Music: 10 Best of 2011

Lars Ulrich might think iTunes is the worst thing to ever happen to the music industry, and maybe his bank account (or ego?) has been depressed, but I’m thankful to have instant access to incredible variety at reasonable prices. So here are my favorites from the past 12 months.

The King is Dead – The Decemberists
Long Live the King (EP) – The Decemberists

These two saw the Decemberists simplify their lyrical approach somewhat, while their musicality continues to evolve. My best comparison is The Band, which also made music that sounded like it has been in the American songbook forever.

21 – Adele

I almost regret introducing Sarah to Adele, because this album has become ubiquitous in our house and on every road trip… Still, I still remember that week in February when every song was brand new, and it all sounded like a revelation.

Going Out in Style – Dropkick Murphys

This became the soundtrack to many runs as I prepared for my fall marathons.

Ceremonials – Florence and the Machine

This is like Annie Lennox singing with Arcade Fire as her band, produced by Phil Spector.

Some Girls (Bonus Tracks) – Rolling Stones

The Stones included 13 songs from the vault when they re-released 1978’s Some Girls, and since I’d never heard them before now I’m including them here. Like Springsteen’s The Promise last year, these tracks form a “lost album” which is of near-masterpiece quality.

The Book of Mormon – Broadway Cast

The best opening song for a show since Bye Bye Birdie’s “The Telephone Hour.” I laughed all the way through this, and I see what the show’s fans are getting at. Although irreverant, it still manages to say something about faith, and how a belief system evolves.

So Beautiful or So What – Paul Simon

Simon has faded from the national pop consciuousness since Graceland, but this album is a solid return to form. Catchy and current, concerned with questions of faith and true love. It’s well produced and well sung, with some great guitar work by Simon. I still laugh every time “The Afterlife” plays, with its vision of heaven bogged down by paperwork.

Collapse Into Now – R.E.M.

It’s been a while since R.E.M. grabbed me from the first listen, but this album keeps sounding better the more I play it. The band announced its retirement this year, and in hindsight that illuminates a lot of this record. A few months later, they released the single “We All Go Back to Where We Belong,” and if that single had been included on this album it would be at the top of my list.

Barton Hollow – The Civil Wars

Great folk-country-pop; gorgeous harmonies. “Poison & Wine” is the killer single here, which is a great evocation of a relationship in its last throes.