Top 5 Albums of 2011: The Nominees

Here’s a follow-up to my recent post introducing (in cover art form) the albums under consideration for my upcoming “Top 5 Albums of 2011” post.

I realized after I wrote that post that although I’ve purchased about 25 new albums this year, I haven’t really listened to most of them very much. This is mostly because I’ve spent a large part of the year working on and listening to my own music, and much of the rest of it listening to 5by5‘s tech podcasts.

In the wake of the “contenders” post, I created an iTunes playlist that consists just of those 25 albums and have committed myself to listening only to the music on these albums. I’m listening to it mostly on shuffle, which of course shines more light on the merits of individual songs than on albums as a cohesive statement, but I figured this was the fairest way to ensure that I actually hear all of the artists.

After a few days of listening, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve definitely been neglecting these albums. There’s some great music out this year, and I’ve liked almost every song that’s come up in the rotation.

But, of course, I favor some albums over others, and so here are the albums I am most strongly considering for the top 5:

Adele — 21
I am really sick of hearing “Someone Like You” everywhere. Much like “Losing My Religion” 20 years ago, it’s a song I never really cared for anyway, but its annoying ubiquitousness pushes me almost to the point of disregarding the artist entirely. Other than that, and a couple of weak songs in the middle, though, I think 21 is a truly outstanding piece of work, with great singing and inventive re-imagining of soul sounds from the ’60s and ’70s.

Foo Fighters — Wasting Light
As with most Foo Fighters albums, this is an easy one to like, if you like hard rock. In many ways I think Foo Fighters are the last remaining standard bearers for classic rock. And “Rope” is probably my favorite song of the year.

Foster the People — Torches
I really don’t want to like this album as much as I do. There’s something about Foster the People that reminds me in a weird way of Owl City, in that it feels like something I should (and, in the past, would have) just dismiss outright. And yet every time one of these infectious songs comes on, it just sucks me in.

Halloween, Alaska — All Night the Calls Came In
I pretty much love anything Minneapolis-based jazz drummer Dave King is involved with, but Halloween, Alaska sounds nothing like his other work, and that’s turned out to be a good thing! Relatively straightforward art pop, with a slight Canterbury prog rock twist.

Joshua Wentz — Look/Look
This is the only truly “indie” (as in, unsigned) album I’m considering this year, and probably is the only one I’ve ever considered. As much as I respect DIY music (and engage in it extensively myself), and as much as I hate the RIAA and the dinosaur major labels behind it, it’s hard to let go of the old hangup of not taking it as seriously as music released by a “real” record company. But I make an exception to that hear. I know Josh and have been following his musical endeavors for a few years now, and this album is as good as anything any major label has released this year, and far better than most.

M83 — Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming.
I became enthralled with M83 with Saturdays = Youth a couple of years ago. This follow-up is a sprawling, atmospheric double album. I can’t avoid the analogy of Fleetwood Mac’s pair of late ’70s albums, Rumours and Tusk. As in that case, I don’t really think this is better than the album that preceded it, but it’s a fascinating journey nonetheless.

Mayer Hawthorne — How Do You Do
Mayer Hawthorne could be counted among a large number of white artists in recent years who have resurrected ’60s soul music. One could cite the long history of white musicians appropriating black artists’ styles and reaping commercial benefits that the original artists never attained, and I guess I just did. But that doesn’t change the fact that this is great music, and I’m glad the style is making a comeback, regardless of who’s performing it. Plus… I had no idea Snoop Dogg could sing!

Steven Wilson — Grace for Drowning
I’ve been a huge fan of Steven Wilson’s prog rock band Porcupine Tree for over a decade. The past few Porcupine Tree albums have been great but are starting to feel a bit too familiar. Taking a break from the band was apparently just what Wilson needed to reinvigorate his seemingly limitless creativity. Enlisting the help of a number of prog rock legends and comparatively unknown but highly talented jazz musicians, he’s created his most ambitious and varied work to date.