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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

10. The Weeknd, House of Balloons

The Weeknd began 2011 in total obscurity and ended it as the year’s most talked about new artist. The collaboration of producer Doc McKinney and singer Abel Tesfaye, House of Balloons is entirely without precedent in R&B. The gothic production aesthetic is influenced as much by industrial, trip-hop, and downtempo as it is by urban-radio mainstays like R. Kelly and The-Dream, while Tesfaye’s tortured falsetto conveys both vulnerability and predatory intent. It’s a lurid exercise in subterranean world-building, its depictions of dependency and desperation soundtracked by some of the catchiest, sexiest R&B jams you’ll never hear in the club. Cole


The 25 Best Albums of 2011

9. Wild” beasts, Smother

True to their name, Wild Beasts continue to build on and fully inhabit an undomesticated musical world far removed from the familiar grounds of their indie peers. The band’s experimentation in flaky, embellished baroque pop is ultimately a reward for its loyal audience: The weirder they get, the better Wild Beasts become. For those who stuck with them through Two Dancers, Smother is another masterful step in that surreal journey, albeit a quiet, sensuous one. Largely shouldered by the band’s two lead vocalists (a libertine cooer in Hayden Thorpe and the earthier, huskier Tom Fleming), Smother is both alluring and purposeful, not to mention full of beautiful surprises. What other group could achieve something like “Invisible,” an undisguised hat tip to the kind of soft, safe ballads one would expect from Phil Collins circa 1985, and still manage to infuse it with their own brand of unpredictable artistry? Liedel


The 25 Best Albums of 2011

8. Katy B, On a Mission

Katy B’s debut album is a euphoric journey that manages to make dubstep sound a little less ugly. Three out of the four singles that were released this year from On a Mission were shortlisted for our 25 Best Singles of 2011. That none of them cracked the final list speaks more to the embarrassment of riches from which we had to choose than to the weakness of the individual singles. Not to mention, some of the very best cuts haven’t even been released as singles yet. The single “Witches’ Brew” rides its oscillating synth line just as smoothly as the album’s closing track, “Hard to Get,” bobs along to its vintage deep-house groove. Cinquemani


The 25 Best Albums of 2011

7. Bon Iver, Bon Iver

Wisconsin breeds crazy, but it also allows for glimmering brilliance. There are flashes of both in Bon Iver, the connoisseur’s choice vehicle for robotripping this year. Justin Vernon’s second album boldly sheds For Emma, Forever Ago’s sequestered, no-fi realness in favor of a thawing, immersive, yet still remote existence outside of the cabin—though admittedly naming all the songs for near and distant locales may have been a tad too on point. While clearly some fans would have preferred everyone’s perceptions remain gruffly unaltered, others found it within their Movember hearts to allow this acoustic Robert Bly a chance to tap into his secret Björkian loins. Henderson


The 25 Best Albums of 2011

6. Tune-Yards, w h o k i l l

Merrill Arbus is theatrically, radically, self-reflexively weird, but she’s also the rare example of an artist earning that distinction completely. She goes about justifying her style in the same way she justifies her rampant borrowing from African polyrhythms, vocal approaches, and percussion, an activity many artists have engaged in recently with far less originality or success. In both respects, there’s the sense that a uniquely creative mind is behind all this, turning what could be dissonant, irritatingly obtuse music into something fascinatingly daffy instead. Cataldo

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