From a 62-year-old soul man's debut and an indie luminary's sci-fi epic to a daring punk concept records and a heartfelt chart-topping smash, 2011 has already given us a wide range of spectacular albums. After whittling down our favorites, we settled on 10 LPs that hold up after numerous spins. Read our picks below and stream the full albums for free!
'No Time for Dreaming'
Ian MacKaye's lyric "It's not how old I am, it's how old I feel," perfectly summarizes Charles Bradley, the 62-year-old Screaming Eagle of Soul who commands crowds with his soaring voice. With musicians from the Menahan Street Band in tow, Bradley created a timeless record that takes listeners on a riveting, heartbreaking journey through his life, tackling subjects ranging from love lost to the murder of his brother. Buckle up. --Mike Spinella
Husband-and-wife team Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore traded Rocky Mountains for high seas to take a trip along the Atlantic seaboard. After eight months on the water, they recorded shimmering, throwback girl-group surf-pop songs that would make up their debut LP. Since the Denver duo's generic band name doesn't really evoke their blissfully catchy sound, try to imagine if the Raveonettes and Beach House had twins that were babysat by Bohdi from 'Point Break.' --Joshua Ostroff
Adopting Dinosaur Jr.'s fondness for fuzzy guitars and Teenage Fanclub's fiercely hooky power-pop sensibility, this quirky UK foursome gives the everything-old-is-new-again concept a good name. With full dedication to the original alt-rock aesthetic, Yuck effortlessly move from slacker love song to riff-heavy romp on this, their self-titled debut. --Kim Davis
How does one follow-up a genre-busting, Polaris Prize-winning tour-de-force like 'The Chemistry of Common Life'? Well, if you're Toronto hardcore heroes F---ed Up you go for baroque with an epic concept album. Yes, concept album. Despite being split into four acts to tell the story of David, a working-class kid in dreary, repressive 1970s England, the band is still punk as, well, you know. It's just that now F---ed Up's artistic ambitions are even bigger -- and more naked -- than their frontman. --J.O.
Upon hearing the spoken-word, quantum physics-laced intro, we thought Conor Oberst lost his mind. Well, were wrong. 'The People's Key' is a brilliantly crafted epic on existence that combines anthemic choruses and Pixies-style science fiction. Thanks to this record, any notions we had of Oberst as the sad-sack emo singer-songwriter are long gone. --Dan Reilly
Sure, Smith Westerns wear their influences on their sleeve, but at least they have impeccable taste. If you're borrowing from T.Rex, MGMT and Suede, we'll happily give you the benefit of the doubt, especially when the songs are backed up with serious chops and a healthy dose of old-fashioned, pouty rock attitude. 'Dye It Blonde' is 35 backward-looking minutes of glam-pop perfection. --Jason Persse
The Northwest band who helped usher modern folk to the music world's forefront with its 2008 debut bring even more beauty from the wondrous voice of Robin Pecknold, delivering another gorgeous helping of traditional folk and the best harmonies since Crosby, Stills and Nash. A welcome respite from the tech-heavy acts of the 21st century, Fleet Foxes' sophomore album proves this band is worth following into the past any time. --Steve Baltin
We had an inkling the Antlers' new record would be good -- 2009's 'Hospice' was a helpful signpost, after all -- but we didn't know just how good. Their fourth studio effort is a quietly beautiful collection of songs that blend dreamy sonic textures and deep, electronic-influenced rhythms on tracks that speak to persevering in the aftermath of a trauma. Singer Peter Silberman sometimes sounds wary, but 'Burst Apart' is, at its core, a hopeful album. --Eric R. Danton
For their sixth studio album, the punk rock-worshiping delinquents -- they recently told us that they're like "GG Allin light" on stage -- take a chance on a slicker sound thanks to producer Mark Ronson, who gives their unique brand of filthy dirty garage rock a welcome sunny (and sweaty) sheen. --K.D.
Our girl Adele has had quite the year. Her sophomore release, '21,' has been breaking records all over the place, and its success can be explained after just one listen: there's simply not a bad track on it. Whether Adele is going all-out on belts like opener 'Rolling in the Deep' or singing with simple piano accompaniment on 'Someone Like You' she's telling it like it is: She's been hurt and she wants us all to know about it. And boy, are we happy to listen. --Rob Smy