09 January 2012

Top Albums: 2011

Happy new year, everyone! Before we power into 2012, let's take a quick look back at 2011 and my Top Albums.

Previously I've listed my top five albums of the year and then a handful of "honorable mentions." For 2011 I'm listing my top ten albums.

I think it's difficult to truly measure the impact of an album after such a limited time (especially with the albums released in the second half of the year) but I've drafted and re-drafted my list a dozen times and finally settled on my top ten.

Feelings may change over the years but this list is an accurate representation of my favorite albums at the close of 2011.

One thing I like to do is take a look at my Last.fm (which I only really use for the statistics; I love statistics) and glance at the past 12 months and see what albums from 2011 that I've listened to the most. It's not entirely accurate (as it doesn't count a lot of iPod plays and plays from my stereo) but I get a good representation of the albums I've come back to again and again.
  1. LIGHTS - Siberia: 184 plays
  2. Bon Iver - Bon Iver: 164 plays
  3. My Morning Jacket - Circuital: 162 plays
  4. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart - Belong: 157 plays
  5. Britney Spears - Femme Fatale: 155 plays
Number don't lie.

Of course, as I've said before, this isn't a list on what albums I've listened to the most, lists are subjective! My list is obviously the albums that have the most personal impact on me.

Here are my top albums of 2011:

10. Radiohead - The King Of Limbs
Released: 18 February 2011
I struggled a lot with the tenth spot on this list. I really enjoyed The King Of Limbs but I suppose it was a bit of a let down (pun intended) compared to the brilliance of In Rainbows.

But I couldn't live in a world where Radiohead doesn't make my top ten list.

9. Washed Out - Within and Without
Released: 12 July 2011
Chillwave? Dreampop? Electropop? Synthpop? Electroambientpsychadelicshoegazeatronicatempo? Whatever it is Within and Without really stood head and shoulders above other artists. The arrangements, the beats, the lush synths, the dreamy lyrics. And it stands up as a complete album with a vibe that would belong in the clubs and in the bedroom.

8. The Drums - Portamento
Released: 2 September 2011
Tight, riff-driven, post-punk songs will always find a place in my heart and while there are tons of bands who do a lot of this sort of thing, The Drums seems to capture the best elements of this sort of indie-post-punk movement. Couple that with a sharp pop sensibility that reminds me of early-Cure stuff and you get a strong second album.

7. Cut Copy - Zonoscope
Released: 4 February 2011
Admittedly, I wasn't terribly enthralled with Cut Copy's new album. I guess I fell in the trap of wanting more of the same. More "Lights And Music" and more "Hearts On Fire." But as the months went on, I grew to fall in love with the Beach-Boys-meet-synth-pop vibe.

Zonoscope is up for the "Best Dance/Electronica Album" Grammy award against Deamau5, David Guetta, Robyn, and Skrillex. I sure hope Cut Copy wins it.

6. Cults - Cults
Released: 7 June 2011
This deliciously '60s-throw-back album adds such a darkness to their sunny melodies and it was quite possibly one of the best summer-albums that I've heard in a long time. The combination of the female/male vocals, the epic hooks, it's '60s Summer Love updated for today.

5. Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds

Released: 17 October 2011
The Liam Gallagher vs. Noel Gallagher solo projects were inevitable after the split of Oasis and when the dust settled, it's clear that Liam needs Noel more than Noel needs Liam.

I had very high expectations for this solo record. Here was an older, wiser Noel Gallagher without the shackles of Oasis and his brother. The result is a wonderful solo debut. All the hallmarks are there: Grand, sweeping, tear-jerking strings, epic sing-along choruses, good old fashioned rock 'n' roll. There are some surprises too (i.e. the horn section in "The Death Of You And Me.").

Now if only Liam can swallow his pride and we can get a a new-and-improved Oasis back.

4. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart - Belong

Released: 28 March 2011
In a world of highly-stylized-'60s pop, crisp, carefully crafted synthpop, envelope-pushing sonic experiments, and soul-searching singer-songwriters, sometimes you just want some loud guitars.

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart has a cumbersome name but not a cumbersome sound. Huge, distorted '90s-alt-rock guitar dominate this album. Epic hooks, powerful melodies, big drums.

Exactly the way it should be.

3. M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming

Released: 18 October 2011
The sheer ambition of this album alone could have propelled this to a top five spot in this list. To release a double-album in a time where the "album" format doesn't seem efficient anymore is a bold calculation. For M83, it all added up to be perfection.

Take a hit single like "Midnight City," then add that to the ambition of a carefully crafted, well-paced 22-track double-album filled with a wide range of songs and emotions and the result is M83's magnum opus.

After releasing five albums to critical acclaim, it's finally nice to see the evolution of this band and to see them finally get the commercial acclaim they deserve.

2. Bon Iver - Bon Iver

Released: 21 June 2011
Bon Iver comfortably captures the number two spot on this list. Why? Well, I've written plenty about Bon Iver in a previous post:
What do you do for an encore?

This is the struggle for any artist whose debut album achieves this level of worship and critical acclaim.

More of the same? Or something wildly different?

Maybe neither. Bon Iver evolved.
[PetBearSounds.com, 27 June 2011]

1. My Morning Jacket - Circuital

Released: 31 May 2011
My Morning Jacket is the best American rock band that we have today.

A bold statement? Possibly.

But breakdown My Morning Jacket into its parts and you'll see that they are a melting pot of influences that have simmered into an incredibly unique American rock band.

My Morning Jacket's sixth album Circuital is the fantastic result of years evolution. You see their epic Southern rock roots in the Skynyrd-esque jams in songs like "Circuital." Rocking-chair-on-the-porch folk songs like "Wonderful (The Way I Feel)." Big choruses and Motown-horns in "Holdin' On To Black Metal." Beautiful lighters-in-the-sky anthems like "Slow Slow Tune." Mesmerizing majesty in "The Day Is Coming."

{ My Morning Jacket - "Circuital" }

Circuital is filled with confidence, optimism, humor, and beauty. It's one of My Morning Jacket's tightest albums weighing in at about 45 minutes over ten tracks.

Some of their previous albums may have better individual songs but some albums felt heavy and almost collapse under the weight of itself. But Circuital is an album that brings MMJ back full circle (pun intended). It's an album that brings back a lot of the simple beauty, style and approach of their earlier records but with a more focused approach in the songwriting, arrangements, and production.

The result is epic My Morning Jacket majesty.

2011 Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order):
  • Black Keys - El Camino
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. - It's A Corporate World
  • Friendly Fires - Pala
  • LIGHTS - Siberia
  • Wild Flag - Wild Flag
{ Check out all of my Top Albums from 2000-2010 and if you have Spotify then you can listen to my playlist with a selection of songs from those Top Albums! Enjoy! }

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