Prefix’s Top 50 Albums Of 2011: 20-11

    20. Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues

    Same ingredients, different results: Fleet Foxes stir up the pot and cook up a masterpiece. Gone is that medieval aloofness; in its place is Robin Pecknold singing alone over luminous pop-folk that even allows for a bit of weirdness (“The Shrine/An Argument).” But for all the skyward reaching, what’s most striking is the earthiness. Pecknold gets personal with doubt and youthful frustration, leaving questions hanging like clouds over the brisk arrangements. The songs tap into the current anxiety about wanting to belong to something bigger than ourselves, but they trade oversharing and whining for obtuseness and universality. Same conversation, different voice, but it harmonizes by cutting to the core.—Art Levy

    19. The Weeknd: House of Balloons & Thursday

    The Weeknd started 2011 as the anonymous R&B project of a mysterious Toronto resident who went unnamed, and finished it on the most high-profile fourth-quarter release, Drake’s Take Care. That’s thanks to House of Balloons and Thursday, the two “mixtapes” that Abel Telsfaye, the unnamed Canadian, put out this year, which featured a debased, drug-gobbling protagonist singing about boning, doing drugs, and more boning, tearing through Toronto like it’s the locale for American Psycho. How much of the albums are fiction is up for debate, but Thursday and House of Balloons were the two most artistically thrilling R&B albums put out this year.—Andrew Winistorfer

    18. Das Racist: Relax

    Distilling all the threads that made their mixtapes so hyped in 2010 wasn’t easy, but Das Racist pulled that off with Relax, their first commercially released album. Their music is still a post-modern blur of pop culture references, trenchant racial analysis, deconstruction of hip-hop tropes, and earworm choruses, but it’s honed on Relax to a degree you wouldn’t expect from Das Racist. Sure, the big hit is called “Michael Jackson,” and it had a ridiculous video, but Das Racist aren’t just one joke. They’re here to stay.—Andrew Winistorfer   

    17. Panda Bear: Tomboy

    Although Panda Bear’s triumphal Person Pitch never achieved the same pop culture penetration as Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, it was arguably more influential – the record’s Nurse With Wound-list roll call of influences brashly equated Hall & Oates with Aphex Twin. This Catholic genre-hopping would define the intervening years of blog rock, as true believers cautiously anticipated Noah Lennox’s next move. After a slow-building singles campaign, Tomboy finally arrived just as the weather began to turn, and it provided the perfect accompaniment to spring. The production from Sonic Boom of Spacemen 3 beefed up the sonics in all the right places, and the thunderous volume accompanying the live shows on the brief Tomboy tour turned “Surfer’s Hymn” and “Afterburner” into floor-filling acclamations.—Max Burke

    16. James Blake: James Blake

    James Blake’s gorgeous self-titled debut LP became many people’s introduction to dubstep, and then quickly transcended it. Every album released in the genre in the foreseeable future will undoubtedly be measured against James Blake’s heavy, all-encompassing beats dropped between his lovely, elegant voice; and beyond that, the 23-year-old Brit’s sound managed to ripple throughout the entire 2011 musical landscape (see: Take Care). Beats everywhere, from indie rock to hip-hop, gained critical cred by being “James Blake-esque,” and plus, “WHOMMMMP” became a pretty funny thing to say. Who isn’t thankful for that?–Eric Sundermann

    15. Colin Stetson: New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges

    Bass saxophonist Colin Stetson’s past collaborations with Arcade Fire, the National, Bon Iver and many other indie-faves helped him earn the attention of those not quick to get onboard with avant-garde saxophone explorations. But Stetson’s unique, pop-friendly and downright flabbergasting approach to the instrument has kept those daring souls from jumping ship. Unlike most free-jazz influenced skronkers, Stetson’s application of extended techniques reveal brilliant poly-rhythmic grooves and weave breathy, contemplative melodic tapestries. With spoken word accompaniment by multi-media artist and gonzo-storyteller Laurie Anderson, Judges evolves into a heroic quest as deliciously damaged sounds traverse the apocalypse. Elliott Sharp

    14. St. Vincent: Strange Mercy

    Every signifier of female beauty restricts movement in some way. It’s hard to walk in heels. You can’t touch your face when you’re wearing makeup. You’ve got to be hyper-aware of how you sit when wearing something short or tight. “Beauty” should be freeing, but it’s often immobilizing — a notion Strange Mercy proudly, slyly undercuts. Annie Clark’s voice might be gentle and implacable, but her music is gloriously kinetic. Mercy tells tales of women reflecting on choices and moving on; dexterous melodies and guitar solos are never at peace, always changing the rhythm, always anticipating the next move. Physical beauty almost always comes up when Clark is the topic of discussion — the kind of thing that would cripple a lesser artist, but thankfully, this girl knows how to move.–Susannah Young

    13. The War on Drugs: Slave Ambient

    Adam Granduciel dug deep for War on Drugs’ second full-length release, layering guitars, keyboards, samples, and live instruments for one of the year’s most infectious rock albums. Songs like “Come to the City” and “Brothers” are an unlikely mix of Dylan’s swaggering vision of America and a Fripp-ian voyage to the cosmos. Slave Ambient briefly captured the zeitgeist of the indie world in 2011, but it will surely set off copycats in the years to come.Davis Inman

    12. EMA: Past Life Martyred Saints

    Erika M. Anderson’s incredible solo debut, Past Life Martyred Saints, proves her a savant when it comes to deftly intertwining personhood and place. She re-imagines her body as both map and physical diary on “Marked”; “California” finds her bleeding and bruising all over a stuccoed, polite, temperate place; scars become landmarks, representative icons for events and fucked-up boys. Conflating personal, psychological issues with geographic places helps us make sense of things bigger than ourselves — a handy way to distill nebulous concepts into something we can revisit, ponder, and understand. Consider Saints emotional iconography, allowing Anderson to exorcise her past and exercise a way to redemption.Susannah Young

    11. M83: Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

    It shouldn’t come as such a surprise that, just two minutes in to Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, even the towering voice of Zola Jesus sounds diminutive. Because when placed next to the worlds Anthony Gonzalez creates, everything seems small. Hurry Up supplies more than an hour of immersive details as Gonzalez goes through the painstaking process of making an electronic universe sound and feel unmistakably human. At a time when we’re intent on consuming music through nothing but crappy earbuds or computer speakers, Hurry Up is the bold project that demands higher fidelity and much, much higher volume.—Kyle Sparks

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

    Prefix’s Top 50 Albums Of 2011 PlaylistsRdio / Spotify

    Prefix’s Top 10 Mixtapes Of 2011: