The Best Albums of 2011: #21 through #30

These are selections #21 through #30 in our Best Albums of 2011 countdown series.

Destroyer - "Kaputt"
Destroyer - "Kaputt"

#21. Kaputt by Destroyer

Released: January 25, 2011
Label: Merge
Metacritic Score: 84
Charts: #62 The Billboard 200, #7 Top Independent Albums, #11 Top Modern Rock/Alternative Albums, #19 Top Rock Albums

Dan Bejar brings his music down a notch on Kaputt in a way that reminds me of Al Stewart. The opening track could easily be a cut off of Al's 1976 album Year Of The Cat. But I speak to the overarching feeling, not the individual parts. Dan uses electronic glitches to paint in between the lines of his decidedly AM radio vibe, and his voice is still a dead ringer for Robyn Hitchcock, which is a big plus for me. Despite all the similarities with other artists, Dan is a fierce songwriter, and when it comes right down to it, it's the songs that make this one of 2011's best albums.

#22. House Of Balloons by The Weeknd

Released: March 21, 2011
Label: The Weeknd
Metacritic Score: 88
Album Charts: N/A

Wow. That's all I could say the first time I heard House Of Balloons, a self-released album by 21-year old Canadian Abel Tesfaye. This record is a soulful, sonic work of art that exposes the emptiness left by a life filled with meaningless sex and drugs. Abel's voice is soulful, ethereal and absolutely unique as it provides the center of gravity for a sparse, but ultimately perfect arrangement of synths, guitars, beats and squelches. The lyrics can be downright disturbing at times, but the beauty of the music creates an odd dichotomy that works like nothing I've heard before.

#23. Metals by Feist

Released: October 4, 2011
Label: Polydor
Metacritic Score: 80
Album Charts: #7 The Billboard 200, #3 Top Digital Albums, #2 Top Canadian Albums, #1 Top Rock Albums

Metals was an important follow up album for Feist after the runaway success of 2007's The Reminder, which was the most downloaded album on iTunes that year. This was a chance for Feist to solidify her reputation as a top-tier artist, a rare breed that can enjoy both commercial and critical success. Well, let's just say she knocked the ball out of the park. This is an album that can be listened to from track one until the very last note sounds, and you'll be enjoying every second of it.

#24. KMAG YOYO by Hayes Carll

Released: January 25, 2011
Label: Lost Highway
Metacritic Score: 78
Album Charts: N/A

Hayes Carll is not your typical country singer. Sure, he's got that charming twang, and the ability to get the honky-tonk moving, but his politics are not shared by the demographic his music would most appeal to. He has guts. Both in his personal convictions and his refusal to compromise on his music, which is gritty, but executed with a surgeon's hand. KMAG YOYO is one of the best Americana albums released in 2011. If you're one of the close-minded masses who say they like all types of music "except country", I dare you to give this a spin and say it again with a straight face.

25. Watch The Throne by Jay-Z and Kanye West

Released: August 12, 2011
Label: Roc-A-Fella Records
Metacritic Score: 76
Album Charts: #1 R&B Albums, #1 The Billboard 200, #1 Top Canadian Albums, #1 Top Digital Albums, #1 Top Rap Albums

As if expectations for a Kanye West album were not high enough as it is, this year Kanye decided to share the spotlight on Watch The Throne with Jay-Z. Sales have dropped for each album Kanye has released since 2004's The College Dropout. I thought 2008's 808s & Heartbreak was an embarrassing and lazy effort, but Kanye redeemed himself last year with the superior album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Jay-Z helps him keep the hits rolling here, but only time will tell if he will see an uptick in declining sales.

#26. Relax by Das Racist

Released: September 13, 2011
Label: Greedhead Music
Metacritic Score: 78
Album Charts: #15 R&B Albums, #111 The Billboard 200, #1 Top Heatseekers, #26 Top Independent Albums, #12 Top Rap Albums

When I first saw the name "Das Racist" I was taken aback. I thought to myself, "there's no way this band can be serious!" Luckily, I was right. The music on Relax reveals Das Racist as an underground hip hop act that does not take itself seriously. And I can't tell you how refreshing that is. The witty lyrics prove that great hip hop doesn't have to be so serious, but musically the album is anything but silly, the production is jagged and unique. A breathe of fresh air all the way around.

#27. Unto The Locust by Machine Head

Released: September 20, 2011
Label: Roadrunner Records
Metacritic Score: 96
Album Charts: #22 The Billboard 200, #19 Top Digital Albums, #3 Top Hard Rock Albums, #8 Top Rock Albums

So we now have a sequel to the NWOBHM, but this time it's NWOAHM, or a New Wave Of American Heavy Metal. And if the moniker sticks, this is an album that will be referred to as a pioneer in the subgenre. This would be an accomplishment that is more important than chart positions, or sales, because it forges the direction music will take in the future. Unto The Locust is an unrelenting assault that combines incredible speed, melodic guitar lines and insane breaks. Machine Head makes it all sound effortless, but I can assure you, it's not -- these are serious musicians, composing some seriously challenging music.

#28. Charity Starts At Home by Phonte

Released: September 27, 2011
Label: HBD
Metacritic Score: 91
Album Charts: #9 R&B Albums, #61 The Billboard 200, #8 Top Independent Albums, #7 Top Rap Albums

The Foreign Exchange have made some of my previous year-end lists, so it made sense for me to check out this solo effort, Charity Starts At Home by Phonte Coleman, who was a contributor on the Foreign Exchange's 2010 album Authenticity. He's also a fellow North Carolinian. I can honestly say that I didn't know what to expect, but what I got was one of the best hip hop releases of 2011. Phonte's raps are not technically brilliant, but highly creative and fitting. In my mind it's the subtle production techniques that push Charity Starts At Home a step above most of what's out there.

#29. Hurry Up, We're Dreaming by M83

Released: October 18, 2011
Label: Mute
Metacritic Score: 77
Album Charts: #15 The Billboard 200, #5 Top Digital Albums, #1 Top Electronic Albums, #3 Top Independent Albums, #4 Top Modern Rock/Alternative Albums, #5 Top Rock Albums

Well, it's that time in Anthony Gonzalez's career when the prolific output becomes so great that a double album is required. And as with every double album, the fear is that it's being done only as a way to say, "look how awesome I am, DOUBLE ALBUM!" If I had a dollar for every mediocre double album that could have trimmed down to a single good album, I'd be rich. But while Hurry Up, We're Dreaming is no Songs In The Key of Life, it's strong for the duration of its 79 minute play time. And it's brilliant for a good portion of that time, so although a couple tracks could have been cut, both CDs are keepers.

#30. Take Care by Drake

Released: November 15, 2011
Label: Universal Republic Records
Metacritic Score: 81
Album Charts: #1 R&B Albums, #1 The Billboard 200, #1 Top Canadian Albums, #1 Top Digital Albums, #1 Top Rap Albums

Former child star done good in music? Impossible you say? Nope, not impossible. Drake is an exception to the rule, as displayed on his second studio album Take Care. What he presents here is smooth as silk, heavy on the R&B, atmospheric. And although you won't find any witty, socially conscious, or intellectual lyrics, you will find heartfelt stories about failed relationships, fame and hopelessness. I think The Weeknd and Drake are the same person, or at least collaborating with each other more deeply than we think.

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More Best Albums of 2011:

#1-#10, #11-#20, #21-#30, #31-#40, #41-#50, #51-#60, #61-#70, #71-#80, #81-#90, #90-#100