Musical highlights from debut gems to returning world conquerors
Arctic Monkeys Suck It and See We initially dismissed them as ‘a student band’, but had to make a swift volte-face, and our love continues to deepen. If AM’s fourth proves anything – aside from the artful complexity of their arrangements, their mastery of the killer hook and the warmth of Alex Turner’s throatily maturing croon, that is – it’s that no other UK pop/rock band has its finger so confidently and creatively on the pulse of modern city life.
Beastie Boys Hot Sauce Committee Part Two Seven years since their last album and the Beasties have all turned 40, but remain as loveably goofy as ever. Originally intended to be the second of a double-header, the standalone Part Two (apparently) contains all the songs lined up for Part One. Right… Subjects include funky donkeys and eating chocolate fondue in the bath. As Mike D says, ‘The proof’s in the pudding, and the pudding’s in my pants.’
Björk Biophilia After starting life as a project for National Geographic, Björk’s eighth is an album of emotional and scientific marvel, wowing in the same way that a chemistry experiment can seem like a magic trick. These 10 tracks of haute soul are largely played on clever, invented instruments such as a Tesla-coil keyboard. It’s nerdy, sure, but rooted to the heart by Björk, whose voice remains a force of nature.
Eddie Vedder Ukulele Songs The first solo album proper by Pearl Jam frontman Vedder is an unassuming gem. Made up of micro-song sketches tossed out on a ukulele 10 years earlier, the understated LP is performed almost exclusively on the Hawaiian joke-instrument, creating a surprisingly delicate, organic and ethereal platform for Vedder’s trademark howls of loneliness.
Fleet Foxes Helplessness Blues Seattle’s Fleet Foxes described their 2008 debut as ‘baroque pop’, which is no less accurate of the follow-up, but now their complex-yet-airy arrangements, lush reverb and gorgeous, glazed harmonies have been nudged back toward their roots in hillbilly gospel, round singing, protest song and ’60s psych folk. This is personal, secular music that assumes a near-spiritual depth.
Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie XX We’re New Here Before he was a Mercury Prize winner as part of The XX, Jamie Smith’s parents used to play socio-political godfather of rap Gil Scott-Heron during dinner. Now, years later, the softly-spoken production whizz-kid has remixed his hero’s latest album, I’m New Here. Jamie cherry-picks and reimagines his favourites while pillaging Scott-Heron’s unreleased ’70s recordings. A patchwork of sounds skilfully sewn and deftly bridging between the two artists.
PJ Harvey Let England Shake For the first time in her 20-year career, the mysteriously compelling, provocative and laudably different singer-songwriter Harvey has turned her attention to her homeland’s haunted past, uncertain future and its changing identity. Winning her an unprecedented second Mercury Music Prize award, Let England Shake is an intensely personal and impressionistic protest record, featuring Harvey’s nuanced control of dark and light, sharp and suffused, spirited and reflective.
Ryan Adams Ashes & Fire Clean and sober and happily married, prolific songwriter Adams’s 11th LP proper sees him uniting with producer Glyn Johns. Having broken up his delightful country-rock band The Cardinals, this is a stripped-back acoustic set recalling the haunting sparse arrangement of career-best, debut Heartbreaker. Adams’ ability to produce exceptional records marks him out as among the best songwriters of our time.
SBTRKT SBTRKT After two years of tantalising 12-inch singles, plus remixes for everyone from Tinie Tempah and These New Puritans to Basement Jaxx, Aaron Jerome dropped one of the freshest debut albums the UK has ever produced. SBTRKT is the accidental ambassador of ‘future garage’. A superior slab of inventive, beautifully realised electronic soul.
TV on the Radio Nine Types of Light Adding a nice slice of musical genius to their catalogue, the fourth album from Brooklyn’s funk-fuelled, polyrhythmic avant-pop troupe has a brilliant knack for hiding sonic surprises round every turn. The band’s creativity is in full force, layering each tune with deft textures – a zippy synth line here, a neat guitar noodle there. Clever and groovy, left of centre and bang on the money.
Tyler, The Creator Goblin The linchpin of rap collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, Tyler’s commercial debut is, unsurprisingly, ultra-profane, but his considered flow seems almost bored with gore. There’s an Eminem-esque auto-frontlash on the title track, where Tyler demolishes his public image as an ADD horrorcore brat. Yet the most shocking thing is the length of some of the tracks, stretching up to eight minutes long in a genre where a ringtone is considered art. All albums available to download now from iTunes
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Rob Garratt Jan 14, 2012 04:21 pm
Thanks for your feedback. We've tried to compile a rounded list by looking at Time Out reviews from across the world. Urban and electronic music has been represented by the likes of Tyler, The Creator Gil Scott-Heron and SBTRKT - but what would you have picked?
HICHEM MEKKI Jan 04, 2012 07:01 am
Seriously guys?! In this listing there are only pop/rock albums, and absolutely nothing in hiphop/rnb/house?
This listing should be called best pop/rock album for 2011 and not best albums for 2011...