It has been a long year, and it’s not even over yet. But I’ll just assume that all of the amazing albums have been released already. So, if you are indeeded ready, here are my 11 favourite albums of ’11, with a youtube link of my favourite song from each album. Exciting times! This doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re the best albums, just the ones I like the most. And I did struggle getting it down to 11. I was almost tempted to put in a few honourable mentions, but that’d spoil all of my restraint. But regardless: enjoy! I certainly did. It really was a great year for music:
11. Childish Gambino – Camp
So there you have it: Troy can rap. He’s tied with Annie as my favourite character on Community, and now he’s number eleven in my favourite albums of the year. I guess I like Donald Glover. Sunrise and That Power were the only two songs I really liked, but there’s enough here to leave me hoping for dude’s potential.
10. Middle East – I Want That You Are Always Happy
The little Townsville band who have now broken up released their first LP this year. It was an interesting blend of folk, country, pop and even jazz. No two songs were really even similar, which can be good for diversity, but bad for continuity. But there was some sort of overarching folky-somewhat-pained-fun that I felt branching over all of the songs. My favourite song is the last on the album, Deep Water, which is a long, sad, folky song, and it was the only song on the album which I loved on first listen and I still love now.
9. Boy&Bear – Moonfire
You could almost see a theme emerging here: The Middle East and Boy&Bear are both Australian, folky bands who released a successful EP a while back before releasing an LP this year. But this almost feels wrong. Honestly, I’m not really that much of a Boy&Bear fan. I listened through their EP, and the only song I liked was The Storm. Now in this LP, the album is of a consistently good quality, but the two songs I naturally gravitate towards are Lordy May and Beach, the two slower, moodier songs on the album. Maybe I just like Boy&Bear’s slower style. They do the ho-down, Mumford-ish thing well too, but for some reason I don’t feel it as much as I do with their other songs (or when Mumford does it).
8. James Blake – James Blake
This sharp-looking indie kid has a strange habit of producing music that doesn’t really have a genre. Alternative-electronica-soul? Not really, but that’s as close as you’re probably gonna get. But regardless, he’s got a sweet sound. He’s produced 4 EPs as well as this LP in the last two years, so there’s a lot of his stuff out there. CMYK and Limit to Your Love are his most famous songs, but my personal favourites are A Case of You, Fall Creek Boys Choir and Unluck. And considering that Unluck is the only one of those songs on this album, I guess it’s my favourite.
7. Kanye West&Jay-Z – Watch the Throne
I gave Kanye album of the year last year (and I’d probably give it to him here if Fantasy was released this year), but Watch the Throne isn’t quite up to that quality. There was a lot of hype about how it was going to be some sort of grandiose parade of their own greatness, but it isn’t really that; it’s mostly just them having fun. Otis, the first single, is proof enough of that. If you watch the video, you can hardly say that the two of them are angling for any kind of G.O.A.T significance. Oddly though, the two most serious songs are the two that I like the most: New Day and Murder to Excellence. The latter is my favourite, mostly for the beat. Production rarely comes as epic as that. And the subject matter is just as demanding of attention, though in the middle of giddy grandiose parade, it did sound a little odd. But I guess that’s Kanye; punch-lines and social statements seem to come from his lips with the same passion.
6. Tyler, the Creator – Goblin
You could almost call Goblin Tyler’s Marshall Mathers LP: fiercely offensive, insular, confessional, and, paradoxically, both depressive and triumphant. He is the leader of the emerging/emerged hip-hop collective Odd Future, both in personality and music. Goblin is very, very long- if you cut out the worst twenty minutes you wouldn’t really miss it. But that’s Tyler. He spends 7 minutes on the opening song, which is basically just an exchange introducing the setting of the album, which is the same as his first album Bastard: a psychiatric session with Doctor TC. And he really seems like he needs a session, for real. He was 19 when Goblin was made, and he raps about how much he hates his absent father, how his girlfriend just left him, how much he misses his best friend and fellow Odd Future member Earl Sweatshirt, who was trapped on some island with his mother or something, as well as some of the most disturbing images I’ve yet encountered on Tron Cat. The dude’s kind of messed up. But somehow he is also the most confident, fearless person who has ever lived. It’s really offensive, it’s really long, but it’s too intriguing, and there are too many high points to leave it off my list.
5. Florence& the Machine – Ceremonials
She has a huge voice. And to me she comes across as part Stevie Nicks-ish, part fairy, mysticism-type-woman. But damn, girl can sing. Her first album Lungs was good, but she’s definitely improved here, in both vocals and consistency. Pretty much every song is a high point, but the album opener Only If For a Night was my favourite.
4. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
Honestly, I don’t really like PJ Harvey. Well, I didn’t. I heard all the gas-bagging about Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea and listened to it. And I didn’t really like it. Though I’ve never heard anything else of hers, so maybe her other stuff is cool. But Let England Shake. Damn. Every song is great in a different yet complementary way, and there’s a real heart to it, despite the fact that it’s an album about the Great War (which happened quite a while before Polly Jean’s time), in which she serves more as a narrator than a historian. There’s a freshness to the sound, and it really is an art-piece.
3. Panda Bear – Tomboy
I love this dude so much. Person Pitch is one of my favourite albums ever, so when I got Tomboy, I had high expectations. I didn’t want to, cause then it mightn’t live up to it or whatever, but I just really, really wanted to like this album. And Panda Bear didn’t disappoint. Except for Drone, the first half of the album is brilliant. After my favourite song, Alsatian Darn, the quality drops off a little, but it’s still good. He sounds kind of similar to Person Pitch, though what it had in vibes of summer cocktails and art-houses, Tomboy has in vibes of a night of psychedelics and hidden sorrow. To me. It’s a little darker in a kind of indescribable way, and the layers of sampling are insurmountable, but I still love it to bits.
2. Frank Ocean – Nostalgia, Ultra
Here’s the light side of Odd Future, so to speak. Frank Ocean, the R&B member of the clan, who featured twice as a guest star on Watch the Throne: he’s one to watch. And this album. This is his first album, as far as I’m aware. Damn. I really, really love this album. The tape-changing thing, the reimaginings of songs that nobody else would dare touch with a barge pole (seriously, Hotel California?), the dark crooning. For a dude who doesn’t usually like R&B, it was a real treat for me to find an R&B album that immediately clicked, and continued doing so. After the brief intro, the first song on the album is Frank’s own version of Coldplay’s Strawberry Swing, a song which I love, but which I now love less than Frank’s version. Swim Good is also amazing, but my favourite is There Will Be Tears, a Mister Hudson reimagining (the original I’d never actually heard of). It’s just a great song. And it’s great to see the difference between Frank’s pained lamenting over the absence of his father, and Tyler’s fury. And the title isn’t just a random choice: the album actually does have a feeling of giddy nostalgia.
1. Bon Iver – Bon Iver
Here we are. My favourite of the year. And damn is it a good’n. I love this album so much. Just the feel of it. The feel of it! It’s like some sort of calming wonder rests on me when I’m listening to these beautiful songs. Don’t get me wrong, I loved For Emma, but that was folky coolness. This is look-at-the-most-beautiful-parts-of-the-world-wonder kind of stuff. Or maybe you feel differently. Whatever, you’re allowed. But for me, this album is just something else.