Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Best Most Listened-To Albums of 2011

I use Last.fm to keep track of all the music I listen to, and every year I like to look back and see which music I listened to most, then post the top 10 here for all to see and judge.

I've bolded ten albums throughout these lists. Call these my consciously chosen top 10, if I was going by something other than the number of times I've played them.

Before getting to the top 10, here are some honourable mentions that didn't crack the top ten. I'd totally recommend giving these a listen if you were into music.

  • The Black Keys - El Camino
  • Born Gold - Bodysongs
  • Cake - Showroom of Compassion
  • Cut Copy - Zonoscope
  • David Guetta - Nothing But the Beat
  • The Dears - Degeneration Street
  • The Decemberists - The King is Dead, and Long Live the King
  • Dum Dum Girls - Only in Dreams
  • Florence and the Machine - Ceremonials
  • Justice - Audio, Video, Disco
  • Kanye West and Jay Z - Watch the Throne
  • Ladytron - Gravity the Seducer
  • Man Man - Life Fantastic
  • Neon Indian - Era Extrana
  • Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds (self-titled)
  • Radiohead - The King of Limbs
  • The Rapture - In the Grace of Your Love
  • Rihanna - Talk That Talk
  • Tycho - Dive
  • Washed Out - Within and Without
  • Zola Jesus - Conatus

And now, the top ten:

10. Lights - Siberia

It may be hard to see past the Biebs when it comes to Canadian pop music, but Lights manages to shine through. Her second album avoids being more of the same, with a sound that borrows some of the griminess of dubstep without sounding like she's trying too hard (see #3 on this list), but avoiding the grime of cheap sleazy lyrics (again, see #3 on this list).

See also: my review of Lights' concert at London Music Hall. Oh and another lovely pop album this year was Ellie Goulding's "Lights."

9. MUTEMATH - Odd Soul

I hadn't paid much attention to MUTEMATH before 2011, despite their insistence on ALWAYS SHOUTING THEIR NAME. Their new bluesy, perhaps soulful sound managed to hook me. I couldn't stop listening to Odd Soul.

8. The Antlers - Burst Apart

It's not exactly a feel-good album, but Burst Apart pokes the same "happy to be sad" buttons as bands like Portishead. If you couldn't tell by the title, "Putting the Dog to Sleep" ends it in a place so depressing it almost circles back to funny.

7. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Belong

I tried turning The Pains of Being Pure at Heart into an acronym - TPBPH - then saying it out loud. Try it out, it's hilarious. TPBPH. Teepeebeepee. LOL. Anyway, good album.

6. Mister Heavenly - Out of Love

I've expressed doubt about supergroups before, but the unholy union of Islands' Nicholas Thorburn, Man Man's Honus Honus, and Modest Mouse's Joe Plummer is a possible exception. It starts with Bronx Sniper, which could almost be mistaken for an Islands song. But then Honus's gravelly vocals kick in, complementing and transforming the sound into something unique. Is this "doom-wop" any better than the members' individual projects? Probably not, but it's still worth sticking in your ear holes.

5. M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming

M83 made #1 on my 2008 list, and this long-awaited follow-up is just as worthy. Its impact still relies heavily on being soaked in nostalgia, but it's now taken to a more epic scale, bringing in every genre, instrument, and cliche you can think of. It could've been a mess, but there is a certain feeling that holds on through all 22 tracks. This album is a dream come true and you should hurry up and listen to it.

4. Mother Mother - Eureka

Meh. I probably wouldn't have chosen to put this in my top ten, but there it is. Mother Mother has their own sound, and Eureka is a more Mother-Mother-ish album than any before. It almost borders on self-parody, with the cheesy little-girl voices and forced quirkiness. Like, in The Stand, "everyone's f---ed an they don't even know" is censored throughout, until the end, when he finally blurts out "fucked," then laughs as if it's the most edgy, uproarious trick to hit music since Get the Funk Out. Oh you. If the music itself wasn't so damn catchy, I could maybe hit the stop button.

See also: my close encounter with Mother Mother.

3. Britney Spears - Femme Fatale

Errr. Whatever. Like I said last year, I'm no longer reluctant to admit that I listen to a lot of painfully mainstream music. And as far as mainstream goes, Britney does it well. The first half of Femme Fatale is some of the best dance-pop I heard this year. Its thrills come cheap—the breakdown in Hold It Against Me is a blatant grab at dubstep's exploding popularity, and the album's lyrics scream "omg sex! Look how much sex is here!"—but still, it works. There are even moments that could be considered clever, like in the weirdly moving ode to breakup sex, Inside Out, when Britney moans "hit me one more time," then "you're the only one who ever drove me crazy," jamming her past hits into a new context. The last few songs lose steam, but there are a few that I can't help but listen to over and over, so Britney's handlers done good.

2. The Sounds - Something to Die For

I was only vaguely familiar with this Swedish band before this year, but then my girlfriend sent Something to Die For over, thinking I would like it. She knows me well. I'm a sucker for music inspired by the 80s, and on this album The Sounds embrace the synth-pop aspect of that decade. The lyrics aren't exactly deep, or entirely comprehensible English ("something is worth to die for"???), but that hardly matters when you're bobbing your head and longing to bounce on a pogo ball.

1. Lady GaGa - Born This Way

Oh how things have changed. Lady GaGa won the only "worst album of the year" award I've ever given out, back in 2008, for The Fame. Yet things haven't really changed much, because she still makes catchy but vapid songs that get stuck in your head and your iPod. I was hoping for more from Born This Way. With GaGa pushing the boundaries in her videos and fashion choices, and Fame Monster going in some new directions musically, Born This Way could have taken it to the next level. Yet we're left with more of the same: some irresistible but by-the-numbers pop songs, with lyrics that are too literal and obvious to drum up any meaningful controversy (you're in love with Judas?! Oooh, scandalous!). But it's 17+ tracks, few of which are boring, so I guess I listened to more songs from this album than any other.

Criticism aside, YoĆ¼ and I is one of the best pop songs of the year, and comes with one of the best videos of the year:

There's the list. Oooh, and here's a pretty visualization from LastGraph:

Did I miss any music that you jammed in your ears this year? Let me know.

See also:


Charles Vincent said...

Dig the music of the year on the Phronk!

This year I loved music by:

Grimes and D'Eon, split EP Darkbloom - Grimes, the hybrid love-child of Audrey Hepburn and The Aphex Twin, teams up with D'Eon, the downtown guru of freak-mellow, for a journey into a dazzling maze of strange pop textures.

Kathryn Calder, Bright and Vivid - Unusual pop structures that are emotionally and sonically dynamic. She also just did a great show in London ON.

Myths - I have always sought out things that are over the top and in your face. These two women make it to winner's circle of the totally overwhelming. Check out the track Prism Portraits on YouTube.

Woodkid - Iron EP. Epic music and video. I mean really epic, like Beowulf or The Odyssey, not epic like a lunch-break or your friend tripping over a chair. And yet, Baltimore's Fireflies just stood well next to Nick Drake in a shuffle. Remarkable.

First 3 are Canadian. Check it out - have fun!

Phronk said...

Thanks Charles! I've been enjoying Grimes lately too, but the rest I'm delightfully unfamiliar with. Gives me lots of new stuff to seek out.