The Top 40 Albums Of 2011: 20 – 11

From DJ Shadow to Beirut

Clash continues it’s in-depth rundown of it’s Top 40 Albums of 2011 with DJ Shadow, Lykke Li, Gruff Rhys, Planningtorock, Beastie Boys, Wild Beasts, King Creosote and Jon Hopkins, Fleet Foxes, Bjork and Beirut.

20. DJ Shadow ‘The Less You Know The Better’

“This record is truer to ‘Endtroducing…’ and ‘The Private Press’ lineage. I don’t mean to say that I wasn’t trying to be progressive or it isn’t me at full steam because it is; I just think I didn’t need this album to be a provocation.” Speaking to Clash back in August, DJ Shadow (Josh Davis) was in a brusque – some might even say gobby – mood. Rallying against the insular nature of modern music and jaundiced views which propagate online about every facet of popular culture, DJ Shadow sounded not unlike an artist on the cusp of abandoning music altogether. But he can’t and probably never will. Why? Because he clearly still loves it. Following on from the Hyphy drenched enema of ‘The Outsider’, Shadow wanted to create an album which drew from the same lineage of ‘Endtroducing…’ without becoming a revisionist exercise. No it wasn’t a provocation, but overtly referencing an album which has become a generational touchstone – even if it is your own – is certainly ballsy. ‘The Less You Know The Better’ (only his fourth LP in fifteen years) successfully plundered the stacks to construct an album full of stylistic creases that nodded to metal (‘I Gotta Rokk’), classic hip-hop (‘Back To Front’) and Crunkstep (‘Def Surrounds Us’) whilst fundamentally retaining the Shadow DNA. Densely constructed and dusted in a lifetime’s love of vinyl, ‘The Less You Know The Better’ may not be groundbreaking but it makes you fall in love with DJ Shadow all over again. Light fantastic!

Best Bit: The aching piano led simplicity of ‘Sad And Lonely’.

Adam Park

19. Lykke Li ‘Wounded Rhymes’

There was little chance Lykke Li was ever going to be anything but a musician. However, if she had stacked shelves, you can imagine she’d do it lethargically. Pursing a half-lit cigarette between her lips and wrestling the ideals of true love against the pitfalls of individuality in her head, as she planted each can of Spam in it’s rightful place.

Daughter of two musicians, raised on a Portuguese mountain top, sent to India for her winters and then finally rooted in Brooklyn by nineteen, the foundations were always there for her to become a deeply creative soul. And although her 2009 debut was charming in its pop whimsy, 2011 signalled the emancipation of her explicit inner scribe. Not many expected the remarkably candid and revealing window that Lykke Li opened to the world on release. It was a scene painted with introspection. Anonymous heartbreak, post-tour depression and her own reluctant coming of age. Each of her chosen topics were tackled with a brutal realism; a refreshing raw emotion and eloquent expressions of pain, favoured over any rose-tinted tableau of deluded romance. On each track, her wise and weary vocals glide over rattling percussion like a train over tracks. Some chugging at tender speeds (‘Love Out Of Lust’) and others careering into magnificent chaos (‘Get Some’). And as much as Lykke rejects the labelling of Swedish pop, there is a definite gust of Scandinavian atmosphere through everything she does, but a much bleaker perspective than we’re accustomed to. She’s the thinking man’s Robyn. A devastated Abba.

Best Bit: The soothing chorals of ‘Unrequited Love’ reach a lovely end, the track changes, and suddenly an assault of tribal drums and bassy fuzz explode as Lykke transforms into a straight-talking hussy for the abrasive ‘Get Some’.

Joe Zadeh

18. GRUFF RHYS ‘Hotel Shampoo’

In an alternative reality Gruff Rhys is the most successful musician in the world. A Jacko-type maverick who prefers to actually travel to the moon rather than piss about walking backwards. His third solo album is whimsical, intimate and drenched in psychedelia, seeing him win the Welsh answer to the Mercury award.

Best Bit: ‘Sensations In The Dark’: a lost Bond theme where James drops acid?

Matthew Bennett

17. Planningtorock ‘W’

Janine from Bolton sounds more like a Live And Kicking caller than a prosthetically enhanced, inter-sex music beast that’s masterminded a collection of gender defying sci-fi soundscapes. Honed in Berlin, the motherboard of the electronic music industry, ‘W’ has enough otherwordly clout to summon an industrial disco armageddon. Men are from Mars, and women are from Venus. Janine is from Bolton.

Best Bit: ‘I’m Your Man’ crashes open with a tsunami of shuddering big beats, moans and synth pandemonium.

Joe Zadeh

16. Beastie Boys ‘Hot Sauce Committee Part Two’

Delayed from its original 2009 release due to Adam Yauch’s treatment for parotid cancer, ‘Hot Sauce Committee Part Two’ saw the Beastie Boys returning to a sound which characterised their mid-Nineties purple patch. Shouty and brimming with energy, the Beastie Boys still have the skills to pay the bills.

Best Bit: ‘Make Some Noise’’s lolloping groove and epic time-clash video.

Adam Park

15. Wild Beasts ‘Smother’

Still driven by the horn and hormones, ‘Smother’ swam into focus with a slow-burning splendour. Elegant, indulgent, poetic; it dialled down the baroque and intensified the beauty so that Wild Beasts enticed like never before. One of 2011’s essential albums.

Best Bit: : ‘Burning’s flickering opulence. Feel it creep up the walls.

Reef Younis

14. King Creosote And Jon Hopkins ‘Diamond Mine’

A stately collaboration between the self-appointed Scottish regent and electronic wunderkind Hopkins. Its whispers of life in a coastal village features intimate arrangements, surprising textures and heartbreaking vocals; providing sustenance for your very soul. Short, sweet and uncommonly beautiful.

Best Bit: The gloriously empathetic and emotionally enchanting lyrics on single ‘Bubble’.

Anna Wilson

13. FLEET FOXES ‘Helplessness Blues’

With ‘Helplessness Blues’, Fleet Foxes built upon the foundations of their debut. Glorious harmonies and timeless melodies float dreamily and merrily, lost in space and time. A gentle, meditative waltz into a parallel universe in a state of perpetual summer.

Best Bit: The graceful shift at the centre of ‘The Plains/Bitter Dancer’.

Mischa Pearlman

12. BJÖRK ‘Biophilia’

Whilst the digital world accelerated, Björk skipped backwards to harness the acoustics of lightening bolts. Squeezing her musical spurs into the flanks of all our natural forces, she conjured a twenty-six-girl Icelandic choir, her molten voice and the moon’s gravitational lust to strand us in her restless sea. Again.

Best Bit: Witnessing Björk fuse the cerebral and the natural in Reykjavik’s new opera house.

Matthew Bennett

11. BEIRUT ‘The Rip Tide’

As the Middle East slashed itself open via the power of transparency, the Arab Spring carved its deep social divide in the desert. But Zach Condon chose to re-deploy his nom-de-guerre in a more understated, yet still declarative direction. ‘The Rip Tide’ may look calm but has dangerous and affecting currents

Best Bit: ‘Santa Fe’ – Beirut at his most dreamy and charming, as good as ‘Postcards…’

Matthew Bennett

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Read Clash’s full Top 40 Albums Of 2011 HERE

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