Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The Best Albums of 2011 (so far)

Although it’s more than sixth months till ‘list season’ officially starts, it’s always helpful to have a running tab to keep track of the Wide World of Music. Plus there’s a strange euphoria in making a list, probably due to endorphins. As of yet, 2011 is looking pretty swell depending who you ask. Of course, the usual clause still applies – this is restricted to the music I’ve happened to listen to and like, so really it’s a limited, opinionated and incomplete snapshot of what’s happening. What have you enjoyed this year? Share your thoughts.

In no particular order, here are the albums that I’ve found to be quite good in the top half of 2011:

TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light

Period piece: 'Will Do'

Being a long time TVR fan it was with some anxiety that I awaited this new release. Their last few albums offered no clue as to what was coming next, and it was exciting to see which brand-new direction this album would take. Surprisingly, the most noticeable change wasn’t the overall sound, but the mood. They were happy. HAPPY. A band that once described a new relationship as “another noose to fit us” is making upbeat, bouncy pop. It’s almost as if they took the unrestrained optimism and naive bliss of their brilliant ‘golden age’ and expanded it into an entire album. Fortunately, TV on the Radio are much more than the melancholy of their previous albums. You’ll find your fragmented guitar, barbershop harmonies and left-field loops fix here. Just don’t arrive expecting to feel crappy.

Destroyer – Kaputt

Period piece: 'Kaputt'

I’m going to shamelessly direct you to my review. 80s escapism, rock poetry, Kenny G fetishing. Listen.

Panda Bear – Tomboy

Period piece - 'Surfer's Hymn'

Panda Bear has always had a steep listening curve. Dense and near impenetrable, it’s understandable that the inexperienced may be unable to find an entry point. Euphemisms aside, this release is a lateral step from the highly rated Person Pitch, keeping with his expertly mastered reverb-soaked harmony-stuffed chillwave shtick. This didn’t strike me as the masterpiece his previous album was (and I wasn't expecting it to), but providing I have enough time in my life, it may continue to grow on me.

Cold Cave – Cherish the light years

Period piece - 'The Great Pan is Dead'

Courtesy of Scene’s album review division (also known as the ARD, and yes, I do have a jumpsuit with that logo):

Cold Cave’s latest offering is less of a departure from the 80s new wave of their debut and more of a dramatic magnification. The slick synth driven pop is still here, but this time around it’s been blown up to gigantic proportions. Hammering in its intensity, the wailing guitars bombard the listener into submission with a colossal wall of sound, while frontman Wesley Eisold yelps pleas of bleak romance and destruction. Yet through the deafening melodies and apocalyptic lyrics, the music is human, intensely personal. It’s an achievement for a band to make the chaos of your soul this danceable.

The Strokes – Angles

Period piece - 'Under Cover of Darkness'

I’m not going to give you the complete account of the at-times-wonderful-others-traumatic events of the last 10 years; suffice to say this has been a highly anticipated record. Sure, it hasn’t escaped from is this it’s shadow. What could? It is, however, a Strokes record. A good one, with some good songs and some not so good songs. It’s enough.

James Blake – James Blake

Period piece: 'The Wilhem Scream'

The perfect union of the singer/songwriter with electronic music. Extreme autotuning, hypnotisingly repetitive vocals, intricately prepared textures; good ol’ JB crafts affecting, emotional soundscapes with meticulous care. At times bare, other times overwhelming, you can’t help feeling different afterwards.

Radiohead – King of Limbs

Period piece: 'Lotus Flower'

This is the worst Radiohead album in quite some time. It’s also pretty great. A record that doesn’t completely change the game but offers a solid course for the average Radiohead fan. Dubstep inspired, it’s a far more percussive outing than previously, leaving Thom Yorke’s voice in the forefront, where it should be. Never outstaying its welcome, the album clocks in at a lean 40 or so minutes, prompting many to suppose there was to be a second half. We can always hope.

The Weeknd – House of Balloons

Period piece - 'Glass Table Girls' (check out the full song too!)

Swank pads, codeine, empty/meaningful sex. Smooth foyer jams, penthouse parties, cab hailing in the cold light of day. Plenty of crooned “guuurls” but somehow tolerable. Beach House samples!

On my to-listen-to list:

Smith Westerns – dye it blonde
tUnE-yArDs - w h o k i l l
PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
Toro Y Moi – Underneath the pine
The Antlers – Burst Apart
Okkervil River - I am Very Far

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