Bob Boilen's 11 Favorite Albums Of 2011

Diamond Mine by King Creosote & Jon Hopkins, Bob Boilen's pick for the album of the year. i i

Diamond Mine by King Creosote & Jon Hopkins, Bob Boilen's pick for the album of the year. Domino Records hide caption

itoggle caption Domino Records
Diamond Mine by King Creosote & Jon Hopkins, Bob Boilen's pick for the album of the year.

Diamond Mine by King Creosote & Jon Hopkins, Bob Boilen's pick for the album of the year.

Domino Records

Last year I couldn't come up with 10 favorite albums. Too many of 2010's records seemed flawed, and since the definition of a "best album" for me is something I want to hear repeatedly from start to finish, I capped my year-end list at nine. This year I'm overflowing with good records. Since I picked only nine last year I figure I should have a credit left over for one extra and in 2011, I need it.

I found myself loving quiet albums this year. Gem Club's Breakers, with its dream-affected piano, serene voice and cello. More cello, plus blissful kora, on Ballake Sissoko and Vincent Segal's Chamber Music. My number one pick was an example of absolute musical calm, with shifting soundscapes and heartbreaking storytelling, an album made by King Creosote and Jon Hopkins. No album this decade — or dare I say, this short century — has been so alluring as Diamond Mine, demanding to be played over and over with something new to tell me each time.

It's not all calm on my top 11. There were some abrasive moments: the blistering guitar bursts on the new Wilco record, The Whole Love, or on "Jejune Stars" or "Haile Selassie," songs from the Bright Eyes album The People's Key (both are lyrically great records, too). WHOKILL by tUnE-YaRdS is like nothing else: sassy, punchy, angular and danceable. And thank goodness for The Antlers. They made another album that just plain sounds so damn good — the instruments shift and trade places in odd shimmery ways, but it's the melody in the singing and the guitar playing that sticks in my head when the music stops, add the fact that they have a rhythm section with snap.

You can tell I like my records swimming in layers of sound. That's why I fell for Apparat, the music of German electronic musician Sascha Ring. There are moments on his album, The Devil's Walk, filled with the sort of forward driving motion that Philip Glass does so well, as well as majestic moments that I love (while we're speaking of majesty, M83's album Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, which nearly made my list, deserves mention.)

If you want a great album to listen to in the dark, try Wonder/Wander, the music of Ithaca college student Alec Koone who goes by Balam Acab. His electronic music has heart thanks to an abundant mix of familiar sounds such as water and breath mixed into his mysterious and conjured sounds.

Less familiar sounds came from James Blake, who, like tUnE-YaRdS, made a record unlike any other I'd heard before. So spacious it hurts, so halting it's spooky and so full of heart. Plus, drumming by Ben Assiter that's the best on a record all year — simply from another planet.

That's ten albums. Lisa Hannigan was why I needed a bonus pick. Her album, Passenger, was just too good to leave off. Hannigan's voice is pure, her phrasing unique — bouncy and seductive, often at the same time, with a voice that taunts me closer to the speakers with its graceful quiver. Some friends told me they thought Joe Henry's production didn't always work, that sometimes it competed with her voice. I can hear some of that, but I think that when it's prominent, the production intensifies the yearning in Hannigan's songs, and there's warmth when the production moves to the backdrop.

All in all I'm excited by so many new sounds unveiled on brilliant records in 2011. I can hear the end of rock and roll in 2011. It's been a brilliant nearly 60 years of fun but I'm getting more excited by the promise of people like Amon Tobin or James Blake, whose live shows this year were sonically fresh and challenging. And it's all happening at a time when sound systems in clubs and larger venues are exceptional, when they're not cranked beyond the danger zone (no not that "Danger Zone"). Look for a post about my favorite songs and favorite live music from 2011 soon.

Below, you can listen to tracks from my favorite records, my 11 new friends. Voting for our listener's poll of favorite albums of the year is now closed, but you can see the final results here.

Bob Boilen's 11 Favorite Albums Of 2011

Cover for Diamond Mine

1. King Creosote & Jon Hopkins, 'Diamond Mine'

  • Song: Bubble

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Song
Bubble
Album
Diamond Mine
Artist
King Creosote & Jon Hopkins
Label
Domino Records
Released
2011

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Cover for Whole Love

2. Wilco, 'The Whole Love'

  • Song: Art of Almost

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Song
Art of Almost
Album
Whole Love
Artist
Wilco
Label
dBpm / Anti
Released
2011

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Gem Club, Breakers

3. Gem Club, 'Breakers'

  • Song: Breakers

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Song
Breakers
Album
Breakers
Artist
Gem Club
Label
Hardly Art
Released
2011

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Ballake Cover
Courtesy of the artist

4. Ballake Sissoko & Vincent Segal, 'Chamber Music'

  • Song: "Ma-Ma" FC

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Song
"Ma-Ma" FC
Album
Chamber Music
Artist
Ballake Sissoko & Vincent Segal
Label
Six Degrees
Released
2011

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Cover for w h o k i l l

5. tUnE-yArDs, 'w h o k i l l'

  • Song: Gangsta

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Song
Gangsta
Album
w h o k i l l
Artist
tUnE-yArDs
Label
4AD
Released
2011

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Cover for The People's Key

6. Bright Eyes, 'The People's Key'

  • Song: Shell Games

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Song
Shell Games
Album
The People's Key
Artist
Bright Eyes
Label
Saddle Creek
Released
2011

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Cover for Burst Apart

7. The Antlers, 'Burst Apart'

  • Song: I Don't Want Love

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Song
I Don't Want Love
Album
Burst Apart
Artist
The Antlers
Label
Frenchkiss Records
Released
2011

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Apparat Cover
Courtesy of the artist

8. Apparat, 'Devil's Walk'

  • Song: Black Water

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Song
Black Water
Album
Devil's Walk
Artist
Apparat
Label
Mute Artists
Released
2011

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Cover for James Blake

9. James Blake, 'James Blake'

  • Song: The Wilhelm Scream

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Song
The Wilhelm Scream
Album
James Blake
Artist
James Blake
Label
Republic
Released
2011

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Cover for Wander / Wonder

10. Balam Acab, 'Wander / Wonder'

  • Song: Expect

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Song
Expect
Album
Wander / Wonder
Artist
Balam Acab
Label
Tri Angle Records
Released
2011

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Cover for Passenger

11. Lisa Hannigan, 'Passenger'

  • Song: Home

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Song
Home
Album
Passenger
Artist
Lisa Hannigan
Label
ATO
Released
2011

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