As 2011 draws to a close, Top Albums of the Year lists are sprouting like daffodils at the first sight of spring sunlight. While I consider myself no sort of authority on the subject of music rankings, I’m certainly a fan. So, rather than creating a “best of” hierarchy, I’d much rather simply list a few albums I enjoyed this year. In the sophisticated words of Lil’ Wayne (who didn’t make the cut, sorry Weezy), “If you don’t like me and my shit, then fuck you and your shit.” Not really, though — I have a burning fear of confrontation and vulgarity.
• Drapht — The Life of Riley (Ayems/Sony Music)
You’ve probably never heard of Drapht. You’re not alone. The Australian hip-hop artist has little fame in America, but his following Down Under is incredible. The Life of Riley, released on his own label and distributed through Sony Music, debuted at No. 1 on all Australian charts. Boasting bouncy, refreshing hip-hop, it’s only a matter of time before Drapht catches on in the States.
• Feist — Metals (Polydor)
Big Sur has long been a sanctuary for artists, and it was in an ocean-side barn in the California town where Leslie Feist recorded her fourth studio album, Metals. It is not only the popular single, “How Come You Never Go There,” which echoes pulsating guitar riffs to accompany Feist’s soothing vocals. Metals is the perfect rainy-day, fold some laundry, kick-back-and-relax kind of album.
• A$AP Rocky — LiveLoveA$AP (RCA)
Another obscure choice is A$AP Rocky’s LiveLoveA$AP mixtape. The Harlem-based rapper is relatively new to the scene, but viral hits like “Purple Swag” and “Peso” have him blowing up in his native locale. Check out the mixtape, and keep an eye on this up-and-coming rapper.
• Destroyer — Kaputt (Merge)
At first listen, Destroyer might sound a little strange. At second listen, they still might, but the soft, synth-filled, almost jazzy ensembles that make up Kaputt are hard to ignore. Poetic lyrics make up each song on the album, which may have been forgotten by many composing their year-end list because of its release on Jan. 25, 2011.
• Portugal. The Man — In The Mountain, In The Cloud (Atlantic)
Is Portugal. The Man this generation’s Beatles? That’s an incredibly big stretch, but their sixth studio release brings with it more of their constantly changing sound. The trippy tracks are full of shimmering riffs and almost Bowie-like vocals to create a feel-good album with no two songs sounding the same.
• Toro y Moi — Underneath the Pine (Carpark)
When I discovered Toro y Moi, I had no idea the chill, groovy, and, at times, discoesque tracks were coming at the hands of a local artist. The stage name Toro y Moi belongs to Chazwick Bundick who was born in Columbia and graduated from the University of South Carolina before embarking on a music career. His second album, Underneath the Pine, incorporates a variety of sounds and styles that are easy to vibe to.
• Jay-Z and Kanye West — Watch the Throne (Roc-A-Fella)
To omit this album from any list, be it a “best-of” or not, would be blasphemous. The two godfathers of hip-hop put together what is undeniably one of the most star-studded collaborations in recent memory. It is rare when an album works its way into everyday culture and conversation, but Watch the Throne certainly has, and that shit kray.
• The Black Keys — El Camino (Nonesuch)
The Black Keys’ latest, which was co-produced by DangerMouse, snuck in just before the year’s end, and it rocks. A healthy collection of bass and vibrant guitar guarantee this irresistible album will get plenty of airtime.
• tUnE-yArDs — w h o k i l l (4AD)
tUnE-yArDs combines an array of sound to create a smorgasbord of musical genius. The group, headlined by vocal goddess Merrill Garbus, meshes funk, rock, folk, and a variety of other ingredients for a unique treat with their second album, w h o k i l l. If tracks like “Gangsta” and “Bizness” don’t make you want to move, you’d better check your pulse.
• TV on the Radio — Nine Types of Light (Interscope)
With a definite theme of love echoing from their fourth album, TV on the Radio delivers another gem. Singer Tunde Adebimpe, backed by guitarist Kyp Malone, effortlessly conveys affection and heartache with tracks like “You” and “Will Do,” while keeping true to the group’s roots with ominous ballads such as “Repetition” and “New Cannonball Blues.”