My best musical purchases of 2011.

Just like last year, a ranking of albums I bought but were not necessarily released in 2011. I’m a bit late to the party here, but given how much music I purchased in 2011 that was actually released in 2011, I don’t think anyone is going to hate me for waiting an extra few weeks to write this. On to my musical opinions, for which I’m sure you’ve all been waiting.

10. The Decemberists -- The King is Dead

 I really wanted to like this album more, but it’s inclusion here is more due to my being rather poorer this year than last. It’s solid, yes. But it’s not a solid Decemberists album; it’s a pretty great REM record, which is unsurprising given Peter Buck’s involvement.
But really the only thing positive I have to say here is that when I went to see them supporting The King is Dead -- mostly because I wanted to see Justin Townes Earle, whom they graciously allowed to play for 28 minutes before their 2.5 hour set --  I ended up going on a date with the woman standing in front of me all night. The date, like the album and concert, was a let down.

9. The Chicago Bears Shufflin’ Crew -- The Super Bowl Shuffle

The original price tag is on the copy of this EP I bought. I paid $5. Whoever originally owned it paid $3.99. I am not ashamed.

8. Wilco -- Summerteeth

It’s probably sad that I bought this 1999 release instead of The Whole Love, which is a great album that actually came out this year. But I didn’t buy it. Like I said, I’m poor. Summerteeth, though, is one of my favorite Wilco albums and has many of my all time favorite songs. Not just Wilco songs, either, songs period. I’m glad I found it. Thanks, Spoonful Records in Columbus, OH, for that.

7. Mumford & Sons -- Sigh No More

I’m not too late to this party, but I really only started getting into Mumford & Sons this year. Little Lion Man is such an infectious track, sticking in my head for days after I first heard it. The rest of the album is just as great, but I’m a sucker for folk music.

6. Danielson -- The Best of Gloucester County

It took awhile for The Best of Gloucester County to grow on me. I wasn’t really a fan the first time I heard it. Like Danielson’s previous album Ships, Gloucester County is a tour de force of Daniel Smith’s friends, thought slightly less so. There’s a lot of great musicians working here, including Sufjan Stevens.
The reason I didn’t like it at first, and why so many critics gave it middling reviews, is that Danielson is continuing (as with Ships) to press closer and closer to actually palatable pop music. It’s not something anyone expected from the mind that used to only produce music that sounded like a cross between Captain Beefheart and The Shaggs. If you’re unfamiliar, then suffice it to say that a lot of people would have put music in quotation marks in that last sentence. But even with the changes, it’s still great, and I like this trend for him. 

5. The Magnetic Fields -- 69 Love Songs

I bought this box set with my tax refund in February. The collection of love and anti-love songs really hit the spot for me about that time of the year. With 69 tracks in three volumes, there’s a song for every mood here -- plenty to play at your wedding, plenty to play when you can’t sleep for longing for someone.

4. The Violent Femmes -- s/t

I’ve always enjoyed The Violent Femmes, but when I picked this up I was in shock. The track list reads like their greatest hits, and it’s their first album, released in 1982. I’m ignorant, yes, but I had no idea Blister in the Sun was nearly 30 years old. Their placement in historical context makes their music that much more amazing.

3. The Aquabats! -- Hi-Five Soup!

This was the first album I bought in 2011, and I listened to it all year. I’m a huge fan of The Aquabats and I was anticipating this album. With the success of Yo Gabba Gabba! the band can relax a bit, and a relaxed The Aquabats is a much more enjoyable The Aquabats. Also, it’s a less snarky The Aquabats, just compare the attitudes here to Charge!!! That album’s single, Fashion Zombies, is a labored attack on scenesters. Here the single is Radio Down, a celebration of turning up the music and dancing featuring a breakdown by Biz Markie. It’s pure fun throughout, and I can’t listen to it without smiling.

2. Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers -- Rare Bird Alert

Steve Martin playing bluegrass. It’s like my my number one favorite thing wrapped in my number three favorite thing. It’s an impeccable bluegrass album from start to finish. Martin’s music is redeeming, given his recent track record in film. His writing here is at times (Athiests Don’t Have No Songs, Jubilation Day) as humorous as his stand-up days, and at others (The Great Remember) deep and beautiful.

1. The Mountain Goats -- All Eternals Deck

In the wake of 2009’s The Life of the World to Come I dove head first into The Mountain Goats and hated myself for not seriously getting into the music of John Darnielle sooner. He’s quickly become one of my favorite songwriters.
This year brought the release of All Eternals Deck, a great album in it’s own right (though, as with most the Mountain Goats fans, the first album I heard will always be my favorite), as well as my first experience seeing the band live. It was heavenly. I struggled here, given the format of this list, on which of the three albums I bought in the weeks following that show. I also picked up The Sunset Tree (2005) and Heretic Pride (2008). They’re all strong, though I must admit I’ve listened to Sunset Tree more than either of the other two. It’s a perfect album. 

0. Listener -- Wooden Heart

Listener released last year’s Wooden Heart on vinyl this summer, so I rebought it. It’s still one of my favorite records of all time, so I thought I’d plug it once more. You need to be listening to these guys.