On we go with the 50 Best Albums of 2011 list, as we countdown 30 - 11, revealing those that just missed out on a spot in the Top 10…
Artist: Noel Gallagher
Album: Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds
Label: Sour Mash
While Beady Eye try and sound like Oasis but lack the song-writing skills and the irresistible tunes that made Oasis popular, Noel does what Noel does best, making melody heavy, chant along music that his fans have eaten up for years. What gives the album a different flavour from a typical Oasis album is Noel’s voice, softer than Liam’s aggressive whine, it provides just enough of a spin for the record to stand apart from Oasis classics. It’s simple, but that’s the way we like it.
Artist: Pharoahe Monch
Album: W.A.R (We Are Renegades)
Label: Duck Down Music
Undeniably one of the best lyricists in the game, Pharoahe Monch only has two previous solo albums under his belt, the classic Internal Affairs, and 2007’s decent follow-up Desire. Monch returns with his third LP with a ferocity and passion like never before, hitting listeners with cleverly worded rhymes of political and social commentary. For Monch it is clearly about quality over quantity.
Artist: The Kills
Album: Blood Pressures
Label: Domino Records
The Head and the Heart featured earlier on the list, think of The Kills as the greasy, cigarette smoking, punk versions of The Head and the Heart. Jamie Hince and Alison Mosshart bring their grainy, scratchy, angry indie-rock to their fourth album Blood Pressures, and it sounds as good as ever. Hince strums his guitar with fiery passion, whilst Mosshart’s vocals have a devilish charm to them.
Label: Warner Brothers Records
Warner Brothers Records and Blu don’t get along, which lead to him personally handing out copies of NoYork! at Rock The Bells earlier this year. NoYork! is Blu taking everything he knows and twisting it on its head, his previous work with the likes of Exile has been very jazz orientated, chilled production with a smooth vintage hip hop sound, but here Blu takes those jazz sounds and flips them, they are still prevalent but they are now distorted with blips and chops, the electro inspired beats are often chaotic and pounding, “noise” as some pure hip hop heads would call it.
Album: Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
French musician Anthony Gonzalez returns with his decade old outfit M83 to bring us his self-confessed “epic”. Epic is a word that has always followed the music of M83, but on Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, the massive sound-scape is pushed to even further levels. It’s a double album of electronic, synth-pop, over the top and adventurous, where even the slight dips are interesting.
Artist: Jay Z and Kanye West
Album: Watch The Throne
There was a lot of hype about this collaboration, and while not quite up there with Mr West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, which swept up a lot of album of the year top spots last year, it is still a BIG album, flamboyant, obtrusive, and full of egotism. This album moved up my list after hearing the bootleg of the Watch The Throne tour, hearing these songs live highlights the sense of fun both Jay and Kanye had making this music, and that shines through on the album.
Artist: Kate Bush
Album: 50 Words For Snow
Label: Fish People
Just for sheer ambition alone 50 Words For Snow deserves a place on the list. Kate Bush returns with her first album of new material since 2005’s Ariel. A magnificent concept album about snow, of all things, Bush conjures up images of winter loneliness, but also the beauty of those cold, dark nights. This isn’t background music, it requires time and dedication, there is so much going on musically and vocally.
Artist: St. Vincent
Album: Strange Mercy
Annie Clark gets dark. This album follows a similar thematic shift to Lykke Li’s Wounded Rhymes (still to come), both artists take that hurt and ugliness that there were mere hints of in previous releases, and totally embody it in their latest records. Clark loses most of her orchestral sound on Strange Mercy, adopting a more traditional rock sound, which adds to the rough-and-ready approach of Clark’s voice and lyrics.
Artist: Mister Heavenly
Album: Out of Love
Label: Sub Pop
Indie-rock supergroups can be hard to get right, but here the combined talents of Man Man frontman Ryan Kattner, Islands leader Nick Thornburn, and Modest Mouse drummer Joe Plummer, work together to bring a mostly upbeat, pop-rock album, with a sound they like to call “doom-wop”. Is it one of the most sophisticated albums of the year? Nope, but it is one of the most enjoyable.
Artist: Childish Gambino
Childish Gambino is better known as Donald Glover (aka Troy Barnes from the excellent Community). Gambino is his rap alter-ego, and Camp is his first official label release and it is a solid effort, if not slightly inconsistent in tone, although I find that adds to the theme of insecurity and identity issues. The production on this album is very good, definitely inspired by Kanye West, lots of horns, strings, orchestral chanting. I wrote a full review here: http://thehippestkidsintown.tumblr.com/post/12840259415/childish-gambino-camp-review
Artist: The Weeknd
Album: House of Balloons
If you thought Bruno Mars released the best RnB album of the year, then firstly, you seriously need to question your music tastes, and secondly, you must not have heard of The Weeknd. 21 year old Abel Tesfaye aka The Weeknd follows in the footsteps of contemporaries such as Drake, The-Dream, and Frank Ocean, but where they differ is in sound and atmosphere, House of Balloons is full of odd sample choices, from Beach House to Siouxsie and the Banshees, and The Weeknd makes them work with an admirable confidence.
Artist: Katy B
Album: On A Mission
You couldn’t blame Katy B if she simply recreated a bunch of “On A Mission” sound-a-likes for her debut album, having a hit single on your hands it would be easy to continue with what brought you to the dance, so to speak. But instead Katy B uses her album to show off her skills as the next potentially great British female singer-songwriter, covering everything from garage, dubstep, house and RnB, and it just so happens that each song is just as catchy as “On A Mission”.
Artist: Frank Turner
Album: England Keep My Bones
Label: Xtra Mile Recordings
It’s this years equivalent of Anais Mitchell’s Hadestown, an album I raved about last year. I compare the two because they both seem like theatrical productions in music form. Here, Frank Turner strums his acoustic guitar to the theme of Shakespearean mortality and Englishness, creating an insightful yet fun album.
Artist: Shabazz Palaces
Album: Black Up
Label: Sub Pop
Shabazz Palaces falls in to the category of what I like to call “futuristic hip-hop”, and Black Up is the natural predecessor to albums such as 3030 by Deltron, not specifically in subject matter, but in sound and atmosphere. The emcee rapping over these fragmented, choppy, sci-fi beats is Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler, formerly of 1990s rap trio Digable Planets. Black Up is not your usual verse-chorus-verse rap album, you could probably tell by reading the track titles. It doesn’t sound like the typical rap album either, it’s influences stretch beyond a James Brown horn sample, it’s still funky but it’s also electronic, industrial, and robotic.
Label: Rhymesayers Entertainment
Is this “emo-rap”? Probably, but if it is then it’s an example of “emo-rap” done right. Grieves, a punk-kid (in the literal sense) from Seattle brings an open heart and a sense of realness on his Rhymesayers debut, with his stories of broken relationships and addiction. Grieves is a truthful rapper, his lyrics raw and his singing laid bare, used to great effect over the sparse, largely sample-free beats.
Label: Arts & Crafts Productions
Leslie Feist, probably best known for her 2007 hit single “1234”, drops the poppy chirpiness and returns to her alternative folky roots on her latest album Metals. Taking risks is clearly something Feist loves to do, and it pays off on this record, as Feist shows off her impressive vocal range over a wide variety of bluesy instrumentation.
Artist: The Cool Kids
Album: When Fish Ride Bicycles
Label: Green Label Sound
Chuck Inglish and Mikey Rocks are just what it says on the tin…”cool”. After releasing a flurry of mixtapes over the past few years, The Cool Kids finally release their official debut album and it is everything you could hope for from a Cool Kids record. Lots of bass, pulsating synths, and hard-hitting drum loops. Their style and content is strictly old school, tag-team rapping about vintage cars, women, basketball players, and clothes, and making it sound so effortlessly fresh.
Album: Father, Son, Holy Ghost
Label: True Panther Sounds
The San Francisco indie-rock group return with their sophomore album and a whole lot of confidence. Christopher Owen’s voice still has the fragile yet warm texture, which adds great effect to the songs about socially awkward tales of love and lust, at times reaching in to Belle & Sebastian territory. “We’re all going to die!”, Owens screams over the psychedelic “Die”, a fact that is a little more easy to digest now that this album is in the world.
Album: Past Life Martyred Saints
Label: Souterrain Transmissions
"F**k California, you made me boring", Erika M Anderson anguishes on her debut album of pain stricken noise rock. But boring this album certainly isn’t, EMA approaches the record like she is already an alt-rock icon, her lyrics come with a bite, and her folksy drone brings an original sound to the acoustic lo-fi production.
Artist: Buck 65
Album: 20 Odd Years
You either get on with Richard Terfry’s gravelly, rough, Tom Waits of hip-hop voice, or you don’t. If you are a Buck 65 fan then 20 Odd Years is not only one of the best albums of the year, but one of Buck 65’s best records ever. After a career spanning 20 years (hence the album title), this Canadian outcast still knows how to conjure up images of freaks and weirdos in his unique tales of love, hurt, and heartache.