Todd: Washed Out, Within and Without
At first listen, this may seem like just good background music. After subsequent listens, songs like “Before” and “You and I” start to stand out and become the soundtrack to your day.
Chris: The Weeknd, House of Balloons
This album redefines cool and groovy (different from how Ken defines it in Toy Story 3, to be sure). Sampling Siouxsie and Beach House, creating a hazy vibe, and inspiring sexy videos such as the one for “What You Need.”
Todd: Girls, Father, Son, Holy Ghost
I was a bit put off by the first single from the album, “Vomit.” Grudgingly, I listened to the rest of the album and found a great rock record. I guess you can still make a good record with guitars, drums, and distortion. The song “Die” is a great example.
Chris: Cut Copy, Zonoscope
This album was the early pacesetter for 2011. I eventually favored other releases, but I still enjoy going back to songs like “Take Me Over” for the 458th time.
Todd: Class Actress, Rapprocher
My most anticipated release this year. Tracks began filtering out in June. “Keep You” was my “Song of the Summer” and kept me appeased until the October release.
Chris: Neon Indian, Era Extraña
If only the experience of this sophisticated album would have translated during his recent Iowa City show (it was at the Union Bar, and Kreayshawn [!] opened).
Todd: Cut Copy, Zonoscope
Synth-pop at its best. At times sounds like it could be some long-lost 1980s new wave record. The song “Where I’m Going” also received my award for “Best use of Oohs and Yeahs in a Song or Soundtrack.”
Chris: Class Actress, Rapprocher
This album is much like my #3 album: strong songs released well in advance of album, and then album drops and I’m pleasantly surprised with overall quality. Singles are great, but I’m sampling Track 2, “Love Me Like You Used To,” a great “headphones” song.
Todd: Frank Ocean, Nostalgia, Ultra
The Odd Future member’s first solo effort. Got me listening to some hip hop for the first time in years. Here is “Swim Good” the song that made me stop and listen.
Chris: Burial, Street Halo
Yeah, it’s an EP, but when the three songs are worthy of inclusion in one’s top 20 songs of the year, it’s hard to deny it. Love the title track, but “NYC” is fast becoming my fave of the bunch. More music coming in 2012…
Todd: Future Islands, On the Water
I love when you find a record that you have zero expectation for and discover something special. Listeners just need to get past the Yoda-esque vocals on the first track. “Balance” is an example of what is great about this album.
Chris: The Field, Looping State of Mind
Entrancing music. Hypnotic enough for meditation, powerful enough to get one through a cardio workout, varied enough to be fully entertaining. “Is This Power” kicks off the album in style.
Todd: Small Black, Moon Killer
What a surprise this record was. Not the typical chillwave record I was expecting. They brought in Heems from Das Racist and used a variety of samples to create this unique, free release. Check out the title track.
Chris: Washed Out, Within and Without
Amazing growth from the Life of Leisure EP to this full-length. Chillwave might be a lazy label or an overgrown neighborhood in the music world, but Washed Out embodies everything right about it. Listen to “Amor Fati,” one of several standout tracks on this release. (And Washed Out: Come to Iowa City! Mission Creek!)
Todd: Hooray for Earth, True Loves
Delightfully synthy gem. Great opening and closing numbers and this song, “No Love,” stuck right in the middle.
Chris: Cults, Cults
Yes, yes, I recorded this video of “Abducted” myself. I drove to St. Louis to some little club and caught one hell of a set by this great group. They sound as great live as they do on record: bright, nostalgic, confident but not overly serious. And I am in love with Madeline. #justsayin’
Todd: Neon Indian, Era Extraña
Sounds like it was recorded with a Commodore 64 and filtered through a Nintendo 64. His live show in Iowa City taught me 2 things: 1.You should never underpay for a good sound engineer 2. Under age coeds will try to give you their senior pictures in exchange for beer. Check out the electronic bleep bloops of “Halogen (I Could Be Your Shadow).”
Chris: Frank Ocean, Nostalgia, Ultra
This guy should be getting the attention that Tyler, the Creator, gets. If he hadn’t done that lame “Hotel California” thing toward the end of this stellar mixtape, this might have surpassed my top pick. (Well, probably not.) Oh well, enjoy “Songs for Women” and feel the Frank Ocean love.
Todd: M83, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
So good that my faith in humanity was temporarily restored after I heard “Midnight City,” not coincidentally also my song of the year.
Chris: Hooray for Earth, True Loves
Perfect soundtrack for cruising on Lakeshore Drive before a Portishead concert. (I would know.) Soaring synths, strong vocals, perfect outro song…and this song, “Sails,” my favorite tune of the year.