My Favourite 25 Albums of 2011 - Part One

This time last year I did a post where I basically talk (write) aloud to myself about the albums I put as my favourite of the year 12 months ago and what I think about that now, invariably you’re late in discovering a few albums and you’re tastes change over time. My list of albums from 2009 changed quite a lot when I redid it in 2010 (check here). Though, after saying all, that, I've decided my list of 25 albums for 2010 (which can be found here) is actually still highly reflective of what I think now, so I'm not going to do this and instead will launch straight into my twenty five favourite / top / best (whatever you want to call it) albums released in 2011 (UK release) which I'll share with you over the next few days.

Depending on what time of the day it is the ordering presented here would vary, at the end of the day I had to give each and every one a number (I guess I could have ignored the numeric side of things) but in reality there is very little that separates some of the albums (especially numbers 17-3) and a few that aren't included here I like just as much as some that are (when I post a digest of the albums I'll include my full shortlist of forty albums that have primarily been the soundtrack to my year). Without further rambling, my 25 albums of the year:

Direct Links to Albums (updated as they become live) : 25 - 21 // 20 - 16 // 15 - 11 // 10 - 6 // 5 - 1

25. Braids - Native Speaker
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Montreal based four piece Braids weave arguably the most complex, luscious melodies I've had the privilege of seeing live this year, combining dreamy vocal harmonies with multi layered instrumentation to hypnotic effects led by Raphaelle Standell-Preston's sweeter than sweet voice. Their debut LP 'Native Speaker' came out way back in January (April in the UK) and it sees (just) seven tracks seamlessly flow with the most magical, complex textures and free-flowing vocal acrobatics.

"Lemonade" is the stand-out, a seven minute masterpiece which pushes the boundaries of mainstream psych-pop, swirling, tropical soundscapes and bubbling ambient electronics give the perfect platform for Raphaelle's delicately soft vocals (which hide somewhat of a dirty mouth). Then there's "Plath Heart" the most immediate track on the LP, it's similarly stunning (and arguably the only track capable of a single release without seeing some of its length on the cutting floor).

Other highlights include the sumptuous "Glass Dears", even longer at over eight minutes with looping synths, hazy guitars and drawn-out meandering melodies, the title track "Native Speaker" which see's similarly potty mouth lyrics sit on top of chilly piano strokes, echoey electronics and absolutely stunning harmonies and "Lammicken" a darker, mysterious track that pays more homage to Fever Ray than the usual Animal Collective observations with its throbbing propulsive beat.

Overall, 'Native Speaker' is a dreamy, gorgeous debut from a band that I can't wait to hear more from.

BRAIDS 'Lemonade' by kaninerecords

24. Birds of Passage - Without The World

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'Without The World' is Bird of Passage's (Alicia Merz) debut release received a much welcomed re-pressing by the wonderful Denovali and came out early this year. It's an intoxicating work of art that is truly heartbreaking and beautiful, combining dark, haunting soundscapes with the delicate whispers of a siren.

Many artists use excessive instrumentation to create atmosphere or mood, 'Without the World' is a master-class of minimalism and experimental song craft, Alicia equally happy to use natural sounds to complement her instruments, on "Whisper a Word" we can hear an organ complimented by leaves rustling in the while Alicia's hushed vocal blend in perfectly delivering a sense of undoubted optimism. There are more traditional lo-fi / folk moments on the more relaxed "Fantastic Frown", straight forward acoustic guitar and twinkling glockenspiel offer one the albums most immediate moments.

The titles of "Prey For A Sunny Day", "Skeletons" and "Those Blackest Winter Nights" give no secrets to the bleak, chilly feeling created by the use of drone, delay and echoey electronics, throughout the album is emotive and touching, recreating the feeling of emptiness during those cold, lonely winter's nights.

'Without the World' is something to immerse yourself in, its hazy, mesmerizing beauty is a perfect antidote to the hectic lives we lead and makes for one of this years essential releases.

scarlet monkeys (coloured vinyl out on Denovali) by birds of passage

fantastic frown - without the world from birds of passage on Vimeo.

23. Seapony - Go With Me
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I'm an absolute sucker for the sort of music that Seapony have so effortlessly created throughout their debut LP 'Go With Me', original perhaps it's not but the simple approach to syrupy indie-pop is so infectious and luscious that I can't help but be smitten. Catchy lyrics, drum machine beat, syrupy vocals and fuzzed-out, jangly guitars are the staple formula that make 'Go With Me' equal parts bounce and blissfully charming.

"Dreaming", the bands initial introduction to so many of us is still brilliant now, saccharine sweet (and unashamedly so), repetitive (there must be only about six lines of lyrics) and utterly, utterly infectious. I've read some reviews where the sameness of the record has clearly grated with the reviewer but in my opinion the forty minutes (included exceptional b-side "Emma's House") is a wistful, beautiful listen where I can escape to a simple, carefree world without too many other concerns.

Highlights appear throughout, "With You" is a lovable song that's particularly melodic and pleasing, "Into The Sea" is probably the heaviest with track on the album with precise drum and hooky guitar riffs while "I Never Would's" fluttery melody and "Blue Star's" melancholic haze are equally delicious. Though, perhaps my highlight is "Where We Go", Jen Weidl’s vocals are airy and dreamy whilst breezy melodies float beautifully over a wash of drum machine beats and reverb.

Charming (tick), loveable (tick), me a fan (tick).

With You by Seapony

22. Widowspeak - Widowspeak
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Widowspeak are another purveyor of laid-back, wistful memories; equal parts melancholic haze and dreamy, inviting warm and blissful thoughts. Their self-titled debut is a slight departure in sound for the label, Captured Tracks, in sound, not in quality for 'Widowspeak' is a beautiful created, lazy afternoon / late night album to immerse yourself fully in.

The drums are downbeat and hollow throughout, the guitar textures remain subtle, intricate and extremely competent (I can vouch for the talent of Rob after catching them live last month) while Molly Hamilton's secondary guitar jangles fill in the trio's sound. Her vocals are arguably their strongest instrument, her sultry, soft purr is so incredibly luscious and seductive throughout.

The punchy, foot-stomping "Puritan" kicks off the album led by a purposeful drum beat and lively guitar solos that blend dark country with rock perfectly, the slow pacing and moody melody of "Harsh Realm" equally stands out, shimmering guitars over Molly's smoky, longing vocals repeated cries of "I always think about you". Dreamy.

The one/two of "Gun Shy" and "Hard Times" bring arguably the albums strongest moments, "Gun Shy's" dry and dusty twangy guitar rhythm bring instant memories of Western movies gone by while the heavenly drawl soothes and lulls. "Hard Times" is beautifully melodic and is another gem in an album where honestly seven or eight of its tracks could easily be singles.

Gun Shy by widowspeakband

Widowspeak @ 285 Kent Ave. 2.18.2011 from Jessica Amaya on Vimeo.

21. The Chapman Family - Burn Your Town
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The debut album by The Chapman Family was a long time coming, after first releasing a (bright pink) 7" single in 2007 it took until March 2011 to finally see the first full length from the north-east quartet (although since the album recording the line-up has seen numerous changes and is now a five piece with just two original members), despite gathering a glowing reputation as a fine live act (they are - I've seen them seven or eight times) but you do have to wonder what took them quite so long (especially when a few of the old singles re-appear, though granted "Virgins" is as far removed from the original as possible). Was the wait worth it?  Simple answer, yes, yes it was.

The album, the aptly titled ‘Burn Your Town’ kicks off with "A Certain Degree" which purposefully, slowly builds up atmosphere for what is to follow; an album of miserable, dark, post-punk / rock. Singles "All Fall" and "Anxiety" are the closest the Chapman's come to offering pop singles, big thunderous choruses, epic and energetic guitars and well delivered vocals, the polished production makes them clear, immediate and huge.

In my opinion the high points though come with two new songs "She Didn't Know" is a monster, a dark, brooding atmosphere throughout that makes for the most compelling song on the album and "Something I Can't Get Out", quicker in pace and more aggressive, the rhythm section particularly impressive, huge driving beats, wailing guitars, "Kids" is as full of angst as they come, screaming, passionate and certainly doesn't disappoint.

Live favourite "A Million Dollars" takes the record to new depths, an explosive cacophony of noise where thunderbolt drums drive the song whilst a wall of anguished guitars and Kingley's intense vocals create n incredibly chaotic, fierce and unsettling tone... a song that's often introduced on stage as being about murdering kids shouldn't sound so fucking incredible.

Do make sure you find the abrasive assault of "All That's Left to Break", I've no idea why it's not on the album, it really, really should be, it's arguably the best track they've recorded to date.

Anxiety by The Chapman Family