Bolster Your Holster presents the Best Albums of 2011 (according to Kris)! This year I decided to go with 50 albums instead of the regular 40 and included comments on as many as I was inspired to. Hope you enjoy the list and please share your comments below.
50. Charles Bradley – No Time For Dreaming
“The Screaming Eagle of Soul” soars again! Technically, this is his debut album, but Bradley has been around for a few years releasing singles on the Daptone label. This is his debut album released at the tender age of 63, but he sounds like he’s been doing this his whole life. Like most stuff on the Daptone album it is classic soul that sounds like it could have been recorded anytime in the last 50 years. Also the fantastic cover contributes to that as well. I’m pretty sure there is always time for dreaming Charles, maybe while listening to some of your sweet soul music.
49. Adele – 21
48. Eleanor Friedberger – Last Summer
47. Little Dragon – Ritual Union
46. Wild Beasts – Smother
45. Braids – Native Speaker
44. Beirut – The Rip Tide
43. James Blake – James Blake
I am being drawn to it yet not being able to love it as it feels like glass. James Blake is so fragile and delicate that it feels like it could break at any time. The times it does allow it to crack, the bass drop in ‘Limit to Your Love’, the build-up in ‘The Wilhelm Scream’, we can see what Blake would be capable if he just let go. Yet, the album has a way to work it’s way under your skin and even though I couldn’t embrace the album I wanted to listen to it again to understand where Blake is at in making his music and how it will change over time as it already has in his very short career. I expect much from him over the next few years, I’m sure he will deliver.
42. The Weeknd – Echoes of Silence
41. Rainbow Arabia – Boys and Diamonds
40. Tim Hecker – Ravendeath, 1972
39. Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean
38. Frank Ocean – Nostalgia,ULTRA.
37. The Rural Alberta Advantage – Departing
36. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
35. Panda Bear – Tomboy
With my attempted hate towards Animal Collective I really shouldn’t have this album on the list. Merriweather Post Pavilion got to me though, so I though I’d give Panda Bear a second chance. Sometimes I think this album is a piece of crap, but most of the time I think it is a credible mix of drone, reverb vocals and strange noises which combine into something like a high day at the beach. Being released on clear vinyl also got me as well. The singles weren’t representative of the album either, it’s those “other” tracks that show what it is really about.
34. EMA – Past Life Martyred Saints
33. Raphael Saadiq – Stone Rollin’
32. M83 – Hurry Up, I’m Dreaming
As I write this, I technically have not listened to the whole album yet. I have to include it on the list because I know how much I am going to like it and how much it will be listened to it over the next few months. The first half is wave upon wave of electronic shoegaze bliss. I never felt a connection to M83’s previous work, but this album finally grabbed a hold of me, especially the amazing standout ‘Midnight City’, which I wish I had been listening to in the Summer when it came out, instead of the last few weeks. This is one that definitely would have been higher if I had listened to it earlier, but for now it will settle in this position, content and dreaming.
31. Erkin Koray – Meçhul: Singles & Rarities
Erkin Koray is the father of Turkish rock music and was one of the first Turkish musicians to adopt western rock music and add its elements to Turkish folk, thus creating a huge psychedelic scene in the 60s and 70s, especially in Istanbul. This is the only compilation on the list this year which features non-album tracks recorded by Koray between 1968 – 1976. Technically it doesn’t include anything from 2011 (besides the artwork), but I have to put it here because it is such fine release from Sublime Frequencies, and if only one other person decides to listen to this then it was all worth it.
30. Death Cab for Cutie – Codes and Keys
I’m sure a lot of people look back on Death Cab and reminisce for the time before The OC helped bring these guys to the mainstream. My favourite Death Cab album, Transatlanticism, found them on the verge of popularity, but with their next album being featured on that soap opera for teens really pushed them into the limelight. The thing is that they’ve kept making solid albums since then that really shouldn’t be dismissed because of their popularity. St. Peter’s Cathedral, Doors Unlocked and Open and Underneath the Sycamore are just three prime examples of why you should listen to this album if you haven’t given Death Cab a chance since the early 2000s.
29. The Twilight Singers – Dynamite Steps
28. The Black Keys – El Camino
27. Sigur Ros – Inni
I’ve been off Sigur Ros for a while now. But they’ve just come back from a hiatus with the live film/album Inni a look at their live 2008 tour. Listening to the album I’ve come to a realization that I should have seen them live some time ago. I love Sigur Ros live, the guitars are louder and have more feedback, the drums are way more powerful and Jonsi’s vocals are almost on par with the recorded album versions. Inni contains some of their best songs and makes a cohesive whole of their last four albums. I’m not one to put live albums on a Best of list, but this one really deserves to be here.
26. tUnE-yArDs – WhoKill
25. Jay-Z & Kanye West – Watch The Throne
24. Zola Jesus – Conatus
23. The Weeknd – Thursday
22. Devotchka – 100 Lovers
21. Laura Marling – A Creature I Don’t Know
20. Elbow – Build a Rocket Boys!
A little bit disappointing after the greatness of The Seldom Seen Kid, Build a Rocket Boys! found Elbow at their most minimal with only a few tracks featuring the bombast stadium melodies that they were slowly getting known for (Outside North America of course). Still it was a great album that had some standout tracks including the 8 minute opener ‘The Birds’, ‘Dear Friends’ heartwarming reflection on life and ‘With Love”s loud and quiet dynamics. It plays out like an old man reminiscing about youth, an album of reflection and memories.
19. Bill Callahan – Apocalypse
Bill Callahan’s a hell of a guy, or at least I’d like to think so. He’s made some great music over the years and is one of the most consistent artists. His albums are always a slow burn and take some time to get in to. I’d often find myself putting on Apocalypse in the background and take in little parts of it each listen. It’s finally coming together and I wouldn’t call it revolutionary, but it is another excellent edition to his catalogue. Callahan shows his confidence and his ability as a songwriter on Apocalypse more than he’s ever done before.
18. Theophilus London – Lover’s Holiday
London released a full length album this year, but for me it was this EP that defined him as an artist. 5 songs, each of a different genre, that all had the ability to be hit singles. He channeled Prince on ‘Strange Love’, made a TV on the Radio song better than any TV on the Radio song from the last 5 years, made a robotic freakout dance anthem and bookended the EP with two great R&B numbers featuring some killer female vocal lines. This might be all I need from Theophilus, his album was good, but this EP condensed everything we need to know about him in five songs clocking in at about twenty minutes.
17. Okkervil River – I Am Very Far
The best song released by Okkervil River this year was not on their new album. If they had gone in that direction for I Am Very Far it would have made me so very happy, while making me so very sad. Instead they released this, which most critics said was a wall of sound and too crowded. I was just happy it showed Okkervil going in a new direction and not making the same old crap we’ve been hearing since 2007. I know, I know it wasn’t crap, but Black Sheep Boy was so good that it pales in comparison. I Am Very Far doesn’t bring them back to that greatness, but showed something missing from the last couple albums, passion.
16. The War on Drugs – Slave Ambient
The War on Drugs are a rock band that fittingly titled their newest release Slave Ambient. The album flows just like a wave of ambient sound. You can be listening to the first song and then turn around and you’re already on track eight. The thing is it is not at all samey. Each song can be taken on its own as well. Come to The City, Your Love is Calling my Name and Baby Missiles are three great anthemic rock songs, like something you’d find on a U2 or Springsteen record.
It’s in the haze.
15. Cut Copy – Zonoscope
14. Tom Waits – Bad as Me
As with every Tom Waits album before, you’re looking at a solid release full of genre bending dynamics and some very interesting vocal arrangements. Bad As Me is the most accessible thing he’s released, but don’t worry it is a Tom Waits record so that doesn’t mean much. It has a few more ballads than previous Waits release I can remember, but they all have their charm like Keith Richards guesting on ‘Last Leaf’, the gramophone feel of ‘Kiss Me’ and the excerpt from ‘Auld Lang Syne’ on ‘New Year’s Eve’. There are some barn burners here as well though like the scathing war track ‘Hell Broke Luce’ and the chugging ‘Chicago’.
13. Wye Oak – Civilian
12. Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes
You ever have someone you call babe? Sometimes it can sound pretentious, but often it just fits. I’ve always thought of it as a term of endearment, something for someone you love, something for only one other. I’ve liked Wounded Rhymes since it came out, but only recently have I wanted to revisit it. A track, ‘I Know Places’, slipped through the cracks on initial listens and is now finally capturing me. A beautiful acoustic number showcasing Li’s sultry vocals and featuring the afformentioned “babe”. And then it turns into two minutes of Mazzy Starish reverie. Oh yeah, the rest of the album is awesome too.
11. Lia Ices – Grown Unknown
10. Yacht – Shangri-La
9. Jamie Woon – Mirrorwriting
I want it to be one am. I want it to be raining. I want to be pouring out of some club and this playing as I hop on a bus for somewhere, anywhere. Call it soul, call it post-dubstep, call it pop, call it whatever the hell you want. Jamie Woon had a tragically underrated year with his debut not appearing often on any Top 50 lists. Originally grouped together with James Blake because of their great voices and links to dubstep, Woon is a completely different creature that creates an early morning atmosphere that can take you on a journey in any direction.
8. Noah and The Whale – Last Night on Earth
An album of change. Optimism after the devastating The First Day of Spring. This is a different Noah and the Whale as obvious by the first song’s refrain: “And it feels like his new life can start, And if feels like heaven”. Utilizing a heavy dose of 80s rock American influence including Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen, Last Night on Earth is full of glorious sing-a-long pop anthems with lyrics about growing up, getting over love and playing music. ‘Give it all Back’ is the next ‘Summer of ’69’, just listen to it and tell me not.
7. Radiohead – The King of Limbs
After almost a year and the initial hype has settled, The King of Limbs, sits safely as my second bottom Radiohead albums. This does not mean this album is bad by any means, but rather to the high standard of excellence that one has come to expect from a Radiohead release. Maybe it was too short. Maybe it didn’t have enough hooks. Maybe it just felt like we deserved more. Oddly enough The King of Limbs has been followed up by four songs that are as good as the best parts of this album. Those songs could have been on this album. They could have made this album better. Nevermind, nevermatter, The King of Limbs is an excellent experiment that shows Radiohead reinventing themselves while still trying to make music that is different and that matters at the same time.
6. Washed Out – Within and Without
I’m sitting on a beach waiting for my heart to break again. Float off into the sea and let the music take hold. ‘You and I’ is the centerpiece of this album, but it is so much better when taken as a whole. This is one of those albums that I may never know the titles of all the songs, but still love each one, even if it feels like one long single song. This is how chillwave should sound. It needs structure, melodies, haunting echo vocals and waves of emotion. This was a year of some beautiful albums, this could easily be the best.
5. Bon Iver – Bon Iver
Justin Vernon mentioned that the next Bon Iver album was made up of soundscapes rather than songs. After listening to this album many, many times I would agree. Bon Iver is full of many places, times and moments that fit together so well. The lyrics fit with the music as well, even if they don’t make any sense or are often unintelligible. There are hints of the 2009 acoustic Justin Vernon, serious influence from the Gayngs side project and just a hint of some of the swagger he received from Kanye. Impossible to classify, the record plays more like something from Sigur Ros than a man known as a singer/songwriter.
4. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
Earlier in the year I wrote a review of this album on Bolster Your Holster. In my opinion it was the best album of the year at the time it was released. It hasn’t dropped far, but I just haven’t been giving it the same attention that it received earlier in the year. I can’t decide if it is my favourite PJ album, but it is the one I’ve dedicated the most time to and the one that has made me want to revisit her first couple albums, which I’ve never managed to listen to. This is an album about war that is relevant today, but seems to focus more on the World Wars or at least it just feels that way. It feels modern and 1940ish in the same way. I think this album can cross generations and will end up being PJ’s masterpiece once all is said and done.
3. Timber Timbre – Creep On Creepin’ On
I admit I didn’t like the title when I first heard it. Concerned would be a better word. After first listen though, Timber Timbre just made another great album. An expansion of sound and soundscapes would be the best way to describe their evolution on this album. 3 instrumentals and 7 songs and it doesn’t feel like it is missing anything. The last track also sounds like an instrumental outtake from Dark Side of the Moon, which doesn’t hurt the cause any. Timber Timbre is dark swamp folk, but I feel a hidden sexuality behind the music. Sure they’re singing about murder and other dark secrets, but hidden in the music is a sexual tension that reverberates in the air. Or maybe it’s just me.
2. The Antlers – Burst Apart
“You wanna climb up the stairs, I wanna push you back down. But I let you inside,
So you can push me around. If I leave before you, And I walk out alone, Keep your hands to yourself When you follow me home. I don’t want love.” It’s a break-up album. It’s pledging love and waiting for it to come back. It’s begging to be wanted. Burst Apart may not be as devastating as Hospice, but it certainly carries the melancholy in its own way. You can interpret it any way you want, more freedom means more connection. All I know is that it continues to grow on me with each listen and begs me to come back for more.
1. The Weeknd – House of Balloons
This is an album that completely reinvented modern R&B that reached a whole new audience while making it accessible, or at least accepted, by a completely different demographic than before. It made me want to listen to only modern R&B (The Weeknd obliged there with 3 mixtapes in one year). I have found no one that compares to the production. Drake has tried, The-Dream is close, but Abe Tesafaye’s debut to the world grasped the late-night, dirty world of hip-hop/R&B so darkly beautiful that nothing else needs to be written on the subject. This is pure sex on record.