Tuesday, 1 May 2012

My Top 10 Albums Of 2011

 Some people may believe May 2012 to be too late to be looking back into 2011. Others may think that it's all the better to look back later in the year, giving the previous year more perspective. Others may yet have simply not gotten around to writing their annual top 10 list until this late in the year. Whatever the reason, let's turn back the clock a tiny little bit. 2011 is one of those years where there's a ton of excellent music release. Narrowing my favorite albums to just 10 was a fairly difficult task. But nevertheless, here's my top 10 albums of 2011.
Maybe not 88 mph, though, we're only going back 5 months. Try going around 85.

10. Foo Fighters-Wasting Light
Alternative Rock

 Yeah, the Foo Fighters have been slowly crawling into pop over the last decade. But before this record, something struck Dave Grohl and the rest of his band. Some sort of act of inspiration got them to record solely onto analog, in a garage, with Butch Vig producing, Pat Smear playing guitar, Krist Novoselic guesting on one song, and presumably a cardboard cutout of Kurt Cobain just for the hell of it. The result is one heck of a rock and roll record. It's rare that a band that's been around as long as the Foo Fighters are able to top themselves, but Wasting Light rocks harder and more earnestly than anything they've ever put out before.

9. Feist-Metals
Indie Folk

Graveyard by Feist on Grooveshark

 Indie-folk is a genre that gets a little bit more oversaturated, and, as such, a little bit more irrelevant every year. But there's still a notable divide between the artists who are in it because it's getting popular and the artists who are legitimate, and Feist is definitely one of the latter. Metals shows why Feist is still one of the top voices of the genre- the music is beautiful, thoughtful, and dramatic without being overbearing. The songs on this album build up in interesting ways, and the vocal performance is just fantastic.

8. Primus-Green Naugahyde

  Primus is back, and they're back in top form. While one would expect an extended hiatus to dull the edges of a band like Primus, if anything, the (re)addition of new old drummer Jay Lane has re-sharpened them. Green Naugahyde is groovy, irreverent, funky, bizarre, and everything else you'd expect from a Primus album. There's killer basslines, spacey interludes, and a whole lot of energy. This one is absolutely not to be missed, especially if you're already a fan.

7.  Russian Circles-Empros

 A post-rock trio from Chicago isn't exactly a rare sight. But a little bit rarer is a band who so firmly and consistently stand planted on the line between post-rock and atmo-sludge metal that it's a bit hard to define them as either. With Empros, Russian Circles have certainly made their heaviest album yet, and their closest to come into straight-up metal territory, but they still have not exactly crossed that line on either side, and that's what makes Russian Circles a lot more interesting than many of their contemporaries. Empros stretches 6 tracks across 41 minutes, but none of the songs feel long, and none of their build-ups seem too drawn-out either.

6. Mogwai-Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will

 With Hardcore, Mogwai have now released seven dangerously consistent studio albums. This one is a Mogwai album through and through, with huge dynamics, passionate ballads, and some of the most explosive climaxes in rock. Hardcore isn't going to convert any new fans, but if you're into post-rock there's simply no reason not to have this album.

5. AWOLNATION-Megalithic Symphony
Alternative Rock/Synthpop

 I assume you have heard Sail. Or maybe you just don't have a radio. But if you didn't like Sail and wrote off AWOLNATION, I feel extremely sorry for you. Bandleader and principal songwriter Aaron Bruno has created a fantastic, diverse, genre-bending record where every song is different and they're all amazingly fresh. Like a mad scientist, Bruno combines dance pop, alternative rock, industrial metal, hip-hop, and even gospel (and these are just the common genres on display) into 14 tracks that overall make up one of the most unique albums in quite a while.

4. Ari Hoenig-Lines Of Oppression

 I had the good fortune to see Ari Hoenig's quartet live a few months ago, and the intensity and complexity of the songs from this album just blew me away. Of course the record doesn't quite encapsulate the quartet's live show, but when do they ever do? Lines Of Oppression is, without sugarcoating it, one of the best jazz albums released in a long time, and certainly one of the trickiest. Hoenig's quartet's technical abilities are extremely high, as showcased by these rhythmically complex, high energy tunes that push the absolute limits of what can be done within the idiom of jazz.

3. Steven Wilson-Grace For Drowning
Progressive Rock

 Steven Wilson is a pretty busy guy. Among his many musical projects and collaborations Wilson found the time to work on remastering King Crimson's back catalogue, and that seems to be one of the strongest influences on his second solo album. Grace For Drowning is dramatic, dark, and oppressive. It is often dissonant and loud, though it has it's mellow, beautiful, balladic moments. Overall Steven Wilson once again proves that he thinks and writes like no one else in the music industry today.

2. M83-Hurry Up, We're Dreaming

Midnight City by M83 on Grooveshark

 Nothing screams "ambition" more than a double album. And while M83's Anthony Gonzalez cited The Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness as one of the chief inspirations for his choice to expand the sprawl of his music onto two discs, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming is neither overlong or stocked with filler. An interesting thing to note is that Hurry Up could have (just barely) fit on one disc, and the use of the double album is more of an artistic statement-each track on disc one has a corresponding "mirror" track on disc two. (The downloadable bonus track, conveniently called "Mirror", adds to this concept). And while that's only scratching the surface of the theme of this album, let's talk a little bit about the music. Hurry Up is the most stylistically diverse, and yet sonically unified album Gonzalez has ever put out. M83 never really feels like a mix of genres on this album, but instead something wholly new. And with music that is this passionate and powerful, I sure hope this new something sticks around.

1. Cormorant-Dwellings
Progressive Metal

 Bay Area metal four-piece Cormorant are slowly becoming the poster children of DIY music, and Dwellings might be the most consistently well-reviewed metal album of 2011, for extremely good reason. There has never been a metal record like this before. Cormorant combine prog, sludge, folk, death, and black metal so fluently that they've practically created their own genre (affectionately dubbed as "Tiberian Ass-Bastard Folk Metal" by fans). But Cormorant aren't just a gimmick. They've got some of the best songwriting in metal today, and certainly some of the best lyrics as well. If you're into metal at all, this is an album to check out.