Saturday, February 22

B-sides: _National Public Radio’s best albums list is a great source for music lovers_

Childish Gambino, or Donald Glover as he is known by off the stage and on television, performs at UCLA at this year's Bruin Bash. His latest album, "Camp," could be a viable pick for NPR Music's best albums of 2011.

Blaine Ohigashi

Thanksgiving is over, which can only mean one thing, if the selection of just about every store is to be believed: It’s officially the holiday season.

It happens every year. Stores tentatively stock holiday (usually Christmas) items right around Halloween.

Then, after Thanksgiving, the amount of holiday gear explodes in a huge rush of consumerism.

For music lovers, this can mean one of many things. My favorite (and the situation I hope to be in come New Year’s) is deciding how to spend my iTunes gift cards.

With iTunes gift cards being so popular as gifts, there is no doubt in my mind that many students will be in the market for new music at the beginning of winter quarter.

But how do you know which new music to buy? There are the commercial favorites, of course: Drake, Rihanna, Coldplay and the like. But what about some of the lesser-known artists? In my opinion, one thing that music fans can (and should) look forward to in the coming month or two is the National Public Radio Music’s list of the best albums of 2011.

This may sound like a love letter to NPR, but it cannot be denied that the folks over at NPR Music put a huge amount of time into this list.

Take last year’s list, for instance. It included albums from almost every genre imaginable, such as hip-hop, folk, alternative, rock, world music and even some country music. And that’s just in the list of the 50 overall favorites of 2010.

There were also specific lists for jazz albums, Latin alternative albums, classical albums and even a list of artists that went largely unappreciated in the past year. I have no reason to believe that this year’s lists won’t be just as thorough.

There were of course some of the mega-hits: “The Suburbs” by Arcade Fire, “Go” by Jónsi (the frontman of ““ wait for it ““ Sigur Rós) and “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” by Kanye West. But there were also many that I had never heard of at the time and some that, when I look at the list this year, still know nothing about.

With so much undiscovered music conveniently listed out for you, it’s just about impossible not to stumble upon something you like.

“The Age of Adz” by Sufjan Stevens is a tough album to listen to, but it’s extremely rewarding. “The Wild Hunt” by The Tallest Man On Earth (think Bob Dylan, but more nimble on the guitar and with a better singing voice) has become one of my favorite albums of all time.

If you were to team up with Spotify, I’ve no doubt every music fan could find at least one new musical obsession by perusing an NPR Music best albums list.

Now, there are some albums I’m sure are already on NPR’s list for the best albums of 2011. Bon Iver’s self-titled album and “21” by Adele will surely be on it, as will the event-album that was “Watch The Throne” by Jay-Z and Kanye West.

I’d also be willing to bet that James Blake’s self-titled electronic album will also make the list. Maybe “Camp” by Childish Gambino?

But I really have no idea what NPR will choose as the other 45 favorite albums of the year. And that’s fine with me.

What are your five favorite albums of the year? Email Bain at [email protected] “B-sides” runs every Monday.

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