Though the Grammys aren’t until February, we decided to scour our playlists for this year’s best musical releases. Ranging from the ultra-popular to the lovably obscure, The Oracle drops the beat on some of the best albums of 2011.
Bon Iver, “Bon Iver”
In between appearing on Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” and touring the U.S., Bon Iver managed to create one of the best albums of 2011.
A follow-up to 2008’s “For Emma, Forever Ago,” which was written and recorded in a secluded Wisconsin cabin, the album is a departure from the band’s sparse, creaky, folky sound. “Bon Iver” features an eclectic mix of synthy guitars, thundering drums, bass saxophones and horns.
Most named after a different city, the 10 songs ultimately create a cohesive and expansive sound that is totally unlike any band in the industry. And there’s certainly something to be said for a band that can manage to make auto-tune listenable – even likable.
– Melanie Wiesen
Jay-Z and Kanye West, “Watch the Throne”
The collaboration between hip-hop royalty Kanye West and Jay-Z resulted in the stellar album, “Watch the Throne.”
Debuting at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top 200 in its first week, “Watch the Throne” was well-received by critics and fans. The album samples sounds from other artists, such as Otis Redding, James Brown and Nina Simone.
It also includes the vocals of Beyonc, Frank Ocean, Mr. Hudson and Kid Cudi. The dramatic sound of the album is characteristic of Kanye West and Jay-Z, and together they perfected their talents and produced 2011’s best album.
– Cheyenne Prosper
Andrew Jackson Jihad,”Knife Man”
Phoenix duo Andrew Jackson Jihad has continually put out great records with dark humor and cathartic releases, and this year’s “Knife Man” is both their best work yet and an album of the times.
The songs switch between rollicking electric tracks, such as “Hate, Rain on Me,” and hushed, softer songs, including “If You Have Love in Your Heart” and “Back Pack.” The latter is a haunting tale with the narrator discovering his murdered lover.
The album’s heart arguably comes with “People II: Still Peoplin’,” a song that sums up the country’s current desperate times with stinging lyrics that include, “You can hope it gets better and you can follow your dreams, but hope is for presidents and dreams are for people who are sleeping.”
By the end of closing track “Big Bird,” the album has painted a poignant, powerful picture of America’s current climate that is hard to stop thinking about and rewards repeated listens.
– Jimmy Geurts
Das Racist, “Relax”
It’s a weird time for hip-hop. So much of what’s popular is just hard to listen to with a straight face. Go ahead, rap about weed and sneakers, but don’t try to convince me that it’s actually important. That’s where Das Racist comes in.
Is their mash-up of pop-culture non-sequiturs and racial paranoia ridiculous at times? Absolutely. But so is most of the hip-hop that’s out there right now. The difference is that Das Racist knows it, admits it and even wallows in it.
“Relax” is just as musically catchy and skillfully rapped as, say, “Tha Carter IV,” but by being self-aware, it’s a million times more listenable.
– Christopher Spata
This year, Adele’s “21” reigned supreme among other albums, finally granting her long-overdue mainstream popularity. In a musical world corrupted by remedial lyrics and auto-tune, “21” is a breath of fresh air.
Adele’s sophomore album proved that her hair-raising voice could sing the alphabet and move one to tears. Much like her debut album, “19,” non-singles from “21” hold the same amount of quality as the chart-toppers. The songs are melodic, a bit edgy and full of raw emotion.
– Sheilla Sanon
Lupe Fiasco, “L.A.S.E.R.S.”
Fiasco’s third studio album hit stores March 8, selling approximately 452,000 copies within five months – 204,000 copies in its first week – and debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
Despite controversy among Fiasco’s fans as to whether he went too “mainstream” due to the influence of Atlantic Records, some of his tracks reflect his older albums. For example, “Out of My Head” featuring Trey Songz can be compared to “Paris Tokyo” from Fiasco’s second album.
Controversy aside, “L.A.S.E.R.S” is a good listen with deep lyrical content on tracks such as “Never Forget You” and “Words I Never Said,” featuring artists John Legend and Skylar Grey, respectively.
– Adam Fenster
F—– Up,”David Comes to Life”
F—– Up has always gotten more attention than their peers for their willingness to experiment, but they have truly outdone themselves with their 78-minute-long, four-act opus, “David Comes to Life.”
The story follows factory worker David and Veronica as they fall in love, become radicals and lose each other. Though an 18-track album with multiple and often unreliable narrators might seem like a slog, it somehow never loses steam.
Frontman Damian Abraham’s howl remains from F—– Up’s hardcore days, but the band has never been more hook-laden, with four credited guitarists. “The Other Shoe” is one of the year’s catchiest songs, as Abraham’s bark perfectly interplays with the swirling, immersive guitars.
Abraham has suggested the band may take a hiatus, and should they ever officially do so, “David Comes to Life” is an album anyone could be happy to end with.
– Jimmy Geurts
Foo Fighters,”Wasting Light”
For their seventh studio album, the Foo Fighters decided to do things a little differently.
Instead of a studio, they recorded it in Dave Grohl’s garage. Instead of using Pro Tools and digital sound, they recorded on analog tape. They even shared it with fans, putting pieces of the master tape in all of the CD copies of the album.
Recording the album also brought together the team that worked on Nirvana’s “Nevermind,” which included Grohl, producer Butch Vig and bassist Krist Novoselic, for the first time since Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain’s suicide.
Aside from the intriguing backstory, the album boasts some of the band’s best work in years. It debuted at No. 1 on the. Billboard Top 200. The iTunes deluxe version featured a Deadmau5 remix of the Foo Fighters’ hit single, “Rope,” for the kids.
– Joe Polito
Britney Spears,”Femme Fatale”
From the Queen of Modern Pop, Britney Spears’ new album, “Femme Fatale,” was released within the first few months of 2011 and still holds my choice as best album of the year. Beginning to instate her image as the Queen of House, Britney’s new album takes dubstep and club beats mainstream.
Not yet released as a single, my favorite song off the album, “Inside Out,” is the perfect jam for newly single girls who would rather acknowledge the provocative benefits of heartbreak rather than grieve their loss. The entire album is sexy and upbeat, and it has a different edge from Spears’ previous albums.
– Shannon Gordon
Fleet Foxes,”Helplessness Blues”
From album opener “Montezuma,” which sounds like the beginning of a journey of self-discovery, to closer “Grown Ocean,” Seattle-based folk band Fleet Foxes has proven they can brave the sophomore slump and produce one of 2011’s most riveting rock albums.
Lead vocalist Robin Pecknold seamlessly moves his group through 12 songs of Van Morrison-riffing tracks that sound like an ode to the legendary musician’s brand of Irish psychedelic rock found on albums such as “Astral Weeks.”
The best moments of “Helplessness Blues” may come on the intimate acoustic ballad “Blue Spotted Tail,” in which Pecknold ponders: “Why in the night sky are the lights hung?” He never actually finds out, but his existential contemplation over pleasant folk rhythms is more than enough for us to keep listening.
– Benjamin Wright