10. Curren$y – Covert Coup: This guy’s one of the hardest workers in hip-hop; he’s released 3 mixtapes this year in addition to his two albums last year and all of them were really solid. In my opinion, Covert Coup is the best of the three mixtapes he’s released in 2011.
9. The Joy Formidable – The Big Roar: If only this was more consistent. At its best The Big Roar is spectacular shoegaze-influenced pop but as its worst it’s merely passable alt rock. This is still a young band with a ton of time to grow so I’m a big fan of them despite thinking this album is just “pretty good”.
7. Big KRIT – Return of 4eva: Great southern hip-hop that sounds like a new-age version of UGK but with more conscious lyrics. Lots of people roll their eyes when they hear “conscious lyrics” but KRIT isn’t preachy; he’s just a smart dude who lets it show in his songs. He’s far from cheesy.
6. Arctic Monkeys – Suck it and See: It seems like they’re never going back to the faster, younger-sounding style of their first two albums but that’s not completely a bad thing. Arctic Monkeys aren’t worse than they were before, they’re just more mature and different.
5. Kendrick Lamar – Section.80: I didn’t really like Kendrick Lamar before this album but Section.80 really opened my eyes and allowed me to see what all the hype is about. To put it simply, this sounds like Bone Thugs-n-Harmony meets West Coast rap meets intelligent lyricism. Really good stuff.
4. The Kills – Blood Pressures: Less chaotic than Midnight Boom and more detailed than their earlier albums like No Wow, this is definitely The Kills’ smoothest-sounding album to date. It’s not without its flaws; the ballads on here such as “The Last Goodbye” don’t really work for me because it’s just too slow and stripped-down. The more “upbeat” songs (as upbeat as these two are gonna get anyway) are where the album really shines – Future Starts Slow, Heart is a Beating Drum, Baby Says, and a few others are fantastic.
3. Foster the People – Torches: When their first EP came out my initial reaction was “well, this is probably their peak”. Helena Beat, Pumped Up Kicks, and Houdini were the only tracks on that EP and they were all ridiculously catchy. I figured that when a full LP would be released it would fail to live up to the catchiness of those three songs. I was wrong; this whole album is really fun to listen to. There’s not much variety throughout it though, so if you hate one or two of their songs chances are you’re going to hate all of them. Fortunately for me, I love them.
2. Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes: This has been growing on me more and more since I first listened to it and somehow it is continuing to grow on me. Lykke Li turned pop music on its head with Wounded Rhymes; this is one of the darkest pop albums you’re going to hear this year. Some tracks are catchy, some tracks are atmospheric, some tracks are emotional – they’re almost all amazing. As far as I’m concerned the top two albums on this list are just on a completely different level.
1. CunninLynguists – Oneirology: Most hip-hop artists out there are content if they make an album with a dozen or so random singles and release it just like that. Cunninlynguists aren’t like that; their last three albums have all centered around a specific theme and one song flows right into the next one. They concentrate on putting together one cohesive album that really should be listened front to back every time. This would all mean nothing if it wasn’t interesting to listen to, but Oneirology is incredible; this is smart, ambient hip-hop that every fan of music should at least check out.
And now, 5 upcoming 2011 albums that I have a feeling could be in my top 10 when the year is over:
Chico and the Man – Chico and the Man (Release Date: Dec 13, 2011)
Expectations: Very high; Chico and the Man is a collaboration between Kno from CunninLynguists and Tonedeff. Tonedeff always shines when he has guest spots on CL albums so I’m going in with very high hopes. The way I see it there’s probably a 3-album race for my personal Album of the Year: Oneirology, Chico and the Man, and the still growing on me Wounded Rhymes.
Los Campesinos! – Hello Sadness (Release Date: Nov 14, 2011)
Expectations: Somewhat high; I’m a little skeptical now that Aleks Campesinos! has left the band but their new single is still pretty good. By the way, I’ll be shocked if I never hear that song in a commercial.
Blink-182 – Neighborhoods (Release Date: Sept 27, 2011)
Expectations: Medium; An early review from NME called this the band’s best album yet and a huge step forward for them. I’m only so-so on Blink as a whole but it sounds like it’ll at least be worth checking out.
J. Cole – Cole World: The Sideline Story (Release Date: Sept 27, 2011)
Expectations: Medium; My hype for J Cole has died down a little bit since Friday Night Lights didn’t blow me away but this should still end up being a solid album.
Dr. Dre – Detox
Like it’ll ever come out.
Top 10 Songs of 2011:
For the top 10 songs I’m only doing one song per artist. For a song to be eligible in this list it had to have been released on an album in 2011 – some of these may have been released as singles previously but if they weren’t on an LP until this year I’m still counting them.