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Best Of 2011

The first question I asked myself, when making this list was “What are the ten best albums of this year, in my opinion?”. I was going to run with that, before a second thought struck me. “Instead of posting my top 10 favourite albums of the year” I thought, “I’ll post an objective list of the top 10 best albums of the year”. So this list isn’t just my opinion (though it is also my opinion) but the factual results of a scientific investigation into all the music, everywhere on earth, that was released this year. Strong contenders that were left off this list included Real Estate, Destroyer, Tom Waits and Wild Beasts.

1. Youth Lagoon
The Year of Hibernation

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‘Cannons’

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The dudes name is Trevor Powers and he’s making excellent music. Those facts combined should be enough to guarantee anyone a number one spot but there’s more, there’s more. To really get behind an artist and for an album to truly settle with me I need more than eleven tracks of well performed music. Obviously it’s a great start, but there’s plenty of acceptable music out there and I demand a little extra. I need to believe that the music I’m hearing comes from the artists’ experience or that at the very least, the song is a genuine outpouring of the artists’ personality and not just a repackaging of another’s. This is where Youth Lagoon stands so tall among other albums released this year. The muffled beats and the reverb heavy vocals together sound fantastic but the heart behind the music is undeniable and unrepentantly placed on display. I’ve developed some real fanboy feelings toward Youth Lagoon over the year which makes me think that come February, when he comes to Sydney, I’ll probably be waiting around after the show for a signed poster and any stray hair follicles that I can get my hands on. IT’S DNA FOOLS, YOU CAN’T PUT A PRICE ON THAT SORT OF THING.

2. The Rural Alberta Advantage
Departing

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‘Stamp’

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The Rural Alberta Advantage didn’t win me over with any releases prior to this year’s Departing. The first track that I heard, ‘North Star’ drew me in via the earnest vocals of Nils Edenloff who I earlier this year compared to Jeff Mangum, and I stand by that in that they’re both a little gravelly and they’re both amazing. What’s more, the band are only a three piece and I have plenty of time for any artist that can call forth a full sound from the bare minimum tools. The song that drove everything home for me was Stamp. Just listen to the shallowness of those drums. My uninformed reckonings have probably sent several drum technicians into cataplexy these past few seconds but as the old saying goes, ‘sometimes guys who don’t know anything end up knowing the most of all’.

3. Bon Iver
Bon Iver

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‘Holocene’

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On the back of For Emma, Forever Ago, Bon Iver’s self-titled record was released in June this year to mixed critical response. Some felt that Vernon had strayed too far from what made For Emma so incredible, others thought he hadn’t progressed far enough. For my part, I’m alright with what’s gone on upon this record. The falsetto is still there, the melancholy is still there, it’s just underpinned by something more than an acoustic guitar. That’s fine with me, I didn’t demand an overly experimental follow-up record, I just wanted to see any sort of development, and it’s evident on this record. It’s still more beautiful than your firstborn and smarter than a Ruse student and because of that I call this the number three [international] record of the year. The polarising ‘Beth/Rest’ final track on the record (or “The 80s song” as some have taken to calling it) is my favourite from the record but I’ll stream ‘Holocene’ purely because it’s a little more accessible to a first listener (where have you been these last three years!?).

4. James Blake
James Blake

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‘Measurements’

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Continuing on with another self titled record, James Blake released a genuinely ground breaking album this year, the sounds of which noone had really heard before. Crystal vocals over the top of a bass heavy, minimal beat doesn’t sound that new or exciting by description but upon first listen you’ll know what I’m talking about. Like Bon Iver, you’ll undoubtably have heard of James already, especially since he released 61 different records over the course of 2011. The brand loyalty that Blake has established has even meant that folk-centric listeners are championing his exclusively electronic records, which for me seems an absolute farce. I gather that those same records are well respected in electronic circles (electrurcles) but every time something remotely synthesized comes on FBi you change the station, so stop pretending you’re all about it.

5. Kurt Vile
Smoke Ring For My Halo

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‘Baby’s Arms’

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I tried so, so hard to resist Kurt Vile, I really did. Every cool cat and their cool cat mother was raving about the guy when tracks from Smoke Ring for My Halo popped up online. “Not for me” I thought. “I don’t bend to public opinion”. Yet somehow I exited the Red Rattler last month thinking “Best. Show. Ever” with my ears ringing and my blood pumping, the show capping off what had been a recent obsession I’d had with all things Vile. His lyrics are as strong as some of the all time American song-writers, and that’s no joke. I came into the game late, cynical and ready to pan this thing but now I’m all about it. I think it’s a case of listening to the right song first, rather than diving straight into the deep end and you’ll hear that song below.

6. Wilco
The Whole Love

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‘Art of Almost’

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It’s tough to have a lot to say about this record because there aren’t really any gimmicks to catch upon. It’s pure and simple indie rock. Wilco have a hugely deep and loyal fanbase, most of which will have listened to earlier Wilco albums far more comprehensively than I ever have or ever really will. So as an uninformed, recently christened fan of Wilco, I excitedly brought home a promo copy of this record from work, long before we released it and proceeded to kick myself for having been too pigheaded to give the band the time and effort that they deserved. You’ll like this record if you like Radiohead, Abbey Road, Band of Horses, Ryan Adams or Spoon.

7. Active Child
You Are All I See

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‘Playing House’

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Twinkling. I can’t think of a word that better describes the debut album from Active Child. For me the word conjures up disturbing images of a particularly scrawny twink (don’t google it) but more importantly it captures the sparkling, shiny and atmospheric nature of Pat Grossi, AKA Active Child’s music. His first full length, You Are All I See is like many of the other albums mentioned in these lists, an amalgamation of multiple styles and sounds. There’s muted beats, a whole lot of synth, lilting harp (I know right!?) and Grossi’s unique voice. The album might possibly lack in diversity but the sound is too fresh to become old fast. Potentially the album contains a few singles that are stronger than the album as a whole but it’s still a firm offering and one that takes my number seven spot.

8. The Black Keys
El Camino

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‘Little Black Submarines’

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El Camino is an absolute diamond amongst this years releases. It’s the record that they might well be remembered for, not because they’re body of work up until now hasn’t been first-rate, but because this is their most full formed and mono-directional release yet. Don’t get me wrong here (SERIOUSLY. DON’T GET ME WRONG), I love albums like Thickfreakness and will definitely always appreciate them more than El Camino thanks to their pure grit and sentimental importance but El Camino is going to appeal to a far wider audience than their earlier work. It’s more polished and better produced than earlier records but regardless of what direction the pair decide to take for future records, you can bank on them putting out stone cold dynamite.

9. Hooray For Earth
True Loves

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‘True Loves’

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In April this year, I posted the video to the first single from Hooray For Earth’s True Loves. It was the title track from the release and it was bananas and everyone knows that bananas are fantastic and a tasty treat. What most people don’t know, is that they are high in iron and they reduce the risk of high blood pressure and they contain vitamins useful for helping folks give up smoking. All factual facts. Anyway, the record revolves around the soothing voice of Noel Heroux and around this voice rushes 80s synth padding, created noise and immaculately produced beats. I can’t recommend this album more highly to any at all interested in electronic music in the vein of this year’s Laneway lineup. They’ve definitely piggybacked artists such as Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear and Gang Gang Dance but what they’ve come out with is something else altogether. I haven’t seen this one crop up in too many other end of year lists so I’m either ahead of the game or I have bad taste, maybe both.

10. Radical Face
The Family Tree: The Roots

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‘Pound Of Flesh’

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Inevitably Family Tree was going to find it’s way on to the top 10, and may have sat higher up this list had he demonstrated a more obvious progression from 2007′s Ghost. Family Tree is fantastic, and for the same reasons that Ghost was; a beautifully organic drum sound, blood pumping vocal crescendos and a left-of-centreness that made the record genuinely unique. The first two of those features are evident again on Family Tree but the third seems sadly absent. It’s in the top 10 because it sounds wonderful but I want more from my music. If I wanted to hear Ghost again I’d put Ghost on again, or at the very least I’d pay my maid to put Ghost on again, if I was too far away from my iMac to do it myself. To the new Radical Face listener: YOU WILL LOVE THIS RECORD. To those who have listened to everything he’s released prior to this: Still purchase this album, just don’t expect your mind to be blown again.