Welcome to the penultimate section of the Top 100 list! We’re looking at nothing but A-grade material from here on out, folks. Before we dig into the next 20 albums I’ve chosen to highlight, let’s talk about what genres are represented on this list.
Admittedly the concept of “genre” is a tricky thing to define, and I’ve played fast and loose with it as I’ve reviewed albums over the years, sometimes not applying genre tags consistently to the same artist making more or less the same style from one album to the next. or they’ve undergone a radical change in their sound, and yet I still consider them part of the old genre in my mind because they’re still associated with that scene. It’s more of an art than a science, and often the records that excite me most will dabble in a wide array of genre influences, making an accurate descriptor for their sound as a whole rather difficult to nail down.
We’re at the midpoint of the list now… this is where the absolute best of the B-plus range starts to blend into the A-minus range. But first, some more fun facts (or at least, facts that a nerdy analytical guy like me considers fun), this time related to geography. Where in the world are all of these artists from?
For the third and final entry in this long-winded look back at the music that mattered to me this year, I present the cream of the crop – the albums that provided me with the most satisfying listening experience from beginning to end, which is a much more difficult feat than simply hooking me with a catchy song or two, and arguably a feat many artists have given up on in the age of digital music that can just as easily be released for bite-sized consumption on a sporadic schedule, rather than thought through as a fully-formed artistic statement. These albums don’t have that much in common with one another, but taken all together, they represent the weird snowball of influences that make up my musical tastes these days, ranging from old favorites who have resurfaced after lying dormant for many years, to buzz-gathering indie artists who have begun to break out of the blogosphere and into some version of “the mainstream”, to those who have given up entirely on mainstream fame and are content to Kickstarter and Indiegogo their way into fans’ hearts with no traditional support structure whatsoever. It’s all a very weird mix, but it’s all quite delicious.
It’s time to kick off my yearly obsession with counting things that it really makes no sense to put in order. More detailed write-ups on the full lengths albums that captivated me this year are to follow, but for now, here’s a haphazard list I’ve compiled of 100 songs that moved me this year… some physically, some emotionally, some both.
2011 was truly an exceptional year for music. It just took me the better part of the year to realize it. Most years, I’m lucky to stumble across at least four albums deserving of the five-star rating that I seem to award more and more rarely these days. But this year, in addition to the four or five that I knew I had to give instant A’s, there were several more albums that persuaded me to bump them up from a carefully considered B at the last minute as I reviewed them and realized how well thought-out even some of their lesser songs were. Now almost my entire Top 10 is comprised of A-grade material. I’m stoked about that. What has been a year full of personal turmoil, possible the most emotionally difficult of my life so far, will at least contain a lot of beauty and grace when I look back upon it years from now, and a lot of that will be due to the music I fondly remember for helping me to make my way through it all.