2011 was a wonderful year for avid music devotees, and with countless respectable albums put out this year, it was difficult to make any sort of a top list. I finally narrowed it down to the five that I listened to the most.
1. M83’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
An M83 fan for many years, I had been anticipating this release, relentlessly checking music blogs for news about it. After the masterpiece Saturdays = Youth, I had high hopes and thankfully, there was no disappointment involved during my first listen to Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. The opening track, featuring the delightful Zola Jesus, set the tone perfectly for the album and by that, I mean that it was going to be beautiful.
Songs to check out: ‘Midnight City’, ‘Reunion’, and ‘Wait’
2. Papercuts’ Fading Parade
Following up their lovely 2009 album, You Can Have What You Want, Papercuts’ Fading Parade was an excellent addition to their already pleasing discography. A bit more solid than their previous release, songs like ‘White Are The Waves’ and ‘I’ll See You Later I Guess’ remind the listener that they still contain that same dreamy pop aesthetic that they’ve mastered with each album they put out.
Songs to check out: ‘Do What You Will’ and ‘Do You Really Want To Know’
3. Real Estate’s Days
I was lucky enough to photograph a Real Estate show for Mezzic early 2011 so I was able to hear a few of the new songs live before the release of Days. While this was wonderful, it only got me more and more anxious to hear the whole album. The single, ‘It’s Real’ was a bit of an introduction to Days. Less low-fi, more surf rock, still very Real Estate. One noticeable difference is that lead singer Martin Courtney’s voice is highlighted much more in Days, which I’ve found makes the songs feel more complete. Also, the increase in recording quality makes it easier to hear the great layering created in songs like ‘Municipality’. A great listen.
Songs to check out: ‘Easy’ and ‘Green Aisles’
4. Andrew Jackson Jihad’s Knife Man
Yet another highly anticipated album on my list, I feel like these men can do no wrong. I had a feeling that I would enjoy Knife Man but I never expected to have it on repeat for such an inordinately long amount of time. Though with albums like Can’t Maintain and People That Can Eat People Are The Luckiest People In The World, I should have predicted this. Folk Punk duo, Andrew Jackson Jihad, have once again combined humor, beauty, and brutal honesty to make this charming LP. ‘American Tune’, an ode to white privilege, is a brilliant example of their trademark “in your face” songwriting. Their lyricism isn’t all that stands out in Knife Man though. Among the combination of abrasive and sometimes borderline depressing wording, there’s plenty of gorgeous orchestration involved. This is especially represented in ‘Big Bird’ where Ben Gallaty’s cello abilities really come into play. A captivating arrangement of contrasting musical themes, Knife Man is worth a listen or twenty.
Songs to check out: ‘Hate, Rain On Me’ and ‘Gift Of The Magi 2: Return Of The Magi’
5. St Vincent’s Strange Mercy
A latecomer to the St. Vincent fan base, I was pleasantly surprised when I first listened to Strange Mercy. A female artist that truly stands out among a mass of women following the safe folk pop niche, Annie Clark isn’t following any rules. Don’t bother attempting to pinpoint a genre onto her songs either. It’s evident that she drew influences from many styles of music and she somehow implemented all of these in Strange Mercy. From strong guitar solos in songs like ‘Chloe In The Afternoon’ and ‘Northern Lights’ to the soft enchanting melodies in ‘Cruel’ to the R&B influenced ‘Dilettante’, Strange Mercy could find a place in any music lover’s collection.
Songs to check out: ‘Surgeon’ and ‘Cheerleader’
Honorable Mentions: Wild Beasts‘ Smother, Bon Iver‘s S/T, Radiohead‘s The King of Limbs, The Mountain Goats‘ All Eternals Deck, The Pains of Being Pure At Heart‘s Belong, Ty Segall‘s Goodbye Bread, The War on Drugs‘ Slave Ambient, Youth Lagoon‘s The Year Of Hibernation