Top 10 Albums of 2011, part 1

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Mag 31 2011, 6:26

BEST ALBUMS OF 2011, PART 1 (January - May)

I've tried so much new music in the past 6 months and fallen back in love with so many childhood classics that I simply HAVE to do a two-parter this year! I know it technically isn't the end of May yet, but I figured I'd use a highly anticipated album's release (Lady Gaga's Born This Way) as a cut-off point.

My "top albums" lists consist of my personal favorites from the year, regardless of when they came out. Most of them are things I've just gotten in to that year, although some are rediscoveries, and very few of them actually came out in 2011. Keep this in mind.

10. Dirty Elegance - Ode to Bartleby
Trip-hop has, quite honestly, always struck me as a messy pile of sounds beloved by hipsters and people who get off on being "musically obscure." Then I found Dirty Elegance. I'll never be a major trip-hop fan, but he's opened the genre to me, probably because his work is some of the most moving and emotional I've ever heard from any artist in any genre. Ode to Bartleby is a great album, and its use of Malcolm X makes my little heart sigh with fondness, but it doesn't reach the genius of another trip-hop album...

09. Kamelot - Epica
Kamelot has been on my lists continuously, and while I admit that part of it is my fondness for Faustian tales, there's certainly much more to it than that. Roy Khan's voice is simply incredible, and the band's ability to weave orchestral instruments with metal melodies absolutely stuns me. This is an album even non-metal fans can get in to, thanks to its wonderful vocals and beautiful soundscapes.

08. Dead Can Dance - Toward the Within
It's not the kind of music I listen to with great regularity, but when I do listen to it, it's a nigh-on religious experience. It's a shame this duo broke up, because they created some truly beautiful work. Their voices are simply stunning, and their version of "I Am Stretched On Your Grave" tops any other I've heard.

07. Plumb - Chaotic Resolve
Plumb reminds me of artists like old-school Tori Amos, Vienna Teng, and Kerli (who pops up later on this list): their music is catchy without being bland or fluffy. Plumb has some of the best lyrics I've ever heard, and I connected with a number of songs on this album, especially "Better" and "Cut."

06. Big John Bates - Take Your Medicine
I've had this album for at least two years, but as far as my love of psychobilly goes, they've always been relatively low on my list. I'll be honest: I didn't really pay much attention to the album, barring the title track, and I cannot fathom why I ignored it for so long. The entire album is at least "epic," and most of the songs are just plain "flawless." I've caught myself dancing to "Citywide" more than I want to admit! I think it's the distinctive rockabilly twinge in the vocals that sets the band apart from me: even the best psychobilly bands tend to stick to more punk-rock or even poppy voices, which is fun, but sometimes it's nice to hear something a little different. And I've heard their live shows are just AMAZING.

05. Adele - 21
Some may say that Adele has been over-hyped, but I think she deserves very bit of love she's gotten this past year. Her songs are often lovely, moving, and catchy, but more than anything, her voice is deep and powerful, a little-represented combination in the modern musical world. I'm especially loving "Rumor Has It" and "Set Fire To The Rain."

04. Kerli - Love Is Dead
In terms of vocals, Kerli and Adele could almost be sisters with their soulful deliveries and rich tones. Beyond that, I was actually ready to just dismiss Kerli...then I really listened to her music. It's not only catchy ("Creepshow" gets stuck in my head regularly), but some of the lyrics are just...wow. This is pop music that goes beyond the candyfloss fluff you hear on the radio; this album is an emotional bomb.

03. The Lonely Island - Turtleneck and Chain
First and foremost, I will argue that this comedy group has better beats than most "real" rap groups, and I don't care if that makes me a loser. But even if their beats were so-so, their humor is just...it's just so SPOT ON. Every single song on this album makes me laugh hysterically. A friend actually had me listen to "Mother Lover" for the first time on a city bus, and I looked like a lunatic laughing in the back seats. If you buy just one album this year, make it Turtleneck and Chain--support these amazing artists who managed to make Michael Bolton hip again!

02. Heart - Bad Animals
I grew up with Heart: my dad had several of their albums, and I would play them on repeat for hours, getting lost in Amy's amazing belt voice. I recently yoinked these albums back out of my dad's collection, ripped them to my PC, and fell back in love, especially with Bad Animals, which always was and always will be my absolute favorite. Every song is an underrated masterpiece, and if her voice doesn't send chills down your spine, you need to get your nervous system checked.

01. Dirty Elegance - Finding Beauty in the Wretched
This album is, as my entry for #10 implied, absolute GENIUS. I have never heard anything like it, and it's quite honestly a difficult work to describe. Suffice to say that when I play this album through my iPod speakers while I read a magazine or put on my make-up, I run through an entire gamut of emotions, held under the sway of this amazing album. This is sculpture, poetry, and music all wrapped up in one package.

HONORABLE MENTIONS
Janet Jackson - Design of a Decade
Lykke Li - Wounded Rhymes
Morcheeba - Blood Like Lemonade
How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying - 1995 Broadway Revival Cast
The Distillers - Coral Fang
The Cranberries - Bury the Hatchet
Soundtrack - The Tudors (Trevor Morris)

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