Since January, our ears have reveled in hearing new LPs from several bona fide superstars and promising debuts from up-and-coming artists. Of course, there was also one juggernaut from a power-house Brit vocalist that shattered all expectations. Naturally, a few of our discoveries rose above the usual din, and it’s about time we shared the music that truly sound-tracked our 2011.
And so, like at the end of 2010, each of the site’s three editors recently took it upon themselves to strap on their pumped up kicks and sift through the records that ran the world, rolled in the deep and took them to their own personal edge of glory in 2011. Head below to catch the roundup of Idolator’s 10 Favorite Albums Of The Year (which, we’ll point out, are in no particular order).
Foster The People, Torches
ROBBIE DAW: It’s interesting to dig around online and read all of the lore that’s out there about this band — particularly the bit that notes Mark Foster was at one time apparently being courted by Death Row Records in the hopes of shaping him into a blue-eyed soul solo act, a la Robin Thicke — because I just can’t picture it. Genre-wise, Torches is all over the place, but it works thanks to the solid songwriting and impeccable melodies that run throughout. Seeing FTP’s energetic live show helps seal the deal.
Key Track: “Don’t Stop (Color On The Walls)” is the LP’s brash and bratty rock jam.
Lady Gaga, Born This Way
BECKY BAIN: When I first listened to Gaga’s latest opus (a week early — sorry, Gaga!), I couldn’t pin it down — what was this musical monster? Lyrically, sonically and thematically, the album is all over the place. It’s overwhelmed with religious imagery that’s mashed up with dive bar adoration, political statements, self-empowerment anthems, ’80s synths, country power ballads, mariachi bands, not to mention several different languages. But I love that Gaga didn’t even attempt to restrain herself in any way. Pulling back a little would have perhaps made a more cohesive album, but it wouldn’t be anywhere near as exciting.
Key Track: “Heavy Metal Lover”, which isn’t one bit heavy metal, captures Gaga’s inner nightclub maven.
ERIKA BROOKS ADICKMAN: Like our pals on the The Skorpion Show, my first listen of “Run The World (Girls)” left me with the taste of “meh”. It wasn’t until I watched Beyonce’s jaw-dropping performance of the girl-power track on Le Grand Journal that something clicked. I’m not sure whether the mother-to-be and I had a real moment or what, but from then on I was all for 4. The album starts off with a slow burn with love ballads like “1 + 1″ and mellow jams “Party” and “Love On Top” before igniting into four-alarm-fire dance tracks (“Countdown”). The 30-year-old may be happily married, but, man, does she make “Best Thing I Never Had” believable.
Key Track: “End Of Time” is fun and dancy, and evokes the drumline excitement of Destiny’s Child’s “Lose My Breath”.
RD: Smooth-voiced Will is having a major comeback in his home country of the UK thanks to this album, which is flawlessly produced by Richard X. (Unfortunately, Echoes is currently only available in the States on import.) The music included takes you on a journey through dance, retro-sounding jams and ballads awash with synths and somber piano chords. Lyrically, Young, now 10 years on from becoming the world’s first Idol winner in the franchise, digs deep into his own experiences with heartache and the darker side of relationships. If tasked with only choosing one album from 2011 that really knocked me for a loop, this could well be it.
Key Track: Electro-pop perfection is achieved on “Losing Myself”.
BB: Oh Land, whose real name is Nanna Øland Fabricius, was first brought to my attention when I wrote a Popping Up feature on her. A year later, I’m still fawning over her self-titled US debut. Jumping from heartbreaking to jovial (sometimes within the same track) this Danish artist has created a beautiful, haunting and unforgettable album. The woman had originally trained to be a ballet dancer. Lucky for us, she blossomed into a risk-taking musician — one who thrilled both us and all in attendance at our South By Southwest Pray For Pop party earlier this year!
Key Track: “Wolf And I”, an unforgettable melodic fable about star-crossed love.
EBA: I first fell for 21 back in the fall of 2010. Adele dropped by the Idolator office and let us sample tracks from the LP, and I found myself fighting back tears. “Rolling In The Deep” was like a gateway drug into the album, and I couldn’t get enough. There is something in the British songbird’s sound that exhibits beautiful melancholy and heartbreak that reminds me of the late Laura Nyro (see: “Gonna Take A Miracle” and “Wedding Bell Blues”). The rich soul in the 23-year-old’s voice brings me back to Bonnie Raitt’s “Been Too Long At The Fair” and “Love Has No Pride”. One doesn’t need to have gone through a break up to find solace in 21, but, hey, it doesn’t hurt.
Key Track: Gospel-inspired tune “Take It All” will never get the non-stop airplay of “Rolling In The Deep” or “Someone Like You”, and that’s a shame.
RD: I feel like I’ve been waiting forever for this Swedish duo’s shimmery debut album to come out. (Actually, it’s only been since 2009, when the cinematic and strange video for “Into The Clouds” drifted online.) This pristine dream pop LP is brimming with synths and is best listened to while laying in a field of blue and yellow flowers, closing your eyes and teleporting yourself onto the clouds a mile above. But I feel I should warn you: the aptly-titled Voyage is a highly addictive experience that refuses to be played just once in a sitting.
Key Track: There really isn’t a song to be skipped here, but one particular highlight is the forlorn “Wonders”.
Patrick Stump, Soul Punk
BB: As a huge Fall Out Boy fan, I had been awaiting a solo album from Mr. Stump for a long time. That solo album I had been imagining — a continuation of FOB’s sound, basically — wasn’t what he ended up delivering. It’s better. Patrick went glam, revved up the synths and showed us what happens when he’s not restricted to the pop-punk genre. After years of letting Pete Wentz’s lyrics flow out of his mouth, it’s wonderful to finally hear what Patrick has to say. (Did I mention he wrote every song, played every single instrument and produced the entire album himself? Truly the most “solo” solo album of the year.)
Key Track: “Run Dry (x heart x fingers)”, an ode to imbibing and letting yourself make mistakes.
EBA: Ben Folds Five broke up before I got to see them live. So, while this compilation contains some of Ben’s more commonly known tracks, having the chance to hear previously-unreleased live songs like “Narcolepsy” (from a 1999 Stockholm performance) gave me the concert experience I was never able to have. Rare first cuts like “Julianne”, off a never-released 1994 album, and shelved demos like “Unrelated” makes this three-disc compilation worth every penny. Perfect for the lifetime Ben Folds fan and a great introduction for the person who just thinks of the North Carolinian as merely That Judge From The Sing-Off.
Key Track: “Smoke” (performed live with the Western Australian Symphony) in a word: unreal.
Britney Spears, Femme Fatale
RD: I’ll just come out and say it, and the Britney fans can hate or debate all they want: I think Femme Fatale beats Blackout as far as Spears’ best album is concerned. For me, they’re the only two albums she’s released that I find myself going back to and giving repeat listens in their entirety, and FF just sounds more like a consistent and focused effort, thanks to exec producers Max Martin and Dr. Luke. Sure, Brit’s voice has never sounded less like a human than it does here. But this era of the singer’s career gave her three Top 10 singles off an album for the first time and gave me a disc of tunes that hasn’t left my car since March.
Key Track: Dubstep-riddled lead single “Hold It Against Me”.