2011 was an interesting year for music. While there was no dominant force on the musical scene really (unlike 2010, The Year of Kanye), we were witness to a lot of exciting young artists establishing themselves. In an effort to best sum up the zeitgeist of the year, Dead Curious is bringing you each author’s Favourite Five Albums of 2011. This list is completely subjective – we didn’t give numerical values, nor are we looking for something to represent each genre. No; this is simply a list of the albums that made each of us “tick” this year and provided us with pleasure and happiness on each listen.
Without much ado, Dead Curious’ Top Albums of 2011:
Frank Ocean – nostalgia, ULTRA
Ocean is somewhat of an anomaly among his Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All brethren. While the more prominent members of the Los Angeles based collective have rapped, snarled and clawed their way into the focus of the music world (*cough, cough* Tyler the Creator), Ocean croons and delivers with a flow that is fitting of his nom de guerre. Ocean self-released this album in March, after falling out with his label Island Def Jam, even (rightly) going on a rant against them on Twitter. Themes of desires, dreams, and despondency abound in this album. Ocean gives us insight into the fractured nature of his relationships, and holds no punches. Lead single Novacane received strong radio play and his sincerity and clear voice carried this album to notice, a couple of guest spots on Kanye West and Jay-Z’s summer blockbuster Watch The Throne and a place in this Top 5.
Yuck – Yuck
This shouldn’t work. The sound espoused by the English quartet sounds like it came straight out of 1990, and is oddly reminiscent of Smashing Pumpkins’Siamese Dream. But sounding dated is part of the odd sense of familiarity this album has. Even on first listen, the sounds were warm, comforting and just so lovely, guitar crescendos held down by robust basslines. The guitars drip and flow over you, and the voice of lead singer Daniel Blumberg resonates with the same kind disconnect found in early Blur Damon Albarn. Really worth a listen, and it seems their live performances are also top-notch.
The Weeknd – House of Balloons
With an angelic and clear voice singing tales of debauchery and excess, The Weeknd came out of nowhere earlier this year, capturing the world’s attention. House of Balloons, his first mixtape, is rife with contrasts – woozy and distorted melodies driving beneath cutting lyrics, and minimalistic instrumentation painting a picture of drug-fueled excesses. House of Balloonsperfectly captured the spirit of a place and time, of those who dwell in the hours prior to dawn and give into every hedonistic desire.
Tesfaye also samples tracks smartly, pulling bits from a couple Beach House songs as well as Siouxsie and the Banshees. While he has remained an enigmatic figure, limiting his public appearances, he’s been doing a lot of work with Drake, including on Take Care (also featured on this list). Not bad for a twenty-year old kid from Toronto.
M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
M83’s sixth studio effort, a sprawling double album, is aptly titled. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming takes the listener on a journey through distinct musical styles, sounds and themes, all a product of Frenchman Anthony Gonzalez’s imagination and creativity. The highs soar, the lows swoop and it all has a tinge of fantasy to it. While 2011 was a year where looks at reality through music and art were bold and unflinching, M83 takes us back into the realm of conjuring up beautiful sonic landscapes. From the opening “Intro” featuring Zola Jesus, we can tell we’re in for a ride, full of synthesizers, loops and electronic beeps and blobs of sound. It’s a truly uplifting (double) album, in the vein of concept albums of days past such as Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (which Gonzalez claims was an inspiration).
Drake – Take Care
If one artist has had a meteoric rise in the past two years, it has been Drake. From the heartfelt earnestness of So Far Gone, the mixtape that put him on the map for his “#hashtag flow” and lyrical inventiveness, through the hit or miss effort that was Thank Me Later, this year’s release was always going to be a crucial one for the Toronto native. Fortunately, Take Care succeeds in the same way that So Far Gone did – Drake is at the height of his creative powers, exposing the private loneliness that underlies his public braggadocio (I hear the tiniest violin playing…). Notwithstanding, Drake is great at finding the right team to work with, with his guest performers elevating good songs into greatness (Lil’ Wayne on HYFR; Rihanna on Take Care) and his production/writing team of Noah “40” Shebib and Abel Tesfaye (aka The Weeknd) moonlighting with him on almost every track. Finally, as almost every other reviewer on the Internet has done, it’s worth noting that “Marvin’s Room” takes the typical rap song structure and inverts it, with our protagonist drunk and pathetically calling an old flame, looking for emotional comfort amongst a sea of writhing bodies. It’s a path everyone has been down, and it’s a lot more The Streets than Jay-Z.
Undeniably, this has been the year for the introspective rapper.
Clams Casino – Instrumentals
My friend Julian (of King Hamburger Pimp and the Sundance Kid) makes fun of me because I get a lot of enjoyment out of ridiculous rappers. I genuinely like Gucci Mane. There’s something about a musician who’s just enjoying their performance that I find magnetic. That’s the reason that I first started listening to Lil B. Lil B probably has the least amount of genuine rapping talent and ability of anyone making money in hip hop but it’s plain to see that he’s enjoying himself. Listening to Lil B mixtapes became one of those addictions that I had trouble understanding until I realized that it was the production that I loved, not the Based God himself.
I researched things and found that every Lil B song that I loved was produced by the same guy, Clams Casino. Clams released this album of instrumentals in early March, consisting of tracks he had produced for Lil B, Main Attrakionz, Soulja Boy and other rappers who really need production to carry them. Stylistically, his production lays layers of ethereal synths over Houston Screw-type drum breaks with a heavy dose of echo. It is the absolute antithesis of the angry and aggressive sounds that accompany a rapper like Waka Flocka Flame or Jim Jones. Clams Casino songs are the type of thing you would want to listen to while smoking a blunt with your girlfriend on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
Drake – Take Care
Drake cockily begins the first track of his sophomore album with the boast, “I think I killed everybody in the game last year, man; Fuck it, I was on though.” Drake was unquestionably “on” during 2011. One of the benefits of having a 45-minute commute to work in suburban Virginia is that I have a lot of time to listen to the radio. On one commute home during August, I heard guest spots by Drake on seven different songs in one stretch. In less than 30 minutes.
Take Care proved that Drake isn’t a one-dimensional Top 40 rapper. He displayed previously unseen depths of songwriting on tracks like “Marvin’s Room” and “Look What You’ve Done.” Crooning one minute, staccato rhyming the next, he’s creating a rap/R&B hybrid that’s infectious and somehow relatable even as he describes spending $50,000 on vacations for his entourage and making reservations for 20 at a restaurant. Drake is making R&B cool again. He is able to recreate the particular flavor of the pain of unrequited love and relationships and is able to sonically transmit the buzzing joy of success.
The Weeknd – House of Balloons
The enigmatic Abel Tesfaye, better know as The Weeknd, is the other figure leading the R&B renaissance. But while Drake captures the feeling of being in a club VIP at 1AM, on top of the world, The Weeknd captures the feeling of being in at an apartment at 4AM, ghoulishly drunk and high, with a Go-Go dancer from the club VIP that is only interested in you because you have an AMEX Black card. Tessfaye’s soaring falsetto weaves tales of intoxicated late-night rendezvous over dark but polished EDM-influenced production from Doc Kinney, Zodiac and Illangelo. It is easily the most cohesive musical package that I’ve listened to all year.
Since the release of House of Balloons, The Weeknd has been on a tear, contributing writing credits to no less than five songs on Take Care, producing solicited remixes for both Lady Gaga and Florence & The Machine, and landing on the shortlist for the Polaris Music Prize. Even in success, however, Tesfaye remains an elusive figure. He rarely does interviews and has only performed publicly on three occasions, relying mostly on his tumblr account to interact with his fans. The mystery surrounding The Weeknd was a factor in the success of House of Balloons; hopefully he can maintain the mystique.
Domo Genesis – Under the Influence
Domo Genesis suffers from the fact that he is a member of a music collective that is led by one of the most polarizing figures in music. As a member of L.A.-based Odd Future, Domo is often overshadowed by the antics of Tyler, the Creator. He doesn’t eat cockroaches in his videos (see Tyler’s “Yonkers”) and he doesn’t use the word “faggot” to punctuate every one of his verses (see Tyler’s album Bastard). What he does do, simply and with natural talent, is rap. With Earl Sweatshirt committed to reform school in American Samoa, Domo Genesis is the best rapper in Odd Future. Lacking the forced agression of Tyler and much more polished than Hodgy Beats, Domo Genesis delivers his relaxed weed-sprinkled lines with comfort and poise.
I may be cheating here because Under The Influence is more of a mixtape then an album as only two of the tracks contain original production; most of his time is spent rapping over beats from Kanye West, Snoop Dogg, Kid Cudi, Curren$y and even Mobb Deep. This, however, is a good thing. Odd Future doesn’t possess a an in-house producer that has developed any sort of individual style, relying mostly on amateurish beats put together with elements that sound like they haven’t been modified from their original Fruity Loops settings. Under The Influence indicates that Domo would benefit from outside production tailored his personal style. It seems like his friends are stifling his ability to soar.
Canyons – Keep Your Dreams
Describing Canyons’s sound is extremely difficult; The Fader made a pretty good effort when they called it “colors set to music” but that doesn’t quite catch the diversity of songs on the album. Tracks like “And We Dance,” a seven-minute opus of deliberately-developing atmospheric swirling synths and a crazy saxophone sample, and “Blue Snakes,” a modern interpretation of classic Detroit techno, sandwich “When I See You Again,” a song that wouldn’t be too out of place on a late 80s Paul Simon record. There are so many genres and influences at play that it would seem that such music would be confusing and discordant. Canyons keeps things under control by maintaining only one influence/genre per track, preventing the individual songs on Keep Your Dreams from becoming mushy, ill-defined messes.
Even with this schizophrenic approach, Keep Your Dreams is still a complete and unified album. Canyons maintains the same “feel” throughout. All of the songs are spiritually related, even though one might be described as futuristic ambient trance and one as late 70s disco rock. This is dance music for people who wish dubstep was never created and wish that club music had frozen in time in 1992.
So another musical year is coming to an end and its time for a top 5 albums of the year to be announced. In my opinion these five albums have been by far the most impressionable, and brilliant pieces of work produced in 2011. It has definitely been a good year for music, these albums would be a fitting addition to any collection.
5. In at number five is the brilliant POLINSKI with his album LABYRINTHS, for those of you who dont know POLINSKI i advise you check him out. He is one quarter of the prog-rock entity that is 65daysofstatic and whilst they have been making music for films POLINSKI has been making this work of genious. It souds like a 1980s video-game exploding into life, remixed with glitches and pure dance music. Just Brilliant.
The track above is called Tangents and is pretty schweeeet. You can find out more Here
4. Fourth is a beautiful singer whose music can only be described a complete pleasure to listen to. The album “Passenger” is just a perfect example of what can be done with just a guitar and a beautiful voice. Simple music at its very very best.
Find out more about here wonderful sound here
3. In my opinion this album is one that completely missed the radar of the big time stage this year for no good reason. It is Young The Giant with their self titled début album. This little american band even played Jools Holland earlier in the year and still seemed to escape any real publicity. Its a travesty that this was not picked up.
2. No words can describe this next album it is just a welcome into the weird and wonderful. My Morning Jackets album “Circutal” has not really left my ears for the last four months and is just awesome. A propper hardcore rock band through and through. Get listening to the track “Victory Dance” below.
Find out more about this KAPOW of awesomeness here
1. Even though all the albums mentioned here are incredible there was one that just jumped at me with all four limbs covered in greatness. “The Joy Formidable” and their album “The Big Roar” was easily my most played album for 2011 and will continue to be played for many more years as every track is anthemic among their fans of which I classify myself as.
There is no doubt in my mind that they are set to have a massive 2012 and will continue to do so for forever onwards. The track below is called “Wihrring” as is my favourite track of the album. Enjoy.
Found out more about the sparkling brilliance that is The Joy Formidable here
That concludes my top five albums of the year and i hope you enjoy them as much as i do 🙂
2011 has been a great year for Music Artist wise there has been so much true talent making there way forward to take centre stage. I have picked five of the best albums heard by myself this year. Now because its Christmas and I know people like freebies I have included two artists that you can directly download for free “now that’s a bonus” Merry Christmas and enjoy my reviews…
Who You Are: Bonus Tracks: Platinum
Release date: 14-11-2011
This young woman has made a great impression on me, this album captivates each nerve in my body, and her vocals are amazing and unpredictable but so harmoniously in tone. And the live instruments really make a difference to the sound of the album“Nobody’s Perfect” is a great work of art melodically soothing. “Mama Knows Best”shows off her extreme vocal ability as she blends jazz with blues, my eyes think of Burlesque when I hear this one so much depth and passion that you got to bop your head and tap your feet another unpredictable delight within this album. Jessie J I adore your Penchant for musical masterpieces, your writing ability shouts the UK, she is not trying to be anybody else, but understands who she is. “Who You Are” is my beloved on this album, as it explains vibrantly about when she almost lost herself and felt vulnerable. Which is very honest, this is what I adore most about this magnificent starlet she makes it easy to relate to her its not about her ego but her vocal ability which takes you to another dimension.
I Am Future
Release date: 13-09-2011
Females stand up this; album is very innovative it captures the struggle for survival in an industry dominated by men. No Lay isn’t playing she’s hardcore from her flow to her delivery its direct and bold, so in your face that it cannot be ignored. No Lay’s invigorated words, scream inspiration.
“Drugs” is dynamic and very sexy I’m very fond of the breathy whispers Na Na Na Na Na Na Nah. “Real Woman” should be on used on an action adventure score or movie soundtrack as she flows straight on the beat. wow this is hard body female.
Next up would be “Someone Like Me Freestyle,” which features Adele in the Chorus. No Lay sheds her pain for the man she loves got to quote this “I bleed I bleed I want u back… I don’t believe if you should love someone you should set them free.” Very real to the point that it makes you stop and want to rewind the whole song and listen to it all over again need I say more.
http://www.mediafire.com/?tzbadd6tn96qc33 (Free Download)
Release date: 28-08-2011
This Young man took me on a journey into his world, and the many struggles he has faced becoming the man he now is. There is more the preferred is most definitely “Serious”, it explains the love he feels for his woman, and how they became us. Striking words to the woman you love. “Awwwww very tweet” if that wasn’t enough Don Strata unleashes a flow over an old reggae sample Who knew you could mix rap with reggae and make it sound so easy entitled “Broader Than Broad Away” the “Barrington Levy” chorus sample is definitely a hit.
“Success” is another revelation as it samples a beautiful saxophone that ebbs like jazz couple that with the rough exterior in Don Strata’s tone and you have an infusion that delights the ears all round this album proves that Don Strata is a diamond in the rough. What I really like about this album is that it tells stories about his life adventures from a mans perspective and relates to many young boys on their way to manhood, its not just about showing your muscles its also about taking care of your family and protecting those you love.
http://hoodtapes.co.uk/don-strata-game-on/ (Free Download)
Mary J Blige
My Life II The Journey Continues (Act 1)
Release date: 14-11-2011
Now this has to be one of the best albums to date from Mary J, The first track I heard from this album was “Looking for Someone To Love Me,” and let me tell you I scrabbled around trying to find it New Jack Swing in the 21st Century delivered by the Hip Hop R&B Soul Queen and accompanied by none other than P Diddy and Lil Wayne what a collabo reminded me of growing up in the nineties took me straight back to my childhood thank you Mary for breathing life into a part of me I though I had forgot. Lets not even mention the scatting this encapsulates true soul essence and Vocal range to die for.
“Love A Woman” featuring another of my favorite singers Beyonce, what a complete sensation to my ears, tangle together these two vocals makes flawless melodies designed to humble all ears.
Then you have “Aint Nobody” originally by Chaka Khan, but Mary’s version is paying homage to Chaka’s the arrangement is a little different; the Synthesizer added in here blows my mind.
This album reminds me of back in the nineties so many tracks to listen to “I feel spoilt.” very well inscribed by Mary’s beautiful vocals, they strong, distinct and so is this here album.
Lioness: Hidden Treasure
Release date: 02-12-2011
I think I was the first person to buy this album… “Well maybe not, but I must let you into a secret”… At first I convinced myself it was a Christmas present for my mother (don’t tell her) but I’ve since opened it and began playing it and well, Miss Amy may your soul rest in peace because ur voice is still going and will remain so for many years to come what an icon Amy Winehouse was. I cannot describe the different textures that she incorporates within this album it is outstanding. “Between the sheets” is delightfully chic and very sixties; Amy uses so many different tones in this song that the dexterity of her vocal range takes on divineness. Proving that there was more to Amy than her unique sixties sound. “Like Smoke” feat Nas is a great interlude as Amy takes her vocal chords low and sounds like a hum within the bass line as her tone pours onto and against it with great finesse. Amy’s rendition of “Girl From Ipanema” is Bossa Nova Caribbean in sound but unusually big band also as she scats over the beat and resonates sweet too it sounds almost like she has picked an instrument and decided to interpret within this song music to my ears.
2011 is coming to its end but it has left beautiful albums with us. So this is my top 5. Enjoy it and, if you haven’t listened to any of these albums below, I hope this post gives you a reason to do it.
1. EDDIE VEDDER – UKULELE SONGS
“Ukelele songs” was launched in may of 2011. Eddie Vedder goes on with his personal journey after “Into the wild”. He is not only focused on his solo career, because he is releasing a new album with Pearl Jam next year.
After the success of his previous album “Into the wild” (OST for the homonym film), he recorded this one with an only instrument: an ukelele.And maybe someone would think that this album would be a bore, but it is fantastic, because only Eddie Vedder can do that.
The songs are purely folk and combine basic elements: a great voice, touching melodies and lyrics and only a guitar (in this case a small one).Other folk artists like Cat Power or Glenn Hansard have collaborated on this album.
Simple but amazing. And that is the magic of music.
Can’t Keep – Eddie Vedder:
2. FLORENCE + THE MACHINE – CEREMONIALS
At the end of october Florence Welch and her boys released “Ceremonials”.
A new album that follows the style of “Lungs”.
Although sometimes it is said that second parts are not good, this case is different: the second part is even better than the first one.
It still mantains the freshness of their first album, but in a more mature way. The album has dark overtones, it is melancholic but blissful at the same time in some compositions.
I would define it as a web composed by voices,choirs and different instruments (specially stringed and traditional ones) that shapes these twelve baroque pop songs full of mysticism.
What the water gave me – Florence + the Machine
3. TOM WAITS – BAD AS ME
After 7 years of silence the majestic voice of Tom Waits comes back to present “Bad as me”.
He doesn’t show us anything new, but his great voice, his great lyrics and some jazz-blues compositions are more than enough. He explores the blues and jazz genres in his particular dirty way. The album not only offers dark and vibrating songs, you will find soft and romantic compositions.
Musicians like Flea and Keith Richards have collaborated with Tom in the recording of some songs. And other musicians not so much known, like his son (who plays the drums) or his wife (who has helped him writing lyrics) have done it too.
Talking at the same time – Tom Waits
4. FLEET FOXES – HELPLESSNESS BLUES
“Helplesness blues” was launched seven months ago and since that, Fleet Foxes keep on winning good critics.
Never have I seen vocal harmonies like the ones that appear in the album. Voices and choirs fit perfectly in this musical puzzle. Like in their last album (“Fleet Foxes”), they don’t forget the presence of stringed instruments but in this new one, there is a big prominence of the wind section too. Fleet Foxes like to explore and incorporate new sounds in this album and they do it so well. Some songs don’t follow a rule or a common line. Sometimes they are a bit chaotic in its composition and every instrument has a different and unique role.
I have seen them in live this year and I can say that it has been a great experience and I truly recommend it.
Fleet Foxes – The Shrine / An argument
5. CITY AND COLOUR – LITTLE HELL
Dallas Green released his new album “Little Hell” on june of 2011. You may know him by being the singer of Alexisonfire, but this side project (which has already started in 2005) it is very different from what he plays with his band.
“Little Hell” follows the line of his previous albums (folk style), but this time in a more careful way. The improvement it is not only about technical issues (song recordings and editions are better), it is about the great compositions and his way of performing them. They are sincere, they touch you deeply because lyrics are real (they talk about love, about the lack of it, about loneliness and personal struggle…) and eveything without unnecessary embellishments. Because sometimes we only need a voice and a guitar to communicate or feelings in a beautiful way.
Little Hell – City and Colour :
Judge yourself and enjoy the albums.
Justice – Audio, Video, Disco
So, the end of the year calls for lists! Here are my Top 5 albums of the year, in no particular order. It’s fair to say 2011 has been a magnificent year for music, especially electronic. Many great artists have released long-awaited début albums (Sebastian & Surkin to name a few) while others got much anticipated follow-up albums out. My Top 5 is a bit special because I chose 5 artists who somehow took everyone by surprise because they were expected somewhere and ended up in a completely different direction, taking everyone by surprise.
The best example of this was probably the much-anticipated sophomore album Audio, Video, Disco from French duo Justice. Described by themselves as medieval andstadium-rock tailored music, the opus is galaxies away from their dancefloor killer debut album Cross. The duo compares the two albums saying that Cross was made for the night and the clubs while Audio, Video, Disco was made for the day and nature, which in a way sums up very well the two antinomic albums.
Horsepower opens the album and after an epic intro and sounds like Gaspard and Xavier unleashing the dogs of war. I chose to stream Canon, my favourite track of the album!
Yuksek – Living On The Edge Of Time
The second entry of my personal Top 5 albums of 2011: Yuksek and his second LPLiving On The Edge On Time. What was first presented as the Mega Mystery Band for teasing purposes turned out to be Yuksek’s new album. The banging DJ and producer took a completely different direction for his follow-up album to the internationally-acclaimed 2009 Away From The Sea. Bored with the loneliness of touring as a solo artist, Yuksek decided his second album would be more pop, and more importantly, played with real instruments and sang.
The result is pretty amazing. Forget the robotic voices of his first album. Yuksek sings with his guts and delivers a delightful hybrid LP, halfway between Rock and Electronic music. I chose the single On A Train for you to enjoy. If this isn’t catchy enough for you, then what will be?
Art Vs. Science – The Experiment
The third choice of my Top 5 albums of 2011: Art Vs. Science début album The Experiment. A well-chosen name because the 13 songs that compose the LP are all about experimenting. Prog-Rock, Electro-Rock, Futuristic music, whatever you call it, Art Vs. Science’s music is definitely out of norms. But beyond the genre itself, it’s probably the energy that comes out of the album that makes it special. All of the songs are energetic, sometimes a bit stupid, simple and complex at the same time. They remind me a bit of Nirvana in some ways, it might be the careless attitude. I saw the Aussie trio earlier this year at a festival and their performance was mind-blowing. Despite being a young act, Art Vs. Science behave like rockstars, chugging a beer during the bridge of a song. I chose Magic Fountain as an introduction to The Experiment. The 5 minute-long jam, told as a tale, is pure raw energy. Careful, not for the faint! Scratch Massive – Waiting For A Sign (Feat. Koudlam)
Number 4 on my top 5 albums of 2011 is Nuit De Rêves by French duo Scratch Massive. The duo signed a beautiful dark album where nostalgia meets a world class electronic production. Sometimes anchored in the past with references to The Doors, sometimes sounding as the world was falling apart, they surely know how to set an ambiance. I chose the song Waiting For A Sign, a thrilling post-apocalyptic anthem which will surely please the fans of the genre! The album really works all together. It is best listened to in your bed, eyes closed.
And the final entry of my Top 5 Best Albums of 2011 is…. druuuuumroooolllllll… Teenage Bad Girl! The duo from France emerged during the golden era of French Touch 2.0, A.K.A. French Kiss, circa 2007. They are pure electro children and many questioned how they would evolve as the genre was fading around 2010. Well, Backwash is their take on music as a whole, a real tour de force of what they can achieve by manipulating machines and synths. Somehow, they achieved to mix most genres with their very own electro style. You want electro-pop? Keep Up With You. You want electro-rap? Jumping Judas. You want electro-techno? The Wave. You want electro-boogie? Boogie Toy. I could go on like that with all 12 songs that compose this album. In a nutshell, Teenage Bad Girl released one of the most audacious and varied electronic album of 2011, for us to enjoy! I selected Keep Up With You as an introduction to the album. As catchy as it gets!