Photograph by Jon Bergman

With no obvious favourite as in past years, we here at Ca Va Cool were left to our own devices when choosing the ten best albums of 2011. Much like the first half of our list, the top ten features a stylistic array from the year’s offerings. Plenty to enjoy, from sincere and contrived chill vibes to literary-rock, dubstep to soft-rock verging on quiet storm, and our first top album to be a debut. As always, thanks for reading. See you in 2012.

10. Handsome FursSound Kapital

Dan Boeckner and Alexei Perry seem forever changed by their travels throughout Eastern Europe and Asia. They’ve created a sparse, yet pulsating album in Sound Kapital, inspired by the kids in regions of the world who love music so much that they risk imprisonment by making it. The album is dark, loud, and penetrating with a focus more on beats and vocals than the duo’s earlier, more guitar-based offerings. Boeckner’s voice remains simply one of the most authentic and powerful around, and one only has to see the Handsome Furs live to witness their commitment to the music and those that inspired it. Songs like ‘Serve the People’, ‘Cheap Music’ and ‘No Feelings’ seem to embody not only the headspace they were in when creating the album, but make me believe that the demise of Wolf Parade was worth the tears. — Christian Kraeker

09. Youth LagoonThe Year of Hibernation

Describing the artist’s eternal dilemma in 2008, beefcake and introvert getaway driver, Ryan Gosling, said: “You know when you’re a kid and you get crayons and papers and just draw whatever you want and it’s just a bunch of messy lines, but to you it makes sense, and then they put it on the fridge? From that point on, you’re always trying to get back on the fridge, you start drawing things that look like something, like, the more it looks like a horse, the more chance you have of getting it on the fridge.” This quote came to mind when thinking of where Trevor Powers’ solo project Youth Lagoon fits in the realm of 2011’s music scene: that place before the fridge. With words like “epic,” “lush,” and “dense” being used to describe his contemporaries, the simplicity and sincerity of Youth Lagoon’s genre-less debut is what set it apart this year. “I just want to make honest songs,” Powers said to earlier this year. Goal achieved, Trevor. — Sal Patel

08. James Blake

I’ve had some good times with James Blake this past year. While I was fortunate enough to see Blake play in sunny Barcelona during Primavera Sound Festival in May, it was through a pair of old speakers in a Montreal apartment in November that I realized how much the record really meant to me. The moment itself was far-flung from the vast crowds, overpowering bass, and elaborate stages of Parc del Forum – just a few friends gathered around a record player quietly listening to Blake’s shaky croon. The simple appeal in that instant was reliving the feelings of memories been and gone – a gentle reminder that in the span of ‘Lindisfarne’ four seasons have fluttered passed. Trudging through snow with ‘The Wilhelm Scream’; the bloom of tulips with ‘Unluck’; muggy nights with ‘Measurements’; and the glow of Jack-o-Lantern’s with ‘I Mind’. If nothing else, James Blake is a record of the distance we cover in a year – might as well fall in. — Jan Kucic-Riker

07. Wye OakCivilian

2011 was the year Wye Oak broke. Riding the wave of hype and goodwill from 2009’s The Knot and becoming the A.V. Club’s most valuable cover-band, Civilian, their third album, dropped earlier this year to critical acclaim. Darker and more introspective than their previous work, Civilian contains heavy hitters like the title track, and more subdued tracks like ‘We Were Wealth’. The common thread here is the sheer amount of sound coming at you at any given moment. Jenn Wasner is a hell of a singer and guitarist, and Andy Stack’s unique billing as a drummer/keyboardist adds a great percussion section. Already having earned spots opening for the likes of the National and the Decemberists, 2012 is looking very bright. There’s no better duo in the business. — Kevin Kania

06. Library VoicesSummer of Lust

If you didn’t see Library Voices perform live this past year, there’s a very important New Year’s resolution for you. I spent a fair amount of time this year growing to know and love this seven-member lit-pop ensemble, both on stage and on record, and am looking forward to more of the same in 2012. Summer of Lust is a great album for supporting a great live act, filled with high-impact, high-minded songs on subjects that are sure to have made someone’s old high school English teacher very proud. Songs to sit and think about, or to get up and dance about, are rare enough; having both in one package is enough to make you want to burst out in handclaps. — Josh Penslar

05. Washed OutWithin and Without

At a time when the death knells were tolling for chillwave, Ernest Greene breathed new life into the minimalist ambient pop genre with his debut LP, Within and Without. Considerably cleaner, sparser, and calmer than his preceding EPs High Times and Life of Leisure, Greene maintained his wistful poetry, DIY aesthetic and beach-tune-inspired warmth. Sparkling bright moments (‘Amor Fati’, ‘Soft’, ‘Before’) are intermingled with darker, more somber songs (‘Echoes’, ‘Within and Without’, ‘ A Dedication’), allowing listeners to cascade into a beautifully haunting dreamscape. And while the mellow, sun-drenched melodies of the album led to its status as a summer soundtrack, nothing warms up the winter like a little glo-fi. — Sabrina Diemert

04. Fleet FoxesHelplessness Blues

Helplessness Blues finds Fleet Foxes pushing forward new musical ideas while staying true to traditional folk roots. ‘The Shrine/An Argument’ showcases this at its peak. While starting with only lead singer Robin Pecknold’s voice and his acoustic guitar, the 8-minute, 3-part song finishes with a sprawl of woodwinds and strings that take the song on a journey on par with Radiohead’s Kid A epic ‘The National Anthem’. ‘The Plains/Bitter Dancer’ is another example of the band pushing forward with traditional ideas, creating atmospheric and haunting soundscapes with vocal harmonies layered upon each other. It gives an almost machine like quality to the natural sound of their voices. However, it’s the songwriting itself that is the biggest leap forward for the band. Though the songs on their debut are timeless and well crafted, the songs on Helplessness Blues bring very personal and thoughtful views on the world and finding ones place and purpose in it. — Kyle Sikorski

03. Bon Iver

If For Emma, Forever Ago was winter, Bon Iver is spring. Bon Iver’s sophomore album presents an entirely different Justin Vernon than we are all accustomed to. The snow has thawed and on opener ‘Perth’ we can already hear flowing water, wind chimes, and the blooming of an electric guitar. Gone is the DIY approach, the Wisconsin cabin in the woods, and the cold loneliness that filled it. His sound has transformed from an acoustic isolation into an electrified celebration. With an array of strings, organs, electric guitars, thundering drums, and some awesome synthesizers, Vernon and company have created an album that is rich with peaks and valleys, moments of joy and despair, with lyrics that become more subjectively introspective after every listen. It is personal, yet made for everyone. From ‘Perth’, to ‘Calgary’, to the incredible ‘Beth/Rest’ (don’t disagree on this because you’re wrong), all songs tap into Bon Iver’s new sound. Vernon has matured from a lonely cabin boy to an explosive composer, traveling through real and fictional locations, bringing along his sound and shouting it from the thawing mountaintops to the babbling brooks. — Alec Ross

02. DestroyerKaputt

Dan Bejar has always been something of a polarizing figure, but with Kaputt the only divide I’m willing to recognize is between those who love the album and those who haven’t yet heard it. Bejar set about applying his distinctive lyrics and vocals to a familiar, albeit distant, pop sound – borrowing from the influences of smooth jazz, new age, and soft rock – and the result was a brilliantly unassailable success. Nearly every track on the album, which is remarkably consistent for a Destroyer release, feels expertly crafted and resonates long after the horns and guitars dissipate into Destroyer’s signature creeping fog. Though it’s nearly a full year old now, this is the album I’ll remember best from 2011. It put down a marker and set the tone for a terrific year of music to come. — Will Morrison

01. Yuck

Just one listen to the amped-up classics ‘Georgia’ or ‘Operation’ and you know these London twenty-somethings bleed Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., and the rest of the canon. Further listens to ‘Suicide Policeman’ and ‘Suck’ reveal that Yuck are off-kilter romantics with a penchant for melodies akin to Built to Spill, Yo La Tengo, and most difficult of all, Teenage Fanclub. But better than accurately recreating some of the noisiest/best music of the ‘80s and ‘90s, Yuck’s real accomplishment on their self-titled debut is their ability to capture the feeling of discovery that music fans are all too familiar with and have longed for ever since they listened to that mix CD of Smiths singles from their older brother, or whatever. Appropriately, Yuck aren’t a band maturing; better than that, they’re a band going through puberty. Earlier this year, guitarist Daniel Blumberg admitted with refreshing frankness that he listened to Pavement for the first time a couple of years ago and that his favourite band growing up was blink-182. This is a period that musicians and fans rarely discuss and are only reminded of when confronted with the awkward question of the first album they owned, but I remember it fondly when I listen to Yuck, if only for the sheer amount of  music I had yet to hear. Yuck is the sound of a band simultaneously discovering and creating music they love, and we love too. — Daniel Hernandez

Ca Va Cool’s Best Albums of 2011

20. The Rural Alberta Advantage – Departing
19. Austra – Feel It Break
18. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
17. I Break Horses – Hearts
16. Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring for My Halo
15. Feist – Metals
14. Wild Flag
13. The Weeknd – House of Balloons
12. tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l
11. The War on Drugs – Slave Ambient
10. Handsome Furs – Sound Kapital
09. Youth Lagoon – The Year of Hibernation
08. James Blake
07. Wye Oak – Civilian
06. Library Voices – Summer of Lust
05. Washed Out – Within and Without
04. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
03. Bon Iver
02. Destroyer – Kaputt
01. Yuck

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— , December 25, 2011    Comments Off on Best Albums of 2011, Pt. 2