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Top 10 Albums of 2011

Top 10 Albums of 2011
Top 10 Albums of 2011
Article by: Pete Nema

Near the end of every year there is a flurry of Top 10 lists that start showing up as early as the first week in December.

And every year I lazily ponder my top 10 albums over the holidays, choosing to come last when it comes to publishing my list. This year, I brought a group of Sticky contributors along for the relaxed ride toward the end of the pack. Hopefully the holiday break has provided you with enough time away from the stream of Top 10 lists that you'll welcome our picks. As you read and listen to our selections from 2011, think of it as preparation for the hunt for great music in 2012.

This year we have Top 10 lists from: Allison Janzen, Chad Hutchings, Julie Lavelle, Natalia Buia, Pete Nema (me), and Sean McNamara.

Amazingly, there's only a few artists that made multiple lists here: Bon Iver, Explosions In The Sky, Austra, Mother Mother, M83, plus a couple of others. I believe the general lack of cross-over is partly due to how music is discovered these days. Although radio still plays a part, the mechanisms of how we find out about music has become much more diverse. More and more people are using services like last.fm, MOG, iTunes, and Amazon, as well as other recommendation engines. And hopefully music blogs play a part as well!

I have already looked through the lists of my colleagues and although many of their picks didn't make my list, I can't argue against [most of] their selections. There are also a few album picks in there that I haven't yet heard, so now you know what I'll be listening to over the coming weeks.

Anyway, here is the music we learned about and loved in 2011.

Allison Janzen

 1

Mother MotherEureka

Eureka takes a leap from Mother Mothers's 2008 record, O My Heart, giving them another solid piece of work. It's fresh, catchy, inspiring and the musicality of this album is at it's peak. Ryan Guldemond's songwriting ability always blows my mind, while the rest of the band makes this Mother Mother album sound perfect. The usual strong catchy riffs, melodies and fusing harmonies are still present in a quirky and playful form, that will undeniably get you grooving wherever you are. Eureka is one of those albums where every song is unique and unforgettable, which is very rare these days given the fact that the music industry is favouring the "single" system as of late. Even the album cover is brilliant along with the title Eureka. In Greek "eureka" literally translates as "I am in a state of having found it". It seems that Mother Mother has definitely found their niche, sonically and creatively, with this album.

Song Highlights: "Baby Don't Dance", "The Stand", "Aspiring Fires" and "Calm Me Down"

 2

St. VincentStrange Mercy

Another album in and St. Vincent gets stranger. If I had one word to describe this album it would be "simplicated". Yes, it's a made up word that I use to describe something that is simple and complicated at the same time. "Strange Mercy" is just that and yet it's incredibly pleasing to the ear. It isn't as cinematic as her last album "Actor" however, the ear salivating-like production makes up for it in the end, making this album feel very full and robust. Annie Clark's dreamy and captivating vocals, crunchy guitar riffs, gritty synths and playful lyrics makes this album very infectious and fun to listen to. As eccentric as "Strange Mercy" is, Annie Clark is clearly a creative innovator that has a gift at fusing aesthetic lyrics with quirky arrangements that are jam packed full with emotion.

Song Highlights: "Cruel", "Surgeon", "Neutered Fruit" and "Hysterical Strength"

Video: "Cruel"
 3

The StreetsComputers and Blues

The Streets have had a long and successful run in the past 18 years, but Mike Skinner has finally called it quits with his last album, "Computers and Blues". This album has a little taste of all of his previous albums within it. It is upbeat like "Original Pirate Material" and "A Grand Don't Come For Free" while lyrically, it's a bit like "Everything Is Borrowed". Musically The Streets have always been pretty progressive and this time around it's a mix between electronica, UK Garage and Hip Hop. When it comes to poetry, Skinner dominates and, if I can dare say this, he's one of the most influential rappers that helped legitimize the British Hip-Hop scene. I'm sad to see such a great group leave but on a positive note, this opens up possibilities for future projects. In fact, Skinner has already started a new project with Rob Harvey called The D.O.T so be sure to check that out.

Song Highlights: "Trust Me", "Going Through Hell", "Puzzled By People" and "Lock The Locks"

Video: "Trust Me"
 4

The Joy FormidableThe Big Roar

Based in Wales, The Joy Formidable, has been loving their newly found success this year. Although they are a new name to North America they have managed to win the hearts of fans of indie rock with ease. How can you not fall in love with a band that writes heavy thunderous anthemic songs whilst blowing your mind with their exceptional musicianship? The first track alone, "The Everchanging Spectrum Of A Lie" sums up the energy, direction and feel of the album in just under 8 minutes. "The Big Roar" brings an indie rock/pop, while being slightly progressive, feel to the majority of the songs and yet there's an element of pop and shoegaze embedded underneath. It should also be noted that it was mixed and produced by Rich Costey, who worked with Muse and the Foo Fighters, hence the slight Foo Fighters sound attached to it.

Song Highlights: "Whirring", "The Magnifying Glass", "Austere" and "Chapter 2"

Video: "Whirring"
 5

M83Hurry Up We're Dreaming

I had heard about the buzz surrounding this group for a while but never really sought them out for a long time. They only recently grabbed my attention because I had watched the film, "Art of Flight" that features a handful of their songs. I remember being blown away by the euphoric and cinematic nature of the music. It truly takes a talented artist to compose instrumental material that takes you away into another world visually and emotionally. This double album is packed with 74 minutes of dreamy, upbeat, infectious 80's electro pop tracks, smeared with awesome sauce. Even though the album is quite long for our musically ADD-infected society, it's rollercoaster ride of emotions and change of dynamics, keeps the listener interested, intrigued and full of goose-bumps.

Song highlights: "Midnight City", "Reunion", "My Tears Are Becoming A Sea" and "Intro"

 6

NERO Welcome Reality

The London UK based group, Nero, has been quietly emerging within the Dubstep/Drum & Bass scene for the past 2 years or so. Nero released a few of their own singles throughout the year, gaining a lot of notice from DJ's around the UK. One of their strong skills is their production and their really strong remixes of various artists such as, The Streets, Deadmau5 and Justice, etc. It wasn't until near the end of the year they released their first album, Welcome Reality, that has thrown them into the spotlight internationally. This 19 track concept album contains catchy pop-like hooks and arrangements with some serious off the chart, filthy beats and bass. The addition of frequent collaborator, Alana Watson, makes this album pretty close to perfect. While Dubstep is gaining popularity in the mainstream, Nero will probably dominate Dubstep/Drum & Bass/Electronic scene for the next few years.

Song highlights: "Promises", "Guilt", "Me and You" and "Innocence"

Video: "Promises"
 7

The KillsBlood Pressures

After a small break following their last 2008 album, The Kills came back with a really decent album in 2011. Blood Pressures is a minimalist gritty garage rock/punk album that embodies a heavy blues component. I think it's safe to say that Alison Mosshart's involvement with Jack White's latest band, Dead Weather, provided a positive impact to the band's sound and creative ability. Some fans may have been disappointed because the record was not a "dance floor record" like their previous Midnight Boom album, but it still has a pretty powerful energized pop/rock feel to it. The duo does it again for the fourth time and it has lead me to believe that anything The Kills touch, turns to gold.

Song Highlights: "Future Starts Slow", "Satellite", "DNA" and "Baby Says"

 8

Lady GagaBorn This Way

Even if you are not a huge fan of mainstream pop music you have to admit that this album is one the best pop albums of the year. The production is gold, the melodies are catchy as hell, the lyrics are especially anthemic and it's almost near to impossible to not start dancing to this record. As you know well by now, Gaga's outrageous personality and costumes, makes her not your average pop star. I like the fact that her ideas are genuine and are not manufactured by a marketing crew, which is rare within the pop music industry. I almost want to call her a "pop activist" with all of her strong messages of demand for self respect, equality and gay rights. In retrospect, some people will complain about the overreacted hype attached to this album but in my opinion compared to all the other pop albums that came out, I thought Lady Gaga topped all of them.

Song Highlights: "Born This Way", "Heavy Metal Lover", "Marry The Night" and "Scheibe"

 9

Austra  Feel It Break

In 2010 Katie Stelmanis was one of the most talked about acts at NXNE, SXSW and CMW. Presently, her band Austra (signed to Domino Records) in 2011, has exploded across Europe and North America with their latest album. Although Feel It Break oozes with dark melancholy electropop, it doesn't deter you from the dance floor. Besides it's infectious beats nothing is more haunting and unforgettable than Stelmanis' voice. Operatically trained, Stelmanis delivers with intense and yet affectionate precision. If you are a fan of The Knife and Florence and The Machine then you will probably love this album.

Song Highlights: "Lose It", "Beat And The Pulse", "The Noise" and "Spellwork"

Video: "Lose It"
10

Uh Huh HerNocturnes

In 2008 after the release of hit record, Common Reaction, Uh Huh Her went on a short hiatus where they fired their manager and was dropped by their label. Now label-less and in full control of their art and creative aspirations, Uh Huh Her took some time off to write one of their more robust sounding records called Nocturnes. Even though the title suggests that it may sound darker, Camilla Grey explained in an interview that they had written the majority of the record at night and were inspired by the darkness, hence the title, Nocturnes. This record doesn't shy away from the usual electronic feel of the group but it does incorporate more guitar to give this record a deep rock sound. Aurally, there's some influence of the 80's that sounds similar to The Cure and maybe a bit of New Order. It seems like a 3 year break did Camilla Grey and Leisha Hailey well because both have improved musically and most importantly lyrically. If you loved this album then I suggest you also check out their Black and Blue EP.

Song Highlights: "Another Case", "Disdain", "Criminal" and "Same High"

Chad Hutchings

 1 Wu Lyf ñ Go Tell Fire to the Mountain

Wu LyfGo Tell Fire to the Mountain

Soaring and gritty; It's indie rock, made massive.

Video: "We Bros"
 2 Explosions in the Sky ñ Take Care, Take Care, Take Care

Explosions in the SkyTake Care, Take Care, Take Care

The Austin post-rockers have once again created the soundtrack to a life we wish we had.

 3 Bon Iver ñ Bon Iver

Bon IverBon Iver

A monumental effort showing that Justin Vernon left nothing behind in the wilderness of Wisconsin.

Video: "Holocene"
 4 Beirut ñ The Rip Tide

BeirutThe Rip Tide

Weighing in at a lean 33 minutes, The Rip Tide's intricate instrumentals and rich vocals stun for every short moment.

Video: "Santa Fe"
 5 The Antlers ñ Burst Apart

The AntlersBurst Apart

If you think it feels good to feel lonely, Burst Apart is the perfect catalyst.

Video: "Hounds"
 6 Peter Wolf Crier ñ Garden Of Arms

Peter Wolf CrierGarden of Arms

Jagjaguwar's much too hidden gem.

 7 Dodos ñ No Color

DodosNo Color

The Dodos' fourth is loud and complex and just plain lovely.

 8 Braids ñ Native Speaker

BraidsNative Speaker

Few recordings manage to sound this surreal while staying completely accessible.

Video: "Lemonade"
 9 Okkervil River ñ I Am Very Far

Okkervil RiverI Am Very Far

Okkervil River breaks free from the concept album with a collection of symphonic odds and ends.

10 M83 ñ Hurry Up, We're Dreaming

M83Hurry Up, We're Dreaming

If I had let loose and danced just once in 2011, this is the album that would've caused it.

Julie Lavelle

 1 Bon Iver - Bon_Iver

Bon IverBon Iver

Video: "Holocene"
 2 Explosions In The Sky - Take Care, Take Care, Take Care

Explosions In The SkyTake Care, Take Care, Take Care

 3 Beirut - The Rip Tide

BeirutThe Rip Tide

Video: "Santa Fe"
 4 Radiohead - The King of Limbs

RadioheadThe King of Limbs

 5 Peter Wolf Crier - Garden of Arms

Peter Wolf CrierGarden of Arms

 6 Bright Eyes - The People's Key

Bright EyesThe People's Key

 7 Feist - Metals

FeistMetals

 8 The Antlers - Burst Apart

The AntlersBurst Apart

 9 Maria Taylor - Overlook

Maria TaylorOverlook

10 Cults - Cults

CultsCults

Natalia Buia

These albums are my personal favourites from 2011, as they kept me going through this whirlwind of a year.

1

TennisCape Dory

Colorado cuties Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley take listeners on a delightful sailing expedition with their debut album Cape Dory. It's as charming as it is nautical.

2

AustraFeel It Break

Katie Stelmanis easily makes the hair behind your back stand with her riveting vocals throughout the album. This is one of the most compelling, innovative and haunting albums of the year.

Video: "Lose It"
3

Florence + the MachineCeremonials

All hail the ginger goddess as her sophomore effort is a vast array of heart-pounding melodies. As soon as the first track, "Only if For a Night" begins, you’re hypnotized by Florence Welch's ethereal voice.

4

Adele21

In this day and age, no one does 'you did me wrong' songs as well as Adele. The Queen of Heartbreak reigns supreme with their Motown ditties. Just what the doctor ordered.

5

Bon IverBon Iver

Justin Vernon is so acclaimed, he can make a next album consisting of fart sounds and it'll still be the most played album at Urban Outfitters.

Video: "Calgary"
6

Lykke LiWounded Rhymes

The Swedish songstress is back with an older, wiser album containing gems like "Sadness is a Blessing" and "I Follow Rivers". Li's pulling no punches with her drum-heavy songs that sound even better live.

7

Kurt VileSmoke Ring For My Halo

Whether he's got an acoustic or an electric in tow, Vile demonstrates his superb guitar skills in all ten tracks. He may like being a "rock and roll outsider" but with such an alluring album, he's slowly turning into a rock and roll frontrunner.

8

DestroyerKaputt

Dan Bejar is indeed a musical chameleon. His ninth album consists of smooth jazz, bedroom pop and the lush sounds of '80s new wave. Kaputt is something your grandmother could listen and enjoy and you wouldn't be ashamed of it.

Video: "Kaputt"
9

M83Hurry Up, We're Dreaming

Anthony Gonzalez reflects on his own childhood with his newest album. It's nostalgic, ambitious and at times quite epic. "Midnight City" is clearly the standout track to this two-disc phenomenon.

10

RaveonettesRaven in the Grave

Danish dynamos Sune Wagner and Sharin Foo also took a darker approach with their latest effort. "Rave in the Grave" would be the perfect soundtrack to the Lost in Translation sequel if it ever is summoned into existence.

Pete Nema

It was a bit of a strange year for me... I listened to far, far less new music than I usually do. Yes, I added 1733 new songs to my permanent collection from 172 different artists, but I didn't actually manage to listen to all of those new songs. When I found something I liked, I tended to listen to it more regularly rather than just moving on. Here are the albums that defined 2011 for me.

 1

The DarcysThe Darcys

The Darcys self-titled release is an intricate, cohesive, and innovative piece of work. It is the most original Canadian release this year, and on top of all that, it is being offered for free. If you haven't seen it yet, you absolutely have to see the video (link below) for "Don't Bleed Me", another great accomplishment for this Toronto-based band.

 2

Viva BrotherFamous First Words

There's a very 90's Brit-pop sound to this album that seems so very familiar, which is partly the reason it agreed so well with me this year. I listened to this album in 2011 more than any other, and found it an amazing soundtrack to my nearly-endless bike rides this summer.

 3

The LiptoniansLet's All March Back Into The Sea

One of my favourite independent Canadian bands right now, such amazing instrumentation.

 4

Manchester OrchestraSimple Math

Sometimes music can mean more to you than you can explain. The title track, "Simple Math", can be interpreted in many different ways, making it more complex than it advertises. So beautiful, it hurts, and surrounded by an album full of great rock.

 5

Hey Rosetta!Seeds

Hey Rosetta! puts on an incredible live show, not to be missed. Listening to this album reminds me of the great times I've had seeing this band in concert.

 6

Portugal. The ManIn The Mountain In the Cloud

Sometimes I hear an album and wonder to myself, "why did I wait so long to listen to this?", as was the case with In The Mountain In the Cloud. (Our interview with the band was one of the most read articles of this year, and our 4th most read article to date.)

 7

Mother MotherEureka

What Allison said.

 8

The DetailsLost Art

This band continues to work its way into my playlists with continually good songwriting.

 9

GrouploveNever Trust A Happy Song

10

Foster The PeopleTorches

Sean McNamara

2011 was a great year for music! Here are the ten albums that I found I enjoyed the most this year.

 1 The Vaccines – What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?

The VaccinesWhat Did You Expect From The Vaccines?

I had heard the UK buzz about this band. Then I got the album, and was floored. From front to back, The Vaccines wrap catchy melodic vocals in loud, fuzzy guitars. Every song sounds like a single.

Video: "Wetsuit"
 2 The Black Lips – Arabia Mountain

The Black LipsArabia Mountain

Mark Ronson lends his hand to shine up the Atlanta flower punk band’s sound. The result? A very focused album that also shows off The Black Lips' fun side, including a song about the troubles of being Spider-Man!

 3 Kasabian – Velociraptor!

KasabianVelociraptor!

On their fourth studio album, Kasabian get leaner and not-as-meaner! A good part of Velociraptor! (Yes, it needs the exclamation mark) relies on traditional British rock sounds, but "Switchblade Smiles" is a wonderful psychedelic romp filled with evil synths.

 4 Noel Gallagher – Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds

Noel GallagherNoel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds

The ex-Oasis chief steps out on his own, and writes one of his best albums of the last 10 years. A great batch of powerful Oasis-esque tunes like "If I Had A Gun..." mixed in with wonderfully layered pop-driven songs such as "The Death Of You And Me".

 5 Arctic Monkeys – Suck It And See

Arctic MonkeysSuck It And See

Songwriter Alex Turner has become one of the premier lyricists in rock music. His quick turns of phrase are now sung by his newfound low-slung singing voice, and the band is as tight and powerful as ever, creating a gem of an album.

 6 Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

Fleet FoxesHelplessness Blues

Stylistically not too far removed from their phenomenal debut, the quality of the songs is just about as high as well. "Lorelai" is simply beautiful and "The Shrine / An Argument" shows off the Fleet Fox's ability to churn out some of the best harmonized vocals around.

 7 The Horrors - Skying

The HorrorsSkying

The Horrors have quietly made two of the best albums of the last five years. Skying picks up where 2009's Primary Colours left off, adding in a handful of euphoric melody. The soaring "I Can See Through You" is the highlight, but the layered guitars of "Endless Blue" are rock 'n' roll deliciousness.

 8 Wilco – The Whole Love

WilcoThe Whole Love

On their eighth studio album, Wilco continue to mix their sound of classic Americana with bold, new steps forward. The Whole Love opens with the 7 minute, electronica-tinged "Art Of Almost", easily the most daring step that Wilco have taken over their last 2 albums. The bouncy "Dawned On Me" will please even the most jaded Wilco fan.

 9 Timber Timbre – Creep On Creepin’ On

Timber TimbreCreep On Creepin' On

With Creep On Creepin' On, Timber Timbre fill out their sound, using more strings and blues piano on tracks like "Bad Ritual". Well placed horns are the perfect touch on "Black Water". It’s an album packed with wonderfully eerie blues-folk.

10 Real Estate - Days

Real EstateDays

Days is a collection of consistently sunny guitar pop. Fun without being cheesy is the key here; this album will grow on you even more with repeated listens.