And here we arrive at the Top 10, those albums that stood out to me the most this year and left a lasting impression…
Artist: Black Lips
Album: Arabia Mountain
Black Lips, often known more for their wild on-stage antics than their music, have arrived at their sixth full-length album with their youthful, carefree attitude in tact, but find their sound more refined by sometimes great/sometimes awful pop producer Mark Ronson. Fortunately, Ronson’s clean-up isn’t excessive, the animalistic yelps, rough guitars, and hectic drums are still prominent, they are just structured more tightly. The album runs at 16 tracks deep, and for the most part they are all worthy of their place, there are so many catchy hooks on this record it is a joy to listen to.
Artist: Nerves Junior
Album: As Bright As Your Night Light
Label: sonaBLAST! Records
Perhaps the most overlooked album of 2011, Nerves Junior are an American indie-rock band dabbling in woozy, electronic, sub-pop, and in their debut album they prove to be masters of their domain. It’s an expansive album covering many genres but intricately structured, and impressive in it’s magnitude. Whether it be the intense pop of title track “As Bright As Your Night Light” or the more dark, down tempo of “In Absentia”, Nerves Junior excel at both, scary for a band on their debut record. If this band can keep up this quality in future releases they’ll be appearing in everyone’s end of the year lists.
Album: The English Riviera
Label: Because Music
The sound of summer in South West England permeates The English Riviera, somewhat of a tribute to lead singer Joe Mount’s hometown of Totnes, Devon. The album opens with the squawking of seagulls, and you immediately know this is going to be different to previous Metronomy albums. The electro-dance has been traded in for scintillating synths and bouncy basslines. The album holds together surprisingly well despite it’s musical detours, and could easily argue it’s position for pop record of the year.
Artist: Ty Segall
Album: Goodbye Bread
Label: Drag City
Ty Segall is a member of at least five different groups and has just as many albums under his belt, but it’s his latest solo effort Goodbye Bread which feels the most complete and the most him. Taking on all duties, singing, guitar, and drums, Segall has created a brief (run-time just under 34 minutes) yet impressive album of do-it-yourself, garage-psych rock. It maintains the grungy feel of his earlier releases, but is more focused and assured, his lyrics laced with an acerbic wit. There’s a definite T-Rex and The Beatles influence throughout, Segall is particularly enamoured with John Lennon-like vocal effects, and he puts them to good use throughout the album. It’s Ty Segall’s best album, and the most exciting thing is, it feels like there is so much more to come, and at only 23 years old he’s got his whole career ahead of him, especially now that he’s quit his day job.
Artist: Kendrick Lamar
Album: Section 80
Label: Top Dawg Entertainment
This 24 year old Compton native has put out an album more accomplished than most recent hip hop greats. Lyrically Lamar is untouchable, he’s soft-spoken and smooth, but conscious in his lyrics, creating a vision of LA that isn’t strictly gangs and gun-crime. His songs have a personal touch, a message if you will, and the album as a whole meshes together perfectly. The production comes from various sources but follows a stripped-back, jazz influenced structure, lots of horns and organs, which suits Lamar’s style. This is the album that grew on me the most this year, I didn’t initially realise just how impressive it was, but now every track is unskippable. Lamar is a young rapper but wise beyond his years.
Artist: Lykke Li
Album: Wounded Rhymes
Since her 2008 debut Youth Novels, Lykke Li has matured, she has suffered break-ups, and grown ever so slightly bitter. Her lyrical content if often dark and cynical but it isn’t a sad album, the beats are melodic and the percussion is BIG! There are songs that could easily become great pop records “Get Some” and “Youth Knows No Pain”, and also songs that wouldn’t have seemed out place being sung by Twin Peaks era Julee Cruise “Unrequited Love”.
Artist: Beastie Boys
Album: Hot Sauce Committee Part Two
Hot Sauce was an album that had been in the working for a long time, delayed due to Adam “MCA” Yauch’s throat cancer, but the wait was well worth it because the Beasties came back with an album just as strong as their early releases. I’ve loved a lot of albums this year but none have provided as much pure joy as this one, it’s loud, funky, punky, just straight up Beastie Boys lunacy. The effort that went in to the videos for “Make Some Noise” and “Don’t Play No Games That I Can’t Win” were also continued proof that the Beasties create the best music videos around. I wrote a full review of this album for my blog: http://thehippestkidsintown.tumblr.com/post/5046223813/beastie-boys-hot-sauce-committee-part-2-review
Album: w h o k i l l
Merrill Garbus wins the award for most original album of the year with her experimental solo-project tUnE-yArDs. A colourful combination of blues, folk, hip-hop, and white-trash funk. The studio meets lo-fi production is often abrasive and scratchy, but addictive. But it’s Garbus’ voice itself that is the most interesting element of the album, she could clearly belt out a classic ballad if she wanted to, but instead she takes her vocals to some intriguing places, sometimes sweet and innocent, next moment wild and impassioned.
Artist: The Roots
Label: Def Jam
It’s surprising to think that The Roots haven’t done a concept album before, it seems like something so obvious given Black Thought’s incredible story-telling skills. Undun, their 13th studio album, tells the story of Redford, a fictional character that falls in to a life of street crime. Running at 38 minutes, there isn’t a second spared in this cinematic like album. It’s a meticulous project, it’s reported that verses were re-written several times, even by the feature artists, and ?uestlove’s instrumentation was likewise re-done until perfection, and let’s just say, this is as close as perfection you can get, on The Roots best album since Game Theory.
Artist: PJ Harvey
Album: Let England Shake
There are albums, and then there are albums. While many albums sound great as a collection of songs, PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake is a complete body of work, constructed with thematic purpose, and a consistent sound. It is an exploration of what it means to be English, wry, angry, and thoughtful. War is a recurring topic, specifically Gallipoli and WW1, but also glancing a symbolic eye over recent struggles. But don’t let the themes suggest that this is in any way a depressing album, musically Harvey is at her most inventive, the melodies are instantly catchy, laden with echoing guitars, electric pianos, and off-kilter trumpets, this is probably the closest Harvey has ever come to a pop record. The lyrical content is a stark juxtaposition to the plucky instrumentation, but they work so beautifully well together, perhaps due to the delivery of Harvey’s voice, often cold and ambivalent, letting the words linger long after the music has stopped playing. Let England Shake is not only the best of album of 2011, it is one of the best albums of the last decade.