I could have easily done a top 30 or even 40 albums of 2011. There was a lot of really great music this year, but I held myself to just 20. There are so many albums left off this list! The ones included here are the kreme de la kreme of 2011, as compiled by yours truly. If you’re unfamiliar with any of the albums selected, click the Amazon, iTunes, or Spotify links to check it out. As always, your comments are appreciated. Here’s to a wonderful 2012!
20. Mona Mona - This album is set to be released in the US in January, but Europe got it in May of this year. I first heard the band after reading about their song “Lines In the Sand” in SPIN magazine’s “Songs You Must Hear Now.” I immediately fell in love with the band’s gritty, mid-western take on Kings of Leon-esque Southern rock. The band first formed in Dayton, Ohio and now calls Nashville, Tennessee home. It is interesting to note that, like fellow Ohio band Cage the Elephant, Mona became popular first in the UK before getting any real attention here in the US. They appeared on Later…With Jools Holland before the release of their album, and only about a month after releasing their first single. The band is set to have a huge 2012 as they’ll see the US release of their album, and no doubt a lot of promotion from their label behind it.
19. Gypsy & the Cat Gilgamesh - I discovered this band when I was going through the Coachella lineup and giving each band a listen. The group consists of Australian DJs Xavier Bacash and Lionel Towers. The group is a perfect-storm mishmash of indie rock, indie pop, shoegaze, and 80s new wave. Obvious influences from artists like Hall & Oates, the Pixies, Paul Simon and New Order can sometimes be heard in the same song. The album opens strong with “Time To Wonder” and keeps the bar for the entirety of the 12 tracks. They are expected to release their followup mid-2012.
18. Hooray for Earth True Loves - Brooklyn-based via Boston, this project is mostly the creation of singer and multi-instrumentalist Noel Heroux. The fullness of the sound gives it an epic feeling and gives the feeling the songs were written for an arena stage. “Bring Us Closer Together” is an example, complete with a hand-clap ready breakdown. With the success of bands like The Naked & The Famous and Foster the People, along with less club friendly acts like Young the Giant, I can see Hooray For Earth having a place on Alternative radio in America.
17. Cut Copy Zonoscope - Another Australian group makes the list with this synth-heavy group. They had a big year with the release of their third album, a massive performance at Coachella, and piles of accolades. Another example of how 80s music is far more influential today than 90s music, Zonoscope is heavily influenced by 80s pop and new wave. Cut Copy has a better dynamic range than most electronic bands, and that really helps to create a sound that stands apart. With their Depeche Mode and Duran Duran influence sewn on to their sleeves, they unapologetically serve a fun and energetic sound that forces a party atmosphere wherever it is heard. Don’t believe me? Drop some Cut Copy at the next party you crash and see what happens. Trust me, it will be a good thing.
16. The Strokes Angles - When word of this album first started leaking it quickly became the most anticipated album for yours truly. And when the album arrived I listened to it nonstop for a day or two, maybe longer. The first half of Angles is brilliant; not a bad song to be found. The second half is a step down from the first half, but is still a good set of songs, they suffer for the comparisons to the songs before them. More than ever before, the band shared songwriting duties. With Julian Casablancas out on tour supporting his solo album, the rest of the band was left to tinker with new songs, sending them to Casablancas for vocal treatment. The separation worked surprisingly well, as the band released their first album in five years, and they are already working on their followup.
15. deadmau5 4×4=12 - The opening notes of “Some Chords” set a tone for this album from which deadmau5, aka Joel Zimmerman, never strays very far. One of the leaders of the electro-house movement has been gaining popularity the last few years, deadmau5 delivers a unique mix that infuses flashes of other genres, and does it without seeming trite, or insincere. His collaboration with Wolfgang Gartner (whose own album, Weekend In America, narily missed inclusion on this list), “Animal Rights,” is perhaps the best track on the album, featuring two heavyweights of today’s DJ scene.
14. Peter Bjorn and John Gimme Some - The band’s sixth studio album may be their most complete, not to mention a real change from the thankfully one-off dark sound of 2009′s Living Thing. While Writer’s Block was a great breakthrough album, it is finally with Gimme Some that PB&J are realizing their potential. Intricately crafted pop songs that have a depth not seen in many other bands today (or ever). Both “Dig a Little Deeper” and “Breaker Breaker” are absolutely amazing songs that stand out not just on this album, but among all the songs on all the albums on this list. They are both must listens.
13. Metronomy The English Riviera - I was turned on to Metronomy by my good friend Gary Gorman. After previewing this album on Spotify I downloaded the bands entire discography. I don’t know how I missed on this group before, but I’m glad I finally got to the party. Metronomy is a bit darker than the other electronic bands on this list. While still unabashedly influenced by the 80s, Metronomy tends to lean toward Joy Division rather than the lighter side bands of the new wave sound. Though the album still has its very upbeat moments. Moste notably “The Bay,” a bouncing tune that would make the dead boogie, shows the band’s ability to leave the Joy Division behind and populate a dance floor.
12. Grouplove Never Trust a Happy Song - This band, and their music, is unapologetically positive. The story of how they came together is the stuff of legends, and to-date it hasn’t had an any negative affect. They’re touring relentlessly, and plan to begin work on their sophomore album this summer. Until then, you’ll have to enjoy the indie-pop sensibilities on this album. Story telling like Arcade Fire with the uplifting polish of pop music. Building on the ideas of bands like Vampire Weekend and Modest Mouse, and improving the formula, Grouplove makes an album chock full of irresistibly blissful tunes. Thumpers like “Colors,” soaring arena-pap jams like “Tongue Tied,” slow jams like the sarcastically titled “Slow,” and barn burners like “Chloe” keep this album flowing and without a dull moment to be found.
11. White Lies Ritual - In the last decade several bands that are obviously inspired by Joy Division have garnered attention. Interpol, She Wants Revenge, and others. White Lies are one of these bands, and they are perhaps the best at it. This band manages to combine the darkness of Joy Division shoegaze with the slick attitude of Franz Ferdinand-style pop, and it works quite well; in particular with songs like “The Power & the Glory” and “Is Love.” This London group managed to eschew the sophomore slump with Ritual, which builds on the sound of their previous release, To Lose My Life. Here the group finds themselves more mature, and more sonically together. Creating a more comprehensive sound that continues to show potential beyond what we’ve already seen. The future is no doubt bright for White Lies.
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