It’s been a long year, folks.Okies have paired up with one of the biggest bands on Earth
. You helped a talented singer raise the funds
to record her much-anticipated sophomore album. Buzz bands have risen and flared out just as quickly. Toby Keith has a new line of mezcal
And somewhere in the midst of all that, musicians had time to write and record music. Former OKSee captain Stephen Carradini, contributor Joshua Boydston and I listened to a lot of this music this year, both local and imported, and have reached the following conclusion, in as civil a manner as possible.
But first we should offer thanks to all the creative types in Oklahoma who’ve submitted music (and videos) to us that, we think, belongs absolutely on par with whatever else comes out the radio, television or blogosphere. You guys make us love what we do.
On to the list!
30. Depth & Current — "Depth & Current"
Despite its haunted-basement-at-nighttime mood and lower-than-baritone vocals, “Depth & Current” is not a depressing post-rock album. It’s a sophisticated exploration of the conflict one experiences trying to move forward in an oft-backward society. It’s a familiar narrative for anyone who’s gone to school near his Midwestern home, like many who live in Norman. The narrator isn’t evil here, at least not as evil as his surroundings, which are depicted by the dark, textured stratosphere constructed all around the album. So when a glimmer of light shows up at the beginning in the climax of “Side by Side,” the heavy, noisy guitar solo with which it culminates seems so much more like a fist-pumper than a wrist-cutter. —Matt Carney
29. Fleet Foxes — "Helplessness Blues"
With the band’s self-titled debut topping many a “best of” list back in 2008, it’s but a minor miracle that the monumental pressure to follow up such a beloved album didn’t result in a total monstrosity. Instead — although ultimately without the benefit of the unexpectedness the group enjoyed three years back — Fleet Foxes still turned out a lovely and winning release with a handful of stunning songs (“Montezuma,” “Bedouin Dress” and the self-titled track among them) that hardly let anyone down too badly. —Joshua Boydston
28. WU LYF — "Go Tell Fire to the Mountain"
I was ready to declare 2011 the year that rock broke after The Strokes’ album tanked and The White Stripes threw in the towel. “Not so fast!” declared Yuck and these dudes. WU LYF certainly doesn’t sound anything like the Stripes’ sheet-metal Detroit blues, but these English teenagers surely embodied rock ’n’ roll’s fundamental senses of danger and mystery this year, with little known about them except for their a name that includes the “Lucifer” (it stands for World United Lucifer Youth Foundation) singer Ellery James Roberts’ Tom Waits growl; a Tumblr full of bizarre, cutout images; and these 10 cathartic, heavy
27. The Low Anthem — "Smart Flesh"
The Low Anthem prove that its maturation process that started with “Oh My God, Charlie Darwin” can continue for at least one album. From heartbreaking banjo ballads ("I'll Take Out Your Ashes") to swooning clarinet compositions ("Wire") to triumphant hollering ("Boeing 747"), the group makes good on the immense folk promise it showed. It's solid from top to bottom, with numerous high points. —Stephen Carradini
26. Typhoon — "A New Kind of House"
This is the sort of album that overwhelms senses to the point that I had to give it repeated listens. With horns, strings, choirs and two percussionists, the massive Portland alt-folk collective still manages to craft tunes that feel intimate (in a "me and all my friends hanging out in a huge church" type of way). The gorgeous "Kitchen Tile" crams its whole ethos into 1:29, which makes it my candidate for Most Economical Song of the Year. —SC
25. The Black Keys — "El Camino"
Even amid the ready chants of “sellout,” The Black Keys kept at it, releasing yet another stellar record and maintaining the blues-rock revivalists’ perfect batting percentage. “El Camino” picks up where yesteryear’s “Brothers” left off, balancing the “Thickfreakness”-era bluesiness with producer Danger Mouse’s penchant for offbeat pop (who was onboard for the whole disc). “Lonely Boy” and “Gold on the Ceiling” match “Tighten Up” and “Next Girl” in terms of undeniable catchiness, while “Little Black Submarine” has the band revisiting its more tender side before erupting into something louder than it’s done in as many years. Easy to love and hard to hate, The Black Keys just keep releasing damn good songs that beg to be heard through albums, commercials or whatever else they choose. —JB
24. Adele — "21"
“21” might be the only top-selling album of the year to also be one of the year’s best (at least in recent times), and Adele’s sophomore recording only builds on her debut “19” in a sweeping movement, making popular music respectable once again. People sang heartfelt singles “Rolling in the Deep,” “Someone Like You” and “Set Fire to the Rain” in the shower like guilty pleasures, only they had no reason to feel guilty. “21” showcases not only some of the best vocal but also lyrical chops we’ve seen in ages, and with Amy Winehouse gone too soon, she’s one of just a few left to carry the torch. —JB
23. The Antlers — "Burst Apart"
I pushed hard to get “Burst Apart” on the list, because "Putting the Dog to Sleep" is my song of the year. The raw, passionate vocal delivery against the vaguely doo-wop skeleton of a song puts the main point in stark relief: Being in love is a devastating way to get your kicks, whether you're in love or not. The rest of the dreamy, indie-fied slow jamz bear the point out; it's Ray LaMontagne for indie kids. —SC
22. David Ramirez — "Strangetown"
The singer/songwriter fare of the “Strangetown” EP sounds absolutely effortless: Ramirez's comforting voice never strains, and the guitars rarely grow beyond the volume of "gentle." That stripped-down setting allows Ramirez's deft melodic gift to take on center stage; the fact that the lyrics are memorable is purely a bonus (although one that pushed this up the list). —SC
21. Brianna Gaither — "Love Is Patient"
There are few artists who hook me from the opening seconds of a release, but Edmond native Gaither's astonishingly mature “Love Is Patient” puts delicate piano playing, a shuffling snare and an evocative alto voice on full display before a minute is up in "Find You." Her attention to detail creates a consistent mood throughout that is rare for a debut album; if this is what she can do on her first LP, she's got my vote for best new artist. —SC
20. Generationals — "Actor-Caster"
It’s a near anomaly that Generationals haven’t rocketed to fame, given their knack for tight, accessible, soul-inspired indie rock ditties, but given the congenial, still bright and bouncy nature of the band’s second effort, they don’t seem to mind too much. The duo from The Big Easy makes it sounds, well, oh so easy in standout singles “Ten-Twenty-Ten” and “You Say It Too,” and all of the offerings in between are just as solid, with closers “Greenleaf” and “Please Be It” displaying the band in full bloom. Fame and fortune might have eluded them so far, but more work like this will make it impossible to deny. —JB
19. Toro Y Moi — "Underneath the Pine"
Toro Y Moi emerged in a 2010 draft class of chillwave artists stacked with Neon Indian, Washed Out and Memory Tapes, and while all three released special albums in 2011, not one showed the growth that Toro Y Moi did. All the good ideas from “Causers Of This” got repurposed in “Underneath the Pine,” which inexplicably took a turn to disco and sounds all the better for it. Chaz Bundick flexes all of his musical muscles, modeling impeccable hooks (“New Beat”), dreamy melodies (“Still Sound”) and otherworldly headphone moments (“Good Hold”), morphing into the LeBron James of the chillwave set. —JB
18. Shabazz Palaces — "Black Up"
So alien and shifty, it’s difficult to place a finger on any single artistic notion expressed in Sub Pop hip-hop duo Shabazz Palaces’ debut LP. A great beam of light bursts through the album midway into “Are You. .. Can You ... Were You? (Felt)” in the form of the lyric “When you choose / Fuck they rules / It’s a feeling.” The latter line echoes, too, reminiscent of the punk aesthetic of so many other bands on the famous Seattle indie label. What feeling are hip-hop vets Ishmael Butler and Tendai Maraire talking about? Texture and darkness, not trunk-rattling sloganeering. — MC
17. Drake — "Take Care"
I had previously written Drake off as an uncompelling rapper. “Take Care” finds him improving in that department, but the breadth and scope of this album’s production will have people returning to its breathy, massive, Toronto R&B tracks for years. In the meantime, however, its bevy of singles and hooks ought to keep Drake in the public consciousness’s forefront for the foreseeable future. And KD’s a fan, too
. Which means I’m a fan. —MC
16. Girls — "Father, Son, Holy Ghost"
If you didn’t know that the album came out in 2011, you’d never actually be able pinpoint the date of entry. Girls’ sophomore effort was even stronger and timeless than the first, and the lo-fi jangle marking the debut matures into a full set of rock anthems and pop ballads that never run the risk of sounding dated. The band sets the mark high with the charming, witty and ever-relatable “Honey Bunny,” but continues to threaten that zenith with guitar-heavy “Die,” slow-churning “Vomit “ and the eight-minute, bonfire-friendly “Forgiveness,” each showing that The Beach Boys and Elvis Costello are more important to songsmith Christopher Owens than any indie pretension. —JB
15. Kendrick Lamar — "Section.80"
Excepting perhaps for trunk-crunk hillbilly Yelawolf (at 31, a late bloomer with only two LPs), Compton’s Kendrick Lamar (24) is the best young technical rapper around, and “Section.80” is his powerful commercial debut. The kid draws from the bleak scene around him — overcome by murder, rape, prostitution — and calls for revolution against injustice. But not before expressing his own temptations, with vibrant imagery and head-turning wordplay. See “Hol’ Up,” but be warned of potential dizziness. Dude’s verses are absolutely electric. —MC
14. Laura Stevenson & the Cans — "Sit Resist"
Stevenson can write great songs in multiple genres, which is why “Sit Resist” is such an incredible effort. She ties zydeco, doo-wop, stomp ’n’ holler, and indie pop together in one consistently impressive amalgam. When bands are hitting on this high of a level, it's a shame that they have to pay their dues to get an audience. Can we just get everyone listening to "Montauk Monster" already? — SC
13. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. — "It's a Corporate World"
It seems almost impossible for such a light, airy and buoyant pop album to be born out of the industrial wasteland of Detroit, but alas, that’s exactly where indie-pop duo Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
formed and crafted this magical breath of fresh air. The act is essentially a pair of Paul Simons toying around with secondhand synthesizers, never forcing square pegs into round holes. Each track is worth a mention — and listen — but the romping opener “Morning Thought,” mystic “Nothing But Our Love” and dainty “Simple Girl” really do show that there’s always hope even in the bleakest of times (or cities). —JB
12. Beyoncé — "4"
Top to bottom, this is the most thorough, consistently exciting and infectious album Beyoncé’s put her name to. Mrs. Jay Carter draws inspiration from the stability of her marriage throughout, confident in her identity on “I Was Here,” emotive and loving in “I Care and I Miss You,” and positively ecstatic on “Countdown,” the first pop track to rival “Crazy in Love” for excitement. “1+1” will be the one remembered here, an eternal R&B track that twists Prince’s dripping guitar sound up with Sam Cooke’s Southern soul piano and Beyoncé’s voice, one of the strongest, most beautiful instruments we’ve got. —MC
11. Colin Stetson — "New History Warfare, Vol. 2: Judges"
This is not an album that I listen to in the background — this album demands my attention. As such, I haven’t heard this one as many times as, say, LCD Soundsystem (see No. 4). However, this post-rock powerhouse still ranked number one on my personal list, because of the unbelievable emotional range of Stetson’s baritone saxophone compositions. With nothing more than his voluminous lungs and a huge piece of metal, Stetson conjures up every emotion from nostalgia to abject terror in a swirling vortex of notes that never seems to stop. This is an awe-inspiring work collectively and individually; each song reveals new treasures, while the overall effect is triumphant (and just slightly south of overwhelming). —SC
10. Los Campesinos! — "Hello Sadness"
Four albums in, the Welsh indie-rock septet finally hit their stride for a solid 40 minutes. “Hello Sadness” has an irresistible single (“By Your Hand”), a pair of fist-pumpers (“Baby I Got the Death Rattle” and the title track), a slow burner (“To Tundra”), a song that better captures a hopeless fan’s slavery to sports fanaticism than any I’ve ever heard (“Every Defeat a Divorce [Three Lions]”) and enough quality lyricism to demand dozens of listens. It’s a jagged, jaded shot at love and death, but still hopelessly compelled by hope. —MC
9. James Blake — "James Blake"
This is one of the rare exceptions where a good set of headphones trumps a live show. There’s almost nothing visually interesting about seeing James Blake (he plays with a drummer and a guitarist) live
, but the man so subtly and sneakily fills the space between your ears with enough climactic sonic force (see “The Wilhelm Scream”) that you occasionally have to turn the volume down to protect your eardrums. I loved the English soul present on closer “Measurements” and the storytelling throughout (“I Never Learnt to Share,” “Give Me My Month”) this post-dubstep album. Perhaps it’s the first one ever? — MC
8. Broncho — "Can't Get Past the Lips"
The Oklahoma band’s full-length debut clocks in a shorter amount of time than many EPs do, but makes a larger statement than works twice as long. The riled two minute blasts of pop punk fury snarl an obvious message to the masses that Sum 41 and Green Day hardly doing a proper service to pioneers like The Ramones and Buzzcocks, with wild and catchy tracks like “Try Me Out Sometime” and “Blown Fuse” driving the point home. As it wraps up as soon as it seemingly started, you cannot help but lament of how pop punk veered off into the wrong direction while simultaneously celebrating that a band like Broncho seems more than adept in steering it back onto the right track. —JB
7. M83 — "Hurry Up, We're Dreaming"
M83 mastermind Anthony Gonzalez couldn’t have picked a better name for his group’s sixth studio album; only in a dream could the mish-mash of glorious and triumphant sounds coalesce into something that makes total and utter sense. Ten years after M83’s self-titled debut comes the band’s longest, most ambitious and best effort to date: A lucid 22-track album that floats on a higher plane than near all other modern electronic-pop artists, occasionally dipping down from the heavens for underground dance anthems like the scorching “Midnight City” and blasting back up with soaring ballads like “Reunion” and “New Map.” —JB
6. Brine Webb — "O You, Stone Changeling"
Every time I hear this album, I love it more. Many folky singer/songwriters try to sound intimate, but their efforts pale in comparison to Brine Webb’s: His literate lyrics are so specific and personal that several of them are impossible to understand literally. But his remarkable melodic gift transforms these poignant musings into intensely personal experiences for the listener. The pristine moods and precise arrangements result in an album that I have a deeper relationship with than almost any other this year. I relate to the quiet, humble, still hopeful place that these songs were written from, literally or no: “Be something different / Be something better / Be something more.” —JB
5. Other Lives — "Tamer Animals"
Other Lives did something most bands can only dream of doing: crafting a record that refuses to leave you, and it only took two releases to accomplish. “Tamer Animals” is this sort of sad, but beautiful romance whose story gets told over the course of 11 chapters, hitting climaxes with the soul-gripping “As I Lay My Head Down” and stormy “Dust Bowl III.” It’s as powerful as a folk record as you’ll ever hear, and it was born in the windy swept plains of our very own home state. This special breed already has been recognized by the likes of indie-rock gods Radiohead, who handpicked it for tour support in 2012. To the victors go the spoils. —JB
4. LCD Soundsystem — Last Show Ever! (Soundboard rip)
I purchased a ticket to this show, intending to travel to New York and back with Stephen and two other people, but they failed to get tickets. Having now watched the live stream and listened to this three-and-a-half-hour rip about half a dozen times, I confidently know what the greatest regret of my life is. —MC
LCD Soundsystem is the only act I’ve ever followed that improved consistently for 10 years straight and then went out on top. This show is probably the best show it’s ever played, as does absolutely destructive versions of everything from its earliest work to last album (and unreleased covers!). It’s almost not worth it to listen to the previous material: these versions are just that much better. There is no more invigorating moment in the year’s music than when Nancy Chen announces, “Ladies and gentlemen, James Murphy!” before Murphy unleashes the thrashing end of “Yeah” on the drums. Deeply and sadly, I agree with all the sentiments in Matt’s anecdote. —SC
3. Braids — "Native Speaker"
This album has no genre, because it takes things from tons of genres and lovingly crafts them together into one cohesive sound. Dream pop, shoegaze, indie rock, indie pop, and girl pop all get shout-outs, but this isn’t in any of those. It is, however, the most mesmerizing piece of work that I’ve heard all year: I drift away in my own pleasant thoughts when I hear this. That’s not a metaphor, either: their set at South by Southwest actually put me into a dreamlike state that wasn’t awake or asleep. If you like beautiful, thoughtful music, this is your album. —SC
2. Colourmusic — "My ____ Is Pink"
Nobody in Oklahoma recorded better music than Stillwater’s Other Lives this year, and I’m about 98% percent certain that their friends in Colourmusic
will agree. But this is a list driven by favoritism, and OKSee likes its rock music thunderously loud, hard-charging, paranoid and heavily rhythmic. “You for Leaving Me” and “Tog” wraps all these things into textured, muscular fist-pumpers, the twin columns supporting the album in the middle. But the floating ambience that precedes all the hollering on “We Shall Wish (Use Your Adult Voice)”; Ryan Hendrix’s leering, lecherous singing on “Feels Good to Wear” (and elsewhere throughout the record); and all the washes of freaky, toasted guitar tones are what keep us coming back to this one. Into “Pink,” Colourmusic spilled all their carnal, aggressive fervor through a DIY-aesthetic funnel, creating one hell of a mess. —MC
1. Bon Iver — "Bon Iver"
That moment in October when Colin Stetson blew his gigantic bass sax on “Minnesota, WI” at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City, Mo., finally sealed this album as my personal favorite of the year. It was such a forceful, exciting blast of undercurrent that swept up and overcame all the clarinets, tenor saxes, gently sparkling synths and even the band’s centerpiece, Justin Vernon’s own signature ghostly falsetto. For me, those guttural interruptions and “Perth”’s jagged ascents, and “Calgary”’s swaying guitar crunch refuted the accusations of pansy wishy-washiness that a lot of critics and friends leveled at the album and band in general.
But yeah, in a year that celebrated campy ’80s sounds, “Bon Iver” actually fostered feelings of nodding familiarity before
exploding into moments of sci-fi euphoria (like M83 or Cut Copy). The lyrics are sometimes nonsensical, more feeling than perceiving, more unfolding than tactile. But those Colin Stetson moments occur just often enough to seem like something very real happened to you in the past, and Justin Vernon is beckoning to it. —MC
OKS in 2011 — Monday: Your Most-Viewed Music Videos
OKS in 2011 — Tuesday: The Year in Photos
OKS in 2011 — Wednesday: By the numbers
OKS in 2011 — Thursday: OKSee's Honorable Mention Albums of the Year
OKS in 2011 — Friday: OKSee's 30 Favorite Albums of 2011