10. P. Blackk, “Blackk Friday”
CCAD illustration major Pedro Fequiere plumbed the depths of his black consciousness to make the best Columbus rap album of 2011.
9. Cloud Nothings, “Cloud Nothings”
The watery production wasn’t exactly an upgrade from Cloud Nothings’ lo-fi glory days, but Dylan Baldi didn’t let that stop him from banging out the year’s most bracing power-pop record with hooks and electricity to spare.
8. tUnE-yArDs, “w h o k i l l”
Nobody makes music like Merrill Garbus, though she’ll certainly have her share of imitators after this ecstatic masterstroke, a rhythm-driven paean to finding release through sex, self-empowerment and, much to Garbus’ surprise, violence.
7. Saintseneca, “Last”
A flurry of piercing melodies and visceral strums and stomps, “Last” hits with an urgency that could only come from idealistic undergraduates fighting to make sense of the world and aching to explore it. Columbus should be proud to call this band our own.
6. Kendrick Lamar, “Section 80”
By measure of pure verbal wizardry, no artist is navigating the post-Kanye school of confessional drug rap better than Kendrick.
5. Lydia Loveless, “Indestructible Machine”
In which the wunderkind Columbus country-rocker realizes her tremendous potential. Like the strong drinks Loveless prefers, “Indestructible Machine” will shake you up but ultimately leave you thirsting for more.
4. Panda Bear, “Tomboy”
Rather than let his echo-chamber pop hymnals ripple out into infinity, Animal Collective’s Noah Lennox reined in his songwriting to deliver the best work of his increasingly distinguished career.
3. Bon Iver, “Bon Iver”
With his grassroots smash “For Emma, Forever Ago,” Justin Vernon proved to be the master of his domain. His (Grammy-nominated!) follow-up showed Vernon is just as adept outside the cabin, launching his falsetto across gorgeous soundscapes to the ends of the horizon.
2. Frank Ocean, “Nostalgia/Ultra”
On “Nostalgia/Ultra” R&B’s freshest voice hijacks “Hotel California,” unfurls homespun philosophy and reluctantly replaces his “Kid A” cassette with Jodeci in the pursuit of sex — all with a heart of gold and vocal cords to match.
1. Drake, “Take Care”
In the nihilistic summer smash “I’m On One,” Drake openly plotted to seize hip-hop’s throne from reigning royalty Kanye West and Jay-Z. By the time “Take Care” dropped this fall, that coup was complete. Drizzy’s line-blurring take on rap and R&B had long since dominated urban radio and the critical consciousness.
“Take Care” is proof he deserves it — the ultimate schmooze from hip-hop’s sensitive, self-obsessed lothario. With Noah “40” Shebib customizing the sonic palette, Drake traversed genre boundaries to deliver a melancholy meditation on untangling fame’s aftermath. That’s been his M.O. since before he was famous, but actual celebrity has lent him a surer hand and a crisper focus.
He’s still a sad, conflicted bastard — rue the day somebody tackles “Marvin’s Room” at karaoke — but somehow the guy who casually croons “B----, I’m the man” becomes a relatable bastard on “Take Care.” Triumphant odes to friends (“Crew Love”) and family (“Look What You’ve Done”) render him damn near sympathetic.
Few artists could walk such a tightrope, but Drake’s at his best when he’s laying it all on the table next to his golden goblet.