A couple years ago, I started doing my own personal “best of the year” selections in iTunes. It’s easy to make an iTunes smart playlist that includes all the tracks added during the calendar year. Just set “Date Added”, “is in the range”, and pick the dates (I also add rules to exclude some tracks, like audiobooks, podcasts, etc.).
I use “date added” rather than “year”, so my selections are based on music that I bought during the year, regardless of when it was originally released. If I discover an old artist or pick up an old album years later, then so be it.
I buy full albums only; I never buy just single tracks. And so that’s what I pick 10 favorites of: albums. Here are my 2011 selections, in alphabetical order (yes, really) by artist. The links are to Wikipedia, and a playlist of these albums (except Dum Dum Girls and Francisca Valenzuela, unfortunately) is here on Spotify.
- Hadestown, Anaïs Mitchell – released in 2010, but I only heard about it in 2011. A “folk opera”, it’s one continuous story from start to finish. There are some tracks that I don’t love (the Justin Vernon ones, mostly), but others that are fantastic (“Why We Build the Wall” and “How Long?”, in particular – though they pack more punch if listened to as part of the whole work).
- A Bestiary Of, The Creatures – A much older one, released in 1983. I’ve been a Siouxsie and the Banshees fan forever, but somehow never checked out the Creatures side project until I came across this CD, at the library of all places. It’s a little uneven, honestly, but it earns a place here for helping me discover Siouxsie music I was missing out on.
- Only In Dreams, Dum Dum Girls – This one actually did come out in 2011. I discovered this band because they played a free set at Waterloo Records during SXSW. Good fuzz-guitar pop rock.
- The Valley, Eisley – Another 2011 release. This band is one that I’d seen a few videos of and heard here and there, but never really checked out. This album is solid all the way through.
- Ceremonials, Florence + the Machine – and:
- Lungs, Florence + the Machine – How on Earth I hadn’t already known about Florence + the Machine, I couldn’t tell you. I finally found them in November, including 2009’s Lungs, and dig both albums so much that they’re both on this list.
- Buen Soldado, Francisca Valenzuela – I’ve liked her since her first album, and her performance at Austin City Limits Music Festival was fantastic.
- Oh Land, Oh Land – Slightly odd Danish electro-pop. Another one I found because they played a free set at Waterloo Records for SXSW.
- Wild Flag, Wild Flag – While I also saw this band at Waterloo’s SXSW showcase, the chances of me not loving a band that includes two-thirds of Sleater-Kinney were always low. I subsequently saw a full concert at La Zona Rosa, which was awesome. . . right up to the point where they skipped the encore. This band is great, but I may hold a grudge about that forever.
- Civilian, Wye Oak – Yet another band I caught live at Waterloo during SXSW, and which I also saw later at The Parish. This album is good, but as Paul Krugman found during his appearance on Sound Opinions (yes, really), their live performance is an order of magnitude more awesome than their recorded material.
So those are my favorite “new” albums of 2011.
There are good albums among the rest of what I picked up in 2011, and good tracks even on the not-so-good albums. To keep them from getting lost in the iTunes library, I also made a playlist of favorite single tracks from all of the year’s albums that didn’t make the best-album cut. (Some albums were so close to best-of status that they get two tracks here.) This “Best of the Rest” is also a playlist on Spotify, minus, once again, the few tracks they don’t carry.
- About To Happen — Siouxsie (Mantaray)
- Romance Is Boring — Los Campesinos! (Romance Is Boring)
- Don’t Carry It All — The Decemberists (The King Is Dead)
- Bhang, Bhang, I’m a Burnout — Dum Dum Girls (I Will Be)
- Neighborhood Girls — Suzanne Vega (Suzanne Vega)
- Lero-Lero — Luisa Maita (Lero-Lero)
- Revel In Contempt — Buke And Gass (Riposte)
- (Don’t Go Back To) Rockville — R.E.M. (Reckoning)
- Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole — Martha Wainwright (Martha Wainwright)
- Oro Y Plata — Hello Seahorse! (Lejos. No Tan Lejos)
- Culture Of Fear — Thievery Corporation (Culture Of Fear)
- Nylons in a Rip — Nikka Costa (Pro*Whoa! EP)
- Cruel — St. Vincent (Strange Mercy)
- Americano — Lady Gaga (Born This Way)
- Nail In My Coffin — The Kills (Blood Pressures)
- You Won’t Let Me Down Again — Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan (Hawk)
- Down By The Water — The Decemberists (The King Is Dead)
- Smart — Girl In A Coma (Exits and all the Rest)
- There Is a Light That Never Goes Out — Dum Dum Girls (He Gets Me High)
I hope this helps someone who comes across it discover another band or two they like; let me know on Twitter if so.