I‘m well on my way to buying more new albums this year than any other year thus far. As such, I could not keep this list to five, but I’m not a big fan of arbitrarily limited lists anyway – even the ordering on this is fairly arbitrary. Theese seven albums have distinguished themselves in my listening habits far above anything else I’ve gotten this year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if several of them stuck around for my end-of-the-year list as well. Anyway, here they are, my favorite albums of 2011, released before July 1st.
#7 – The Joy Formidable – The Big Roar
Jonathan introduced me to this Welsh band via their half album about a year ago, but I only really listened to it and got into the band just before they released this full-length, so I was perfectly primed for this to go into repeat, and that’s just what it did. It’s a big bombastic album, with lots of layers in the orchestration to go along with the lead vocals.
#6 – The Raveonettes – Raven in the Grave
I didn’t fall in love with this album quite as hard as I did with The Raveonettes’ previous release In and Out of Control, but it has grown on me quite a lot since I first got it, and I do really appreciate the band’s ability to innovate their sound (here softer and more contemplative than their previous noise-heavy rock) without leaving behind who they are – there’s still plenty of fuzz to go around here, and I actually expect the more thoughtful approach here may eventually be the one that stays with me for longer.
#5 – Death Cab for Cutie – Codes and Keys
Somehow I missed out on really being a Death Cab fan back in the day – I managed to get into indie rock somewhere in between their releases, and even though their name is omnipresent and I’m plenty adept at dropping it whenever appropriate, I actually know very little of their music. I decided I’d check this one out, and lo and behold, I cannot turn it off. I didn’t expect that, but it’s addicting, and I really want to fill in the gaps of their other albums now.
#4 – Cults – Cults
I came close to putting Cults on my list last year on the strength of a 3-song EP, but I just couldn’t do it with that little to go on. Now there’s a full album (which incorporates at least some of the EP, including the hit single “Go Outside”), and I can say with very little doubt this will be on my year-end list this time. Every one of these tracks is irresistibly catchy – fair warning, they WILL get stuck in your head.
#3 – Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes
I have Lykke Li’s 2009 release Youth Novel, but despite my best and repeated efforts, I have never been able to really get into it. Even seeing her live for part of a set at Lollapalooza wasn’t quite enough, even though she’s a charismatic performer. So it was with trepidation I picked up Wounded Rhymes…and loved it immediately. Still don’t love Youth Novel, but something about this new album is very nearly perfect. It’s strident and vulnerable, with a depth in the songs both musically and lyrically that I found lacking in the earlier outing. It’s a gorgeous and heartrending album that clearly cuts close to her heart, and that comes through in every song.
#2 – The Submarines – Love Notes/Letter Bombs
If the Submarines’ first album is about the dating process, breaking up and getting together again (which they did), and their second is about a young couple embarking into fully committed and joyful love together (which they did), then this third one is about dealing with the struggles and joys of married life (which they are doing). It’s more mature and more complicated than Honeysuckle Weeks, understanding that two people being a couple isn’t easy, but the happiness is worth the struggle. Not every song is autobiographical, but they can’t seem to keep the general trajectory of their lives out of their music, and when they’re able to capture their emotions as well as they are, I have no argument with that.
#1 – Dum Dum Girls – He Gets Me High EP
I usually don’t include EPs unless they’re exemplary. I guess this one is. It probably ranks high on my listening chart because I simply can’t turn it off when it starts and end up playing it on repeat forever. I had Dum Dum Girls’ full-length I Will Be on my year-end list last year, and I actually think this EP is better than that album. All three new songs are great, catchy in both music and lyrics, and the fourth now ranks a among my favorite covers, a pretty straight but really lovely rendition of The Smiths’ “There is a Light That Never Goes Out.” The band has another full-length due later this year. Will it top this? We’ll see.
Honorable Mentions: The Pauses – A Cautionary Tale, The Violet Lights – Sex & Sound EP, Vivian Girls – Share the Joy, Obi Best – Sentimental Education EP, The Belle Brigade – The Belle Brigade