Halfway There: The Best Albums of 2011 (So Far)

Halfway through 2011, we've already got a full list of contenders for album of the year.  

Iann Robinsonby Iann Robinson

Here at the halfway point of 2011 it becomes time to start organizing thoughts about the best albums of the year. It may seem like an early time to contemplate lists like this, but with all the that comes across my desk, I start listening to albums over and over to be sure my list comes out right. Having gone through all that I’ve heard this far, I managed to cut the pile down to nine. Remember, this isn’t my final list, just who is in the running thus far. With six more months left in 2011 anything is possible, but for right now here’s the list of my personal favorites.



Escape Velocity

Relapse Records

This record took me completely by surprise. Zombi is a space rock duo from Pittsburgh that consistently does great work. However, with their new album Escape Velocity they take things up a notch. The record uses influences from everything from Kraftwerk to Tangerine Dream and combines them over the vibe of old John Carpenter soundtracks. It’s danceable and yet still maintains an air of the bizarre and experimental. A seriously kick ass album.



Glass Drop

Warp Records

At this point in 2011 the new Battles record Glass Drop is my pick for record of the year. This is a surreal album, playing so many different influences against each other that the outcome is schizophrenic prog-rock that you can dance to. This is a musician’s album, something that will leave most bands scratching their heads. Few bands lose a founding member and get better. Battles not only got better, they released an absolutely fall down brilliant record.




Caldo Verde Records

A slow and deliberate record about depression and isolation, Ascension never allows hope to shine through its crisp, lo-fi sound. This isn’t the usual heavy drone or monolithic wall of sound that Justin Broderick is known for. Instead Broderick filters tiny musical particles throughlayered guitars and dense instrumentation. This is an album for the lost, those who know what it is to sit and have no hope. It’s rare that music can actually sound like pain, but Justin Broderick’s opera to the disenfranchised does just that.


Mike Watt

Hyphenated Man

ORG Music/Clenched Wrench

For years after the death of fellow Minutemen D. Boon, bassist Mike Watt didn’t listen much to his iconic punk rock band. Recently he began remembering and listening to his old crew, which led to this, Hyphenated Man, a multi-track, rapid fire beast of a record that is as complex as it is rocking. For me Watt is the closest thing in rock we have to a jazz musician, somebody who understands complexity and how to manage it into something that moves people on a gut level. Watt is calling Hyphenated Man an opera, but to me it’s more of a jazz epic.


Karma To Burn


Napalm Records

The band that will not die, continue to make records that never stop being awesome. Karma To Burn take complex song structures and layer them with so much fuzzed out killer groove you’re too busy flowing on a massive rock bender to notice just how great the musicianship is. V is an album of the weird, the groovy and the fucked up. It never stays in one place and the ease by which the band writes these gems proves again just how good Karma To Burn is. As far as straight guns-blazing rock goes, there hasn’t been a better album this year.

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Today Is The Day

Pain Is A Warning

Black Market Activit

Today Is The Day remains one of the few bands in the extreme music genre that still seem committed to their art. The head of this violent and ugly noise machine, Steve Austin, is more a fan of bombing the senses than attacking them. Pain Is A Warning consists of loud and explosive assaults on the ears and mind. Nothing here is easy, nothing is soft. That’s not to say Austin and his crew don’t use dynamics, they just use them to assassinate you. Pain Is A Warning is further proof that Today Is The Day approves every last accolade they receive.


TV On The Radio

Nine Types Of Light

Interscope Records

You ever wonder what would happen if Cee-Lo decided to join Portishead? Look no further than the latest release from TV On The Radio. Though I’ve never considered myself a huge fan of the band, Nine Types Of Light blew me away. Quiet at times; powerful at others, the band has matured into great songwriters, using dynamics and slightly off-center songs to create an indie rock/soul hybrid. Nobody does what TV On The Radio do and with Nine Types Of Light the band jumps light years ahead of anybody that would try.


Nostalgia 77

Sleep Walking Society

Tru Thoughts Records

The latest from producer Benedic Lamden comes armed not just with funked and soulful tunes laced gently with a hint of electronica, it also comes with German singer Josa Peit. Peit’s voice is force of nature, a deeply penetrating voice that brings to mind old jazz clubs hazed out with smoke and thick with drink and love. Her voice pours like fine wine over these textures, turning out an album that will be in my top ten now or five years from now. Sleep Walking Society is a testament to the idea that the power of a gorgeous voice can make you fall in love instantly. If you don’t own this album and you think you have a soul, go get it right now.


Beastie Boys

Hot Sauce Committee, Part Two

Capitol Records

It’s astounding to me how little of an impact this album has made. While some were put off by the silly and unnecessarily confusing video for the first single “Make Some Noise”, Hot Sauce Committee, Part Two is nearly a perfect album. This is the future of hip-hop distilled by three men who helped write its history. Simple beats, a groovy bass line and a freestyle rapping flow heightened by the use of the Vocoder and other effects, it’s hip hop from a time before hip hop was a business. Hot Sauce Committee, Part Two takes this dying art form back to the streets that spawned it for a much needed resuscitation. It’s another genius notch in the Beastie Boys belt and a record that more people should be listening to.

Don’t take this as gospel, there’s a lot more coming out that I’m amped to hear. There’s the new Toxic Holocaust, Exhumed, Brian Eno, They Might Be Giants, plus all the unexpected treats that I get to hear. By this time in December I’ll be swamped with even more albums I love, attempting to whittle them down into a list of ten. It won’t be easy but it’ll get done, because what better way to spend time then listening to records?