Writers’ Poll: Albums of 2011 (24 – 1)

Last Thursday I posted up our Best Albums of 2011 (50-25). In that article I dubbed the countdown "an alternative list that rightfully honours major releases that didn’t make it into the zine". True to my word, the final instalment of our Best Albums of 2011 features a good chunk of releases that weren't reviewed in the zine.

I hasten to admit sometimes our lack of coverage was an oversight. In fact covering a mere two of our top ten puts me to editorial shame, though in my defence I’ve been ranting and raving about tUne-YarDs and Okkervil River since the dawn of the year, and spending another 500 words on them would have been redundant. Similarly a personal distaste of Radiohead would only have resulted in a negative review and perhaps a reference to chip shop fodder, and then this post would seem really, really hypocritical. Perhaps it's everyone else's tastes that are at fault here. How was I supposed to know you'd all fall for eco-warrior PR from a man who can afford to buy half of Oxford? Am I sore it's shoved the sacred Sit Resist down to 12? You bet your last pair of socks I am.

For mainstream better or independent worse, click below to find our top 24 albums of 2011:

24// John Maus - We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves

23// Copy Haho - Self-titled

22// Wire - Red Barked Trees

21// Cloud Control - Bliss Release

20// The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Belong

"By all accounts it would appear that NYC C86 worshippers The Pains of Being Pure at Heart have taken those mean comments about being all winsome and wanting to their tender young hearts. On their second album Belong, the follow-up to their faultless self-titled 2009 debut, the keening jangle that was their calling card is very much toned down. Instead, they pointedly bring the fuzz.

If their first release brought to mind the likes of The Shop Assistants, Johnny Marr and Slowdive, this time they resemble no one so much as Smashing Pumpkins playing Cure covers. That may be intentional. On the opening title track Kip Berman’s vocal resemblance to Billy Corgan is striking - had the latter grown up listening to Amelia Fletcher rather than Bauhaus, anyway.” – Chris Bell

19// Adele - 21

18// Gil Scott-Heron/Jamie XXWe're New Here

17// Drake - Take Care

16// Johnny Foreigner - Vs Everything

“In a mass of electric guitar, twinkling pop melody and heightened indie rock, Johnny Foreigner exploded onto the scene in 2005 against a backdrop of tight-jeans, George W Bush and the war on terror. Their early material is fraught and angular, seamlessly reflecting the 21st Century’s lost generation; not sacrificed to trench pits and rifles, but led adrift by economic crisis, ideological disbelief and political abandonment. Comparisons to Los Campesinos! and DANANANANAYKROYD are made in earnest, not least because all three acts had (and in Johnny Foreigner’s case, have) a tendency to match their excessively articulate lyrics with ridiculously long song titles.

Overtime Johnny Foreigner have not simmered down. Their potent brand of emotional ADHD stands righteous as Britain’s answer to The Thermals; punk rock used as a weapon against everything that’s wrong with the world, including the front man’s ex-girlfriend. For the most part Johnny Foreigner vs Everything takes the sentiment of its title and wrings its neck, leaving fans deliriously spinning into a sweaty chaos of glee. Essentially their umpteenth album is musical cocaine.” – Tiffany Daniels

15// The Art of Noise - Who's Afraid of...?

14// Frank Ocean - Nostalgia

13// Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring for My Halo

12// Laura Stevenson & The Cans - Sit Resist

“So you think your record collection is complete, do you? Well, Laura Stevenson & The Cans are here to prove you wrong. Following their stellar debut album A Record, the Brooklyn based band has produced one of the finest albums ever recorded.

Sit Resist sighs in the face of its audience, kicks its heels and swings from the rafters. Writing a coherent and unbiased review is almost beyond me. The album’s already seeped through my skin into my veins, attached itself to my aorta and pumped a second heartbeat into my stride. This manic adoration is heightened by opener “Halloween Parts 1 & 2”, a monumental song that soars from the gut and launches itself out into the open sky. Second track “Master of Art” really cements Stevenson’s authority. Choked as it is in melody, the shrieking, desperate howl of the song’s final chorus is enough to make any respectable music fan break down in tears. Not because of some emotional connection –though it’s there to be had - but because Stevenson has finally proved it’s possible to fuse melody, thoughtful acoustic music and punk, without compromising a single aspect of sound.

Nothing on Sit Resist suggests laziness or complacency. When Laura Stevenson and The Cans pull the reins on their fusion-rock, they don’t compromise their talent. Layers and layers of instrumentation accompany each track. Even during the album’s quieter moments you’ll hear brass reverberating in the undertones of a song, and percussion tinkering in the background. Lest we forget, this isn’t the project of a single person: Stevenson may be responsible for the majority of the band’s output, but she’s not the only person in the studio. This is a collective effort; that it’s so seamless only strengthens Sit Resist and doubles the project’s credibility. “ – Tiffany Daniels

11// Aiden Moffat and Bill Wells - Everything's Getting Older

10// Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues

9// Radiohead - The King of Limbs

8// Bon Iver - Self-titled

7// Wild Beasts - Smother

6// Okkervil River - I Am Very Far

5// Emmy the Great - Virtue

“The release of Virtue, the follow up to Emmy the Great’s outstanding debut First Love, has been a long slog for the 27 year-old singer-songwriter. Whilst gig tickets were selling like hot cakes, disappointing album sales suggested that fans were merrily downloading First Love and leaving Emmy out of pocket. Unable to afford the production costs of a second album, the proactive performer appealed to her fans to pre-order Virtue before its completion, as well as offering exclusive gigs, song writing workshops and even private living room performances to those willing to shell out big bucks in support of the project.

The struggle paid off, the fans paid up and Virtue was finally recorded and released. Comparisons between Emmy the Great and Laura Marling are inevitable, but the vibe Emmy has curated  for Virtue is closer to 60s girl groups like The Bangles, The Shangri-Las and Suzanne Vega. It’s simultaneously fresh and nostalgic, simple yet complex.

There’s an emotional maturity to Virtue: whilst First Love felt like an album written about growing up and making mistakes, Virtue is about accepting those mistakes, brushing oneself down and carrying on. It’s an album about rebuilding, both optimistically and regretfully. If First Love was an album of innocence, Virtue is an album of experience.” – Alice Slater

4// tUne-YarDs - W H O K I L L

3// Destroyer - Kaputt

2// Laura Marling - A Creature I Don't Know

“It’s been anecdotally proven that Laura Marling, the perpetual darling of the British nu-folk scene, can do no wrong. New album A Creature I Don’t Know is no exception to this shaky science. Unfurling her third album as an autumnal release, the 21-year-old’s career has grown astronomically since debut Alas I Cannot Swim. With two Mercury nominations under her belt, Marling also snagged Best British Female Artist from the Brits and NME’s Best Solo Artist this year.

A Creature I Don’t Know follows an approximate narrative thread. The protagonist (perhaps some shadow of Marling herself?) beds a so-called ‘beast’ and, in turn, relents to her own rage and transfigures into some semblance of a beast herself. A cast of characters, including the aforementioned beast and Sophia, Goddess of Wisdom, wander freely between songs, creating a self-referential patchwork. Album closer “All My Rage” identifies the exorcism of emotion, the quelling of the beast within the angelic-voiced narrator.

Throughout the album Marling invokes a strong sense of American folk, and comparisons to Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and – naturally – Joni Mitchell are inevitable. Marling’s song writing has gone from strength to strength, and this album showcases her vocal range with an increased sense of maturity. The lyrics themselves ramble through themes such as love, heartache and femininity, delicately woven with mythical imagery to form something a little more thought-provoking and original than the otherwise overworked subject matter suggests. As striking as it is melodic, A Creature I Don’t Know sees a subtle yet crucial development in Marling’s song writing.” – Alice Slater

1// PJ Harvey - Let England Shake

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