Monday, January 30, 2012

Top 50 Albums of 2011

Alright, it's that time of year again. It's the time when pretty much every music publication publishes its albums of the year list, and I intend to follow suit. Wait, no it's not. I'm incredibly late to this party I've invited myself into. This is embarrassing. It's almost February 2012, and I've only just posted my Best of 2011.

This lateness is mostly out of being incredibly busy with my new job, and the whole settling back at home and finding my groove thing is another part of it too. I won't bother you with a long-winded introduction, like the one I wrote for 2010. Here's my top 50 albums of 2011.

Note: where available, click on the album title to listen to a stream of the album. [S] signifies you need Spotify. If you don't want to/can't register for Spotify, go search for the album in the legally-gray waters of Grooveshark. If you like the album enough, I strongly suggest you buy it.

1. Dad Rocks! - Mount Modern

I've already mentioned in my review before the end of the year that it would've taken an absolute masterpiece to overthrow Mount Modern as my nominee for album of the year, and sure enough, it stayed on top of that pedestal to win the world-famous* It's Raining Planes & Helicopters's 2011 Album of the Year award.

There's many beautiful tracks that would've been highlights for any album this year, from the perfect Battle Hymn Of The Fox Father to the delightfully hilarious Weapons. It's hard for me to choose a favourite as it's simply just whatever is currently playing.

It's a collection of smiles in bad weather, that's what it is. The words are often optimistic in one verse and then disparaging in the other. While there are political and social subtexts, it's not preachy neither is it overbearing. Gracefully subtle, it's a sublime debut album from Dad Rocks!

* Claim not factual

Read my full review of the album.

2. Brontide – Sans Souci

Talking of sublime debut albums, Sans Souci is another that can proudly claim to be in the company of Mount Modern. It's even earned the title of Album of the Year over at Musical Mathematics. It's not hard to see why. They've certainly matured a lot since I first saw them at Southsea Fest back in 2009.

Sans Souci is an impressively cohesive album from start to finish, building up atmospheres in the right places and breaking into chaos at the most sonically opportune moments. While some of the songs are longer than six minutes, it doesn't lend itself to the trappings of many an instrumental band. Each song is sharp, concise and tolerates little to no nonsense.

A cracking good introduction for those who are unacquainted with Brontide, Sans Souci is a triumph as evident by it being embraced by several publications as their album of the year.

3. Tubelord – Romance

How do you follow up a startlingly fresh debut which was famously hailed as a collection of 'pop songs for rock kids'? Do you (A) rely on tried-and-tested tricks, appeasing fans who wanted more of the same, at the risk of becoming stale and predictable, or (B) go in a completely new direction that abandons many of the reasons fans loved the debut so you stay fresh and evolve, at the risk of alienating long-time fans?

If you're Tubelord, the answer seems to be (B). While it has definitely pushed away a not insignificant number of fans of Our First American Friends (and the earlier Square EP), the band seems to have made the right choice .

Romance have gone for a more 'pop synth songs for indie kids' sound, incorporating James Elliot-Field's synths effectively into their sonic arsenal. It's a sound heavily hinted at in their Tezcatlipoca EP. Eclectic in its essence, the common thread it has with OFAF is its mish-mashing of ideas, often resulting in songs that seem to be built on different trains of thoughts crammed together. It makes for an exhausting yet exhilarating listen, thus earning it the bronze medal on this list.

Read my review of the album.

4. Hymns – Cardinal Sins / Contrary Virtues

A concept double album is always an incredibly ambitious undertaking, and bands who choose to record one risk the label 'pretentious' tacked onto them. So it's admirably brave of Hymns to go through with this. I have very little doubt that they have succeeded in their vision.

Religious iconography is littered in an album written by self-described 'atheist rockers'. The first side, Cardinal Sins, is a garage rock-fuelled affair laced with anger, bile and exasperation. The second, Contrary Virtues, is its more optimistic twin, balancing out the cynicism with hope.

My review of the album can be found in issue #6 of the Musical Mathematics zine.

5. tUnE-yArDs – W H O K I L L

One of the quirkier and more hyped-up releases of the year, W H O K I L L thrusted the awkwardly capitalised tUnE-yArDs into the hipster spotlight. While many have testified that tUnE-y... I fucking give up. Tune-Yards (there!) is said to be much better experienced in a live setting, and while I can't confirm whether this is true, W H O K I L L is enough of an introduction to have got me hooked.

There are times at which the ideas don't seem to want to work, but at Tune-Yards's persistence, they become superbly crafted oddballs. W H O K I L L has many W T F moments, but more in the way of “what the fuck, how did they manage to get away with that?”. It's a record unlike anything else I've heard this year. It might not be for everybody though.

6. Shapes – Monotony Chic

Just a year after the excellent 'The Pasture, The Oil', Shapes have managed to outdo themselves with the brilliantly brutal Monotony Chic. Their brand of schizophrenic mathcore fleshes itself out beautifully in this mammoth of a record.

Their decision to work with Swedish producers, Eskil Lövström & Pelle Henricson (producers of the landmark The Shape Of Punk To Come by Refused) has paid off immensely. The melodic collides with the discordant, resulting in a crushing sound that's sure to murder a few ears.

7. Gil Scott-Heron / Jamie xx – We're New Here

While some might argue that Jamie xx's reworking of Gil-Scott Heron's I'm New Here is not enough to qualify it as a stand-alone album (with a few even calling it a remix album), I find it an injustice if I were to disqualify it on such a technicality.

In fact, We're New Here is massively superior to its predecessor, with Jamie xx's signature sparse beats a perfect accompaniment to Gil-Scott Heron's poetic lyrics. Even if you're not a fan of The xx, you might find We're New Here to be a treat.

8. Johnny Foreigner – vs Everything [s]

Johnny Foreigner are masters of the indie noise pop they so proudly purvey. Their sound seems to  as if their song-writing approach is to cobble up as many different ideas as possible and arrange them into somewhat coherent songs. Over the course of three albums they've definitely mastered that sound and evolved into a significantly more mature and consequently a more nostalgic three-piece outfit.

Read my full review.

9. Three Trapped Tigers – Route One Or Die

Yet another debut in the top ten. The thing is though, you can't exactly call Three Trapped Tigers newcomers. Route One Or Die was one of the most anticipated debuts in recent memory. Their three previous EPs, conveniently titled EP1, EP2 and EP3, are brilliantly chaotic, tightly-executed exercises in unpredictability.

Route One Or Die is more of the same. Three Trapped Tigers are comfortable in their sonic insanity, and it's a well-advised stance. The debut is all the better for it.

10. &U&I – Light Bearer [s]

Out of the 'post-Blakfish' bands, it's quite clear that &U&I is the closest to the sound of the Brummie underground legends. But what is also abundantly clear is the fact that &U&I aren't comfortable on resting on their laurels.

Light Bearer has in it a tinge of grunge and punk mixed in with a healthy portion of mathcore, with a much more serious tone adopted in its lyrics. The band themselves might be sick of the endless comparisons to Blakfish, as it's admittedly cast a mighty shadow over them. Nonetheless as&U&I, Light Bearer is an incredible effort which does much to alleviate any assumptions that this was going to be Champions Part 2 (Blakfish's critically-acclaimed only album).

11. Battles – Gloss Drop
12. The James Cleaver Quintet – That Was Then, This Is Now [s]
13. Love Amongst The Mannequins – Radial Images
14. M83 – Hurry Up, We're Dreaming
15. Hella – Tripper 

16. Cut Copy – Zonoscope
17. LightGuides – Samba, Samba, Samba
18. Vessels – Helioscope [s]
19. Ed Wood, Jr. - Silence
20. Tellison – The Wages Of Fear  [s]

21. The Joy Formidable – The Big Roar [s]
22. Fucked Up – David Comes To Life [s]
23. Dananananaykroyd – There Is A Way
24. Cats and Cats and Cats – Motherwhale [s]
25. Rainbow Danger Club – Where Maps End

26. Upcdownc – Calaveras
27. Squarehead – Yeah Nothing
28. Bottlesmoker – Let's Die Together In 2012
29. Death Cab For Cutie – Codes and Keys [s]
30. Explosions In The Sky – Take Care, Take Care, Take Care [s]

31. Los Campesinos! - Hello Sadness [s]
32. Kevin Devine – Between The Concrete and The Clouds
33. Alright The Captain – SNIB
34. Bright Eyes – The People's Key
35. Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost [s]

36. Codes In The Clouds – As The Spirit Wanes [s]
37. Asobi Seksu – Fluorescence [s]
38. Sigur Ros – Inni (Disc 1 of 2)
39. Bon Iver - Bon Iver, Bon Iver
40. La Dispute – Wildlife

41. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
42. Crooked Mountain, Crooked Sea – What's There To Write About?
43. Yuck – Yuck
44. Japanese Voyeurs – Yolk [s]
45. Radiohead – The King Of Limbs

46. Crash of Rhinos – Distal
47. Slabdragger – Regress
48. Wilco – The Whole Love
49. Bombay Bicycle Club – A Different Kind of Fix
50. Metronomy – The English Riviera

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