For the fifth year running, here are my top 20 Albums of the Year. Follow the links to listen to each one for free on Grooveshark, Spotify or YouTube.
With quite a considerable weight of expectation on their shoulders after 2008’s The Seldom Seen Kid scooped the Mercury Music Prize, to start their follow-up album with an eight-minute epic should win Elbow album of the year on sheer audacity alone. Of course it helps that The Birds is a gently brooding masterpiece, complete with intricate synth riffs and a glorious orchestral crescendo.
Build A Rocket Boys! is the sound of a band finding their groove and loving every minute of it. From the joyous stomp of Neat Little Rows to the tender nostalgia of Lippy Kids, this record sees the Manchester quintet on top form. As if that wasn’t enough, they can pull it off with aplomb on the biggest of stages (see above).
A triumphant return from Grohl and co, which only narrowly misses out on the top spot, Wasting Light is possibly the band’s most consistent record since 2001’s There is Nothing Left to Lose. The minute the video for White Limo was released on YouTube, Foos fans knew they were in for an old-school treat. The album more than lives up to this promise; with the tortured I Should Have Known and the anthemic Walk providing a fantastic finale.
The most prolific man in folk turned out another exceptional album this year, as his career continues scaling ever higher peaks. Frank is due to headline Wembley Arena next year and that would seem mildly ludicrous were it not for this collection of colossal songs. With a beefed up full band sound on If Ever I Stray and a few nods to his hardcore past on One Foot Before The Other, the Wessex troubadour is turning into a force to be reckoned with.
Better known as the Sleeping Souls (Frank Turner’s backing band) plus singer Jamie Stuart, Dive Dive deserve high acclaim for their long-awaited third album. From the alarm-clock riff to Mr 10% through to the bravely optimistic title track closer, this is an album full of ideas, emotion and unflinching honesty.
It’s hard to believe that Ms Marling is still only 21 years old. Her third record is one of world-weary wisdom, mythology and magic. The expansive soundscape of I Was Just A Card and the brooding lustfulness of The Beast offer plenty of variety. And to top it all off, Sophia is probably the single of the year.
Ten years is a long time to wait for a sophomore record, but thankfully Walter Schreifels et al have rewarded their loyal fans’ patience. Drawing on influences as diverse as Weezer and The Temper Trap, this record is packed full of tunes. My main criticism would be that at just 34 minutes long, it’s too short.
One of the casualties of 2011, it’s a real shame to lose the Scottish noise punks so soon after releasing their finest album. With producer Ross Robinson at the helm, this was a much more refined effort than their debut and the upbeat swagger of Muscle Memory is well worth a listen.
On the first listen through, I thought this was shaping up to be the album of the year, but then it all goes horribly wrong. The first four tracks of this record are absolutely flawless, with the joyous singalong of Pensacola the standout, but from then onwards the only track worth mentioning is the spectacular title track.
My guilty pleasure of the year sneaks into the top ten. This may be one of the most heavily produced records of the year, but it’s hard to resist the charm of this fantastically well-written album.
By far the best record of the year to be based on a 1960s prison movie. The execution of this ambitious idea is ropey at times, but the glorious crescendo of Three Escapes and Plastic Jesus 2 bring about a very satisfying finale. Definitely ones to watch in 2012…
All in all, 2011 was a brilliant year for new albums, far better than 2010. The respectable efforts from Arctic Monkeys, Blink 182, Twin Atlantic and Sam Duckworth all missed out on the Top 20, although the less said about the fourth Art Brut album, the better… As always, any recommendations and tips for 2012 are most welcome, but for now I’ll leave you with this year’s best video: