Twenty Best Albums of 2011

20. Clan of Xymox – Darkest Hour

Darkest HourThe progenitors of Dutch darkwave, Clan of Xymox are now in the third decade of their existence – a spectacular feat by most standards. To consistently produce quality albums within those thirty years, that is even more spectacular.

But it seems that Ronny Moorings and company have surpassed themselves with Xymox’s thirteenth studio album. The inevitable comparisons to early Cure and even early Xymox themselves will appear. But is that necessarily a bad thing? Some of the best work an artist produces is a modern twist on retrospection.

Darkest Hour looks back to the peak of goth and darkwave, finding some excellent pearls along the way. A must for anyone that wears black eyeliner on their lips (and the minority that don’t).

19. New York Dolls – Dancing Backward in High Heels

Dancing Backward In High Heels“Get up and dance, you shy bastards!” is the motto of this album. It’s hard to resist the catcalling of David Johansen, as we are taken on a journey through the streets of some mythical modern city; where everything is fabulous and we’re all dressed in each other’s clothes.

Forty years ago, the New York Dolls were dressed to distress (much like their music). But now, we’re treated to some beautiful doo-wop chicanery that can’t fail to put a smile on our credit-crunched faces.

Punk, this ain’t. Powerful pop production? Maybe…


18. The Raveonettes – Raven in the Grave

Raven in the GraveGone is ‘That Great Love Sound’ and in its place comes an altogether more sonorous kind of noise. There is a maturity within Raven in the Grave, ultimately leading me to the conclusion that Sun and Sharin have slightly drifted away from their heavy reliance on simplistic riffery and have walked towards a more shoegazing sort of rock. There is a small tint of Sparklehorse and Grandaddy about this album – like a dream made real.


17. Sam Duckworth – The Mannequin
The Mannequin

I had the pleasure of seeing Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly support Rival Schools earlier this summer, which was a welcome surprise. This album, however, is completely different to what I had listened to in that dark cavern in Camden on a warmish August evening. Tenderness is at the forefront here; and it’s marvelous.

In all honesty, Duckworth should ditch his pseudonym and go all out as the man that he is – a very strong singer-songwriter. The Mannequin is relaxation, sweetness and intelligence in a pre-electric Dylan wrapped Christmas present.

16. Rival Schools – Pedals

PedalsI had the pleasure of seeing Rival Schools earlier this summer, which was a lovely evening of sweat, crowd surfing and sore throats. But anyway, was Pedals worth the ten year wait? More importantly, would there be anyone left willing to listen?

Thankfully, the answer to both questions is “yes”. Pedals does not deviate from the sound of 2001’s United By Fate, but what it does do is tighten a working formula – it’s catchy, cacophonic and boisterous. The solidity is what makes it listenable. Sometimes, a set of fans wish for their chosen to group to take some risks and give them “different”. But what Rival Schools benefited from was the long period of silence, which meant fans were willing to get their hands on anything the group recorded. Luckily, what surfaced was Pedals and all would become right with the world…almost.


15. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds

Noel Gallagher's High Flying BirdsSpeaking of “different”, there isn’t much change from High Flying Birds in comparison to Oasis’ previous efforts. But then, without Liam’s input and influence, Noel Gallagher has given the world what a hell of a lot of people wanted – a complete set of Noel-ified tracks. It showed in sales and reviews, especially when set up against Liam Gallagher’s Beady Eye group. Tried and tested since the heady days of Britpop, Noel’s song writing formula has people clamoring in their hundreds of thousands. It is hard to resist looking at the then and the now, but this debut flips some high flying birds in the general direction of detractors and allows Noel to shrug off what was holding him back. …High Flying Birds also deserves a mention because it brought indie back to the peak of the charts, if only for one perfect week.


14. Pete and the Pirates – One Thousand Pictures

One Thousand PicturesPerhaps the reason indie isn’t as popular as it once was, is because of the sheer deluge of guttersnipes that pose in skinny jeans, skinny ties and skinny brains producing mediocre guitar plop, frazzling the heads of many a connoisseur. However, if the will was there to search for the great and the good within an ailing genre, the avid listener could find a precious gem or two. One Thousand Pictures fits the bill perfectly.

The Reading quartet’s second album is brimming with slices of harmony and indie disco rhetoric – I reviewed the album in May and called it a “perfect pop cheesecake, iced by Johnny Marr”. Nicely put, if I do say so myself.


13. The Naked and Famous – Passive Me, Aggressive You

Passive Me, Aggressive YouThinking about it, New Zealand has not amassed a great deal of artists that have transferred well into the rest of the world (Kiri te Kanawa, I hear you mutter). But The Naked and Famous have changed this with their debut album – and what a debut it is, too.

It’s catchy, oh so very catchy. When your head nods and won’t stopping nodding, even after the album has finished, you know you’re on to a winner (or you have some kind of problem with your neck).

Passive… is an eclectic affair, dabbling in electronic, industrial and the harder side of rock. There’s no sense, however, that the album is ‘all over the place’, in fact, the album is much more cohesive because it is so eclectic. You shift from pillar to post with a rather large grin on your face.

12. Megadeth – Th1rt3en

Th1rt3enWhile Metallica were smoking metaphorical crack and masturbating Lou Reed (possibly metaphorically, too) to create the musical abomination that was ‘Lulu’, Dave Mustaine’s group were making the conscious effort to produce an album that wasn’t awful. A success, I think.

Th1rt3en is chock full of killer tracks and – even though Mr. Mustaine is in league with God now – there’s still the rage and the passion that you get from Megadeth’s previous twelve albums. I dare say that this album is up there with their greatest album (in my opinion) – the 1992 stonker Countdown to Extinction.

So a note to Metallica – THIS is how metal should sound.

11. Noah & The Whale – Last Night on Earth

Last Night on EarthBelieve it or not, this album was the one that I had most trouble with deciding over whether to include it in this list or not. So I decided to listen to it a couple of times just to make sure I was justified either way.

What I found was, that Last Night on Earth is like a diamond – it takes time to become shiny and wonderful. Musically, it is not the most engaging compared to the rest of the LPs on this list, but it does have the edge in a lyrical sense – sort of like Morrissey meeting Embrace in some otherworldly adventure.

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