Top Albums of 2011 – the Top 5!

So the top 5 at last!

And at 5, Suck It and See, my favourite Arctic Monkeys album yet. It’s somewhat less frantic than previous, without some of the raw aggression of the first couple of albums. But to compensate, we get the best tunes they’ve written, real rock band playing and we still have Alex Turner’s witty and acerbic lyrics. A pleasure from start to finish and the sound of an exciting young band maturing into an exciting slightly older band!

At 4, Joy Formidable with The Big Roar – even though it’s a bit of a cheat because 6 tracks on this album were on their first self-released EP / album from 2009 which was one of my favourites from that year. They do the soft / loud, atmospheric and thrilling big rock sound so well for a three-piece, with Ritzy Bryan’s vocals – vulnerable one minute, iron-tough the next - offsetting the muscular power-trio guitar work superbly. Great live too.

Now, the top 3. To be honest, I struggled with the right order – there’s little between them for me. But let’s go with Florence and the Machine at 3 with Ceremonials. Many critics didn’t get this – too big, grandiose, stadium-designed choruses they said. But.. that’s the point! This quirky hippie indie kid from North London is not trying to be another Siouxsie Sioux or P J Harvey. She’s taking on Gaga, Rhianna, Katy Perry! Huge songs, big tunes, but with a retained indie edge and an emotional heft – I found Shake it Out the most strangely moving song I’ve heard in years. Tracks are popping up all over the place on TV shows, trailers, ads already and this will continue as the album sells millions over the next couple of years.

At 2, an album that hasn’t made it into many other charts. But the Decemberists with The King is Dead made probably the most simply enjoyable album of the year for me – I’ve played it more than any other, I’m sure. Folk rock with a country tinge but an indie intelligence, sounding remarkably like early REM at times (and with Peter Buck of REM on guitar for three tracks). REM’s own album this year (Collapse Into Now, possibly their last) was their best for years but was overshadowed ironically perhaps by the Decemberists. If you like the track here, do buy it – you won’t regret it.

And at number 1, and not just because hip website Drowned in Sound made it their favourite too, are the Antlers with Burst Apart.  It’s not an immediate “wow”, it is impressive from first listen but it grows with time, as you explore the layers of sounds and the subtlety of the atmospheres the songs create. It’s hard to categorise – indie-electro-rock perhaps? Touches of a (tuneful) Radiohead, certainly at times. Haunting, nocturnal but warmly enveloping (?), clever but not pretentious, engaging but never trite – it is just a brilliant album. They were also great in a short set at Reading and I’m looking forward to seeing them at Shepherd’s Bush in April.

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