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The best music of 2011

Our top 20 releases of the year in no particular order

Photo: Jenn Sweeney, License: N/A

Jenn Sweeney

Yuck Yuck

This London breakout channels the ’90s indie-rock era ruled by Teenage Fanclub and Dinosaur Jr., a time when loud was done with warmth, soul and bliss. But their cranked slacker fuzz is more than just comfy nostalgia. What makes them singular is their unmistakably penetrating melodies and pure evergreen spirit. Songwriting this perfect only comes along once in a long while. And Orlando was blessed with two separate appearances this year. – BLH

St. Vincent Strange Mercy

Strange Mercy is showing up on year-end lists everywhere, and for good reason. It’s Annie Clark’s weirdest and most beautiful album yet – a sonically dense chunk of off-kilter melodies, freak-funk production techniques and noisy grandiosity. The fact that Strange Mercy isn’t showing up on the guitar mags’ year-end lists is a real shame; Annie Clark’s incredible and inventive guitar style is part of what makes this album the year’s best. – JF

Wu Lyf Go Tell Fire to the Mountain

Recorded in St. Peter’s church and sounding every bit as cathedral-high as that suggests, World Unite Lucifer Youth Foundation have aggressively resisted press hype, but to no avail. No wonder: This collection of incomprehensible (yet resoundingly universal) anthems simply cannot be ignored. In equal measure hooligan pub music and reverb-drenched stadium ecstasy, Go Tell Fire should be classified as a mood-altering drug. – JS

Young Circles Jungle Habits

This stunning Miami debut came from seemingly nowhere with droning, futuristic psych-rock rimmed with gripping, unexpected details. Like Clinic and occasionally Suuns, only with more scruffy humanity and emotional buoyancy, this is the kind of rock that jerks your neck with its fascinating turns much more often than you’re used to. – BLH

The Pauses A Cautionary Tale

2011 was the official launch of ’90s nostalgia, and other than the Girls album, no record came closer to capturing the sonic spirit of the decade than the Pauses’ J. Robbins-produced A Cautionary Tale. However, while Girls (and Yuck) go for a sort of explicit genre homage, the Pauses prefer to channel the era’s indie-rock ethos while employing production techniques and a songwriting touch that’s very much forward-looking. Even better? It was birthed right here in Orlando. – JF

Tom Waits Bad as Me

For his first album of new material in seven years, Tom Waits, a figure long since enshrined as a genuine musical demigod, engages in the kind of balls-out peacocking that a non-hip-hop artist can get away with: “Mr. Jagger and Mr. Richards / I will scratch where I’ve been itchin’,” he wails on “Satisfied,” only one of a plethora of animated numbers here. The fact that Keith Richards himself backs Waits on guitar for that track and three others is badass enough to forever mispronounce the album title. – JS

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