Listen Up: Chris Pyle’s Top Music Picks for 2011

Posted on:

< < Back to

1. tUnE-yArDs, w h o k i l l: Merrill Garbus melded African beats with indie-rock sensibilities and created my favorite record of the year. More of a project than a band, most of the music is looped and sampled on this record (and for her live show) but amazingly, it manages to sound organic and rough-around-the-edges.

2. Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi, Rome: With help from Jack White and Norah Jones (and influenced by Ennio Morricone), Danger Mouse has crafted his best record to date.

3. The Decemberists, The King is Dead: Many critics joked that this was the best R.E.M. record since Bill Berry left the band. That is SO true. I couldn’t get into The Hazards of Love, their previous prog-rock-styled record that featured lyrics about elves dancing in the woods. This is a return to concise, down-to-earth folk-rock with great songwriting and melodies throughout.

4. Wild Flag, Wild Flag: 1990s indie-rockers form supergroup and melt faces off with meat-and-potatoes rock and roll.

5. Rapheal Saadiq, Stone Rollin’: If you like great old-school R&B that sounds fresh, this is the record for you. It’s his best to date.

6. Wilco, The Whole Love: Wilco’s best record since Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

7. Sleeper Agent, Celebrasion: In-your-face power pop. Sounds like a cross between Blondie and the Ramones. Nothing new here, just amazing songs packed with hooks galore. This is the catchiest record of the year for sure.

8. Cymbals Eat Guitars, Lenses Alien: Not quite as good as their first record, Why There Are Mountains, but solid all the way through. Loud guitars and wonderful songwriting.

9. James Blake, James Blake: Weird, melancholy voice-looping, backed by piano and guitar. I was unsure at first, but this turned out to be one of the most beautiful records of the year.

10. Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues: Musically, this is more of the same from Fleet Foxes, but wonderful nonetheless. Robin Pecknold’s lyrics have matured wonderfully since their last record. I loved the band’s earlier material but found his lyrics wanting and hard to embrace. Finally, I can relate to their music AND the lyrics.

11. Southeast Engine, Canary: Hometown boys make good with their best record to date about the hardships of Athens County during the Great Depression. Americana at its best.

12. Charles Bradley, No Time For Dreaming: What a force of nature! 63 years old and belting out old school R&B like he’s 22. Great songs and a great voice.

13. Low, C’Mon: A return to form after a few years of turning up the volume. This is a wonderfully-hushed record that should be played LOUD.

14. Adele, 21: I get a lot of crap from my hardcore indie-rock friends for liking this, but as Dave Grohl said, “People are blown away that Adele is selling so many records. I’m not. That record is great! She’s got a beautiful voice, and people are shocked when they hear actual talent.” Indeed.

15. Radiohead, The King of Limbs: Over the last few years, I’ve really wanted to see Radiohead do a funk record. Seriously. But this isn’t it. It’s a good, solid record and if it was put out by any other band it would be considered a great one. They’ve set the bar so high for themselves that it may be impossible to live up to their past work. Let’s hope that’s not the case.

16. F—– Up, David Comes To Life: Punk-rock Springsteen with a great story line.

17. Tom Waits, Bad As Me: I keep waiting for a bad Tom Waits record. This isn’t even close to being it. I wish my other favorite “older” artists and bands could put out stuff half as good as this.

18. The Black Swans, Don’t Blame The Stars: Indie country-rock and more from Columbus, Ohio, that celebrates great artists of the past. I love the spoken word parts as well.

19. Le Butcherettes, Sin Sin Sin: Lead singer Teri Gender Bender fights fhe power with in-your-face rock and roll. Not such a novel idea, but this record proves that recycled themes and great music can sound completely fresh and urgent without having to push the limits musically.

20. Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Soul Time!: That is exactly what time it is. Old school R&B by today’s best female vocalist.

Chris Pyle is owner of Donkey Coffee, The White Album & Mr. Kite Enterprises and co-owns 3 Elliott Studio in Athens, Ohio. He loves music so much that he feels guilty about it sometimes.

This is part of a series of year-end blog posts by WOUB staff, volunteers and contributors, as well as area musicians, music retailers and plain old music fanatics. Think we missed something? Let us know at