Top Nine Albums of 2011

‘Tis the season for best of lists — you can’t spend five minutes online between now and New Year’s without reading someone’s top picks for something-or-other. And I’m no exception. In no particular order, here are my picks for top nine albums of the year. Why nine? Well, why not?

JhameelThe Human Condition
Listening to San Francisco-based Jhameel’s pop and synth-infused tracks is like being twitterpated: it’s the best distraction, ever. And Jhameel didn’t stop at one album — after releasing The Human Condition in January, he followed up with Waves in November, a five-song series with another round of heart heavy, beat happy songs like “White Lie.” Double yahtzee.

Youth LagoonThe Year of Hibernation
Oh, Trevor Powers. Your tender, atmospheric instrumentals behind elegiac vocals had me at first listen. The 22-year-old Boise native sprouted up out of nowhere, and his album, The Year of Hibernation, is a spectral, synth-laden gem: compelling yet chill, perfect for listening to while zoning out at the office drinking tea and piling on the blankets.

Other LivesTamer Animals
Oklahoma-based quintet Other Lives gets props for releasing a record of all things otherworldly. Tamer Animals’ orchestral, brooding sound is a study in transportation — from great, dusty plains to barren planets to something resembling the Old West, it takes you far, far away from home. And sometimes that’s just what you need.

Dirty BeachesBadlands
Dirty Beaches’ debut album sounds like it was recorded in 1962. Part muffled surf music, part Elvis-style vocals, and part lo-fi garage project, the Taiwanese, Canadian native Alex Zhang Hungtai made something unexpected with Badlands: a cinematic, noir soundscape. Color me impressed.

Boubacar TraoréMali Denhou
A one-man band, Malian singer/songwriter Boubacar Traoré’s blend of guitar and harmonica over a voice that sounds like velveteen sandpaper is soulful with a surprising sense of calm. Let’s just say that if Traoré’s voice was some sort of snack, I’d definitely eat it with cinnamon and honey.

Glenn JonesThe Wanting
Not only do I love that local musician Glenn Jones’ all-instrumental album, The Wanting, has a subtle pictorial quality to it (imagine a film montage of grey city scenes muted behind soft, tranquil, steel-string guitar), but the fact that it was recorded in a fourth story Comm. Ave apartment in Allston makes it all the more relatable — and those wintery scenes transform into images of a wintry Boston in February.

Lykke LiWounded Rhymes
Swedish chanteuse Lykke Li’s second album far exceeds her first. UnlikeYouth Novels, this album compels multiple listens from start to finish. OnWounded Rhymes, Li finds her stride, digging into big drums and bass-driven grooves like “Get Some,” and playing with space within songs like on “I Follow Rivers.” Well played, Li.

Recorded entirely in the desert by a group of Tuaregs — Saharan nomads, that is — who formed in the ’80s after revolting against France and Mali, this record has multiple layers of tribal style vocals over arpeggiated guitar licks and percussion and has staying power — in 10 years it will still sound just as brilliant.

The Black KeysEl Camino
The Black Keys’ formula may not have changed a whole lot since Thickfreakness dropped in 2003, but this is one of few instances where I don’t really care. Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney still sound bigger, bluesier, and more badass than you’d expect from a two-piece — a shining example of ye olde idiom: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.