Usually I don’t have much trouble compiling my favorite albums of a year, but this year was different. This list was very hard to compile and not because 2011 had too much great music and not because 2011 had all bad music, but because 2011 is what I have dubbed “The year of good music but not great music”. The list is as follows (I think):
1. Kate Bush – 50 Words For Snow / Director’s Cut
I put “50 Words For Snow” as #1, mostly out of principle. This is not her best album, but she is such an amazing, brilliant artist that whenever she drops an album (which is very rare……very rare indeed) she deserves to be #1. She is the complete opposite of what one would call a prolific artist. Her first album “The Kick inside” came out in 1978 and in her thirty-three year career she has only put out ten albums, 6 of which came out in the 80’s, peaking with her critically acclaimed and popular masterpiece “Hounds of Love”. In 1993 she released her album “The Red Shoes” and didn’t come out with another album until 2005 called “Ariel”. This is probably my favorite album by her, right up there with “Hounds of Love”. Now something amazing happened in 2011. Kate decided to put out two albums the first one being “Director’s Cut” which is re-imagining’s of a selection of songs from her two albums “The Sensual World” & “The Red Shoes”. I Put “50 Words For Snow” & “Director’s Cut” together as #1 album because it’s an amazing thing to have had Kate Bush put out 2 albums in 1 year, even if one is of re-imagining’s of old songs. These albums belong together somehow. Both albums are pure Kate and if you don’t know what I mean by that and/or you just don’t get her than you probably won’t like these albums, but they are both just as stirring and moving as anything she has ever put out. It’s maybe not so much the albums that are #1, but Kate Bush that is #1.
2. Adele – 21
I put Adele’s album “21” as #2 mostly out of principle also. The album is full of well crafted Pop-Soul tunes dripping with raw emotion. This is a really good album and she has had an amazing year. She did what no one had expected and somehow broke into the mainstream, which is full of almost 100% bubblegum music. Either that or a bunch of ignorant, annoying Hip-Hop music (see Chris Brown’s “Look at Me Now”). She broke into the mainstream simply by being herself and singing beautifully. She’s not your average pop star and that could be what has made her so successful. Maybe people are finally tiring of all the bubblegum and ignorance and that’s a good thing. A very good thing.
3. Theophilus London – Timez Are Weird These Days
The eccentrically named Theophilus London is a Brooklyn rapper who was born in Trinidad. His album “Timez Are Weird These Days” is the best debut album I’ve heard in a while and was also most certainly the best and most original Hip-Hop album of the year. But to call it Hip-Hop might simplify it a little too much. Yes he’s predominately a Hip-Hop artists, but he dabbles in Rock, Techno, Reggae etc. He’s what I have dubbed “Alternative Rap” (e.g. A Tribe Called Quest, OutKast, Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco, Kid Cudi etc.) and lord knows we need some kind of alternative to most of the rap out there. And speaking of Kid Cudi, Theophilus actually sounds a bit like Kid Cudi. So if you like the Kid you’ll probably like the London. The album is catchy, original, funky and it’s number 3 on my year end music list. Enjoy.
4. Lenny Kravitz – Black And White America
Now before this album came out, I hadn’t heard anything about it. I didn’t even know Lenny Kravitz was still active as a musician. Well actually I did, but I didn’t think he was doing anything interesting enough to speak of. Sorry Lenny. I’ve always liked and respected Lenny Kravitz, but never expected him to land on one of my top 10 year end music lists. With that said his album “Black And White America” is quite a refreshing surprise. It’s full of 70’s style, chic, Funk-Rock and if you know anything about me, you know I love the Funk. The album is a contemplation of America’s Black and White cultures and how they coexist and the progression of relations between the two races over the past 50 or so years. I read somewhere that “Black And White America” sounds like something that would be in President Obama’s iPod and I have to say that it probably is. You know what else it’s also in my iPod (or in my Spotify app in my iPhone). Looks like myself and Obama might have more in common than our dashing good looks. It’s great to see that Lenny Kravitz not only has a rocking new album, but will also be co-starring in the upcoming “Hunger Games” series. Welcome back Lenny.
5. Ryan Adams – Ashes & Fire
I first heard Ryan Adams when I started dating Shannon. I have to admit that at first I wasn’t really sold on him or his style, but over the past 2 1/2 years, he’s really grown on me. I started to get into him by asking Shannon to contribute some songs to my music journals and she suggested a few of his songs. My music journals are 2 disc compilations of songs that speak to where I am at that point in my life. Now I wouldn’t call myself a Ryan Adam’s expert, although I have heard a few of his albums, know that he used to be a big drug addict, that he’s really into Metal even though he is more of a Folk singer and that he’s married to Mandy Moore, but the intimate collection of songs on “Ashes & Fire” makes me feel like I know him like an old friend. The album was co-written with Norah Jones and produced by Glyn Johns who worked with The Beatles on “Get Back”. The album is very Bob Dylan-ish, but don’t quote me on that because I’m also not a Dylan expert. “Ashes & Fire” is a quiet, cool, Folksy ride worth going on and from what I’ve heard from Adam’s experts, a return to form after a few questionable albums. It looks like Ryan Adam’s has risen from the ashes and fire.
6. The Throne (Jay-Z & Kanye West) – Watch The Throne
Jay-Z and Kanye West made an album together under the moniker, The Throne? Yep and it was awesome and totally braggadocios or as they have called it, luxury Rap and it is quite luxurious. It’s dripping with different sounds, such as spaceships taking off and monkeys screeching and it samples Otis Redding, which never hurts. It does focus on materialism a bit, discussing such things as how many watches and cars they have, but it’s also contemplative at times about such things as the struggle of succeeding in America as a Black American for example. Jay-Z and Kanye West are two of my favorite rappers and they did not disappoint on “Watch The Throne”. As a matter of fact they surprised me. I know that Kanye West has more of an experimental, conscious side and that Jay-Z is more of a straight down the line rapper and I think that they combined both of those sensibilities very well. “Watch The Throne” is mostly unlike any other Rap album out there and that’s a good thing. When you take 2 of the best rappers alive and put them on the same album together it leaves you pondering who the King of Rap is. Well obviously that title (throne) goes to Jay-Z, but he better watch the throne because Kanye isn’t playing any games. He is the Prince of Rap for sure and he’s looking to Marry Kate AND Ashly. Apparently Kate Middleton isn’t enough for him.
7. Coldplay – Mylo Xyloto
When I heard Coldplay was coming out with a new album, I was needless to say, uber excited. I am a pretty big Coldplay fan. When I heard what the name of the album was, I was, well, confused. When I heard why they named it that, (something about some guy named Mylo playing the xylophone on or with his toes or something……I think) I became even more confused. But once I listened to the album it all made sense. It’s Coldplay doing what they do, making anthem Rock tunes with lots of oohs and aahs thrown in, that can be played on top 40 radio and be sung together by the whole family. The only problem here is that the album didn’t land at number 1 on this list or at least in the top 3 for me, which I was expecting and almost certain that it would. The album is good and some songs are even great, but it’s just not as good as what they’ve done in the past. On previous albums I’ve loved every song. On “Mylo Xyloto” I can’t say that, that was the case. They have like 5 or so really good songs and the rest or, well, not bad. It’s the power of the 5 or so really good songs that carried it so high on to this list. If it wasn’t for those, this album probably wouldn’t have made the cut, which is a shame because like I said, I love Coldplay. They are one of my top 10, all time favorite Rock bands, but that’s for a different post. Maybe I just expect perfection from them all the time and this was good, but not perfection like their other albums. Still it was good enough in a year of “just good” music to land it at number 7.
8. Lupe Fiasco – Lasers
Lupe Fiasco is one of the best and most intelligent rappers out there. On his first 2 albums “Food & Liquor” and “The Cool” he proved that he was not only super talented and “The Coolest”, but he was also very thought provoking and not afraid to speak out about the government and injustices worldwide. Oh and did I mention he’s Muslim, which I think gives him a very unique perspective. It may be his all around originality and desire to speak on touchy subjects in his songs, that his record label had “Lasers” shelved for years. I guess record companies and the powers that be, rather have us listen to mindless music that all sounds the same, than to give us something smart and fresh. When work first began on “Lasers” it was titled “L.U.P.End” and was intended to be his third and final album, because of what I take to be his desire to get out the music industry that he had such a strong distaste for. During the long wait for “L.U.P.End” his fans got so impatient with Lupe’s record label holding back his new album, that they started a petition to have it finally released. The passion of his fans and desire to show record execs must have lit a fire under Lupe because when the album finally came out not only was it as thought provoking as ever and also super catchy, but the title had changed to “Lasers” showing us that he is not done yet and that we are far from the L.U.P.End”.
9. Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi – Rome
Danger Mouse is a very interesting fellow. He has worked with artists from a cross the musical spectrum, from MF Doom, to Cee-Lo Green, to James Mercer of The Shins, now to Italian film composer, Daniele Luppi on a concept album, titled “Rome”. The concept is that it is a soundtrack to a fictional spaghetti western film, starring Jack White of The White Stripes and Norah Jones. Danger Mouse is a very interesting fellow indeed. Listening to the album is kind of like listening to a music box. It’s very quite and beautifully composed. The vocals of Jack White and Norah Jones compliment the whole atmosphere created by the music, perfectly. It’s really unlike any album I’ve ever heard, as it should be, when you’ve mixed in all the aforementioned, very different ingredients and ideas. You know what they say, “When in Rome do as the Romans do” and go check out “Rome”, partner.
10. Mayer Hawthorne – How Do You Do
Mayer Hawthorne is another very interesting fellow. He is an ex Detroit rapper who now sings as if he is some sort of 60’s Soul crooner and looks like none of the above. He looks like an insurance salesman or something. But his music speaks for itself. It’s cool and classic and while his new album “How Do You Do” is not much of a departure from his first album “A Strange Arrangement”, my number 2 favorite album of 2009, it is at least on par with his previous work. He gets slightly in touch with his Rap roots on the song “Can’t Stop” feat. Snoop Doog, although there is no rapping, not even from Snoop, who opts to take the Soul crooner route as well, to quite enjoyable effect. Maybe a big part of why I like Mayer Hawthorne, is because of how different he is and how opposite he is from what you’ld expect him to be, which I always look for and love in an artist and have always strived for in myself. “How Do You Do”? I’m just fine as long as I’m listening to Mayer Hawthorne’s new album. Thank you very much.