Prefix’s Top 50 Albums Of 2011: 10-1

Prefix’s Top 50 Albums Of 2011: 10-1

10. Drake: Take Care

“Free drinks? Sex four times a week? Sounds rough, Drake.” That’s the shallow complaint that’s so often leveled against him. But his fame-fueled anguish is dynamic and has evolved over time, from worrying about what his parents think on So Far Gone to darker territory on his excellent new Take Care. “If one of us goes in the we all go through it,” he declares on “Headlines,” trying to diffuse a potentially violent situation. But if the stakes are raised in his life, the production doesn’t communicate that. Noah “40” Shebib handles much of it—with one great assist from Jamie XX on “Take Care”—and ensures that murmuring keys and underwater drums on highlights like “Over My Dead Body” and “Marvin’s Room/Buried Alive” set the mood behind Drake’s shady stories.Ben Munson

9. Kurt Vile: Smoke Ring For My Halo

On Smoke Ring for My Halo, Kurt Vile finally cut all the bullshit.  He swept away the heavy reverb and clanging noise of his previous releases and let his voice emerge and his songs breathe a bit.  As it turns out, Vile is as much of a gifted lyricist as he is at crafting melancholy rock, both which are steeped in the unwritten American annals of diners, long highways and the restlessness of youth. Each song finds Vile taking on various personas for introspective and sometimes amusing (“Runners Up”) tales. Musically, Vile keeps the acoustic guitar close, unleashing delicately cavernous compositions that fit the mood and maintain a subtle poignancy throughout. The outcome is an album that lies comfortably somewhere between R.E.M, early punk rock and Delta bluesmen. America ain’t so bad sometimes, after all.Saxon Baird

8. Bon Iver: Bon Iver

Because he was able to conjure such big feelings with so little on his debut as Bon Iver, people acted like Justin Vernon getting over mononucleosis and leaving the isolation of the Wisconsin Northwoods behind would hurt his music. Truth is, the lonesome tones that made For Emma, Forever Ago seem so intimate carried over to this year’s Bon Iver, but the amount of brilliant collaboration on the album has colored that world for the better. The horns add so much to “Minnesota, WI,” the strings perfectly embellish “Towers,” and throughout the album, atmospheric touches and unusual instrumentation build beautifully upon the simple yet intriguing groundwork that Vernon laid with his simple songs and achingly pretty voice.Ben Munson

7. Real Estate: Days

Fans of acoustic pop had no shortage of albums this year, but it’s hard to think of one more pleasant and enjoyable than Real Estate’s Days. This blissful LP isn’t flashy or loud but, damn, it sounds just pretty. The Brooklyn-based band somehow created music perfect for nearly every emotion, whether you find yourself overjoyed, depressed, or somewhere in the middle – from the hooky “Green Aisles” to the whimsical “Out of Tune” – Days can provide the soundtrack. In a year full of apocalyptic predictions and economic collapse, dreamy acoustic pop is just what our culture needed.Eric Sundermann

6. Tune-Yards: w h o k i l l

Looping her contorted yelp over layers of tribal rhythms, Merrill Garbus created a vibrant, immersive environment on w h o k i l l. Songs like “Gangsta” and “Bizness” are master courses in sonic tension, but beneath the bravado are meditations on race, class, and identity, among other heavy topics. But if that paints it as a drag, don’t worry: it sounds like one of the happiest records of the year.–Jeremy Gordon

5. Kanye West & Jay-Z: Watch the Throne

Was there an album more misunderstood in 2011 than Watch the Throne? Haters decried the 1% subject matter (“my other other Benz,” etc.), the expensive brands, the famous people shoutouts, the sports team ownership bragging, the obviously expensive production, the celebration of a life none of us will likely ever experience. But that was the point. Critics often praise gritty street realists for presenting their world with all its warts. So can you really fault Jay-Z and Kanye—two of the three biggest musicians of the last decade (what up, Eminem)—for rapping about how they own the Nets, rub elbows with Obama and Oprah, and how they can afford to get fucked up on expensive champaigne in the best hotels that Paris has to offer, while wearing expensive jackets? That is real life to Yeezy and Hov, and Watch the Throne is an oft-thrilling deconstruction of their lives as they are, an album more illuminating than any album by any poor singer-songwriter telling “true stories” about life. That shit cray.—Andrew Winistorfer          

4. Fucked Up: David Comes to Life

The Chemistry of Common Life would have been a perfect swan song. Given that a good part of Fucked Up’s creative brilliance depends on the volatility of the relationships in the band, the music world would have been less than surprised had the band imploded. Yet somehow, David Comes to Life exists, and it is glorious: A true hardcore opus, 77-minutes of unrelenting, blistering sonic assault, tempered with quiet moments of unexpected beauty. A rock opera in every sense of the word, David Comes to Life layers Fucked Up’s radical political and musical point of view with a somehow even more dense narrative about love, the nature of loss, and storytelling. At the conclusion of the record, the protagonist David– after having built a bomb, killed his love, and lost a battle with the story’s villain–decides to return to the light bulb factory and start the story again from the beginning. Listeners found themselves doing the same thing.—Mike Burr

3. Danny Brown: XXX

When XXX dropped in August on the venerable Fool’s Gold label, it felt like a game-changer. Danny Brown seemed to emerge out of nowhere, spitting as if he was 30 rappers at once, a Frankenstein’s Monster of Redman, E-40 and a long-lost refugee from Def Jux. Though it scores points for its cheap thrills and dirty jokes, XXX is at its core a story of hardship, failure and the sad excesses that those things lead to. Even though Brown—who’s been kicking around the underground for years (he was almost signed to G-Unit at one point)—waxes gleefully on “Outer Space” concerning the myriad joys of snorting Adderall, he relays with equal fervor a cadre of harrowing narratives reflecting upon a childhood spent raiding for scrap metal with his dirt-poor, drug-addled family. It’s the yin and yang, each persona justifying the other. When they finally meet on the album’s closer “Thirty,” Brown raps as if he’s on the verge of tears, nearly drowning the operatic, noisy beat in a sea of emotion. Danny Brown is of a new school of rappers who understand that in a genre so terrified of feelings, letting the cracks show signifies genuine strength.–Drew Millard

2. Destroyer: Kaputt

Over the years Destroyer has gained a reputation for sonic curveballs – experimenting in ambient music, recording with MIDI instruments, switching back to a classic guitar-rock set-up – but the jazzy yacht rock of Kaputt was easily his boldest trick yet. Riffing on Roxy Music’s Avalon, Kaputt hit us over the head with its saxophone solos and tales of orgiastic excess. The record was hard to take seriously, on first listen.

 But Kaputt succeeds because it turns out to be much more than a disinterested experiment. Beneath the self-consciously corny façade lies a heart of pure pop. Take the raw desire of “Blue Eyes,” the driving pulse of “Savage Night at the Opera,” the wistful abandon of the title track, and it’s clear that Destroyer wants only to touch our hearts, not our minds. Destroyer may inspire Ph.D-level analysis, but Kaputt proved that such analysis is worth little in comparison to immaculately constructed, emotionally poignant pop.Wilson McBee

1. Shabazz Palaces: Black Up

In a year when hip-hop seemed even more consumed by its youth — particularly those with Tumblrs, quick wits, and dirty mouths — it’s almost improbable that a Golden Era rapper would find himself topping so many lists in 2011. But that’s just what Ishmael Butler, of the newly reunited Digable Planets, has done with Shabazz Palaces. The outfit’s full-length debut, Black Up, isn’t shocking, over(t)ly explicit, or abrasive: It’s a fully immersive experience.

Black Up rides out like some kind of hip-hop acid trip fueled by raps that are equal parts braggadocio and spiritual over beats littered with haunting loops, trunk-rattling bass, and Afro-jazz rhythms. These qualities ring especially true on gripping album highlight “An Echo from the Hosts that Profess Infinitum,” a monstrous call-to-arms against mainstream hip-hop. But it’s not like the entire album is all dark and dismal; “Recollections of the Wrath” is a silky-smooth make-out jam and “Swerve…” is straightforward neck-crackin’ boom-bap. It might all make for a heady, deep listen, but it’s one of hell of a musical palate cleanser.Andrew Martin

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:

Previous article FIDLAR: Prefix Artist To Watch (P.A.W.)
Next article Prefix’s 10 Best Mixtapes Of 2011