Previously: Best Music of 2011, Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.
Sometimes, it feels like these lists are fairly predictable, that there are certain artists who are guaranteed to rank highly simply by releasing an album in a given year. While that may be true to some extent, this year's top ten features two bands who've never made my list at all, as well as three others making their first ever top ten appearance.
10. Bright Eyes - The People's Key
I don't think Conor Oberst is much of a baseball enthusiast, but several spoken-word interludes on this album feature the voice of Denny Brewer, of a band called Refried Ice Cream. If Denny Brewer is not a ballplayer's name, I don't know what is.
9. Mates of State - Mountaintops
Mates of State, of course, are the husband/wife duo of Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel. The versatile Hammel was 7-13 with a 4.76 ERA in 170 1/3 IP for the Colorado Rockies this past year...yeah, you guessed it, not the same guy. Gardner and Hammel have two children, and if my memory serves me correctly, they used to—or, perhaps they still do—bring the kids on the road with them. If I were them, I don't think I could do it. Yesterday, our baby survived his first minor car accident, at 5 1/2 weeks old, so now I have nothing but rave reviews for our Chicco car seat.
8. Death Cab for Cutie - Codes and Keys
Death Cab—making their first appearance in my top ten—are led by Ben Gibbard, who is a big Mariners fan and apparently can throw a baseball in the neighborhood of 70 MPH. Not bad for a musician, although his strong arm did once backfire on him when he threw out the first pitch at Safeco Field in September 2008.
7. Bon Iver - Bon Iver
Bon Iver is the first of two artists in this year's top ten who have never before appeared anywhere on my year-end list. Since Justin Vernon, who pretty much is Bon Iver, was born in Eau Claire, Wisconsin—making him an honorary Canadian, or something like that—I'll mention here (since I forgot to in Part 3) that Neil Young's #15 ranking is the highest of anyone north of the border this year.
6. The Black Keys - El Camino
This album was released on December 6, after my final Frequent Spins post of the year. This is not The Black Keys' first appearance here, but it is the first top ten finish for the band that shares a hometown with the late, great Thurman Munson.
Next: Best Music of 2011: Part 5