As much of the world sings to singles about Mick Jagger and bass with super qualities, there seems to be a growing contingent of people who appreciate a full-length album; who still revel in the feeling of being engulfed by an entire musical statement, thought, or discourse. The pickings are rather excellent this year.
(By the way, I’ve recently realised that I’m not going to have enough time to compile a top songs of the year list before I go away tomorrow. I’ll post it sometime in January.)
10. The Year Of Hibernation by Youth Lagoon
So my copy only arrived in the mail today (December 22), which is the sole explanation for its appearance outside the top five. A bedroom project by a 22 year-old with extreme anxiety issues, Hibernation asserts the idea that it is the wounded who are truly gifted, with countless rich melodies emerging from the fuzzy ambience that frames the record. Perhaps some of the merit for the album’s quality can be attributed to his supportive parents, as suggested by the dreamy, wandering 17, ‘When I was seventeen / my mother said to me / “Don’t stop imagining. / The day that you do is the day that you die.” Chilled, but melodic – a perfect combination.
9. Bush Tricks by We Say Bamboulee
Released at the tail-end of last year this remarkable 8-track EP may not technically be an album, but its inclusion on this list could not be questioned for any other reason. Looking past lead single Solid Gold – which is probably the best song anyone’s ever heard – Bamboulee continue to achieve subtle-synth-pop mastery in Swingsets and Unwelcome Copacabana Holiday, with the latter featuring the thoroughly enjoyable line of ‘You smile like you had practice / you’re becoming quite the actress.’ Fame should burst into fruition for them soon.
8. 21 by Adele
I don’t think anyone’s really going to dispute this one. Over 13 millions copies sold, records broken more often than her wounded heart, and achieving that cherished ‘played so often that everybody’s sick of it’ status that really deserves its own golden plaque. With exceptional songwriting, exquisite delivery, and ex-boyfriend-criticism for all the bitter females in the world, this was the year of Adele.
7. The King of Limbs by Radiohead
The sudden release of TKOL was entertaining to experience, but not quite as entertaining as the online rush from some people to write up a review of the album as quickly as possible: ‘Hey guys, here’s my review of this record, written while I listened for the first time, except for the last three songs which I had to skip because I saw someone else had already posted a review online.’ What brings even more entertainment is the album itself, which offers insidious grooves aplenty and results in perhaps the band’s most accessible and refined record yet.
6. Go Tell Fire to the Mountain by WU LYF
Even if Go Tell Fire to the Mountain was terrible music, much enjoyment could still be gained from listening to the album while reading the lyrics, and laughing at vocalist Ellery Roberts’ undeniably unique delivery. Thankfully, it is excellent music, and both the music and lyrics can be equally enjoyed.
5. Burst Apart by The Antlers
The Antlers were in the same unfortunate (yet still desirable) situation as Bon Iver, in which they were attempting to follow an immaculate album inspired by a deeply personal experience, with 2009’s Hospice affecting many a psychologically-wounded teen. I’m sure some fans were deeply traumatised by the fact that the new album wasn’t dripping with quite as much anguish as Hospice, but it still managed to achieve a sound that provoked my friends and family to describe it as ‘depressing’ and ‘suicidal.’ Anyway, given that I haven’t really said anything positive about Burst Apart yet, I may as well mention that it’s as beautiful as those three female vampires who reside at the Count’s house in Dracula. It may bring you harm, but it’s beautiful.
4. James Blake by James Blake
Was James Blake the first to bring electronic music to the masses? Not really. Is he making dubstep accessible? Not really. Is this the greatest album anyone’s ever heard? Not really. Despite all of these apparent shortcomings, the James Blake that is not the tennis player released a ground-breaking record that brought electronic music to many who were previously cold towards the genre. It also exposed some people to elements of dubstep for the first time, who rather enjoyed it. And, last but not least, it’s an excellent album, written with perfect restraint by a piano maestro who was probably dying to throw in a few more extravagant solos, just because he could.
3. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming by M83
I think the last double album I ever bought was Stadium Arcadium by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Plowing on through 28 tracks of the late (in which way do I mean that?) Chili Peppers made you think Christian from Pilgrim’s Progress had it easy, but Hurry Up was more like the most mind-blowing indulgence; a lifetime spent in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory if another literary comparison is needed. Just about every track is grandiose and majestic, as if Anthony Gonzalez wants to sweep across every musical landscape and leave a gleaming, synth-soaked sheen over all that he encounters. The best of all 2011’s electronic offerings.
Criticised by many, cherished by those who matter, The Middle East’s album was a masterpiece. 2011 shall be remembered in my mind as the year in which millions of un-enlightened music fans bemoaned in unison, ‘There’s no song that sounds exactly like Blood.’ (For those in the dark, Blood appeared on The Middle East’s EP, and was as amazing as marrying a mermaid seems in theory). Let’s look past the fact that the album does include a song – Months – that sounds as similar to Blood as a song could without raising the eyebrows of people with brains, and focus purely on the folly of such a criticism. I mean, let’s look past all the brilliance on this record – the chaotic march up Mount Morgan, the midnight wade through Deep Water, the light skip to the moon and back As I Go To See Janey – and hate on an album for not directly replicating a past song (which it basically does do).
Don’t listen to most reviewers, who rated the record as average. Don’t listen to the band, who say they weren’t happy with how the album turned out. Listen to me and listen to the music, because this is a damn fine release.
By the time you finish listening to album opener Perth, Justin Vernon has already sung ‘still alive, who you love’ three times. By this time, you’re well and truly aware that Vernon himself is more than simply ‘still alive’ – he’s revelling in a state of musical supremacy. The cabin’s completely snowed-under, and when he recalls in Michicant that ‘it wasn’t yet the spring,’ he’s speaking in past tense, because as you can tell from the sublime album cover, the spring has arrived, and new life is here. In reflection upon the year’s music, I didn’t waste time wondering if there was an album in 2011 that hit me harder than Bon Iver, Bon Iver – I only wondered if there ever would be.