My top 20 albums of 2011

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5 jan. 2012, 21h52m

2011 was an incredible year for music, at least music in alignment with my tastes!

#1 - Friendly Fires - "Pala"
A new desert island album for me, this makes my personal top 10 albums of all time. In fact, I have to go back to 2002 to find anything that beats it, and that album is my #1 of all time (Morelenbaum2 / Sakamoto's "Casa"). "Pala" is Friendly Fires' second album, a densely layered but stylistically tight collection of upbeat post-punk-influence dance rock with soaring pop immediacy. Somehow it manages to sound fresh, not overly retro, earnest without being cloying. I can’t recommend this album highly enough, especially the first two singles, “Live Those Days” and the gorgeous “Hawaiian Air”, and the nostalgic filter disco dancy-ness that is “Blue Cassette”.

#2 – Gui Boratto – “III
The third full-length from the Brazilian producer further develops the themes of his first two wonderful records on Kompakt. The grooves are deep and mostly instrumental, filled with warm and buzzy analog electro-techno with New Order-style guitars.

#3 – Apparat – “The Devil’s Walk
Gorgeous and emotional electronic pop from Germany’s Sascha Ring. Although the songs have beats and the tempos are often in the right range, it’s not made for dancing. This is beautiful ambient pop with wonderfully emotive male vocals.

#4 – Fleet Foxes – “Helplessness Blues
Stunning, ambitious nu-folk from the Northwest beardos. All the layered harmonies and multi-instrumental acoustic beauty you would expect from the first record, but taken to the next level. Wonderful songwriting with real pain in the lyrics and vocal delivery.

#5 – M83 – “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
I never expected to love an M83 album as much as I love this double album of shoegaze-influenced dream pop. The first half of the first disc is near flawless, from “Midnight City” through “Raconte-Moi Une Histoire”.

#6 – Hercules and Love Affair – “Blue Songs
Again, H&LA really exceeded my expectations after their first record, which was fun but didn’t hit the heights the project promised. Second album “Blue Songs” is great retro grooves that will remind you of the best moments of vocal house circa 1989.

#7 – The Go! Team – “Rolling Blackouts
Retro grooves of a different sort, The Go! Team stick to their if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it formula of combining big beat ‘70’s funk-rock grooves with marching bands and cheerleader vocals. OMG it’s too much fun.

#8 – John Tejada – “Parabolas
Yes, I listened to a lot of stuff on Kompakt this year. The eighth album from the electro-techno pioneer. Sounds and moods to get lost in, this is a collection of growers that really need to be heard in their full length to be appreciated.

#9 – Phreek Plus One – “Phreek Party
What a fantastic surprise! I bought this album because it was on Compost and available at a killer price. Imagine my delight in finding one of the best albums of the year from this trio of Italians whom I only knew previously from a few Compost “black labels”. Deliberately retro, this hearkens back to the very best of underground ‘80’s disco and acid house, while remaining fresh. Super fun.

#10 – SBTRKT – “SBTRKT
Yes, this record has been overhyped, but not by much. Although it’s associated with the UK dubstep scene, this record doesn’t sound like dubstep to me. The tempos are higher, more in the traditional dance range, and the sound, while still math-y like dubstep, has more of a emotional hook for me. A great debut record. My favourite track: “Pharoahs”.

#11 – Grace Jones – “Hurricane Dub
I really enjoyed 2008’s “Hurricane”, and now that it has been released in North America, it boasts an extra “bonus album” that (for me) outshines the original. “Hurricane Dub” is a dark, moody dub exploration of the sounds and spaces in the original recordings. Best dub of the year.

#12 – Brian Eno and Rick Holland – “Drums Between The Bells
This collaboration between the guru and poet Rick Holland doesn’t quite reach the gorgeous heights of 2010’s “Small Craft on a Milk Sea”, but it’s a different beast entirely. If you can, check out the 2-disc limited edition, which pairs the standard album of Holland’s poetry backed by Eno’s remarkable music, alongside a (sometimes) completely different dubbed-out collection of instrumental mixes of the same tracks.

#13 – The Japanese Popstars – “Controlling Your Allegiance
No sophomoric slump for the Irish trio. This collection of stadium big beat techno improves greatly on their first album, attracting such vocal guests as Robert Smith (from The Cure) and Jon Spencer (of The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion).

#14 – Drc Music – “Kinshasa One Two
I think everybody knows that Damon Albarn is one of my musical heroes. Almost everything he’s done, from Blur to Gorillaz, Monkey and the unnamed project everybody calls The Good the bad and the queen, Damon is always challenging and exploring. In this case, he brought a lot of A-list musicians and producers into the Congo to work with local musicians and their self-invented instruments. The result is exciting and fresh, surprising in its combination of rough acoustic sounds with electro production. Exciting

#15 – Radiohead – “The King of Limbs
This is probably the first entry on my list that’s on everybody’s else’s list. I enjoyed this a lot more than “In Rainbows”. The remix album “TKOL RMX 1234567” almost made this list as well.

#16 – Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi – “Rome
The auteur producer pairs up with the spaghetti western film composer to create a soundtrack for an imaginary film, featuring guest vocals from [artist]Jack White and [artist]Norah Jones.

#17 – Death Cab for Cutie – “Codes and Keys
Death Cab embrace a slightly less guitar-focused sound, bringing keyboards and textures to the front, while still remaining a rock-based guitar pop band. Even better when paired with the remix EP.

#18 – The Drums – “Portamento
Another example of a band rising way above it’s already-exciting first record. “Portamento” sounds like Marc Almond fronting a fast, raw guitar-and-synth pop band in the tradition of early New Order, U2 and Echo And The Bunnymen.

#19 – Little Dragon – “Ritual Union
The Swedish nu-soul trio bring a live (read: unquantized) synthpop edge to their third album, with Yukimi Nagano’s inimitable vocals and the band’s well-hyped cool factor. Fun and forward-looking.

#20 – Joash – “Don’t Fear It, Fight It
Similar to Phreek Plus One, I discovered Joash by virtue of his being on Compost and this album being available at a good price. What a great record! This combines thriller soundtrack orchestras with nu-jazz beats. A great discovery.

Of course, the year also saw great compilations and reissues from U2, Zang Tuum Tumb, Depeche Mode and Horse Meat Disco. What an amazing year for music![img=http://a8.sphotos.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-snc7/389801_10150559661273980_600148979_10691807_2072798439_n.jpg][/img]

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