So, with 2011 slowly fading away in the abyss of your memory as it becomes ‘yesteryear’, now seems like a good time to look back on it and reflect. No, not like a mirror, but like a person who is ‘deep’, something which I can pretend to be. Without further ado and further words added only to make up my word count, here are my top 10 albums of 2011:
10. Fixers – Imperial Goddess Of Mercy
Ok, so it’s technically an EP, but it’s my list so I can choose what I want. Basically a precursor to their full length album due out this year, IGOM is a fantastic release that is almost a showcase for the band, letting them display the vibrancy and colour of their sound. ‘Majesties Ranch’ (previously reviewed by an devilishly handsome ASR reviewer) is the opener and EP highlight, bringing to mind good times and summer evenings when it seems the sun will never set. The EP is crammed with other tunes that show off the range of influences and styles Fixers posses. ‘Selinah’ sees them veering into almost psychadelic territory, whilst ‘Evil Carbs’ sees a firm focus on Beach Boys style melody. This is more than a solid release; this is a cracking EP that bodes very well for the forthcoming full length, and could very well see Fixers appear once more on an end of year ‘best of’ album list.
9. Foo Fighters – Wasting Light
Since the release of the brilliant and very underrated ‘One By One’, Foo Fighters have been threatening an album like ‘Wasting Light’. Songs such as ‘The Pretender’, ‘Let It Die’ and ‘Hell’ hinted at them unleashing a harder sound. No one expected them to make what is at times a full on heavy metal album. ‘Wasting Light’ is that, often leaving their more melodic sounds relegated to the odd appearance, and it was one that took everyone by surprise. And it’s truly epic. The opening refrain of ‘Rope’ will surely be timeless, and the song itself is the masterpiece of the album, punctuated with snarling guitars and mental drumming. ‘White Limo’ is simply the heaviest song Foo Fighters have ever put to record, and any song that has a video of that includes Lemmy driving the eponymous vehicle off a cliff is a winner. And of course we can’t forget that the whole thing was recorded in Dave Grohl’s garage. Fantastic.
8. Mazes – A Thousand Heys
A band many won’t have heard of, and indeed one I hadn’t heard of until a ravishing young reviewer from ASR reviewed their awesome single ‘Most Days’, Mazes have delivered a mentally fun slice of sunshine glistening madness with ‘A Thousand Heys’, their debut album. Right from the off the atmosphere of a carefree summer is set, with opener ‘Go Between’ delivering what could be the opening scene music from a film that starts with young people waking up on a hot summer’s day. The almost lazy pace does pick up on many tracks, such as the whirring, twirling spontaneity of songs like ‘Wait Anyway’ and ‘Til I’m Dead’. Most of the songs here are short, clocking in around or under 3 minutes, and this fits in with the ethos of the album. You feel that Mazes would get bored holding a chord or beat for longer than a few seconds, such is the frenetic pace many of the songs set, juxtaposed with the ‘can’t be arsed’ glory of the slower paced songs. Don’t think that’s a slur; it’s not, as those songs are just as good, and this album is immense. Oh, and it was recorded on a boat. Seriously.
7. Friendly Fires – Pala
Friendly Fires’ debut album was a thing of beauty and one the best debut albums in a long, long time. The follow up would be hard pushed to reach such heights, but it certainly gives it a try. In feel, ‘Pala’ is more laid back than it’s predecessor, but that doesn’t mean it lacks in quality. Indeed this album is riddled with fantastic songs and some truly astonishing melodies. Lead single ‘Hawaiian Air’ is of course utterly brilliant and the sort of song the band are now known for, i.e. one that combines a massively catchy refrain with a collection of instruments and some blinding melodies that are harder to shake off than a sexual disease. Not that you’d want to shake them off (the melodies, not the sexual diseases). It would be no bad thing to walk about humming the tune from songs such as ‘Live Those Days Tonight’ or ‘Running Away’. There’s a seam of catchiness that runs throughout the album, and when it clashes with the more relaxed vibe of songs, you get such lovely tunes as ‘Helpless’ and ‘Hurting’ as well as the excellent ‘Blue Cassette’. This album is markedly different in feel to their first, but it’s definitely on a par with it, and is a terrific album full of lush soundscapes.
6. Coldplay – Mylo Xyloto
Yes, that right’s; Coldplay. Oh shut up. I’m being serious. But let me reassure you that I too have found much of their work to be risible. Coldplay’s debut album, ‘Parachutes’, is actually one of my favourite albums, yet subsequent releases have left me colder than being naked with Margaret Thatcher in a snowstorm in the Arctic. This culminated with the truly awful ‘Viva La Vida’ truly one of the most wretched albums I’ve ever heard, and one that set new records in ‘up their arse-ery’. So that’s what makes Mylo Xyloto all the more remarkable. It seems that they have (mostly) left pretension at the door, and just concentrated on making fantastic songs. The biggest tune is clearly the massive ‘Paradise’, an utterly immense song who’s chorus is a soaring tsunami of joy. The band seem to have spent a lot of time careful crafting the choruses to sound as big and powerful as possible, with the aforementioned ‘Paradise’ and with tunes such as ‘Hurts Like Heaven’ and ‘Charlie Brown’. They still have some slower, more downbeat and melancholic numbers, best displayed on ‘Princess Of China’ on which Rhianna guests, as well as the almost lounge like ‘Up In Flames’. The album highlight for me however is the stunning ‘Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall’, a tune that smashes the anchors of the heart and lets it soar. That’s how good this album is; it moves me to write such things, even though my hate cells scream with horror at the thought of such thoughts being expressed.
Let’s hope Coldplay can stay out of their own arses then and keep producing such brilliant music.
5. Nero – Welcome Reality
Whilst some of the tunes on ‘Welcome Reality’ had been floating around for a while, to have them all on the same piece of work along with many new tracks was a glorious prospect. And so it proved. Old favourites such as ‘Innocence’ and ‘Me And You’ sat comfortably alongside new tracks, and indeed didn’t feel out of place as if they’d just been placed onto the album for the sake of it. They fit in with the feel of the album, and once you play it through they seem to have their spots well picked out and complement the other tracks and vice versa. Anyway, Nero unleashed this majestic and magical piece of work at just the right time, just as the new wave of electro and drum ‘n’ bass style of music was reaching something of a nadir. It was a smash hit, reaching number on the album chart, and with such a collection of amazing songs, you can see why. The towering ‘Me And You’, already a fan favourite, is simply breathtakingly amazing; a truly epic tune that sends a shiver down the spine. ‘Scorpions’ is an otherworldly tune that grips you, ‘Crush On You’ is like speed in music form, ‘Angst’ actually at times feels like a song you should be scared of and is exhilarating as result and ‘Fugue State’ actually feels like a musical representation of it’s title. Well I imagine it does, as I’ve never been in one. Nero have set the bar with ‘Welcome Reality’ and it’s going to take a monumental effort to even equal the sheer excitement and enjoyability of this record. Ace.
4. Mastodon – The Hunter
Ah Mastodon. You know them; hairy and loud, like heavy metal should be. Yet some balked when they heard that this album was to have more traditional, shorter songs. Their previous efforts had songs that came in at 5,6 or more minutes often, yet The Hunter is replete with songs that are 3 minutes or 4 minutes long. Anathema! some shouted! Yet when this album dropped, they were soon quietened. Quite why anyone with functioning ears would have questioned the mighty Mastodon is somewhat of a mystery to me, as if I heard that they were releasing an album of 80’s New Romantics covers, I’d still rush out and buy it. The Hunter is a crushing shining jewel, and is in my opinion THE heavy metal album of the year. The songs are sharp and rounded, many even having a chorus, such as the amazing ‘Curl Of The Burl’, a truly awesome song that is made all the better for it’s opening line of “I killed a man cause he killed my goat”. The album is replete with such songs, like the opener ‘Black Tongue’ and ‘Blasteroid’, whilst the tendency to be batshit mental remains, and indeed shines through like some glorious mental breakdown, with ‘Bedazzled Fingernails’ and ‘Octopus Has No Friends’ being clear displays of this. The heaviness the band are famed for is here in force, and indeed has been turned up, feeling crushingly heavy, like trying to juggle the planets Jupiter and Saturn. Face melting riffs abound, so much in fact that I had to get numerous face transplants during the first listening of it, and their technical mastery is evident throughout the album. This is a challenge to all metal bands, and since it’s release, no one has been able to step up. Stunning.
3. Ankit Love – Forever
The first thing you’ll most likely be thinking is “Who?!”. Indeed I too had no idea who this guy was until some witty and urbane chap from ASR reviewed his debut album, ‘Forever’, the same album that takes the number 3 spot on my top 10 albums of 2011. Ankit Love is based in California, via India, and is very much a funky monk type of guy. If you get the reference, then you’ll know how many of his tunes sound, and indeed opening track ‘People Are My Favourite Things’ could very well sit comfortably on ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik’. The lyrical mastery is a thing of beauty on ‘Forever’, with tunes like ‘Spill The Milky Way’, ‘It Is What It Is’ and ‘Unite+Funk’ bending the mind and opening new synaptic pathways. The seam of funk that runs through the album is glorious, and it brilliantly complements the rock, soul and hip hop elements that permeate throughout. The album is an amazing, beautiful release, perfectly melding the spirituality of India with the sunshine of California, and would be so even without it’s masterpiece, ‘Beethoven Burst’. But ‘Beethoven Burst’ is on the album, and this tune just makes it all the better. It’s truly magnificent, and one of the best tunes I’ve heard in a long time. You simply have to give it a spin. Oh, and the album. It’s rather fantastic!
2. The Vaccines – What Did You Expect From The Vaccines
The Vaccines burst onto the scene with this, their debut album. Hype for it was everywhere, but unlike most hype it was more than justified. Put simply, ‘What Did You Expect From The Vaccines’ is amazing. It’s pretty much a punk record, yet is full of pop songs, but not ‘pop-punk’ that bands such as Blink 182 or Sum41 peddle. These songs have the ethos and sound of a punk band, yet are somehow exceptionally catchy and often with massive sing along choruses. And most are under 3 minutes in length (only 5 of the 11 tracks here are over 3 minutes). Opening track ‘Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra) is just 1.24 in length, yet in that time manages to pack in an insanely catchy refrain and a great riff. Indeed great riffs abound on the album, with ‘If You Wanna’, ‘Under Your Thumb’ and ‘Norgaard’ showcasing this best. Most of the songs deliver in a punchy, sharp manner, erupting through the speakers and instantly taking attention of your ears, all the while managing to remain incredibly tuneful. You see The Vaccines have a great knack for creating a great tune. Listen to ‘Post Break Up Sex’ or ‘All In White’ and you can see that they aren’t all about short, jagged songs. These tunes also show that the band are accomplished songwriters, using humour and reality in a fantastic musical mix. But it’s the massive choruses and the fun of it all that really make this album. Try to refrain from singing along to the chorus of ‘If You Wanna’ or loudly shouting ‘Eleanor’ during ‘Under Your Thumb’, or try stop that massive smile splitting your face when listening to tracks that are as fun as ‘Norgaard’ or ‘Wetsuit’. It seems like a lot of contemporary music simply isn’t fun anymore, instead concentrating on being serious and trying to act hard.’ What Did You Expect From The Vaccines’ simply concentrates on having a good time and making fantastic pop songs, which it does exceptionally well, leaving the poseurs gurning and raging in the rear-view mirror. There‘s a reason that this was the biggest selling debut album of 2011.
1. The Joy Formidable – The Big Roar
In keeping with the theme of debut albums (5 of the 10 here are debut albums), the number one spot here also goes to a debut album. The Joy Formidable, a Welsh 3 piece, were again yet another band that I had never heard of, until some cutting edge young reviewer here at ASR reviewed the first two singles from this album, ‘A Heavy Abacus’ and ‘Cradle’, both of which are exceptional tunes. As the vast majority of the tunes on this album are. In fact they’re so good, some would say it’s the album of 2011….
Opening with a song that is 7.44 in length is a brave move, but The Joy Formidable don’t care for convention, which is why the move pays off, as ‘The Everchanging Spectrum Of A Lie’ is a glorious introduction, a swirling wall of sound that assails the listener and ensures your attention is held until the last note of the album closer, the momentous ‘The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade’, an emotive and soaring tune. The album is crammed with fantastic hits, some of which fans will know from being live favourites or from being on their previous EP, ‘A Balloon Called Moaning’. You could say they were struggling for material, but you’d be wrong, and when songs are as good as ‘The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade’, ‘Cradle’, ‘Austere’ and ‘Whirring’, you simply can’t leave them out. ‘Austere’ is a brilliant song, utilising the wall of noise style the band use all over this album, but done in a gradual manner, building up to it throughout, making it a whirlwind of a song. Other tunes, such as ‘Buoy’, ‘I Don’t Want To See You Like This’ and ‘Chapter 2’ use the same style to great effect, nay, amazing effect. Listening to these tunes is a fantastic experience, and something not many bands can offer. The best is placed right in the middle of the album though, with the stupendous genius of ‘Whirring’, a 6.47 tune that simply blows the listener away. Words cannot do it justice, so you’ll just have to go and listen to it. Right now.
This album is so good that the band appeared on a string of festivals in 2011, including Reading and Leeds, Glastonbury and Lollapalooza. This album is so good that the band were asked to appear on ‘The Late Show With David Letterman’ in America. This album is so good that the Foo Fighters personally asked them to be the opening act for the Foos 2011 Autumn/Winter tour. Need I go on? Quite simply this is a stunning album, a work of utter genius, and that’s why it’s the number 1 album of 2011.
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