Monday, December 19, 2011

Top ten albums of 2011

Yup, it’s that time of the year again, so without further ado, here are my top ten albums of the year.

#10 Dirty Beaches – Bad Lands

If Wong Kar Wai had a band, it would sound a lot like Dirty Beaches. Filled with 1950s cool, lovesick yearning, and all the raw emotions and frenetic longing of a Wong Kar Wai classic mixed with the dark malice of David Lynch, Alex Zhang Hungtai successfully creates a unique sound and aesthetic unlike anything I’ve seen or heard in a long time.

#9 Caroline Smith and the Goodnight Sleeps – Little Wind

With a voice every bit as adorable as their name, Caroline Smiths and the Goodnight Sleeps have more than enough folksy charm to spread around. Like Thao Nguyen and the Get Down Stay Down, these indie-folk rockers know how to transform quiet songs into foot stomping danceable goodness.

#8 Abbe May – Design Desire

The third album from this hard rocking Aussie lass is somethin’ mighty fierce. Abbe May’s monstrous rock riffs will swallow you alive, but underneath that tough veneer lies an unspeakable tension. There is so much energy and emotion coiled tightly below the surface that each track fills you with anxiety as you wait in wide-eyed fear for it to explode like a jack in the box. If that doesn’t do it for you, her powerful voice will. Unlike Allison Mosshart, Janis Joplin, and other rock goddesses, Abbe May’s voice is soft, pure, and angelic. Her hushed whispers prove to be an unsettling juxtaposition to her vicious guitar playing.

#7 Big Deal – Lights Out

Consisting of a guy, a girl, and two guitars – one electric and acoustic – you couldn’t get more basic than Big Deal. Their minimalist sound immediately earned them comparisons to The XX, and deservedly so. In candid lovelorn songs, these two lay their hearts bare without sounding heartsy or sappy – in fact they even manage to come off a bit like badasses, like it’s cool to talk about your emotions.

#6 Army Girls EP

#6 Army Girls – Close To The Bone

I know I’m cheating here because it’s not a full-length album, but I just love Army Girls so much that I couldn’t resist. Compared to other guitar and drum duos, Army Girls has a surprisingly lush sound. In particular Carmen Elle draws you in with her powerfully captivating voice that shifts with uncanny ease between soothing coos and raw spitfire. Their EP is filled with some of the catchiest and most melodic songs I’ve heard in quite some time, and it is certainly a good indicator that an amazing album will soon follow. 

ARMY GIRLS - THE POWER from untold city on Vimeo.

#5 Arctic Monkeys – Suck It and See

Abandoning the dreary English weather for the sun-soaked beaches of California for their latest album, the Artic Monkeys have opted for a more mellow doo-wop 50’s vibe more fitting of their new climate. Their sound is as sharp as ever with cheeky songs like “Love is like a Laserquest” and lyrics like “thundersuckle fuzz cannon.” Since their initial album, the band has become increasingly precise and tightly orchestrated to the point that each song has become pure genius compacted into four minutes.

#4 Chapel Club – Palace

Take a trip back to 1980s Manchester with Chapel Club. With heavy doses of The Smiths and Joy Division, these Brits pay homage to the best of 80’s New Wave by replicating it perfectly while adding a touch of modern sensibility. So hurry up and throw on a chunky sweater and a pair of acid-washed jeans and jump into the Morrissey time portal.

#3 The Kills – Blood Pressures

If you haven’t heard this album yet, it’s time to get baptized in hellfire, cheap whiskey, and cigarette smoke. The Kills are without a doubt one of the most badass rock duos out there and Jaime Hince proves once again that he’s one of the meanest guitar-slingers in the West. One listen to the “Gimme Shelter”-esque riff on “Baby Says” and you’ll be knocked down faster than a rickety fence in a hurricane. While not as melodic as “Midnight Boom” and not as in your face fuck off intense as “Keep On Your Mean Side,” their latest album sits in between finding a nice balance of simmering blues and explosive rock.

#2 Voxhaul Broadcast – Timing Is Everything

For thirteen glorious tracks, Voxhaul Broadcast will punish your speakers with bleedingly good indie rock. Throw in a pinch of southern blues rock, a dash of soul, a smidge of falsetto, and some garage rock to boot and you get one helluva party.

#1 US Royalty – Mirrors

Like their name implies, US royalty takes the best of Americana and distills it into a potent bourbon that will have you instantly wobbling. Drawing on Southern blues, raw Detroit rock, and the optimism and vitality of the West, these indie rockers have put out an album that will put some serious iron in your veins. From jangly river basin blues to dreamy folk and even an insanely catchy indie banger to boot, this album covers a lot of ground, but underneath it all lays a strong blues tradition steeped in sorrow, whiskey, and howling guitars. One listen to “The Desert Won’t Save You” and you’ll understand why US Royalty has quickly become one of my favorite bands.

To quote an earlier review of mine, “A powerful lone guitar rolls out a nice delta blues progression while vocalist John Thornley howls mournfully and the drums beat out a rhythm that sound like someone was keeping time using a good ol’ fashioned hollow crate. This nice little interplay slowly builds to a crescendo until Paul Thornley unleashes a savage barrage of Black Keys-esque guitar lines. Then, at a moment's notice, the attack disappears and we’re left with the quiet rumblings of the bass guitar. This build and retreat pattern happens repeatedly, gaining in ferocity each time for nearly seven minutes of gloriousness.”

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