Here at Hidden Track, compiling our end of the year list of the 25 best albums has been eerily similar to the process of devising another top 25 list – the college football top 25. When we started four years ago, we attempted to devise a quantitative methodology that systematized the rankings and took the individual biases out of the equation, while still incorporating the collective views of everyone involved at HT. Well, that was sort of our BCS. This year we’re going back to the old school and running it AP Top 25 style. In other words, every writer on staff submitted their own personal top 25, and then we compiled the final list based on a simple tally of votes.
Who knows, there may still be a few kinks to work through in future editions, but you can rest assured of one thing that will always make our list a cut above the rest: we consider everything. Our submissions include all styles of music from bluegrass to jazz, jam to indie, electronica to rap, as well as everything in between (but sorry Nefertiti’s Fjord it just wasn’t the year for lesbian-Afro-Norwegian-funk music). At the end of the day, we’re a music blog. Everyone is encouraged to write about what they like with no motives, no editorial biases and no strings attached. We hope that comes across in our picks.
So, let’s kick off our fourth annual week long celebration of the HT staff’s favorite albums of 2011 with numbers 25 through 21…
25) Middle Brother – Middle Brother
Key Tracks: Blue Eyes, Thanks For Nothing, Me, Me, Me
Sounds Like: Dusty, barroom heartbreak from the leaders of the New Americana revival.
The Skinny: March 2011 welcomed a studio debut from Middle Brother, a super-collective featuring one part Deer Tick (John McCauley), one part Dawes (Taylor Goldsmith) and one part Delta Spirit (Matt Vasquez). The three banded together in 2009 after several onstage collaborations between their respective bands. Undeniable sparks between McCauley, Goldsmith and Vasquez led them to the studio with producers Adam Landry and Justin Collins (both of whom produced Deer Tick’s 2011 release Divine Providence). Each track rotates singer/songwriter duties to create a shared experience of raw emotions, love and loss; depending on who is at the mic, dashes of Deer Tick, Dawes and Delta Spirit are present in the grooves. Middle Brother combined the hearts and souls of three prolific songwriters with a blend of alternative, folk, rock and ’60s pop. The results are perfect for days that you don’t want to get out of bed, but rather lie around and listen to a solid album.
– Allison Taich
24) Eddie Vedder – Ukulele Songs
Key Tracks: Longing to Belong, Dream a Little Dream
Sounds Like: Grunge on a Hawaiian vacation
The Skinny: The Pearl Jam front man’s second solo release is everything its beautiful and metaphoric cover illustrates. Eddie’s 34-minute album is instrumentally and emotionally naked. Vedder’s lost love lyrics over the brilliant simplicity of the ukulele can sweep you away for half-an-hour and leave you unharmed upon your return. It’s like a musical stroll through Walden Pond, if it were in Hawaii.
– Kevin Smallwood
23) Primus – Green Naugahyde
Key Tracks: Tragedy’s a’ Comin’, HOINFODAMAN
Sounds Like: Seven Minute Abs for Your Subwoofer
The Skinny: With all the side projects, guest spots, and supergroups Les Claypool attached himself to in recent years (not to mention, an unmentionable film endeavor), it’d be easy to write off a new Primus album as just another outlet for Les’s weirdness. That couldn’t be further from the truth, though. Les and his original brood put together a group of songs on par with anything in the Primus catalog. When Jay Lane left Furthur to regroup with Primus in 2010, nobody really knew just how much the trio had left in the tank, but with this album, they answered with a definitive “everything.” It’d be a damn shame to let a year go by without giving your audio system at least one good workout, and with the band’s pistons firing and Les’s slaptitude on bass, the prog-funk of Green Naugahyde should be your spin instructor.
– Ryan Dembinsky
22) Yellowbirds – The Color
Key Tracks: Rest of My Life, Pulaski Bridge
Sounds Like: ’60s psychedelica reborn in modern-day Brooklyn
The Skinny: Their biggest fans would contest that the now-dormant Apollo Sunshine was a band ahead of its time, but AS guitarist Sam Cohen’s new project, Yellowbirds is decidedly *of* the here and now. Cohen doubles as a visual artist with a focus on collage (see, e.g., the video for Rest of My Life), which is no surprise because every track on Yellowbirds’ debut album, The Color, is a meticulously crafted collage of sounds. Psychedelic reverberating guitar and echoing harmonized vocals swirl with organ and otherworldly autoharp to beef up the already strong set of material Cohen brought to the studio. The result is a keep-hitting-repeat experience where every listen brings about new discoveries and details. We’ve heard of a phoenix rising from the ashes, we just never knew that the bird was yellow.
– Aaron Stein
21) Gillian Welch – The Harrow & The Harvest
Key Tracks: The Way It Goes, Down Along The Dixie Line, Six White Horses
Sounds Like: The next chapter of the Anthology of American Folk Music
It’s been a long wait for Gillian Welch fans, but after after eight years in the making the folkie singer-songwriter finally released her long-awaited follow up to 2003′s Soul Journey. It’s no surprise that Welch’s fifth studio album is steeped in the sounds of traditional music, with styles seemingly handpicked from Harry Smith’s Anthology Of American Folk Music. Woody Guthrie inspired Dust Bowl Ballads, country laments, front porch blues, plucky bluegrass and Appalachian murder ballads are all represented and expertly pulled off by Welch and her longtime musically collaborator David Rawlings.
– Jeffrey Greenblatt
Check back tomorrow to see who scored the #20 – #16 slots on our list.
Love the Gillian Welch pic. I really don’t buy albums anymore but managed to DL “The Harrow and the Harvest” this past year.
Looks like Gillian is searching for her miracle NYE phish tic 😉
I love this list and have been waiting for it all month! Any chance you guys could post it earlier in the day so I can listen to all of your picks throughout my boring days at work this week?
Thanks for the kind words! We’ve got a lot of moving parts to pull this together which unfortunately may preclude us from posting installments of our list in the mornings.