/ the daily muse

Music: Best of 2011. Sort Of

Best of 2011. Sort Of.

OK, so most year-end lists enumerate curators choices for the best musical efforts released in the current year, this being 2011, in case you’d lost track. Maunet’s list is a little different. It does include some records I thought represented the best of this year’s musical offerings. But to be quite honest, one look at my iTunes library revealed that I had not acquired all that many records released in 2011. Not to mention that all the vinyl I bought this year was primarily composed of classic records from the 60′s through the 90′s. Call me behind the times. An old fogey. Or, as I would prefer, discerning.

So with this in mind, my year-end list includes past artists or records that I’ve re-discovered or obsessed over during the course of the year. Some are relatively new artists from this decade, others hearken back to the days of yore. In all cases, their awesomeness goes undiluted by the passing of time. So, ordered by play count, check it:



Despite the fact that I didn’t get turned on to this band until November of this year, it tops the play count list. That should tell you something. Three of M83′s records have been on repeat for weeks now. It’s driving my girlfriend crazy, but I can’t help it. More here.



After some repeated listening, I reluctantly got to like this year’s The King Of Limbs. But really, it’s been all about the other three records pictured above. Thy’re so dark  and sexy and alive you just can’t put ‘em down. Bottom line, this band is one of the best of the best and warrants repeated listening no matter what year it is.

Pains of Being Pure At Heart


Teenage Dream Pop delight. Dashes of My Bloody Valentine, sprinkles of 80′s pop, Belong is perfect for driving with the top down. And if you’re wooing a girl, it’s a nice, innocent way to get things started…

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club


I’d forgotten just how fucking good these guys are. Dark rock a little this side of Jesus and Mary Chain, great for midnight strolls through dark alleys.

The National


Between the Expanded Edition of High Violet and the release of two singles this year supporting a movie (“Think You Can Wait”, Win Win) and a video game, of all things, (“Exile,Vilify”, Portal 2) this band continues to stay in heavy rotation after years of wearing their records down to the nub.

Bon Iver


Delicate, gorgeous, sublime. If this list was not ordered by play count, methinks this self-titled effort would top the list for best record of 2011. In fact, I’m disinclined to believe my LastFM scrobble count on this one, cause I spun this constantly since it’s release date. And have you seen this guy live? Jesus H.

The Rolling Stones


As with The Beatles, I re-discover this band every few years or so. You just can’t argue with it. Hands down one of the best bands of all time. My interest was re-piqued this time by the release of the Deluxe Edition of Exile On Main Street, not to mention recently acquired virgin vinyl copies of the meat of the Stone’s order: Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Beggars Banquet. This time around I finally saw the genius of Keith Richards. Such a rock star, a complete and utter madman; yet when it comes to the music, disarmingly earnest and truly delighted by his job. A sweetheart of sorts. He kills without showboating, his riffs deceptively simple and full of soul. Yes, I kinda fell in love with the man this year, crags and all. Watch Gimme Shelter, Let’s Spend the Night Together, Stones In Exile and Ladies and Gentlemen, The Rolling Stones! for affirmation of this guy’s utter charm and musicality.

S. Carey


As drummer for Bon Iver, S. Carey applies a tasteful percussionist’s hand to a band that is primarily known for it’s acoustic leanings. But on his debut solo outing, he applies a musicologists magic to All We Grow, a gorgeous record teeming with majestic textures and complex rhythmic structures. It’s a soundtrack to a lover’s dream and well worth repeated listenings as it seeps into your subconscious, leaving you melancholy, joyful and fully alive.

Black Mountain


In its simplest terms, this band ROCKS. Steeped in psychedelic blues-rock of the 60′s and 70′s, this Canadian collective mines the best of Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, spewing a barrage of  rock and rollin bad-assness. Long live rock.

Black Angels


Seems I’m into bands with Black in their monikers. This particular brand of black is dry and muscular, piquant and dark as a blood orange. The Black Angels are an inarguably contemporary band, yet deeply rooted in late 60′s bombastic blues-rock (Monks, Black Sabbath); minimal basement dinge (Velvet Underground, The Stooges); and post-hippie psychedelic wash (Spacemen 3). While the first record, Passover, looms a little darker, their third effort, Phosphene Dream, has the band fascinated with the poppier side of the 60′s, making noisy nods to The Beatles, The Kinks and the Beach Boys. And that’s never a bad thing.

The Antlers


The Antler’s second record had a lot to live up to after the mesmerizing, wrenching 2009 debut Hospice. Happily, their sophomore effort doesn’t disappoint. Lyrically, the record sounds like a natural extension of the first–more songs of loss, distrust and heart-break. But while Hospice held us close in the trenches of human loss, Burst Apart employs new electronic textures that make it seem a little less of this world, more so a claustrophobic concoction of dreamy landscapes that bring to life all our most hidden fears and desires.

Pink Mountaintops


Pink Mountaintops are the sexier, dirtier sister of Black Mountain. Decidedly influenced by the Velvet Underground and the Stooges, the Tops rejoice in noisy DIY ditties of dancing, drugs, sex, and rock and roll. And who the hell don’t love that?

The Psychedelic Furs


I’ve been listening to these guys since high school–back in my time, “Pretty In Pink” was the pean to the unapproachable pretty girl sitting next to you in classs. But during the period when the Furs were at their most contemporary, I never delved deep into their catalog, satisfied with owning only All of This and Nothing, a collection of their poppier, prettier tracks. But this year I sat down and really dug into the first three records to discover that these guys are the quintessential post-punk band. Raw and growly, the Furs’ early material is so full of energy it’ll sock and spin you ’round like a boxer bent on knocking you down. And much to my surprise, these records still manage to sound contemporary after all these years. So don’t feel bad if you come across these guys late in the game. As they say,  ”the first in her line is the last to remember her name…”

Kurt Vile


Earlier this year the short 30-minute haunt of God Is Saying This To You stayed on repeat morning, noon and night. It’s the perfect record for a crisp autumn night spent alone on the veranda, sipping bourbon, smoking yourself daft, haunted by the specter of lost loves and friends forgotten. Imagine a gathering of Bert Jansch, Neil Young and Bon Iver plucking out ghostly strains haunting dark country woods. Naturally I had to go out and get everything this young troubadour from Pittsburgh has to offer, and none of it disappoints. Vile explores noisier territory on Constant Hitmaker and Childish Prodigy, then settles into a more unified approach on 2011′s Smoke Ring for My Halo. Take the whole ouvre as a whole and you’ve got one hell of a collection songs.

The War On Drugs


A Kurt Vile side project, The War On Drugs cook up a unique concoction of ambient Americana. Between Vile’s high register and a wash of distorted keyboards you’ll find songs suitable for a country stomp on the surface of the moon.

Secret Machines


Now Here Is Nowhere was the shit back in 2004. The band made a daringly cool move: basing the entire recording session for this album around the sound of a booming kick drum. Boy did it pack a wallop. But then, like so many other over-hyped bands of the oughts, they lost direction and petered out. But that don’t mean this record doesn’t hold up. Laden with strains of Pink Floyd, Can, Zeppelin and a smattering of shoegazing influences, this record deserves another listen now that the smoke has cleared and the dust has begun to settle.

Liz Phair


I bought Exile in Guyville the day it came out in June of 1993. As we all know, it changed the way chick-rock could sound, eschewing the politically correct laments of contemporaries like the sickeningly earnest Sarah McLaughlin, instead presenting us with a sexually forward, personally confrontational take on male/female relationships. What a refreshing record it was then, with immaculately clean and simple production and pitch-perfect songs. Well, this year I purchased a 180-gram vinyl edition of this classic and got hooked once again. We may not all be at the age where we can still fuck and run, but it’s nice to reminisce, no?



Ever wished there was a contemporary equivalent to Chopin’s Nocturnes? A less brainy/new-agey version of Erik Satie? Just short, simple, melodic, often romantic and lonely piano vignettes best for early morning, late evening or rainy days? Basically any time you’re prone to sad-bastard music and the beautiful tinkle of piano keys. Well, if Chopin were to come back to life as a hipster Canadian plunking out perfect piano ditties tinged with Spanish and Hungarian influences, Solo Piano would be the record he’d make next. Friend Kevin Brady puts it in its simplest terms: “This is one of the most beautiful records I’ve ever heard.” I’m pretty sure he’s not overstating.

Explosions In The Sky


in 2011, EITS released Take Care, Take Care, Take Care. As a huge fan of this band, I was left a little underwhelmed by that particular record. It just doesn’t compare to the masterpiece that is The Earth is Not A Cold Dead Place, a tuneful, joyous, bombastic, majestic record that makes post-rock contemporaries Mogwai sound like they’re tone deaf. And by the way, if you’re a fan of the television series Friday Night Lights, Explosions tracks are featured all over it…

Alexander “Skip” Spence


One of the great “lost” psychedelic records of the late 60′s, Oar is the creation of Alexander Spence, most famous for co-founding Moby Grape and for drumming with early incarnations of  Jefferson Airplane. Between that, drugging and going more than slightly mad, Skip made a kooky, woozy, haunting record reminiscent of Syd Barret and Electric Ladyland-era Hendrix. Lower the lights, spark up, relax and enjoy, man!



Shamelessly, these guys pilfer and plagiarize Prince’s mid-period discography, early Arcade Fire and just about any Brooklyn-born dance-rock band you can think of—to very satisfying success. Their first two efforts were actually insipid little indie rock records, bleh. But I fell prey to this record’s “Baby I’m A Star” collection of falsetto-laced pop-dance hooks soaked in drums-and-bubblegum beauty. Bump and grind, kiddies!




  1. Tuesday 12.20.2011 | 4:36 EDT

    Rockpants says:

    I love the spirit of this list. And loving Rob’s list! EMA – yes! Golly, I have a lot of listening to do.

  2. Saturday 12.17.2011 | 8:41 EDT

    krebby says:

    What!? No mention of the historic Lou Reed + Metallica teamup?!? http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/01/lulu-metallica-lou-reed_n_1069221.html

  3. Wednesday 12.14.2011 | 2:50 EDT

    Rob says:

    My Best of (what was actually released in) 2011 (according to my phone, of all things):
    Apocalypse, Bill Callahan; Biophilia; Bjork; Bloodless Coup, Bell X1; Bon Iver, Bon Iver; Days, Real Estate; Demolished Thoughts, Thurston Moore; Enough Thunder, James Blake; Hardcore Will Never Die, Mogwai; Helplessness Blues, Fleet Foxes; Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, M83; Last Summer, Eleanor Friedberger; Let England Shake, PJ Harvey; Lifes Rich Pageant (Deluxe Edition), R.E.M.; Mirror Traffic, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks; New Brigade, Ice Age; Parallax, Atlas Sound; Past Life of Martyred Saints, EMA; The People’s Key, Bright Eyes; Slave Ambient, The War on Drugs; Smoke Ring for My Halo, Kurt Vile; Suck It and See, Arctic Monkeys; The Whole Love, Wilco; Wit’s End, Cass McCombs

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