TOP 11 ALBUMS OF 2011
This was not an easy decision to make. Plowing through my album reviews of this year, I realised just how much good music there was in 2011. So many didn’t quite make the cut and I regard them as solid albums (The Vaccines, Portugal. The Man, Beady Eye, Yuck, The Streets, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, White Denim etc. etc.) Following my selection, I deliberately never revisited (apart from the top two) as ultimately, any one of these albums, depending on mood, could be my top album of 2011.
Interestingly enough, my favourites are comprised of seven US bands, just three from the UK and one from France in, Daft Punk. Perhaps this is a function of living in the US, or maybe the music scene is better in the US at this time. Having read both ‘NME’ and ‘The Rolling Stone’ top 50 list, the disparity is huge with, PJ Harvey #1 on ‘NME’ only managing #47 on ‘The Rolling Stone’ and conversely, Adele takes top spot on ‘The Rolling Stone’ poll and doesn’t even feature in NME’s top 50. To the ScoAustin top 11 of 2011. We lead with my numero uno, El Camino.
This duo from Akron, Ohio has really struck a chord with me since first hearing them four or five years ago. On a global scale, they are still relatively small, but ‘El Camino’ is in fact the band's seventh studio album. ‘Brothers’ rocketed them to new proportions and was a massive hit with ‘Tighten Up’ the big commercial hit from them in 2010. It’s no coincidence that was the only track on the album produced by, Danger Mouse and he is at the helm of every track on, ‘El Camino’. The album may only be forty minutes in length, but it’s blistering throughout. Danger Mouse’s lightweight touches accompanied by the gritty vocals of vocalist and guitarist, Dan Auerbach and lanky drummer, Patrick Carney’s precise beats work a dream. If you like this band and haven’t heard their back catalogue, get it sorted…you will not be disappointed. El Camino was only released on the 6th of December, but in my mind can certainly be the catalyst for more good sounds in the future. Supported by next on my list, Arctic Monkeys next year, it’s the hottest ticket in town. Favourite track: Little Black Submarines
Few bands have grabbed me in the last twenty years…Arctic Monkeys are one of that few. When the rose to success upon the release of ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not’ in 2006 and gripped the UK music scene, I was firmly on the bandwagon. Six years and four albums in to their musical career, the Arctic Monkeys again fail to disappoint as so many bands have as they get deeper in to their young careers. I have enjoyed each of their albums and think 'Suck It And See' will build upon the success the band have had to date. Without moving too far away from their traditional sounds, the Arctic Monkeys experiment enough on each release to keep me intrigued. As a group, they are talented, laid back and oftentimes witty. I like their demeanour and love their music. The lyrics and hooks are superb and drummer, Helders is among the best I have seen. Favourite track: Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair
This band has been on my radar for quite some time and I have spent a good bit of time getting to know more about them and their music. Fortunately, it has not been time wasted. I know the band are currently embarking on a North American tour and have recently supported, ‘The Black Keys’ in Canada with my friend suggesting they were better than the headliners. In addition, they have just been announced as the support for, ‘Foo Fighters’ October tour. Unfortunately, the Foos gig that I went to wasn’t supported by, Cage The Elephant and I impatiently await their next tour on this side of the pond. This is a sound I’m thoroughly enjoying and I pine to see the bands’ highly regarded live performance soon. The bands explosive nature caught my attention upon the very first listen whilst being delayed on the tarmac of Dublin International on a flight back to NYC. The debut album was recorded in true garage fashion taking just ten days to complete. This band have the fearlessness and energy of bands like, ‘The Hives’ and ‘The Vines’ whilst sometimes showing the composure of, ‘Bob Dylan’ and display amazing slide guitar sound of, ‘Beck’. Sometimes sounding like an American version of, ‘Arctic Monkeys’ or the aforementioned, ‘Beck’, ‘Cage the Elephant’ make soulful, raw music, inspired by everything from, ‘Iggy and the Stooges’ to hardcore American blues. Favourite track: Always Something
What more can be said about, Foo Fighters? Dave Grohl is a rock messiah. He is one of the best in the business…the consummate rock band front man. The ‘Foos’ seemingly reached the peak of their powers with 2007 release, ‘Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace’. An album idolised by those who listened and further embraced by some fairly important engineers in the art of rock - Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones (who took the stage with the ‘Foos’ at sold out Wembley Stadium shows in 2011). The fifth track here, ‘Arlandria’ harks back to ‘Nirvana’ sounds with, Grohl beautifully exuding his lyrics “you are not me, Arlandria, Arlandria, you and what army? Alandria”. The slower burning, ‘These Days’ is a tad more melodic but no less vitalising as it ascends in to a rocking little tune. ‘Walk’ is a blissful sounding track and probably encapsulated the 2011 ‘Foos’. “I never wanna die! I never wanna die!” Grohl howls. I believe him and who wouldn’t in this vein of form. It can’t be easy for the, Foo Fighters to maintain and build upon their name and successes, but this year, they have proved that they are still very much one of the best in class and ‘Wasting Light’ is a must own album. Favourite track: Walk
I highly recommend you take a walk in the past and enjoy the amazing collaboration of a group of today’s musical legends. Prior to picking this record up, I really didn’t have an album that I can readily compare to this offering (Portishead’s, ‘Dummy’ coming a very distant, closest). It’s happy, it’s sad, it’s chilled and it’s gruesome. The orchestral and theme variation coupled with the musical talent and epic vocals is deeply compelling. From ‘Gorillaz’ and ‘Gnarls Barkley’ to ‘The Black Keys’ and ‘Beck’, Danger Mouse is the gift that just keeps giving. The inclusion of such high profile acts in the cast in, Jack White and, Norah Jones were arguably something of a gamble…it’s a gamble that has paid dividends to the style of this album. It alternates brilliantly between old school cinematic sounds and instrumentals with some wonderful cameos from, White and Jones. Jack White is undoubtedly a musical leader of his time and I haven’t been shy in showing my admiration for what he has given to modern music thus far on this blog. Since, ‘The White Stripes’, ‘Elephant’ sent shock waves across the UK, I have been an avid fan of him and pretty much everything he’s been involved in musically (including his extensive back catalog with the White Stripes). With tens of millions of records sold (complimented with a number of Grammy’s), Norah Jones is clearly talented. This album may well provide the facelift her vocal qualities required and deserve. She channels the wounded hostility similar to that of ‘Portishead's’, Beth Gibbons, but maintains her own softer and more subtle approach. With fifteen tracks comprising this album, some of which are interludes, it’s a sound that cries for filmography such as, ‘The Good, The Bad And The Ugly’, ‘Sin City’ and ‘From Dusk ‘Til Dawn’ to be appended. To a lesser extent, Coen Brothers, ‘No Country for Old Men’ may apply. There’s a reason why this album is the most read topic on my blog to date. Favourite track: Rose With A Broken Neck
Although I never reviewed this album this year, Radiohead blew me away when I saw them in September this year. The album is solid, but the live performance of the album is simply sensational. Tracks like, Feral, Lotus Flower, Bloom and Codex really resonate. I am not the ardent, Radiohead fan that many claim to be, but they surprised me with their abilities in the live setting. This album, along with their previous offering, ‘In Rainbows’ are very high on my play list and I don’t see that stat changing in the near future. Favourite track: Codex
This one took a while to grow on me, but it got there.'Watch the Throne' is a compelling, complex, conflicted album, layered with heavy commentary on class and race. Many of the West co-produced tracks would not sound out of place on, West’s fantastic 2010 album, 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy' which was among my top albums of last year. I’m still unsure about songs such as, ‘Otis’ which do little or nothing to embellish the amazing, Otis Redding track, but sounds like, ‘N’s in Paris’ and ‘Made In America’ really capture the best qualities of Jay-Z and Kanye West. Egos aside, these two produce and combine to cut a top album. Favourite track: No Church In The Wild
The score of Tron: Legacy features an 85-piece orchestra that is intended to be a mixture of orchestral and electronic music. Having been a fan of classic, opera, house and electronic music in various phases of my life, this is an album that works well to combine the diverse elements of each. If the film is in the “worth the watching category, the soundtrack that accompanies is so much more. Daft Punk has long been in my ear buds with, Around the World, One More Time and many others. This album is generally my Monday walk to work music. Favourite track: End of Line
‘Dye It Blonde’ has shades of classic, T-Rex Oasis, Suede, and, John Lennon, but it is far from backwards looking. The albums elements may not be terribly original, but the way they are brought together is a sheer pleasure. It's fantastic to hear an album from a band who begs you to enjoy their music. While the melodic foundation was already evident in the bands self titled debut, producer, Chris Coady deserves some plaudits for transforming a previously rough cut diamond in to a far more polished gem. Favourite track: All Die Young
It’s an album which provides a dozen tracks of scornful criticism, heartbreaking loss and bleak resignation. It’s tragic and yet it’s beautiful. Almost two decades after Harvey’s stubborn debut, ‘Dry’ where she introduced her dissatisfied howls, ‘Let England Shake’ is potentially her best album yet. Over the past twenty years, Harvey has certainly been one of Britain’s most consistently talented songwriters with her work plentiful in terms of darkness and violence. She recently remarked, "My biggest fear would be to replicate something I've done before." Not the case here. ‘Let England Shake’ channels the best of PJ Harvey and results in a bone chillingly haunting, phenomenal album that exudes a songwriter/vocalist at the peak of her powers. A lot has been written of, Harvey of late following her triumph in winning the Mercury Music Prize, but ultimately, her music hasn’t altered that much, it’s merely become more acceptable and trendy. Favourite track: Let England Shake
It was never really in any doubt that Bradley was born to entertain, but in the release of this album at the tender age of 62, he exudes an appetite and skill in songwriting as well. Charles Bradley has spent the majority of his time dreaming of a better life…I think he has arrived with the release of a captivating, raw and candid soul record. There’s really not a weak track on it. Favourite track: The World (Is Going Up In Flames)
That concludes my list for 2011. Some disappoints for me this year included, The Strokes who seem to have more hype than product. Big hits that don’t quite connect with me are the likes of, Foster the People, Fleet Foxes, Wild Flag and Young The Giant. While bands and performers such as, Battles, Bombay Bicycle Club, The Rapture and Gary Clark Jr. are definitely ones I want to hear more of. There were some very decent debutants in, The Vaccines, Yuck, Beady Eye and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds and a lot to be thankful music wise in 2011. Hopefully a lot more to look forward to in 2012.