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  • Top Albums of 2011

    31 dec 2011, 20:22

    I think this year I need to put a disclaimer on my Top 10 list:
    My musical tastes change. If you had asked me to make this in the beginning of December, Codes and Keys wouldn't have even made it onto the list. It's very hard to write these and not want to change your mind months later. I looked back at my 2010 list before I made this and saw that I put The Suburbs by Arcade Fire in an Honorable Mention. Whoops. Then again it was truly because I couldn't get away with making a Top 11 of 2010. Looking back though, I should have probably swapped it for MGMT's Congratulations.

    Anyway, this is, of course, completely my opinion. I tried to be as objective as possible, ranking them based on not only which ones I enjoy the most but which ones perhaps just have better musical merit than the others.



    [10] Bon Iver - Bon Iver



    Bon Iver has finally been recognized by the mainstream media, albeit in the form of an out-dated "Best New Artist" Grammy nomination. No matter, Bon Iver's Justin Vernon has been working hard since 2008's For Emma, Forever Ago and deserves the recognition. It's too bad the nomination isn't for his newest album though; his self-titled sophomore venture takes everything that worked for him in his debut and works upwards. The occasional background rhythm section gets more notice, as does secondary instruments such as brass and piano. Vernon's haunting voice remains untouched and unaltered, just as fans of the first album remember.

    Key Song: Calgary


    [09] Black Lips - Arabia Mountain



    I really have to give some of the credit to why I rank this album so high to producer Mark Ronson. I had always loved the raw, gritty edge to the Black Lips, like a garage rock revival that wouldn't think twice about slamming your head into said garage door. However, I had always found listening to them to not be a challenge, but more like a triathlon between over-driven guitars, pseudo-surf beats and slightly unintelligible lyrics. However, I would go as far as to say that Arabia Mountain is their cleanest dirty album to date. It's not only well-written and performed, but listening to it is as enjoyable as the songs themselves.

    Key Song: New Direction


    [8] Adele - 21



    You knew this was coming. No self-respecting best-of-2011 list is complete without Adele, don't lie to yourself. Adele is a big voice with big plans for the future, and she's not stopping any time soon. Sure, you may be tired of hearing Rolling in the Deep on every radio station on constant rotation, but you have to admit that it is what it is: a catchy, well-crafted song done by a talented singer. Adele has a powerful voice and knows how to use it to her advantage. So, if you don't like her you have two options: change your mind and enjoy what she has to offer, or buy a solid pair of earplugs because she's here to stay.

    Key Song: Someone Like You


    [7] The Strokes - Angles



    It took long enough, but the Strokes came back this year and thank God it didn't sound anything like First Impressions of Earth. Angles was a throw-back to the sound that made the Strokes famous, all the way back to Is This It. However, it was as if someone miscalculated their Delorean because tracks like Machu Picchu sound like they were pulled straight out of New York 80's New Wave. Not that it's a bad thing.

    Key Song: Taken for a Fool


    [6] Arctic Monkeys - Suck It and See



    If there was a Grammy award for an album that was most obviously influenced by another musician and/or musical endeavor, Arctic Monkeys would have won it hands-down. After Alex Turner came back from writing, recording and touring with Miles Kane as The Last Shadow Puppets, Suck it and See was what came out. More jangly, poppy, and Beatles-sounding than any other Arctic Monkeys album, Suck it and See was a swift departure from the harder, indie-fueled Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not. However, it was a return to Turner's somewhat confusing, yet masterfully crafted, lyrics that hadn't really been heard since their hit Flourescent Adolescent.

    Key Song: Suck It and See


    [5] The Dear Hunter - The Color Spectrum



    Red. Orange. Yellow. Green. Blue. Indigo. Violet. White. Black. The Color Spectrum is just that - nine four-song EPs that each revolve around a certain color. The red EP sounds like the Foo Fighters, raw and hard-rock; orange is bluesy and powerful almost like Muse; yellow is sunny and poppy; green is exactly what a picnic in a lush field sounds like; blue is, well, sad; indigo feels like you've been doing yoga and staring into a mandala too long; violet is strangely happy; white feels like you've died and gone to heaven; and black is like you've died and gone to hell. All these moods, songs, and themes were crafted by one single band, but mostly by one man - Casey Crescenzo. The rest of the Dear Hunter's catalog is progressive rock, but it's amazing to see that a band can venture into so many other genres and sound like they meant to sound this way all along.

    Key Song: There's no way to pick one song, just listen to the whole thing and pick your favorite color.


    [4] The Black Keys - El Camino



    The Black Keys are like that primordial goop that first came out of the deep - they started as a two-man gritty blues band that just kept growing and evolving, acquiring more instruments and even some backing vocals. Now they have a legitimate full-band and an even fuller sound. They haven't lost that catchy edge though; opening track Lonely Boy and Gold on the Ceiling should come with a warning label that you will be singing them hours later when you think no one else is around. Either that or you'll find yourself acting out the video for Lonely Boy when you think no one else is around. If the Keys continue to grow exponentially in the way they have been, we can expect orchestral accompaniment by 2013. Or, maybe they'll realize that they've reached their own apex of cool on this album and that they really don't need all those tubas.

    Key Song: Gold on the Ceiling


    [3] Death Cab for Cutie - Codes and Keys



    Now, I was not a big fan of Death Cab's last album, Narrow Stairs. However, this is not a Narrow Stairs review, so I will keep that to myself. Now that I've mentioned that though, I am free to say that I believe this is Death Cab's best album to date. Like most of the other albums on this list, Death Cab is a band that knows what it's good at and sticks to it. Some bands prefer to experiment with new ideas and risk losing a part of their audience. Death Cab on the other hand knows that by sticking to what works, and maybe even improving on it, everyone is happy and it's good enough to attract more fans. Codes and Keys has the slightly sad, slow moments (St Peter's Cathedral) for fans of the older, sadder Death Cab as well as more upbeat and happy moments (Portable Television) for fans of the more recent Death Cab. Like I said, these guys know exactly what they're doing.

    Key Song: Stay Young Go Dancing


    [2] Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues



    Other than being one of the most awkward album titles to write or type out, Helplessness Blues plays like a steaming mug full of a Hot Toddy - it's warm, inviting, and a little bit intoxicating. The harmonies are flawless, just as they were on their first album, but the application feels more mature; it's as if they had to ration their harmonies and only saved them for the moments they knew would produce the most goosebumps. Don't miss out on the flawless storytelling either, especially the heart string-pulling tale of Montezuma.

    Key Track: Helplessness Blues

    [1] The Decemberists - The King Is Dead



    Call me biased that I put my favorite band at number one, but until you've listened to what this band can do when they're tucked away on a farm for months I would suggest giving it a chance. This was definitely the Decemberists' year, and it all started when The King is Dead debuted at #1, something that has never happened to them before. And now, they're nominated for two Grammys for Down by the Water. They also got a helping hand (or two) from R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck on tracks like Calamity Song. The album sways like a stalk of corn in the breeze between odes to pastoral beauty (June Hymn), down-on-the-farm knee-slappers (All Arise), and their trademark songs about old-timey people doing old-timey things and possibly dying in the end (Rox In The Box). And, like Hazards Of Love did before it, the album ends on a litmus test to determine whether or not you have functioning human emotions (Dear Avery)

    Key Song: The whole thing. Really. It's not a cop-out because I couldn't choose one. Just listen to the whole thing.


    And, of course, the honorable runners-up:

    David Lynch - Crazy Clown Time

    Iron & Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean

    Explosions in the Sky - Take Care, Take Care, Take Care

    Frank Turner - England Keep My Bones

    Kasabian - Velociraptor!
  • Top Albums of 2010

    17 dec 2010, 05:37

    After reading a million top album lists, I've finally decided to make my own. I've gone with 10.

    [10] Congratulations - MGMT


    I'm one of those people who likes MGMT's first album better, but I can't deny the quality of Congratulations.Flash Delerium was a perfect, and chaotic, hit off the album. Brian Eno was amazing as well, especially live. Congratulations is beautiful as a title track. I love the album as a whole - it feels very cohesive, and in a world of iTunes downloads it's pretty refreshing to hear an album that functions as more than a collection of downloadable singles.

    Best song: Congratulations

    [9] My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy - Kanye West


    I haven't given this album too much listen, but I have given it enough to know it's worthy of my top 10. It's catchy as all hell, which I believe is a key part of the hip hop genre. My absolute personal favourite from the album is POWER (Album Version (Explicit)), especially the fact that it samples King Crimson's 21st Century Schizoid Man. That track alone garnered respect from me, not just enjoyment. The track Dark Fantasy (Album Version (Explicit)) is beautiful in a way I never would have expected from West. This album is powerful, no doubt. Kanye the artist overpowers Kanye the person, and his lyrics seem to be maturing because of this separation. His early work showed more immaturity and a closer link to the Kanye who interrupts Taylor Swift and generally embarrasses himself. This feels more mature and self-aware, if not aware of the consequences of making an ass out of himself. Looks like he took his own advice from Runaway (Album Version (Explicit)), which is not only catchy as all hell, but it's introspective and witty. Looks like Kanye is growing up.

    Best song: Runaway (Album Version (Explicit))

    [8] Lonely Avenue - ben folds and nick hornby


    This album is also my winner for most underrated and most bypassed album of 2010; so bypassed, in fact, that LastFM does not have a page for the album. It's the words of British author Nick Hornby put to music by Ben Folds. It's beautiful in every sense of the word. It doesn't really feel like most other Ben Folds works; perhaps it's because the words aren't his. There is a string section behind most of the songs, sweeping through Ben Folds' piano work. It's not terribly dancable; it's for people interested in listening to music for more than just instrumentation - it's all about the words and how they flow throughout the music as almost another instrument. The melodies are beautiful, but they're not catchy. But in this instance it's OK, because it's not trying to fit into a genre crafted on how long a song can stay lodged into your brain.

    Best Song:Picture Window

    [7] Treats - Sleigh Bells


    I first heard these guys over Christmas break on Sirius XMU. The station was covering SxSW, and Sleigh Bells was one of the most anticipated acts to play. Ring Ring was on all the time, and I couldn't get it out of my head. It was an intriguing combination of sweet female vocals and something heavy that I couldn't quite put my finger on. Treats came out a few months later, and they had taken Ring Ring and remade it to Rill Rill. It feels fuller, and simultaneously heavier and lighter. This is something Sleigh Bells masters, and it continues to be a mystery throughout the album as to how they balance it so well. The album is loud - VERY loud. It's not for the faint of ear. I tried putting the chorus of Crown on the Ground as my alarm to wake me up in the morning. It is an understatement that I jumped out of my skin.

    Best song: Rill Rill AND Crown on the Ground

    [6] Come And Get It - Eli 'Paperboy' Reed And The True Loves


    Eli 'Paperboy' Reed is a 26 year old from Boston who plays the music he loves: soul. People call it "blue eyed soul", but I would say it's good, and authentic, enough to just be called.... well, soul. The backing band, The True Loves, is absolutely phenominal. They are all true musicians and extremely talented. Eli Reed has the voice of someone who's been in soul his whole life, someone who is a hardened veteran of lying, cheating women and bottoms of glasses of bourbon. But, he's only 26, which makes the whole album so much more amazing.

    Best song: Come and Get It (for the upbeat soul) and Pick A Number for the soft, heartfelt soul.

    [5] Odd Blood - Yeasayer


    This is one of those albums I could listen to all day, on repeat, and never get sick of it. It's also another album, like Congratulations, that functions also as a whole album. I don't mean like a concept album, but all songs seem to contain a common denominator that links all the songs musically rather than lyrically. I don't even know if I could single out one or two songs as the pivotal point of the album; they all stand on their own, but combine to make an amazing album. The whole album has a unique blend of a worldly sound with indie hooks and amazing vocals.

    Best song: I guess if I had to pick one it would have to be Ambling Alp

    [4]Tourist History - Two Door Cinema Club


    Another album that boggles my mind that it was left off most Best Of lists. This band is not only supremely catchy in the world of British Indie music, but these guys are talented. The bass parts are intricate and add to the dancability of the songs. The fact that all members are 20 years old makes the album even more amazing. These musicians haven't had many years to hone in their skills, yet they play like musicians on their fourth album. Any song on the album could fill a dance floor, or at least make you dance in your place and probably smile like a fool.

    Best song:Cigarettes In The Theater

    [3] Brothers - The Black Keys


    I've been a fan of The Black Keys since the first album, and I think that Brothers just may be my favourite. I do like the trademark Black Keys sound, that empty two-man blues. But, I do enjoy hearing the songs of the Black Keys with a bass and keyboard. Perhaps I'm just biased as a bass player, but I feel that this is their most musically mature album. Sure, it is harder to make a song (and album) sound full and professional with only two instruments, but I am glad to see that they can keep the same Black Keys feel with more than two musicians.

    Best Song: Tighten Up

    [2] High Violet - The National


    The top two albums were hard to pin against one another, so I had to go with how many times I've listened to the album to decide the top contender. Even then it was close. But High Violet is, for a lack of other words, simply amazing. It's musically stimulating and soothing at the same time; the instrumentation is complex enough to show off their talents, but it is simultaneously soothing in its melancholy. The lyrics aren't happy at all, but that doesn't mean they're not enjoyable. Sorrow may be the most lyrically moving song on the whole album (Sorrow found me when I was young/Sorrow waited/Sorrow won). I cannot say enough good things about this album; I could be here all night.

    Best Song: All of them.

    [1] Broken Bells - Broken Bells


    I am surprised that this album wasn't higher on all the other lists. Two musical veterans (James Mercer and DJ Dangermouse [Brian Burton]) come together to make the most interesting and beautiful album of the year. The album opens with The High Road, a sweeping song that could be broken into two parts. I've listened to this album more than any other this past year, and it has absolutely grown on me. I don't even know if I can put into adequate words anymore why I love this album so much; it's become such a part of me and my musical collection that even for an English major description is tough.

    Best Song: October

    Runner-Ups:

    The Suburbs - The Arcade Fire

    Plastic Beach - Gorillaz

    Lady Killer - Cee Lo Green

    Big Echo - The Morning Benders

    Mines - Menomena

    Innerspeaker - Tame Impala