It’s only March, but it’s never too early to begin talking about the best albums of 2011. Dozens of records have been released so far this year from artists big and small, from Avril Lavigne to Lucinda Williams. Here are the ones I like best, presented in no particular order.
The Best Albums of 2011 so far:
Rolling Blackouts, The Go! Team
Few bands make music as infectious as the colorful British group the Go! Team, who blend cheerleading chants with ’80s-sounding keyboards and sunny pop melodies. Rolling Blackouts contains the terrific single ‘T.O.R.N.A.D.O.,’ which is as catchy as anything the band has recorded, as well as the cutesy “Ready to Go Steady.” The album is sheer joy.
The King of Limbs, Radiohead
I’m a huge Radiohead fan but I didn’t enjoy their last album In Rainbows, putting me in the minority of rock music fans. But The King of Limbs works for me. Thom Yorke gets plenty of use out of his falsetto on “Little by Little,” while “Feral” is one of my favorite tracks because of its disjointed vocals hiccups that sound like Kid A-era Radiohead. Though I wish the band would get back to being a little louder, the quiet songs on this album are definitely better than most of the popular music being released in 2011.
I tried to resist the Adele bandwagon for the longest time, but her massive voice on 21 makes it impossible to do that any longer. “Rolling in the Deep” is a rollicking blues-influenced number, while slower pop tracks like the Rick Rubin-produced “He Won’t Go” keep the voice squarely on the singer’s impressive pipes.
Wounded Rhymes, Lykke Li
Although Swedish singer Lykke Li’s debut Youth Novels was great, I wasn’t sure if she could strike gold again or if she’d fade away like so many artists who can’t follow-up their one good album. It turns out that Li’s Wounded Rhymes is a fantastic record that takes the singer in a more grimy direction, with plenty of dark songs that accentuate reverb and spacey effects while remaining melodic and catchy. “Love out of Lust” is one of the best songs of 2011 so far.
Dye it Blonde, The Smith Westerns
The young Chicago band is breaking through big with its old-school sound and gorgeous melodies. Singer Cullen Omori coos appealingly on tracks like “Still New” and “Fallen in Love.” The album was released in January on respected indie label Fat Possum. The band played the Pitchfork Music Festival last year and will be hitting the road again to support the new record.
Kiss Each Other Clean, Iron & Wine
I’m not ranking my choices for the best albums of 2011, but if I did, this one would be at or near the top. Sam Beam, the man behind Iron & Wine, has taken a big step forward with a record that maintains the personal, sensitive singer-songwriter sound but augments it with synths and a huge brass section. Having seen the band play live in Los Angeles in January, I can attest that the new songs sound fantastic live as well.
The Best Albums of 2011: Others that just missed the cut
Collapse Into Now, R.E.M.
Mondo Amore, Nicole Atkins
The People’s Key, Bright Eyes
The Best Albums of 2011: Sources