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Old 12-19-2011, 01:50 PM  
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Reaper's Favorite Albums of 2011

Here it is, y'all. The highly-anticipated annual list of my favorite albums of the year. 2011 was an interesting year in music. There wasn't a single album that I personally rated 9/10. No great albums. But there were a ton of albums that I rated 8.5/10 to 7.5/10. Lots and lots and lots of really good albums. I struggled with the ordering of these albums; it seemed arbitrary at times. So that's why in lieu of doing honorable mentions this year I'm just going to do an ordered top 50. That's right, these are my favorite 50 albums of the year.

As always, this isn't meaning to be an objective list of best albums of the year. While I listen to over 300 new albums each year, I still don't listen to enough to feel comfortable making objective claims about quality. Do you think I snubbed some really great dubstep album? Did I miss out on a perfect bluegrass album? It's very likely that I did, but this is a list of my personal favorites. That's why you're going to see lots of metal albums on the list. It's also why you're going to see as many, if not more, hip-hop albums on this list. 2011 was a stupendous year for rap music.

Anyway, I'm going to be rolling these out over the next couple of days or so as I write up little paragraphs for each album in-between working on other stuff.

50.) Tune-Yards - w h o k i l l
49.) White Willow - Terminal Twilight
48.) Blut Aus Nord - 777 Sects
47.) Blut Aus Nord - 777 The Desanctification
46.) La Dispute - Wildlife
45.) Childish Gambino - Camp
44.) Wolves in the Throne Room - Celestial Lineage
43.) Boris - New Album
42.) Antediluvian - Through the Cervix of Hawaah
41.) Fen - Epoch
40.) Kendrick Lamar - Section.80
39.) M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming
38.) Florence + the Machine - Ceremonials
37.) Wild Flag - Wild Flag
36.) Opeth - Heritage
35.) The Roots - Undun
34.) Vektor - Outer Isolation
33.) Rudra - Brahmavidya: Immortal I
32.) Tech N9ne - All 6s & 7s
31.) Lady GaGa - Born This Way
30.) Death Grips - ExMilitary
29.) Leprous - Bilateral
28.) Mr. Mother****in eXquire - Lost in Translation
27.) ASAP Rocky - LiveLoveA$ap
26.) Hades Archer - For the Diabolical Ages
25.) Cities Aviv - Digital Lows
24.) Big KRIT - Return of 4Eva
23.) Absu - Abzu
22.) Disma - Towards the Megalith
21.) Cunninglynguists - Oneirology
20.) Bon Iver - Bon Iver
19.) Trap Them - Darker Handcraft
18.) Das Racist - Relax
17.) Steven Wilson - Grace for Drowning
16.) Necros Christos - Doom of the Occult
15.) Ulcerate - The Destroyers of All
14.) Cormorant - Dwellings
13.) Symphony X - Iconoclast
12.) Danny Brown - XXX
11.) St. Vincent - Strange Mercy
10.) Hell - Human Remains
09.) Wolverine - Communication Lost
08.) G-Side - Island
07.) Dessa - Castor, the Twin
06.) TV on the Radio - Nine Types of Light
05.) Unexpect - Fables of the Sleepless Empire
04.) Sims - Bad Time Zoo
03.) Doomtree - No Kings
02.) G-Side - The One... Cohesive
01.) Astronautalis - This Is Our Science

Thanks for reading and listening. Please put up your own lists in this thread if you'd like, or talk about other year-end lists, etc. Just like you guys have done for the past few years that I've done this.

Per QuikSsurfer's request, here are links to previous year's list threads: http://www.chiefsplanet.com/BB/showthread.php?t=238651 (2010); http://www.chiefsplanet.com/BB/showthread.php?t=219784 (2009) (I would change the order of the top 15 around if I were to re-do this one); http://www.chiefsplanet.com/BB/showthread.php?t=202037 (2008).

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Old 12-20-2011, 12:52 AM   #46
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19.) Trap Them – Darker Handcraft


Almost as a rule, I dislike hardcore punk. I rarely enjoy metalcore because I hate hardcore vocals (which are just noise without any percussive sense to them) and I hate bland, boring breakdowns. But sometimes a metal album uses hardcore in constructive ways. Trap Them is a band whose career is built off of doing that. Darker Handcraft utilizes the raw power of hardcore punk along with heavy doses of Entombed-style death metal to create an album that is just punishing and unrelenting. Each song is short, the album is over in a flash, and you will have been slapped upside your head by dozens upon dozens of riffs by the time it’s all over. It’s quick and brutal and among the most fun a metalhead will have with a 2011 album. Linked is album highlight “The Facts,” which has an incredibly catch guitar riff and a super-fun intentional reference to The Misfits in the vocal line “I am that Goddamed sonofabitch!” Indeed.


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Old 12-20-2011, 12:52 AM   #47
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18.) Das Racist - Relax


Das Racist released two hilarious and intellectual mixtapes last year, but some people were still wondering if they were a joke act or not. I’d like to think that anyone who has heard a Das Racist song beyond “Combination Pizza Hut & Taco Bell” would be able to tell immediately that both Heems and Kool A.D. have technical chops as rappers and that they have some of the most intelligent and artistically-relevant lyrics in all of hip-hop. A cursory listen to their proper full-length debut, Relax, confirms this. The album is a deft blend of full-on rap songs like “ Shut Up, Man” and “Selena” with pop-focused songs like “Girl” and “Middle of the Cake.” It’s all tied together by odd, worldly beats that frequently reflect the diverse heritage of Kool A.D. and Heems. As far as lyrics go, it isn’t just clever social commentary and references to authors this time around. Listen to Heems on the album opener: “What good is this cashmere if they’re still dying in Kashmir. Kushmir. There was homes, now it’s just dust here. Next year, same as this year: a rough year.” Worldly concerns are mixed in with hyper-intellectualism and hyper-awareness and there are no answers, just an accurate portrait of what is like to be young, educated, creative, and a minority in this country.


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Old 12-20-2011, 12:53 AM   #48
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17.) Steven Wilson – Grace for Drowning


Steven Wilson, in the absence of a Porcupine Tree album, released one Hell of a solo album this year. It’s 2 discs (!) and Wilson considers it part of a loose conceptual album cycle with Opeth’s Heritage (#36 on my list). It does similar things as the Opeth album: it looks backwards at prog giants from the past – King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Yes – and wears those influences on its sleeve and also constructs the sleeve itself out of those influences and the whole shirt too is made of those influences too. It’s what you’d expect of Steven Wilson: tight songwriting (despite the length of songs), a few grand tracks, a few experiments that never achieve full lift-off. It doesn’t have the song structure issue that the Opeth album does, but it does suffer in my opinion of being too reliant upon sounds from the past. Still, this is a dynamic and enjoyable album on a number of levels. If I could like you to the 25-minute long “Raider II” I would, but instead you can settle for a 9-minute long song. Despite the flaws of these two albums, I’m excited for the third and final album in this cycle coming next year – a album that Wilson and Mikael Akerfeldt (of Opeth) are writing and performing together.


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Old 12-20-2011, 12:54 AM   #49
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16.) Necros Christos – Doom of the Occult


I’m having trouble describing why I like this album so much. I’ve listened to it a bunch this year, and it still holds up. This is a conventional death metal album in some ways, and in other ways it is baffling and strange. About half of the songs are really enjoyable mid-paced death metal, and the other half are instrumental interludes built off of Greek and Hungarian musical phrasing. And never the twain shall meet in this album, leaving the value here entirely to juxtaposition. But it works, somehow. Strangely. No one song is a representative sample of this album, but the shifts in mood, the rough transitions from sitar interlude to mid-paced guitar riffing, all work in an album-length context.


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Old 12-20-2011, 12:55 AM   #50
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15.) Ulcerate – The Destroyers of All


Ever heard a metal band from New Zealand? Neither have I, until I came across this stunning release. Ulcerate uses guitars to create heavy post-rock soundscapes that take surprising turns. Think Pelican at their best. Only the rhythm section is incredibly technically precise. Tracks like “Cold Becoming” sound like the slow expanse of Isis combined with the precision death metal of Nile. Tracks like “Omens” (linked above) sound like Explosions in the Sky hooked up with Ansur. This album is plenty heavy, but it takes time to breath. And during that breathing it sort of sprouts wings and flies up in the air and starts gliding around cities that might be on fire. The word “epic” is thrown around entirely too much these days, but that’s what this album is: pretty epic.


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Old 12-20-2011, 12:55 AM   #51
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14.) Cormorant - Dwellings


Cormorant hail from San Francisco, and they wear the upper-West-Coast metal badge with pride. What makes this album stand out? The guitar work, for one. It is very expressive and textural and emotional. It drops jangly jazz lines on top of mid-paced black metal canvasses. The chord progressions are always surprising; with most west coast black metal albums I can guess at this point where each song is going. Cormorant is not content with stagnation; each song manages to take dramatic twists without feeling forced. There’s also an incredible sense of melody on this album. It reminds me of Agalloch in structural ways, only beefier and with way more use of major scales. It sounds happier. But happy doesn’t necessarily equal unrelenting. This is heavy and it is intricate as all Hell. It’s perhaps the most expressive metal album of the year. A fantastic sophomore effort.


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Old 12-20-2011, 12:56 AM   #52
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13.) Symphony X - Iconoclast


Symphony X is a known quantity at this point. You know they are going to give you fierce and technical progressive power metal riffs, clean and elegant pianos/keyboards filling out the fringes of the sound, and Sir Russell Allen’s amazeballs singing. Allen is one of my very favorite singers on Earth. He’s equally comfortable with rough-throated vibrato on aggressive tracks as he is with an expressive, gentle-yet-strong range on the more ballady tracks. Album opener “Iconoclast” absolutely smolders with pure metal intensity, while mega-ballad “When All Is Lost” (linked above) is the ultimate expression of the metal ballad: nine minutes of Allen singing like a Goddamned angel while pianos and synthesizers and bad-ass guitars combine to makes something beautiful. The song seems to climax at the 6:30 mark, but that was a false climax. That’s what Symphony X does – give you just a little bit more than you dreamed of getting. But this isn’t Dream Theater, folks. Symphony X mostly manages to avoid the cheese factor that oftentimes befalls bands with incredible guitar players. This album is overlong but otherwise excels in every single that that it does. My only real criticism is that it doesn’t represent much an evolution by the band from their previous album, 2007’s Paradise Lost. Still, this is an album to return to again and again when you’re looking for a precise blend of beauty and power.


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Old 12-20-2011, 12:57 AM   #53
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12.) Danny Brown – XXX


If you know Danny Brown it is probably for being the weird rapper with the weird clothes and the weird haircut and the missing front tooth and the nasally voice. Yeah, he’s weird. He’s also one of the best, most complex rappers in America. XXX is a title with a double meaning; it references illicit substances as well as the number 30, which is the number of years old Brown turned this year. This album is a coming-to-grips with the big three-oh. The first half of the album is a frenetic, dark, but also wickedly clever descent into an alcohol and weed smoke-induced self-Hell. Watch the awesome video for “Monopoly” (linked above): the entire song is ****ing hilarious, with entire bars about literally shitting on a mixtape that someone give him, and lines like “type of ****a you see rockin’ Crocs at the ****in’ Wal-Mart” and “stank pussy smelling like Cool Ranch Doritos.” I really want to quote the entire song. And many songs are similarly funny and bizarre and twisted, like the dark “Blunt After Blunt” and the Jeezy-response “Scrap or Die.” It’s all fun and crazy, building up in chemical potency to the track “Adderall Admiral.” The next track, “DNA,” is like a cold-turkey detox. The beats become much more sparse and straightforward, and Brown drops his normal rapping voice for something deeper and more sobering (and more sober, period). The rest of the album enjoys this complete and total tonal shift as Brown explores the hereditary nature of addiction and the steps he might need to take to improve his quality of life now that he’s in his 30’s. It all wraps up with closing track “XXX” in which the craziness and Brown’s unique voice return, though measured somewhat by the self-exploration he’s undergone. Though (as you’ll see) there are a few hip-hop albums that I enjoy listening to more than this, XXX is absolutely one of the best albums of any sort to come out in 2011. This is a well-deserved artistic breakthrough.


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Old 12-20-2011, 12:58 AM   #54
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11.) St. Vincent – Strange Mercy


Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, plays guitar, in case you didn’t know. She’s not just the voice behind this album-length meditation on beauty and forgiveness, she’s also the major source of sound period. Her lead guitar here is smoking. She plays very expressively and texturally, which lends support to the delicate vocal constructions on the album. So delicate are they that they threaten to fall apart with the slightest disturbance. And they do. Because Clark creates that disturbance with her manic, frenzied bursts of lead guitar that take everything that The Edge does well and filters it through Robert Fripp of King Crimson. “Cruel is the pop-rock hit that all the blogs and year-end lists are talking about, but linked above is my favorite track on the album, “Surgeon.” In it, a repetitive and frail vocal line sits atop bouncy bass and icy keyboards before a full-on synth-funk breakdown happens during the chorus, all the while building to a crescendo of fat-lipped synths soloing on top of that funk breakdown that is growing ever more menacing by the bar. This album is ridiculously complex for pop-rock. It’s surprising and eclectic at every turn. It’s also being massively underrated on a lot of year-end lists. This seems like a career-making achievement to me.


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Old 12-20-2011, 12:58 AM   #55
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Top 10 posted tomorrow!
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Old 12-20-2011, 03:11 AM   #56
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Section.80 is only 40? Son, I'm disappoint. Top 10 album to me.
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Old 12-20-2011, 03:14 AM   #57
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And I think I'm going to take a listen to then Das Racist Relax album. Sounds interesting.
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Old 12-20-2011, 04:13 AM   #58
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As my avatar suggests, "XXX" is my favorite album of the year. Furthermore, with Lupe Fiasco deciding to put out shit albums, and Andre 3000 down to a verse per month average, Danny Brown is my favorite rapper doing it right now.

He's completely self-aware, honest, and clever. Plus, for whatever reason, storytelling in rap has fallen to the wayside, and he's one of the handful that does it incredibly well.

The Black & Brown EP was disappointing only in that it was too short.
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Old 12-20-2011, 09:36 AM   #59
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Section.80 is only 40? Son, I'm disappoint. Top 10 album to me.
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What are the other 10?

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As my avatar suggests, "XXX" is my favorite album of the year. Furthermore, with Lupe Fiasco deciding to put out shit albums, and Andre 3000 down to a verse per month average, Danny Brown is my favorite rapper doing it right now.

He's completely self-aware, honest, and clever. Plus, for whatever reason, storytelling in rap has fallen to the wayside, and he's one of the handful that does it incredibly well.

The Black & Brown EP was disappointing only in that it was too short.
Yup. Danny Brown rules.
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Old 12-20-2011, 09:39 AM   #60
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10.) Hell – Human Remains

The story behind Hell is really weird. OK, so in the early 1980s, as contemporaries like Iron Maiden and Diamond Head were ushering in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, there was a band poised to join those elite ranks. That band was called Hell. Their demo was the stuff of legends for many years. Why didn’t they break big? Because their guitarist died of carbon monoxide poisoning and their vocalist quit the band and they split up in 1987. In 2008, the members of Hell reunited. They still had that killer, influential demo after all. They got the brother of the original vocalist to join the band; that brother just so happens to be renowned British stage-and-screen actor, David Beckford.

Beckford provides a unique vocal quality. It’s nearly cartoonish in the way he enunciates words; it’s definitely a stage actor’s singing voice. But considering this album, Human Remains, is a concept album about Satan, the style totally works. The songs themselves are pretty remarkable. They’re mostly based off of riffs that were written (and stashed away once the band broke up) in the mid-80’s. And that material absolutely holds up here in 2011. My God, this album is a straight shot of heavy metal. It kicks your ass up and down and has the temerity to be all theatrical about it. Linked above are two thundering heavy metal songs that show off Beckford’s unique voice and those classic, timeless riffs. This is an album that metal fans never thought would see the light of day, but let me speak for all metal fans when I say that we’re so happy it did.







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