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Best of 2011: Music December 21, 2011

Posted by David Card in Media.
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Just barely in time for stocking stuffers, yet another “best of…” list. But you know you love it.

Not a great year, but we’ll see what ages.

I bought about 45 albums, very few singles, all downloads pretty much exclusively from Amazon. This year my mix was about 55/45 new versus back catalog. I still listen mostly from an iPod or my iPhone.

However, I do have the on-demand streaming services from Rhapsody, Spotify, and MOG. (I’m comped as an analyst but I’d happily spend $10 a month on one of them. Which one is for a later post.) And free Pandora. I love all of them for radio-style new music discovery and casual listening, and for try-before-you-buy analysis. I get a kick out of seeing what my friends listen to via Facebook and GetGlue. This social music thing, it might catch on. If only the artists could make money off it.

But I’m technically a digital music aficionado, as defined by digital behavior and high spending on music, and I often discover unfamiliar bands by – gasp! – reading reviews. Turntable.fm is fun, but way too much work. It’s like trash-talking for music. I am not a very successful DJ, and neither are most people.

My favorite new albums of the year were, roughly in order:

Best New Albums of 2011

  • The Decemberists “The King Is Dead” – add alt-country to their repertoire
  • Black Keys “El Camino” – who knew there were still rock bands?
  • The Vaccines – my latest lo-fi, incredibly catchy, pop indulgence
  • PJ Harvey “Let England Shake” – yeah, someone still does stirring protest songs
  • T Bone Burnett Presents “The Speaking Clock Revue” – rootsy collection from Elvis Costello, Gregg Allman et al.
  • Dum Dum Girls “Only in Dreams” – pop-punk grrls with some depth
  • Jay-Z and Kanye West “Watch the Throne” – sure, it’s indulgent, but it’s fun when two big stars connect
  • Wild Flag “Wild Flag” – I miss Sleater-Kinney, but this is a half-decent substitute
  • Wilco “The Whole Love” – experimenting again, with spirit
  • Florence + the Machine “Ceremonials” – I know it’s hipper to like St. Vincent, but the prog-rock Sinead, well, rocks

You might also like to look at Tune-Yards (I have a thing for female jazz singers that fool around in other genres), Paul Simon (his latest is like a poor man’s – make that an old poor man’s – Graceland), Fucked Up (gotta love a punk concept album), SPIN’s “Nevermind” tribute (half the covers are pretty awesome),  DJ Shadow (channeling Killing Joke of all things), and R.E.M.’s finale (but the Decemberists already did the best R.E.M. album of the year). I didn’t hate the Lou Reed/Metallica team-up, but it was an example of two big artists not connecting.

I was disappointed by The Girls (went from interesting to pretentious in a year 2 years), Airborne Toxic Event (no sophomore slump but nothing new), the Kills (a killer single), and Gang of Four (one of my all-time favorite bands, but what was I expecting?).

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