Friday, December 23, 2011

My Favorite Albums Of 2011: Part 1 - Honorable Mentions

Here it is!  This is part one of my "Favorite Albums Of 2011" list.  The next three posts, part two and three of which will be up after a Christmas break, contain my thirty favorite records of the past year.  I spent many hours deliberating over which albums to include.  Finally, I selected the albums that made 2011 an amazing year of music.  These records were the soundtrack to my life (bonus points for the reference?) this year.  Some of them stayed in my stereo for months at a time.  This post contains ten albums that I enjoyed, but didn't quite make it into my top twenty.  Although they're out of the top twenty, I still loved each and every one of them.  In alphabetical order, here are the honorable mentions...

Active Child - You Are All I See

Active Child's Pat Grossi has a voice that fills the room like a choir.  You Are All I See took me by surprise earlier this year.  I listened to a copy of the album only knowing that it would involve a harp and lots of falsetto.  We've all heard that with female vocalists, including Florence Welch and Joanna Newsom, and it works just as well with a guy.  I went back to "Hanging On" again and again.  The entire album has a great atmosphere and is perfect for all of your zen-like activities.

Alexander - Self Titled

Ima Robot's Another Man's Treasure was on my list last year.  Alexander Ebert once again finds a spot on my playlist with his first solo effort.  He's gone from Ima Robot's dance-punk, to Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros' folk-rock, and most recently this self-titled collection of songs.  "Truth" is the faux-rap lead single, while "Glimpses" evokes Bob Dylan.

Beyoncé - 4

"Me and my boo, and my boo, boo, ridin'"  That line becomes engraved within your brain after listening to "Countdown".  Beyoncé's latest album is a mix of modern day pop and the throwback sounds of Prince and the Jacksons.  "1 + 1" is the ballad that should've been a hit.  "Love On Top" had way too many key changes for a single track, but it sounds so good.

Gotye - Making Mirrors

"Somebody That I Used To Know", a duet with Kimbra, never gets old.  The chart topping single from Gotye's third album will draw you in and then you get to witness the rest of this record.  Think of a modern equivalent to The Police with an eclectic spin.  The album may be a bit random at times and "State Of The Art" still confuses me, but I feel like Gotye filled a gap that was missing.

James Blake - Self Titled

The first time I listened to James Blake's cover of "Limit To Your Love", I made the mistake of using laptop speakers.  If you've heard the song, you can imagine what I was missing.  After getting around to a real set of speakers I found out what all the fuss was about.  James Blake is a mix of classical piano and auto-tuned electronic music.  The production on this record is precise with the perfect amount of space to breathe.  Some people call him post-dubstep, but what does that really mean?  Sometimes I find this album to be obnoxiously annoying and other days I love it.  In the end, this album deserves to be recognized.

The Joy Formidable - The Big Roar

I saw The Joy Formidable live earlier this year as they opened for the Foo Fighters.  The Welsh trio put on a massive show.  Their extended instrumentals get bigger and bigger until they explode.  The Big Roar is a mix of shoegaze and pop music.  It's also an amazing debut album.

Nicolas Jaar - Space Is Only Noise

You could say that Nicolas Jaar is in the same realm as James Blake.  They both take electronic elements and mix it up a little.  Nicolas adds in tastes of jazz and world music, growing up in Chile himself.  Space Is Only Noise sounds like a film.  It's moody and dramatic.  At only 21, he has the world dancing to his odd beat.

SebastiAn - Total

French electro artist, SebastiAn is the only DJ on my list.  You can hear the similar sound of his Ed Banger label mates on Total, but this record is packed from front to back.  Appearances from Mayer Hawthorne and M.I.A only sweeten the deal.  "Total" and "Tetra" are some of my favorite cuts, as they show the span of styles in his work.  This stuff is heavy.

St. Vincent - Strange Mercy

Apart from the occasional single, St. Vincent's previous albums never caught my attention.  The music was fine, but nothing stood out from the crowd, it was just there.  Strange Mercy caught my attention.  It was the vulnerability of "Cheerleader". It was the beautiful La Vie En Rose melody of "Surgeon".  Nothing about this album is over the top.  Every element knows its place and performs eloquently.

Zola Jesus - Conatus

Conatus completely stopped me in my tracks.  It's been out for months, but I only recently gave this record a listen.  That voice.  She's like a darker and less accessible Florence Welch, mix in some Fever Ray-esque sounds for good measure.  The entire album is just captivating.

But wait! Before I end this post, I want to include one more record...

Ellie Goulding - Lights

When making my list, I wasn't sure where to put this album.  While the US had to wait until this year to hear the record, it was released around the world in 2010.  There are few albums that will be included later on the list that are still waiting for American releases, but they had 2011 release dates around the world.  As a result of this technicality, I consider Lights to be an album of 2010.  However, it only seems right to give it a special spot in this feature.  Ellie's voice isn't typical for pop music.  It's smoky and has more human qualities when compared to her other contemporaries.  Lights is an amazingly catchy debut that put her on the radar.

Check back after Christmas for the rest of my favorite albums, including my top three.

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