Top 40 Albums Of The Year - Part 1

by - Thursday, December 29, 2011

So it’s that time of year again. Since early November, I have been sat at safetyinsound HQ (split between uni and home), agonizing over the best, and indeed worst, albums of 2011, trying to decide which of this year’s many releases deserve merit or mention here on this blog. I assembled my top ten, then promptly destroyed my top ten. I decided what definitely wasn’t going to be included, then wondered if I was being a little harsh. I wrote out my shortlist, then realised there was that one extra album that just HAD to be snuck on. I’ve rewritten and rewritten to the extent that I think I may well be on the verge of madness. So here we are. After weeks of labour, is the final top 40 albums of the year, with the following disclaimers:

  • The order of albums is entirely my own personal opinion, based mainly on what I have played most and enjoyed over the year. It is uninfluenced by record sales, critical reception or indeed the words of my peers. Do not expect everything on here to be entirely to your tastes. I have rather eclectic interests!
  • Not every single album that has made it on this list is one I think to be massively seminal. It is merely a summary in order of the best releases of the year. Naturally, any album towards the lower end of the 40 is not necessarily my favourite record in the world, but it will have something about it that I feel worthy of comment.
  • Naturally writing these sort of things is not an exact science. No doubt there will be some glaring omissions that I grow to despise myself for in a few months. Such is the nature of music journalism!

So without further ado, here is phase 1 of 3 of the albums of the year: 40 to 26. Enjoy!

40) Portamento- The Drums
It did come as a little surprise for me when The Drums, a band I had dismissed as a mere holiday romance with their self-titled debut , returned with its follow up only 15 months later. What ensued didn’t reinvent the wheel nor outperform its predecessor, but it did prove them to be more than a flash in the pan- Money in particular demonstrating that Jonathan Pierce’s way with a chirpy chorus was no fluke, hinting at a slightly more complex future for the band sonically.

Download: Money, Book Of Revelation

39) We’re New Here – Gil Scott Heron & Jamie XX
Bringing together one of the brightest young names in British music today and a soul legend, ‘I’m New Here’ by Gil Scott Heron & Jamie XX was basically the low-fi, moody younger brother of Jay Z & Kanye West’s ‘Watch The Throne’. Made even more poignant by Heron’s death soon after it’s release, this collection of samples and remixed tracks make for slow burning, wide eyed listening, the soundtrack to the 5am comedown after a wild night out.

Download: I’m New Here, I’ll Take Care Of U

38) Skying- The Horrors
Fast becoming everyone’s favourite band, ‘Skying’ marked just how far The Horrors have come since their days of dressing in My Chemical Romance’s cast offs and singing in ghoulish metaphor. With extended, dreamy landscapes of sound such as ‘Still Life’ and ‘Endless Blue’ to fall back on, as well as a vastly improved wardrobe, they are in the perfect position to make the leap from smaller stages to tent headliners next summer.

Download: Still Life, Endless Blue

37) 21- Adele
I’d be a pretty rubbish journalist if I were to ignore the album that shaped 2011. Adele’s ‘21’ was more unavoidable this year than phone hackers and Poundland looters, captivating the nation with it’s heart-on-sleeve lyricism, and of course, that voice. Whilst ‘Rolling In Deep’ and ‘Someone Like You’ became the headline grabbers, the highlight for me was ‘Turning Tables’, a dark, desperate letter to a manipulative lover. Expect the inevitable ‘23’ to be even more grandiose.

Download: Rolling In The Deep, Turning Tables

36) James Blake – James Blake
For a long, long time, I was indifferent to James Blake. Too cold, too pretentious. As the winter months drew in, I started to realise that this was the point. Disconcerting and soulful in equal measure, the RnB melodies of his voice float over sparse instrumentation in this collection of party killers, oddly moving in their taciturnity. A very intriguing debut, this is the musical equivalent of tall, dark and enigmatically handsome.

Download: Limit To Your Love, The Wilhelm Scream

35) Wasting Light – Foo Fighters
Undoubtedly one of the biggest bands in the world, Foo Fighters still maintained their game with ‘Wasting Light’, their 7th album in 16 years. Reuniting with Butch Vig, all self-importance went out the window as the band set about creating the most straightforward rock album possible. Lead single ‘Rope’ proved to be one of their best, providing one of the most eminently hummable  intros of 2011 and demonstrating that it is still possible to have fun this far into your career.

Download: Rope, Arlandria

34) Ceremonials – Florence & The Machine
Making a surprisingly low entry in comparison to her debut Lungs (placing 5th in my round up of 2009), Ceremonials is nowhere near as chock full of potential singles, but makes up for it in form of her finest track to date. Shake It Out was originally born out of a hangover, but shows Florence at her sharpest and most uplifting, declaring how she is ‘done with my graceless heart/So tonight I'm gonna cut it out and then restart’ Stirring stuff indeed, that is set to go down a storm at her massive arena shows next year.

Download: Shake It Out, What The Water Gave Me

33) + - Ed Sheeran
A controversial choice here at 33 considering how it has been viewed critically, but I believe in credit where credit is due. Whilst young Sheeran may have fallen at the first hurdle in terms of rushing his debut, resulting in many of the songs sounding disappointingly similar, + is a promising release if it suggests that he may in future utilise the impressive rapping skills present on You Need Me, I Don’t Need You…, and the subtle observation of relatable subjects on Grade 8 and U.N.I. Not the album we were hoping for certainly, but a step in the right direction.

Download: You Need Me, I Don’t Need You, U.N.I

32) Paradise – Slow Club
Another band that caught my attention fairly late in this year, Sheffield two piece Slow Club are fast earning their name as the go-to band for fans of literate indie. Paradise saw the band stepping away from the ‘Twee’ tag that they so openly profess to hating, covering such difficult topics of family deaths and of course, turbulent love within its lyrics, draped over foals-esque calypso guitars and sporadic drums. A significant step up from their debut.

Download: Two Cousins, You Earth Or Ash

31) Every Kingdom – Ben Howard
As always, 2011 was greeted with an onslaught of ‘sensitive’ singer songwriters, each with less credibility than the next. What made Ben Howard different is that he genuinely sounded like he felt what he was singing. With his debut Every Kingdom, Howard embodies the spirit of Bon Iver and City & Colour: folk music accompanied by a sincere, world weary vocal. Radio friendly lead single Keep Your Head Up proved to be an anthem for the Tumblr generation, its lyrics eminently quotable as a rally towards positivity.

Download: The Fear, Keep Your Head Up

30) The Big Roar- The Joy Formidable
One of my favourite festival bands of 2011, The Joy Formidable have managed to capture everything that makes them such an exciting prospect on record. Whilst the cynical may glance at their female fronted, three piece line up and yawn, The Big Roar demonstrates that lead singer Ritzy Bryan is far more than just a pretty face: she definitely knows her way around a guitar. In fact, the whole band seem to have rather a penchant for extended rock outs, 3 of the albums 12 tracks exceeding 4 minutes in length.

Download: Whirring, Austere

29) Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds- Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds.
Whilst Beady Eye had the bravado and the big talk, all eyes were on the elder Gallagher brother in the wake of the great Oasis split. By biding his time and laying low in order to hone an albums worth of material, Noely G came out on top with this album of songs that distill all the best elements of Oasis whilst highlighting his talents for simple-yet-effective lyrics. Who’s laughing now Liam?

Download: AKA What A Life, If I Had A Gun

28) Last Smoke Before Snowstorm – Benjamin Francis Leftwich
Whilst I may previously have commented on the overdone nature of singer songwriters, every so often there is one that seems to just hit the right chord, even if they are not necessarily reinventing the wheel. Young 20-something Benjamin Francis Leftwich did just that this year with his debut, displacing a graceful demeanour and fierce authenticity on romantic fingerpicked tracks See You Soon and Atlas Hands. The perfect accompaniment to anybody going through a bad breakup, or as a comforting background to a rainy day, Last Smoke Before Snowstorm displays just the right amount of wistfulness without sounding self-pitying.

Download: Box Of Stones, Atlas Hands

27) Bon Iver – Bon Iver
And now for the father of nu folk. Justin Vernon. Whilst previous album For Emma, Forever Ago was taken to the hearts of the nation for it’s clinically depressing but oddly uplifting documentation of a relationship fallen foul, (making it way onto the best of all time list for me personally, a masochistic lover of all things miserable) Bon Iver is a bemusing affair upon first listen, but soon opens up it’s new found chirpy charms on the likes of Towers and Wash. With all tracks named after places (some real, some fictional), Vernon seems intent on using his music to portray a journey, and the progress made between this album and his early works suggests exciting things for Bon Iver’s future.

Download: Calgary, Towers

26) Dye It Blonde – Smith Westerns
When none other than Alex Turner declares your album to be his favourite of the year, full of ‘great songwriting and great guitar sounds’, you know you are onto something. Such was the case for Chicago newbies Smith Westerns. Having toured extensively with Arctic Monkeys, they honed their live sound to the extent that Dye It Blonde came full of nonchalant, effortlessly cool indie anthems, including rifftastic Weekend and Mr Turner’s personal favourite, ‘Imagine part 3.’ The start of potentially exciting things.

Download; Weekend, Dance Away

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