Kaputt was a late addition to this list, this isn’t because this year’s album selection was scarce, rather it was quite the opposite! I obtained Kaputt in February of last year, and put it aside until I started seriously contmplating this list – a quick revisit to Kaputt had knocked out a multitude of albums, making this 11th spot a little easier to decide. That said, there are albums released from 2011 that I’ve listened to in both greater detail and quantity, but the genuine craftmanship of this album needs to be underlined. Funky bass lines, though simplistic, are complimented with soaring saxaphone riffs, desirable lyrics, and ambience. Dan Bejar leads the listener through a multitude of soundscapes end emotions. Like a fine wine or port, this album can only get better with age.
Standout Track: Suicide Demo For Kara Walker
Jay-Z & Kanye West
Watch the Throne (2011)
Glitz, glamour…and hip-hop? Couture hip-hop? From my intial listen, I wasn’t sold. Lyrically Kanye has never been great, and Jay? Well, Jay-Z, in my eyes, has reached his prime. But, I wanted to like this album, so I kept at it. My persistence paid off: the production value is stellar! Sample-wise, the album hits on all fronts. The obvious “Otis”, as well as the “bonus” track “The Joy” exemplify my point. Though the samples used are simplistic in nature, both tunes (and more) amplify the art of GOOD sampling to accent a song as well as the showcase the strength of a sample.
Hip-hop is in its prime, it’s the main focus. I can’t help but paralell contemporary and popular hip hop to 80s hair metal, or glam metal. Like glam metal, the visual derivatives from popular hip hop (take the album cover for example) are used to excel and drive the genre, ultimately leading towards collapse. BUT…as a Kanye fan-boy, I had no choice but to include this on my list. What can I say? Yeezy does it (pun?) for me…again!
Standout Track: Murder to Excellence
Coastal Grooves (2011)
It was in September of 2011 that I first heard Blood Orange. I believe I was listening to CHIRP Radio (Chicago Independent Radio Project). The first track I heard was the first on Coastal Grooves: “Forget It”…I was blown away. I quickly retrieved the album and listened to it for a month straight. Devonté Hynes, better known for Lightspeed Champion – who I’ve yet to listen to – combines indie pop with the 80s and for the greater length of the album utilizes and accents songs with oriental flavor. Inconspicuously embedded in certain tracks, a hip hop undertone can be discovered. If you like indie pop and the album cover freaks you out a little bit…this album is for you!
Standout Track: Forget It
Portugal. The Man
In the Mountain in the Cloud (2011)
Last year everyone went crazy for Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs, I wasn’t all that impressed. Whilst everyone was raving over Arcade Fire, I was really digging Band of Horses’ Infinite Arms. In the Mountain in the Cloud delivers an Arcade Fire/Band of Horses type sound, at least in my eyes – others may think differently.
Portugal. The Man’s first couple of releases are…different, that’s for sure. But, In the Mountain in the Cloud appeases the indie rock fetish that music lover’s desire. However, with time, this album may slide into the musical abyss as the whole sound is a little “been there, done that.”
Standout Track: So American
No Time for Dreaming (2011)
What’s a “Favorite Album” list without a release from the Mighty Daptone Label?
Charles Bradley defines soul. No Time for Dreaming oozes soul; from track one to track twelve. Charles Bradley teams up with instrumental geniuses The Menahan Street Band that leave the listener in a soulful sweat at the end of each song’s mark. It’s hard for me to state this, but I think Charles gives Otis Redding a run for his money with this release. If you enjoy Lee Fields & The Expressions, try Charles Bradley and The Menahan Street Band. Just get ready to sweat!
Standout Track: Why Is It So Hard?
Burst Apart (2011)
I know The Antlers are better known for their 2009 release, Hospice, but I like Burst Apart a lot more. Concept albums are usually hit or miss with me, perhaps this is why I prefer Burst Apart.
When this album hits you, it hits hard! It took many listens, but I had to include this album on my list. Not only because it’s very well crafted, but because it moved me so strongly. Peter Silberman’s vocals chill your bone, and rattle your teeth. With good headphones and a couple of drinks, Burst Apart will get you too!
Standout Track: I Don’t Want Love
The Whole Love (2011)
After Wilco released Sky Blue Sky in 2007, I read online (somewhere) that front man, Jeff Tweedy’s favorite album was The Beatles’ White Album. I thought Sky Blue Sky demonstrated Tweedy’s love affair with the late Beatles, but the more I listened to The Whole Love, the more I thought of those four studs from Liverpool. Of course this year’s release is a lot more experimental than anything The Beatles released, but if you listen diligently to the “poppy” tracks on The Whole Love, you’ll see what I mean.
At first, I wasn’t too fond of this album. Upon my first listen, I was disappointed; I placed this album amongst Wilco’s worst – if there is such a thing. However, with numerous listens and a pair of good headphones, this album sky rocketed into my Top 5 from 2011.
Standout Track: Art of Almost
Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears
It was because of Sharon Jones’ much anticipated return to Edmonton that I was first introduced to Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears. I remember standing front row watching Lewis decked out in camoflage, funk out on his guitar decorated with taped clippings from nudie magazines, whilst his band chanted, and rhythmically pumped out garage soul: what a combination! It’s very, very difficult to listen to any of these tracks and resist your head from bobbing. Scandalous is just…scandalous: it’s dirty, it’s gritty! Get ready to feel naughty!
Standout Track: Livin’ in the Jungle
Was I the Wave? (2011)
Last year, the electro winner was Caribou’s Swim. This year, Miracle Fortress’ Was I the Wave? takes first prize. Miracle Fortress opened up for Shad at Brixx Bar & Grill in late April. Immediately after his performance, I went over to the merch table and purhcased his two albums. I still can’t get enough!
What I love most about the album is that it’s just so easy. From the drum beats, to the looped guitar rhythms to the simplicity of the lyrics. These songs just feel good to sing to. Don’t go looking for intracacies though, they’re covered beneath the 80ft of a hip 80s vibe this album emanates. However, if you dig hard enough, they will be discovered! My advice: listen to the album and just have fun, Was I the Wave? has it all.
Standout Track: Everything Works
How Do You Do (2011)
This may be a surprise to those who know me well: “WHAT! Mayer Hawthorne’s not first on your list?” I’ll be the first to admit that I have a HARD-on for Mayer and his County. SO much so, in early November I travelled to T.O. to see him open for Chromeo – boy was it worth it!
How Do You Do was released in the late sumer of 2011 on Universal rather than Stones Throw. Mayer received a lot of criticism for venturing away from Stones Throw and becoming associated with Universal. Especially since the success of A Strange Arrangement on Stones Throw. At first, even I was uneasy with this transition. But, the more I thought about, the more I became ok with the idea of Mayer “selling out”. Let’s think about what Motown was for a minute: their hits weren’t hidden from radio stations, they were played incessantly. They were burned into the skulls of all radio listeners, and rightly so! How Do You Do definitely sounds more mainstream, and like all Motown, there are a few tracks that you will play at least fifty times. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t speak to me the same way A Strange Arrangement did. This album deserves an 11/10, but there’s just one better album that was released this year…
Standout Track: Stick Around – I fall in love with Mayer everytime I hear that falsetto of his, so fly!
James Blake (2011)
Broke, and travelling to a job I loathed. On top of my sorry state, the rain was pouring over the train. Soon, the bass in “Unluck” kicked into my headphones; this made the hairs on the back of my neck stood up and immediately caught my attention. This dub-like bass followed by the constant vocal looping of James Blake quickly entranced me. “Unluck” finished and “Wilhelms Scream” proceeded with it’s dream-like ambience. Again, the same feeling. Instantly, I felt better and worse and at the same time as “all that I know is I’m fallin’, fallin’, fallin’…” repeated in the speakers of my headphones and in the back of my mind.
James Blake’s Self-Titled Album is incredibly mastered: vocally, musically, and especially emotionally. James Blake makes you feel sorry for yourself, but leaves the listener believing Blake’s worries are greater than theirs. Blake masters dance, glitch, dub, auto-tune and pop music all at the same time without going over the top. Moreover, the vocal range Blake exhibits on this album is extraordinary. If the Leslie Feist cover of “Limit To Your Love” doesn’t catch your attention, or move you more than the original version, we are no longer friends.
Standout Track: Limit To Your Love
Honorable Mentions (In no particular order):
Bon Iver – Bon Iver
January 18, 2012
11 Favorite Albums of 2011