5. Tyler, the Creator – Goblin
In a world dominated by sensitive guys and gangsta posturing, along comes the ringleader of Odd Future to drop the most completely nutso rap album ever. He makes Kanye seem well-adjusted. Despite his immaturity both in and out of the studio, Tyler’s commitment to insanity is sort of refreshing. The album is about five tracks too long, but there are plenty of “holy shit” moments to make up for the weak spots.
4. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
Trading pastoral imagery for pure bleakness and upping their musicianship, the beardiest band in all the land delivers an album that cuts deep. Each song is filled with uncertainty, wondering whether a “being a cog in some great machine” might have been a better option than following your dreams. And if success in either arena is good enough to be considered a man. These are tough times and this is a tough album, but the band is at their pinnacle creatively and that can give us all some hope.
3. Cut Copy – Zonoscope
On the opposite end of the hope spectrum, Australia’s Cut Copy are dancing away their turmoil. Zonoscope‘s catchiness might cause it to be dismissed as a trifle, but this is a truly outstanding follow-up to their masterpiece In Ghost Colours. And why “Need You Now” wasn’t the go-to song for every Red Cross ad, I’ll never know.
2. Seryn – This is Where We Are
If their EP of demos was good enough to make last year’s list, where do you think this much improved full-length will end up? As musicians, this quintet is simply unrivaled. Their music is folky without being boring, spiritual without being preachy (or phony) and familiar without being repetitive. Basically, the greatest band in the world not on a major label right now.
1. Bright Eyes – The People’s Key
All good things have to come to an end, and you might as well go out on top. Much less cryptic than but equally impressive as Cassadaga, the grand finale from Conor Oberst’s first love is the first calm, optimistic record in his career. Yet none of it feels disingenuous, even the crazy hick rambling at the disc’s beginning and end.
Death Cab for Cutie – “You are a Tourist”
5. Adele – “Rolling in the Deep”
Tired of this song yet? I’m not, especially because I’d rather here Adele 40 times in a row than most of the Top 40. She’s also living proof that some times, hard work is rewarded. She’s far and away the best-selling artist of the year with more than 2 million copies of 21 sold, much of those sales thanks to this kiss-off, one of the best songs of its kind ever written.
4. The Lonely Island featuring Michael Bolton – “Jack Sparrow”
Silly? Yes. Childish? Yes. But it’s also the catchiest song of the first half of this year, and gives Michael Bolton something he can actually be proud of.
3. Coldplay – “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall”
Predictable, perhaps, but this is still the most joyous song to grace the radio waves in 2011. Only the most jaded hipster would be unmoved by that guitar lick, borrowed from Peter Allen.
2. Seryn – “Our Love”
The most impressive song the Denton band has yet written, and that’s saying something. A moving six-and-a-half minute folk ballad that incorporates terrific instrumentation, gorgeous harmonies and biblical references. In a word: breathtaking.
1. Bright Eyes – “One for You, One for Me”
The People’s Key will likely be Bright Eyes’ final album, and so it’s fitting that the last track is an all-inclusive reconciliation with enemies the world over. This should be the Class of 2012’s graduation song next year.