2011 releases

Burgo’s Top 10 Albums of 2011

You know, I’m just going to jump straight into it this year. The usual caveat emptors – as always, with these lists – exist, and I’m trusting you lot to be smart enough to know that by now. So, without further ado, here we go…

10. REM – Collapse Into Now

Although “Collapse Into Now” seemed to fly largely under the “hype radar”, it’s a completely worthy final album for a band of REM’s stature. Tunes like “Uberlin” and “Oh My Heart” stand up as some of the best in their catalogue, and reminded you of why REM matter so damn much. A band that absolutely poleaxe you with emotion, I’ll always bear fond memories of REM. And this was a great way to go out.

Standout track: Uberlin

9. Gotye – Making Mirrors

There’s this strange dichotomy going on in this record. Gotye manages to keep the album slightly off-kilter – ever so slightly “weird”, for lack of a better word – but at the same time, it remains an instantly accessible album too. I have no idea how Wally De Backer manages to walk that tightrope so skilfully, but he pulls it off with aplomb – as evidenced by the fact that he absolutely owned the ARIAs this year.  Although this release was sold largely on the strength of singles “Someone I Used to Know” and “Eyes Wide Open”, it really is an album that you need to listen to in its entirety to understand De Backer’s talent.

Standout track: Eyes Wide Open

8. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Here We Rest

Dudes, it’s country and I dig it. Not a complicated record by any means, but no less a profound one. Jason Isbell seems to have hit back into his stride here, and following some forgettable tracks in his past solo efforts, “Here We Rest” hints that there’s still some greatness in the ex-Drive By Trucker yet. There’s still the occasional misstep in this album, but the highs – such as Alabama Pines and Codeine – make you forget all about that. Hell, this is the most honest record on this list. And I respect that.

Standout track: Alabama Pines

7. Ryan Adams – Fire & Ashes

A great album, but I can’t help feeling that this was Ryan and my break up record. It’s beautiful, polished, and undeniably Ryan… but just as I’m not the same person I was when I first heard Whiskeytown, Ryan’s grown and changed too. And while I find that a super-happy thing, I found listening to this album strangely tinged with this unshakeable feeling of sadness. A feeling like this is where DRA and I part ways. On good terms, don’t get me wrong… but parting ways, all the same.
Doesn’t change the fact that it’s a cracker album though.

Standout track: Kindness

6. Feist – Metals

So I doubt anything from Metals will be picked up for an iPod commercial, like “1234” was back in 2007. This is a far darker release, but it still allows Feist to intelligently play in that indie/mainstream stream that she so confidently straddles. It’s quite incredible how she’s managed to put together a release that will please both record execs and those who were hoping she wouldn’t shun her roots after the breakout hit of “1234”; not many artists could pull it off in such a stylish manner. But, you know the best part? I don’t think Feist gives a crap about any of that. I think she’s just doing what she’s always done… making music that matters to her. We need more like Leslie out there.

Standout track: Graveyard

5. The Antlers – Burst Apart

You know, I never quite understood the buzz about The Antlers’ Hospice, but man… did they turn me around with Burst Apart. There’s something absolutely haunting about this album. That floating, fragile voice from Peter Silberman filled with emotion, those ethereal chords, that reverence… the first time I heard this record, it was like the first time Radiohead woke me up. “Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out” absolutely blew me away when I first heard it, and the album closer on this album, “Putting the Dog To Sleep”, is some of The Antlers’ best lyrical work to date; and, not for nothing,  is absolutely heartbreaking.

Standout track: Putting the Dog to Sleep.


4. Portugal. The Man – In the Mountain In the Cloud

There’s just so much going on here. Portugal. The Man somehow manage to sit in a life raft, floating on top of layer upon sonic layer, and pull it all together with killer licks and melody into a hook-filled album; all the while making it look easy. While John Gourley’s vocals aren’t for everybody, I can almost guarantee you’ll find yourself humming along to 90% of these tunes. With choruses that were made for sing-a-longs, I think this is my favourite release of theirs since I first heard “Church Mouth” back in 2007. The only reason this isn’t higher in this list is that the album feels frustratingly unfinished; but it hints at greatness.

Standout track: Sleep Forever

3. Charles Bradley – No Time for Dreaming

That voice! That voice. You listen to Charles Bradley sing, and from the first turn of phrase you can tell dude has paid his dues. After decades of chasing his dream, Charles Bradley has finally released his debut record with Daptone Records at 62 years of age, and has it ever been worth the wait. Backed by the incomparable Menahan Street Band, this is a soul album as it should be: a release filled with authenticity. Unlike some of his younger contemporaries, Bradley was actually around to see folks like Otis Redding and James Browne perform in their prime, live. So when he sings, you’re listening to the days when funk and soul meant something. They say you can’t sing the blues until you’ve lived a full life… well, ladies and gentlemen, Charles Bradley has 6 decades worth of emotions to pour into his songs. And he’s not going to waste a second.

Standout track: Why is it so hard?

2. The Roots – Undun

From what I can tell, I’m kind of in the minority with my admiration for that album which has me puzzled. A concept album that tells – in reverse – the tale of Redford Stephens’ rise and death in just 40 minutes, it’s a fleeting piece of brilliance from The Roots. Listening to this album is a completely different experience; and yes, I mean experience in the purest sense of the word. With The Roots’ skill with narrative, it’s near impossible to listen to this album without having a full-on movie playing in your head. And Black Thought is so clinical, so aggressive on this album it’s friggin’ scary.
Depressing, oppressive, slightly off… and brilliant.

Standout track: Make My

1. Bon Iver – Bon Iver

You know, when I first heard Bon Iver‘s sophomore album, my initial reaction was: whooo boy, this is going to piss a lot of people off. The album was undeniably brilliant, but such a departure from For Emma, Forever Ago that I thought fans may have found it hard to adjust to. Sometimes I underestimate people, and it was a pleasant surprise to see this album praised by… well, pretty much everyone.
When I first wrote about this album, I said “This is one of those albums that takes a few spins before it’s the memory of your favourite girlfriend’s scent. That comfortable, warm smell of strawberry vanilla.”. And I still stand by that. It’s timeless.
Unapologetically leaving the “cabin in the woods” mythos behind them, Bon Iver is the most confident and complete sophomore release I have ever heard. I can’t wait to see where Justin and Co. go next.

Standout track: Towers


And there you have it, folks… agree or disagree, those were some of my favourite albums for 2011. For those of you who have Spotify, I have all the above albums (plus one or two that didn’t quite make it onto the list, but who were in the running) available for listening here. Oh… and Merry Christmas, everyone!

2010 releases

12 Top Albums of 2010

This year, I was really hoping to just skip the pontificating and disclaimer-filled opening paragraph that always seems to accompany “Best Of” year-end lists, and dive right into it. Alas, it was not to be.

Because, to be honest, I found 2010 strange; about 90% of my favourite music bloggers called it the best year for music of the 2000s… but I just didn’t see it. There are plenty of bands that seemed to kill it in the music blogosphere that just didn’t tickle my fancy at all. Surfer Blood (seriously guys, can someone explain their appeal to me?), Broken Bells (yes, I get it, it’s the dude from The Shins and Danger Mouse… doesn’t mean I’m automatically going to dig it though), Warpaint (meh) and Sleigh Bells that appear on pretty much every other “Best Of” list that you’ll read this year, that don’t get a look in here.

Here’s the thing: 2010 had its shining moments in terms of singles and EPs (please, please check out Matthew and the Atlas if you haven’t yet), but the really good albums were few and far between.

That said, here’s a few of them.

Tokyo Police Club Champ12. Tokyo Police Club – Champ
It’s been near on three years since I first wrote about Tokyo Police Club on this blog, so it’s nice to see the boys come of age with their album, “Champ”. While it doesn’t quite have the same frenetic high points of Elephant Shell, “Champ” is a more mature, comfortable release then their previous two. This song was a perfect example of that; a tune that creeps insidiously into your head and makes itself at home, rather than jumping up and down demanding your attention.
Listen: Tokyo Police Club – Not Sick
+ Buy from Amazon

Titus Andronicus - The Monitor11. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor
You either love “The Monitor”, or you hate it… I don’t think there’s any middle ground on this one. Because either you hear these songs as raw and cathartic, or you hear them as vulgar noise. But, as hard as it is to sometimes stick with this one, I’m glad that I did. Sounding like some sort of bastard love-child of the Hold Steady and Conor Oberst, this album pulls absolutely no punches… and could be one of the great punk albums of the last few years.
Here’s something for you to consider: if you’re a Hellblazer fan, this is exactly the type of album I’ve always imagined John listening to.
Listen: Titus Andronics – Richard II
+ Buy from Amazon

the tallest man on earth - the wild hunt10. The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt
Back when I first wrote about Kristian Mattson in 2008, I said of his first album that “the production on “Shallow Graves” is exactly that sound that I love… scratchy and warm. It honestly feels as if Matsson is performing these songs live in your kitchen…”. This album loses that intimacy slightly, but is still an absolute cracker. As always, the combination of voice and guitar (interchangeably taking lead) is all Mattson needs to pull you in. I’d urge you to sit down somewhere outside and watch the leaves blow in the wind while listening to this album through top-notch headphones. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something here that reconnects you with the simple things in life.
Listen: The Tallest Man on Earth – The King of Spain
+ Buy from Amazon

yeasayer - odd blood9. Yeasayer – Odd Blood
My first reaction, back when I first reviewed Yeasayer, was that it was simply “too much”. I’m not sure whether I’ve changed or they’ve changed, or whether we both have, but this year’s release, “Odd Blood”, was – as Goldilocks said – “just right”. “Odd Blood” suffered a fair amount of backlash from music bloggers who – I think – were simply hoping for another “All Hours Cymbals”. Which is a shame, as I think it’s a cracker. Give it a go… I promise, synths will have never sounded as good.
Listen: Yeasayer – O.N.E
+ Buy from Amazon

joe pug - messenger8. Joe Pug – Messenger
You know, there’s nothing that I can say about Joe Pug that I haven’t said before, so I won’t bore you too much with this review (I’ll just let you click through those links and read them at your own leisure). Suffice to say, Joe is still one of my favourite artists of this decade, and seeing him live earlier this year only cemented that standing. This album, “Messenger” finds Joe backed by a full band, which is a radical departure from his debut EP… but it works.
Listen: Joe Pug – Messenger
+ Buy from Amazon

cee-lo-green-the-lady-killer7. Cee Lo Green – The Lady Killer
What can I say? I just love this dude’s eccentricity. Apart from the lead single, “Fuck You”, and an absolutely gorgeous cover of the Band of Horses’ “No one’s Gonna Love You”, I’m not sure that this album will would rate as highly with too many casual listeners. But for someone who has, since the Goodie Mob days, watched with absolute fascination as Cee Lo constantly reinvents himself, it’s an intriguing release; and one that confirms, yet again, that Cee Lo is in a class of his own.
Listen: Cee Lo Green – No One’s Gonna Love You
+ Buy from Amazon

the black keys - brothers6. The Black Keys – Brothers
Probably my favourite Black Keys album. Stripped down to the bare minimum, the fuzzy riffs and Dan Auerbach’s oh-so-melting falsetto combine to an absolutely bliss-filled record. Dudes had fun making this, you can just tell… and that always leads to the best tunes.
The perfect album to spin on a seedy morning after, when the sun’s still a little bright to look at, but you’re glad to know it’s there, nonetheless.
Listen: The Black Keys – Everlasting Light
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mavis staples - you are not alone5. Mavis Staples – You Are Not Alone
Mavis Staples may be in her 70s, but I defy you to listen to that voice without falling in love with her… even just a little. This record, lovingly produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, is one I listened to a lot these last few months, when I needed a bit of cheering up. If nothing else, Mavis Staples demonstrates how the best of us endure. And damned if I’m not going to do the same thing.
Standouts include the Tweedy-penned title track, Randy Newman’s “Losing You”, and the below cover of Rev. Gary Davis’s “I Belong to the Band”.
Listen: Mavis Staples – I Belong to the Band
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frightened rabbit The Winter of Mixed Drinks4. Frightened Rabbit – The Winter of Mixed Drinks
Ok, let’s be upfront here… this is no “Midnight Organ Fight”. I’ll freely agree that Frightened Rabbit’s 2010 release is not quite there. First off, the band moved ever so slightly further away from their folkier tunes that made me fall in love with them, to a more full-bodied, grandiose sound. Part of that probably has to do with the fact that Midnight… was spurred on by a breakup, while “The Winter of Mixed Drinks” seems to be an album of acceptance. But all of the aforementioned points still couldn’t stop this album getting a spot in this list. Because it’s a cracker.
Listen: Frightened Rabbit – Not Miserable
+ Buy from Amazon

arcade fire the suburbs3. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
A really bleak, unsettling album… filled with bloody singalongs. Trust Arcade Fire to pull that one off. The more spins I gave this album, the more I liked it. Initial listens gave me a “eh, this is not bad” reaction, whereas I was hoping for a Furneralesque “Holy shit” reaction. But with each listen, I realised that this album was perhaps the album that speaks most to 2010… the desperation ever-present in the most mundane setting really resonated, and I have a feeling this album will continue to grow on me as my sense of nostalgia does.
Listen: Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
+ Buy from Amazon

the national high violet2. The National – High Violet
With two albums in my Best albums of the decade post, it shouldn’t be any surprise that The National cracked into this list.
Let’s be clear though, “High Violet” is a completely different beast to both Boxer and Alligator, but so it should be. Most of the guys are in their late thirties now, and that world weary optimism seems all the more authentic and accepting these days… and I feel like I’m growing up with them.
Listen: The National – Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks
+ Buy from Amazon

the roots - how i got over1. The Roots – How I Got Over
Hells yeah. Such a great, great record. Jimmy Fallon’s house band prove that, if anything, the constant collaborations have revved their recording life back into high gear. This album just sounds… warm. It recalls the old-school hip hop feeling I got when Mos Def laid down some awesomeness in Brown Sugar, or De La Soul circa late-90s. And I’ve missed that for so, so long in the hip hop world.
With enough collaborations to keep the indie kids happy (Monsters of Folk, Joanna Newsom to name a few), I really think this album will stand the test of time.
And Black Thought still absolutely kills.
Listen: The Roots – How I Got Over
+ Buy from Amazon