December 14, 2011

Our Favorites of 2011: Albums - Jonah's List

Considering that Write To The Beat is made of two people, we have had some quite lengthy discussions about our favorite albums of the year. We have decided to share with you two lists: Each of our top ten albums of the year. This way, you can learn about our individual tastes and find out about even more great albums. Here are the albums that I (Jonah) enjoyed most in 2011:

10. Bon Iver - Bon Iver
Bon Iver's debut album, For Emma, Forever Ago, provided a beautiful, sparse snapshot of a lonely Wisconsin winter. With his followup record, Justin Vernon took some risks, and they all paid off. Ditching the acoustic guitars for synths, Vernon made a completely different album, with a fuller, less raw sound, while maintaining the paralyzing beauty of For Emma. If his first record was winter, Bon Iver is spring.
Bon Iver-"Holocene"

9. The Civil Wars - Barton Hollow
I wouldn't say I believe in miracles, but the completely random meeting of Joy Williams and John Paul White at a songwriter's conference is about as close as you can get. Their voices, extremely different, yet both flawless, combine to form something much greater than the sum of its parts. The duo, one of the best live acts of the year, has an unmatched chemistry. The songwriting here is great, but what jumps out is the sheer beauty of two incredible voices interacting, entwining. It's mesmerizing. 
The Civil Wars-"I've Got This Friend"

8. Bright Eyes - The People's Key
Conor Oberst has made many great albums. But with The People's Key, he took the folk, Americana sound that has defined the band, and turned it up a few notches, making a heavier rock record than ever before. In 2009, he was quoted saying that he soon wanted to "retire" the Bright Eyes name and "clean it up, lock the door, say goodbye". I sure hope he doesn't, but if this was his swan song, it was a perfect way to go out.
Bright Eyes-"Jejune Stars"

7. M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming
M83 frontman Anthony Gonzalez has made an epic. This double album provides 22 tracks of the best synth-heavy electropop out there. After not opening his mouth much on his first five albums, Gonzalez finally sings on almost every track, and his voice sets the album apart from his previous efforts. He has always been great at creating moods with his music that take you in and don't let you out. With Hurry Up, the music keeps you for twice as long and immerses you in an 80's album that is far too full and lush to have actually been made in the 80's.
M83-"Midnight City"

6. The Belle Brigade - The Belle Brigade
The Belle Brigade are as new as any album on this list, yet do not sound or perform like it. Brother and sister Ethan and Barbara Gruska form the heart of the group, trading vocal duties and riffs throughout the disc. One of the best debut albums in a while, The Belle Brigade combines country twang, infectious melodies, and soaring harmonies to create a folk-rock masterpiece. They are a band to watch in 2012. They are going places.
The Belle Brigade-"Losers"

5. The Black Keys - El Camino
Brothers, the 2010 album by the blues-rock duo, skyrocketed The Black Keys into the spotlight, labeling them one of the top rock bands of the year. With El Camino, they secure their spot for quite a while. Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach take the grooves of Brothers and turn it up a notch, making a louder, faster, more exciting album. The record is filled with grooves that will stay in your head and keep your body moving all day.
The Black Keys-"Gold On The Ceiling"

4. Dan Mangan - Oh Fortune
I began this year unaware of Dan Mangan, a Canadian folk crooner based in Vancouver. Luckily, with my introduction to his music, also came a brand new album, and his best one yet. Oh Fortune takes the prettiness of his previous effort, Nice, Nice, Very Nice, and roughs it up a little bit. With a beautifully gruff voice not unlike Glen Hansard, Mangan has hit his stride with this surprise masterpiece.
Dan Mangan-"Starts With Them, Ends With Us"

3. Manchester Orchestra - Simple Math
Andy Hull and crew have now released three very solid rock albums. What stands out about their latest, best, and most cohesive work, is its lack of weak links. Every track is an emotional, powerful piece, chronicling a man's process of questioning every aspect of his life. This album takes the band's sound to exactly where it has always been heading. This is Manchester Orchestra at its finest.

Manchester Orchestra-"Simple Math"

2. The Decemberists - The King Is Dead
The Decemberists have been known to be considered "challenging". Their previous albums have included folk epics upward of ten minutes that, while being great songs, have provided a reason for the band not to top the charts. With The King Is Dead, the group has slightly altered the formula. They keep the clever lyrics, beautiful instrumentation, and  catchy melodies, while providing a new level of accessibility that has only expanded their audience.
The Decemberists-"June Hymn"

1. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
To be honest, I was not as overjoyed with Fleet Foxes' first record as most people. It was beautiful, yes, but it simply did not strike me as an album that kept my attention, or even deserved a huge amount of it. That all changed with Helplessness Blues. Fleet Foxes have made a masterpiece here. It is an album that is brilliant now, and could have been just as astute forty years ago, the kind of album that makes you want to walk away from your computer, run into the woods, and never look back.
Fleet Foxes-"Helplessness Blues"

Honorable Mentions:

City and Colour - Little Hell
Dawes - Nothing Is Wrong
Rural Alberta Advantage - Departing
The Dodos - No Color
Gillian Welch - The Harrow & The Harvest
Grieves - Together/Apart
James Vincent McMorrow - Early In The Morning


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