Maybe jumping the gun a little early here but even with one month left in the year I feel like I’m fairly happy with my choices. Again, please note I am no music expert and I just like what I like, so please enjoy.
1. COLLAPSE INTO NOW- R.E.M.
I have to admit my bias here, not only is R.E.M. my favourite band of all-time but this is their final album, as they broke up only a few months after its release. It’s a special record to me for sure, but before you start rolling your eyes, just keep in mind this isn’t Rolling Stone magazine or anything you’re reading here, I’m not trying to force any politics upon the three people who may be reading this. It’s my honest preference and a personal one. Every single track is an absolute winner, these are songs that have become a part of my life, this is a legendary band at the top of their form closing the curtains in triumph. History will prove this to be among R.E.M.’s best work.
2. STRANGE MERCY- St. Vincent
I would hardly make a habit of using the description “achingly beautiful,” but St. Vincent’s Annie Clark is worthy of such a phrase and has the voice to match. I think her ultimate appeal lies within the fact that she could have probably made a nice little career as an indie songbird, playing acoustic melodies that play in coffee bars, but she strives for something deeper and more expirimental, which makes her all the more admirable as an artist. With “Strange Mercy” Clarks tunes are as unique as ever. Her lyrics are cryptic but feel genuine. “Cruel” borders on something that’s as close as she’s probably get to a catchy hit song, “Surgeon” takes a fascination from a line Marilyn Monroe’s diary turning it into a track as only she could do, “Year of the Tiger” journeys into a year of depression for the singer, the album is a work of art and her best to date. I want to make sweet passionate love to it.
3. NINE TYPES OF LIGHT- TV on the Radio
It’s almost impossible to slap a genre on TV on the Radio. “Nine Types of Light” explores some heavy themes, so much so that it reaches an almost profound existensialism. But at the same time it just sounds so damn funky and awesome. It may not be as cool as “Return to Cookie Mountain” or even “Dear Science,” I suppose it all depends on your own preferences and moods, really, but this is yet another amazing release from an amazing group and undoubtedly one of 2011’s highlights. Below you’ll find every single song from the album accompanied by music video shorts. One Youtube commenter notes, “this should be a bigger deal.”
4. LET ENGLAND SHAKE- PJ Harvey
Call it a labour of love, call it a grand expirement, call it the epic it deserves to be classified as. I’ll have to be as blunt as possible here in saying that any list of ‘best of 2011’ albums that does not include PJ Harvey’s “Let England Shake” is in some serious need of reevaluation. If we can classify music as modern poetry, if we can have faith in the fact that music can actually mean something, more than just catchy little tunes, more than just 2-3 minute distractions from our daily lives, then “Let England Shake” herlads something special. This is a project to go down as legend, to be studied and analyzed, and be seen as important. Bravo, PJ.
5. SCREWS GET LOOSE- Those Darlin’s
I can’t say I’m a big country music fan, I really, really can’t. But this album feels like it was made by artists who don’t necessarily care too much for country but have an affection for it and the stories that it can tell, so hopefully we’re on the same page. The songs are simple but immensely enjoyable, it’s not as heavy as some of the other works listed here but it conveys its themes and emotions in a way that works fantastically. There are songs of the opposite side of unrequited love, about alcholism, bing-eating, spousal abuse and depression. It’s not to say this record is a downer, though. Let’s put it this way: it’s like the seen-it-all boozer at the end of the bar who will share a story with you for another beer and maybe a burger. I feel like I’m knocking the album but it’s the best way I can describe it.
6. HISINGEN BLUES- Graveyard
They’ve been touted as the next-coming of Led Zepellin, which in a way is fair because the sound is definitely similar, but I never really got the point in saying one artist is the next this or that, so if you can just take “Hisingen Blues” for what it is you can appreciate its excellence. It rocks, the tunes are A+, and you get the sense that these guys are the real deal.
7. ROLLING BLACKOUTS- The Go! Team
“Rolling Blackouts” is just an explosion of exciting and bob-your-head-confusedly music. It’s not too much of a departure from The Go! Team’s other works, but it’s a solid reminder of what makes them so great and why what they do stands out. For example, a track such as “Ready To Go Steady” can be seen as a twist or tribute or even parody of one of those cheesy 50’s dinner love songs, and it is, but it works. It more than works. There is never a lull in “Rolling Blackouts” and it’s worthy of multiple plays. A delight on every level.
8. BORN THIS WAY- Lady Gaga
Pop is so fucking horrible, now more than ever, so it would seem like Lady Gaga being branded as the Queen of Pop would not be much more prestigeous than being crowned the King of Idiots. But you know what? This is a great album. Deal with it. It’s like pop culture vomit spewing out of the speakers and not in a bad way. It’s like rainbow coloured vomit that you could probably fuel your car with. You can criticize Lady Gaga all you want, hey, you can love her, hate her, feel like she’s some attention-starved whore who should stop dressing up in ridiculous outfits but either way she must be doing something right. This one of the year’s best albums and, again, please deal with it.
9. WOUNDED RHYMES- Lykke Li
Speaking of pop, “Wounded Rhymes” is like pop music that’s been dragged through the dirt a little bit. Lykke Li is an incredible artist and it’s entirely possible that this is going to be one of those albums you look back on when she’s super famous and say “nothing’s going to top her first album.” Her musical journey through “Wounded Rhymes” is engrossing and she has a voice that breaks your heart.
10. THANK YOU, HAPPY BIRTHDAY- Cage The Elephant
Cage The Elephant doesn’t take themselves too seriously yet takes themselves seriously just enough that it works to their advantage. This is a fun album. It’s something you could play at a party and everyone would enjoy. It rocks hard just enough, but it has a sensitive side to it, but not so much that’s it’s lame wussy crap that bums everyone out. There’s just something about a track like “Around My Head” with vocals mimmicking a revving engine that I just find irresistable. This is their second album and these guys aren’t going anywhere.
Honorable mentions, listed alphabetically by album title:
FATHER, SON, HOLY GHOST- Girls
HELPLESSNESS BLUES- Fleet Foxes
HOT SAUCE COMMITTEE PART TWO- Beastie Boys
SHARE THE JOY- Vivian Girls
SOMETHING TO DIE FOR- The Sounds
WASTING LIGHT- The Foo Fighters