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For audiophiles, the release of year-end music lists is as much of a holiday tradition as egg nog or a half-burnt-out strand of Christmas lights. Everyone's spent the year combing through music blogs to discover something new and exciting, or maybe just something fresh from an old favorite.

But then comes the time to reflect on the year and create a suitable soundtrack to your life. Everyone handles their lists differently. Some base their list on record sales. Others have a careful scientific process of judging art and innovation. For me, it's all about gut instinct.

I toss record sales and scientific process out the window. I think they're about as useful as a sweater on a prairie dog. My year-end lists are about finding which songs make me feel good. Which albums are as good backwards as forwards. And remembering which songs caught me by surprise.

In 2011, my list-making deviated from my own norm just a bit. This year, I've narrowed down my favorite albums from my usual 25 to 15, and my favorite songs (coming 12/15) from 50 to 40. I've even added a handy guide to follow when checking out each record.

I hope you enjoy my favorites below the jump. We hope to tap the 2011 favorites from others around the shop soon. Let us know in the comments who tops your list this year.

– The Music Director

The Black Keys | El Camino

Listen to El Camino while you're wearing coveralls and actually working on your El Camino. El Camino goes great with a Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Song to sample: Gold On the Ceiling


Bon Iver | Bon Iver, Bon Iver

Listen to Bon Iver, Bon Iver while you're wearing flannel, growing a beard and sitting at dawn in a fishing boat (whether you're actually fishing doesn't matter). Bon Iver, Bon Iver goes great with a Leinenkugel's Fireside Nut Brown.

Song to sample: Holocene


Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah | Hysterical

Listen to Hysterical in pair of skinny jeans, while you're vacuuming your humble abode after a party. Hysterical goes great with a sloe gin fizz.

Song to sample: Same Mistake


DeVotchKa | 100 Lovers

Listen to 100 Lovers while you're hitchhiking through Eastern Europe with an '80s Euro-punk band. 100 Lovers goes great with a White Russian.

Song to sample: 100 Other Lovers


The Donkeys | Born With Stripes

Listen to Born With Stripes while you're sitting on your retro tweed couch, only after you've lit some Blue Pearl incense. Born With Stripes goes great with Disaronno on the rocks.

Song to sample: Don't Know Who We Are


Feist | Metals

Listen to Metals while laying in a nice lavender bubble bath, surrounded by candles (if you're a man … deal with it). Metals goes great with a pinot grigio.

Song to sample: The Bad In Each Other


Fleet Foxes | Helplessness Blues

Listen to Helplessness Blues while you're hiking through the woods, barefoot, armed only with a lantern, a compass, and your whits. Helplessness Blues goes great with sauvignon blanc.

Song to sample: Helplessness Blues


Girls | Father, Son, Holy Ghost

Listen to Father, Son, Holy Ghost while you're exploring an abandoned cathedral. Father, Son, Holy Ghost goes great with a tequila sunrise.

Song to sample: Vomit


Lykke Li | Wounded Rhymes

Listen to Wounded Rhymes while doing an interpretive dance at night through a forrest of trees that inexplicably have light bulbs in place of leaves. Wounded Rhymes goes well with a half-empty bottle of chardonnay.

Song to sample: Sadness Is A Blessing


Mister Heavenly | Out Of Love

Listen to Out of Love while you're roller-skating in short shorts and tube socks to get a tattoo in Venice Beach. Out of Love goes great with a fuzzy navel garnished with bacon bits.

Song to sample: Bronx Sniper


Peter Bjorn and John | Gimme Some

Listen to Gimme Some while doing something extremely Swedish, like eating Swedish meatballs or falling for your kidnapper. Gimme Some goes great with a Bud Lime.

Song to sample: Breaker Breaker


Real Estate | Days

Listen to Days while enjoying an East Coast beach bonfire with a group of your best buds and a golden retriever. Days goes great with a Ramstein Blonde.

Song to sample: Green Aisles


The Strokes | Angles

Listen to Angles while wearing a leather jacket and drawing shapes with chalk on a sidewalk. Angles goes great with a vodka tonic.

Song to sample: Under Cover of Darkness


tUnE-yArDs | w h o k i l l

Listen to w h o k i l l while you're painting your face and working on your looping skills. w h o k i l l goes great with a Blue Hawaiian. 

Song to sample: Gangsta


Yellow Ostrich | The Mistress

Listen to The Mistress while you're playing a first generation Game Boy and lounging in a bean bag chair. The Mistress goes great with Tab.

Song to sample: Mary