Thursday, December 15, 2011

Best albums of 2011

On the whole, 2011 has been a pretty weak year for great albums however, three albums really defined the year for me. First there was the Foo Fighter's fantastic seventh album Wasting Light, a great, powerful, air-punching rock album--that also spawned one of my favorite songs of the year "Walk." Adele's commercial monster of a sophomore album, 21 which re-ignited the world's love for sophisticated, pop-contemporary music with an unmissable soulful bearing--almost like it was the '90s again, where you could just sell records by just standing there and singing. Consequently it landed two of the year's biggest hits, "Rolling in the Deep" and "Someone Like You." And lastly, Lady Gaga's Born This Way, the year's most thrilling and shameless pop album that ceased to stop spitting out hit after hit. Sure, it wasn't the success that her blockbuster debut The Fame and its accompanying EP The Fame Monster was, but it made for a more ambitious follow-up. Great new discoveries for me this year included the wonderful folk/rock of duo The Civil Wars' Barton Hollow, American rock band Foster the People's Torches and folk band The Decemberists.

1. Foo Fighters - Wasting Light
The Foo Fighters didn't only deliver the year's best album, but also, arguably, the best of their careers. Rocking out their hardest since 2002's One By One, capitalizing on a heated mix of hard-hitting, muscular rock but also venturing into more melancholic territories. Essential track: Walk

2. Adele - 21
The year's biggest album is a very close second. British soul singer Adele gave the curse of the sophomore slump the middle finger as she delivered this beast of a follow-up. It catapulted the soulful songstress to the pinnacle of contemporary music with her sensational blend of soul, pop, light rock and that mesmerising vocal. Essential track: Someone Like You

3. Lady Gaga - Born This Way
Delivering the year's most thrilling, unforgiving and relentless pop album is Lady Gaga. Masterfully over the top with its theatrics, invigorating electro-pop and cheesy (but commendable) underlining "inspirational" overtones. Essential track: The Edge of Glory

4. The Civil Wars - Barton Hollow
Embossed with subtlety and gentle acoustics, The Civil Wars (Joy Williams and John Paul White) delivered a beautiful collection of indie/folkish, country-studded cuts that melted my heart. Essential track: 20 Years

5. Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
Noel Gallagher's full length debut was a fantastic conventional rock album--delivering everything from the full-fledged guitar driven anthems to the more stripped back acoustic cuts. Essential tracks: The Death of You and Me

6. Kasabian - Velociraptor!
Another great rock album, Kasabian's fourth album Velociraptor! wasn't one that I was too enthusiastic about earlier, but it grew on me a whole lot. A fantastic, genuine record chock-full of hard-hitting rock. Essential track: Re-Wired

7. The Strokes - Angles
The band who landed the critically acclaimed debut Is This It, delivered their first album in almost half a decade--a satisfying mix of their signature sound and some ventures into some experimental territories. Essential track: Under Cover of Darkness

8. Florence + The Machine - Ceremonials
Fantastic follow up to 2009's Lungs, capitalising on the band's knack for dark, hollowing, loud alternative afro-centric rock/pop. Essential track: What the Water Gave Me

9. Gillian Welch - The Harrow & The Harvest
Fourth album from American bluegrass singer Gillan Welch was a winner--delivering an emotional display of minimalistic dark and sentimental acoustic folk. Essential track: Dark Turn of Mind

10. Elbow - Build a Rocket Boys!
It's too bad the follow up to 2008's critically lauded The Seldom Seen Kid, wasn't greeted with a similar reception. Although this wasn't better, I did admire it's more atmospheric turn in balance with its harder rock moments. Essential track: Lippy Kids

11. Bon Iver, Bon Iver
Bon Iver continued to trail the stripped-down, heartfelt and endearing folk of their critically acclaimed last album For Emma, Forever Ago, but chased a slightly more musically fulfilled sound on here. Essential track: Perth

12. Foster the People - Torches
This was a great new discovery for me. After loving the lovely minimalist rock of "Pumped Up Kicks," the album followed suit, providing more upbeat, tuneful, slightly '80s influenced rock. Essential track: Pumped Up Kicks

13. Ed Sheeran - +
British newcomer Ed Sheeran delivered the year's most sincere acoustic-pop album. Essential track: The A Team

14. Radiohead - The King of Limbs
As a huge Radiohead fan, I'm disappointed I didn't enjoy this a little more. Where their infamous experimenting with obscure electronic sounds worked wonders on the fan-dividing Kid A and successive albums, on here the experimentalism lands on quite a flat note, but still, a bad album this was not. Essential track: Codex

15. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
If it isn't broke, experiment a little with it: A phrase I believe Seattle folk band Fleet Foxes had in mind with this album, which used the contemporary folk pop of their eponymous debut as springboard for successfully venturing into more left-field musical territories. Essential track: Montezuma

16. Jill Scott - The Light of the Sun
In quite a poor year for R&B, Jill Scott delivered genre's only significant album for me. It's not necessarily her best work, but a decent addition to her soulfully feisty collection. Essential track: So in Love

17. Bright Eyes - The People's Key
A strong, traditional alternative rock album with pop influences that didn't enthuse the critics but worked a treat for me. Essential track: Approximate Sunlight

18. Beyonce - 4
I wasn't impressed with Beyonce's fourth album earlier, but it grew on me quite a bit. It wasn't the consistent R&B record I had hoped for, but can you complain with such belters such as "Best Thing I Never Had," "Love On Top" and "Party." Essential track: Best Thing I Never Had

19. The Decemberists - The King Is Dead
This was a great new discovery for me, however I wish I did love it more. "This Is Why We Fight" is one my favorite songs of the year, however although the album does deliver some great moments, there not as strong as some of the other folk-focused albums this year--but it's still decent. Essential track: This Is Why We Fight

20. Peter Bjorn & John - Gimme Some
Sixth album from Swedish indie rock band Peter Bjorn & John delivered a satisfying mix of tuneful and rhythm harbouring rock. Essential track: Eyes

21. Noah & The Whale - Last Night on Earth
Expanding on their indie/rock sound, Noah & The Whale's third album indulged in some pop and electronic studded influences. Essential track: Life is Life

22. Rihanna - Talk That Talk
Slugging out her sixth album, Rihanna let her vagina do the talking as she delivered her horniest work yet. Essential track: Drunk On Love

23. Drake - Take Care
More mature than Thank Me Later, but just as self-indulgent, self-aware and self-concerned all tied together with moody, atmospheric hip-hop beats. Essential track: Headlines

24. Britney Spears- Femme Fatale
A stronger record than 2008's comeback Circus, but not a patch on the career high of 2003's In the Zone. Essential track: I Wanna Go

25. The Wombats - The Modern Glitch
The Wombat's sophomore album wasn't a critic favorite but pleasing critics didn't seem to an intention as they delivered a record full of harmless, fun dance-rock.

Also good:
White Lies - Rituals
Simon Curtis - RA
Amos Lee - Mission Bell
Lil Wayne - Tha Carter IV
Chase and Status - No More Idols
James Morrison - The Awakening
Taking Back Sunday - Taking Back Sunday

Decent but not recommended:
Jessie J - Who You Are
James Blake
Kelly Clarkson -Stronger
The Vaccines - What Did You Expect From the Vaccines?
Owl City - All Things Bright and Beautiful

Arctic Monkeys - Suck It and See. It's lack of direction ultimately made it their weakest effort yet.
Coldplay - Mylo Xyloto. Single-handedly put a stop the growth Coldplay displayed successively on previous albums.
Gorillaz - The Fall. A lot of filler. The animated band's weakest album.
Jennifer Hudson - I Remember Me. A pretty disingenuous R&B record I thought.
All Time Low - Dirty Work. This album was one of the highlights of my friend's year, unfortunately it didn't resonate that well with me. Pretty standard punk/rock/pop with no umph. Their earlier stuff is way better.
Nicole Scherzinger - Killer Love. Not that disappointing, just meh. Not quite sure why I reviewed it. "Right There" is great though.


Paul said...

oh. we share so few albums in our top ten (ie, none). I just got tired of Adele and familiarity breeds contempt! But in retrospect, it is still an astonishing album and perhaps i should've recognised that more.

Far too late in the year i got very into Foster The People, they are musically fine and two of them are fine looking fellas.

Here's to some not shit stuff in 2012 :)

J.Mensah said...

I'm also shocked we don't have Gaga in common. Did you get tired of her too?

ww_adh said...

This is a great list. A good mix of pop, rock and R&B. We have 4 albums in common in our top 10 (my top 40 albums of the year post is coming soon). I might check out Ed Sheeran's album. I've seen it on several lists and with each single he's put out he's grown on me. Gillian Welch sounds interesting.

J.Mensah said...

Thank you! :) Can't wait to check out yours.