Words: Greg Douglass, Bryant Kitching, Kevin McKenna, James Passarelli, Asif Siddiqi, Danny Walsh, Ryan Waring, & Jay Wasserman

A sincere congratulations to all the artists who participated in the Inflatable Ferret’s “Pop-Tarts Crunch Cereal Top 50 Albums of the Year co-presented by Datsun Motorcar Co.™”  contest. We received a lot of submissions via record stores, digital delivery platforms, and other legal and illegal distributive means from artists who released music last calendar year. You should all give yourselves a pat on the back, and a standing ovation, and other bullshit MCs tell contest losers so as not to discourage them. Because next year could be your year. Did you know Michael Jordan had to undergo a double amputation after a box-cutting incident as law firm runner relegated him to the “Sixth Man Award” in his middle school racquetball league? And now he is an “active entrepreneur,” according to his Wikipedia page. There’s a silver lining in everything. So if you didn’t make the cut, don’t fear. 2011 was a good year in music.  How good was it? 2011 was such a good year in music that we took an extra month to verify our top 50 albums with science. The result: a top 50 as absolutely true as humanly possible. Plato would be pleased, so we hope you understand too.


50. The Black Keys – El Camino

I wasn’t a fan of Brothers.  So why did I like El Camino?  Who knows, maybe because it sounds like they’re not trying so hard, and shooting from the hi instead.  Then again, the reasons could be a little bit more specific: the Petty-like drop on “Little Black Submarine,” the guitar and synth on “Sister,” reminiscent of Let’s Dance-era Bowie.  But alas, my insight is less piercing: the thing that makes the album so refreshing is that it doesn’t annoy me.  Oh, and “Gold on the Ceiling” is the jam. – JP

49. Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo

Kurt Vile exudes a classic rock vibe not unlike a young Tom Petty, but there’s something about his music that raises it above generic classic rock nostalgia.  The lo-fi production, the surprisingly warm and creative arrangements, and most of all, the killer tunes, make this worth all the praise it has received.  The heart is the main target here; though not all the songs are about love, they’re all about damaged romance. – AS

48. Low – C’mon

Still not sure what “slowcore” is, but it’s a fittingly awesome genre name for the Duluthian veterans.  C’mon’s pumping, driving, repetitive riffs might give you a headache if they weren’t so enthralling, draped in Mimi Parker’s and Alan Sparhawk’s disparate but similarly haunting voices and puzzling lyrics.  My personal favorite is on “Witches,” when Sparhawk makes the bold accusation, “All you guys out there trying to act like Al Green.”  Long live Midwestern rock.  Longer live Midwestern slowcore. – JP

47. Cut Copy – Zonoscope

I refuse to hear Zonoscope’s “Take Me Over” as a derivative of Fleetwood Mac’s “Everywhere.”  Ignore any evidence Ryan Waring may proffer, or the fact that Dan Whitford, the band’s frontman, more or less confessed to the plunder.  But let’s pause for a moment to consider the truly shining implications – that Cut Copy would even be mentioned in the same breath as the pop gods is a high but appropriate honor.  For even better boastings of the synthophiles’ chops, see “Hanging onto Every Heartbeat” (chill), “Corner of the Sky” (crescendo dance), and “Blink and You’ll Miss the Revolution” (effect-heavy outlandishness). – JP

46. Tom Waits – Bad As Me

Sometimes I want an artist to innovate. Other times I’m perfectly content hearing them do what they do best. Waits has made a traditional album that only he is capable of. Only Waits could sing a song from the point of view of the last leaf on a tree as winter approaches and make you feel emotional connected. Filling the album with growls and an indescribable carnival-gone-wrong sadness, the gravely master attains a nice concoction that, while not the powerhouse that Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards was, settles nicely in his accomplished catalogue. – GD

45. Youth Lagoon – The Year of Hibernation

Idaho native Trevor Powers uses a simple formula: combine piano melodies with squeaky vocals, add a backbeat and some handclaps, and let everything crash into anthemic crescendos.  If that sounds like a complaint, it’s not; Powers’s songwriting for his Youth Lagoon project is catchy and winsome.  An insistent appeal to buy better headphones. – KM

44. Peaking Lights – 936

936’s most intense sensation is undoubtedly the record’s warbling bass loops, undulating like a wave pool at the center of Peaking Lights’s sun-splashed water park of an album. “All The Sun That Shines” and “Tiger Eyes (Laid Back)” prize the most paralyzing dubs, muffled as if through blown-out speakers unworthy of their resonance, while husband/wife duo Aaron Coynes and Indra Dunis drone through the grooves to give the album a hauntingly hypnotic aura. – RW

43. Gang Gang Dance – Eye Contact

At the Pitchfork Music Festival this summer, one of the highlights was Gang Gang Dance transforming their turn in the spotlight into a crowd participatory experience. Everyone was having a great time – the singer, the drummer, the hipster crowd – even the random dancer with the incense was into it. Their album Eye Contact begins with spoken words: “I can hear everything. It’s everything time.” The next forty-seven minutes cover every kind of sound: spaced-out electro jams, hovering, jazzy guitar riffs, Prince of Persia soundtrack, and, of course, Lizzi Bougatsos’s weird vocals. The whole band is weird, actually. But that’s what makes their shows and this album so great. – DW

42. Woods – Sun & Shade

For those craving more of Woods’ carefree psych-folk, Sun and Shade is a Woods album for you. For those hoping to see the group expand its repertoire, well, Sun and Shade is also a Woods album for you. Tracks like “Pushing Onlys” and “What Faces the Sheet” pack the Animals-influenced sound the group has previously carved for itself, but Woods splices in shades of krautrock (“Out of the Eye”) and worldly rhythms (“White Out”). – RW

41. Phonte – Charity Starts at Home

As far as music personalities go, Phonte will always seem to be your cool older cousin or fun uncle who’s slightly younger than your uptight parents.  Maturity, humor, and insight combine in ways uncommon (and much needed) in hip-hop, as is evident in his solo outing.  The North Carolina MC welcomes former bandmate 9th Wonder along for a few cuts on the album, as well as production from in-house favorite Khrysis.  Though it may not make waves financially, Charity Starts at Home is a quality album worthy of any fan of rap or R&B. – JW

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