Brian Moshe's Top 10 Albums of 2011
1. The Weeknd - House of Balloons / Thursday / Echoes of Silence
Most of the time, there is a choice that is made between quality and quantity. So many artists have fallen in the trap of oversaturating the market with substandard songs. Other artists release albums deemed too brief for their fans or take years between releases, leaving fans begging for more. What The Weeknd accomplished over the past 9 months by releasing a trilogy of self-released albums of this high of quality is nothing short of impressive. No record label. No pre-announced release dates. Fans would cling to rumors and each album was unassumingly introduced via a download link on The Weeknd's twitter account. But The Weeknd's mysterious release method is just about the only thing 'unassuming' when it comes to this music project. House of Balloons' opening song, "High For This" sets the tone for the 26 songs that follow it - intoxicating, predatory R&B that details a hedonistic nightlife of sex, drugs and more sex and drugs. Abel Tesfaye sings over fantastically nocturnal production that adds an uneasy atmosphere to these seedy tales of passion and indulgence.
2. Smith Westerns - Dye It Blonde
I didn't take much notice of The Smith Westerns' debut album, but after hearing the lead-off single for Dye It Blonde ("Weekend") and seeing them perform at Club Garibaldi in late 2010, I knew this album was going to be something on my radar for 2011. What I didn't know is how the band would systematically pull at each of my heart strings by recording an album flush with influences from some of my favorite musicians. Early 1970s Glam? Check. Double Fantasy-era John Lennon? Check. 1990s Brit Rock? Check. The Smith Westerns wear these familiar influences on their sleeve, but do not let the influences wear them - a very fine line to walk for a ban, with failure to do so leading to a dated or cliche sound. I think the highest compliment I can pay this album is to say that despite being released in January, Dye It Blonde still is in regular rotation for me, as opposed to other early 2011 albums that I listened to heavily when initially released and have not picked back up (See: Blake, James).
3. Arctic Monkeys - Suck It and See
I've been a big fan of Arctic Monkeys since they hit the scene with "I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor" and they consistently fail to disappoint me. A superb Brit rock album with a good combination of ballads and rockers, Suck It and See carries on from where their previous album, Humbug, left off. The psychedelic rock influences may be a bit toned down on this collection of songs, but you can see the increasing influence of The Smiths and David Bowie on the groups songwriting, especially on tracks like "Piledriver Waltz". There's not a band in England doing it better than Arctic Monkeys and hopefully an upcoming tour with The Black Keys will provide them with the stateside success that is long overdue.
4. Frank Ocean - nostalgia/Ultra
I cannot remember the last time I was truly excited and impressed by a contemporary R&B artist. The music sounded the same and the singers were interchangeable. Frank Ocean's nostalgia/Ultra changed that for me. Seemingly lost in the antics and controversy surrounding Odd Future, Frank Ocean released this free collection of songs that combines great story telling with some interesting musical choices for an R&B artist, such as re-making songs by MGMT, Coldplay, and The Eagles. The standout track is the "Novacane", which very well be the best song released in 2011 that is not titled "Midnight City". The strength of nostalgia/Ultra has paved the way for Ocean's opportunity to be the only artist featured on Jay Z and Kanye West's Watch The Throne album and has everyone looking to 2012 for his debut album.
5. Jay-Z and Kanye West - Watch The Throne
Watch the Throne is everything you would expect from two hip hop titans collaborating on an album called "Watch the Throne" would sound like - epic production so lush and rich that it sounds like something only artists the stature of these two could get away with rapping over. While there is expected bravado and ultra high-end fashion name checking, these songs see Jay Z and Kanye West rapping with much more substance than critics who label this the "Album For The 1%" would care to admit. Sometimes overshadowed by the huge production are songs about black-on-black crime, fatherhood, depression, and their humble beginnings. Its not to say there aren't any over-the-top, bravado-heavy songs, in fact, highlights like "Otis" and "Ni**as In Paris" have the duo sounding like they're having fun and the excitement is infectious. Collaborations (whether it be a single song or an entire album) can often leave fans disappointed, but Watch The Throne delivers exactly what fans would expect from a Kanye West and Jay Z collaboration, love it or leave it. I, for one, love it.
...and the rest...
6. Lykke Li - Wounded Rhymes
7. M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming
8. Holy Ghost! - Holy Ghost!
9. James Blake - James Blake
10. Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost