As Columbus prepares to be holed-up in a wintery tomb of Midwestern sleet and gray, drab skies for the next two months, let’s review the albums that will get you through another winter and made 2011 a melodic triumph.
10. Eddie Vedder | Ukulele Songs
Vedder has always worn his dismayed romanticism and poetic political views on his collective sleeve for all to decipher. But on his solo album Ukulele Songs, never has it been this intentionally concise and bare. As the album’s title might tip you off, Vedder is armed only with a ukulele and his haunting vocals. With songs barely hitting three minutes, Ukulele Songs is a quick hitting, layer-peeling look at Vedder’s personal life set to beautiful, languid chord progressions. Grunge might have propelled his career, but with this album, it’s clear Eddie Vedder was always destined for great things.
Must Hear Tracks: “Broken Heart” and “Tonight You Belong to Me”
9. Death Cab for Cutie | Codes and Keys
Gone the way is the DCFC that brought you the type of Transatlanticism album, which on paper sounds like a big let down. But with each album, Death Cab grows as musicians, songwriters, and extends their boundaries ever further. True, Codes and Keys is an album built for the masses. However, songs like “Stay young, Go Dancing” prove that Ben Gibbard doesn’t take himself too seriously and can still wax intellectuals around simple chords. Hit “You Are A Tourist” positions Death Cab for Cutie for global domination – as long as there are girls and books to sing about.
Must Hear Tracks: “You Are A Tourist,” “Stay Young, Go Dancing,” and “St. Peter’s Cathedral”
8. Company of Thieves | Running from the Gamble
With a voice that rivals anyone in the business and a keen sense for writing amazing melodies, Genevieve Schatz and her Thieves are the perfect CD102.5 band. A little bit indie, a little bit rock, and all grit, Company of Thieves does it all – and has fun along the way. The band’s sophomore release, Running from the Gamble picks up where Ordinary Riches left off. Full of radio singles, the album is terrific from start to finish.
Must Hear Tracks: “Syrup,” Tallulah,” and “Look Both Ways”
7. Ryan Adams | Ashes & Fire
Adams is a frustrating musician. His own worst enemy, he has created some of the best (Heartbreaker and Cold Roses) and terrible (Cardinalology and Orion) albums of the decade. But with Ashes & Fire he is back on track and striking soft, delicate blows to your subconscious leaving you at the album’s conclusion vulnerable and looking for love. Fans rejoice: a sober, refined Adams actually is a good thing after all.
Must Hear Tracks: “Ashes & Fire” and “I Love You But I Don’t Know What To Say”
6. Tune-Yards | W H O K I L L
In what is without a doubt the most accessibly avant-garde album of the year, the Tune-Yards’ (AKA Merrill Garbus) W H O K I L L is a breath of weird fresh air. Garbus is a mastermind combining musical styles Afro, punk, and indie to create a uniquely original sound. Depending upon where you are in any particular song, she’ll bark a furious yelp or croon a lovely melody – she’s an amazing musician. The album is not for everyone, but everyone should hear it.
Must Hear Tracks: “Powa,” “Bizness,” and “Gangsta”
5. Youth Lagoon | The Year of Hibernation
Taking the best parts of Beach House and Bon Iver’s For Emma, Youth Lagoon constructs heartbreaking epics that swell and build as each song moves along.
With muddled vocals that sound like they were recorded under water, Youth Lagoon’s debut The Year of Hibernation is a subtle powerhouse of emotion. Hibernation only consists of eight tracks, but each one is a weepy gem.
Must Hear Tracks: “Montana,” “Daydream,” and “July”
4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. | It’s A Corporate World
After you get over their ridiculous band name, you’ll find that Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. is something to behold. With their debut It’s A Corporate World, Jr. Jr. appear as a more focused MGMT turning out a LP filled with amazing songs set to keyboards, bass, drum beats, and loops. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.’s debut is one of the can’t miss records of the year that will either get a party started or mellow you out.
Must Hear Tracks: “Morning Thought,” “Nothing But Our Love,” and “If It Wasn’t You…”
3. The Head and The Heart | The Head and The Heart
Less is more is the mantra for the debut from The Head and The Heart and they do it to perfection. The singing of boy/girl vocal duo makes H&H one of those rare, sincere bands that can make you fall in love with whatever they’re pining over. “Rivers and Roads,” the best single you’ve never heard this year, is an acoustic tell-all that mounts into a shout-from-the-mountaintops decree about the journey back to someone.
Must Hear Tracks: “Rivers and Roads,” “Winter Song,” and “Heaven Go Easy On Me”
2. Wilco | The Whole Love
Welcome back, Jeff Tweedy! Wilco returns with The Whole Love, another opus of an album that matches the sonic landscape of 2001’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. The LP’s highlight is Tweedy’s spot-on lyrics that are wrenching, angry, optimistic, humorous, and aloof all wrapped up into each and every song. Need proof? Listen to 12-minute epic “One Sunday Morning” where Tweedy drones, “Outside I looked lived in like bones in a shrine. How am I forgiven? Oh, I’ll give it time.” Tweedy is taking Wilco to new places by creating an album that has a little something for everyone. They’ve learned how to stay true to their sound while opening the doors to new fans. Long live Wilco.
Must Hear Tracks: “Capitol City,” “I Might,” and “One Sunday Morning”
1. Fleet Foxes | Helplessness Blues
Fleet Foxes ended 2008 with an almost impossible task: cut a sophomore follow-up album that even moderately compares to their debut. Everyone had immensely high hopes for this album. Most pondered could Robin Pecknold and Co. create something as beautiful and sweeping as the first album and not be painted as a one hit folk wonder. The pressure to write such an album put lead Fox Pecknold on the brink of madness, but he and his band came through with Helplessness Blues – one of best albums in years. The band puts on a modern day CSNY clinic with inspiring harmonies while continuing their arrangements that take an abrupt U-turn in the third act. Helplessness Blues shows a sophisticated growth with the band adding horns and strings for complexity to tracks and lyrics that are more poignant and direct. Standout track set to the cadence of Dylan’s “Fourth Time Around,” “Lorelai” crushes you with an introspective epiphany of love’s luster fading, “So, guess I got old, I was like trash on the sidewalk.” Helplessness Blues is not only the best album of the year, but its stunning melancholy may give you a little solidarity and a shoulder to cry on during the winter.
Must Hear Tracks: “Lorelai,” “Grown Oceans,” and “Helplessness Blues”
- Amy Winehouse | Lioness
- Tom Waits | Bad As Me
- The Vaccines | What Did You Expect From The Vaccines
- Bon Iver | Bon Iver
- Decemberists | The King Is Dead
- Radiohead | King of Limbs
Didn’t see your go-to album of the year on here? Or want to add to the list? Tell us what we nailed and what we missed.