majors Come Again
76. Russian Circles - Embros
What makes Russian Circles' latest such a fascinating listen isn't so much those usual post-rock (or post-metal, if you like... you know how we music nerds love to tack "post" onto the front of things) conventions with their boxes checked as it is its remarkable ability to explore the best parts of a metal song six to eight minutes at a time. This could very easily come across as a random and pointless exercise, but the Chicago three piece are so good at making it all flow. Atackla alone goes from a brooding somber mood to aggressively pounding away to a startling sense of serenity; it's not so much a build-up as it blindly following its muse, and Embros is all the better for it.
Recommended Tracks: 309, Batu