The Best Albums of 2011
10. Childish Gambino – Camp
6. Sixx A. M. – This is Gonna Hurt
The Moody Views – Top Ten Albums of 2011
When I’m not busy burying my head in the works of Steven Johnson, Dallas Smythe or James Carey, I do come up to listen to music to get me through these days. What was originally the point of Moodicarus was a chance to provide my personal insight into albums of my past. At some point it became a place where I reviewed several new albums and got a chance to talk to friends about music, which I always love. That being said, 2011 was an interesting year where new acts impressed, oldies acts either bombed or amazed, and we got Rebecca Black in the middle of all this. So here’s my summary of my top musical selections, in no particular order.
Foo Fighters – Wasting Light
This shouldn’t have happened. Dave Grohl & co. were headed for the career that the Red Hot Chili Peppers currently have, which is a low-rent Eagles tribute outfit. Seriously, go back and relisten to Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace. Oh, you didn’t want to do that because the Foos didn’t rock as hard as they can when they are focused only on rocking. But on this album, the band realized that they needed to eschew all the trappings of being MOR’s biggest cash cow and just get back to doing what they do best: Creating loud noises that just happen to have pop choruses. From “Bridges Burning” to “Arlandria” to “I Should Have Known” to the poppiest song on the album (“Walk,” which is great when it’s not unnecessarily used to prop up the soundtrack for Thor), the Foo Fighters produced a joyful fury on this album. It felt like 1995 all over again with Butch Vig behind the boards, and I mean that in the best way possible. If you want to know what song got used to help me get in shape this year, look no further than this year’s greatest riff: “White Limo.”
Childish Gambino – Camp
Donald Glover’s alter ego has been releasing rap songs on his lonesome while he’s been building his fanbase through his comedy work with the Derrick Comedy troupe and this little-known, marginally-successful show on television. You won’t know it, it’s called Community. Childish Gambino is none of those things, and yet it’s everything; more importantly, none of those things are necessary to enjoy this amazing album, a trip through a young man’s conflicted stance on growing older and being relatively famous while also trying to hold onto a bit of goodness that makes him who he is. There’s quite a bit of Kanye West in here even though the esteemed producer never came near this album, and hearing how this comes through in his raps – especially those geared towards women – only signify how fascinating it is to grow through his work. Glover’s work on this album is fascinating because I don’t hear enough of him in it, only his amazing persona that he has created. Or is he truly living it? I love this album enough to delve further into that question, and you should as well.
Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost
So how do you top making the best album of 2009 with lyrics that are eternally heartbroken and vocals that are bitterly earnest? You make an album that aims for the jugular. Christopher Owens has the most plaintive voice in rock, and he uses it to great effect on this stellar collection. I’ll say that it’s not as good as their debut, but it displays incredible promise for their future. “Saying I Love You” is an amazing lost classic, while “Magic” and “Jamie Marie” hurt oh so good. Recommended for anybody looking for the next band that will be plastered all over their walls throughout college.
My Morning Jacket – Circuital
It’s not every band that can say their most accessible and mainstream album includes a song about eating Lucifer’s peach, yet that’s the appeal of My Morning Jacket. One part Southern-fried crunch, one part Britpop-singalong, and one part acid-tested weirdness, the songs of Jim James (sorry, Yim Yames) and his fellow bearded cohort rest in that pleasure center of the brain that satisfies intellect and boogie. Circuital starts with a pair of tracks about celebrating life, goes through a perfect pop middle section, and freaks out with black metal before sighing through the ending. “First Light,” “The Day is Coming,” and “Holdin’ On to Black Metal” are classics with the high-voiced James taking the band in interesting directions. Some call it a holding pattern. My thoughts: Who cares when the pattern is so damn good?
Real Estate – Days
Achingly beautiful pop music and guitar work from a band whose best work will be coming soon. Is it the best album of the year? No, but I hold it up as an example of sterling promise in the future, and the sort of hopeful music that R.E.M. used to toss off in their sleep. Listen to a song like “Municipality” and just hear how much yearning there is in those vocals, so much unsaid and unspoken that goes answered in the guitar line. Chiming lyrics and bouncy drums add to what makes a genuine pop album sensation.
M83 – Hurry Up, We’re DreamingThe soundtrack to a movie that doesn’t exist yet. That’s the kind of embellishment normally only worth giving to a Chromatics release, but here it’s earned because of the way that Anthony Gonzalez channels his love of BIG MOMENTS into every second of every song. There’s a song where a five year-old talks about magic frogs and how we’re going to live forever as frogs, and it should be the stupidest thing in the world. That it’s not a reason to jump off a building, let alone actually a great track, represents why you should be listening to the synth-tastic double album release from a man unafraid to take chances. Like Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, with one exception: It actually holds up to multiple listens.
Yeah, I said it. Listen to this album and grow up.
James Blake – James Blake
This is what I hope all future singer-songwriter albums become in the future. Let’s move away from a boring guy with an acoustic guitar and move towards a person with ambitions to wrap us up in his thoughts and ideas. Highly recommended for anybody with an ear for skittering tunes and beats.
Diddy & Dirty Money – Last Train to Paris
Okay, stop looking at me like that. I SAID STOP. I’m seriously not doing this to be ironic, I love this album. And while it did come out in 2010 (December 14, 2010, to be exact), my enjoyment of this album came from a time during 2011 that was an impenetrable Midwestern fog. Therefore, it counts (don’t you say anything, Father Time!).
It’s a Euro-pop album at a time that we don’t want these, a rebuke of Kanye West’s amazing My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in which Diddy realizes that he may be just as screwed up as Mr. West. The female duo of Dirty Money provides a pop background of sweet cream for Diddy as he slinks through the wreckage of a failed relationship, moving from the creepiness of smoking weed while listening to Sade (the awesome banger “Ass on the Floor”) to “Strobe Lights” to making a decision that he’s “Coming Home.” Is it a breakup album? Is it a redefinition of Diddy in the new world of hip-hop? Honestly, who cares? It’s a lot of fun, and my rap album of the year. Watch the Throne? Not even close.
Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
Achingly pretty, frustratingly obtuse, and worth every single play. I think that the lack of immediacy affects the band throughout the process; I believe that self-involvement has affected the sound of the record, and not in a good way. In fact, the whole album had to be remixed twice before it could be sent out, a direct contrast to the simple pleasures of their debut LP. But if you’re a fan of fragile guitars battling it out against chamber-pop arrangements, Fleet Foxes will never let you down.
Battles – Gloss Drop
What a fun album! Gary Numan comes in to absolutely steal the show on “My Machines,” while “Ice Cream” and “Dominican Fade” get the blood pumping every time. If you need to feel more of your blood going through your body, listen to it on repeat and dance like it’s the last night on earth. You’ll thank me later.
Various Artists – The Muppets Soundtrack
So, yeah, this doesn’t qualify under any real level of objective criticism. But in between rescued Paul Simon and Starship (YES, STARSHIP) tracks, there are gems written by Bret McKenzie of FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS that really hit your funny bone and heart. Try not to smile when you hear the sweet release of “Life’s a Happy Song,” the funk of Amy Adams singing “Me Party,” or the twin covers of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Cee-Lo’s “Forget You” (it feels so wrong to swear when writing about the Muppets, sorry). But if you want the real reason why this album is making it onto this list, look no further than Gary (Jason Segel) and Walter’s duet on “Man or Muppet.”
A day after seeing this in theaters, my fiancé and I were grabbing breakfast at our favorite café when a child, apropos of nothing, began singing the words to “Man or Muppet” as though his life depended on it. We had nothing but smiles on our faces, and I nodded in agreement, wishing I could be the one to sing this to the world. There’s not many albums that have songs like that, and even fewer that inspire such fervent love of the material.
10. Amy Winehouse – Lioness: Hidden Treasures
A posthumous Amy Winehouse release was inevitable and yet it didn’t come-off as contrived at all. With a collection of songs, old and new, the album showcased the talent that died too soon. Though Amy was plagued by addiction, the gift of her voice will live forever.
9. Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes
Swedish songstress Lykke Li turned the volume way up with Wounded Rhymes. The album oozed sex appeal and provided the soundtrack to many Victoria’s Secret commercials. But while it provided some great dance tracks, the album also showcased Li’s vulnerability in a new light which set her apart from other female artists.
8. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
St. Vincent’s third album was Annie Clark’s highest charting album yet. The album was genuine and emotionally affecting. While Clark’s many talents are showcased on each track, what she does next has me excited for more.
7. The Black Keys – El Camino
The Black Keys glammed up their own brand of rock and roll for El camino. While the glossy production may rub diehards the wrong way at first, nothing sounds out of place. Auerbach’s guitar and Carney’s drums rev with the same power that has made each Black Keys album a must-have in every record collection.
6. The Horrors – Skying
The Horrors’ third album is damn-near perfect. Each song is lucid, gleaming, with the main focus on the instrumentation rather than Faris Badwan’s muffled vocal. With singles like the arrestingly beautiful “Still Life” and the more rocking “I Can See Through You,” the Horrors show that they’re a force to be reckoned with.
5. Florence & The Machine – Ceremonials
Florence Welch is in a category all of her own. Ceremonials is dark, yet hopeful, complete with theatrics that would make Freddie Mercury jealous. With her powerhouse vocals and poetry inspired by mythology and love of all kinds, I have a feeling that 2012 will belong to Flo.
Alt-Queen PJ Harvey shook things up this year with Let England Shake. The songstress rocked 2011 with killer festival performances and artistically beautiful music videos to accompany one of the best concept albums of the past decade.3. Bon Iver – Bon Iver
Super hyped and impatiently waited for, Bon Iver’s sophmore album was the spring counterpart to the wintery sounds of his debut, For Emma, Forever Ago. Bon Iver is beautiful in both its simplicity and complexity. The album even earned Justin Vernon a few Grammy nods, congrats.2. Adele – 21
Adele left an indelible mark on 2011 with her nearly perfect sophmore effort, 21. Every song a tale of romance and growth, the 23 year-old provided the soundtrack to many people’s love lifes. Her megahit “Someone Like You” was even the inspiration for the funniest SNL skit in a long time. Kudos, girlfriend.
1. Arctic Monkeys – Suck It & See
Alex Turner and Co. continue to prove that their brand of quintessential Brit-rock just keeps getting better. Every song is the perfect balance between growth in a new direction and familiarity that made the Monkeys such a big deal in the first place. With b-sides just as strong as the album’s singles, the Monkeys have more than enough material to keep things interesting and fans impatiently waiting for more.