Not too long ago, we officially past the half-year point of 2011. When it happened, we couldn’t help but ask ourselves, “What are the best albums of the year so far?” The writers at OurVinyl pooled together their top choices, and then let everyone vote on their favorites — narrowing down the selection and making it more consensus-based at the same time. Below, you’ll find the OurVinyl list for the best albums of 2011, so far. After, check out some picks from a few of our writers on albums they felt deserved honorable mentions, and why.
#1: Radiohead’s ‘The King Of Limbs‘
The 8th studio album from Radiohead, “The King Of Limbs” was surprise-released earlier this year to the acclaim of critics and a initial mixed reception from fans. But for most, once getting over the fact that this wasn’t an “In Rainbows” part II, the beauty of the album began to emerge. This album was a deep exploration of creating intricate and dynamic sound-scapes of sorts, as the band focused more on creating attention grabbing & thought provoking sounds more so than progressive song writing. They didn’t take any sides, as both dark and bright energy was seemingly infused on every track. The result was a collection of 8 songs, that after repeated listen, dare the listener not to enjoy themselves through being lost in the superior sonic scenery that only Radiohead can create.
#2: Bon Iver’s ‘Bon Iver‘
“Bon Iver” might mean good winter, but this album has been all the talk this summer, and for good reason. In ‘Bon Iver’ each sound and instrument is endowed with it’s own space and place. There are small builds and releases, but not so much from instrumental change over static percussion, the “traditional method”. Instead each instrument showcases a repeating riff, chord change, or emotional texture – and then those instruments are brought in and out as the song progresses. It’s a simple difference, but with sublime consequences. It wouldn’t work though without being cared for by the genius that is Justin Vernon – oh yeah as well as his voice, his beguiling voice, which is the clear central aspect of the album. His voice is inventively effected on each track in a magnetic manner and leads the listener down a sincere sentimental path. One that is enjoyable to go down, again and again.
#3: The Strokes’ ‘Angles‘
With their first album in 5 years, after a break up and get together, The Strokes somehow were able to pull it together and give us maybe (just maybe) their most remarkable album. Combining clean cut new-wave rock styles with their ever present swagger and mastership of the simple, The Strokes gave us 10 songs of real quality. They move from The Cars’esque numbers, to gritty alternative pieces, to a sing-along slow song and back again. But each track is cared for as much as the last. With ‘Angles’ The Strokes have reminded us of a fact that few bands can these days; that pop-rock can actually be pretty darn fun, and contain great musicianship, even when it’s relatively uncomplicated (maybe that’s why they had to borrow from the 80’s more so than on other albums?).
#4: The Beastie Boy’s ‘Hot Sauce Committee Part II‘
The Beastie Boys have clearly had the urge to re work their sound, and with success. ‘Hot Sauce Committee Part II’, is the eighth studio release from these NYC-based veterans, and it comes out hard and does not let the listener go for 16 tracks. With it’s certain darkly-playful beats there is no doubt that this could be anything but a Beastie Boys album. With tracks that genre-blur from punk and rock to hip-hop and reggae or the combination of synthesizers and samples with actual instrumentation, this album brought out the best in everything Beastie. And while some may complain that their isn’t enough of a sing-a-long element, or that you can rarely actually hear what they are saying, the boys have reminded us what exactly the most important element in hip-hop is – the beats! Rappers are only as good as the musical-foundation upon which they stand. With this album we are reminded of why these guys are considered pioneers for their genre.
In the opening track of ‘Burst Apart’ we are told sternly that ‘I don’t want love’. Well guys, then you shouldn’t make albums like this. With it’s slowly rolling rhythms and entrancing vocals, mixing subtle electronic foundations with flowering organic instrumentation, The Antlers have created a truly charming album. Part of the beauty lies in the fact that while it is overall a collection of more subdued songs, in terms of tempo, there is still a tangible strength of energy and momentum. The sounds are adroitly created, but then at times seem to be let loose, with only the vocals holding down any center of gravity. And at other times, those roles are reversed. Either way the songs come off as successes, and hold plenty of enough inter-relativity to make this a great album and not just a great collection of songs.
Our Writer’s Personal Picks for Honorable Mentions
Sean Brna’s choice = Starfucker’s ‘Reptilians‘:
There is nothing wrong with a little dance-friendly synth-pop, especially when it’s as deep and well crafted as ‘Reptilians’. If you don’t know anything about the band, they take their music more seriously than their name implies. ‘Reptilians’, their 3rd studio release, is an album that contains different flavors; some indie-rock, some psych-pop, some electro-pop, but on a whole is a surprisingly cohesive album that flows excellently from beginning to end. It is one of those albums that has some songs that the one will just love upon the first listen, and others that show their charm upon repeated listens. This band, at least for this album, has shown that they can master the art of creating toe-tapping synth-riffs and then build around that to create splendid songs in whole. It is, in this writer’s opinion, one of the best psych-pop-rock albums that has been made since MGMT’s ‘Oracular Spectacular’.
Panda Bear’s unique take on music has been unsuccessfully replicated by admiring musicians thousands of times since the release of 2007’s groundbreaking release, ‘Person Pitch’. Such a reaction is more than flattering to Noah Lennox, the man behind the sounds, but if one had to diagnose why no imitator is able to strike the same gold Lennox found, it’s that Panda Bear never settles for a pigeon hole. By the time someone else finds the ingredients necessary to brew up the magic Lennox had discovered, the solo act has already moved on to a new recipe all together. Tracks like “Know You Can Count of Me,” a crooning ode to his daughter, “Last Night at the Jetty,” memorializing special summers long past, and “Surfers Hymn,” which manages to sound just like the sparkling mist spewing off a cresting wave, add up to a sum greater than its parts; an album both bathed in nostalgia for the past, and anticipation for the future. Don’t miss it.
Luis Paez-Pumar’s choice = EMA’s ‘Past Life Martyred Saints‘:
EMA has crafted an album that both illuminates the state of alienation in 2011, as well as reflecting on the similarities we encounter every day, musically and not, from the past. Her brutally honest songwriting crafts a very distinct character, separate from Erika M. Anderson, that the listener follows through desperation, battles with drugs, and heartbreak. The music follows suit, serving to spotlight her voice while swirling all around, as if it was a storm that she is talking you through. The best albums create a world to lose yourself in, and in her debut album, EMA creates a world that one can get lost in before escaping with a new comprehension of what it means to be an individual weighed down by introspection.
Jesse Zryb’s choice = James Blake’s self-titled debut LP
The highly anticipated full length debut from James Blake came in with some pretty lofty expectations; triggered by the release of 4 outstanding EPs in the previous year. The term “dubstep” was commonly mentioned when trying to describe Blake’s body of works, so when his self-titled album was released in January, some were shocked by the amount of soul poured into a genre that can be described as synthetic and digital. We were already familiar with his technical prowess and unique style of crafting together songs, but in James Blake we are finally exposed to the full range of his sultry voice which has the ability to spill so much emotion into so few words; listen to “The Wilhelm Scream” or “I Never Learnt to Share” for proof. After several listens this album continues to unfold and intrigue and was even recently nominated for the prestigious Mercury Prize in Blake’s native U.K.; hopefully this is the first of many great albums to come from the 21-year old Londoner.
Jarad Matula choice = PJ Harvey’s “Let England Shake”: This is the point in a career in which most artists start flagging creatively. Instead, Miss Polly Jean turns in one of the most potent and heady releases of her career. Based around the destructive nature of war and specifically World War I’s affect on Great Britain, this album is a masterwork from one of the best ever females to grace rock music.
Key Tracks: “Last Living Rose,” “The Words That Maketh Murder,” “Written On The Forehead”
Written By: Sean Brna