With another year in the books, it’s time for the Free Press music reviewers to hit the rewind button on their favourite albums of 2011.
1. F--ked Up
David Comes to Life
The Toronto sextet pushed the envelope on its challenging 18 track, hard-to-follow, concept album that offered up a variety of explosive hooks, riffs and counter melodies that drew from punk, metal, pop, psychedelia and prog. Frontman Damian Abraham has a limited bark that helps earn the band its hardcore tag, but David Comes to Life transcends the genre.
The Dwarves Are Born Again
The lewd, rude and crude band that won’t die returns with its best album since the late 1990s, filled with 18 melodic ditties about sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll while dabbling in speed-punk, mid-tempo anthems, twang and television theme songs.
New York duo Cults merged the retro sounds of Phil Spector’s roster with reverb-drenched sunshiny West Coast pop for a breezy, playful album (with a dark sinister side) filled with impossibly catchy singles.
4. Mastodon, The Hunter
5. Black Lips, Arabia Mountain
6. Tom Waits, Bad as Me
7. Louie C.K., Hilarious
8. Black Keys, El Camino
9. Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues
10. Foo Fighters, Wasting Light
1. Ry Cooder, Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down
The world wise guitarist/songwriter shows off his political side on a modern protest album that serves as a career highlight in a career already full of golden moments.
2. Zun Zun Egui, Katang
A wild mix of post-punk squall and what sounds like a left-handed tribute to Afrobeat wrapped in colorful musical cellophane.
3. Rich Aucoin, We’re All Dying To Live: Public Publication EP, Over The Top! LP
This talented Canuck lays down something of a pop masterpiece that gets better with every listen.
4. Rory Gallagher, Photo Finish (Reissue)
5. The Pack A.D., Unpersons
6. The Arkells, Michigan Left
7. Peter Tosh, Legalize It (Reissue)
8. Laura Marling, A Creature I Don’t Know
9. Nicole Atkins, Mondo Amore
10. Wanda Jackson, The Party Ain’t Over
1. Decemberists, The King is Dead
The Decemberists stripped things down to deliver a focused and concise disc inhabited by country-esque pieces of roots heaven awash in acoustic guitar, accordion, mandolin, pedal steel, banjo, organ, Neil Young-inspired harmonica and the lovely violin of Annalisa Tornfelt,
2. Ryan Adams, Ashes & Fire
The latest from Ryan Adams finds him giving voice to his heart while exploring his acoustic country-folk roots. Ashes & Fire is an exercise in less-is-more, revealing a truly elegant and honest collection of soon to be classic love songs.
3. Deep Dark Woods, The Place I Left Behind
A gorgeous exercise in pure unadulterated melancholy. Ryan Boldt’s mournful vocal delivers you into the shadows while Burke Barlow and Lucas Goetz’s haunting pedal steel guitars dance amongst Geoff Hilhorst’s moody organ fills. They tell stories of Toon Town’s dark side, lost loves, cold-hearted exes, big city lights and the horrors of war all executed with heart, soul and a sniper’s precision.
4. Black Keys, El Camino
5. Needtobreathe, The Reckoning
6. Emmylou Harris, Hard Bargain
7. Warped 45s, Matador Sunset
8. Elliott Brood, Days Into Years
9. Miranda Lambert, Four The Record
10. Carmen Townsend, Waitin’ and Seein’
1. Art Dept, The Drawing Board
This Toronto duo seem like they came out of nowhere, but Jonny White and Kenny Glasgow had been quietly paying their dues on their own until they got together in the studio, released a couple of monster singles and a stunning debut album that made everyone else take notice. Their dark, stripped-down, vocal heavy tech-house vibe is just what electronic music needed.
2. ASAP Rocky, LIVELOVEA$AP
2011 seemed to be the year of the mix tape and nobody made bigger waves than Harlem MC ASAP Rocky. The mayor of Swaggerville dished out a taste of his New York state of mind with stoner slow rhythms, hazy melodies and boastful proclamations getting served up with effortless ease on the near perfect debut.
3. Explosions in the Sky, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
More than just the band that provided music for Friday Night Lights, this Texas instrumental act is the best at what they do. Take Care, Take Care, Take Care takes you on an emotional roller coaster that gets more rewarding every time you hear it.
4. F--ked Up, David Comes to Life
5. M83, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
6. J Mascis, Several Shades of Why
7. Cannon Bros, Firecracker/Cloudglow
8. The Weeknd, House of Balloons
9. Police Teeth, Awesomer Than the Devil
10. Diamond Rings, Special Afflictions
1. Jay-Z & Kanye West, Watch the Throne
The most talked about rap album of the year absolutely lives up to the hype as hip-hop’s heavyweights deliver a complete monster.
2. Stereo MCs, Emperor’s Nightingale
Almost criminally ignored on this side of the Atlantic since the ’90s, the MCs’ unmistakable brand of electronic hip-hop has matured, yet still manages to sound welcomingly familiar.
3. Teddybears, Devil’s Music
Fun and feisty big beats from Sweden that run the gamut from house and hip-hop to rock and reggae.
4. The Roots, Undun
5. Paul Van Dyk, Vonyc Sessions 2011
6. Depeche Mode, Remixes 2: 81-11
7. M83, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
8. LCD Soundsystem, The London Sessions
9. Lady Gaga, Born This Way
10. Britney Spears, Femme Fatale
1. Joe Lovano, Bird Songs
Joe Lovano, one of the great saxophonists of our time, pays loving tribute to one of his inspirations, Charlie Parker, on this 11-track disc with his Us Five band. Lovano — on tenor, mezzo soprano and alto saxophones, and aulochrome (a double soprano sax) — imagines what Parker would have done with his music if he hadn’t died in 1955 at 34. And what an imagination.
2. 3 Cohens, Family
These three Israeli musicians are a formidable, hard-blowing front line. Anat (tenor saxophone and clarinet) and her brothers Avishai (trumpet) and Yuval (soprano sax) have separate musical careers but with Anat and Avishai in New York and Yuval in Tel Aviv, it is an occasion when they unite to perform or record. This trio can add tight jazz band to its list of family values.
3. Phil Dwyer Orchestra featuring Mark Fewer, Changing Seasons
Phil Dwyer is more than the great tenor saxophonist and pianist Canadian jazz fans know — he is a composer and arranger whose new CD is a remarkable suite for big band, string section and solo violinist Mark Fewer. Don’t expect to hear much of Dwyer on this 35-minute recording, but his direction, musical vision and composing skills make the album a success.
4. Brad Mehldau, Live in Marciac
5. Kurt Elling, The Gate
6. Karrin Allyson, Round Midnight
7. Fred Hersch, Alone at the Vanguard
8. John Scofield, A Moment’s Peace
9. Ambrose Akinmusire, When the Heart Emerges Glistening
10. Sonny Rollins, Road Shows, Vol. 2
1. Glenn Gould, On Television: The Complete CBC Broadcasts 1954-1977
This 19-hour, 10 DVD set is the most comprehensive single collection devoted to the iconic Canadian Glenn Gould, who performs, deliberates, discusses, supplies documentaries and even conducts. A must have.
2. Robert Silverman, Mozart: The Piano Sonatas
The breadth and variety of Mozart’s genius is revealed in performances that allows the music to speak seemingly entirely of its own accord over the course of this seven CD set. More evidence of Robert Silverman’s stature among Canada’s most insightful pianists.
3. The Oregon Symphony, Carlos Kalmar, Music for a Time of War
Superbly prepared live performances recorded just before the OS travelled to Carnegie Hall. Vaughan Williams’s Fourth Symphony is a stunner and Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem is no less so.
4. Vilde Frang, Michail Lifits, Violin Sonatas by Bartók, Grieg & Strauss
5. Orchestra of the National Academy of Santa Cecilia, Antonio Pappano, Rachmaninoff: Symphony No. 2
6. Lise de la Salle, Liszt: Piano Works
7. Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Vasily Petrenko, Shostakovich: Symphony No. 10
8. Joyce DiDonato, Chorus and Orchestra of the Lyon National Opera, Diva, Divo
9. Martha Argerich, Various Artists, Live from Lugano 2010
10. Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Claudio Abbado, Mahler: Symphony No. 9