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OurVinyl’s Best Albums of 2011

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OurVinyl’s Top LPs of 2011

1. Bon Iver’s Bon Iver

“Bon Iver” literally means “good winter”, and this album surely has brought it’s writer a good year. In a musical year that seemed to turn to the electronic untz for leadership, at least in terms of live music, Bon Iver has reminded us with this album how captivating the human voice, and a couple choice instruments, can be when produced with passion and care. It’s an album that gets better upon repeated listening, and has effectively drawn in hordes of people who wouldn’t normally associate with this “type” of music (hence maybe why Kanye likes to involve Justin Vernon in his recordings). 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.

Bon Iver’s Calgary

2. Radiohead’s The King of Limbs

Radiohead graced us with 2 releases in 2011, one of them technically being a full length album. The 8th studio album from Radiohead, “The King Of Limbs” was surprise-released early in the 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. In 2011 Radiohead again reconfirmed that bands anointed as “one of the worlds most popular” can still create some of the worlds best music, a feat that has been too rare in recent years.

Radiohead’s Bloom
3. James Blake’s James Blake

James Blake officially rocked the indie world in 2011 with his self-titled releases. 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. If you are still unfamiliar with Blake and his music, listen to this album 5 times, at calmer times. The distinctive brilliance will present itself.

James Blake’s Limit To Your Love

4. M83’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

In many ways 2010 was the year of electro-pop finally reaching it’s full potential, via the indie world at least. Well, one band has proved that the pattern has continued into 2011. From the start of M83’s new, two-disc album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, two things are clear – first, that the electronic mini-group has taken on a new mission, based around bolder vocalism and an influx of acoustic influence – and second, that they have succeeded, in spades. M83 – the synth-fueled, indie-pop act spearheaded by 29 year-old, French-born Anthony Gonzalez delivers their best yet with Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming the group’s sixth studio record, and first attempt at a double-album compilation. With dreamy/childish philosophical undertones, waxy lyrics, and adroitly designed electro/rock beats M83 has given us something for the dancing child that hides within us all.

M83’s Midnight City

5. Fleet Foxes’ Helplesness Blues

“So now, I am older, Than my mother and father, When they had their daughter, Now, what does that say about me?”; these are the opening lyrics to the latest magic to grace our ears, almost seeming to reflect the young Robin Pecknold’s view on the success of Fleet Foxes, compared to other accomplishments that could have been obtained in his short, yet already successful, life. By anyone’s standards this is one of the most beautiful records to be released so far this year, the old wooden flutes and angelic harmonies entwined with Pecknold’s ever amazing lyrics make it a must listen. The mood of Helplessness Blues as a whole is much darker than that of Sun Giant EP and their self titled LP but this allows it to also be a lot deeper, more obvious are the emotions and slight struggles through the LPs creation. Along with Bon Iver, the Fleet Foxes have shown us that mellow vocal-based music, when skillfully constructed, will never fail to entice the human mind.

Fleet Foxes’ Montezuma

Honorable mentions from OurVinyl writers

Danny Goodman: TV on the Radio’s Nine Types of Light

This honorable mention is literally to honor the passing of the band’s original bassist Gerard Smith, who passed from cancer upon the release of the work. Although TV on the Radio is not notarized exclusively for their bass licks, the band has evolved into something special over the years from manicuring a sound that transgresses bewteen indie, pop, and eclectic genres. They use influences from around the world and have a melodic symphonic way of composing tunes that still at times have the grainy quality of a garage or low fidelity band. TV on the Radio continues today, playing the same tunes that catapulted them to stardom in Dear Science. However, no matter how sound the album is, and how enjoyably to tracks progress, it is worth the nod of respect and gratification for a man who will no longer share the stage or the world with these musicians.

TV on the Radio’s Will Do

Sean Brna: Loyal Divide’s Bodice Ripper

After a couple years of playing, and wowing, the Midwest of America with their first few self-recorded releases, 2011 finally proved the year in which Loyal Divide would release a “traditional” full length LP Bodice Ripper. In fact, it was even pressed onto blue wax, you would know it was a pretty big deal. There isn’t a poor song on the record. Combining a psychedelically electronic mentality with rock n roll talents/instruments these guys have created for a wondrously dark, metallic, toe-tapping, industrious – yet fun loving – collection of songs. “DDF” and “Labrador” are two standouts, showing their skill at amalgamating head-nodding bass-laden rhythms with a kind of sardonic indie pop/rock sound that results in uniquely universally enjoyable music that is unlike anything you’ve heard before. This becomes even more true if one has the pleasure of taking them in live. Thank you Loyal Divide, we all can’t wait for the next release.

Linda Turk: The Civil Wars Barton Hollow

The folksy duo, The Civil Wars, had a banner 2011. Made up of John Paul White and Joy Williams, the duet released their debut LP ‘Barton Hollow’ on February 1st and moved through the year taking the music industry and their old and new fans by storm. ‘Barton Hollow’ grabbed the number 1 spot on the iTunes album chart the day of its release. Just to list a few of their highlights from 2011, the duo opened for Adele, played a multitude of sold-out shows, sang at the Grand Ole Opry, performed on late night television, earned two Grammy nominations, and were included on Best Album and Best New Artist lists for 2011 by multiple sources including NPR Music, Time Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post and many others. White and Williams intertwine their folksy Americana sound with soul, emotion, stripped down acoustics, and powerful vocals. Keep your ears and eyes open for more great music from this duo in 2012.

The Civil Wars’ Barton Hollow

Jorge A. López Mendicuti: Wanda Jackson’s The Party Ain’t Over

Being a pioneer isn’t easy. Being the first one to do something involves rejection, painful struggles and this time, a one-woman war against the rock and roll world. But all of it was worth: Wanda Jackson tried and so the first one and only queen of rockabilly and rock & roll was born.

Then, more than half a century later, Jack White paid tribute to a living legend, not by making an awful tribute album with “hot” artists making ungraceful versions of her classics. Instead, he decided to let the Queen herself sing with an experienced and well lived voice to the new generation, and with the help of some of the finest musicians the present music scene has to offer, a golden back-up band was created to support her: Jack Lawrence (The Dead Weather/Ranconteurs), Carl Broemel (My Morning Jacket), Patrick Keeler (Raconteurs), Ashley Monroe, Jackson Smith, Mrs. Karen Elson teamed up with White as a producer to create a brand new album, “The Party Ain’t Over”, recording some of music’s finest classics.

Crafted with 11 songs, “The Party Ain’t Over” pays tribute to Jackson’s and some of her dearest friends like Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, Bob Dylan and The Andrews Sisters honorable careers. Making the absence of some musicians and the presence of others noticeable in the way music has evolved after all these years. The presence of Amy Winehouse’s You Know That I’m No Good feels like a wake-up call for this generation of artists, who think age makes them powerful and almost invulnerable to the turns life takes: true artists never stop creating by themselves and recreating from others; their job is to keep music alive.

Shakin’ All Over, Rip It Up, Thunder On The Mountain: these tunes take you back in time to a simpler place. As soon as you hear Wanda’s voice and her all-star band beats, your feet will beg to dance as your body tries to break free from modern age.

Listen to it, let yourself feel as timeless as these songs. And just dance and be happy: the party is far from over.

Wanda Jackson’s Shakin’ All Over