The Tab’s music writers take a look back at their favourite albums of 2011.
It’s been a busy year for music, in the charts and outside them. Tab Music get together to walk you back through the five best albums of 2011.
Bon Iver – Bon Iver
For Bon Iver, following up their debut must have been difficult. A cult album that clearly stemmed from isolation and heart-break, For Emma was all about the sheer power of emotion. However, Bon Iver shows a distinct musical shift, the raw simplicity of their debut replaced by a grand and ambitious sprawl of jazz, epic rock and even ‘80s power ballads. This diversity is what makes the album so great; the unadulterated talent and beauty is still there, but musically the album is on another level.
Rustie – Glass Swords
Glaswegian Russell Whyte has crafted a musical masterpiece of sweeping arpeggios, bright synth soundscapes and catchy bass lines, all glued together by his own signature drum hooks. The production is simply divine; sonically the album is without fault. But the main strength of Glass Swords is originality: drawing on influences as far apart as hip-hop, trance and dubstep, the album has an overbearing sense of freshness. It has the balance right between smooth, relaxing electro tracks and hands-in-the-air dance floor moments that would tear apart any club.
In a pretty poor year for music, this was the best electronic album; innovative, artistic, yet still powerful enough to please dance music fans. If he can keep his productions at this level I’m sure we will be hearing a lot from him in 2012.
Yuck – Yuck
Right from the off, Yuck were saddled with comparisons and dismissed by some camps for hiding behind a banner of ’90s revivalism. With no plan to put out some grand statement, the young band simply went ahead and assembled what stands as the year’s best collection of songs. Every track earns its place – from the buzzsaw guitars of Holing Out and Operation, to more stripped-down affairs like Suicide Policeman. We also have the brilliant single Get Away, which should have been number one in some parallel musical universe. Seriously, they’re still throwing away songs as b-sides that lesser bands would kill to have written. Imagine what they could do with their next effort.
The Horrors – Skying
When The Horrors first emerged from their hairspray fog back in the mid ‘00s, few could have predicted that they would become one of the most forward- thinking alternative acts of 2011. They unexpectedly slunk from genre to genre, abandoning frenetic garage howling for the vast expanse of krautrock, before settling this year on psychedelic shoegaze for their third album. By the time they’re trundling out subwoofers and baggy shorts for an ill-advised dubstep-meets-nu-metal inspired future project, we may have tired of their chameleon attitude to musical influences. Right now though, their experimentation is a novel change in the current musical climate. And more importantly, the resulting songs are incredible. From the confident bass and synth lines of ‘Still Life’ to Faris Badwan’s echoing vocals in pensive finale ‘Oceans Burning’, The Horrors have created a perfectly hypnotic album.
Jay-Z & Kanye West – Watch The Throne
Kanye has come a long way in the last 11 years. In 2000, he was starting out as a fresh-faced producer. His big break came producing a track called This Can’t Be Life for – you guessed it – Jay-Z.
Fast forward to 2011 and West is one of the biggest rappers in the world, doing exactly what stupidly-successful rappers do best: starting a clothing line, getting diamond teeth, climbing through the floor of chat shows and making a film about having sex with an angel.
Watch The Throne is an apt title then. Jay-Z’s dominance of the rap scene is being challenged by West the young pretender. But this competition creates a classic album; Jay-Z rises to Kanye’s challenge on tracks like Who Gonna Stop Me and Ni**as In Paris, dominating the verses, while Kanye’s signature soul-tinged production shines as fresh as ever on Otis, Murder To Excellence and Gotta Have It.
It’s by no means a perfect album; recorded over a year across the globe, at times it feels sloppy. But the sheer energy both artists bring to each track means you can’t help but be swept along by the album’s momentum. The throne is still in contention, but this album sets it out of the reach of all but Kanye and Jay-Z.