The Best Albums of 2011: #31 through #40

These are selections #31 through #40 in our Best Albums of 2011 countdown series.

#31. Ceremonials by Florence + The Machine

Released: October 31, 2011
Label: Universal Republic
Metacritic Score: 77
Charts: #6 The Billboard 200, #4 Top Canadian Albums, #1 Top Digital Albums, #1 Top Modern Rock/Alternative Albums, #1 Top Rock Albums

This excellent and dark sophomore effort by Florence + The Machine has gotten a lot of people's attention. I really liked their debut record Lungs, but Ceremonials has put them into a whole new league. Florence Welch has an incredibly dynamic voice, but the music that gives it support is now on an equal level of excellence. Florence + The Machine have just launched themselves into megastar status.

#32. Skying by The Horrors

Released: July 26, 2011
Label: XL Recordings
Metacritic Score: 83
Album Charts: #97 The Billboard 200, #11 Top Independent Albums, #12 Top Modern Rock/Alternative Albums, #18 Top Rock Albums

The Horrors new album Skying displays an Echo and the Bunnymen-like atmosphere and 80's dynamic that's hard for a Gen X'er like me to resist.
The band's continues to mature as this third full-length release makes clear. While it's obvious that The Horrors are unafraid to explore their influences, it never comes off as another 80's retro attempt. It's much better, and much more deserving.

#33. Father, Son, Holy Ghost by Girls

Released: September 13, 2011
Label: True Panther Sounds
Metacritic Score: 79
Album Charts: #37 The Billboard 200, #24 Top Digital Albums, #10 Top Independent Albums, #8 Top Modern Rock/Alternative Albums, #14 Top Rock Albums

Like many other bands on this year's top 100 albums list, Girls made a splash with their debut record. Enough of a splash to create the kind of buzz for their sophomore effort that most bands only dream of. The pressure can be incredible to deliver a follow-up to a first album, which usually cherry picks only the best songs from an artist's full repertoire. This is why so many band's face a "sophomore slump" -- they've already used all their good songs and are faced with writing a whole new album from scratch. Father, Son, Holy Ghost is proof that no such issue existed for Girls.

#34. Stone Rollin' by Raphael Saadiq

Released: May 10, 2011
Label: Columbia
Metacritic Score: 86
Album Charts: #14 The Billboard 200

Raphael Saadiq sounds like a long lost classic soul singer, and there's no doubt that's exactly what he had in mind. But to dismiss Raphael as simply a retro revivalist does not give Stone Rollin' the respect it deserves. This is a record that doesn't cease to amaze with its heartfelt crooning and old school production. This may be the best thing Raphael has ever been involved with, and that includes his work with Prince, Joss Stone, Mary J. Blige, John Legend, or countless others he's lent his talent to.

#35. 50 Words For Snow by Kate Bush

Released: November 22, 2011
Label: Noble & Brite
Metacritic Score: 85
Album Charts: #83 The Billboard 200, #7 Top Independent Albums, #9 Top Modern Rock/Alternative Albums, #13 Top Rock Albums

How can a guy obsessed with putting playlists together based on all kinds of whacked-out themes not be attracted to a concept album about snow? Especially when in comes from Kate Bush, one of my personal favorite female voices. Well, this album sounds much like I had envisioned it would -- cold, sparse, sparkling and beautiful. Kate's distinctive voice weaves a delicate tapestry through reverberating piano notes and barely audible textures that make 50 Words For Snow a keeper that stands up with the best work of her career.

#36. In The Mountain In The Cloud by Portugal. The Man

Released: July 19, 2011
Label: Atlantic
Metacritic Score: 73
Album Charts: N/A

I've recently taken note that when I head out the door for a drive exceeding 30 minutes, this is the first CD I grab to keep myself company. There's something special about how well Portugal. The Man can mine 70's era Brit rock and make it their own. In The Mountain In The Cloud flows marvelously, each track better than the previous one, a slow crescendo of quality that leaves you completely satisfied by the end of the disc. This may be why it has become an album I can't keep away from.

#37. Days by Real Estate

Released: October 18, 2011
Label: Domino
Metacritic Score: 79
Album Charts: #52 The Billboard 200, #19 Top Digital Albums, #11 Top Independent Albums, #11 Top Modern Rock/Alternative Albums, #15 Top Rock Albums

Real Estate have solidified a formula that works on their second full-length release, simply titled, Days. It's light, airy, reverb-drenched music for winding down. Happy indie pop that's tasty enough for the masses, but hip enough to garner a stunning 8.7 grade from the hard-to-please Pitchfork Media. The melodies are strong, but shuffle along as if floating on a cloud, while the guitar work provides a listening point for technicians without ever getting in the way for us common folk.

#38. Tomboy by Panda Bear

Released: April 12, 2011
Label: Paw Tracks
Metacritic Score: 77
Album Charts: #29 The Billboard 200, # 5 Top Independent Albums, #6 Top Modern Rock/Alternative Albums, #8 Top Rock Albums

Panda Bear's Tomboy sounds like Brian Wilson trying escape from a really deep well with no more than a multi-track tape machine and a reverb pedal. And while that may not sound like a fond description of the album, for those of us who appreciate super-harmony and drippy reverb with a touch of psychedelia, it's a Godsend. But Tomboy is not an album content to keep you swirling on its space-like looping, it also does a fine job of preventing monotony from setting in by utilizing abrupt changes and a bit of muscle, placed at opportune moments.

#39. Celestial Lineage by Wolves In The Throne Room

Released: September 13, 2011
Label: Southern Lord Records
Metacritic Score: 87
Album Charts: #18 Top Heatseekers

Celestial Lineage by Wolves In The Throne Room is a metal album that has gotten a lot positive press this year and for good reason. It's rich, dark forest metal for barbarians on their way to battle. The record has a frequent grinding buzz that provides an undercurrent for some piercing, melodic guitars and it's all held together with some of the fastest and continuous drum pounding I've ever heard. But just when you don't think you can take the pounding any longer you're brought down safely, like dust falling through the canopy above. But you know the next battle will start soon, so rest up.

#40. Dwellings by Cormorant

Released: December 6, 2010
Label: Cormorant
Metacritic Score: N/A
Album Charts: N/A

I had never heard of Cormorant until I had a chance to stream this album online shortly after its release. It grabbed me quickly and before too long I knew that it would end up somewhere on my year-end list. The music on Dwellings courses elegantly between absolute death metal brutality and harmonized, melodic, mid-tempo breaks. This is a critical element that makes the album work. Lesser bands only know one speed, but Cormorant has players who understand that superior chops have more impact when presented in the right way. And they do it masterfully throughout this breathtaking record.

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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