The 2011 Album Review
So what I wanted to do here was just talk about the albums that came out in 2011 – the ones I bothered to get or listen to, that is. Basically, this is just an excuse to talk about albums in 2011 I liked, and the ones I thought I’d like but didn’t.
Rather than make a list, I’ve just grouped the albums into three categories – Top Tier, Mid Range, and Bottom Rung. Top Tier albums are the ones I loved, the best of the best, the cream of the crop, the [miscellaneous cliché]. To be Top Tier, the album should be solid all the way through as an album. I may not love every song, but the album as a whole really left a great impression. Mid Range albums are albums I liked but aren’t amazing when taken as a whole. Bottom Rung albums are usually albums that I thought I’d like but didn’t, but they could be albums that just fell flat.
But on to the business at hand.
Passenger by Lisa Hannigan –
The opening to this album, Home, might be my favorite song of the year. Besides that, the video for Knots is one of the best of the year. There’s a great mix of slow songs and upbeat, faster tempo songs that really make this album stand out. Down below I’ll list my top three albums of the year, and it’s almost certain you’ll see this one in that short list. Hannigan’s voice carries pretty much every song – vibrant, affirmative, and gentle, it isn’t a voice that is easily forgotten. The actual music supports her singing style perfectly. Amazing album.
Ceremonials by Florence and the Machine –
What to say about this album that hasn’t already been said? It’s big, in sound and vision and it just sweeps you along. It has soul. If you haven’t picked this album up, do so. And if you can, get the deluxe version – it has a couple of acoustic versions of songs, and a demo of What the Water Gave Me that I think is at least as good as the official, final version on the album, if not better. Ceremonials paces itself very well; each song compliments the song before it and leads you into the song after it.
Strange Mercy by St. Vincent –
This, like Lisa Hannigan’s Passenger, is possibly the best album of the year. I’m having a really hard time picking which one is better. This is St. Vincent’s third album, and all three have been stellar. Strange Mercy doesn’t pick you up and carry you away – oh, no, it’s much too subtle for that. It’ll ease its way into your life, take up residence in your head, and just permeate your life until you can’t remember a time when you didn’t love this album. (Bonus: the video for Cruel is great.) The lyrics are phenomenal, and they are accompanied perfectly by the music. Full disclosure – I saw her live this year and it was an amazing show. She played all but one song from Strange Mercy, and it was just an amazing show. Check out Northern Lights or Year of the Tiger or Strange Mercy.
Past Life Martyred Saints by EMA –
This feels like a personal album, in the sense that she seems to sing directly to me. They aren’t just songs she wrote. The album isn’t just a collection of music that she made. It is a unified thought, a full sentence, a completed work, in a way that many albums simply aren’t. It’s really easy to connect to this, and I’m really looking forward to more of anything EMA makes. Check out The Grey Ship.
Let England Shake by PJ Harvey –
I had a bit of trouble getting into this album. PJ Harvey is an amazing musician (see: We Float, When Under Ether, : basically anything from Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea or White Chalk). And while the songs are all beautifully written, I just couldn’t get into it. I know it’s a good album, and it certainly has a point to make, and I like what it has to say. I even like how Let England Shake goes about making that point; I like a bunch of songs individually (see: Let England Shake), but for some reason I just cannot get into this album. That being said: It’s not you, PJ Harvey. It’s me. This should probably be a Top Tier album, but I have to put it into the Mid Range (high up in the Mid Range, but still not Top Tier all the same).
21 by Adele –
I’m not sure what to say about this album. It’s a big album, and Adele’s voice is the pillar of the album. The music itself doesn’t lag behind, but it’s the vocals that you really remember. I’ll Be Waiting is probably my favorite song on the album, and the cover of The Cure’s Lovesong is good too. But as an album I wasn’t captured by it. Still a good listen, though.
Virtue by Emmy the Great –
This album has a ton of good songs, and her voice is nice. The first song, Dinosaur Sex, is perhaps the best on the album. It continues strong with A Woman, A Woman, A Century of Sleep and I strongly recommend you at least hear those two tracks. While I enjoy the middle of Virtue, I’m not sure that it can carry the album as a whole up into the ranks of Top Tier. The steady rhythms of “Sylvia” roll the album towards it conclusion, which is nice, but the last three songs sound alike. I get impatient. But overall a solid album.
Let It Break by Gemma Hayes –
This is a very laid-back album. There’s a lot of slow, smooth music and crooning vocals. A cup of tea and a solid book would make a nice triad with this album. I love Hayes’ voice. Some of the songs lean towards a sappy-romance feel and a bit of pop rock, but even those songs are really solidly composed. Check out Keep Running.
Wounded Rhymes by Lykke Li –
Lykke Li is delightfully odd. Two songs on this album have fantastic videos that I can’t forget – I Follow Rivers and Get Some. When I hear either of those songs, I can see her eyes. They are the best. But the album – okay, not great. Her vocals are interesting most of the time, but occasionally I felt that they didn’t really compliment the music, or the other way around. I don’t regret listening to it, but I don’t often return to Wounded Rhymes.
Gravity the Seducer by Ladytron –
This album starts with a droning feel, but it works. It’s great for some ambient background music. Entering the middle of the album, Ritual picks up a bit, and the electronic beats really compliment the ghostly and mostly wordless vocals. This is the music that robots dream with.
w h o k i l l by tUnE-yArDs –
I’ve seen this album lauded all over the internet. It’s certainly got a unique sound (to me, at least – it isn’t like anything else I’ve ever heard). But unique doesn’t instantly translate into good. I liked a handful of songs, and Bizness is really great. But as an album, I can’t properly give it Top Tier status, and I feel like I’m being a little generous putting it in the Mid Range.
Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under by Amanda Palmer –
If I lived in Australia, maybe I would have liked this album. But I don’t and I didn’t. Talk about a themed album – the title should have been “Songs about Australia” and it could be subtitled “All These Songs Are Disappointing.” I really, really love Amanda Palmer’s work. I got into the Dresden Dolls a while back, and her solo stuff has pretty much held up. But this album – some song of which are recordings of live performances – is very Australia focused. It didn’t seem to have any of her vitality either, not like her album Who Killed Amanda Palmer. Her cover of Makin’ Whoopee is fantastic. Uh, that’s it though.
The Hunter by Mastodon –
I only sort of know Mastodon’s work, but what I know, I love. Crack the Skye and Leviathan were both great albums. I know Leviathan is a concept album based on Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick, which is probably my favorite novel. So I checked to see if The Hunter was a concept album. It isn’t, but Crack the Skye is built around a couple of ideas – out-of-body experiences, astral travel, and there’s some stuff about Rasputin in there too. What I’m trying to say is this: Mastodon’s concept albums are ones I really like, but The Hunter was a little bland. It didn’t grab me like Leviathan did, and it didn’t intrigue me like Crack the Skye did.
50 Words for Snow by Kate Bush –
This album is crazy, but that’s to be expected from Kate Bush. I thought that this album might belong in the Mid Range, but then I listened to it again. I love the title track – it pretty much delivers what it says, though many of the words are invented by Bush herself – but the rest of the album is disappointing. For me, Hounds of Love is the Kate Bush benchmark, even though I don’t know all her albums. 50 Words for Snow just didn’t interest me.
Burst Apart by The Antlers –
The soft, echoing voice doesn’t really do anything for me. Worse, the songs all sound the same to me. The album doesn’t balance sound, it just mashes it up into a single grey ball and presents it to you. I don’t really know The Antlers, but this album did nothing to draw my interest. There’s also a lot of unnecessary crooning.
Watch the Throne by Jay-Z & Kanye West –
Okay, so I’m new to the rap genre, or whatever Kanye West is classified as. His 2010 My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was exactly the powerhouse album everyone promised me it was. Coming down off such a great album, I was really excited to hear what West had done in this collaboration with Jay-Z (I don’t know any Jay-Z music). Well, it turns out that this album was terrible. It has none of the powerful high-flying songs that Fantasy had. Maybe if I was into rap this album would sound better to me, but I’m not and it doesn’t sound good at all. Avoid it.