The Best Albums of 2011: #81 through #90

These are selections #81 through #90 in our Best Albums of 2011 countdown series.

#81. Mirror Traffic by Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks

Released: August 23, 2011
Label: Matador
Metacritic Score: 80
Charts: #43 The Billboard 200, #3 Top Independent Albums, #4 Top Modern Rock/Alternative Albums, #4 Top Rock Albums

I have no reservations in making the claim that Mirror Traffic is Malkmus' best post-Pavement release to date. It's a bouncy, pop dessert - the album is sweet, but not so much that you can only have a few bites, and it's not only the sugar that makes Mirror Traffic delicious, it also has wonderful complexity and texture. This is a record you'll find yourself looking forward to. The music is not adventurous, but fitting, and the lyrics are crammed with witty snippets that are devoid of pretension.

#82. Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will by Mogwai

Released: February 15, 2011
Label: Sub Pop
Metacritic Score: 77
Album Charts: #14 Top Independent Albums

Last year, if you told me that an instrumental album would make my top album list for 2011, I probably would have thought "fat chance". If you told me more than one would make it, I would have said, "never!" And while there are some (limited) vocals on Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, I classify this record in the same place as another (completely instrumental) album that has already made my list, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care by Explosions In The Sky. Hardcore... delivers the same type of emotional roller coaster ride through the layered use of instruments, and the result is some exhilarating time well spent.

#83. Velociraptor!

by Kasabian

Released: September 19, 2011
Label: Sony Music
Metacritic Score: 79
Album Charts:N/A

I understand that Kasabian's machismo can turn some people off, and singer Tom Meighan's claim that this new record, Velociraptor!, would "Change people's lives" certainly sent a wave of involuntary eye rolling across the globe. But as always, hype falls away when you get the music in hand and can actually listen to it. And as much as I wanted to dismiss Velociraptor!, I could not. It's loaded from beginning to end with perfectly crafted, modern, rock songs that will work at your local cafe, or your nearest stadium. An excellent record, even if it won't change your life.

#84. Torches by Foster The People

Released: May 23, 2011
Label: Startime
Metacritic Score: 70
Album Charts: #8 The Billboard 200, #7 Top Canadian Albums, #4 Top Digital Albums, #1 Top Modern Rock/Alternative Albums, #1 Top Rock Albums

Foster The People wins the award for generating the most buzz for a debut album in 2011. The band literally came out of nowhere and if you read any music blogs at all, this album made it to your radar screen. The single "Pumped Up Kicks" could also be heard on top 40 radio, which was surprising, but welcome. The record happily prances through radio-ready dance numbers that can't be ignored, even by the most jaded critic.

#85. Kiss Each Other Clean by Iron & Wine

Released: January 25, 2011
Label: 4AD
Metacritic Score: 77
Album Charts: #2 The Billboard 200, #15 Top Canadian Albums, #2 Top Digital Albums, #1 Top Modern Rock/Alternative Albums, #2 Top Rock Albums

There is something about Sam Beam's voice and phrasing that is instantly appealing, friendly and welcoming. It's equal parts melancholy and kindness. As much as his distinctive vocal tone and his competent acoustic guitar picking are a match made in heaven, this album proves that his songs also work with more complex instrumentation and less acoustic guitar. The songs here remain strong and simple, but the arrangements bump it up a notch. In one sense, this is an easy way out of becoming predictable, but without the context of his previous work, this album is simply fantastic. So my advice is just listen, don't think.

#86. Build A Rocket Boys! by Elbow

Released: March 8, 2011
Label: Fiction
Metacritic Score: 82
Album Charts: #151 The Billboard 200, #1 Top Heatseekers, #21 Top Independent Albums, #22 Top Modern Rock/Alternative Albums, #36 Top Rock Albums

Build A Rocket Boys! follows the Mercury prize winning album The Seldom Seen Kid, which is a hard album to top, to say the least. While the jury is still out on whether Build A Rocket Boys! has reached the same level as The Seldom Seen Kid, it's certainly close enough to win praise. This album is built on a strong, steady, mid-tempo framework, so from a distance it seems a bit barren, but once you get a closer look, the details are impressive and fit perfectly. Well timed flourishes, solitary piano notes, simple guitar riffs, quick choral injections and understated textures are all brilliantly hung like golden adornments. It makes for something that is prodigious as a whole, even if the individual parts are plain and simple.

#87. The Rip Tide by Beirut

Released: August 30, 2011
Label: Pompeii
Metacritic Score: 78
Album Charts: #80 The Billboard 200, #18 Top Digital Albums, #9 Top Independent Albums, #11 Top Modern Rock/Alternative Albums, #15 Top Rock Albums

The Rip Tide by Beirut is a smoother, more mature album that finds the band unafraid to experiment. However, the experimentation is left mostly to the arrangements, which never threaten, or distract from the strong song structures. The opening track "A Candle's Fire" prominently features uke and horns, while the very next song, "Santa Fe" has an electronic backbeat. They fit, as do the rest of the songs on the album, despite the various influences that shine through, which come from across the world more than pop culture.

#88. All Eternals Deck by The Mountain Goats

Released: March 29, 2011
Label: Merge
Metacritic Score: 77
Album Charts: N/A

John Darnielle isn't doing anything different on All Eternals Deck, and that's just fine. Some artists must evolve and constantly reinvent themselves to stay relevant, while others have something unique that would be lost with too much change in direction. Darnielle's Mountain Goats fall squarely into the later camp. Lyrically, All Eternals Deck has an unassuming, but brilliant destructive power. His choice of words can reveal hidden darkness in a way that sounds personal, but paint images that are absolutely unique to the listener.

#89. Gloss Drop by Battles

Released: June 6, 2011
Label: Warp
Metacritic Score: 79
Album Charts: #19 Top Independent Albums

Battles have become a three piece after the departure of Tyondai Braxton, but with Gloss Drop the band continues to forge on with relevant and challenging music that can be dug into like a chest filled with a wide range of tiny, sparkling treasures. You never know what you're going to discover next, but as each new layer exposes itself you'll find the smile on your face growing larger. Glass Drop is a herky-jerky, tension-filled record that challenges, but without ever losing a pure sense of fun.

#90. Rome by Danger Mouse

Released: May 16, 2011
Label: Parlophone
Metacritic Score: 75
Album Charts: #11 The Billboard 200, #15 Top Canadian Albums, #3 Top Digital Albums, #5 Top Modern Rock/Alternative Albums, #5 Top Modern Rock/Alternative Albums

If there is a musician/producer working today more prolific and diverse than Danger Mouse I am certainly not aware. From the underground success of The Grey Album to massive hit projects with Gnarls Barkley, Broken Bells, Gorillaz, Cee Lo Green, The Black Keys and others, Brian Joseph Burton's résumé reads like a list of the best albums of the new millennium. Rome continues to prove that Burton is so far ahead of the competition that the word "visionary" is simply not adequate.

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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