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The 25 Best Albums of 2011

The ladies truly dominate the upper reaches of our 2011 albums list in a way they haven’t ever before.

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The 25 Best Albums of 2011
Photo: Atlantic

The 25 Best Albums of 2011

20. Hank 3, Ghost to a Ghost/Gutter Town

Country music’s absurd authenticity fetish reached a tipping point this year thanks to a horde of sound-alike hacks crowing their rural bona fides and referencing genre legends over music that sounded alarmingly like that of Daughtry and Creed. But Hank 3, the only guy with any real right to name-check Hank Williams, offered a fantastically messy and foul-mouthed double shot of “Hellbilly” music with the fearless ambition, genre know-how, and outlaw spirit to drown out everyone else’s empty, impotent dirt-road anthems. His father may have famously made a complete ass of himself in 2011, but Hank 3 proved once again that the Williams family name still carries on a fine tradition. Keefe


The 25 Best Albums of 2011

19. Gang Gang Dance, Eye Contact

For years, deep within the tribal noise exercises of Gang Gang Dance’s oeuvre, there lay the makings of an accessible album, so perhaps the release of Eye Contact isn’t that big of a surprise. The shock, rather, is that the worldbeat Manhattanites managed to do it without jettisoning any of their endearing peculiarities. Singer Lizzi Bougatsos’s morphing, multi-vocal contributions, for instance, are just as wild and dark as ever, beautifully unhinged and animalistic in tracks like “MindKilla,” “Glass Jar,” and “Sacer.” The band’s latest has more going for it than exotic appeal though: The forward-looking album also provides a tantalizing glimpse of where indie pop might be headed in the next decade or so. Which, in the end, makes Eye Contact not only a great album, but also a colorful, jungle-thumping augur of things to come. Kevin Liedel


The 25 Best Albums of 2011

18. Destroyer, Kaputt

With the lone exception of Bon Iver’s “Beth/Rest,” no music this year has better captured the glitzy, breezy, unaware charm of ‘80s air pop better than Destroyer’s Kaputt. There’s an almost stark obliviousness to the album’s caricatural, glossy atmosphere, obtuse lyricism, and plethora of jazzy brass, but therein lies its allure: Dan Bejar exists in his own little bubble, making songs for himself as much as others, and leaving us narrative riddles that perhaps only he can ultimately decipher. Yet as confoundingly esoteric as Kaputt can often be, it’s still a joy to listen to: Luxurious and blissful and playful in a way that conjures up the psychedelic pop storytelling of Al Stewart. From the bouncy hotel lobby ballad “Suicide Demo for Kara Walker” and the delicate melancholy of “Chinatown” to the almost ridiculous, full-on saxophone and vibes explosion that is the title track, Kaputt is the consummate balancing act of the cerebral and the irreverent. Liedel


The 25 Best Albums of 2011

17. Jay-Z and Kanye West, Watch the Throne

Leave it to two of hip-hop’s vainest, most status-obsessed snob geniuses to come up with something as enjoyably gauche as Watch the Throne. Recorded in a swank Paris penthouse, the album is an expression of excess writ large, a veritable celebration of materialism. Kanye West continues his obsession with willful waste, chopping James Brown samples into ribbons on “Gotta Have It,” while Jay-Z crushes his recent midlife-crisis fears with majestic metaphors. A Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous episode in album form, it finds the two up to even more exaggerated versions of their old tricks. Jesse Cataldo


The 25 Best Albums of 2011

16. James Blake, James Blake

A friend recently played me James Blake through his new subwoofer with the dial turned to about 5, an experience that nearly made our heads explode. It served as a reminder of how amazingly rumbly, strange, and unique of an album it is, a fact that may have been forgotten in the nine months since its release. Cloaked in a cloud of mystery, it defies the usual bedroom-recording template, with an expansive sound that ranges from creeping, percussively stripped-down R&B to eerie MIDI-inflected dirges, with textures that provide padding for one of the most uniquely smooth voices to come around in years. Cataldo

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