The best (and worst) music of 2011: Hank Shteamer's picks

Upstart crooner Frank Ocean had a banner year.

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  • Frank Ocean, Nostalgia, Ultra

  • Anthrax, Worship Music

  • Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo, Songs of Mirth and Melancholy

  • Drake, Take Care

  • Deceased, Surreal Overdose

  • Gerald Cleaver's Uncle June, Be It as I See It

  • The Strokes, Angles

  • Disma, Towards the Megalith

  • New Zion Trio, Fight Against Babylon

  • Ben Allison, Action-Refraction

Frank Ocean, Nostalgia, Ultra

The best albums

1 Frank Ocean, Nostalgia, Ultra (self-released)
To say that this 24-year-old crooner had a banner year would be like labeling the sun a pretty bright star; but even alongside guest spots on Tyler, the Creator's Goblin and Jay-Z and Kanye's Watch the Throne, Ocean's own debut—a challenging, charming, beautifully paced set of indie R&B—stood way out.

2 Anthrax, Worship Music (Megaforce)
Opening for their old-school thrash peers on the Big 4 tour, these NYC veterans drew bottom billing, yet they emerged triumphant on this hook-saturated fist-pumper of a comeback LP.

3 Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo, Songs of Mirth and Melancholy (Marsalis Music)
One of our few household-name jazzmen and his first-call pianist stepped away from their signature quartet and produced a duo session so stately, it felt avant-garde.

4 Drake, Take Care (Cash Money/Universal)
As oppressive as Aubrey Graham's second proper LP could be—Endless Bummer is an apt nickname—you knew you were in the presence of a half-poet, half-cad visionary.

5 Deceased, Surreal Overdose (Patac)
Sad that Mastodon scaled down its ambition this year? King Fowley, a Virginia drummer-vocalist with a knack for stylized horror and an encyclopedic metal mind, offered consolation via his latest subgenre-spanning epic.

6 Gerald Cleaver's Uncle June, Be It as I See It (Fresh Sound New Talent)
Local drummer-composer Cleaver mined his personal history and struck gold, yielding a richly orchestrated sound journey that made room for both violence and romance, as well as contributions from some of the city's sharpest improvisers (pianist Craig Taborn was the MVP).

7 The Strokes, Angles (RCA)
Don't let anyone tell you Julian & Co. have overstayed their welcome; barring a few duds, this fourth LP showed that NYC's archetypal postmillennial rockers are still writing the crispest, catchiest guitar pop around.

8 Disma, Towards the Megalith (Profound Lore)
Fronted by beast-throated growler Craig Pillard, this Jersey quintet crafted a cold, lumbering behemoth of a record that nevertheless invited compulsive replays.

Disma - Chaos Apparition by Disma band

9 New Zion Trio, Fight Against Babylon (Veal)
What could have been a cheesy genre-splicing experiment ended up as a textural odyssey—so artfully chill, it could slow your metabolism—equally indebted to and unbound by murky dub, understated jazz and impressionistic classical. 

NEW ZION TRIO- THE RED DIES by Jamie Saft

10 Ben Allison, Action-Refraction (Palmetto)
Bassist Allison wrote only one of the pieces on his tenth full-length, but his guitar-and-keyboard-driven versions of works by Donny Hathaway, Samuel Barber, PJ Harvey and others felt wholly personal, like an ingeniously curated gallery exhibit.

Listen to tracks from Hank Shteamer's Best Albums of 2011 on Spotify

The best single

Frank Ocean, "Novacane"
The recent wave of sad, sordid R&B crested with this throbbing head trip—an account of numbness that paradoxically showed uncommon sensitivity and a finely honed sense of satire.

The worst

Paul Motian's death
He may have enjoyed a good, long run, but the passing of this jazz-percussion mystic and irreplaceable NYC fixture at 80 still came as a blow.

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