2011 has been another good year for music, with a deep list of very good albums released. This depth has allowed me to extend my usual Top Ten list to a Top Twenty that could easily have gone to 25 or 30 without me breaking a sweat. That said, ordering the below albums was a little harder than usual because for me there weren’t any truly mind blowing albums released this year. Ordinarily there is at least one album, if not two or three, that stand head and shoulders above the rest and demand the top spot(s), but that did not happen for me in 2011. In fact, had this year’s #1 album been released in 2010 it would have been at most #5 on that list (behind Titus Andronicus, Kanye West, Owen Pallett, and Dessa).
I think a big part of my not seeing a true #1 album this year is simply a matter of taste. A whole lot of lists are putting Bon Iver, Bon Iver at the top but that album simply does not work for me. While I loved For Emma, its follow-up feels like it is trying too hard (although it would appear successfully) to cross over into the pop realm and sanded off the rough edges that made For Emma so fantastic. I was even more disappointed in Watch the Throne, which comes off as nothing more than self-indulgent ego stroking. Add to these disappointments the fact that I’ve never been a fan of Fleet Foxes or My Morning Jacket and some of the years best reviewed albums are off the table for me.
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I’ve been waiting for this album for 45 years, virtually three quarters of my life, but it is still not the finished article! Back in the mid 1960s, The Beatles reigned supreme in the world of popular music. But if any group (as we then called them) came close to taking that crown, it was the Beach Boys. The Beach Boys’ previous album to the Smile sessions was Pet Sounds, Brian Wilson’s answer to Rubber Soul and Revolver. The Beatles had raised the bar with their albums; until then, LPs were usually collections of singles, b-sides and fillers. But a few months after the release of Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper raised the bar even higher for Wilson. He wanted something even grander, and Smile was to be his answer. As he describes it in the notes published for this new release, “Each Beatles album had sounded different. The way I saw it we were in a race, a production race.”
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If the phrase “avant-pop” wasn’t already claimed, it would need to be created to describe Micachu and the Shapes. On their 2009 debut, and thus far only studio full length, Mica Levi and her bandmates Marc Pell and Raisa Khan (who both joined Levi in the middle of recording Jewellery, hence the crediting of only some tracks to Micachu and the Shapes) create a sound that can only be described as a cacophony of sounds and genres. The noise made by the band can be harsh and dissonant, but somehow the songs still manage to have pop hooks and to be quite catchy.
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