GLMedia's Top 12 Albums of 2011

You didn't ask for it. You don't really need it. But here it is! This is our Top 12 Albums of 2011. It has been quite a year, and while I haven't had the incredible luxury to listen to everything that came out this year, I have listened to a whole lot. That breadth and pool of great music means that it's a bit tough to round the list down to a simple 12, but with such brevity comes wit, as they say. Before we start the list, a minor programming note. I have and will be adding, from time to time, a track or two to the 30 Greats of 2011. Yes, that means the list will balloon a bit, but I will add only tracks that seem so perfectly essential. This week, well this today, I'm adding "Die" by Girls from Father, Son, Holy Ghost and Amerigo Gazaway's "Beanie Weather." The former is an epic piece of shredding, spacey, soulful, guitar rock and the latter is a beautiful Christmas-themed hip-hop track by the exceptional Fela Soul producer and Gummy Soul contributor. These are great tracks! Incredible pieces of 2011 like these deserve attention.

But now, your TOP 12 Albums of 2011... chosen by Gas Lantern Media.

12. The King is Dead/Long Live the King by the Decemberists - Despite having two of my favorite and most memorable songs of the year, the Decemberists' The King is Dead and Long Live the King EP were inconsistently spectacular. Both are undeniable offerings of new Americana, and each feels like an influence-powered homage to Neil Young, REM, James Taylor, CSNY and others. Truthfully, these two albums slip to the twelve-spot only because there are so many albums that were ever so slightly better. It was that kind of year.

11. Stone Rollin' by Raphael Saadiq - An album that my friend Carrie first alerted me to, Stone Rollin' fast became one of my favorites for its combination of soul, funk, guitar rock and infectious melody. Saadiq impresses throughout the album's first half, but it falls off a bit after that, ending on the dark, excellent, and haunting (especially if you've seen the video) "Good Man." Were it a more thoroughly complete entry, this would have landed in the Top Five.

10. Apocalypse by Bill Callahan - This incredibly lush and calming, often raucous and protesting, but always poetic album didn't get enough props this year. Callahan has long been an unsung writer of great tunes, but with Apocalypse he submits a magnum opus on par with the best. It is an album that is solid from start to finish and leaves the listener feeling both haunted and informed, while projecting age and knowledge that doesn't stop with its musical aptitude. If you haven't listened to it, you should, right now.

9. Zonoscope by Cut Copy - The Australian dance pop outfit returned in 2011 with a quieter, less dancey album that remained full of ornate instrumentation, thoughtful samples and tight lyrics. Zonoscope encompasses everything you could want in a chill afternoon or evening soundtrack, but its pace is at times inconsistent, which is the main reason it fills the nine-spot. Even so, it's a clear indication that Cut Copy continues to make great music and will, hopefully, do so as time marches. Or, perhaps, as time dances.

8. The King of Limbs by Radiohead - This highly-anticipated album is truly great, but marred by the dour and spare instrumentation that caused many to show concern with the inevitable Yorke-ification of the perennially-incredible band. The King of Limbs is still an album that makes you think and one that drives discussion as well as serving as the best background music one could ask for. Clear influences, like the late-Beatles catalog, shine, but fans craving more experimentation and epic guitar work will be disappointed.

7. David Comes to Life by Fucked Up - Probably the best theme album of the year, the punk band's great 2011 entry is powerful, thoughtful, complex and enjoyable from start to finish. As a narrative, it is complete, and as an album it is thoroughly addictive. There are at least 7 songs on David Comes to Life that grab your ears and scream into them passionately, and the rest are still incredible even if they take a little bit of growing. Punk like this isn't for every listener, but the stories and the philosophical revelations within the lyrics are for everyone.

6. Burst Apart by The Antlers - From start to finish The Antlers topped their amazing Hospice with an album that is lighter-hearted, more pop-minded and thoroughly enjoyable. Frank and thoughtful, Burst Apart speaks to all the fear and pain of break ups, relationships, loves and life. And it's so much fun to listen to each and every time. There's joy to spare in this album, and hints of a bright, beautiful future for a truly great and mostly unsung band.

5. Undun by The Roots - Jimmy Fallon's incredible catch of a house band, The Roots, submitted their newest at the 11th hour of 2011. It's a socially conscious and brilliant collection of hip-hop and lyrical masterpiece, and it even includes a beautiful and decadent breakdown of classical music for the last four tracks. This album will certainly make tons of lists for next year, as it was illegible for submission on various other internet music 'zines, but for me, it deserves a mention now, amid the other greats.

4. Bon Iver by Bon Iver - Justin Vernon's Bon Iver's self-titled second album is beautiful. Plain and simple. When you hear songs like "Perth" and "Holocene" you shudder with joy and anticipation. The songs are thick and complicated, drowning in ambiance and thriving on incredible melody. And while over time, this album wavered, not maintaining the same consistency and novelty of Vernon's previous, Bon Iver is still a crowning achievement in songwriting and design. It's a mood album. And it's so powerful that it makes you into the mood it wants, no matter how you go into it.

3. The Rip Tide by Beirut - As complete as an album can be, Beirut's newest offers you more than just baroque, delightful tunes about time, space and contemplation. It also offers some hits that will stick with you from the first time you hear them. Mellow and thoughtful throughout, The Rip Tide, doesn't demand your attention so much as peacefully earn it. And when you need a dose of hope, and some brilliant horns and strings, Beirut is there to answer your call. You can do only slightly better this year as far as music is concerned, but at the three-spot, it's clear that you can't do much better.

2. Metals by Feist - Leslie Feist just never stops amazing. Metals isn't perhaps as catchy or poppy as The Reminder, but it is more full. From beginning to end, you find poetry and subtly at the forefront, with beautiful arrangements and experimental amazement everywhere else. The album is a bit of a grower, requiring a few trips through to latch onto all of its grace and dignity and epic quality, but once you've heard it, once you've tapped in, it's almost impossible to get away. If Feist makes another album on par with this one, she will cement herself as one of the most prominent and incredible musicians of our time. Easily.

1. Strange Mercy by St. Vincent - Annie Clark is a sonic goddess. She does things with a guitar, with complex arrangements and with lyrics that no one else can even challenge. This album, the third, and a clear cap to the arch she started with Marry Me, covers identity, desire, passion, love, loss, confusion, fear, family, society, gender roles and so much more. And the thing is, it's just great the whole time. As a treatise, it is mind-altering, and as a piece of music it will change your heartbeat, drive your emotions and create joy and a haunting sublime experience. It is almost a piece of literature more than an album, and it's an indication of what music can do! 2011 was better for her contribution. And there's no denying it.

Now, an honorable mentions for album of the year Bad As Me by Tom Waits. It was great, but it just wasn't my favorite for the year. Still, it deserves note because Tom Waits is an American treasure. Okay, that's it for GLMedia for 2011. Have a safe and happy New Year's, and we'll see you back here in 2012.

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