2011 Albums of the Year: we countdown 30 – 21

Today we start our musical top 30 albums of 2011 countdown.

And at 30 we have the Fleet Foxes with Helplessness Blues. After their huge debut album, this is another very enjoyable mix of folk, close harmony singing, with enough development  from the previous work (towards country, west coast rock and even jazz) at times to keep it interesting. Perhaps not quite the strength of “tunes” we saw on the first album, but a good follow-up.

The Mazes come from London but sound quite American, harking back to the lighter end of grunge, Pavement maybe, with a touch of the much lamented “shoe-gazing” movement (remember those bands – fuzzy guitars, strong tunes, no stage presence?) A Thousand Heys has an energy, charm and plenty of hooks to it and surprising maturity for a young band’s first album.

Now at 28, and not just for hardcore fans (and procurement leaders) such as Mssrs. Duckworth and Cross, we have David Comes to Life from F****d Up. Don’t be put off by the fact its a 90 minute rock concept album, with a definite if convoluted story; don’t be worried by the lead singers throaty growl / roar; it is a bit much for one sitting perhaps.. but this is classic rock with great guitar riffs and hooks.

We’ve been a bit tough on Elbow, putting them as low as 27 with Build a Rocket Boys, perhaps because it was always going to struggle to live up to their classic previous album.  This one is very good in its own right, with some lovely tracks but not quite the immediacy of their very best work.

WU LYF are either an exciting enigma or a bunch of pretentious idiots depending on your views. On Go Tell Fire to the Mountain, “World Unite Young Lucifer Federation” as they’re known to their friends, make atmospheric, mid-paced songs with decent tunes but a hoarse and unintelligible vocalist who sounds like he needs a good gargle. The voice gets a little tedious over the whole album .. . and yet, it’s one of the few “different” albums / bands who’ve come along this year, and in small doses it is strangely invigorating and interesting.

Metronomy are higher in many of the end of year lists – we liked English Riviera a lot but not sure it’s quite groundbreaking enough to be any higher.  Cool, electronic pop dance music from the Torquay based band.

I was only recently introduced to Pureessence by a friend (thanks Paul) – they’re a Manchester band who have been going for 20 years making indie in the Doves / Stone Roses mode. Solid State Recital is more mellow than their earlier albums, rather lovely in places with Judy Collins no less singing on a couple of tracks including this one.

Pete and the Pirates are the most self effacing indie band in the world, but their second album One Thousand Pictures was a  pleasant surprise as they extended their repertoire into Moroder type dance beats and generally used a broader musical canvas that took them well beyond standard indie.

Serious music fans will find this the biggest shock in the list probably – the Rizzlekicks, at 22, two ex Brit school kids, loved by younger teenagers, doing daft rap/ pop songs. And yet... Stereo Typical contains a great choice of samples means there’s plenty for us oldies to look out for as songs take hooks from old ska, reggae, soul and jazz tracks, the tunes are infectious and even and the rapped / sung lyrics are often genuinely witty. Cool video featuring cool Mums too!

And finally for today, at 21, M83 with the sprawling, epic, Hurry Up We’re Dreaming, combining indie, pop, dance, prog and everything including the kitchen sink. A double album with some great moments including one song (about a mystical frog, with spoken little girl vocals) that is one of my absolute favourites of the year yet was described by my wife as “unlistenable rubbish and the worst thing I’ve heard in years”.

Tomorrow we’ll have the 20-12 countdown.

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