My good friend Christopher , who is a graphic desinger in the music industry(http://www.spitandimage.net/), put together a list of his favorite 20 albums of the year . I look forward to his list every year and without fail, it proves to impress me and inspire me to check out some new music. Here are his picks for 2011 along with a few words on each album.
1. R.E.M. “Collapse Into Now”
I had this album on repeat back in March when it was released, prior to the announcement that the band was breaking up. I’m not sure how this album flew so far under the radar. It’s a total return to form and sounds like the band from the early nineties, but with more introspection. The album contains themes of change which was fitting for my state of mind. It became my personal soundtrack as I transitioned from NY to MN. Collapse into now indeed.
2. PJ Harvey “Let England Shake”
Polly Jean is an ever changing chameleon. On this album, she takes on the horrors of war and the politics that propel them. While not the most uplifting of themes, she uses her passionate voice to evoke a powerful narration. A beautiful commentary on the harsh realities of life during wartime.
3. Low “C’mon”
On their ninth full-length album, the trio continues the evolution of slowcore, the genre they helped define. Recorded in an old church, the sound is spacious and airy. The songs are affecting and the vocal harmonies that they are known for are beautiful and moving. The eight-minute builder “Nothing But Heart” (with the help of Nels Cline on guitar) showcases their knack for simplicity. Sometimes less is more.
4. Bon Iver “Bon Iver”
This album takes you on a journey that you won’t want to end. The use of strings and woodwinds are gorgeous and enhance the songs with their subtly. The result is a sonic landscape that stretches for miles.
5. The Decemberists “The King Is Dead”
“The best R.E.M. album in years” was going to be the tagline. Well, that all changed when R.E.M. actually released an album a few months later. With the help of Peter Buck and Gillian Welch, this album would have fit nicely between “Document” and “Green”. The Decemberists certainly embraced their inner Americana with stellar results.
6. Washed Out “Within And Without”
Part of the Chillwave movement in which synth is in. Ernest Greene, the man behind the MacBook, enlisted the help of Ben H. Allen (Animal Collective’s “Merriweather Post Pavilion”) who co-produced the album with him. It’s both dreamy and dancey: Think Yo La Tengo meets New Order.
7. Adele “21”
Yes, this album has been overplayed to death, but think back to when you first heard it. You’ll remember the power and beauty of that voice paired with her confessional break-up songs, which makes for one compelling record.
8. Radiohead “The King Of Limbs”
I don’t think they are capable of making a bad record. Always one step ahead, they keep pushing themselves and continue to seek out new territory. Many try to emulate them, but few succeed.
9. Girls “Father, Son, Holy Ghost”
Identity crisis or tribute? This album sounds like it was made by a variety of different bands: The Beach Boys, Love & Rockets, Band of Horses, Pink Floyd & Wilco to name just a few. Every song has a unique sound, yet it all goes together so well.
10. St. Vincent “Strange Mercy”
Annie Clark is a guitar goddess and continues to experiment with sounds using her extensive pedal board. While her third record may be her most accessible, it’s also her most personal.
11. Marianne Faithful “Horses And High Heels”
Armed with a stellar band (and guest appearances from Lou Reed and Dr. John) this album was recorded in New Orleans and it shows. It contains some bluesy covers along with a few originals. With her trademark gravelly voice, Faithful sings like a survivor who seems content with where she is in life.
12. Tom Waits “Bad As Me”
It’s hard to believe that he’s been making music since the early seventies and is not only relevant, but truly original. This record contains some of the clanking percussion found on “Bone Machine” as well as some poignant ballads reminiscent of his earlier work. No matter what the production, it’s the songwriting that’s at the heart of these songs.
13. The Black Keys “El Camino”
While this album just came out in December, it quickly grabbed my attention. The album feels more like a straight ahead rock album than their previous efforts. With help from producer Danger Mouse, it marks the first time the Keys have co-written songs with a third party. Who says three’s a crowd?
14. Laura Marling “A Creature I Don’t Know”
At 21, this English folk musician already has three albums under her belt, with this one being her strongest. Her songwriting and voice remind me of a younger Joni Mitchell, to which she is often compared. I would add Joan Baez, Sandy Denny and Linda Thompson in there as well.
15. Wilco “The Whole Love”
Like Radiohead, Wilco is a band that continues to move forward with each release, while managing to stay true to themselves. “The Whole Love” continues to push them in the right direction.
16. Fleet Foxes “Helplessness Blues”
Capitalizing on the success on their debut album, Robin Pecknold and company stick to the formula that won fans over in the first place. Complex folk songs with vocal harmonies remain in tact, but with some dramatic turns that challenge listeners to grow with them.
17. M83 “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming”
A double album by the French electronic musician Anthony Gonzalez, who said he recorded the album as a way to remember his childhood. He’s referring in part to the days when kids would make the trip to their local record store and listen to albums and dissect all its parts. The music combines electropop, ambient and new wave with an updated 80’s production style. A great way to relive your past.
18. Paul Simon “So Beautiful Or So What”
Without a doubt, his best album since 1990’s “The Rhythm Of The Saints”. Simon continues to fuse world music with his straight ahead approach of story telling.
19. James Blake “James Blake”
His music is a little hard to classify...dubstep? electronica? synthpop? Regardless, his voice is alluring and he distorts it through the use of Auto-Tune and vocoders. This English electronic music producer and singer-songwriter could be considered the experimental and haunting equivalent to Bon Iver.
20. Liam Finn “Fomo”
Liam has some big shoes to fill as the son of musician Neil Finn (of Split Enz and Crowded House). He certainly lives up to those expectations with his latest release. He may sound a lot like his father, but he has a voice all is own.