Here’s how we’re going to do this: I’m going to pick ONE to be album of the year, then the other 19 are going to be listed in no particular order.

The problem with lists is that art is not an empirical set of values. It can’t be quantified, unless you’re ranking by number of units moved, which is not the purpose of year-end lists. It’s one thing to measure artistic and creative worth, but in terms of ranking them? It’s simply not possible. I think most that compile these lists understand that to an extent, but most people I see reacting to them don’t, and as such you get people very worked up over what is essentially a random placement determined by an imaginary set of criteria. So I won’t even try, except to say that one album in particular moved me more than any other.

At the end of this post there are links to purchase from Amazon via mp3, some of which are as low as $3.99 (ridiculous!). Also, if you have Spotify, I’ve compiled a playlist of all 20 albums. Please note that Gillian Welch’s album is not available on Spotify.


Tinariwen – “Tassili”
download mp3

Touareg journeymen and former rebels bring their secluded yet strangely familiar music to the United States in this release from Anti- records. With the help of TV on the Radio’s Kyp Malone and Tunde Adebimpe, the nomadic musicians play infectious desert blues whose roots are speculated to share common ancestry with the early blues music from North America that hadn’t even reached their ears until after the group had already gained notoriety.

I initially sung their praises back in September:

It’s not enough for me to say that “Tassili” is the most fascinating record I’ve heard in years. It has, rather, reignited an appreciation for the role of music in our lives and culture. And by “our” I mean all of humanity, from the young frustrated American teenager growing into a counter-culture sensation to the orphaned child in the deserts of Mali who grows to become a warrior that yearns for peace.”

READ MORE: From the blood-stained sands of Mali and Algeria, the familiar and fascinating music of Tinariwen (September 8th, 2011)

To qualify that hyperbole, I still find after all these months that only a handful of days goes by before I’m back listening to this record, trying earnestly to suppress it as background music and instead becoming engrossed once again by that hauntingly familiar sound.


I don’t really consider myself highly educated or versed in music, in the sense that just looking at the front page of the Pitchfork website makes me hang my head in shame as I’m wrought with guilt for lack of exposure to music and feel like a mainstream poser. But if the year-end lists and what I heard was any indication, 2011 was a damn good year for music.

Here’s 19 more albums, in no particular order, that round out the Top 20 Albums of the Year*.

Gillian Welch – “The Harrow and the Harvest”
A very, very close second for me. It took Welch eight years to release another record, but it was worth every minute. I don’t think any album I’ve ever heard broke my heart as many times as this album did. What a gorgeous voice, and what an immense talent.

King Creosote & Jon Hopkins – “Diamond Mine”
Scottish folk and electronica come together to create one of the most beautiful albums I’ve ever heard.

Los Campesinos! – “Hello Sadness”
I’m always surprised that this group isn’t more popular than it is. I know plenty of people that I honestly believe would adore this band if only they gave them a shot.

Beirut – “The Rip Tide”
Them’s some good horns.

M83 – “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming!”
If I had to pick a runner-up for Album of the Year, this would be it. Simply breathtaking and possibly M83’s best work ever.

Wilco – “The Whole Love”
Hands down their best since “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,” a welcome and refreshing reprieve from that George Harrison plagiarist phase they were going through the last few years.

Stuart Duncan, Chris Thile, Edgar Meyer, and Yo-Yo Ma – “The Goat Rodeo Sessions”
I’m not really a bluegrass or classical aficionado, yet I adored this record and it gets played in my office at least once a day. By the way, if you click the above link, it’s only $3.99 (!!!) on You’d be insane not to take advantage of that.

PJ Harvey – “Let England Shake”
I’ve heard little of Harvey (I know, I know) but loved this album. So earnest.

The Kills – “Blood Pressures”
Of all the two-piece groups to pop up in the last few years, this might be my personal favorite. They’ve got a bite to their stuff without being off-putting or bratty.

The Roots – “Undun”
ANOTHER album that’s only $3.99 right now on Amazon!
I’ve liked their recent efforts a lot more than others seem to, in particular 2006’s “Game Theory.” Yet there’s no question that this is far and away their best work of the 21st Century and ranks up there with “Things Fall Apart” as one of their true masterpieces.

My Morning Jacket – “Circuital”
I get the impression that most felt this was a lesser effort than “Evil Urges,” in particular the focus on the fact that a few of the tracks on this album came from earlier abandoned projects (such as contributions to “The Muppet Movie” that never came to fruition because of the exit of one of the film’s producers). But, seriously, who gives a shit? As much as I like “Evil Urges,” at times it tries too hard to be something it isn’t, where this sees them in a more comfortable frame of mind that provides a more consistent listening experience. They got less pretentious, and so should you. Shut up and listen and enjoy.

Raphael Saadiq – “Stone Rollin’ “
Some good, smooth shit right here. Saadiq deserves to be more than just a novelty act for the NPR crowd, but he doesn’t act like a goddamn fool in public and has some semblance dignity, which makes it hard for any solo artist to gain inroads these days. I think he also gets dismissed by many because they see his solo projects as nothing more than love letters to sixties soul and Motown, but that unfairly dismisses what are, at their core, great goddamn songs.

Paul Simon – “So Beautiful or So What”
It’s 2011, and Paul Simon released one of the greatest solo albums of his career. Who saw that coming?

TV on the Radio – “Nine Types of Light”
It’s a step down from “Dear Science,” but that doesn’t mean much when I consider that to be one of my favorite albums of all time (seriously).

Megadeth – “Th1rt3en”
Everything in this is cheese, exemplified by the goofy spelling for the album’s title, but it still shreds better than anything Mustaine’s done in years. Speaking of which…

Anthrax – “Worship Music”
WOW. WOW WOW WOW. I cannot believe that Anthrax released this album this late in their careers. Everything sounds amazing, even Joey Belladonna, and that’s coming from someone who preferred John Bush (particularly his work on “The Sound of White Noise”). This band has never sounded better.

Fucked Up – “David Comes to Life”
What more digital ink could I spill over this album that hasn’t already been covered by everyone and their cross-eyed Uncle? For me it was an acquired taste, but once they had me, they didn’t let go.

Thursday – “No Devolucion”
It’s easy to dismiss this group out of hand as another cog in the dull mainstream sludge that passes for metal/hard rock these days, but I love what they’re doing.

Mastodon – “The Hunter”
This album kicks some serious ass, even though the guys are obviously total dorks. But I love them and this album all the more for it, because it comes with a genuine enthusiasm that carries over to the listener.

* That I heard, anyway.

Buy them now from Amazon:


2 Responses to The Best 20 Albums of 2011 (that I heard, anyway)

  1. Anonymous says:

    The only one I own is Paul Simon; and that IS a great album.

  2. Nippertown! says:

    […] Kevin Marshall’s America: Mr. Marshall weighs in with his Top 20 albums of […]

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