Best Albums of 2011, According to The General

My husband is an amazing musician and music-aficionado, and so I asked him to do a guest post of his Best Albums of this year for y’all, and for me, so I can hold my own in our epic conversations about music and culture.  I dig where he went with it, including the most Disappointing Albums as well.   So, cue up your Spotify and get ready to hear the best tunes of the year.

Brought to you by Joel St. Julien, aka The General from Ellul:

Albums of the Year:

Shabazz Palaces – Black Up
Let’s go back to 1994. Blowout Comb came out. In my opinion, it is the best Hip-Hop album EVER. Digable Planets were in their prime and all was aligned. Then they just dropped off the planet. Back to now. This album is what Hip-Hop should be in 2011. Abstract, forward, dark, Afro-dystopian. I love this album so much and I only gave it a chance a few weeks ago. It’s been on repeat ever since. Hands down best thing I heard all year.  Why? Because it includes all of the right elements. The listener is brought into an environment that Palaceer Lazaro creates. It’s dark, filled with imagery of a Black boho mystic. Sometime mystics don’t make sense…they use language that we are uncomfortable with and sometimes even seem to fall into thinking we don’t understand. It doesn’t make it untrue. There is a feeling that the music is made without trying to prove anything. With lyrics like, “Free to be enslaved to all these things I can’t escape, Trapped inside imagination tickling at my face,” that sounds like vulnerability to me and I’m down.
Burial – Street Halo
I first heard this on the Radiohead Office Charts on their website. I am slowly making this curve into 2-step, garage whatever else the hell they call it. I love it. It’s dark and it’s danceable. What I learned about this year is that I have to move more.

St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
I’ve been pretty removed from talk around her in the past because I immediately labelled her as cute gal who sings and makes longing faces in all of her pics, thinking that people like her cuz she’s cute. Whatevs. Then I saw her play the guitar. Annie Clark has skills, not just looks. The first track of this album kills.

James Blake – James Blake
Yep. I believe the hype. It may just be one album for this guy and he falls off the face of the Earth, but this one album is amazing, moving, minimal and subtly rich. It got me interested in creating music again seeing that this young gentleman who is 21 years old is making some really great music. Everyone says that he’s dubstep. I don’t know what dubstep is…I’ve heard post-dubstep in some reviews…All I know is that there is a groove to the music that is deceptively simple and he uses a vocoder in a way that reminds me of a futuristic, but timid Zapp and Roger.

I like tUnE yArDs because Merrill Garbus is not only a talented musician, but an extremely intelligent woman. I’ve really enjoyed her openness around cultural appropriation, especially around indiedom’s new found lust for “World Music.” She holds tension which is the absolute sign (to me) of a mature artist. Big dance factor + the live looping aspect of her creative process = we’re good to go.

Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972
This album is an underwater dream and has created my favorite song of 2011.  My friends Chris Schlarb and Victor Ribandeneira put out an album called “flowers (eating) words.” This was my invitation to drone music and was truly an album I studied and then delved into a deep research of drone and experimental electronic music. Since then my ear has been quite close to the ground. Finding this album was like coming home to me. Hypnotic, haunting and absolutely stunning. Note: One would be doing a huge disservice to the artist and themselves if they listened to this album over computer speakers. Listen on some nice speakers or headphones, then close your eyes.

Deerhoof – Deerhoof vs. Evil
You know I love Deerhoof. These put my baby to sleep in 2010 and EARLY in 2011 they released this album. Definitely got mixed reviews, but I loved it…DEERHOOF!!

Kouta- Orinda EP
A former classmate at Pyramind put this out and his stuff is by far the most interesting stuff I’ve heard come out of that place. Kouta aka Luca Young has a lot more music in him and I can’t wait to hear it!

Favorite Songs of the Year:

Tim Hecker – No Drums
Put on your headphones, close your eyes and listen. This is by far the most beautiful thing I’ve heard this year.

James Blake – Unluck
When the polyrhythmic drums come in, I’m sold.

Radiohead – Separator (Anstam RMX)
Did some more research about this guy and I’m in love. Makes an OK song awesome. Plus the broken beat just drives.

Das Racist – Michael Jackson
The chorus says enough.

Beastie Boys – Make Some Noise
It definitely put a big smile on my face to hear some Check Your Head/Ill Communication era Beastie jams. This son just makes me happy.

tUnE-yArDs – Powa
This song makes me want to make love.

Little Dragon – Ritual Union
Smooth jam of the year.

Albums I haven’t heard yet and should:
Bon Iver – Bon Iver
Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
Serengeti – Family & Friends
The Roots – undun
Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica

Disappointing Albums:
Panda Bear – Tomboy
Dude, I really liked everything you’ve done. A lot of people love your album, for some reason it didn’t capture me at all. With that said, I’m not shelving you because I know you’ve got more goodness for the future.

Bjork – Biophillia
Another amazing concept that I just found boring and hard to listen to. I really like the track Crystalline and Rhea and I joke that she’s singing, “Crystal Light!”

Radiohead – The King of Limbs
I never thought I’d see a day when I would not really like a Radiohead album. I love this album and I hate it. These dudes have always been challenging me to expand, but this album left me feeling really unsure of how much work they actually put into the album. It just feels unfinished and unfocused. That may be the aesthetic they were going for but it just didn’t resonate with me. I know this is petty, but Thom Yorke is kind of becoming that greasy, Euro-techno dude and I don’t know if I like it. I mean that hair?  OK, I’m done. When I see them live again, I will probably enjoy the songs.

Das Racist – Relax
This album reminds me of Aesop Rock’s Bazooka Tooth. There was so much amazing hype before the album came out. I was completely hypnotized by Aesop’s amazing flow and thought this album was going to be unstoppable and it just felt like so many folks just hyped the album out of obligation because we all really wanted it to be good. I feel the same way about Relax. These guys put out two amazing mixtapes last year that absolutely ruled all earth! I saw them live and they did not disappoint. So of course I was excited about their first proper release and it just didn’t translate to me. Honestly it was the beats that didn’t translate. Other than the El-P produced track, the production felt thin. I still have hope though because these guys are way too smart.


So, there you have it, folks.  To make it even easier for you, here’s a link to a Spotify mix, to check out the tracks directly: JSJ’s Best of 2011

What do you think of The General’s list?  Post your own in the comments section — I need some good music for the months to come.  XOXO

7 thoughts on “Best Albums of 2011, According to The General

  1. This is gonna make me sound like a fuddy-duddy, but TV on the Radio and Tom Waits also put out great albums this year. But IMO, they never do anything bad. I second James Blake & Tune-Yards. I don’t like every song on the album, but lady is a fantastic songwriter I think.

    Other enjoyable records were Nicholas Jaar and Cults (even though she sings like a chipmunk at times), but not like best of year by any means. I need to get more new stuff as well, so thanks for the mix, Joel!

  2. YES! TV on the Radio. I don’t know why I don’t listen to them more. It makes no sense really. I heard a song of the Tom Waits album and it scared me. Not in a bad way, but that man is able to hold so much and make powerful music. There are so many albums I still want to hear and since 2012 is going to be about more openness for me, I’m going to have my arms open then crossed. Love you Erin!

  3. Thanks for posting these; I had fun following the links and listening! I haven’t listened to much new stuff, but an album I discovered this year (but was released in 2010) was Penelope: A Song Cycle by Sarah Kirkland Snider. I like to turn it up, fill the room with it and listen to it in it’s entirety. Also, I’m looking forward to Theo Bleckmann’s album of covers of Kate Bush songs, which will come out early 2012, it’s called Hello Earth.

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