Adventures In 2011: Top 30 Albums [#10 - 1]

Friday, December 30, 2011

....and like Boyz II Men sang, "we've come to the end of the road" are my top ten albums of 2011!

Hope you enjoyed this "re-cap", and by all means don't be shy, share your favorites of this year in the comments :) A BIG thank you to all for reading Audio Diva throughout the year, and let's hope for further musical greatness in the new year!

10. Lykke Li - Wounded Rhymes
"Get Some" and "I Follow Rivers" convinced me enough to give Lykke Li a further try, and what do you know? This is a surprisingly grandiose album that holds it's fists up ready to engage in combat, but is actually rather lush and exposing. Lykke is trying to make sense of her jaunt into adulthood, and we go along for the ride. She takes this trip on a dose of scrambling drum work and a sound akin to Phil Spector's 'Wall of Sound' from the 60's, and the product is a brooding introspective stew that is oddly accessible. Right when "Youth Knows No Pain" barrels in, this was clearly an album for me. Lykke's best reveals are nestled in the ballads as "Sadness Is A Blessing" and "Love Our Of Lust" could have been ripped from anyone's journal. Sure it's arty, a tad snobbish, but in all the right ways and for the right reasons. Most sophomore efforts tend to be a bit arrogant, a "I got this" attitude sprinkled over it, but Rhymes is a maturing effort for Lykke, who poises herself at being a staple voice in the 'art-pop' world. There is something in that water in Sweden...I'm sure of it now. [Review]

Notable Tracks: I Follow Rivers, Youth Knows No Pain, Sadness Is a Blessing, Rich Kid Blues, Get Some, Love Out Of Lust

9. Cocknbullkid - Adulthood
"Tell me when it starts, when it gets good"...that's been pretty much my thought process this whole year, and it's the central theme of the title track of Anita Blay's (nickname: CocknbullKid) debut album. Love, loss, screw-ups, and awkwardness are the themes, and it all works in it little fussiness. Blay has shifted her sound palate to a much more piano-rock aesthetic, ditching her electronic-shock Soul for a sunny-side-up type of Pop that is fluid and rich, yet has a nice seasoning of cynicism. It works for her. Singles "Hold Onto Your Misery", "Asthma Attack" and "Yellow" cement everything together in perfect Pop fashion. Adulthood doesn't try to be a good Pop album, it just is.

Notable Tracks: Hold Onto Your Misery, Adulthood, Asthma Attack, Happy Birthday, Cocknbullkid, Yellow, Bellyache, I Deserve It

8. Van Hunt - What Were You Hoping For?
Excuse my French, but Van Hunt doesn't give a flying fuck. He's really all the better for it, because if he didn't have this type of attitude, we'd be in for some boring fluffy tripe that doesn't expand on what fans of Van Hunt know that he's capable of doing. Van is not Mr. Nice Guy on this, and he's letting everyone know he's got a lot on his mind. He wants to prove the point as to why his last album (2008's Popular) was shelved and he, the artist, was shafted. He wants to discuss why our culture relies way too much on wealth and populace---and the consequences there after. He wants to also discuss why he wants to get into your pants. Okay, maybe that's TMI, but really Van let's it all hang out here in this rock laced affair to where he scrutinizes society as well as his own inner-self. Unlike any other album he has put out, WWYHF is Van at his creative brink, and he's living to tell. I like this Van Hunt, I would like him to stick around. [Review]

Notable Tracks: Moving Targets, Falls (Violet), Eyes Like Pearls, Plum, Cross Dresser,

7. New Look - New Look
In the calm of the storm of 2011 rested New Look, as they took the mellower way out and released an album of chill-dub that is hypnotic and clean. The Canadian husband and wife duo came onto my radar with a  re-craft of Janet Jackson's "He Doesn't Know I'm Alive", and is was so unexpected and cerebral that I had to take a second glance. Like I mentioned, New Look feels like an album from out of time, and as we remember that music, like fashion, is always repeating itself, this set of sparseness feels like those early crackling days where science met musical instruments. The results of that merge gave way to the extremely electronic 80's and New Look actually plays that time era well with nods to those like Kraftwerk, Laid Back, Giorgio Moroder, and yes, even a little bit of that early Freestyle period. Very sterile yet soulful (think Little Dragon as well), New Look give us an album that is basic enough, but rich enough to where all the intricate details are in plain focus. [Review]

Notable Tracks: Nap On The Bow, The Ballad, Teen Need, Relax Your Mind, Numbers, So Real

6. Jamie Woon - Mirrorwriting
Dub-step became the darling genre of 2011, and pitted in the ring were Woon, James Blake, and The Weeknd. So who won? Well, it's whoever you feel came across better---I mean that's just personal prerogative. So for me, Jamie Woon won. He's just a bit more inviting and much more in-tune with his R&B-ness to where Mirrorwriting translated better. In addition to it being starkly funky, Woon has the better voice, and he doesn't sound like he's trying too hard, (and in the case of The Weeknd) nor does he sound like he's dancing on the idea of slitting his wrists over an affair gone wrong. Mirrorwriting keeps things quite streamlined, engulfing as a full listen, with R&B hooks galore that have him fit in with the Thickes and Ushers of the world, yet a smidge above. Standouts such as the ministry of "Spirits" and the millennium  boy band harmonies on "Middle" and "Lady Luck" always have me coming back to this. Oh, and "Night Air" is also present in it's singular ambition, bringing full circle the notion as to why I'm rooting for the Woon. [Review]

Notable Tracks: Middle, Spiral, Spirits, Lady Luck, Night Air, Shoulda, Waterfront, Gravity, TMRW

5. Sneaky Sound System - From Here To Anywhere
So Dance music is for the kids? For the Bieber-ites? For the Disney Dolts? Sneaky Sound System didn't get that memo---at all. Coming from the Land Down Under, the duo (comprised of Connie Mitchell and Black Angus) make and album that is blast from the past yet isn't apologetic about it being seeped in perky dance beats that feel BIG 80's cool, with a 21st Century sharp tongue. As a whole with "Big" and "We Love" lighting and inviting you in, the album is a party so you should strictly come dancing to this. [Review]

Notable Tracks: Big, Friends, The Colours, Really Want To See You Again, We Love, I Need You So, I'm Not Leaving, 1984

4. J*Davey - New Designer Drug 
In a few interviews that I've seen concerning the duo of J*Davey, I've always admired Jack Davey's frankness about her love affair with various music forms, especially of the rock persuasion. As a fellow 'awkward Black girl' myself, one interview she did hit home for me as she mentioned while everyone was listening to R. Kelly in middle school---she was listening to Nirvana. Been there, been outcasted like that. Something about listening to music outside of the "designated" R&B and Hip-Hop bracket, sort of scares people of color into believing some sort of 'Blackness' factor is gone once you hear a grungy guitar. It's a weird hangnail that I'd wish would get clipped. Music should never have listening criteria behind it. So what does this commentary have to do with NDD? It's because of Jack Davey and Brook L'eau's honesty to the music that they love and are inspired by, how it molds the essence of their sound, driving it at full speed, allowing them to be creatively forward. Only they could do this with genuine flash and flair. "This" is NDD. It's a taunt punk-electro-Soul-rock-pop-whatever-you-wanna-dash-it-as gumbo that has to be experienced to be understood. [Review]

Notable Tracks: Little Tramp$, Queen Of Wonderland, Turn The Lights Out, Topsy Turvy, Whatchalookinat, Rock That Ship

3. Friendly Fires - Pala
A blazing dance machine is at your service, and it's surprising coming from the source. Friendly Fires have had their indie-pop sensibilities in check, but here they are refined, and much more confident than on their '08 debut, not to mention give a straight-through sensation that is stuffed with glorious middle-eights, fat bass licks, dizzying synths, and sweeping arrangements. It's all seems like too much being thrown at you, from all sides, but who gives a damn when you crank this bad boy up and it all sounds so unabashedly lively? They pounce on the New Wave of yore (I hear a lot of Howard Jones' Human Lib in this), as well have their ears tuned into the funky dispositions of the post-disco era (especially as far as "Hurting" and "Running Away" are concerned) and they pass with flying colors. Named after Aldous Huxley's fictional setting in the book, Island, Pala feels as if you crash landed into a utopia where all they do is dance around in euphoria with not a care in the world.

Notable Tracks: Hurting, Live Those Days Tonight, Hawaiian Air, Pala, Pull Me Back To Earth, Blue Cassette, Running Away, True Love, Show Me Lights

2. Adele - 21
Like Lykke Li and Cocknbullkid, Adele is going through some 'thangs' as a 'roaring 20' and she's hit every single aspect about that awkward limbo in time on the nail. Wrestling with inner-self Adele does on here, as she exposes every faucet of her being without force feed or "woe is me" bawls. She's witty and fussy ("Rumor Has It", the now eternal "Rolling In The Deep"), she wants to be tamed ("Someone Like You", "One and Only"), she's learning to grow ("Turning Tables", "I'll Be Waiting"), and she wants you to understand where she's coming from at an age where you just don't know what the hell you are doing.. To say this wasn't my musical bible of the year is a lie, and while it's (shockingly) not my number #1 album for a couple of reasons (one being below), Adele doesn't have much to worry about, as she's made me a fan for life with whatever she put forth on this glorious tapestry of sound.   [Review]

Notable Tracks: Rolling In The Deep, Turning Tables, Rumor Has It, One and Only, Set Fire To The Rain, Take It All, Lovesong, Someone Like You, I'll Be Waiting

1. Rahsaan Patterson - Bleuphoria
Somehow I've been waiting for an album like this to be done by a male artist. A concise, honest, and well-sung effort that from the moment it began, it just clicked, and captivated me throughout. Well, that's not fair, there have been a lot of fantastic male singers with quality recordings in recent years, but Bleuphoria is something I've been wanting to hear for awhile, especially from the R&B/Soul genre. I think it's just the originality that makes this the top for me, the way Rahsaan doesn't pander his sound to the trends and how he makes every note, lyric, vocal run, and arrangement count. Not to mention, I loved every single song (a real rarity for me). Usually we get a lot of Marvins, Stevies, MJ's, Princes, Jimi Hendrix's, etc.'s that come out and try to win over a market hungry for a recall of those talents, but there are just some that are cobbled out better than others. Rahsaan has the heart and technique like a lot of his past disciples, but he's no copy-cat, he's a champion of his quality. Just listen to highlights like "Easier Said Than Done", "Stay With Me", "Miss You" and his sizzling cover of The Flamingo's "I Only Have For You" and you'll hear some real simple innovation at play. Rah oft throws people for a loop with his albums because they don't follow a set pattern of R&B/Soul---and really it's for the better.

Notable Tracks: Insomnia, Easier Said Than Done, I Only Have Eyes For You, 6AM, Stay With Me, God, Miss You, Ghost, Goodbye,


  1. Your knowledge of the "up & coming" talents of the last, say four years, is really a strength. I can admit you've got more of a pulse on it than me at times. I like that I can read a selection like this and learn about different acts. I also love Rahsaan's record. "Crazy (Baby)" is a firm favorite, as as The Flamingos cover.

    Keep up the good work, looking forward to what you have to offer in the New Year.-Quentin

  2. great top 10! i haven't heard 'adulthood', 'pala' and 'from here to anywhere' so i need to check them out. the other have been in heavy rotation....happy new year!

  3. Jennifer,
    Great list as usual - I was SOO glad to see someone recognize Cocknbullkid - that album is really good and got no airplay here in the States at all. Same with New Look - which is still I think only Import here. Love Jamie Woon and thanks to you I am now obsessed with Pala. Looking forward to trying some of the others on the list. I don't know where I'd put them but 2 that have grown on me are: Lalah Hathaway - Where it all begins, and Kate Bush - 50 words for snow (I'd probably put it somewhere in the middle of the top 30) . Happy New Year

  4. QH: Why thank you :) *curtsies* I sometimes don't think I'm keeping up with the times! LOL The Internet offers so much at times I feel overwhelmed, but thank you for your words. Glad to know you liked Rahsaan's set as well, it was just tops for me this year. I hope more people get to hear it, because it really flew under the radar. Happy New Year to you and I'm also looking forward to what '12 has got in store :)

    DamonAndrew: Thanks, and yes, oh yes you should check out those! I'm speaking from a bias stance, haha, but they are really great ones. 'Pala' will surprise you, it did with me, just dive into it, well worth it. Out of those in heavy rotation which one is your favorite? Happy New Year to you too!

    Gracie: Thank you :) I'm just trying to give other pop-sters some love! Yeah, I think New Look is still an import, sadly. I just got an MP3, but I'm itching to get a physical copy.

    Glad you're obsessed with 'Pala'!! Seriously that album blew me away. I think I went in totally just unaware, liking only one FF songs, and was presently surprised at the overall set. Straight-through listen that one was.

    Oh how I wanted to put Kate on this list, but I just couldn't, lol. I had a mind too, but it was at the borderline. I liked it, but it 'lives too much in the moment' for me. I don't know if I'd listen to that one as much as her others---especially in the summer! LOL I have to listen to Lalah's again. I wasn't that jazzed with it, and in comparison to her other albums, especially 'Self Portrait', it was weak to me. But I'm anxious to hear your view on it, cause I might have missed something with those first few listens. Maybe it'll grow on me too.

    Happy New Year to you too!

  5. I do know what you mean about Kate and true - definitely not the summer album--but I like this variety of sounds that she has built up with albums like this and Aerial and the more I listen to it the intelligent Kate quirkiness does come through more (albeit somewhat subdued in this concept album ). And I agree about Pala - I was blown away too and in a week listened to it several times straight through.
    As for Lalah - I don't know that I can make you love it more than Self Portrait - which I also loved - but I think she tries to experiment a little more with uptempo in a way that doesn't pander to R&B trends and that works for me while still keeping her Lalah sound on her slower tracks. I really like her cover of her Dad's song and like the new version of her song "I'm coming back" with Rachelle Ferrell (and referring to your comments on Cocknbullkid and the music industry in another post - there is an example of an incredible artist who tried doing it the music industry way with mixed results and who I would love to hear from again). I think that overall I am glad to see that at this stage of her career she is possibly even making more of a mark than when she first started out - which most artists would love to be able to say.

  6. Gracie:
    For Lalah, the re-do of "I'm Coming Back" with Rachelle Ferrell (so underrated!) was the highlight for me on that record. I appreciate Lalah experimenting, it just didn't work for me this time out, lol. Still a fan though.

    Glad that people are discovering/enjoying 'Pala'! I have to catch myself sometimes because I play it too much at times. Did you have some favorite songs? I ask because most of everyone who liked it, liked the whole thing---and that is rare.

    I'll love Kate regardless, and I liked what she did with '50 Words', I just wish it wasn't so tedious to sit and listen to (10 minute songs!)---but then again, there are albums that are supposed to challenge the listener and that is one of them. I think you have to be a Kate Bush fan to really enjoy it like we did, you can't just let that be the first Kate album you listen to ever, because you'll be thinking: "My isn't this boring and pretentious!" LOL

  7. I agree - Rachelle is extremely underrated - will she ever come back? I find myself just 'trolling' youtube and listening to her albums sometimes when the mood hits me. 50 words is one you do have to sort of 'zen out to' to get through in some ways - but on the other hand it can also be pleasant background 'zen' music:) whcih may not be a very bad thing if you can split between sales to people who want to drink hot chocolate with it in the background and sales to people who want to dissect lyrics .
    While I too like you have found myself obsessively playing Pala (in part to compensate for the fact that after your recommendation and my purchase I found out they'd been in my city but I didn't know who they were :( hindsight. I love the whole album but my favorites are: Live Those Days Tonight, Running Away (I like the bass line), Hurting (nostalgic sound for me), Pala, Show me lights, Chimes and Helpless.(I tend towards the ones with a 'funkier sound' if that makes sense.
    (Oh - and on an earlier post I mentioned a cocknbullkid-Katy Perry comparison: it wasn't that I'd heard one in terms of sound but felt the disparity of sales was ironic given cocknbullkid has the better material.

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