Best Albums of 2021

Here we are again, with another round of our favourite albums of the year. Perhaps some are familiar to you, dear reader. Perhaps some are new discoveries. Either way, we hope you enjoy our trifling reflections and that you might be able to offer up some of your favourite offerings from 2021 in the comments!

Elijah & Greg


10. Madison
Sloppy Jane

Sloppy Jane is the brainchild of one Haley Dahl, a Los Angeles-born Brooklyn-based musician. Perhaps one cannot help but appreciate the magnitude of her latest release, Madison. Here, Dahl exhibits her preternatural compositional and performative deftness in tremendous fashion – echoing from the damp walls of the Lost World Caverns in West Virginia, where the album was recorded (and what an ordeal it was to record a 22-piece orchestra in a cave). For Dahl, Sloppy Jane does not stop with the music, but is part of a wider multimedia artistic project. Yet, for all the strengths of Madison (and there are many), there remains a slight degree of off-putting self-importance (clearly, Dahl sees herself as quite the clever one – and in truth, she is). This experimental chamber [read: cave] pop is indeed of a high order, but perhaps it would maybe benefit from some more germination.

9. Reason to Live
Lou Barlow

The indie god Lou Barlow is Lou Barlow. Reason to Live is a Lou Barlow album. When Lou Barlow releases an album, I am compelled to listen. I must thank Greg, who first planted the Barlow seed in me almost 20 years ago. Reason to Live isn’t ground-breaking Barlow in the same way that 2005’s Emoh or even 2009’s Goodnight Unknown are, but it sees more of a return to the Barlow magic than does his previous release, 2015’s Brace the Wave. For more on Reason to Live, I defer to Greg’s more seasoned and astute Barlow reflections in his list below.

8. As the Love Continues

This is Mogwai’s tenth full-length album and their first to reach the top of the UK music charts. Bravo to the lads! At times, this record is familiar, perhaps even to a fault, but there are also real moments of grandeur. The album’s fourth track, ‘Ritchie Sacramento’ features rare unaffected vocals by Stuart Braithwaite as he reflects on the loss of friends including our beloved Scott Hutchison (Frightened Rabbit) and David Berman (Silver Jews), who took their own lives in 2018 and 2019, respectively. All-in-all, As the Love Continues is, like their previous two records, another excellent effort from Mogwai, and with a few poignant surprises.

7. Little Oblivions
Julien Baker

Julien Baker’s previous records didn’t capture me – I found them indistinguishable from other albums by similar indie artists I’ve encountered over the last few years: those wispy vocals over familiar indie-rock orchestration (cough*Phoebe*cough*Lucy*cough). Little Oblivions might well verge on generic at times (I would put this down to production, primarily), but there are excellent moments of musical climax. Lyrically, it seems as if Baker is more liberated than before. Her familiar reflections as a queer person of faith are so refreshing with their unapologetic presentation. There is no case to answer, no chip on any shoulder. Baker is ‘at one’ with herself and it is inspiring.

6. Mandatory Enjoyment

Dummy entered my radar with the release of two EPs last year (Dummy and EP2). Their first full-length, Mandatory Enjoyment, builds on the art-pop avant-garde of these initial releases to present something fuller, both in length and sound. There is a [heavy] touch of ambient and the abstract throughout the whole album, delivering a fresh Talking Heads-esque sound while pushing through new wave barriers with fuzz and drones. The album is full of this energy and, living up to its name, is just plain fun.

5. För Allting

Post-punk Swedes Makthaverskan (Swedish for ‘The Ruler’ and pronounced ‘Makthaverskan’) have been at it since 2008, though this album is the first of theirs I have ever heard – and I regret this. For all intents and purposes, their style has not changed dramatically. If one appreciates the dream-pop and Scandigaze of För Allting (Swedish for ‘For Ever’), one will appreciate the development of the whole of Makthaverskan’s back catalogue. If the Cocteau Twins, New Order and My Bloody Valentine made a Swedish baby in the late 1980s, it might well sound something like Makthaverskan and För Allting. This is not to suggest that För Allting is a simple variation on a theme. Instead, this ambitious record weaves between terrible elation and beautiful desperation, both musically and lyrically, with vocalist Maja Milner bringing oh-so-much to the table.

4. Ultrapop
The Armed

I love hard music. I love clever hooks. I love the Detroit Tigers. So it comes as no surprise that I love the Armed, the Detroit-based anonymous post-hardcore collective. Their previous effort, 2018’s Only Love was one of my favourite records that year and Ultrapop is surprisingly superior to its predecessor in most every way. Mind you, it is difficult to compare albums for an anonymous band with a rotating line-up, but taken as a whole, Ultrapop lives up to its name (and familiar, Armed-esque touches, such as the influence of Converge’s Kurt Ballou, are plentiful). Ultrapop doesn’t take itself too seriously (the pitfall of many artists within the metal/hardcore/post-hardcore genre), yet delivers on all fronts – exquisite melodies, powerful percussion, a stunning combination of aggressive and ethereal vocals, virtuosic guitar riffs. Yes, please.

3. buds

As with most unfamiliar albums, I wasn’t sure about buds at first. Its under-25-minute runtime struck me as more of an EP than an LP. But I didn’t give up on buds after the first listen, and for this I am grateful. It elicits some significant adolescent flashbacks (more having to do with musical style and not learning how to shave): I can’t help but hear a wee bit of 1990s Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr, Foo Fighters and the Lemonheads. Their fuzzy pop-rock is contagious and there’s something timeless about buds. Admittedly, it is not as fuzzy as ovlov’s previous releases, but the musical depth and focus only prove to enhance the strengths of the album.

2. A Beginner’s Mind
Sufjan Stevens & Angelo De Augustine

The inclusion of A Beginner’s Mind should come as no surprise to seasoned readers of Lost in the Cloud’s ‘Best Albums’ lists. Given the sheer size Sufjan Stevens’ output over the last two years (2019’s The Decalogue with Timo Andres, 2020’s Aporia with Lowell Brams, followed by The Ascension, and finally, his five-volume Convocations from earlier this year), I had admittedly low expectations for his collaboration with Angelo De Augustine for A Beginner’s Mind. While The Ascension was a cracker, I began to feel that acquiring The Decalogue, Aporia and Convocations were more to do with my commitment to Sufjan Stevens completism rather than the irresistibility of 2015’s Carrie & Lowell. I feared that A Beginner’s Mind would be another ‘completist’ investment.

I am pleased to report that A Beginner’s Mind is no such investment. The concept of the album (with specific films acting as muses for each song) is novel, but just as the film selection can range from inspired (Wim Wenders’ 1987 Wings of Desire, for example) to banal (Damon Santostefano’s 2004 Bring it On Again), the tracks demonstrate some degree of that range. A number of songs on the album feature lyrics that are stunningly beautiful, while at least two are a bit too ‘on the nose’ for my liking (see ‘Pillar of Souls’ and ‘You Give Death a Bad Name’). Regardless, the album as a whole is brilliant, showcasing the talents of both De Augustine and Stevens in surprisingly equal measure. I am a particular fan of the hints of Elliott Smith I hear in the heartbreaking melodies throughout the album.

1. Any Shape You Take
Indigo De Souza

Indigo De Souza’s second album, Any Shape You Take secures this top spot. This album begins with the auto-tuned ‘17’, which may seem like pop radio fodder until it bursts into the first of many continuous surprises on this record. Its unpretentiousness is disarming. While De Souza delves into common broken relationship themes, she does so with poise, confidence and musical competence beyond her years. She explores broad musical territory—from pop to grunge—leaving me wanting more, but not in a dissatisfied way. She is both gentle and aggressive, with tone and melody reminiscent of the high points of St Vincent’s first three records. It also remains catchy without any danger of being obnoxious or repetitive. Any Shape You Take is very listenable and I find that it grows more endearing with subsequent listens.


Call Me If You Get Lost Tyler, the Creator

Voyage to Mars MUNYA

A Way Forward Nation of Language

Shade Grouper

As Days Get Dark Arab Strap

I Want the Door to Open Lala Lala

Henki Richard Dawson/Circle

The Death of Speedy Ortiz & Cop Kicker…Forever (compilation) Speedy Ortiz

Seek Shelter Iceage

Garbology Aesop Rock/Blockhead


10. Afrique Victime
Mdou Moctar

I honestly only heard this album for the first time two days ago (and here I’m violating my personal rule that I need to have PURCHASED the albums on my top 10 list), but I was checking out a few best of 2021 lists this week to see if I’d missed anything and I was intrigued by the description of this Saharan psychedelic rock outfit (Mdou Moctar is the singer and lead guitarist of the band). I was immediately entranced by the swirling, cyclical guitar licks which suddenly ascend into heavenly bursts of melody and hypnotic vocal lines that transported me to far off lands. It’s been on repeat as I go to sleep and when I wake up. So this is why we NEED lists like these end of year posts, so that we can discover what we might have missed in the midst of the myriad music that has come out each year.

9. Little Oblivions
Julien Baker

I’ll get this out of the way right up front: the lyrics on this album feel like fake angst to me. But her uncanny ability to create epic soundtracks for love gone bad and convince me to care about her fractured, angry heart with her husky, soaring vocals are a kind of beguilement to which I’ll happily accede. She is a master at bewitching the listener.

8. A Color of the Sky
Lightning Bug

Some groups that came to mind in a melange of associations as I listened again and again to this languid beauty of an album would include the Cowboy Junkies, the Cranberries, shoegaze band Curve, and a touch of the Cocteau Twins. It made me wistfully remember drives along empty highways towards cloud-covered horizons…or something like that.

7. Smothered

I was a fan of this guy back in the mid-2010’s, but hadn’t heard much of him of late. Then this album crossed my path and I was immediately smitten again with his throwaway talent for writing infectious melodies and singing in his falsetto so languorously over glittery synth-pop hooks. It’s like he’s not even trying, he makes it look so easy!

6. Reason to Live
Lou Barlow

SO glad that one of my favorite ever lo-fi indie folk heroes re-discovered his downstrum mojo after a few middling efforts. While not quite up to his Sebadoh/Sentridoh-era rueful perfection, each song here is a solid contribution to his catalog. (NOTE: he’s on the outside looking at Christianity with disdain (i.e. “All you people suck – YOU’RE the ones who don’t believe that we’re all connected”). His domesticated life away from the music scene has yielded some poignant home-recordings that address old wounds and habits, along with glimmers of a new kind of joy with the life he’s found.

5. Home Video
Lucy Dacus

I’m a sucker for her lovely, laid-back voice and coy storytelling. The songs are just so solid and perfectly constructed, a deft nostalgic trip into the treachery of youth. She’s taking apart her own experience of growing up evangelical, singing about VBS and “sermons saying how bent and evil we are” (fundamentalist faith is like some great source of trauma for this generation…I’m not so sure that it’s as bad as they all make it out to be, but there truly were a whole lot of misguided youth pastors and power-hungry preachers in 90’s America, trying hard to hang onto the glory days of a time gone by—probably the same people who turned into these snarling, insane Trump zombies—oh culture wars, so much to answer for…).

4. Frailty

I can’t remember where I first heard about this lo-fi, bedroom pop, electronic rock masterpiece, but I really fell for its poppy chops meets chaotic digital breakdowns (it often sounds like a CD that is skipping/mis-reading the 1s and 0s). It’s like a blender mix of Weezer and that kid from Owl City with the Electric Light Parade and some video game soundtrack. Now that I think about it, I don’t really love any of those ingredients on their own, but together it becomes something greater than the sum of its parts. It feels like the youth soundtrack to the last two years’ pandemic experience…


I was not a fan of this band’s last album, Double Negative, wherein the band’s songs were subjected to some kind of sonic Picasso-like deconstruction.  But THIS album, with songs that have been dismantled and simplified in its own way, totally won me over from the opening overdriven, but gated guitar chords of “White Horses” until the bookended track “The Price You Pay (It Must Be Wearing Off”).  The strength of the powerful harmonies of the husband/wife singer-song architects and their straightforward/oblique lyrical duality ensures that this band still is operating at the height of their understated rock powers.

2. Mixtape for the Milky Way
Jeremy Messersmith

Here is another album so far under the radar that it’s practically sonar. Jeremy Messersmith is one of my favorite indie-pop songwriters, but I didn’t know about this gorgeous confessional masterpiece that he put out under a new band name until four months after it had been released (apparently self-released with little fanfare). Many of these songs here deal with his evangelical Christian upbringing (seemingly abandoned by now, due to fundamentalist homophobia, threats of eternal torment, and his confusion/wonder at pondering the metaverse, which he comments upon in various songs). These tracks have a beautiful, fragile melancholy to them, as if Messersmith ended each song teary-eyed from the pain of looking back at things that were once so important that he has now lost (“You said I’d walk with you on streets of gold, where no one ever dies from growing old, somewhere everything is perfect…”). I wish that I could be this band’s PR person—I would take over a radio station like some deranged fan if I could just get people to listen to the genius of his work, even though I also wish I could show him a better version of what it means to follow Jesus.

1. A Beginner’s Mind
Sufjan Stevens & Angelo De Augustine

A new album from Sufjan will always be a contender for my best album of the year, but it’s no guarantee (Phoebe Bridgers took that spot from him last year!). But this collection is truly worthy of the highest accolades and so I’m finding it rather disturbing that this incredible collaboration is not making many best albums lists this year! (Sufjan’s label probably spends more on fun extras like the “A.B.M. movie club cards” included with the deluxe vinyl package than they do on marketing.) The project that these two gifted singer-songwriters came up with, to watch a film at night then write a song together inspired (sometimes loosely) by their viewing the next day, yielded a lovely batch of mostly folk tunes that alchemically turn even straight-to-video fare into lyrical and melodic gold. There are only two songs on the album that I don’t deeply love (tracks 4 & 5), but I’ve listened to this album so many times I know it will hold its own among Sufjan and Angelo’s best other work. The only real downside to this album is the off-putting artwork on the cover, but even that has a delightful backstory…


Collapsed in Sunbeams Arlo Parks — This album is SO amazingly well produced, the band is so tight, the singer is a beautiful young woman with a charming British accent…the only problem is that the lyrics feel like they’re derived from a hackneyed teenager’s diary.

The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows Damon Albarn

Friends that Break Your Heart James Blake

A Billion Little Lights Wild Pink — This album is so calming to listen to—amazingly well constructed on all levels, but somehow just a little bland.


A Decade of Bests (2000-2009)

When we first launched Lost in the Cloud in 2010, we were on a roll from our previous blog, hoping to take LITC into different territory. One thing we carried over from our previous blog was our love for lists, especially music lists. We began Lost in the Cloud with productive intentions, but life, as it can so often do, got in the way of our keeping up with the blog.

For the first six years, we were diligent in posting the lists of our favourite albums of the year, complete with short descriptions of each. In those last couple of dwindling years, our ‘Best Albums’ lists were becoming the only new material we were producing for the blog. In time, even that dropped off of our list of priorities and Lost in the Cloud went quiet.

This year, we have decided to revisit our ‘Best Albums’ lists and to even elaborate on our whole ‘Best Albums’ corpus by travelling all the way back to the prehistoric year that was 2000. This post is part one of two. With hindsight and in living with particular albums for longer, we have compiled lists of our ten favourite albums for each year from 2000-2019. Perhaps these lists will be of some interest for those who wish to walk down Memory Lane, or indeed, for those who might wonder if any of these [subjective] gems passed them by (as we have discovered from comparing our respective lists). Whatever you—dear reader—might glean from our produce, we are grateful for the opportunity to indulge in our list-making and music-listening passions here.

Elijah & Greg

— E —

  1. Figure 8
    Elliott Smith
  2. Kid A
  3. The Sophtware Slump
  4. Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven
    Godspeed You! Black Emperor
    Sigur Rós
  6. Bachelor No. 2
    Aimee Mann
  7. Winners Never Quit
    Pedro the Lion
  8. Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea
    PJ Harvey
  9. And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out
    Yo La Tengo
  10. Rising Tide
    Sunny Day Real Estate

— G —

  1. Kid A
  2. Figure 8
    Elliott Smith
  3. Bachelor No. 2
    Aimee Mann
  4. All That You Can’t Leave Behind
    Sigur Rós
  6. Fever & Mirrors
    Bright Eyes
  7. Heartbreaker
    Ryan Adams
  8. Rising Tide
    Sunny Day Real Estate
  9. Winners Never Quit
    Pedro the Lion
    The New Pornographers

— E —

  1. Amnesiac
  2. Jane Doe
  3. The Glow, Pt. 2
    The Microphones
  4. White Blood Cells
    The White Stripes
  5. Blue Screen Life
  6. Hot Shots II
    The Beta Band
  7. Vespertine
  8. “Love and Theft”
    Bob Dylan
  9. The Photo Album
    Death Cab for Cutie
  10. Discovery
    Daft Punk

— G —

  1. The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads
    Lift to Experience
  2. Oh, Inverted World
    The Shins
  3. Asleep in the back
  4. Musicforthemorningafter
    Pete Yorn
  5. Origin of Symmetry
  6. The Invisible Band
  7. The Only Reason I Feel Secure
    Pedro the Lion
  8. Skyscraper National Park
  9. The Photo Album
    Death Cab for Cutie

— E —

  1. Control 
    Pedro the Lion
  2. Turn on the Bright Lights 
  3. Fantastic Damage 
  4. Alice / Blood Money
    Tom Waits
  5. The Creek Drank the Cradle
    Iron & Wine
  6. Sea Change
  7. Unfortunately We’re Not Robots
    Curl Up & Die
  8. [AB] Life
  9. We Are the Only Friends We Have
  10. Give Up
    Postal Service

— G —

  1. Control
    Pedro the Lion
  2. Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground
    Bright Eyes
  3. The Creek Drank the Cradle
    Iron & Wine
  4. Sea Change
  5. The Last Broadcast 
  6. Give Up 
    Postal Service
  7. A Rush of Blood to the Head 
  8. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
  9. Turn on the Bright Lights 
  10. The Seamonsters
    The Seamonsters

— E —

  1. Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lakes State 
    Sufjan Stevens
  2. The Ugly Organ 
  3. Hail to the Thief 
  4. The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place 
    Explosions in the Sky
  5. Sumday
  6. You Forgot it in People 
    Broken Social Scene
  7. Dear Catastrophe Waitress 
    Belle & Sebastian
  8. Monday at the Hug & Pint 
    Arab Strap
  9. Frail Words Collapse 
    As I Lay Dying
  10. Happy Songs for Happy People

— G —

  1. Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lakes State 
    Sufjan Stevens
  2. Hail to the Thief
  3. Cast of Thousands
  4. Absolution
  5. Final Straw
    Snow Patrol
  6. Marvelous Things EP
  7. O
    Damien Rice
  8. Transatlanticism
    Death Cab for Cutie
  9. Log 22
    Bettie Serveert
  10. Desprate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes
    TV on the Radio

— E —

  1. From a Basement on a Hill
    Elliott Smith
  2. Funeral
    Arcade Fire
  3. Seven Swans
    Sufjan Stevens
  4. Antics
  5. You Are the Quarry
  6. Sung Tongs
    Animal Collective
  7. Achilles Heel
    Pedro the Lion
  8. Our Endless Numbered Days
    Iron & Wine
  9. A
    Cass McCombs
  10. How It Ends

— G —

  1. Sung Tongs
    Animal Collective
  2. From a Basement on a Hill
    Elliott Smith
  3. Antics
  4. Seven Swans
    Sufjan Stevens
  5. Achilles Heel
    Pedro the Lion
  6. Our Endless Numbered Days
    Iron & Wine
    Arcade Fire
  8. The Autumns
    The Autumns
  9. How It Ends
  10. Turning Tide
    The Seamonsters

— E —

  1. Illinois 
    Sufjan Stevens
  2. The One Above All, The End of All That Is 
    Curl Up & Die
  3. Emoh 
    Lou Barlow
  4. Takk...
    Sigur Rós
  5. Feels 
    Animal Collective
  6. LCD Soundsystem 
    LCD Soundsystem
  7. Headphones 
  8. And the Glass Handed Kites 
  9. Guero 
  10. Surf
    Roddy Frame

— G —

  1. Illinois
    Sufjan Stevens
  2. Takk...
    Sigur Rós
  3. Several Arrows Later
    Matt Pond PA
  4. Silent Alarm
    Bloc Party
  5. Feels
    Animal Collective
  6. Emoh
    Lou Barlow
  7. Andrew Bird & the Mysterious Production of Eggs
    Andrew Bird
  8. I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning
    Bright Eyes
  9. Headphones
  10. Pixel Revolt
    John Vanderslice

— E —

  1. Yellow House 
    Grizzly Bear
  2. The Avalanche 
    Sufjan Stevens
  3. Happy Hollow
  4. No Heroes 
  5. Everything All the Time 
    Band of Horses
  6. Victory for the Comic Muse 
    The Divine Comedy
  7. Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards 
    Tom Waits
  8. Sing the Greys 
    Frightened Rabbit
  9. Brother, Sister
  10. The Eraser 
    Thom Yorke

— G —

  1. The Avalanche
    Sufjan Stevens
  2. Gang of Losers
    The Dears
  3. The End of History
    Fionn Regan
  4. The Eraser
    Thom Yorke
  5. Begin to Hope
    Regina Spektor
  6. Everything All the Time
    Band of Horses
  7. Sing the Greys
    Frightened Rabbit
  8. The Cost
    The Frames
  9. Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
    Neko Case
  10. Camping by the Railroad Tracks in December
    Harmony and Pollution

— E —

  1. Neon Bible
    Arcade Fire
  2. In Rainbows
  3. Sound of Silver
    LCD Soundsystem
  4. Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters
    The Twilight Sad
  5. Strawberry Jam
    Animal Collective
  6. White Chalk
    PJ Harvey
  7. Cease to Begin
    Band of Horses
  8. Dance Tonight! Revolution Tomorrow!
  9. The Shepherd’s Dog
    Iron & Wine
  10. Person pitch
    Panda Bear

— G —

  1. In Rainbows
  2. Strawberry Jam
    Animal Collective
  3. Boxer
    The National
  4. A Few More Published Studies
    The XYZ Affair
  5. Wincing the Night Away
    The Shins
    Panda Bear
  7. Cease to Begin
    Band of Horses
    Bloc Party
  9. Voxtrot
  10. Neon Bible
    Arcade Fire

— E —

  1. The Midnight Organ Fight
    Frightened Rabbit
  2. Songs in A&E
  3. Fleet Foxes
    Fleet Foxes
  4. In Ear Park
    Department of Eagles
  5. Dig That Treasure
  6. Dropping the Writ
    Cass McCombs
  7. Microcastle
  8. Everything That Happens Will Happen Today
    David Byrne & Brian Eno
  9. In Ghost Colours
    Cut Copy
  10. Rip It Off
    Times New Viking

— G —

  1. The Midnight Organ Fight
    Frightened Rabbit
  2. Fleet Foxes
    Fleet Foxes
  3. The Seldom Seen Kid
  4. Vampire Weekend
    Vampire Weekend
  5. Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust
    Sigur Rós
  6. Dropping the Writ
    Cass McCombs
  7. Words & Music
  8. In Ear Park
    Department of Eagles
  9. At War with Walls & Mazes
    Son Lux
  10. @#%&*! Smilers
    Aimee Mann

— E —

  1. Veckatimest
    Grizzly Bear
  2. Merriweather Post Pavilion
    Animal Collective
  3. Axe to Fall
  4. Album
  5. Forget the Night Ahead
    The Twilight Sad
  6. Logos
    Atlas Sound
  7. These Four Walls
    We Were Promised Jetpacks
  8. Mythomania
  9. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
    The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
  10. Curse Your Branches
    David Bazan

— G —

  1. Merriweather Post Pavilion
    Animal Collective
  2. Middle Cyclone
    Neko Case
  3. Curse Your Branches
    David Bazan
  4. Veckatimest
    Grizzly Bear
  5. Far
    Regina Spektor
  6. Romanian Names
    John Vanderslice
  7. Oh My God, Charlie Darwin
    The Low Anthem
  8. Hospice
    The Antlers
  9. Manners
    Passion Pit
  10. Goodnight Unknown
    Lou Barlow

See our lists from 2010-2019 here.

Best Songs of 2011

In anticipation of our favourite annual post here at LITC—Best Albums of such-and-such year—we are proud to share fifty tracks that we think are the best released this year.  Trust us, there was so much good music released this year that we found picking our fifty favourite tracks to be a rather excruciating process. We’d also love to hear about any songs that you feel should not have been left off of this list in the comments section! So without further ado, here are our fifty favourite tracks from 2011 (in alphabetical order):

  1. All the Sand in All the Sea’   DeVotchKa   100 Lovers
  2. Angel Is Broken’   Atlas Sound   Parallax
  3. Animal’   Neon Trees   Habits   
  4. Ash/Black Veil’   Apparat   The Devil’s Walk  
  5. Battery Kinzie’   Fleet Foxes   Helplessness Blues
  6. Belong’   The Pains of Being Pure at Heart   Belong
  7. Circulation’   Thurston Moore   Demolished Thoughts
  8. Codex’   Radiohead   The King Of Limbs
  9. Country Dumb’   Josh T. Pearson   Last of the Country Gentlemen
  10. Cruel’   St Vincent   Strange Mercy
  11. Days’   The Drums   Portamento
  12. Degeneration Street’   The Dears   Degeneration Street
  13. Don’t Move’   Phantogram   Nightlife EP
  14. Downtown Eastern Bloc’   Times New Viking   Dancer Equired
  15. 5 Chords’   The Dears   Degeneration Street
  16. Fuck This Place’   Frightened Rabbit   A Frightened Rabbit EP 
  17. Galactic Tides’   The Dears   Degeneration Street
  18. Heaven’s Gonna Happen Now’   The Pains of Being Pure at Heart   Belong
  19. Helplessness Blues’   Fleet Foxes   Helplessness Blues
  20. Honey Bunny’   Girls   Father, Son, Holy Ghost
  21. I Don’t Want Love’   The Antlers   Burst Apart   
  22. Keep You’   Class Actress   Rapprocher     
  23. The King’   RAMESH   The King
  24. The Last Living Rose’   PJ Harvey   Let England Shake
  25. Lippy Kids’   Elbow   Build A Rocket Boys!
  26. Montana’   Youth Lagoon   Youth Lagoon
  27. Municipality’   Real Estate   Days
  28. No Room to Live’   Times New Viking   Dancer Equired
  29. No Widows’   The Antlers   Burst Apart
  30. People’   David Bazan   Strange Negotiations
  31. Save Me’   Gotye   Making Mirrors
  32. Scottish Winds’   Frightened Rabbit   A Frightened Rabbit EP
  33. 17’   Youth Lagoon   Youth Lagoon
  34. Smile’   Smith Westerns   Dye It Blonde
  35. Somebody That I Used to Know’   Gotye (ft. Kimbra)   Making Mirrors
  36. Song Of Los’   Apparat   The Devil’s Walk  
  37. Steve McQueen’   M83   Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
  38. Strange Negotiations’   David Bazan   Strange Negotiations
  39. Sweetheart I Aint Your Christ’   Josh T. Pearson   Last of the Country Gentlemen
  40. Tatooine’   Jeremy Messersmith   Tatooine Single
  41. To Every Man His Chimera’   Cass McCombs   Humor Risk
  42. Trembling Hands’   Explosions in the Sky   Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
  43. Try to Sleep’   Low   C’mon
  44. Under My Nose’   Fucked Up   David Comes to Life
  45. Video Games’   Lana Del Rey   Video Games
  46. Wait’  Alberta Cross   The Rolling Thunder EP 
  47. Wash’   Bon Iver   Bon Iver
  48. Weekend’   Class Actress   Rapprocher  
  49. Weekend’   Smith Westerns   Dye It Blonde
  50. Your Eyes’   Bombay Bicycle Club   A Different Kind of Fix

If you’d like to check out these tracks for temporary review before you go out and buy the single or the record, you may click here to have a listen.

Keep a lookout for our upcoming Best Albums of 2011 post!

Band Evangelist, ch. 3

BEHOLD, the kingdom of heavenly music has come near!!  I come to you once again with the proclamation of good taste, so that you may keep your ears open for bands that are bearing good fruit–and I’m talking about music that will baptize you with the Indie Spirit!!

A voice calling out in the sonic wilderness…

The Dears/Degeneration Street (February 15):  The Dears are among that coterie of artists whom I will probably always follow, based upon the brilliant songsmithery of Murray Lightburn (the Afro-Canadian Morrissey), most gloriously displayed in their impeccable 2006 album Gang of Losers.  Their last outing, Missiles, was a bit hit-and-miss, but I have greater expectations for this new album based on what I’ve heard so far.  Download free song here, along with pre-order information. [UPDATE:  The whole album is streaming here!]

Bright Eyes/The People’s Key (February 15):  Supposedly, this may be one of Conor Oberst’s greatest albums, solo or with Bright Eyes (I am partial to their 2002 masterpiece Lifted).  I am going to wait to hear this when I get the physical CD in my hands (I’m old-skool like that).  You can stream the full album at NPR’s webpage.

Elbow/build a rocket boys (March 7):  Ah, there is an eternal soft spot in my heart for this band…their last album, The Seldom Seen Kid, was a masterpiece, though previous efforts have been spotty.  I have no idea what this album will sound like, but on faith, I’ve ordered the deluxe import edition on Amazon.  Not sure if there will be an American release or what…

Josh T. Pearson/The Last of the Country Gentlemen (March 29):  Pearson was the genius behind the one-album legendary band Lift to Experience (The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads was #2 on my top albums of the 2000’s).  This guy has a haunting magnetism in his voice, lyrics, composition, and instrumentation that is rare as a blue rose–I’m hoping to see him live in Scotland at the end of March as his shows are apparently life-changing.  You may get a free download of an alternate take from the album here for the simple price of your email address. [Update:  there is a version with bonus CD available on Rough Trade! And here‘s another free download.]

Cass McCombs/Wit’s End (April 12):  This guy always intrigues me–I can’t quite place his genre–it seems at moments that he belongs to another time–but I am fascinated by the unique and enigmatic work he consistently puts out.  You may check out a track here.

Low/C’mon (April 12):  Slowcore gods (they’re Mormon, so I guess that’s not as blasphemous to say) that have long been able to produce hauntingly beautiful songs with nary an excessive note in the mix.  Download the lovely track “Try to Sleep” here.

Panda Bear/Tomboy (April 12):  I’m not quite sure if this will live up to some of the work he’s done in the past & most likely cannot touch his contributions to Animal Collective‘s albums (if you’re unfamiliar with them, I’d recommend Feels & Merriweather Post Pavilion).  I’ve got the title track and it has a fun groove, if not rather loose and loopish.

Fleet Foxes/Helplessness Blues (May 3):  After all the hype died down, I found that I really did like these guys quite a great deal (as well as side projects White Antelope & J. Tillman).  From the sound of it, this is going to be lush lovely in the same vein as their eponymous LP.  Download the title track of the new album here.

There you have it, 8 amazing releases in just a few months time.  I really couldn’t be happier for the state of music in 2011 (supposedly Radiohead has a new album that should be coming out this year, as well as a new U2 album–don’t roll your eyes, and a new Coldplay album–ok, you can roll your eyes now, but I’m sure I’ll still buy it).

Any other impending recommendations that I’ve missed?

[Update:  The Low Anthem, whose previous album Oh My God, Charlie Darwin was brilliantly lovely and intriguing, has a new work, Smart Flesh, coming out on February 22, which can be streamed in full here]

A modest proposal for Sufjan Stevens regarding the completion of his 50 States Project

Dear Sufjan,

The other day my friend Erin Hennessy saw you on the F train in NYC, but she couldn’t get up the nerve to say anything to you.  That got me thinking of what I would say to you if I ran into you (even though I never would, as I live on the other side of the country).  The first thing that came to mind was to talk to you about your 50 states project, which you began so beautifully with Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lakes State and Illinois/The Avalanche.

Now back in the day (the early two thousands or so), I took your proclamation to make an album (or EP, maybe?) for each one of the 50 states seriously, even though some of my more cynical friends would mock me saying it was impossible for you to do in your lifetime (they would start with some calculations, ask your age, etc. PS We share the same birthday!).  The reason I believed you was because I saw this limitless sort of creative genius in you, and even beyond that, it was as if you were the Emersonian “Poet” for this generation of Americans–seeing and showing us the beauty and agony and the divine in the everyday, transforming the mundane into the sublime, telling us stories full of wonder and longing and brilliant details from towns like Ypsilanti and Holland and Romulus.

You made me suddenly attentive to the people and places of America: you imbued them with a magical luster simply by naming them in the midst of your deeply moving, melancholic, and rich melodies and arrangements, or by inserting them amongst such evocative mystical lines of verse:

When the revenant came down
We couldn’t imagine what it was
In the spirit of three stars
The alien thing that took its form
Then to Lebanon, oh God!
The flashing at night, the sirens grow and grow
(Oh, history involved itself)
Mysterious shade that took its form
(Or what it was!), incarnation, three stars
Delivering signs and dusting from their eyes

-“Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois”

All that to say that I really, really wish the 50 states project would continue–I think it could become one of the national treasures of our country for centuries to come, a Leaves of Grass for the 21st century that American kids would listen to to understand where they’ve come from and what kind of people we are.  I heard at one point that you said the 50 states project was “such a joke,” but I would challenge you in earnest, if only for the sake of those future little kids, to reconsider abandoning this momentous endeavor.

Realizing that it might very well be impossible for you to write and record all of the albums yourself, what if you instead became the director of the project–you have set the standard quite high with your first two albums–and with the profound respect you have from your artistic peers, I honestly believe you could rally together the best artists from each state to collaborate with to make this happen, creating a kind of ark of American culture.

Here are some suggestions to begin with (I admit some may be wishful thinking) & I call on any reader to add to/better the selection of songwriters for any state (I have put brackets around bands with whom I have only a cursory familiarity & some states I have absolutely no idea about):

  • Alabama = The Snake the Cross the Crown
  • Alaska = Portugal The Man
  • Arizona = Calexico
  • Arkansas = ???
  • California = Elijah Wade Smith, Beck, Stephen Malkmus
  • Colorado = DeVotchKa, The Apples in Stereo
  • Connecticut = Rivers Cuomo?
  • Delaware = The Spinto Band
  • Florida = Iron & Wine, Aaron Marsh
  • Georgia = Deerhunter, Of Montreal, Bill Mallonee
  • Hawaii = Mason Jennings
  • Idaho = Built to Spill, Finn Riggins
  • Illinois = Sufjan Stevens
  • Indiana = Mock Orange
  • Iowa = Caleb Engstrom
  • Kansas = Drakkar Sauna, Mates of State, The New Amsterdams, The Appleseed Cast
  • Kentucky = Bonnie “Prince” Billy, My Morning Jacket
  • Louisiana = Jeff Mangum, Mutemath
  • Maine = [Phantom Buffalo]
  • Maryland = John Vanderslice, Wye Oak
  • Massachusetts = Lou Barlow, Winterpills
  • Michigan = Sufjan Stevens
  • Minnesota = Low, Cloud Cult, Lucky Wilbur
  • Mississippi = ???
  • Missouri = [Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin]
  • Montana = Colin Meloy
  • Nebraska = Cursive, Bright Eyes
  • Nevada = The Killers?
  • New Hampshire = [Wild Light]
  • New Jersey = Sufjan Stevens (?), Danielson, Yo La Tango
  • New Mexico = The Shins, Beirut
  • New York = The Magnetic Fields, Sonic Youth, Interpol, The Walkmen
  • North Carolina = The Mountain Goats
  • North Dakota = [The White Foliage]
  • Ohio = Robert Pollard, Over the Rhine, The National, Mark Kozelek
  • Oklahoma = The Flaming Lips, Kings of Leon
  • Oregon = Laura Veirs, M. Ward, Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson, The Decemberists
  • Pennsylvania = The Innocence Mission, Denison Witmer, Matt Pond PA
  • Rhode Island = The Low Anthem, Death Vessel
  • South Carolina = Band of Horses
  • South Dakota = Haley Bonar
  • Tennessee = Derek Webb
  • Texas = Josh T. Pearson, Ramesh Srivastava (formerly of Voxtrot), The Polyphonic Spree, Okkervil River, Devendra Banhart
  • Utah = [Joshua James]
  • Vermont = Anais Mitchell
  • Virginia = Thao Nguyen, Hush Arbors
  • Washington = David Bazan, Damien Jurado, Jeremy Enigk, Fleet Foxes
  • West Virginia = ???
  • Wisconsin = Bon Iver, Marla Hansen
  • Wyoming = ???

With the deepest respect & admiration,

Greg Stump