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Top Albums of 2011 You Can Listen To With Your Mom

Arts & Culture | January 31, 2012

This winter break you might be looking down the barrel of a long road trip with the family or a whole lot of time in the car doing last minute Christmas shopping with Mom. You might be snowed in or just guilted in, with hours of down time to fill. That’s all well and good, you think, except for that Great Divider of Generations: What music can you play that everyone will agree on? It seems like an impossible task, but the Observer has compiled this list for the explicit purpose of saving you from the daunting task of hunting down enough Mom-friendly tunes to get you through the break. You’re welcome.

Helplessness Blues, Fleet Foxes
These soft-spoken, in-touch-with-their-feelings folkies from the Pacific Northwest are sure to be both mom-friendly and a joy to listen to. Beautiful harmonies paired with complex musical arrangements somehow result in simple-sounding songs that are touching and lovely. Swelling with passion and depth, this album is just right to warm up a chilly winter night.

21, Adele
An earnest young woman with a powerhouse voice, Adele has captured hearts with her number one selling album of the year, 21 (2011). Moms love her! So do moms’ kids! Adele has really put together a whopper of a break-up album with incredible vocals (somehow both polished and raw) and heartache-y, honest lyrics. What makes Adele so damn likable, though, is that she seems like one of us, with the small caveat that she’s also got one of the best voices of our generation. She’s not a coked-out starlet or a cookie-cutter pop star bleating nonsense that someone else wrote for her. She’s familiar and comfortable. Plus, she channels the soul and R&B sounds of past generations in her pop music, giving her the cross-generational appeal so many others lack.

The King Is Dead, The Decemberists
You might have been feeling so over the Decemberists (after all, you can’t even remember seeing them play before Ludacris at Spring Fling 2009), but they actually put out a pretty good album this year. Featuring a more Americana feel than past works, along with less whiny vocals from lead singer Colin Meloy and fewer depression-inducing songs, this is a band you might want to consider revisiting. There’s no “wow” moment on this album, but there are some very pretty tunes with that sultry twang we’ve come to expect from the country/folk scene. Familiar sounding and full of heart, The King Is Dead just might silence all the bickering over the car’s radio dial.

Ceremonials, Florence + the Machine
Another lady with a killer voice making stadium-sized sounds, lead singer Florence Welch channels rock and soul sensibilities into music that’s all her own. The music is passionate, creatively composed, and easily distinguishable from all the other sound traveling across the radio waves. The feel and imagery of her songs is dark and fantastical, conjuring up the foggy, mysterious landscapes of Welch’s mind. It may not quite live up to the stunner of an album that her previous EP, Lungs (2009), turned out to be, but it’s certainly worth checking out. Watch out, though—if you go so far as to actually buy the CD, you just might find that Mom has hijacked it for her morning drive to work.

Smoke Ring For My Halo, Kurt Vile
With that laid-back, haphazardly cool vibe reminiscent of the ’70s, Kurt Vile and his long dark tresses are certain to be nostalgia-inducing for any mom that spent her formative years dreaming of the Stones and parting her long, straight hair down the middle (ew!). His music is wistful, lovely, and sung with a deep, speak-y voice that’s been compared a little to Bob Dylan’s. Part folk, part rock, this album’s mixture of electric and acoustic guitar, along with its agile percussion, is perfect for a lazy day at home or a meandering drive through the country or up a coast.

Paper Airplane, Alison Krauss & Union Station
Alison Krauss has been singing true-blue country music with a distinctive angelic twang since the late ’80s. Paper Airplane (2009) shows that she’s still making beautiful, roots-y tunes nearly two decades later. Down to earth without losing its classic country heartache, this is an album the two of you should definitely discover together. Call it bonding, call it chill music time with Mom—but definitely listen.

An Argument with Myself, Jens Lekman
Swedish-born Jens Lekman’s clear, warm voice and infectiously sunny pop tunes are easy to like. He has the art of witty twee perfected, and this album is no exception. An Argument with Myself is introspective and soft, washing slowly around with pretty guitars, scattered strings, the occasional sax solo, and Lekman’s lullaby-soft voice. This may make it the perfect album to induce the pathological relaxation you’ve been dreaming of diving into all semester.