December 14, 2011

Top 11 UK Indie Albums of 2011

2011 was a pretty good year for music. Sure there was a lot of mass produced, suit pleasing, teen pop. Sure all the award ceremonies and music channels spent the year proving to me just how far from ‘current’ musical trends my tastes appear to be. And sure, BOTH Gallagher brothers survived the death of Oasis. However, in amongst all of this, 2011 featured some of the most diverse indie releases in recent memory. There was so much good stuff in fact that a top 10 list didn’t seem to be enough. So being the dedicated music journalist that I am, I’ve decided to increase my work load by a whole 1/10th to fully do justice to 2011. Here’s my list of the year’s Top 11 Indie Albums.

#11 Pala by Friendly Fires (St Albans, England)

Pala by Friendly Fires

At their best, Friendly Fires are one of the most exciting pop-rock bands around. In their first LP Jump Into The Pool we saw a band that was establishing itself. With Pala they are announcing their intent. And it is to ROCK. A far more sophisticated album than their debut, Pala is more layered and significantly more polished. Clearly benefiting from the 3 year gap between releases. Pala saw the band teaming up with producing master Paul Epworth, and to good effect. As emotive as I like to go, Friendly Fires manage to lighten things up at points in the album but they are truly at their most comfortable when they get sentimental. A beautifully put together album that is well worth 45 minutes of anyone’s life.

Score: 3/5
Watch Video: Friendly Fires – Hawaiian Air


#10 This Modern Glitch by The Wombats (Liverpool, England)

This Modern Glitch by The Wombats

This Modern Glitch captures The Wombats at their very best. On the surface the album sounds like a lighthearted indie romp, but with lyrics full of desperation and depression it is so much more than that. Frontman Matthew Murphy once again guides us through his worries, fears, and personal lows with a perfect juxtaposition in his upbeat vocals. Expertly arranged and with just the right balance between instrumental airiness and melancholy. The Wombats have completely side-stepped any sophomore slump talk with a light sounding, angst-filled album that leaves you feeling more up than down.

Score: 4/5
Watch Video: The Wombats – Jump Into the Fog


#9 Blood Pressures by The Kills (UK/USA)

Blood Pressures by The Kills

Listeners are once again treated to the incredible collaboration of Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince. And once again, it works. Already one of the very best garage-punk dues, their latest album builds from where they left off and just gets better. As always Hince is at his guitar playing best when accompanied by the lust-filled vocals of Mosshart. Known for their minimalist approach, Blood Pressures is chunkier and more layered than their previous work, and it’s all for the better.

Score: 3.5/5
Watch Video: The Kills – Future Starts Now


#8 The Big Roar by The Joy Formidable (North Wales)

The Big Roar by The Joy Formidable

Our first debut album in the list (Noel Gallagher’s doesn’t count; he has friends coming out of the wazzoo and could get an album of him on the toilet released). And this might be one of the most surprising albums on the list (if Noel Gallagher doesn’t count again, and let’s be honest, don’t we wish he didn’t). It’s taken 4 years for the band to get to the point where they were ready to release this album and it was worth every minute of waiting. Opening with noise and distorted guitars in “The Everchanging Spectrum Of A Lie” the tone is set for a full-on audio assault featuring tracks that build and wane as they lift you to a euphoric state. If they can continue like this The Joy Formidable could be one of the very best stadium rock bands around.

Score: 3.5/5
Watch Video: The Joy Formidable – Whirring


#7 Last Night on Earth by Noah And The Whale (London, England)

Last Night on Earth by Noah And The Whale

This was one of my most anticipated albums of the year and deservedly so. Often criticized for being too folksy, it is this change of pace that makes them such an entertaining band. In Last Night On Earth, they continue their move from folk-pop to full on indie-folk-rock epicness (music genres are ridiculous boxes). This album is beautifully worked, mixing guitars, synths, violins, harpsichords and more, as Charlie Fink and the rest of Noah and the Whale continue to evolve in new and pleasantly surprising ways.

Score: 3.5/5
Watch Video: Noah And The Whale – L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N.

#6 Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds by Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds (Manchester, England)

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds

Raise your hands if you wanted to hate this album? Ok, I’ll have to put my hand down to finish this review. Trust me though, it was up. The death of Oasis was so public and seemingly self-absorbed that it was difficult to imagine either of the Gallagher brothers going on to do anything more than annoy each other. And, by default, us.

Enter Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, a truly amazing debut album from a band that came together so quickly. Clearly built around the not insubstantial talents of Noel Gallagher, the album features some of his best work in years. Staying true to his Britpop roots, the album doesn’t stray far from the norm. Why should it though? This is what he’s good at, this is where he works, this is why people loved him (a long long time ago). This album will not only surprise you. It also serves as a giant middle finger to Liam whose Beady Eye work has been disappointingly mediocre. Raise your hand if you think Noel Gallagher’s having a Merry Christmas?

Score: 3.5/5
Watch Video: Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – If I Had A Gun…


#5 Suck It And See by The Arctic Monkeys (Sheffield, England)

Suck It And See by The Arctic Monkeys

The Arctic Monkeys had a lot to prove with this album. Humbug is widely viewed as a flop, or at best a failure to live up to what might have been an unfair amount of hype. What did we expect though? Well, this – In Suck It And See the Monkeys show us that they still have ‘it’. The album does not return to the adrenaline-fueled rush that their early work had, instead trying for a more mature, sophisticated sound. Gone are the roaming explosive guitar riffs, replaced by tighter, more aware instrumentals. Gone are Alex Turner’s sex-fueled hints at teen antics, replaced by themes of love and hurt. And gone, for me at least, are any doubts about this band. This album is a welcome return to success for a band that had actually been good all along. Some people just didn’t grow with them.

Score: 3.5/5
Watch Video: Arctic Monkeys – Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair


#4 Euphoric //Heartbreak\\ by Glasvegas (Glasgow, Scotland)

Euphoric //Heartbreak\\ by Glasvegas

Big. Large. Huge. Ginormous. Grandiose. Epic. There are a lot of words you could use to describe the sound on Euphoric//Heartbreak\\. None of them seem descriptive enough though. What James Allen and the rest of Glasvegas have actually achieved is so much more than that. Following up their 2009 album Flowers And Football Tops was never going to be easy, but they’ve done it. With heavy synths and powerful bass lines overlaid by Allan’s endless, accent heavy emoting, Euphoric//Heartbreak\\ does exactly what it says on the cover. A great effort from a band that could well set the tone for stadium-filling indie bands over the next few years.

Score: 4/5
Watch Video: Glasvegas – The World Is Yours (Audio)


#3 Smother by Wild Beasts (Kendal, England)

Smother by Wild Beasts

If you don’t already know about Wild Beasts then you are SO 2008. Which doesn’t seem so bad actually. Or it wouldn’t if they hadn’t, somehow, been able to bring out 3 amazing albums in that time. They have though, and that’s what is so impressive about this band. Following on from Limbo, Panto(2008) and Two Dancers (2009), Smother is a much subtler album which explores the individual talents of the band members with more finesse than their previous efforts. Still revolving around the recurrent themes of lust and violence, Smother’s impact comes from a more emotional place and features heartfelt lyrics over masterfully arranged instrumentals. All the band members stepped up on this one, taking a risk by toning down a lot of the album. It paid off as Smother is their most sincere and accomplished work to date.

Score: 3.5/5
Watch Video: Wild Beasts – Lion’s Share


#2 Skying by The Horrors (Southend on Sea, England)

Skying by The Horrors

Good luck guessing what you are going to get from The Horrors. They seem to move through so many genres in every album (and, you could argue, every track) that it now seems silly that they were so unfairly pigeon-holed when they first came into the spotlight. Once again with Skying they come across as a band out to prove their detractors wrong, featuring a mix of synth-backed pop-rock, evident in tracks like ‘Still Life’ and throughout the album. Faris Badwin continues to be the centerpiece of the band as he grows into one of the most talented, varied, and exciting artists in today’s music scene.

Score: 4/5
Watch Video: The Horrors – Still Life


#1 21 by Adele (London, England)

21 by Adele

No doubt some of you will be up in arms over this one. Zip it. Put your indie snobbery aside. Listen to 21 and you will find one of the most heartfelt and vocally impressive albums of the decade. Adele hit a home run at the 2011 Brit Awards with her performance of “Someone Like You”. For most artists, this would be the moment of their year. For Adele it was merely the icing on the cake. Her debut album 19 was critically acclaimed, and the follow up 21 has already smashed UK records on its way to selling more than 12 million copies. If you take 19 and 21 together, Adele has topped the UK album charts for an astonishing 96% of the 37 weeks counted so far this year. I shouldn’t even have to review these albums. If you haven’t heard them you’re not a music fan.

Score: 4.5/5
Watch Video: Adele – Set Fire To The Rain


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