And now for my one annual post on my sadly neglected blog, I present my Top Ten Albums of 2011! Without further ado, in no particular order, here they are...
Yuck - Yuck - Do you have a special place in your heart for late 80s/early 90s indie rock? If so, you should give Yuck a spin. Clearly these young Brits spent some time studying the likes of Pavement, Dinosaur Jr, Ride, Superchunk, and numerous other indie and shoegaze luminaries. And while this isn't exactly Slanted and Enchanted or You're Living All Over Me, they've written some solid songs, freshened up a classic sound, and delivered a very promising debut album. Tip: track down the two-disc version which includes some worthy B-sides as well.
M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming - A double album of lush, epic, atmospheric synth-scapes designed for maximum sensory overload. It's less nostalgic and more moody than their last album, Saturdays=Youth, but the 80s style sounds still dominate. Anthony Gonzalez specializes in taking unfashionable sounds and making them fresh again, from the sax solo in lead off single "Midnight City" to the slap-bass in "Claudia Lewis". The songs occasionally get a little too precious, but overall it's a worthy addition to the string of great albums from M83.
TV On The Radio - Nine Types Of Light - Roundly ignored by the critics because it's not as angsty or political as their previous efforts. But I find their takes on matters of the heart and their more relaxed sound as appealing as their earlier epics. It is some of the most intelligent and expressive pop music around. RIP, Gerard Smith.
The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart - Belong - Indie noise-poppers make the jump to the big leagues by hiring both Flood and Alan Moulder. They could have been overwhelmed by the slick production and pristine mixing; the opening title track almost sounds like it's from a Smashing Pumpkins album. But they brought along great songs, and have lost none of their twee-pop charm. This is simply great modern rock. My sole complaint is that they left their single "Say No To Love" off the album -- it's one of my favorites.
The Strokes - Angles - Ten years on from their masterful debut, the Strokes are a well-oiled machine. Some of their scruffy passion has been replaced by a detached professionalism. But that is to be expected. They were on a long hiatus, where several members released fairly decent solo work. But playing together they are still something special -- a new-wave, garage-band force. Angles has several "classic" Strokes numbers, and a few that venture beyond their typical songs. They are at their best when they stick with their patented style, but even their most experimental stuff has redeeming qualities. Their story is by no means complete, and Angles is a fine chapter.
Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost - Another album full of remarkable, tuneful, dark, psychedelic pop songs, brimming with genuine emotion. Great songwriting and arrangements that seem almost effortless. And it feels like they've only scraped the surface of their talent.
The Cars - Move Like This - When The Cars reunited after nearly 25 years, I wasn't expecting a whole lot. The warm glow of nostalgia, some friendly press, and a tour with lots of gray hair in the audience. What I didn't expect was a solid album that compares favorably with their 80s work. The album cover is generically awful, but their clipped, mechanical sound actually comes off pretty modern given the retro trends. It's more than just Ric Ocasek solo, with the Cars backing him up. It's not on the level of their classic debut album, but it's a good listen all the way through and sounds great on the car stereo.
The Weeknd - House Of Balloons - Warped, moody, haunting, drugged-out, sex-obsessed, genre-bending R&B album, released as a free mixtape on the Internet. An amazing introduction to talented Canadian artist Abel Tesfaye. Two subsequent free releases show he's got more where this came from; the three are set for physical (CD/LP) release in 2012.
Cut City - Where's The Harm In Dreams Disarmed - Underground Scandinavian post-punk band releases their final album after many delays. If you've enjoyed modern post-punk bands like Interpol, Editors, Franz Ferdinand, etc, this is definitely worth your time. It's a more mature sound than Exit Decades released four years ago; more textured, more subtle, and ultimately more satisfying. Too bad they've chosen to break up, but at least we got to hear this album.
Various Artists - Drive (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - A swirling, mood-setting masterpiece that had me searching out the artists from the Italians Do It Better label and other Johnny Jewel productions. The Cliff Martinez score is subtle and powerful. Awesome accompaniment for late night drives.
Cut Copy - Zonoscope
Cold Cave - Cherish The Light Years
My Morning Jacket - Circuital
Glasvegas - Euphoric Heartbreak
Big K.R.I.T. - Return Of 4Eva
Escort - Escort
Pearl Jam - Vs/Vitalogy
Smashing Pumpkins - Siamese Dream
Material Issue - International Pop Overthrow
Smiths - Complete
Nirvana - Nevermind
Manic Street Preachers - National Treasures