Best of 2011
2011: It was a very good year...
That's why whittling down our sprawling longlist of exceptional albums to a super-svelte 50 has caused much heated debate here at 7digital Towers. Several months of tears, tantrums, walk-outs and hunger-strikes later, we can now proudly present our Best of 2011.
War, huh, yeah. What is it good for? Absolutely n... erm, providing inspiration for PJ Harvey's latest long player, actually. Lyrically rooted on the battlefields of northern France and the beaches at Gallipoli, the Mercury Prize-winning Let England Shake was ostensibly a tribute to the soldiers lost in the campaigns of WW1, but resonated thematically with the political issues of the present day. Polly Jean's eighth studio album is a beautiful, bruised love letter to her homeland and, sonically, it's possibly her finest hour yet.
Surely there can be few more satisfying ways of getting over the disintegration of a relationship and the break-up of your band than to form a new, even better band and write a bestselling record about the evil harpy who dumped you? Yes, thanks to his unexpected triumph with For Emma, Forever Ago, Justin Vernon's pockets were substantially heavier when it came to writing album number two. We're just glad he used the spoils of his success to shell out for his own recording studio – if he'd frittered it away on women and wine we might never have had this perfectly-polished follow-up.
Proving once more that nobody does cost-cutter synth sounds better, this year Metronomy returned boasting a freshly-expanded line-up and an astounding new album. Indeed, we were so excited at the release of The English Riviera that, in the 7digital offices, the 11th April was officially renamed "National Metronomy Day" and all staff were ordered to don their standard-issue illuminated chest-buzzer and bodypop to this wondrous synth-pop at least once an hour. Opinion's still divided on whether to make it an annual tradition.
Since Del Boy's three-wheeled van spluttered off into the sunset and Desmond's barbers shut up shop, the only recent claim to fame poor Peckham's had is its thriving gang culture. But, like a flame-haired angel sent from heaven to answer Southwark Council's prayers, this Brit-Schooled siren gave the locals something to be proud of with her irresistibly danceable debut. And if Ms B was aiming to produce one of the best crossover dance records of 2011, with this slick blend of UK funky, grime, garage and dubstep we'd say it was mission accomplished.
Following 2010's folk-filled Flaws, this year Bombay Bicycle Club plugged in once more, quashing any rumours that they'd defected to the beard squad for good. And with the terrific A Different Kind of Fix, the Crouch Enders confirmed that not only are they precocious and prolific, they're actually improving with every release. From the delicious bounce of lead-single 'Shuffle' to the multi-layered majesty of 'Beggars', their third studio effort was a frighteningly accomplished and highly infectious master class in beatific indie-pop.
Anyone fearing Wild Beasts had set themselves an insurmountable task in topping the universally acclaimed, Mercury Prize-nominated Two Dancers breathed a huge sigh of relief on hearing the stupendous Smother. For their third long-player, we were happy to discover Kendal's finest had added electronica to their artillery to produce ten tracks of spookily beautiful, slow-burning splendour. By the time we made it to the spine-tingling climax of final track 'End Come Too Soon', we realised we couldn't have put it better ourselves.
When The Horrors first emerged in a haze of hairspray back in 2007, their morbid pseudonyms and reverb-drenched fusion of 60s garage and goth rock were a little frightening for most. The spidery Tim Burton caricatures righted that with the comparative charm-offensive of Primary Colours, converting most skeptics with some glorious shoegaze. But it was with the wonderfully atmospheric, synth-heavy, 80s-influenced psych-rock of Skying that Faris and the boys finally staked their claim to the remaining stragglers. Resistance was futile...
A concept album tackling emotional abuse using the conceit of terminal illness? Hmmm, ok, The Antlers' last album Hospice might not have been quite the feel good hit of 2009 but it still bagged a deservedly lofty spot in most critics' best of the year lists. The follow-up was hardly a barrel of laughs lyrically either (sexual frustration and death featuring prominently) but sonically it offered a bountiful haul of sublime, electronic-tinged dream-pop that had us hoping Pete Silberman doesn't lighten up any time soon. Simply gorgeous.
Despite boasting a clutch of Juno awards, multiple Brit and Grammy nominations, and platinum sales of The Reminder, Feist still cites teaching The Muppets to count on national TV as the highlight of her career to date. Now don't get us wrong, we're not knocking Sesame Street, but we reckon she trounced that achievement with the standard of songwriting on her latest long player. Having headed in an increasingly melancholy direction, the material on Metals was probably a mite too mature for Elmo and co but for us non-cloth-eared folk it proved magnificent listening.
Like a good whisky or a fine wine, it would seem the ragged timbre of Tom Waits' voice only improves with age and, on his 17th studio album, he certainly put that ravaged larynx to good use. Over a satisfyingly swampy mix of blues, jazz and vaudeville, the guv'nor of alt-rock sated his thespian leanings by channeling a variety of disparate personas, including a broken man on 'Last Leaf' a nightmare-inducing ogre on 'Hell Broke Luce' and, on the croon-tastic 'Kiss Me', what can only be described as a sozzled Satchmo. Suffice to say, Bad As Me was exceedingly good.
The rest of the best...