Frying saxophone solos! Synthesizers recreating lost sunny days! Nihilistically lewd mixtapes inspiring dozens of new entries on Urban Dictionary! Tricked-out dubstep for American mall rats! The musical trends that defined much of 2011′s critically-lauded output were roundly ignored by my favorite records of the year. The best albums of the year invented their own one-band microgenres. EMA gave us California confessional poetry, while WU LYF reinvented protest punk for a generation without a cause. Wolves in the Throne Room continued to hone their environmental black metal. Das Racist refined their postmodern identity joke rap. Peaking Lights invented Midwestern dub, and Matthew Herbert imagined such a thing as porcine house. Colin Stetson’s Blood Meridian jazz was as refreshing as The Field’s glacial soul trance. The Weeknd was a visionaire who fashioned a shockingly sleazy form of rohypnol R&B. And then there was Björk doing her best Björk in years. As always, the bands that conveniently forgot that a dominant aesthetic existed in both the mainstream and the underground produced the most rewarding albums. Maybe this is more a reflection of personal taste, but 2011 seemed like a thrillingly strange year because it took me months to listen to anything that sat on top of the iTunes charts because I was so deeply enmeshed in an album of skronky avant-garde jazz. As a relatively low-key year (compared to the beast that was 2010), 2011 favored a lot of these dark horses and long shots if you were willing to listen past the noise of the lomography revivalists and the bedroom mix-masters.
Photo Credit: TheHutch