I’m still here! Just not here, on this blog. I’ve pretty much always got music on my mind, evidenced by the playcount on my last.fm and the notes about tunes I’m listening to scattered throughout my class notebooks (I’m still pluggin’ away at UMD, slowly but surely!). I have all my playlists for the Best Music of 2011 on my iPod (and still have the rest of my 2010 lists too). Tons of great ideas – just don’t seem to be able to get disciplined enough to put my thoughts down eloquently (or as close as I can get to it!). Between work this past summer, my usual schedule as a sort of perpetual undergrad (all down to health stuff, blah), and some nasty 2011 developments (more health blah!), I’ve just not given this blog the attention I’d love to give it.
But! By the end of this year, I’m hoping to finish the Best Music of 2011. Then, I’ll get to work on posting the 3rd part of the Best Music of 2009 and the Top Singles and 3rd part of the Best of 2010. Better late than never, right? :)
Let’s get started with 2011. What a year for tunes! For me, so much of the music I loved this year can fit into the “mood music” category. Not romantic, necessarily; just, like, moody. Down in the dumps or high on life – this year’s best music found inspiration in both. The first few entries on my Albums list definitely have bits that qualify for “down in the dumps” status, but I’m glad to see, as I look over what I’ve loved this year, that there are also really bright, shiny spots too.
So – here we go!
The Best Music of 2011
The 31 Best Albums of 2011, part 1 of 2
A pretty self-explanatory category!
1. Ceremonials by Florence + The Machine: MAJESTIC. I love Entertainment Weekly‘s review of this grand album – they describe it as “a baroque cathedral, bedecked with ornate tapestries made of ghostly choirs, pagan-rhythmic splendor, and a whole lot of harp.” I wish I had written that! My own thoughts? Well, I was hooked from the start: “Only If For A Night” and its slow-burning, regal procession-like rhythm is like a great big block of awesome in itself, but then Florence lets loose her wail, and suddenly there was nothing I could do. I just fell in love. “Shake It Out” – my favorite single of the year – sealed the deal, but more on that when I get to the singles of 2011 list. And these are only the first two songs on the album! Further into the record, you have the jaunty, glimmering “Breaking Down,” the simply gorgeous “No Light, No Light” (surprise! Dubstep middle eight!), and “Spectrum,” in which Flo begs you, magnificently, of course, to “say my naaaAAAAme!” It all ends (unless you’re listening to the bonus track version – definitely worth the extra bucks!) with the mighty, weary sigh of “Leave My Body.” Once again, MAJESTIC.
2. Wounded Rhymes by Lykke Li: This was my favorite album of the year pretty much all year, until Ceremonials was released in the last bit of 2011. Flo’s opus was just that bit much more powerful, but oh my goodness, is Wounded Rhymes amazing. Moody, moody, moody, Wounded Rhymes starts with the bang of “Youth Knows No Pain,” after which my second fave single of the year, “I Follow Rivers,” drifts into earshot. And then? “Unrequited Love” features supportive “shoo-wap shoo-wa”s, acting as a kind of commiserating arm-around-the-shoulder to Lykke’s unhappy love story; “Sadness Is A Blessing” includes great lines like “sadness is my boyfriend, oh sadness I’m your girl.” And “I Know Places.” “I KNOW PLACES,” people. I can’t even with this, the moodiest track of 2011 – 2011, the year of the mood. A little over 6 minutes, “I Know Places” is stark, bleak, ends with an atmospheric instrumental, and pulling the whole thing together is Lykke’s mournful voice – it just hits you where it hurts. But it hurts so good!
3. Grown Unknown by Lia Ices: This too was on my Top Albums of 2011 list from early in the year; it’s always been within the top three. Grown Unknown is another wonderfully downtempo entry in the Year of the Mood, its intimate sound suiting Lia Ices’ siren-like tones perfectly. The first three tracks form a trifecta of beauty: “Love Is Won” has a warm, ’70s singer-songwriter vibe to it, “Daphne” is a celestial duet with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, and “Little Marriage” rounds out the trio with its haunted hush. “Grown Unknown” peps proceedings up with handclappy percussion, and listen out for the lovely melody at the end of the track. Only 9 tracks, Grown Unknown is nevertheless a huge album – quietly full of emotion and feeling. It’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for! (They end up making the best albums.)
4. Born This Way by Lady Gaga: Album of the decade? Oh Lady Gaga, you so crazy. But she was on to something. The blistering, pounding production is pretty exhilarating, and when things get a little softer (well, as soft as a Lady Gaga song can get) on “Bloody Mary” and ‘Heavy Metal Lover,” the nifty little touches shine through: dig those distorted voices and artful humming! All through the album, Lady Gaga’s vocal Vogue-ing entrances, the lyrics amuse and entice, and that fantastic production engages. You go, Gaga. You go.
5. Electric by Anniela: It’s the least moody album of 2011, but Anniela’s Electric takes the cake as the most fun record of the year. From the elegantly Eurodance-y “Candlelight” to the goofy “Party Crusher,” all the way through the winking “Love Muscle” and ballad-y “Stay” and “Dark Pearl,” Electric is just a good time in album form. I liked a couple of songs from Anniela’s 2008 album Extravaganza, but this year’s release really got me. When things got a little too moody, it was nice to get happy with Anniela.
6. Wires And Sparks by Pati Yang: No duds here – it’s all wonderfully icy electronica, highlighted by Pati Yang’s pretty voice. “Let It Go” starts things off at a good pace, but “Near To God” blasts off into space with driving bass and killer beats. When it hits the chorus, it. Goes. OFF. Then, “Hold Your Horses” bops, “Breaking Waves” lingers, and “Revolution Baby” grooves. The album ends with the ghostly “Fold,” but it doesn’t really end, does it? Not when you keep starting the album over again. It’s that good.
7. Old Tyme Religion by Hugo: He’s got 99 problems, but a misspelling ain’t one – well, it is, but it looks cool. (Signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label, Hugo’s debut LP features a down-n-dirty cover of the rapper’s hit.) Anyways – Hugo could sing the phone book, and I’m pretty sure I’d quite like it – I love his voice. Warm and rich, his vocals sound right at home atop the bluesy rock/pop tunes here; whether filled with grinding organ (the title track), squidgy synth flourishes (the intoxicating “Hopelessly Stoned”), or plain old gorgeousness (“Mekong River Delta”), each song brings something tasty to the table.
8. Vel by Susheela Raman: I fell in love with the earthy, hands-in-the-air anthem “Raise Up” instantly, and it didn’t take long to adore the smoky, ancient echoes of “Magdalene.” But “Daga Daga,” clocking in at 5 and a 1/2 minutes, was a bit of a challenge. What threw me was the stream-of-consciousness vibe of the music and singing – it just seemed to go on and on. And wouldn’t you know, that actually became one of my fave parts of the song. Yep, “Daga Daga” got under my skin, and soon the whole album followed. Vel is a collection of songs to spend a lot of time with – each listen yields more delicious touches, like the intense closing of “Paal” or the woozy strings of “Muthu Kumar.” So good.
9. Cinderella’s Eyes by Nicola Roberts: While opening track and lead single “Beat Of My Drum” isn’t my fave song on Cinderella’s Eyes, or even on my Top Singles Of 2011 list, it still works as a warning shot for Girl Aloud Nicola Roberts’ debut solo album. “Don’t it make your heart go ‘wow!’ / How I’ve turned this whole thing ’round?” she asks, and just one listen to the personality-filled Cinderella’s Eyes later, you can only answer “YES!” The title track’s frothy synths and high vocals belie a melancholy set of lines that ultimately reaffirm Nicola’s decision to “choose to learn, choose to love, choose to laugh, choose to play, choose to care, choose to ask, choose to speak, choose you.” That sad-but-strong undercurrent is apparent in varying doses on the rest of the album’s lyrics, but they aren’t the only highlight of Cinderella’s Eyes – the flawless production and Nicola’s charming, highly distinctive vocals (there’s a chance they won’t be to everyone’s taste!) shine brightly, too. “Say It Loud” – this is a fab album!
10. On A Mission by Katy B: Now this is good stuff. I sampled “Katy On A Mission” late last year, but was not impressed with what I thought was tinny production. What in the world was wrong with me? I’m so glad I tried out the full album anyway and didn’t rely on my doofus first thoughts. “Power On Me” is all ’90s-house-for-2011 (and therefore amazing), “Katy On A Mission” is a shady, shifty club banger (I’m not sure how I arrived at “tinny production”!), and “Witches Brew” – I can’t say enough about how cool this song is. All killer here, no filler.
11. To Get Her Together by Anouk: What a fantastic, retro-but-fresh album! It starts off with the kicky jam of the title track, gets all jukebox gem on “Killer Bee,” and the brings you down in the best way with the one-two punch of “Ms. Crazy” (a wailer of a tune) and the heartbreaking “What Have You Done.” “Any Younger” and its handclappy, sing-along sound will lift your spirits, but the lyrics – “come and dance and party, cuz we’re not getting any younger… getting fat…” – probably won’t! The songs here are richly produced – lots of organic, bluesy rock elements – and Anouk gives her all vocally. When she cries “cheater!!!” on “Down And Dirty,” you feel it.
12. Aşk Kaç Beden Giyer? by Hadise: Aw yeah, Hadise! She was behind my third fave album of 2009, and here, she delivers the goods once again. Only 9 tracks long, Aşk Kaç Beden Giyer? still packs a whole lot of pop into each song. “Mesajımı Almıştır O” has a chorus, complete with sprinkles of chimes (or something like that), that will bury itself in your head, and “Melek” is wonderful dark, trance-y pop. But it’s the singles that scale heights your faves could never. The title track reminds me of Britney’s Blackout tunes – it melds that urban-electro sound with Hadise’s assertive delivery. “Superman,” the album’s lead single, smolders all over the place, all drawn out, sighing strings and powerful percussion. Yeah. This is a gooooood album.
13. Rapprocher by Class Actress: Sleepy synths and swooning vocals (from the sweet-voiced Elizabeth Harper), all wrapped up in delirious, hazy production – that’s Class Actress’ debut full-length, Rapprocher. I was addicted to this album when it first appeared, and now, it still has the same chilled-but-electric spark that made me fall in love the first time. It’s kinda like if early Madonna fell asleep in the studio and accidentally upped the reverb by 100%. Sounds odd, but it really, really works.
14. Femme Fatale by Britney Spears: Godney brought the goods with Femme Fatale: apocalyptic dance smash “Till The World Ends” blasts the album off to a strong start, “Hold It Against Me” continues the greatness with that breakdown, and then everything gets all turned upside down and “Inside Out.” “How I Roll” makes me think of fun Blackout asides like “Toy Soldier” and “Freakshow,” while “Big Fat Bass” confounds expectations (how many things did will.i.am produce/feature on this year?) by actually being big, fat, and bassy. It’s kind of a goofy track – “it’s gettin’ bigger, the bass is gettin’ bigger!” – but I love it because it marries neat production with a bunch of cool hooks and a confident Britney vocal. Will.i.am sounds good too! And then, “Trip To Your Heart” sweetens the album’s sound, all pretty, twinkling and breathy. By the time Femme Fatale is over, you’re ready to go back to the start again. Or is that “end”?
15. Colours by Nadia Oh: Flawless masterpiece… or something like that. Where do I start with Nadia Oh’s Colours? Nadia Oh’s last album, 2008’s Hot Like Wow, totally passed me by at the time. Checking out the Popjustice forums this year (a great way to get ideas for music to check out!!) led to a thread about Nadia Oh and the lead opus from Colours, “Taking Over The Dancefloor” (originally titled “Kate Middleton”). Well, that was it. “Taking Over The Dancefloor” took over my iPod, and when Colours was released, I was fully put under Nadia Oh’s singular spell. Awesomely amusing lines (“the girls they call me London (swag), cuz I am based in London (swag)”) are delivered with fantastic, can’t-be-bothered rap-singing by Nadia, but the album isn’t a joke or something. It’s actually really good, with A+ production and ultra-catchy melodies. Try this album out if you haven’t yet – it’ll totally get you poppington.
Part 2 coming soon! :)