I’m not going to get too detailed in my blurbs here. Partially due to time, and partially because I hope to make more in depth annotations for my annual mix on my own dormant blog later this week. But here are 11 artists/albums/tracks that I very much think are worth checking out from this year:

11. M83, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

I was nervous about M83 doing a double album – it seemed excessive. And it is excessive. None of the album is really bad, just a bit on the long and meandering side. But there are also a handful of killer tracks here. Were it a single disc, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming would have ranked much more highly on my list. [My original review is here]

10. Cut Copy, Zonoscope

I simply loved 2009’s In Ghost Colours, and was very much looking forward to its follow up. Zonoscope doesn’t show the band venturing too far outside of their well trodden territory, but they do it so well.

9. Rainbow Arabia, Boys and Diamonds

One of my favorite bands from the last few years, Rainbow Arabia’s first full length has the band taking a slightly more accessible approach than their previous EPs. While Boys and Diamonds may be a little less “out there,” the duo’s mix of eastern and western influences remains compellingly unique.

8. Mayer Hawthorne, How Do You Do

Detroit soulster Mayer Hawthorne returns with his sophomore effort, and it kills. Hawthorne embraces his influences (Motown, Stax, blue eyed soul), but manages to bring those sounds into the contemporary era, thus avoiding sounding like a retro gimmick. [My original review is here]

7. Neighbours, Neighbours

OK, they’re friends of mine. But their EP was legitimately one of my favorite releases of the year. Garage, soul, power pop and British Invasion era rock all wrap up to find a cozy little home in the Neighbourhood. You can grab the EP from Get Hip Records.

6. Twin Sister, In Heaven

Twin Sister’s first full length sees the group perfecting their brand of lo-fi indie pop, vacillating from quirky echoes of the Tom Tom Club to more atmospheric, ethereal, dreamlike tunes. While In Heaven is an accomplishment, it suggests that as the group continues to develop, its best work lies ahead.

[My original review is here]

5. YACHT, Shangri-la

This would have ranked a bit lower had YACHT not blown my mind at their recent stop in Pittsburgh. Electro dance pop drowning in new wave that brings with it the band’s unique brand of philosophy, Shangri-La gets better with each repeated listen, to the point that in my mind, it now gives See Mystery Lights (Shangri-La‘s predecessor) a run for its money.

4. Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi, Rome

I love me some Jack White. It’s a good thing that this and the White produed Wanda Jackson LP came out this year, as they provide a welcome distraction from his stint with the fucking Insane Clown Posse. Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi craft a contemporary take on the spaghetti western soundtracks of yore, with White and Nora Jones in tow. It takes a few thorough listens to really get under your skin, but it’s a wonderfully moody record that does have a cinematic quality to it. Perhaps that’s why this “soundtrack without a film” is now slated to become a film.

3. Lykke Li, Wounded Rhymes

Sweden’s Lykke Li debuted with Youth Novels in 2008, including the exquisite single “Little Bit.” Wounded Rhymes takes Lykke Li’s sound into more consistently haunting territory, adding a sense of depth to the album that keeps it interesting and intriguing throughout multiple listens. In fact, I was shocked at how excellent the album sounded when I dusted it off a few weeks ago (it had been months). While I don’t fully understand the lyrics, there’s certainly an interesting power inversion going on (a traditionally objectified/subservient role winds up exercising agency; at least that’s what I’m led to believe via interviews with Lykke Li). More importantly perhaps, that rhythm is a killer.

2. The Drums, Portamento

This is a late add to Gonzo’s upper tier of 2011, and I have my students to thank. I listened to Portamento around the time of its release and sort of forgot about it. Then I started hearing my students play “Money” and “Hard to Love” with great frequency, and I the strength of those two cuts led me to revisit album. I’m so glad that I did. Sure, it’s straightforward indie rock, but they do it fantastically well.

1. Neon Indian, Era Extrana

In [my original interview from September], I predicted that Era Extrana would be in heavy rotation for the fall. That was true. Out of all of the albums from 2011, Era Extrana is the sole release that grabbed me at first listen, and warranted constant, multiple listens that did little to diminish my enjoyment of the album. This is hands down my pick for album of the year.

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