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The 25 Best Albums of 2011

Lykke Li's sophomore effort nearly earned across-the-board approval from our staff. [Photo: Atlantic]

The 25 Best Albums of 2011

Every year seems like the year of the woman around here. But the ladies truly dominate the upper reaches of our 2011 albums list in a way they haven't ever before: For the first time, our top three albums are all by female artists. Lykke Li's sophomore effort, Wounded Rhymes, helped the Swedish electro-pop siren shift from adorable to adorably scorned, with prickly pop songs to match. Her collection of richly textured odes to love nearly earned across-the-board approval from our music staff, as did PJ Harvey's eighth solo studio effort, Let England Shake. While the rest of the former goddesses of the 1990s alt-rock pantheon have started to limp into middle age, Polly Jean continues to mesmerize with her transformation as a musician, a poet, a woman, and a human being. Stefani Germanotta's Born This Way transcended whatever irksome questions we still have about her authenticity, functioning best as a professional statement of purpose rather than a simple collection of pop singles. And hey, she annoyed the hell out of the hipsters, so she must be doing something right. As for the men, well, they didn't do too shabby either. Bon Iver represents a new kind of commercially minded indie act, managing to find a way to appeal to Grammy voters without completely alienating his core constituency with an album that balances the stripped-down indie ethos with a decidedly '80s pop sheen. In fact, from Bon Iver to Patrick Wolf to Iron & Wine to Lady Gaga, it seems the '80s was the go-to aesthetic era of choice in 2011. Which, perhaps, means we should all get our stoned-washed jeans and plaid flannels ready to go for 2012. Just saying. Sal Cinquemani

[Editor's Note: Check out our 25 Best Singles of 2011.]

Yuck

25. Yuck, Yuck. Yuck may not have the most original sound in rock history, but they have an unrivaled gift for producing addictive ear candy that makes their debut far more gratifying on first listen—and far more fun to sing along to on the 20th—than anything in the Pavement or Dinosaur Jr. catalogues. Whether it's the harmonies on songs like "Georgia," the blistering guitar solos that pop out of nearly every track, or the dramatic surge of the album's majestic finale, "Rubber," everything about Yuck is engineered for pleasure. It's a triumph of scrappy melodicism, fulfilling the latent pop potential of lo-fi rock with track after track of tuneful thunder. Matthew Cole

Park IV24. Fred Falke, Part IV. So what if you only have one trick, so long as you do it well. Whether he's remixing others, sampling for himself, or building grooves from the ground up, French trash-house genius Fred Falke leaves his unmistakable mark on everything he touches: crushed pulsations, EQ compression ramped up to insane levels, Green Giant basslines. Though technically a compilation enhanced with a few new tracks, the Jean-Michel-Jarre-drops-with-Daft-Punk-while-watching-Blade Runner vibe of Part IV still feels incredibly new. Or really old. Or both. Eric Henderson

Inclusions23. Ben Sollee, Inclusions. He may take advantage of the gimmick of being the best cellist in pop up to a point (bless his heart, he even carted his cello around on a bike tour for much of the year), but it's to Ben Sollee's credit that he doesn't rest on the novelty of his chosen instrument to sell Inclusions. His classical training has given him some unimpeachable technical chops, sure, but Sollee's intuitive pop smarts make him a standout among 2011's host of sensitive (read: boring) troubadours. Instead, it's his ear for ingratiating pop melodies, his impossibly warm, lithe tenor, and his insightful, empathetic songwriting that make Inclusions one of the year's strongest and most distinctive pop albums. Jonathan Keefe

Ceremonials22. Florence and the Machine, Ceremonials. I wasn't always on board with Florence Welch and her machine—that is, her voice. It's big, for sure, but also flawed. But that hasn't stopped Adele, and it wasn't long before I was drawn into the carefully crafted anthems of Flo's sophomore effort, Ceremonials, which was produced by Paul Epworth, who, notably, helmed Adele's "Rolling in the Deep." The album is steeped in melodrama, with pump organs, choirs, and strings expertly deployed as pure pomp on already rousing singles like "Shake It Out" and "No Light, No Light." But Welch is perfectly capable of doing delicate too, as evidenced by the gorgeously textured lead single "What the Water Gave Me" and "Never Let Me Go," while tracks like "Lover to Lover" are reminiscent of the Eurythmics at their most soulful. SC

Shapeshifting21. Young Galaxy, Shapeshifting. Songs of love and devotion, people as conduits, like planets, our obsession with thoughts of oblivion, where light and dark, fog and canyons, are dominant motifs. The members of Young Galaxy are a sincere lot of mystics, hopeless romantics whose incessant celestial musings, of emotions intertwining not unlike cosmic systems, can be choking, but each of Shapeshifting's tracks, from the thunderous and effervescent to the misty-eyed and forlorn, stakes out its own very unique place in the sky—and, ultimately, our hearts. They earned their place here almost solely for turning "peripheral" into the source of one of the most unexpectedly catchy hooks of the year. Ed Gonzalez

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