The IPTOS 50 Best Albums of 2011 – The Top Ten

Here it is then, the ten best albums I have heard this year. These releases earnt their place by basically being the albums I have kept coming back to, they are the albums that have had me close to approaching awe, or in that place where you just give thanks for a working pair of ears!

I hope you have found something in this year’s list that you feel you want to investigate, or have found yourself nodding in agreement to at least a few of my choices. There are still a few weeks of 2011 left and I might hear something that would have warranted a place, if so I will do something to mention it on these pages, so stick around!

10. Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972 & Dropped Pianos

Ok, a slight cheat here as I’ve included Dropped Pianos, but as it’s a kind of companion piece of early “sketches” for material later to be found on Ravedeath I consider it valid! Tim Hecker’s beautiful soundscapes were an unexpected treat to these ears earlier in the year. One of the single greatest things the internet has done for the music listener is the ability to have a proper listen to music that you would not, in previous times, have risked your hard earned cash to buy on spec. Thanks to Spotify and other sites such as Bandcamp I have heard some startling music this year I would never have heard otherwise! I have also, in most cases, bought them in various physical or digital ways!

I spoke a bit more about Ravedeath, 1972 here in a review I did earlier in the year, but I also want to mention the recently released Dropped Pianos. I downloaded this the other week and have only given it a couple of listens but it stands out as much mellower and less threatening than a lot of RD1972, each track is titled “Sketch” and at 32 minutes it is quite easy to see it as one long piece. It is also different enough from it’s sibling to almost stand on its own right as another Tim Hecker album.

If you’re interested in hearing something that has the power and mystery to truly take you somewhere else, give these a go. They all work better consumed as a whole, but have a listen to “In The Fog II”;

9. Austra – Feel It Break

With Feel It Break Toronto’s Austra have produced the best ‘pop’ album I’ve heard this year, The Joy Formidable’s album was riding high for a while but I found it waned alarmingly quickly and I haven’t listened to it in months. This one, on the other hand, I often feel the desire to listen to it’s infectious hooks. Have a look at the review I did for it here and have a listen to one of my favourite tracks off it, “Spellwork”;

8. Grails – Deep Politics

I said most of what I want to say about this bloody marvellous album in this little review from earlier this year, but if you read that and didn’t investigate here’s another chance, and for those of you who are unaware of Grails, listen to “I Led Three Lives” and if that doesn’t convert you then nothing will;

7. Mogwai – Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will

Sticking with powerful instrumentalists we have the seventh album by Mogwai. After a couple of albums which, although great, lacked the power of the earlier releases, Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will sees them return with their best album since 2003’s Happy Songs For Happy People. Where their earlier albums were more reckless in their construction, Hardcore.. sees them tightened and refined but by no means staid, there are still the fuzzed up riffs of “Rano Pano”, the gentle piano melodies of “Death Rays” followed immediately by the furious “San Pedro” and closer “You’re Lionel Richie” which harks back to the quiet/loud dynamics of “Like Herod”. Its variety and relative brevity of tracks is another thing that propelled this album to where it is in the list, it is another album that rewards repeated listens. Most of all it’s encouraging that after fourteen years and seven albums they are still able to produce such a fine collection of music, bring on album number eight! Here’s “George Square Thatcher Death Party”;

6. Mastodon – The Hunter

After the psychedelic prog metal of 2009’s Crack The Skye I was interested to see where Mastodon went next, how could they build on the epicness they’d reached with first Blood Mountain and then Crack The Skye? The answer was, they wouldn’t try, instead they have gone back to basics. The Hunter is an album of 13 tracks of pure rawk! Cutting back on the long songs, (the longest here is closing track “The Sparrow” at a positively sprightly 5 and a half minutes) this is a rock album in its purest sense, stupid, balls out rock songs to make you forget your troubles and have a good goddamn time!! It puts its agenda out there from the off with lead single “Black Tongue”, goes all Black Sabbath with “Curl of the Burl”, and then goes completely tonto with “Blasteroid”, where apparently “I wanna drink some fuckin’ blood! / I wanna break some fuckin’ glass!”, their tongues are clearly in their cheeks here! It’s not all furious 100mph stuff, “Stargasm” goes all space-rock and I can definitely hear some Alice In Chains in “Dry Bone Valley”, all of it is served up with Brann Dailor’s still awesome drumming and Brent Hinds’ riff mastery! The only mis-step for me is the track “Creature Lives”, written solely by Dailor and sung by him, it just doesn’t really fit on the album. When it all comes down to it this is basically just a damn good rock album! Here’s the ‘lighters in the air moment’ title track “The Hunter”;

5. Blanck Mass – s/t

Entrancing, beautiful, strange, noisy, hypnotic. A few words that have come to mind while trying to quantify and describe what this album by Benjamin John Power is all about. Completely without beats but still dripping with power and menace at times but juxtaposed with gentle twinkling dreamscapes at others. As I said in the little review of it I did back in the summer (here) it is an album that demands you turn the volume up, it’s power is just not as evident at lower volumes. The background wall of guitar noise on tracks such as “Sundowner” acting to shore up the twinkly foreground synths. Just beautiful! Listen to “Sundowner” here;

4. And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead – Tao of the Dead

Released right at the beginning of the year I had almost forgotten this was released in 2011! Trail of Dead’s seventh album is an attempt by the band to return to “the way I listened to albums when I was a kid….I always liked listening to records that were just a continuous piece, like an orchestra or a symphony” to quote Conrad Keeley. Hence the album is made of just two long tracks, the first, “Part One: Tao of the Dead” is the eleven separate tracks of the album mixed together to form one thirty five minute “piece”. The second track “Part Two: Strange News From Another Planet” changes key and instead of numerous tracks mixed together to form one, this is one long song split into five “movements”. Another band whose last couple of albums have not really matched the best of their efforts, Tao of the Dead shows them still capable of producing the exciting tunes that got me into them in the first place. The bonus disc gives us individual versions of the tracks that make up Part One, so I don’t have to expect you to sit through the whole thing, here’s “Summer of All Dead Souls”;

3. A Winged Victory For The Sullen – s/t

With this self titled album, Stars of the Lid’s Alex Wiltzie along with Dustin O’Halloran have created the most gorgeous restful album I’ve heard all year. Not an album you’re going to be dancing along to or sticking on as you get ready to go out, this is an album for listening to late at night, eyes closed, letting it wash over you and letting the gentle piano melodies soothe you and wrap their metaphorical arms around you in a big hug! See what you think with the glorious “Minuet For A Cheap Piano Number Two”;

2. Puscifer – Conditions of My Parole

It very nearly made it to the top spot! Maynard James Keenan’s decidedly tongue in cheek side project has produced an album of disparate, desert inspired tunes. As regular readers will know I was more than a bit gobsmacked with single “Man Overboard” (see here) so was hoping the second album from Puscifer would be better than their lacklustre debut, and er, yes, it is, a LOT better!! The tracks run the gamut of full on Tool-esque rock on tracks like “Toma” or “Telling Ghosts”, to almost dubstep on “Horizons” and bluegrass harmonising on closer “Tumbleweeds”. My only criticism of this album is that it’s not a Tool album and this has taken Maynard away from recording a new one! But, my goodness it will do as a very decent stop-gap! Have a listen to “Green Valley” below and if you haven’t click this to watch the video for “Man Overboard”;

1. Wolves in the Throne Room – Celestial Lineage

If you’d told me at the start of the year that my favourite album at the end of it would be a black metal album I would not have believed you! But here we are and Olympia, Washington’s Wolves in the Throne Room have made an album that, even after double figure listenings, still has my jaw on the floor from start to finish! The gorgeous voice of Jessika Kenney (amusingly on Wikipedia she’s credited with “Clean Vocals”!) leading into a pummelling tour de force of blast beats and Nathan Weaver’s wail on “Thuja Magus Imperium” sets the bar or an album that then goes on to take that bar and fling it into the weeds! The atmospherics, the guitar melodies and the powerful sonic journey that this album takes you on just keeps bringing me back to listen again and again.

As this is the Number One, here are two tracks to sample, first the epic opener “Thuja Magus Imperium” followed by the fantastic “Astral Blood”;

So there we have it, fifty albums that I feel you should hear. To recap, the full fifty looked like this;

Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost
And So I Watch You From Afar – Gangs
LaFaro – Easy Meat
Alexander Tucker – Dorwytch
Jeniferever – Silesia
I Break Horses – Hearts
Cold Cave – Cherish The Light Years
Ladytron – Gravity The Seducer
Altar of Plagues – Mammal
Fen – Epoch
Fucked Up – David Comes To Life
Explosions In The Sky – Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
Brontide – Sans Souci
Let’s Wrestle – Nursing Home
Dananananaykroyd – There Is A Way
Amplifier – The Octopus
Low – C’mon
dEUS – Keep You Close
Maybeshewill – I Was Here For A Moment, Then I Was Gone
Obits – Moody, Standard and Poor
The Horrors – Skying
Radiohead – The King of Limbs
The Antlers – Burst Apart
Okkervil River – I Am Very Far
Ringo Deathstarr – Colour Trip
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Belong
Washed Out – Within and Without
Zola Jesus – Conatus
PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
True Widow – As High as the Highest Heavens…
Roots Manuva – 4everevolution
Remember Remember – The Quickening
Vessels – Helioscope
Thurston Moore – Demolished Thoughts
The Mountain Goats – All Eternals Deck
That Fucking Tank – TFT
Wire – Red Barked Tree
Russian Circles – Empros
The Twilight Singers – Dynamite Steps
The War on Drugs – Slave Ambient
10. Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972 & Dropped Pianos
9. Austra – Feel It Break
8. Grails – Deep Politics
7. Mogwai – Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
6. Mastodon – The Hunter
5. Blanck Mass – s/t
4. …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead – Tao of the Dead
3. A Winged Victory For The Sullen – s/t
2. Puscifer – Conditions of My Parole
1. Wolves in the Throne Room – Celestial Lineage

Please let me know in the comments section what you think of this year’s list. If I’ve missed your favourite tell me all about it and why it’s your favourite!

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  1. #1 by Kuz on December 8, 2011 - 8:40 pm

    wow, what a list! you have had a busy year, haven’t you? I don’t think I have even listened to 50 of this year’s albums. I too have enjoyed the Fucked Up album, The Antlers and Russian Circles. I haven’t listened to Roots Manuva’s album much (probably the first time this has ever happened, I’ve been a fan for yeas) but I am sure I will eventually. Austra has some nice tracks but Mastodon? Meh. They sound like the Foo Fighters! I do need to have a proper listen to WITTR though, along with Grails and Winged Victory for the Sullen.

    But the biggest thing is… how did I not know there was a That Fucking Tank album out?! How bloody exciting. A big thanks for tipping me off to that.

  2. #2 by IPreferTheirOldStuff on December 9, 2011 - 11:26 am

    Glad to oblige! 🙂 Although their Bandcamp says its not out til 11th, Norman Records clearly have stock as I got my vinyl through the post yesterday!

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