Northwest Artists Pick Their Best of 2011

In keeping with blog-age tradition (see: 2010, 2009, 2008), I checked in with some of my favorite local artists and asked what albums musically defined their 2011. Here are the results:

Photo by Jim Bennett

Galen from Pickwick:

Gardens and Villa
Shabazz Palaces – Black Up
Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
Chad Vangaalen – Diaper Island
Eccentric Soul – Nickel and Penny Labels
Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Richard Swift – Walt Wolfman
War on Drugs – Slave Ambient/Future Weather EP
Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring for My Halo
Dirty Beaches – Badlands

Photo by Dave Lichterman

Katie Kate:

In no particular order.

Kate Bush  – 50 Words for Snow
Since she’s my number one inspiration I might be biased, but I truly believe Kate Bush can do no wrong. A boy soprano, gorgeous orchestration mixed with quirky, tickling electronic pieces about wild men and vocabulary, and what I consider an equal mix of sincerity and tongue-in-cheek timbre and lyrical subjects. She is a master.

Youth Lagoon – The Year of Hibernation
I’m jealous of this kid. Quit making me feel shit, I don’t even know you.

Allen Stone – Allen Stone
I first experienced this gentleman at the CityArts Fest opening party this year, and it was the first time in a long time that I didn’t automatically think “man, fuck this guy.” Allen Stone erases my cynicism, he’s impossible not to want to cuddle/respect. I wanna squish his face and make a campfire with him. Oh, and he has a decent voice… I guess… if you’re into that whole “talent” thing.

Adele – 21
Without Adele, I would have nothing to sing in the shower.

Katie Kate – Flatland
What? So what? Gimme a break, you’d do the same thing if you’d released an album this year.

Shabazz Palaces – Black Up

M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
Gorgeous, spacious, familiar, classic. Feels like The Breakfast Club in the best fucking way.

Metal Chocolates – Metal Chocolates
I am so proud of these guys.  This is the antithesis of lazy hip hop.  Dark, molten, sexy and strange. A for effort, A+ for results.

Don’t Talk To The Cops – Regular Show
There is something about BlesOne’s voice that makes me feel about ten times hipper than I am. Also, I wish I had “Guess I’m Strange” when I was in high school, it would’ve explained a lot for me.

Justin Bieber – Under the Mistletoe
For we cannot know light without the dark. Also, this is real. This isn’t a dream. He exists. Just marinate on that for a moment.



The Kills – Blood Pressures
To borrow a term from a Taco Bell commercial (sorry), I feel like portmanteau “smunchy” describes this album quite well– soft, melty, crunchy. It’s oozes sex on a swampy bed of fat, fuzzed-out guitars, but also has some sweeter moments that are a refreshing change for The Kills.

Beyoncé – 4
Beyoncé proves she doesn’t need Sasha Fierce-whoever to be fierce, honest, and party-fun at the same time. Mainstream radio may not love it, but she took a risk and it paid off in my book. B is queen!

St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
The fact that Annie Clark wrote this album under our noses here in Seattle without many people knowing is really cool. I like to listen to this album and think about her sitting alone in a nearby studio coming up with all of the demented Disney sounds and slimy guitar licks. This album rocks.

The Kooks – Junk of the Heart
I never really got into The Kooks the first time around, but for some reason I’m really digging this album. It’s exceptionally poppy in a Kinks-y, 60s kind of way, which I dig. There’s even a bit of electro and ska influence on some tracks. It just feels good on the ears.


John Maus – We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves
Unfortunately, I got into this album right after he came to Seattle. His cover of Molly Nilsson’s Hey Moon always puts me in a contemplative but good mood. Couldn’t stop playing this album.

Metronomy – The English Riviera
I love the manic pop quality of Metronomy and this album has a lot of it. My favorite track has to be Corrine. For a little while I listened to that song everyday like it was part of my vitamin regimen.

Toro Y Mio – Underneath The Pine
I didn’t give this album a proper go until I watched the campy, horror-inspired video for How I Know directed by Jordan Kim. The whole album feels cinematic and reminds me a bit of Michel Gondry’s films and Ennio Morricone’s Spaghetti Western scores.


Portugal the Man – In the Mountain in the Cloud
I listened to this album everyday for two months. Seriously, everyday. 70’s inspired pop with modern day production made this album my number one of the year, hands down.

James Blake – James Blake
This album is the best example I can think of when saying less is more. It’s minimalistic electronic music with a 23 year old British singer who sounds like he is 30 and sings soul. While most artists seem to have a problem with over production, James Blake found a way to take as little as possible and make it into something unique, inspiring, and absolutely amazing.

Frank Ocean – nostalgia,ULTRA
Frank Ocean is what I’ve always hoped R&B rappers would be. Clever lyrics, fantastic voice, and beats that make you wanna have sex. Honorary mention goes to his contributions to Watch The Throne.

Cage the Elephant – Thank You Happy Birthday
This is my year end ultimate guilty pleasure. It’s new grunge. It’s still dirty, it’s still loud, it’s catchy, and they can still scream.

Photo by Dave Lichterman

Thig Nat from The Physics:

1. The Weeknd – House of Balloons – My first born will be conceived to this album. Best R&B (if you can call it that) album I’ve heard in years.
2. Drake – Take Care – Drake catches a lot of criticism for being “soft” but he raps better than almost everybody and the way he delivers his R&B songs catches me in a way most R&B doesn’t.
3. Radiohead- King of Limbs – My most anticipated of all the albums that came out this year. This album gets better the more I listen to it.
4. Bon Iver – Bon Iver -The layering of vocals, arrangements, production, composition of instrumentals. It’s all ridiculous.
5. Curren$y- Weekend at Burnies – This was in heavy rotation all summer. Spitta is one of my fav’s right now, not necessarily for lyrical ability but more for the combo of style, delivery and voice.
6. Kendrick Lamar- Section .80 – This album is dope because it’s a concept album that doesn’t feel like a concept album.
7. Real Estate – Days – Really dig the melodies on this album. This is the album I’d listen to if it was summer and I had an hour to kill on a beach somewhere.
8. ASAP Rocky – Live Love – Young, raw, hungry, dope beats and lyrics.
9. The Roots- Undun – Black Thought has been consistently dope for longer than basically anyone.
10. Frank Ocean – Nostalgia Ultra – Song writing and cadences are on point. Swim Good is the standout track for me on this album.

Photo by Dan Muller

Matt from Hey Marseilles:

1. Agesandages: Alright You Restless
So many reasons to listen to this record over and over and over: clever lyricism, hooks galore, and a model for percussive clapping and layered vocals.

2. tUnE-yArDs: whokill
For a musician, the best records are frequently those that make you think about music in new ways. This year, whokill did that for me more than any other.

3. Pickwick: Myths
To paraphrase Jack Nicholson in As Good as it Gets, Galen Disston makes me want to be a better singer.

4. Cults: Cults
“Go Outside” is one of my favorite songs ever. And the rest of them are pretty gangbusters too.

5. Loch Lomond: Little Me Will Start A Storm
Hauntingly gorgeous. And Ritchie Young has an unparallelled ability to move from falsetto to guttural groan on a dime.

6. Decemberists: The King is Dead
As an acoustic-guitar-playing white guy with an accordion in his band, I have tried for as long as possible to keep my distance from the Decemberists. This year I gave in.

7. David Bazan: Strange Negotiations
Bazan pulls off honest, unapologetic, and substantive like no one else can.

8. Bryan John Appleby: Fire on the Vine
I want to be Bryan John Appleby for so many reasons. This record is one of them.

9. Foster the People: Torches
A man needs to dance sometimes.

10. T-Pain: rEVOLVEr
A man needs to sing about keeping his lady up all night waiting for him sometimes.

Photo by Dave Lichterman

Robin from Flexions:

• Anika – Anika – Pretty excited that a record like this would come out this year – Seems like some product of Jah Wobble teaming up with Malaria! and Flying Lizards.

• Bronze – Copper – Probably one of my favorite contemporary bands finally came out with a full length. These San Francisco trippers pump out some of the heaviest analog synth based  psychedelic dance music I’ve ever witnessed.

• Jherek Bischoff – new album won’t actually be out until February – But his performance of much of this work at The Chapel Performance space with a full orchestra was amazing. Much of the music he performed was written to be played in a 1,000,000 gallon water tank. The orchestra was accompanied by a specially constructed reverb unit to replicate the reverberations in the water tank.

• Peaking Lights  – 936 – It’s sad that these two no longer grace the west coast in their former respective roles in Rah Dunes and Numbers. But Peaking Lights truly broadcasts  some of the best basement space dubs from their current home base in Madison.

• Gang Gang Dance – Eye Contact – Really love where this band goes. Disappointed I missed their Seattle show with Stephanie – I’m sure that it was awesome.

• M. Women – Faithful – One of Seattle’s most unique rock bands – sludgy and unpredictably melodic songs. Recorded by Chris Ando (Talbot Tagora) in a cabin in the shadow of Mt. Rainier – his recording style is awesomely weird and resourceful – perfectly suited to M. Women.

• Tom Waits - Bad As Me – Tom Waits just continually pumps out his metal clanging monster music. I really love the guitarist  Marc Ribot who has played on most or all of Tom Waits’ albums over the last 25 years

• Grass Widow – Past Time – Despite coming out in 2010 this record was a mainstay on my turn table this year.

• Nico Muhly – I Drink the Air Before Me – Really awesome young contemporary composer. This actually came out in the end of 2010 – but it’s something that resonated with me heavily this year.  I listened to this on a plane last month- a perfect score for flying over Greenland.

• Arthur Russell Simmons – James Brown Sample Flip – Released as ten minute digital mix re-imagining classic James Brown Samples. Arthur Russell Simmons is Tyler Swan of Truckasauras, The Rolling Stones, and my band-mate in Flexions.  How can you make something interesting and unique out of some of the most sampled source material in Hip-hop? I think Arthur Russell Simmons does it.

Photo by Dave Lichterman

Beth & Casey from Witch Gardens:

Peaking Lights – 936: This is my favorite record to put on while I have a lot of things in my head and a lot I need to get done. It’s like a shifting kaleidoscope of colors that’s sometimes just catchy and demanding enough to draw you in close but mostly lets you enjoy from afar. I find it’s just the right amount of stimulation for any head space. – Beth

Deerhoof – Deerhoof vs. Evil: I always look forward to hear their next album & this one was well worth the wait. The little happy moods it creates are really satisfying and the lyrics are really good, even for them. They were also the nicest band we played with this year. So, so, nice. – Casey

Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo: There is something about this dude that just screams “genius” to me. I never have any idea of what he’s talking about but there is something so strange and thoughtful in his lyrics that I really have to believe him. Plus he knows how to write a song. – Beth

Secret Colors – Water Mirror: I try not to listen to a lot of music when we are writing new songs, but when I am working on art or writing, I love putting this on because it adequately supplements the room. It isn’t distracting, just peaceful sounds that paint the background. – Casey

Soft Metals – S/T: I can’t think of once in my life when I haven’t wanted my weekend to sound and feel exactly like this record. It’s dark, sexy, atmospheric, and fun in all the best ways! Honestly if I could have someone put together a soundtrack for the 25th year of my life which begins next month I’d hope Soft Metals would be featured prominently. – Beth

Issue – Moonroof: Issue is a young Bay Area musician who raps about cars, tea, money, & young women. He is in high school, he is very weird, and he is my best friend on Twitter (@witchgardens) – Casey

M Women – Faithful: M Women is a Seattle band that sounds exactly like the city should. They have a lot of grime and grunge which make their sun breaks all the sweeter. I couldn’t say enough great things about this record. – Beth

Buster Austero – Summer/Horrible Display: These two Seattle guys just started making music this year.  I really like the singer’s voice & the loud/quiet/loud buildups with the piped in sounds & noises are really cool. I look forward to hearing more from them in 2012. – Casey

Grass Widow – Milo Minute 7″: If I start talking about this band I will never shut up, so I’ll just say their cover of Wire’s Mannequin was the best thing to happen to me all year. – Beth

Neonates – Gridlock: This LA band is really scrappy & I appreciate their post punk candor. They seem like very respectable people & I would love to play a show with them. – Casey

Photo by Greg Shonebraker


1.) The Gorillaz – The Fall

This technically came out at the end of December 2010 but I really couldn’t leave it off of my list. I saw them when they came to the Key Arena and after seeing their show, it changed my expectations on what a live show should be. Not the best of their catalog in my opinion but, I have a sentimental tie to this album because they made it while on the Escape to Plastic beach tour. Also, the fact that the last song on the album it titled “Seattle Yodle” is all the more reason to love it!

2.) Stephen Marley – Revelation pt. 2

The smooth vibe of this reggae album has all of the ingredients to take you on a deep musical mind journey while listening. Every time that I hear it I’m reminded of the importance of creating genuinely.

3.) Radiohead – The King of Limbs

At times this album seems a bit haunting but me, being a fan of dark music, finds a great deal of beauty in that.

4.) Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes

To me this album is vulnerable. I can really appreciate when an artists isn’t afraid to write their heart on paper and I feel that she did with this album. Her sweet voice portrays an an array of emotions throughout the album leaving the listener with a vivid picture of the words she is singing,

5.) Amy Winehouse – Lioness Hidden Treasures

R.I.P. to Miss Winehouse. Beautiful poetry through each of your songs from the beginning to the end. The title of this album says it all, hidden treasures. You will be missed.

6.) The Black Keys – El Camino

The vibe of this album simply put is cool. I live for this type of bluesy sultry sound.

7.) Lalah Hathaway – Where It All Begins

The smokey tones of her voice are enough to put this on my top 10 for 2011 but what really did it for me is the re-release of her song “I’m coming back”. I grew up being able to appreciate the beauty of women with such deep tones because of her. This album is romantic, sexy, lovely.

8.) Adele – 21


9.) ASAP Rocky – Live.Love.ASAP

I heard “Bass” and lost my shit! This album is dope…the end.

10.) Blue Sky Black Death – Noir

So ambient. I drift off to sleep while listening to this sometimes. I also may be a little biased because I’m featured on it ;)

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