I’m going to start this right off with an unpopular opinion. I do not think that Bon Iver, Bon Iver is the best album of 2011. As a matter of fact, I liked For Emma, Forever Ago more, even if I do think Justin Vernon is one of the most talented people making music right now and his sophomore effort was certainly one of the best of year, it was not the best. There. I said it. I feel like a weight has been lifted.
Oh yeah, my pick also isn’t Adele’s 21. Though I do love 21 more than I loved 19, so, yeah, kudos to Adele. And there is no Amy Winehouse or Michael Jackson on my list, as much as their music will be missed, I never really felt the whole ‘posthumous release’ thing.
No, I won’t keep you in suspense. My favorite album, hands down without flinching, of 2011 is Ceremonials by Florence + The Machine. I went into listening without any real expectations, to be honest. I hadn’t liked Lungs that much, except the reaching-for-operatic “Cosmic Love”. I figured Florence Welch was one of those hipster indie music queens (ala Zooey Deschanel, Imogen Heap, and Feist) that I just want nothing to do with. The world has enough whimsy without them forcing it upon us, not to mention that as a Manic gal, I really can’t stand anything to with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl syndrome that has infected our society. But I digress, I didn’t have great hopes, right?
We get it. And then I heard the opening chords of “Only If for a Night”- they are trickling, as if water over rocks, and Welch’s voice is suddenly powerful over them but cracking as if getting the words out really is as painful as the stories they tell.
My own secret ceremonials before the service began,
In the graveyard, doing handstands.
I wish I had the space and time to go over what I love about every song. But let me be clear, there is not a moment of this album that I don’t completely love. It is lush, layered, intimate while still being huge, it’s aspirational. This isn’t pop. It’s bigger than pop, with bigger voices and bigger hopes. It’s not folk or rock, either, it’s somewhere between all three with harp and mandolin thrown in, all the while Florence Welch singing dreamily, harshly, dangerously, and yes, whimsically, catching your ear and making you really think about all that music can be and do, rather than just what it is.
Limbo’s favorite albums of 2011 (in no particular order) | Bonus Spotify Playlist!
- The King Is Dead | The Decemberists — One thing I’ve always had trouble explaining is my love for bluegrass, folk, southern rock, and all related genres. I really love how The Decemberists consistently mix those sounds while throwing in brilliant lyrics, detailed stories, a great style, and pop melodies just for the hell of it. The King is Dead is possibly my favorite album of theirs so far, being (in my mind) the best example of this. Favorite Track | Calamity Song
- 21 | Adele — Clearly, everything Adele touches turns to gold. I had the guts once to try “Rolling in the Deep” at karaoke. Needless to say, I’ve left being Adele to the lady herself, because “Someone Like You” came out and knocked the wind out of me the first time I heard it. Is there a better break up song (album?) out there? I really don’t think so. Favorite Tracks | Someone Like You | One & Only
- Nighty Night | 8in8 (Amanda Palmer, Neil Gaiman, Ben Folds) — Three of the best artists of their age locking themselves in a studio for 12 hours and writing, performing, and producing 6 tracks for an LP? Need I say more? Favorite Track | Nikola Tesla
- Last Night on Earth | Noah and the Whale — The lead singer of Noah and the Whale sounds like a friend of mine, so I’ve been a sucker for them since I first heard The First Days of Spring in 2009, I also love Laura Marling and her early collaborations with the band have been among my favorite of theirs. Last Night on Earth, however, had me from the first. “LIFEGOESON” was a perfect opening single and opening the album with “Life is Life” just felt right, I don’t think these guys can do any wrong. Favorite Track | Life is Life
- FAME | Chris Brown — I disagree generally with Chris Brown as a person, I have trouble endorsing anything he does because it feels smarmy to endorse him… That said, it’s really hard to deny how good he is at music. How everything he does is just awesome on the dance floor. FAME is no exception and I really believe it’s my favorite pop/top 40/club album to come out this year, as much as it kind of pains me to admit it. Favorite Track | Yeah 3x
- Femme Fatale | Britney Spears (Dr. Luke) — Don’t burn me at the stake. This album is on this list for one reason. Dr. Luke. He’s a ridiculous producer, with his fingers in everything in the industry right now and I love his style. His choppy use of dubstep influences, tribal bass, old school disco, and good old fashioned dance beats just kills me. Femme Fatale is my favorite work of his yet, especially the killer remix starring Kesha & Nicki Minaj (two of my favorite acts of 2010). Favorite Track | Till the World Ends (Femme Fatale Remix)
- Yearbook: Collection (2010-2011) | Sleeping At Last — I cannot believe I’ve only just discovered this band, their slightly emo, beautifully melodic pop is just my style nearly every day. They’re also pretty brilliant, is Yearbook is any indication. Starting in October of 2010, Sleeping at Last released a three song LP every month for the next year. In November of 2011 they collected these LPs into one master album known as Collection. Listening to this album, in order absolutely, is like listening to an entire year – instrumentals evoke the changing of the seasons, and the tracks with lyrics tell the story of all that goes on in 12 months. It feels like an accomplishment to have listened to it all, and it feels somehow fulfilling. Favorite Tracks | Dear True Love | Atlantic,
- Codes and Keys | Death Cab for Cutie — The original album and it’s little brother (the Keys and Codes Remix EP) are both seamless collections. Has it really been since 2008 since Narrow Stairs? The time apart was hard, but the new album certainly paid off – Rolling Stone described it as “the sound of a sad-sack acquiescing that life might be pretty awesome after all” and I happen to love that. We’ve all grown up, grown out of emo even if we’re not shiny, happy people, we’re adults now. Not only on the original but on the remix album as well – Death Cab clearly embraces this and we are all luckier for it. Favorite Tracks | Home is a Fire | Stay Young, Go Dancing
- Smash | Martin Solveig — in 2010, you couldn’t turn on an electronica station without almost immediately hearing “Hello” by Solveig & Dragonette, which at the time was annoying as fuck. Since the crazy has calmed down, and Solveig has released the full album that goes along with that song, I’ve come to love it. I love how the complex rhythms seem simple, the lilting timbre of Dragonette’s soprano, and how the two come together in such a fun way. Pure electronica may not be my favorite EDM genre, but Solveig does it so well you can’t help but tap your toes and grin. Favorite Track | Hello
- Bon Iver, Bon Iver | Bon Iver — I really do believe Bon Iver can do no harm. I spent most of 2009 falling asleep on my bedroom floor (because I obviously didn’t own a real bed, who does at 25?) to For Emma, Forever Ago, and while Bon Iver, Bon Iver is a different sound, it’s not worse. I find this style of his almost romantic – it’s not about heart break anymore, but it’s got the movement of a romance, the tone of love, I find it sweeping. Favorite Track | Wash.
- Ceremonials | Florence + The Machine — I cannot say enough about this album. Favorite Tracks | Never Let Me Go | No Light, No Light | Only if for a Night | Heartlines
- We Can Make the World Stop | Glitch Mob — What’s the perfect birthday party for a restless Tina? Why, tickets to see dubstep superstars The Glitch Mod the night of, at a down and dirty club, with friends new and old, of course. Just after the summer release of We Can Make the World Stop, the show was heart-stoppingly fantastic and at the end of the night, edIT himself wished me a happy birthday with a sweat soaked hug and a photo. Every track is perfection
- Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn | Various Artists — Say what you will about the books, the movies, the stars, and the author – the soundtracks to the Twilight movies have been pretty fucking awesome. From the first keys of Muse in the first, to Lykke Li’s haunting “Possibility” in New Moon, these collections have never disappointed. Breaking Dawn‘s Soundtrack continued the trend with awesome indie finds, pop icons, and a mix of sadness, romance, soul, and attitude. Favorite Tracks | It Will Rain, Bruno Mars | Turning Page, Sleeping at Last | A Thousand Years, Christina Perri | Sister Rosetta, The Noisettes