Monday, December 26, 2011

2011 in Review: Top Albums

Back in 2010, Lady Gaga's self-aggrandizing ego proclaimed that at the start of the new year, she would deliver not only the album of the decade, but of a generation.  Such bloated statement was met with very little opposition, or better yet, doubt from the masses.  It is no secret that I'm not a fan of Lady Gaga.  I would admit though, that I do find "Bad Romance" to be just about the best thing she's ever done and the peak of her meteorized rise to the top of the charts and her consumption of all forms of media, to the point that between 2009 and 2010 she was everywhere; totally inescapable and bigger than anything else in the world.  Yet, the rest of her work has reek of repetition, and aping the sights and sounds of far better talent.  The reason why she made such an impact was simply because it had been a long time since someone--anyone, was so hungry and desperate for fame and created such a visual assault on the masses, that the media jumped on it with such fervor and the public (who's always listening to the media) simply followed suit.

When her BORN THIS WAY came out, to the surprise of anyone but her most fervent followers, it failed to be neither the greatest album of the decade nor the album of any generation.  What's particular about this, is that this same bloated misfired occurred exactly 5 years before by none other than Brandon Flowers and his band The Killers.  He too proclaimed prior to the release of SAM'S TOWN that it would be one of the greatest albums of all time, etc, etc,. and wouldn't you know it? It was nothing of the sort.  Even more interesting is the fact that The Killers and Gaga, both base their respective greatest album of all time on a series of songs that borrowed heavily from the sound of 80s Bruce Springsteen.  Not to take away from the awesomeness of The Boss, but the lesson here is that channeling Bruce is not going to produce a great album, especially not the greatest album of all time.

I've gone out of my way talking about Lady Gaga, because it was her vulgar excess, overproduced sound that was supposed to rule the charts this year, and yet, she and those like her, released nothing but misfires and instead, the masses turned their attention to more organic, arguably richer, more talented artists such as Adele.

This was the year of Adele; there's no contestation to that, and if she doesn't win every award she's up for during the upcoming Grammy Awards, including Song, Record, and Album of the Year, then the world will surely come to and end in 2012.

Now, Adele gave us a very solid album that rightfully sold more than any other and ruled the charts (still is) and she deserves every accolade that comes her way, but she did not gave us the best album of the year. No. That honor goes to an artist that has consistently given us the very best album of the year, 5 times now.  Someone whom at this point, can without question be called the greatest talent that has come out of the 21st century so far.  And with like most greatest, purest talent, he's not as popular as Gaga or even Adele, he's remained a sort of an underground sensation, revered by many and praised by critics here and far, but mainstream popularity has eluded him, even as he has crafted some of the most catchiest, richest songs of the last decade without sacrificing an ounce of his artistry in the process.

Here's the Top 10 Albums of the year:

  1. LUPERCALIA--Patrick Wolf: There's just no better, more thrilling, artistic, melodic, excellent record out there than this.  5 albums in, Patrick Wolf continues to mesmerize and amaze in ways that no other single artist that has come out in the last 12 years has been able to. He is in a class of his own, and this? This masterpiece about what it feels like to have found true, pure, unapologetic love, is a triumph that only one person could have been able to pull off without coming off as sappy or insincere.  We are the more bless to have him with us.
  2. LET ENGLAND SHAKE--PJ Harvey: Like only the best of musicians--those who dare to pursue just about every aspect of their talent and take on any challenge outside of their comfort zone, PJ Harvey has built a career on blending and bending her sound in ways only Bjork could challenged. Not one of her albums has ever sound the same as the previous or any of the ones before it, and LET ENGLAND SHAKE is no exception. An album that is vastly rich in not only texture but content, a strange journey filled with heavy stuff, supercharged with political subtext; rightfully winning the mercury prize earlier this year (PJ is the the only artist ever to win it twice!) LET ENGLAND SHAKE is a bizarre masterstroke you owe it to yourself to listen to and be changed by it.
  3. EL CAMINO--Black Keys: The Black Keys continue their journey into making the most excellent southern rock around. They really are one of the very best bands out there and there's only few others who can compare to their power. EL CAMINO is catchy without betraying their sound and expands in what their breakthrough, BROTHERS started.
  4. FOUR THE RECORD--Miranda Lambert: The rightful heir to superb country of Loretta Lynn, Miranda Lambert is the ONLY current female country singer deserving of being called "country."  Whereas everyone else chooses to pop-fy their country sound, Miranda continues to honor the tradition of those true country artist that came before her with yet another album that no only pushes her into being in a class of her own, but expand and matures her music even further, and we couldn't be anymore happy for her and for it.
  5. BON IVER--Bon Iver: I sort of knew about Bon Iver but never paid attention until this record kept getting so much ink on the press. It's probably the indie album of the year.
  6. SUPPOSED UNKNOWN--Eric Himan: and speaking of indie albums of the year, Eric Himan's SUPPOSED UNKNOWN is to my opinion, his best collection of indie-folk-rock to date. Eric has steadily grown into not only a very skilled musician, but vocalist (specially live, where you can really experience the reach of his vocal chops) and a more mature, confident lyricist.
  7. WOUNDED RHYMES--Lykke Li: Though I liked songs from Lykke's first album, I was not in love with the whole thing. WOUNDED RHYMES takes Lykke into a whole new level of maturity and song crafting that her debut show promised of, though we weren't completely sure.  In a year of lesser forgettable pop crap like Rihanna and Katy Perry, Lykke Li, like Nelly Furtado before her, shows that you can create amazingly catchy pop with substance, and that's talent that those other studio creations can't touch.
  8. CIRCUITAL--My Morning Jacket: A welcome return to form, after the experimental detour of Evil Urges.
  9. 21--Adele: Yes, Adele will (and she damn better compare to the other nominees) win the album of the year and every other category she's nominated for at the grammys. Yes, the year belongs to her, yes, she had to massive hits that weren't mere pop songs but instant classics that will stand the test of time, yes, she has an amazing voice that's thunder compare to anyone else's and she uses it to infuses her songs with so much feeling and raw emotions she elevates everything she puts that voice to, into heavenly heights.  But the truth is that 21 though solid, is a flaw album. Some of the middle section songs drag a bit, and some of the lyrics could have been sharper.  They sound great because Adele is singing them, but unlike the highlights: "Rolling in the Deep," "Rumor Has It," "Someone Like You," "Set Fire to the Rain" the aren't unforgettable, just good, and with the time of talent the girl has? she needs more than good songs, she needs great songs to match that voice, something that I have all the confident her third album will have.
  10. MYLO XYLATO--Coldplay: One of my all time favorite bands almost didn't make it. MYLO XYLATO isn't the greatest Coldplay album (A RUSH OF BLOOD TO THE HEAD remains their greatest achievement), but after the uneven, yet still rewarding X&Y and the strong, almost perfect VIVA LA VIDA, they can be allowed to make a more relax album that isn't trying to be the best of anything, just in the same way that Kings of Leon made COME AROUND SUNDOWN, after the whirlwind year they have with the smash that was ONLY BY THE NIGHT.  MYLO XYLATO still is pure Coldplay, full of big sounds, catchy melodies and Chris Martin yearning, and that's all we ever want from them.
Honorable mentions go to Bjork, who came back this year with an album (BIOPHILIA) intended for the tech-savvy age we live in, all out digital advertising campaign and all, and gave us something, as usual, bizarre but more realized than her previous, divisive album.
Tori Amos classical album NIGHT OF HUNTERS for sheer virtuoso piano playing.  That woman remains a prodigy and her skills on this album are beyond good.
Also, though totally disposable, Britney Spears' FEMME FATALE gets a nod for being the poppy, fun, lets not take ourselves too seriously and party album of the year. Exactly what we have come to expect and want from our favorite fembot, and FEMME FATALE is her catchiest collection to date.

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