2011 was a year where some bands reinvented their sound, while others were past their 5th album and just starting to find commercial success, and some artists were kicking off their musical careers with a bang. These albums are in no particular order and are just a few of the great albums from 2011.
Destroyer – Kaputt
The 9th LP from Destroyer, Kaputt was released on January 25th, 2011 by Merge and Dead Oceans Records. The group fell victim to an early album leak nearing the end of 2010, but that didn’t slow down its success. Their laid back approach to a disco-influenced sound impressed both critics and fans, helping the LP become shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize. Both Pitchfork and El Pais named it the second best record of 2011.
Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver
The sophomore release from the soft spoken woodsmen of Bon Iver came to us on June 17, 2011. The group may be from Wisconsin but they are beloved in Norway and Denmark, debuting at #1 on both of their album charts. This record was an ambitious departure from what we heard on their debut release. Still focused and built around band leader Justin Vernon, many other people were brought in to take the record in a different directions. The LP has bold bass saxophone from Colin Stetson and the twangy pedal steel of Greg Leisz and of course the haunting falsetto from Justin Vernon. Critics took note of the new Bon Iver sound and honoured them with the Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album and Best New Artist.
Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
Helplessness Blues, the follow-up to the Fleet Foxes’ critically acclaimed debut record, was released on May 3, 2011. The group picked up right where they left off, impressing critics once again. They rented out a house in Seattle to begin recording in 2009, but the sessions ended up being discarded and the band lost around $60,000. Produced again by the band themselves and prolific producer Phil Ek, they set out to create “a less poppy, less upbeat and more groove-based” album. Helplessness Blues was recorded as quick as possible to give the LP a raw sound, this new style gained Fleet Foxes a Grammy nomination for Best Folk Album.
The Black Keys – El Camino
We’re now onto the 7th album from Akron, Ohio’s The Black Keys, El Camino. Danger Mouse not only produced the record, but contributed to the writing process of each of the 11 tracks. It was record in Nashville, Tennessee at Easy Eye Sound Studio which Dan Auerbach had opened in 2010. The album is a little more clean cut than its predecessor, Brothers. The Black Keys drew inspiration from many different acts for this record including The Clash, Sweet, The Cars, and more. Debuting at #2 on the Billboard Top 200, the LP sold over 206,000 copies in the first week. The three singles “Lonely Boy”, “Gold on the Ceiling” and “Little Black Submarines” garnered the band a generous amount of radio play and helped the record win Best Rock Album at the Grammys.
James Blake – James Blake
After releasing three EPs the year prior, the world got their first James Blake full length on February 4, 2011. He continued to expanded upon his electronic R&B sounds, becoming more confident in his own voice. Most of the vocals on this release were done by Blake himself; a fairly substantial change from his previous, more sample-heavy work. It was a change that paid off, with Pitchfork comparing his vocals with the likes of Thom Yorke, Justin Vernon and Dan Bejar.
M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
M83 released their 6th studio record, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, on October 18th, 2011. Many of their previous 5 records had positive reviews, but they had never really earned much commercial success – until now. On this LP they combined the synth-pop sounds from Saturdays = Youth and the ambient texture from Before the Dawn Heals Us and found a beautiful middle ground. They had never used acoustic guitar or saxophone before this record, with the latter paying off as a crucial part on their heavily radio-played single, “Midnight City”. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming gained the duo their highest chart debut to date and got them a Grammy nomination for Best Alternative Music Album.
Arctic Monkeys – Suck It and See
A big stylistic change from their previous up-tempo post-punk records, Arctic Monkeys released Suck It and See on June 6, 2011. The band promised a more vintage sound, and that is what we received – a record that didn’t rely on heavy production as much as Humbug. Going into the studio much more rehearsed this time around, the band was able to record live from the floor. The dreamy low tones of Alex Turner’s vocals add an element to this record that was previously unheard. Slow ballads and heavy riff laden rock songs fill the LP and helped it sell 154,000 copies worldwide.
The Antlers – Burst Apart
The Antlers released their 4th studio record, Burst Apart, on May 10, 2011. The record was looked at as a successful move forward from their previous conceptual release, Hospice. Peter Silberman’s falsetto shines over the haunting, ambient leads found through most of the album. Critics were very pleased with the record as publications described it as “exclusively incredible” and “downright astonishing.”
St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
St. Vincent released Strange Mercy to critical acclaim on September 12, 2011. The album was written in Seattle while Annie Clark spent time in isolation there. She took herself away from others as a “loneliness experiment” and as kind of a “cleanse”. She wanted to distance herself from the excessive technology and information overload she was experiencing while living in New York. St. Vincent gets more personal on this record, exploring her thoughts on human relationships and the depression she had suffered. Her experimental art-pop sound has many different elements coming together; layers of keyboards, synths, guitars, drums, and of course the angelic voice of Annie herself. Pitchfork and Paste Magazine both named it the 11th Best Record of the Year.
Florence and the Machine – Ceremonials
Florence and the Machine released their sophomore record Ceremonials on October 28, 2011. The band began working on the album in 2010 and finished it in the first half of 2011. Often the instrumentation of a group can be lost behind such a prominent and powerful voice, but this record finds a wonderful balance. The soulful voice that singer Florence Welch can belt out matched with pounding drums and big bass combine for a very large sounding album. The album was nominated for two Brit Awards, two Grammys and was named the second Best Record of the Year by Time Magazine.
tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l
tUnE-yArDs released their 2nd full length record w h o k i l l on April 19th, 2011. It’s hard to find a genre that was not tapped into on this album. There’re hints of rock, R&B, funk, jazz, and a lot more. Singer Merrill Garbus relies heavily on looped sounds, lots of ukulele, vocals, and drums that she creates herself. The LP is very much focused on the theme of violence; exploring neighbourhood violence, police brutality, and more figurative forms of violence. The album’s name is stylized as you see it because it’s “what we get from texting and e-mailing all the time, when nothing is ever exactly right,” says Garbus. w h o k i l l was one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the year and Pitchfork named it the 7th best of 2011.
Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost
Father, Son, Holy Ghost was the second and final album to come from Californian rockers, Girls. This record went in a much different direction from their previous release with elaborate production, gospel choirs, and a big variety of instrumentation. Again, unlike their previous LP, the band decided to relinquish some of the production duties to Doug Boehm. The album peaked at #37 on the Billboard 200 and was named the best album of 2011 by Stereogum.
Fucked Up – David Comes to Life
Fucked Up’s first charting record in the U.S., David Comes to Life, made it to #83 on the Billboard 200. Fucked Up wanted to change the way people looked at rock operas from indulgent, contrasting that with the rawness of hardcore punk. Damien Abraham called the lyrics on this record the most personal yet saying, “we could hide behind characters and pretend that we’re talking about David and Veronica when really we’re talking about me breaking up with my girlfriend or something.” The album’s story impressed critics as that amount of maturity in a hardcore punk record is hard to find. Spin Magazine named it the best record of 2011.