Friday, June 24, 2011

So Far This Year: Grant's Top 10 Albums of 2011

The first half of 2011 has already proven to be one full of incredible releases and if the year continues at the pace we're going then one can only imagine how these lists are going to shape up at the end of 2011.  Between the big names who stepped their game up for highly anticipated records and the pleasant surprises that have popped up, this year's been an excellent one thusfar for new releases.  Halfway through 2011, here are my favorite releases for 2011:

10) It's A Corporate World by Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. made a name for themselves with their Horse Power EP that was released back in 2010, but with a few of the songs from that EP honed and crafted the band came back in 2011 with a full-length that was packed full of catchy summer tunes that showcase the unique style of Dale Jr. Jr.  Their infectious melodies and meticulously crafted songs make for an easy listen through that fits perfect with the summer vibes needed to get through these warm, warm days.  It's A Corporate World is a great display of pop perfection without a weak moment on the record.

9) The King of Limbs by Radiohead
The King of Limbs was one of my most highly anticipated albums this year, and while some found themselves disappointed in the bands latest effort, I for one am still thoroughly impressed and ensconced with what the band has done with themselves yet again.  After seeming to settle into a new sound with their one-two combo of more fundamental rock albums like In Rainbows and Hail to the Thief, the band re-invented themselves yet again with King of Limbs.  It's the Kid A of the '10s in the sense that the band has taken a new experimental direction that many may be hesitant or weary of because of how indifferent they are to the sound.  It's dark and broody but still packs in the moments of breath-taking beauty and glory whether it be from Yorke's famed falsetto or from the beautiful instrumentation of Johnny Greenwood.  It's amazing that a band so unique and talented can continue to re-invent themselves when they've already moved so far away from the pack.  A fantastic release.

8) James Blake by James Blake
James Blake took the musical world by storm at the beginning of 2011 when he released his self-titled debut and received rave reviews for his unique approach to his music.  Blake was best known as a dubstep producer in the UK before he started gaining a lot of attention as he was working on this self-titled album.  James Blake's vocals draw a clear inspiration from vocalists like Thom Yorke and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver but combining the falsetto croon with an R&B or Soul vibe.  It's an incredibly gratifying experience to have these deeply personal songs being sung out with such passion and heart and then hear this beautiful and luxurious sonic soundscape that Blake has created.  This album is by far one of the best releases of the year to just sit down with some nice headphones and allow yourself to be completely consumed because the depth of this album is stunning.  James Blake is an artist who I will take great joy in seeing blossom into something incredible, but it's certainly going to be hard to go uphill from here.

7) Kaputt by Destroyer
Destroyer was a band that until 2011 I had never checked out and after Kaputt's release I was kicking myself over that, it's a phenomenal album and Dan Bejar is truly a prolific voice for our day and age.  The easy-listening pop sounds of Kaputt are entrancing, from one minute to the next you're not really sure of which direction this album's instrumentation is going to take.  Dan Bejar is best known as a contributor to The New Pornographers, but with Kaputt he has thrust himself into the limelight with Destroyer, as this album represents a stunning sense of sound.  There's many intricacies throughout the album that show all of the time and effort put into it and the even balance of importance between instrumentation and lyricism is evident.  It's 100% possible to get lost in either the vocals or the instruments, both are incredibly inviting and allow for either an in-depth listen or for simple background music.  Incredible versatile album and an excellent listen.

6) Underneath The Pine by Toro Y Moi
Toro Y Moi is one of the standout artists of the chillwave influx of the past few years, but it's clear why he was such a standout artist with his newest release Underneath The Pine.  With his sophomore effort, Chaz Bundick sounds like he's found something a bit more centralized and focused, the music has much more direction.  A much larger and more vast array of instruments are found on this album which allows for a much deeper sound and a much more immersive album.  The best part of Underneath The Pine isn't in the fact that it's got such incredibly dancy tunes or songs that allow you to sit back and appreciate all of the layers and textures, but more in the fact that it's clear that this still isn't the peak of Bundick's career.  It feels like there's much more to come from Toro Y Moi and hopefully that's true because the sky is the limit for this talented young native of South Carolina.

5) Simple Math by Manchester Orchestra
Manchester Orchestra is probably my favorite band making music today, the absolute display of honesty and breadth of Andy Hull's lyrics have struck a chord with me from the first day that I heard their debut I'm Like A Virgin Losing A Child back in 2007.  Simple Math marks yet another new period for Manchester Orchestra, it's a fully fleshed out version of what the band's image has been all along, it's got excellent soothing moments like album opener "Deer" and it can follow those up with the aptly titled "Mighty" which feels like a muddy southern indie rock song.  Add that in with a heart-wrenching story of love, loss, and religion that takes us deep into the mind and life of Andy Hull and you've got yourself a beautiful album.  The way that each song flows so perfectly together is what tops off the whole thing.  Hearing "Simple Math" in context of the album is nothing short of heart-wrenching, especially when it's surrounded by the other emotional powerhouses of songs like "Pale Black Eye", "Virgin", and "Leave It Alone".  Simple Math features some of Hull's strongest lyrics to date with lines capable of producing chills with each listen.  Simple Math is nothing short of excellent.

4) Circuital by My Morning Jacket
New My Morning Jacket releases are always something to get giddy about, but as someone who wasn't that big of a fan of Evil Urges I was slightly apprehensive, however all of my doubts and fears were thrown out the window when I put on the first track to Circuital.  My Morning Jacket have released a record that rivals the greatness of Z in terms of it's sense of direction, it's depth, it's lyricism, hell in every way possible.  My Morning Jacket have gotten the perfect blend of their original more rootsy sound found on earlier releases and the newer more experimental sound on works found after It Still Moves.  My Morning Jacket have settled into their mass array of sounds and this album continues to push them forward as musicians.

3) Dig Up The Dead by Mansions
This is the album that surprised me the most this year, it seemed to creep out of nowhere and hit me like a bag of bricks.  It's an absolutely unfiltered powerhouse of an album that has changed my view on songwriting.  Mansions' Christopher Browder has taken influence from artists like Elliott Smith, Ryan Adams, The Get Up Kids, and Brand New and chucked them all into one comprehensive sound that allows each shining point of each artist to filter through in Browder's own unique way.  The songs would be just as moving and powerful if they were sung with one man and one guitar, but the added instrumentation with the tremolo pick filled post-rock builds and emotional shouts from Browder make for an incredibly powerful listen.  A stunningly beautiful album that deserves your attention.

2) Bon Iver by Bon Iver
It was a toss up between this and my #1 that took many back and forth choices to decide upon.  The self-titled sophomore effort from Bon Iver marks for a brand new sound and style for the band.  Still led by Justin Vernon's trademark falsetto croon, this album trades acoustic guitar for lush orchestration of clarinets, saxophones, and synthesizers.  The result is nothing short of breath taking, with Vernon's heartfelt lyrics still ever present taking a much more bold form through more interesting melodies and harmonies.  It sounds like the record that Vernon has been wanting to make for some time now and it's truly a joy that it's out there for our ears because it's a masterpiece.

1) Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes
Robin Pecknold has done it again, from the opening lines of Helplessness Blues it's clear that this album is going to live up to all of it's expectations.  Pecknold sings in the opening line of the album "Now I am older than my mother and father when they had their daughter/What does that say about me?"  This stark honesty and sense of want and need for complacency is a theme across the album that rings out in volumes due to it's accessibility and relatability.  Coming into this album I thought it was going to be damn near impossible to top what was an almost perfect album with their debut back in 2008 but Pecknold and company pulled it off.  Filled with the same beautiful harmonies that helped thrust this band into fame, everything sounds much more polished and poignant than on their first effort.  It's an album that features many moments where the listener can just sit back and appreciate how beautiful the sounds are that are emanating from their speakers, whether it be through Pecknolds gorgeous voice or through the beautiful orchestrations of these instruments found on Helplessness Blues.  It's going to be hard for any release this year to top this for me.

Honorable Mentions:
Tomboy by Panda Bear, Stone Rollin' by Raphael Saadiq, All Eternals Deck by The Mountain Goats, EP by Childish Gambino, Let England Shake by PJ Harvey,

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