The Best Albums of 2011: #71 through #80

These are selections #71 through #80 in our Best Albums of 2011 countdown series.

#71. Soul Time! by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings

Released: November 1, 2011
Label: Daptone
Metacritic Score: 83
Charts: #50 R&B Albums

Sharon Jones continues to prove that Neo Soul can't hold a candle to the real deal. And the warm 70s sounds that support Sharon's classic golden voice are as good as you will find in 2011. Sharon & The Dap Kings take an unfortunate detour into politics when they ask "What If We All Stopped Paying Taxes?", and while the anti-war sentiment is appreciated, and fits well within the genre she was born to be a part of, the point could have been made stronger as a call for change instead of a laughable solution. But despite such small missteps, Soul Time! is dripping with heart and power.

#72. Blood Pressures by The Kills

Released: April 5, 2011
Label: Domino
Metacritic Score: 76
Album Charts: #37 The Billboard 200, #19 Top Digital Albums, #8 Top Independent Albums, #4 Top Modern Rock/Alternative Albums, #6 Top Rock Albums

If anyone can claim the throne of greatest garage rock male/female duo from the White Stripes it's The Kills. And now with their fourth studio-crafted album, Blood Pressures, the pair are closer than ever to doing just that. This new album is an incredible display of straight-up, power rock songwriting. Blood Pressures is gritty and mean, but it's the permeating beauty and melodic wherewithal that take it to a level many contemporaries find out of reach.

#73. Sweet Nothings by Girls Guns and Glory

Released: August 30, 2011
Label: Lonesome Day
Metacritic Score: N/A
Album Charts: N/A

This stellar album by Girls Guns & Glory doesn't show up on Metacritic, which makes me question the validity my go-to site for music reviews. This incredible country album channels the very best of what makes classic country "classic", yet the modern production is crisp and clear. Girls Guns and Glory could easily make a transition to gazillion-selling, overproduced, contemporary county stars, but for now their integrity remains intact and this is one of the best country albums released in 2011.

#74. Working in Tennessee by Merle Haggard

Released: October 4, 2011
Label: Welk
Metacritic Score: 73
Album Charts: #155 The Billboard 200, #25 Top Independent Albums

Back in 2008 I read that the Hag had lung cancer. Like most, I feared the worst and thought another legend would soon come to pass. Luckily for Merle, and for us, he had successful surgery and has since proved that a cancer diagnosis does not equal death. But not only has Merle Haggard continued to live, but he's continued to produce. This album is a testimony -- he's not done yet. Working In Tennessee is packed with songs that even an icon like Haggard, who has created his fair share of timeless classics, can be proud of.

#75. Zonoscope by Cut Copy

Released: February 8, 2011
Label: Modular Fontana
Metacritic Score: 71
Album Charts: #2 Top Electronic Albums, #5 Top Independent Albums

Cut Copy is quickly becoming a band that can do no wrong with its electronic-heavy music. Making good music with machines is commonplace today, but longevity, ala New Order, Depeche Mode, or NIN, takes serious songwriting chops and the ability to break free from electronica stereotypes. Cut Copy's latest effort, Zonoscope is a sweeping masterwork that holds up to the very best of them. And if I had to pick a new electronica album that I thought would still be around 20 years from now, this is it.

#76. Arabia Mountain by Black Lips

Released: June 7, 2011
Label: Vice
Metacritic Score: 80
Album Charts: #1 Top Heatseekers, #22 Top Independent Albums

Sometimes I feel there's too much sophistication and technical wizardry in music today. Sometimes you just want some good old fashioned rock and roll. Well, Arabia Mountain by the Black Lips fits the bill. The record takes everything full speed ahead while pulling the best from garage rock revival, punk rock and Beach Boys era surf pop. It's diverse enough to keep your interest, but consistent enough to hold it all together for the duration of the album.

#77. Collapse Into Now by R.E.M.

Released: March 8, 2011
Label: Warner Brothers
Metacritic Score: 71
Album Charts: #5 The Billboard 200, #6 Top Canadian Albums, #6 Top Digital Albums, #1 Top Modern Rock/Alternative Albums, #1 Top Rock Albums

Just two short months ago R.E.M. announced they were calling it quits, so this album, the band's fifteenth is their last. It was the final album they needed to produce to fulfill their contract with Warner Brothers. Word is, R.E.M. really wanted to go out on a high note, and they succeeded in that endeavor. The album peaked at #5 on the Billboard 200 chart and found the band sticking to the formula that works best for them, alternative folk rock jangle pop. It's one of the band's best late-career albums, and one they can be proud to end on.

#78. Ghost on the Canvas by Glen Campbell

Released: August 30, 2011
Label: Surfdog Records
Metacritic Score: 74
Album Charts: #24 The Billboard 200, #16 Top Digital Albums, #3 Top Independent Albums

At the beginning of this year, Glen Campbell was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, and despite this sobering news he continued to do what he does best, make records. Ghost On The Canvas finds the songwriter exploring his illness on the very first track. "Some days I am so confused, Lord / The past gets in my way." It would be easy to dismiss the popularity of this new record on Glen's illness and the publicity that comes with it, but there is real substance here. The production and harmony really fills the album out and Glen is clearly unafraid to expand his lyrical and musical horizons. "St. Peter's Cathedral" is a personal favorite of the year.

#79. Codes And Keys by Death Cab For Cutie

Released: May 31, 2011
Label: Atlantic
Metacritic Score: 71
Album Charts: #3 The Billboard 200, #3 Top Canadian Albums, #1 Top Digital Albums, #1 Top Modern Rock/Alternative Albums, #1 Top Rock Albums

So the band that arguably kicked off the indie rock revolution is now three albums into their major label relationship. Many thought a transition to a major would be the kiss of death for Death Cab, but the band's 2005 album Plans put that fear to rest. And while I do think the lack of lofi murkiness is a loss, it's only nostalgic in nature. Codes And Keys delivers some undeniably beautiful songs and the crystal clean production is a plus (there, I said it).

#80. Hell on Heels by Pistol Annies

Released: August 30, 2011
Label: Sony Music Entertainment
Metacritic Score: 84
Album Charts: #5 The Billboard 200, #1 Top Digital Albums

This may arguably be the best country album ever made from a woman's perspective. There is no doubt that this debut album by country supergroup Pistol Annies is one of the year's best country efforts. Hell on Heels is packed with hooks, expert harmonies, two-stepping twang and shuffle, and well thought out working class lyrics... it's all here in spades, and the production values are through the roof to boot. If you like country music, get it. If you don't, listen to this.

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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