Truth be told, 2011 wasn’t that great of a year, but it did manage to see some truly spectacular music. Please take the time to read about what I consider to be the ten best albums of the year:
1. Det Vackra Livet by Det Vackra Livet – Some might say I’m slightly biased towards most things Swedish. This may be true, but I uphold that my love of this album would prevail with or without said bias. Det Vackra Livet , which means “the beautiful life”, is a magical blend of 80’s new-wave pop and more modern dreampop/shoegaze. The opening track, “Kristallen” will immediately bring to mind only the best that bands like The Smiths and The Cure had to offer at their peak. The album, which is entirely in Swedish, is beautifully melancholic while at the same time oddly optimistic. Truly, this is the most solid collection of songs I have heard in many years, not just in 2011. I implore those of you who have not heard this album: do not let the language barrier keep you from this masterpiece. I do have my favoutire tracks, but cannot bring myself to list them- the entire album must be given equal attention.
2. The Big Roar by The Joy Formidable – If I were to sum up The Big Roar in one word, it would be ‘epic’. You don’t simply listen to this album, you fucking experience it. The opening track will grab you by the ears and force you into a zombie-like trance, and at the end of it all, you’ll just be like “What just happened?!” It’s for that exact reason that I have a hard time naming individual tracks by name- they all blend together into this one big mushy, fuzzy glob of goddamn-amazing. Luckily, thanks to iTunes, I can say that the standout tracks are: ” The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade”, ” Greyhounds In The Slips”, and my favourite, “Buoy”.
3. Samsara by To/Die/For – It’s hard for me to classify what kind of sound To/Die/For creates. I usually liken them to the mixing of 80’s bands like Cutting Crew and A-Ha, and modern hard rock bands like HIM (makes sense as they’re both from Finland), and on my iTunes they are listed as Goth Rock… but they’re so much more than any of that. They create songs with such great melodies and amazing guitar riffs, resulting in what I consider to be the epitome of great rock. Samsara is their first album in 5 years, following 2006’s Wounds Wide Open, which I consider to be their weakest offering. It was only a few years ago that the band announced a break-up, and the lead vocalist began working on a new project, but lo and behold, they straightened themselves out and have produced one of their best albums ever. Standout tracks include: “Hail of Bullets”, “Love’s A Sickness”, and my favourite, “Damned Rapture”.
4. Devotion Implosion by Gliss – Okay, technically this album isn’t from 2011.. it’s from 2009, butlemmeexplain!! I discovered Gliss when they opened for Glasvegas this summer and, to be honest, we didn’t pay them much attention. A few days later I decided to check their album out and was blown away, kicking myself for not seeing their entire set. This is shoegazer rock at its finest: melodic, moody, and fuzzy as hell! I enjoyed this album so much that I felt obligated to include it in this list. Standout tracks include: “Lovers in the Bathroom”, “29 Acts of Love”, and my favourite, “Morning Light”.
5. Portamento by The Drums – One of the greatest things about The Drums’ sophomore effort is its simplicity. There are moments in the album where, if you closed your eyes, you might feel as if the band were playing these songs for you live, in your room, bringing an intense intimacy that I haven’t felt with a collection of songs in a long time. Standout tracks include: “Hard to Love”, “Days”, and my favourite, “I Don’t Know How to Love”.
6. Dominoes by Eva & The Heartmaker – There seems to be a resurgence of that classic 80’s new-wave pop sound these days, and Eva & The Heartmaker are easily leading that pack. Synthesizers, sweet vocals, jangly guitars, and electronic drums all come together in harmony, producing an album full of songs you’ll find yourself humming in the shower or on the road. It’s pure pop that I don’t feel dirty for enjoying. Standout tracks include: “Mr. Tokyo”, “Signals”, and my favourite, “Gone In a Flash”.
7. Sounds of a Playground Fading by In Flames – In Flames started out as, what would generally be accepted as a traditional Swedish melodic death metal band. This is very heavy metal music accompanied by guttural growls and screams in place of actual singing. I typically don’t care for this type of rock, and that would explain why I don’t particularly care for In Flames’ earlier stuff. But, the band has evolved over the years, reaching its apex with 2008’s A Sense of Purpose, in which the music became more melodic, less death-y, and actual vocals were used in place of Cookie Monster growls (though still a bit scream-y). It’s also the album where many die-hard fans began crying foul, saying the band had sold out. Perhaps, but fuck those fans. They can go back to cranking all those other bands they love that no one has ever heard of. Sounds of a Playground Fading builds off of A Sense of Purpose’s foundation, though the evolution has slowed a bit. The tunes are catchy and you can actually sing along to them. Win/win! Standout tracks include: “Where the Dead Ships Dwell”, “Fear Is the Weakness”, and my favourite, “Deliver Us”.
8. Bel Air by Guano Apes – Nostalgia gets a bad rap sometimes, especially when music is concerned. It can be quite easy to become musically “stuck” by means of nostalgia (ie: still cranking nothing but stuff you loved in high school… 20+ years later). Every once in a while, however, nostalgia comes up with ways to sneak up on you. Enter Bel Air by Guano Apes, a mid-90’s sounding band from Germany and also… the mid-90’s. Bel Air is their first LP in about eight years, and is easily their strongest. Listening to it brought me back to the days when angst-ridden female grunge vocalists were a dime a dozen. Bands like Garbage, Artificial Joy Club, and Salt came instantly to mind. However, Guano Apes manage to mask that mid-90’s sound in timeless melodies and hooks that have the ability to make you forget about eras and simply enjoy the music. Standout tracks include: “Sunday Lover”, “The Time”, and my favourite, “Carol And Shine”.
9. Hats Off to the Bull by Chevelle – If you didn’t know any better, you might write Chevelle off as one of those nu-metal bands from the early 2000’s that all decided to come out at the same time… and nothing more. And you’d be a fool to do so. Chevelle is one of the only bands to come from that time who has actually gotten better with age. In fact, I have thoroughly enjoyed their last three albums more so than any of their others. To me, they are what Tool could have been if they had taken Undertow and made it more radio-friendly. Commercial? Maybe. But still really damn good. The funny thing about Hats Off to the Bull is that, prior to writing this, only one track stood out to me. But, one or two songs does not an album make, and it’s the album, as a whole, that stands out as one of the best of the year. My favourite track: “Face to the Floor”.
10. Framebreaker by Return To Mono – Like many genres, Trip Hop has evolved from its beginnings. Bands like Portishead and Morcheeba paved the way for their heirs like Phantogram and SPC ECO. If you like any of these bands, you will like Return to Mono. The songs are moody and dark, and swim in an ocean of electronic noise and ambience, as Tanya Kelleher’s jazzy, bluesy, torch singer vocals pierce the electronic film on a gentle, yet sharp edge of echo. Standout tracks include: “Song of the Beast”, “Seeker Circuit”, and my favourite, “Doomsday Device”.