Top 10 Albums of 2011

1. Bon Iver (Bon Iver)

Justin Vernon is having a good year, and I might be a sucker for great beards but he totally deserves it. His 2007 debut For Emma, Forever Ago was heartbreaking and charming, if you didn’t feel Vernon’s loss in that album you are simply heartless. Bon Iver is an expansion on everything For Emma was, from the general feel of the tracks to adding more emphasis on the full band. From tracks like “Calgary” to “Holocene” Vernon’s voice is still as charming as ever and they often make listeners feel his loss, his love, and his hope. Natalie Wontorczyk

2. Fleet Foxes (Helplessness Blues)

If you weren’t swayed by this beautiful album you simply have no heart. Helplessness Blues was an altogether seamless album from start to finish and the depth of it is almost dizzying (in the best way possible). Robin Pecknold really puts his soul into every song, and after the group scraped a nearly complete track listing for an album in 2009 this was the product two years later. All I can say is, thank God for this gem Fleet Foxes. -Natalie Wontorczyk

3. M83 (Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming)                               

French electronic band M83 is at it again with a sixth studio album. Front man Anthony Gonzalez said himself that this record would be “very, very, very epic.” And epic is the perfect word to describe this hour-long album that leaves you wanting more, despite its seemingly overwhelming length. M83 had a lot to live up to with the success of 2008’s Saturdays = Youth, but clearly they weren’t intimidated because their sound has only got bigger and better. If nothing else, at least promise me you’ll listen to the single “Midnight City.” You won’t regret it. -Joanna Nowak

4. Girls (Father, Son, Holy Ghost)

Girls definitely created a spiritual experience with this album. The band’s first album, Album, didn’t fully have me sold..but one listen to the first single off of Father, Son, Holy Ghost (“Vomit”) and I fell in l-o-v-e. Girls’ iconic influences from rock’s past are felt a lot more strongly in this album but they still manage to keep a distinct originality that keep them ahead of the indie edge. -Natalie Wontorczyk

5. Radiohead (The King of Limbs)

This album frustrated some fans because stylistically, with it’s minimal guitar work and hollow sound, it sounded more like Thom Yorke’s solo album The Eraser than Kid A, yet that is what made it so good.  Beneath the thin layers of instrumentation is music that chills and excites as Radiohead again tells the tale of individual estrangement and insecurities, and if you think their time as a forerunner of musical creativity “is over, you are wrong.” -David Christians

6. The Antlers (Burst Apart)

Burst Apart is more than satisfying. Just when I thought that The Antlers couldn’t get any better than Hospice, they release an album that simply lacks a weak track. Gems like “No Widows,” “Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out” and “Putting the Dog to Sleep” make this album essential for 2011. -Madeline Rehayem

7. My Morning Jacket (Circuital)

Talk about arena rock at its finest. From the epic title track, lasting a solid seven minutes, to my personal favorite “Holdin’ On to Black Metal” this album is one rockin’ trip. If you can’t fully appreciate a magical guitar solo then MMJ is a band you have got to see live. Until then, give the album a listen and just try not to get carried away in these precise jams. -Natalie Wontorczyk

8. Smith Westerns (Dye it Blonde)                 

One of the most solid albums of the year from beginning to end, Dye It Blonde is definitely a masterful throwback to the likes of T. Rex.  It starts with one of the best songs of the year, “Weekend” and never seems to have a dull moment.  Dye It Blonde, the second release from the Chicago-based band, is less distorted than the first self-titled album, making Cullen Omori’s lyrics more audible and intoxicating, and adding to the listening experience.  Overall, this album definitely deserves it’s spot at #8.  Smith Westerns have created something that is definitely a joy to listen to.  I have personally listened to it 18 times and have never once got tired of it. -Boswell Hutson

9. Washed Out (Within and Without)

The album cover for this one shows a rather risqué intimate embrace; the sleeve for the vinyl version shows a blossoming pink cherry tree, both controlled yet busy photos nicely framed, and they serve as perfect metaphors for the album.  These chill wave dance songs are remarkably intimate and beautiful, glowing with a synthesizer’s hum and somehow both messy and streamlined.  This album feels right as you’re bobbing your head on an airplane or dancing at a concert, something not many albums do. -David Christians

10. Youth Lagoon (The Year of Hibernation)

Youth Lagoon’s first album feels nothing like a debut album. The Year of Hibernation is a sneak peek into Trevor Powers’ life; it is truly a musical diary. It’s lilting, nostalgic and so comfortable, making it seem like a longtime staple to the music scene. These songs sound like they were recorded in the true indie way: a little bedroom studio. And they beg to be blasted while driving around on a scorching summer day. Idaho-based Powers, the brain behind this project, captured the epitome of simple, somber but extremely memorable music on his first try. -Joanna Nowak

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