Top 20 Albums of the Year, 2011

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.

1.) Elbow – Build A Rocket Boys!

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).

2.) Foo Fighters – Wasting Light

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.

3.) Frank Turner – England Keep My Bones

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.

4.) Dive Dive – Potential

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.

5.) Laura Marling – A Creature I Don’t Know

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.

6.) Rival Schools – Pedals

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.

7.) Danananaykroyd – There Is A Way

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.

8.) Manchester Orchestra – Simple Math

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.

9.) Coldplay – Mylo Xyloto

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.

10.) The Retrospective Soundtrack Players – Cool Hand Luke

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…

11.) City And Colour – Little Hell
12.) I Am The Avalanche – Avalanche United
13.) Funeral For A Friend – Welcome Home Armageddon
14.) Swellers – Good For Me
15.) Incubus – If Not Now, When?
16.) Radiohead – The King Of Limbs
17.) The Horrible Crowes – Elsie
18.) Thrice – Major/Minor
19.) Taking Back Sunday – Taking Back Sunday
20.) Explosions In The Sky – Take Care, Take Care, Take Care

 
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:
 

Top 20 Albums of the Year, 2010

This year hasn’t exactly been a classic for rock music, with pop and hip hop stealing most of the limelight, but nonetheless there have been some hidden gems.  
So, for the fourth year running, here are my top picks for 2010. Don’t take my word for it, please click-through and judge for yourself, via the magic of Spotify and Myspace (or ‘My_’. Most ridiculous rebrand ever…)

1.)    65daysofstatic – We Were Exploding Anyway

This record has to take the top spot this year as it is the most inventive and exciting album released in 2010 by a mile. 65DOS take the best elements of Explosions in the Sky and Pendulum along with a guest appearance from The Cure’s Robert Smith to achieve a sound which will leave you rethinking your opinion of instrumental music.

2.)    The Automatic – Tear The Signs Down

Certainly the biggest re-invention of the year, The Automatic have completely transformed themselves since the arrival of Paul Mullen (formerly of yourcodenameis:milo). After playing a more subtle role on 2008’s This Is A Fix, the Geordie guitarist also assumes lead vocal duties on more than half of the tracks on the band’s latest album, and the result is a highly impressive alt-rock record that deserves to be judged on its own merits, not in light of what this band used to be.

3.)    Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

2010 was the year that Arcade Fire really took off, headlining Reading Festival, completing a UK arena tour and surging up the charts with their third album. The Suburbs is a vast, expansive record, which gets better with every listen, while the interactive video for We Used To Wait is one of the most creative musical projects of the year.

4.)    The Gaslight Anthem – American Slang

For summery nostalgia, you just can’t do any better than a bit of Gaslight Anthem. The New Jersey rockers earned much UK praise with their recent appearance on Jules Holland and lead singer Brian Fallon is easily living up to his reputation as the next Bruce Springsteen with his soulful vocals on The Diamond Church Street Choir and Boxer.

5.)    Jimmy Eat World – Invented

Jimmy Eat World’s seventh record is by no means their best, but still packs plenty of memorable tunes, tender moments and singalong choruses to keep old-school emo fans happy. Teaming back up with Clarity producer Mark Trombino adds a retro edge to this release, as well as the smooth backing vocals from Courtney Marie Andrews on Coffee and Cigarettes, Movielike and Heart Is Hard To Find.

6.)    Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly – Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly

Once again, Sam Duckworth has created a remarkable album of beats, samples, arpeggios and catchy choruses. Once again he has taken his live show up a level. The truly uplifting Morning Light is a career highlight, yet somehow Get Cape’s third record lacks that extra something special to make it a truly great album.

7.)    Ash – A-Z Vol. 1 & 2

If we ignore the fact that this 26-track project was split into two physical releases, then Ash’s A-Z series as a whole definitely deserves its place in the top ten. Writing and releasing songs of this quality every fortnight is a great achievement, and Russell Lissack (on loan from Bloc Party) gives the band a new edge, but with a bit more discipline, they could have whittled it all down to one of the best albums of their career.

8.)    Pulled Apart By Horses – Pulled Apart By Horses

The Leeds quartet burst onto the scene this year with a debut as mental as it is memorable. I Punched A Lion In The Throat, Back To The Fuck Yeah and High Five, Swan Dive, Nose Dive all hit the spot with remarkable ferocity. Definitely ones to watch in the future, these lads.

9.)    Jim Lockey & The Solemn Sun – Atlases

Cheltenham-based Lockey’s second album saw him recruit a backing band and take the ambition and the intensity up a notch. This release sounds much more professional and accomplished than Jim’s folsky debut, with stand-out track Waitress boasting more tempo changes than you can shake a stick at.

10.)    Weezer – Hurley

Rivers Cuomo just keeps churning out the quirky songs and catchy hooks that have got Weezer where they are. Whilst Hurley has plenty of top tunes, such as Memories and Trainwrecks, perhaps the strains of releasing a record every year have made the Weezer well of ideas run a little bit dry.

11.)    I Am Kloot – Sky At Night

12.)    Vampire Weekend – Contra

13.)    Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can

14.)    Young Guns – All Our Kings Are Dead

15.)    Taylor Hawkins & The Coattail Riders – Red Light Fever

16.)    Gogol Bordello – Trans-Continental Hustle

17.)    Canterbury – Thank You

18.)    Minus The Bear – Omni

19.)    Jil Is Lucky – Jil Is Lucky

20.)    The Coral – Butterfly House

 
As always, please let me know what you think, if I’ve missed anything off, or you think I’m just plain wrong. Here’s to more great music in 2011, and I leave you with what I think is the best music video of the past year:

Sorry about the advert, but it’s worth sitting through for the video.