Top Albums of 2011: Editor’s Picks

By on Tuesday, 20th December 2011 at 1:00 pm

As we get ready to bid adieu to another year of fantastic music, your faithful editor has made a list and checked it twice to choose what she considers the best of the year. Agree? Disagree? As always on here on TGTF, comments are welcome.

1. Noah and the Whale – ‘Last Night on Earth’ (Mercury) – With all the bad news about the economy in our faces each day and scandals rocking public institutions and public figures, we could really use something that can lift our cynical spirits. The third album from Noah and the Whale was unfairly maligned by critics bemoaning that they sound “too American” on this effort; what’s more important to me is the strength of the songwriting on this outing compared to their previous sombre material.

Not only is Charlie Fink happy, his writing is so grand it could finally bring Noah and the Whale into the big time. The most emotional moment is proffered in ‘Waiting for My Chance to Come’: “when you’re walking next to me / I can feel my body speak”. While the song title appears in the tune ‘L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N.’, the defining lyric of the album is in here as well: “what you don’t have now will come back again / you’ve got heart and you’ll go in your own way”. In March, I stated this “will be 2011?s most optimistic, inspiring, life-affirming album” and months later, I still feel strongly about this album. Read my review here.

2. Lykke Li – ‘Wounded Rhymes’ (LL) – If you were expecting more of the same from Lykke Li based on her debut ‘Youth Novels’ (1 part strange ‘folk’ music, 1 part infectious dance), you’re sorely mistaken. Instead though, the Swedish songstress pushed new boundaries with her new partner in crime, Peter Bjorn and John’s Bjorn Yttling, and showed her songwriting abilities go far beyond a forgettable pop song. Maturity suits her, and even if she herself doesn’t like her fans being fixated on her in rapt attention at her concerts instead of dancing like they just don’t care, there’s no denying that her heartbreak makes for good song. Read my review here.

3. Young Rebel Set – ‘Curse Our Love’ (EMI) – Paul Lester damned this band with faint praise in this New Band of the Day feature in 2009 and I hope he ate his words upon listening to the band’s debut album on EMI. Singalong choruses in rock have become somewhat of a cliché in these Coldplay days but I like what these guys from Stockton-on-Tees are doing: a little bit of folk on rock. Sounds like what Noah and the Whale used to do, doesn’t it? ‘Walk On’ and ‘Fall Hard’ are ready made festival winners, and ‘If I Was’ is probably the prettiest love song you haven’t heard yet. If only the Brits took to them as much as the Germans already have…

4. Patrick Wolf – ‘Lupercalia’ (Hideout) – Multi-instrumentalist Patrick Apps presented himself to the world in 2003 with ‘Lycanthropy’, filled with teenage angst. This was followed by ominous autumnal musings in 2005’s ‘Wind in the Wires’, freewheeling happiness in 2007’s ‘The Magic Position’, and “stick it to the man” ‘The Bachelor’ of 2009. This year’s album is a celebration, literally (Wolf drew from on an old Roman holiday designed to avert evil spirits and for purification for his thematic inspiration) and absent is the brooding, pensive Patrick, a mode he knows well. But who cares? The man is in love, the songwriting is top notch and this is an album you can listen to again and again. Read my review here.

5. The Whip – ‘Wired Together’ (Southern Fried) – As the year went on, I was getting really worried that there wouldn’t be a dance album in 2011 to truly stir my restless soul, to make me feel alive again. Trust Manchester to come through with a corker: the Whip’s ‘Wired Together’ ticked all the boxes. ‘Shake’ is an in your face, dirty dancing delight. It starts slow and cool before you are compelled to put your hands in the air and you start seeing the coloured lights. Read my review here.

Under the cut: albums that almost made the top 5…as well as some albums that disappointed.

Honourable mentions:

Airship – ‘Stuck in This Ocean’ (PIAS) – A lot of bands try putting tonnes of things together, hoping that quantity will prevail over quantity. In the case of Airship, they’ve done a lot of arrangement and production to make all these things work just right. Pop (‘Kids’), psych rock (‘Invertebrate’), rock (‘Vampires’): it’s all here.

Bombay Bicycle Club
– ‘A Different Kind of Fix’ (Island/review here) – Boy, was I glad that Jack Steadman and co. put away that those acoustic accoutrements and went back to the basics…

Chapel Club – ‘Palace’ (Polydor/review here) – Dark rock with often Bible-laced lyrics, Chapel Club hit the ground running in January. But their star seemed to stall when festival season came around; they’re the kind of band that shines in the intimacy of a club, not a festival stage. They released an EP, ‘Wintering’, at the same time as this album, so here’s to hoping they’ll be prolific in 2012.

Dutch Uncles – ‘Cadenza’ (Memphis Industries/review here) – Field Music’s brand of art rock may have been one of their inspirations, but math pop/rock is this Marple five-piece’s forte. Complex arrangements marry with Duncan Wallis’s thought-provoking lyrics to make this one of this year’s most intelligent and surprising debut albums.

Little Comets – ‘In Search of Elusive Little Comets’ (Dirty Hit/review here) – There’s just something about these guys from Newcastle: wcrappy and unyielding, they survived being dropped by a major (Columbia) before settling down with indie Dirty Hit. Which was good news, because their debut album is an admirable attempt at bottling their frenetic energy. Even though during the year they shed a band member and are now a trio, they show no signs of slowing down, with a new EP out in December, ‘Worry’ (Video of the Moment here).

The Wombats – ‘This Modern Glitch’ (Warner Brothers/review here) – Yes, I’ve chosen the Wombats. Are you shocked? Well, listen to this. Beyond the lustre of extremely well made pop, Matthew Murphy has woven in the love, loss and desperation themes of their first album into the second one. But this time it’s personal: Murphy’s own battle with depression and subsequent treatment with antidepressants translated into loaded emotional messages throughout the album that probably isn’t ringing true with the average listener, but give this one a try. You might just want to hug it.


The Answering Machine – ‘Lifeline’ (Heist or Hit/review here) – Let’s just say that I really hope my crushing assessment of the Manchester band’s latest didn’t encourage their breakup…

Cut Copy – ‘Zonoscope’ (Modular) – A lukewarm album from a band that I know can do better. Is there really a point to an album closing track that lasts over 15 minutes? Unfortunately, this album overstays its welcome.

Friendly Fires – ‘Pala’ (XL Recordings/review here) – The main problem with me not liking the sophomore album from my favourite band of 2009: it was too much of a departure from ‘Friendly Fires’. Then again, I’ve been so in love with their first album, I don’t think any mortal album stood a chance. Thankfully, they’re still a force to be reckoned with live.

Slow Club – ‘Paradise’ (Moshi Moshi) – Apparently if you’re American and you’re an ‘indie music fan’, you’re supposed to like Slow Club. I gave this album a try and I still don’t get why people are so hot and bothered over them. Yes, I have a pulse. It’s just this album doesn’t do a thing for me.

White Lies – ‘Ritual’ (Fiction/review here) – Make no mistake, there are some great songs on White Lies’ second album (‘Holy Ghost’, ‘Peace and Quiet’) but the album never lived up to the promise of the first single ‘Bigger Than Us’.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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