Saturday, 31 December 2011

on-Tenori-on's Top 50 Albums of 2011

These are the rules I used to qualify my top 50 albums of 2011:
  • One per artist, as in the tracks list. Fortunately there were quite a few this year who decided to release more than one album.
  • EP's do not count under any circumstances.
  • Official mixtapes qualify, provided they aren't classed as EP's.
  • Reissued albums, compilations and boxsets will also not be considered. Otherwise The SMiLE Sessions would probably be #1, and that hardly seems fair.
  • Live albums and live mixes do count, but I tend not to listen to them, hence why they aren't here. You'll have to find them elsewhere.
  • The top 10 albums on the list get an honourary 10/10 from me, now that the year's out.
It's time...

50. Holy Ghost! - Holy Ghost!
49. Thundercat - The Golden Age of Apocalypse
48. Russian Circles - Empros
47. Twin Sister - In Heaven
46. Frank Ocean - Nostalgia, Ultra
45. Radiohead - The King of Limbs
44. Africa Hitech - 93 Million Miles
43. Thurston Moore - Demolished Thoughts
42. Oneohtrix Point Never - Replica
41. The Antlers - Burst Apart
40. Chelsea Wolfe - Ἀποκάλυψις
39. Little Dragon - Ritual Union
38. Tom Waits - Bad as Me
37. Danny Brown - XXX
36. Atlas Sound - Parallax
35. Colin Stetson - New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges
34. Fucked Up - David Comes to Life
33. The Horrors - Skying
32. TV on the Radio - Nine Types of Light
31. Rustie - Glass Swords
30. Julian Lynch - Terra
29. Gang Gang Dance - Eye Contact
28. Bon Iver - Bon Iver, Bon Iver
27. Clams Casino - Instrumental Mixtape
26. The Rapture - In the Grace of Your Love
25. Kendrick Lamar - Section.80
24. Beyoncé - 4
23. Shabazz Palaces - Black Up
22. Battles - Gloss Drop
21. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Belong
20. Nicolas Jaar - Space Is Only Noise
19. Big K.R.I.T. - Return of 4Eva
18. M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming
17. Balam Acab - WANDER / WONDER
16. Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost
15. The Field - Looping State of Mind
14. Austra - Feel it Break
13. Iceage - New Brigade
12. Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring for My Halo
11. Thee Oh Sees - Castlemania
10. The Roots - undun
An extremely slick concept album documenting the life of fictional character Redford Stephens, the Roots' 13th studio album undun became 2011's last-minute surprise when it was released earlier in December. The Roots' usual blend of neo-soul hip-hop dominates the album, but every song hits its mark, and plays a valuable part to the bigger picture. Sufjan Stevens is enlisted to play out the incredibly moving coda, with his own "Redford". ?uestlove has called undun the album he has  always wanted to make, and the best Roots album so far. From what's on offer it's really tough to disagree with him.
SBTRKT's debut plays out like a dedication to the last 20 years of UK bass music, filtered through his contemporary "post-dubstep" production style. Whether the music is flavoured with nods to early house ("Pharaohs"), or dark garage ("Right Thing to Do"), the roster of fantastic vocalists under SBTRKT's employment mean that every track feels right on the edge of modern British electronica and dance. Little Dragon's Yukimi Nagano, Roses Gabor and Jessie Ware form the female half of the album, but Sampha's high notes are the most infectious of all, perfectly married to SBTRKT's beats. An extremely strong debut set.
8. Destroyer - Kaputt
A very stylish album, Dan Bejar's Destroyer had a very clear artistic direction for Kaputt. Bejar is often likened to David Bowie; if this is the case Kaputt is Young Americans, a set of meticulously arranged, woodwind-orientated, poetic songs. The feeling of romanticism sweeps through the set, usually causing feelings of sadness and loss. Bejar takes the jazzier side to 80's soft rock with extended instrumental segments, bringing indie rock more "full circle" than ever before. But it's as a lyricist where Bejar excels, breaking your heart through his melted voice.
7. tUnE-yArDs - w h o k i l l
An album that is as philosophical as it is sonically chaotic is hard to come by, and harder still to take seriously. The second tUnE-yArDs LP w h o k i l l is able to manage however, with Merrill Garbus's world music-leaning rhythm and vocal loops expressing postmodern attitudes towards issues of gender, race and violence, and sometimes completely smashing into them. The whole experience is both exhilarating and confusing, and very hard to put down in terms of classification, but stands as a reflection of our modern times: colourful yet irritating, familiar yet deceptive. With w h o k i l l Garbus presents us with today's ever changing face of human nature, in its boldest form.
6. The Weeknd - House of Balloons
The fact that the remainder of 2011 following House of Balloons saw Drake trying his hardest to successfully imitate his protégé The Weeknd's style speaks volumes of the the golden internet age of music discovery. The first Weeknd mixtape gathered the most hype in such a short space of time because of the conventions it seemed to break in bringing R&B a classier, more artistic end of a spectrum. And it was so fully formed right from the beginning to bring about this artistic change: fantastic production, a mysterious singer, and disturbing, masochistic tales that felt strangely relateable.

5. PJ Harvey - Let England Shake
PJ Harvey has a reputation for reinventing herself with every album, and Let England Shake provides her listeners with one of her most consistent messages yet. An historical tribute to her home country, the album is a tight set of songs that serve as a particular temporal statement of the state of England in 2011, and in relation to the rest of the world. The choir of male voices, disillusioned bugles and the ethereal autoharp set the scene for the Great War storytelling, extended metaphors that serve as political foreshadowing to the backdrop of the events of 2011 and, what seems to be the unfortunate case, beyond.

4. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
There are no shortage of reasons as to why Fleet Foxes second album Helplessness Blues ought to be looked back upon as one of 2011's greats. A timeless set of songs that mature with every listen, Robin Pecknold's chamber-folk collective build upon their ambitious 2008 debut and offer a more varied sequel, stretching the boundaries of their unique blend of sounds. Pecknold questions the universe and one person's impact upon it; at times melancholic and others triumphant. Helplessness Blues is a whirlwind of emotions, and brings back into focus questions that have troubled the people of the earth for years.
3. St. Vincent - Strange Mercy
Perhaps above all else, one thing Strange Mercy proves is that Annie Clark is one heck of a guitar player. The instrument often sounds ferocious as off -balance phrases bolt out from under her fingertips, and leads a swirling mixture of swelling strings and magical-sounding synths. This art-pop brew serves to demonstrate the extent of how far indie rock has travelled from its roots in hardcore punk and post-punk. Clark's vocals are ever-present, and in equal measures as firey as her guitar lines, and as breathtaking as the synthetic mix. The songs of Strange Mercy are at times unnerving, but always strong and truthful.
2. James Blake - James Blake
As stale the hype for new artists may sometimes be, it's also refreshing for such an artist to meet and even surpass expectations their promising previous work was hinting towards. Following James Blake through 2010 to the start of 2011 was such an experience. Blake took an unexpected and ambitious turn when he released his self-titled debut: the amount of space on the album might force you to demand half your money back, if it wasn't for the fact that his tracks resemble traditional singer-songwriter tunes with a cavernous dubstep aesthetic much more than they do the work of an expert producer. Uniquely Blake is both.

1. Death Grips - Exmilitary

For many, 2011 in music began with the spotlight on a young MC called Tyler, the Creator and his collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, whose single "Yonkers" promised to bring forward a new interest in horrorcore and shock-rap. I choose to end 2011 with a sorely overlooked mixtape that did much more to genuinely shock and terrify than Tyler's disappointing Goblin had managed (though I will give it an honourable mention). Even at this stage there is little known about the Death Grips project, except it a collaboration of a rapper known as MC Ride and Zach Hill, who is most famous as the insanely technical drummer of the math-rock duo Hella. Ride has a voice similar in tone to the Wu-Tang Clan's RZA, except he chooses to shout and scream for virtually the entire album, almost to the point of parody and self-parody. The urgency with which he does so makes every lyric as compelling as the last; Exmilitary's lines run like a modern day Inferno or Paradise Lost, and are worth reading just by themself. Instrumentally it feels very much like the same beast; the body to Ride's tounge. Even more experimental than Shabazz Palaces debut album Black Up, which turned up later in the year, Exmilitary uses Hill's hardcore punk and industrial influences searingly. Many of the tracks use electronic noises also: traces of techno, jungle and IDM are spliced into the album's centre especially. And samples as diverse as Link Wray and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown fall somewhere in between, dropped unexpectedly into the stormiest of moments, perhaps as a part of its twisted humour. A unique and unflinching (and free) album, the scariest element of Exmilitary is its ability to makeits listener feel pumped, as if it's relentlessness is pounding through to the brain and controlling the body from within, to become the beast you worship...

Death Grips - Exmilitary by deathgrips

Click below for the rest of the 2011 year-end lists:
Top 15 EP's of 2011
Top 100 Tracks of 2011
Top 10 Music Videos of 2011

No comments:

Post a Comment