Okay, I’ll admit it- I didn’t listen to a lot of music released this year. I can’t really explain why- I think partially it was because I was listening to some of the albums released last year still (because Sufjan Stevens’ Age of Adz is still my favorite from 2010), and the other reason is probably because I tend to procrastinate when it comes to buying/listening to new albums anyway. For example: Bon Iver’s self-titled release (which is on the top of many “Best of ’11” lists) has been sitting in my iTunes since the day it was released and I haven’t listened to it once. It’s a shame really. I promise: my resolution for 2012 will be to listen to at least one new album a week. Until then, here are my picks (of the stuff I did listen to) for 2011.
11. Iron & Wine, Kiss Each Other Clean
I saw Iron & Wine (which is the stage name for singer-songwriter, Samuel Beam) in concert right after Kiss Each Other Clean was released and I was surprised with the new bluesy/pop rock sound. Most people that are familiar with Beam’s music are also familiar with a sort of acoustic, mellow sound, but this new album and new music has saxophones, jazz horns, and groove beats. Still, Beam does this all expertly and the result is a chill sort of album, perfect for a lazy afternoon.
10. Death Cab for Cutie, Codes and Keys
I guess you can call me a casual fan of Death Cab for Cutie. Though Codes and Keys is the band’s seventh album, I only own one other: their 2005 release, Plans. I picked up Codes and Keys, however, after hearing lead single, “You Are A Tourist”. The rest of the album fares well, though nothing strays too far from typical Death Cab territory; melancholy ballads and upbeat indie-pop numbers make this an easy listen.
9. Various Artists, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Okay, so I know I already reamed the movie in my review a few weeks ago, but, but but…the Twilight soundtracks are always really good. This latest one is no exception; with selections from Iron & Wine, The Noisettes, and Angus & Julia Stone, this disc is like indie music heaven. Some of the album’s highlights are rock band The Features’ upbeat number “From Now On”, indie-rock musician Sleeping at Last’s stunning duet “Turning Page”, and a collaboration between one of my favorite artists, Aqualung, and singer-songwriter Lucy Schwartz on the hauntingly beautiful “Cold”. I’ll never tell you the movies are worth seeing, but (at least in my opinion) all of the Twilight soundtracks are worth a listen.
8. The Lonely Island, Turtleneck & Chain
As much as I love The Lonely Island, I will admit that they’re ridiculously silly at times. This much is apparent on their second album, Turtleneck & Chain. The group of singing (and oft-time rapping) comedians (headed by SNL alum Andy Samberg) is back with another disc of hilarious songs and plenty of big name celebs, including rappers Nicki Minaj and Snoop Dogg, as well as Rihanna, and a duet with none other than Michael Bolton. The highlights of the album come with another Justin Timberlake duet (“Motherlover”), and the amazingly catchy, post-coital anthem, “I Just Had Sex (featuring Akon)”.
7. Beyoncé, 4
Let me start by saying that I don’t really like Beyoncé. However, a friend of mine did some of the behind the scenes work on this album (namely, some of the mixing on a few tracks) and curiosity got the best of me. I was actually pleasantly surprised when I listened to 4 for the first time, and it ended up being one of my soundtracks for the summer. The same things that I don’t care for about Beyoncé are still present – she over sings on some tracks, some of the choruses are too poppy and annoying, and some of the ballads are just so fucking corny (yes, I’m looking at you, “I Was Here”), but still,there are a number of really good R&B/pop numbers here. “Rather Die Young” is one of them- the passionately delivered chorus (“I’d rather die young than live my life without you”) and Motown/Prince throwback sound makes it a standout.
6. Radiohead, The King of Limbs
Without hesitation, I will tell you that my favorite band is Radiohead. So I’m sure you’re wondering why their latest album, King of Limbs, is sixth on my year-end list, instead of first. I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that I was a bit disappointed with this release. Maybe it’s because their last album, In Rainbows, is my favorite, or maybe it’s just because KoL is slightly sub-par. First of all, the 8 tracks/37 minute running time is a let down. Secondly, is it just me, or is the first half of this album just boring? All the songs seem to run together into a bland mush of Thom Yorke wailing on top of some electronic noises. However, the saving grace is the second half of the album: pure bliss. From lead single “Lotus Flower” (don’t you remember that awesome black and white video of Yorke’s geeky/sexy dance moves?) and on, there’s nothing but goodness. Despite that, the mediocrity of King of Limbs honestly leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. I’ll just have to remain hopeful that their next release will be a bit livelier than this one.
5. Ed Sheeran – +
So, I’m gonna go totally hipster on you for a second here and say you’ve probably never heard of Ed Sheeran. But I’ll bet it’s true. Hell, I’d never heard of him either, until I saw the video for his single, “Lego House”, which I only watched because it starred Rupert Grint (whom plays Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter series, of course!). Anyway, from the moment I heard the chorus of “Lego House”, and Sheeran’s smooth, sweet vocals, I was hooked. I decided to download Sheeran’s debut studio album + that same day, and was pleasantly surprised. The 20-year-old English singer-songwriter has managed to successfully craft a great acoustic folk album. He’s like a mix of early John Mayer and Jason Mraz (and even does some Mraz-style white-boy-rapping on “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You”), and the result is a wonderful little album that’s a treat to the ears.
4. St. Vincent, Strange Mercy
I am such a fan girl for Annie Clark. The artist, otherwise known as St. Vincent, has released two other successful indie-rock albums, Marry Me (2007) and Actor (2009). Her latest release, Strange Mercy, finds St. Vincent exploring the same lush sounds (violins, electric guitar, and saxes, oh my!) that her fans are already familiar with, combined with a set of more deeply introspective lyrics. Clark herself has described the album as being more personal than her other albums, particularly in the album’s lead single and strongest track, “Surgeon” (seriously, check out that wicked guitar riff/solo). I won’t say that Strange Mercy truly compares with Actor (which is, by far, one of my favorite albums, period…), but it’s still a stellar release.
3. Adele, 21
Oh, I REALLY don’t want to jump on the Adele bandwagon, but I have to admit her second release, 21, was pretty damn good. Don’t get me wrong, I love Adele as much as the next contemporary adult/Top 40 lovin’ music listener, but I do think she may be getting close to crossing that fine line of being over-hyped and overplayed. I mean, when can you turn on the radio these days without hearing “Rolling in the Deep” being played at least 3 times within the hour? The main reason that Adele is so high up on my personal list, though, is that I’ll have to admit that when 21 was first released earlier this year, I listened to it non-stop (you know, before all the songs were overplayed and annoying), and I have to give credit where credit is due: Adele is a damn good singer/songwriter. “Someone Like You” is pop-music perfection, and I beg of you to listen to it without agreeing.
2. Wild Beasts, Smother
One of the best things about my boyfriend is that he introduces me to awesome music. I’d never heard of British indie-rock band Wild Beasts until he played their third studio album Smother for me this fall. I was instantly enraptured with the opening track, “Lion’s Share”, where we’re immediately introduced to a haunting piano melody, stripped back production, and sultry vocals from lead singer Hayden Thorpe (not to mention those haunting lyrics, “’Cause it’s a terrible scare/But that’s why the dark is there/So you don’t have to see what you can’t bear…”). The rest of the singing on the album alternates between Thorpe and other lead vocalist, Tom Fleming, and each synthesizer/drum-heavy track pulsates in your mind long after you’ve finished listening to the album.
1. Coldplay, Mylo Xyloto
Am I the only person that just absolutely loved Mylo Xyloto? Okay, to be fair, I’m quite a big Coldplay fan, so maybe I’m biased- but I genuinely thought this was a great album. Chris Martin and the gang did it again in my eyes: a collection of well-written, beautifully performed songs with catchy hooks…what more can you ask for? Yeah, the Rihanna duet “Princess of China” is a train-wreck, but let’s just overlook that for a second. What about the undeniably cheerful and upbeat “Paradise”? What about the beautiful melancholy of “Us Against The World”? And damn it, what about the gorgeous guitar solo, melody, and chorus in “Up In Flames”? I listened to this album non-stop for at least a week and a half after it was released, and even now, I’m still listening to some of the songs on repeat when I’m in the mood. Say what you will about Mylo Xyloto (popular criticisms: it’s boring, or unoriginal; however, to be fair, when did Coldplay make “exciting” music, exactly? It’s not like they’re really known for club bangers), but for me, it was simply the best album of 2011.