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Prefix's Top Albums Of 2011: 50-41

Beyonce, Clams Casino, Grails, Mogwai, Oneohtrix Point Never, Peaking Lights, PJ Harvey, Vetiver, Young Widows: Prefix's Top Albums Of 2011: 50-41

People call this period of the editorial calendar "listmaking season," but you probably should just call it something else: "Navel-gazing over the duties of listmakers, the merits of certain lists, and whether or not lists have Bon Iver at the top." Wait, scratch that. Just call it listmaking season.

What's lost in the talk about how year-end music lists come out too early, or how they "forget" and "ignore" certain albums, is how important the function of the year-end countdown is. If 2011 taught us anything, it's that the ale of the masses is nostalgia. What's more nostalgic than taking a moment to ignore the current release calendar and taking some time to remind ourselves about the pieces of music that got us through these 365 days? There will be stuff we remember more from this year than how good a free album by a pill-popping weirdo Detroit rapper was-- Occupy Wall Street, how there never seems to be enough jobs--but right now, this is what seems important.

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50. Vetiver: The Errant Charm

Vetiver, known for their lulling folk-rock sound, turn to an electronic foundation for their fifth album. The summery anthems find Andy Cabic ambling around Cali, thinking wistfully on a relationship gone south. The jangly pop is more reminiscent of baggy Manchester and '80s new wave than Pentangle and Vashti Bunyan, though Vetiver does a great job unifying these (seemingly) disparate threads of British music.—Davis Inman

49. Mogwai: Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will

Being a mostly instrumental band can easily translate to a black and white existence, and the Mogwai playbook took many lessons from the soft/loud/soft dynamic approach of precursors like Pixies or Slint. We’re not sure if the jump to Sub Pop from longtime label Matador had anything to do with it, but suddenly there are a million shades of gray in play. From the motorik, white-knuckle rhythms of "Mexican Grand Prix" to the David Pajo/Aerial M-influenced keyboard sounds of "Rano Pano" and the stately pathos of "Letters To The Metro," the breadth and scope of the band's sound has never been greater.—Tim Bugbee

48. Beyonce: 4

2011, at times, seemed like the Year of Beyoncé, 12 months full of testaments to her all-encompassing cultural penetration: the GIF ubiquity, the pregnancy hysteria, the lavish music videos. In the midst of all this media noise, it's easy to forget that 4 represents Bey's finest and most cohesive album to date, juggling mature meditations on love and legacy with ecstatic, effervescent pop. 4 is the rare pop album to which the descriptor "graceful" can be applied; it proves that getting older does not guarantee becoming boring, and that it's possible to love passionately without compromising the spark that defines you. Jamieson Cox

47. Young Widows: In and Out of Youth and Lightness

2011 was the year when Louisville trio Young Widows finally finished shaking off their albatrosses (the spectre of their old band Breather Resist, the incessant Jesus Lizard comparisons), and holed themselves up in a funeral home to create this harrowing catalog of human flaws. Singer/guitarist Evan Patterson drawls about loss, powerlessness, lust, and total defeat while he, bassist Nick Thieneman, and drummer Jeremy McMonigle wrestle monolithic slabs of gloomy noise rock from their instruments. Moments of glimmering beauty share space with heavy-lidded trudges, while hope attempts to poke holes in the gloom, resulting in their most dynamic album to date.--Erik Ziedses des Plantes

46. Oneohtrix Point Never: Replica

Daniel Lopatin took a left turn with his Oneohtrix Point Never project following the (mostly) balmy textures of 2010’s Returnal. The tracks on Replica are more whimsical, with Lopatin frequently throwing multiple spanners in the works just when you feel like you’ve got a grip on where he’s heading. He’s still sourcing material from the ‘80s for inspiration, but Replica steers away from the kitsch-y feel he plundered from that decade for his Ford & Lopatin work, instead mapping out a territory where genuine emotional resonance (“Replica,” “Submersible”) vies with jump-cut experimentation (“Nassau,” “Child Soldier”).—Nick Neyland

45. Clams Casino: Instrumental Mixtape

The expectations were so low for Clams Casino. A 40-minute beat tape for rappers better known for their memeness than their flows? It didn’t seem like a record built to last. Of course that was before you realized the warm, crystalline streaks of Soulja Boy’s “Real Shit From A Real Nigga” was secretly beautiful, or how “I’m Official” makes things move in slow-motion. Clams doesn’t even need hip-hop, the music he’s making is universal.—Luke Winkie

44. Peaking Lights: 936

In a way, it’s hard to write about Peaking Lights—what can you say about music this lush, ethereal and downright beautiful that you can’t say about any similar work? Yet 936 is special. Maybe it’s the way melodies tend to drift in and out of each other via a tricksy internal logic, or how their dubby drone-pop seems like it could have been released in the '70s, or today, or 20 years from now. —Drew Millard


43. Matana Roberts: COIN COIN Chapter One: Gens de Couleur Libres 

Many probably heard saxophonist Matana Roberts on albums by Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Thee Silver Mt. Zion, but over the past decade she's proven to be a singular composer-performer. Recorded live with a 15-piece ensemble, COIN COIN is the first installment of a 12-chapter work utilizing a compositional style where fragments of music representing plural traditions converge. Exploding with raw emotion, the narrative, largely influenced by the story of Roberts' family, examines the horrors of slavery and the struggle for liberation. From agonizing vocal shrieks, free-form exchanges, and crisp alto phrases, it's a gorgeous start to an epic journey. --Elliott Sharp

42. Grails: Deep Politics

After playing a version of the ball-control oriented West Coast Offense, Grails open it up with long-range bombs down the field, and find the end zone on almost every single attempt. In what is clearly their best record to date, Emil Amos, Zak Riles and Alex Hall concoct an unlikely blend of French art rock, mid-70s Italian soundtracks, and heavy, heavy doses of David Gilmour-esque guitar. Take a listen to the latter half of "Almost Grew My Hair" while blindfolded and it's easy to convince yourself that it's some never-released B-side to something off Animals.-–Tim Bugbee

41. PJ Harvey: Let England Shake

PJ Harvey isn’t the first person to try and atone for England’s rich history of conquering and co-opting, but hers is an especially interesting, accomplished take on the matter. Let England Shake unites England’s three diverging personas (and accompanying stereotypes): ruthless colonizers, bombed-out victims, and humble, pastoral people. The peaceful arrangements make liberal use of autoharp and zither -- and Harvey pours all her venom into her lyrics instead of her voice. In the tradition of great anti-war songs, you don’t always know you’ve absorbed a social cause until you catch yourself humming the song a few days later. And by then, the message has already taken root.—Susannah Young


Prefix's Best Albums Of 2011: 50-41 / 40-31 / 30-21 / 20-11 / 10-1

Prefix's Top 50 Albums Of 2011 Playlists: Rdio / Spotify

Prefix's Top 10 Mixtapes Of 2011: http://bit.ly/st7HpS

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Best Of 2011
Beyonce
Clams Casino
Grails
Mogwai
Oneohtrix Point Never
Peaking Lights
PJ Harvey
Vetiver
Young Widows

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