The best (and worst) music of 2011: Sophie Harris's picks

TV on the Radio waxed expansive, while Jay-Z and Kanye partied in Paris.

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  • TV on the Radio, Nine Types of Light

  • Jay-Z and Kanye West, Watch the Throne

  • Gillian Welch, The Harrow and the Harvest

  • Drake, Take Care

  • Idiot Glee, Paddywhack

  • Mayer Hawthorne, How Do You Do

  • Elbow, Build a Rocket Boys

  • James Blake, James Blake

  • Bon Iver, Bon Iver

  • Jessica Lea Mayfield, Tell Me

TV on the Radio, Nine Types of Light

The best albums

1 TV on the Radio, Nine Types of Light (Interscope)
The fourth album from TVOTR was the band's most expansive statement yet. It dealt in grand themes—love and death—as presented by folks who are old enough, wise enough and foolish enough to have experience of both.

2 Jay-Z and Kanye West, Watch the Throne (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam)
In combining forces, Jay-Z and Kanye West each became stronger: A reinvigorated Jay spat furious fire, while Kanye's production was lip-smackingly, painstakingly, maddeningly good. 

3 Gillian Welch, The Harrow & the Harvest (Acony)
Eight years in the making (hence the title), the fifth album from bluegrass siren Gillian Welch and her partner David Rawlings was a beguiling collection that felt as timeless as hot tea on a cold day—or the sensation of longing.

4 Drake, Take Care (Cash Money/Universal)
Super-smart flows, hooks galore, a stellar guest list...there's much to admire on Drizzy's second album. But what really reeled you in were the beautiful arrangements, with lonely synth tones that suggest Vangelis, and the bleakest, bittersweetest ode to drunk-dialing ever ("Marvin's Room").

5 Idiot Glee, Paddywhack (Moshi Moshi)
Kentucky music maker James C. Friley sings like a young Brian Wilson magically trapped inside a bottle, playing echoey organ melodies. His debut disc is shot through with the kind of innocent excitement you felt when dancing to pop music as a toddler. 

6 Mayer Hawthorne, How Do You Do (Universal Republic)
As on his first album, A Strange Arrangement, this year's How Do You Do was a straight-up delight, with the golden-voiced songman trading '50s-style croon and swoon for '70s and '80s soul and funk grooves.

7 Elbow, Build a Rocket Boys! (Fiction)
British people love Elbow to the point that the government commissioned the Manchester band to write music for the London Olympics. It was easy to figure out why on the group's fifth album: soaring gospel harmonies, gnarly guitars and frontman Guy Garvey's splendidly sad singing.

8 James Blake, James Blake (Universal Republic)
Feels like more than a year has passed since this very young, very tall U.K. dubstep producer released his debut album; within months of its release, Blake was selling out big venues. Why? Because his cool-to-the-touch, morning-light songs didn't sound like anything—or anybody—else.

9 Bon Iver, Bon Iver (Jagjaguwar)
Justin Vernon made no attempt to re-create the snowy winter cabin-vibe of his debut, instead opting for crystalline guitar melodies, complex time signatures and opaque lyrics. These weren't intimate songs to find yourself in, but rather, sumptuous soundscapes to lose yourself in.

10 Jessica Lea Mayfield, Tell Me (Nonesuch)
The second album from 22-year-old Nashville singer Jessica Lea Mayfield was a breathtakingly dark, ballsy, gorgeous, honest collection of songs, which explained why Black Keys man Dan Auerbach (its producer) is a fan.

Listen to tracks from Sophie Harris's Best Albums of 2011 on Spotify

The best single

Jay-Z and Kanye West, "Niggas in Paris"
The best track from an album filled with singles blasted out of car windows all over the city. And in exactly the same way as you pressed "play" over and over again, the Watch the Throne tour had Jay and Kanye performing this song three times every night—it's that good. Throw in a quote from Blades of Glory? That shit cray.

The worst

Kanye West's Grammy snub
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy scored straight tens in every reputable music publication; went to No. 1 on the Billboard chart; featured guests as diverse as Sir Elton John, Bon Iver and John Legend; and, most importantly, was as perfect and weird a pop record as Bad. Why do you think it wasn't even nominated for the 2012 Grammys?

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