Mainly Genius


The Albums of 2011: Part II

The fun continues as the Mainly Genius albums of 2011 countdown reveals albums 4-7.

Perhaps worth mentioning some albums that didn’t quite make the cut at this juncture – efforts including the rasping and raw El Camino by The Black Keys, Jay-Z & Kanye West’s hip-hop super-album Watch the Throne, the fantastically mature and engaging Skying by The Horrors and So Beautiful or So What from folk demi-god Paul Simon. All excellent efforts but not quite as good as these..

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This is Part II – you can see Part I HERE, and Part III HERE

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7. British Sea Power – Valhalla Dancehall (Released 10th January, full review here)

Those following the trajectory of British Sea Power’s now lengthy career will have noticed a steady upward trend. Starting in 2003 and making a real breakthrough with career highlight Do You Like Rock Music in 2008, they’ve continued to be one of the few indie bands that have sustained and improved upon themselves album after album. Whilst many indie bands enjoy a peak before a sharp fall into nothingness (Klaxons anyone?), BSP have become favourites of many in the music press known for their loveable eccentricity that never ventures into anything alienating.

The album is an superb representation of this and whilst it’s not got the breakthough catchiness or pop of Do You Like Rock Music, this one feels almost like the band have grown up and is easily the most cohesive album to date. From the roaring power of Who’s in Control and We Are Sound, to the more measured but no less engaging Georgie Ray.

Although a ten minute epic was perhaps a little much for an album closer, Valhalla Dancehall contains much of the bands best work to date, combining the oblique lyrics and themes the band are loved for, with enough gusto and energy to bring new fans on board. Arguably the best BSP have produced to date, it comes as an excellent reminder that they’re still one of best in their class and although they may be nearly 10 years in, there’s plenty more to come yet.

British Sea Power – Who’s In Control?

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6. The Weeknd – House of Balloons (Released 21st March)

There’s something so satisfying when a hidden gem is uncovered. A diamond in a vast sea of rough music. 21-year-old Abel Tesfaye – better known by his stage name The Weeknd – falls firmly into this category, and with his debut album House of Balloons by far the winner of free album of the year, is destined for a spectactular future based on this offering.

The album is the first of a trilogy released in 2011 (the other two being Thursday and Echoes of Silence) and a joy to behold. Effortless and skilful are words that immediately spring to mind as the combination of soul, electro and Hip-Hop come together in spectacular fashion, with opener High for This a particular highlight – and a favourite of Hip-Hop superpower Drake no less.

Based on his first year, The Weeknd is assured of a successful future – House of Balloons sits easily alongside some of the best in the business, most of which have experience and and fanbases that should put them well out of reach. The fact that it’s all free makes it all the more unbelievable and fantastic for it – and now there’s no excuse not to download it.

The Weeknd – High For This

The Weeknd – The Party & The After Party

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5. Coldplay – Mylo Xyloto (Release 24th October)

As a band Coldplay have recently entered their 2nd decade together and, unsurprisingly, are looking to make a U2-like grand statement to give them that one that counts.  And, unsurprisingly, ­Mylo Xyloto is a huge, stadium-sized musical statement for X Factor generation.

For all it’s successes, 2008’s Viva La Vida was perhaps too experimental, for a pop band at least; the result of the band trying move away from easy-listening (read: boring) 3rd album X&Y. Mylo Xyloto then is the coming together of the two. Invoking that Coldplay knack of changing their sound and yet remaining the same is heard all over this. Including short bursts of synths in-between storming pop numbers culminating in ­Princess of China a duet with Rihanna that moves that moves the goalposts and places them in direct competition with the R&B and Pop that resides at the top of the charts.

It’s hard to deny that the doubters will be out with a renewed vigour as songs such Paradise, Charlie Brown and lead single Every Teardrop is a Waterfall will feature in idents and trailers for months to come. But there’s no denying the quality and what’s clear is this is a band that has, yet again, raised their own bar even higher. From the driving bass of Paradise, to the earthy almost analog sounds of Major Minus, to the biggest throwback to their early career in the soulful Up in Flames.

Although it won’t be seminal album they’d hoped for, there’s plenty to enjoy here and although we’re unlikely to see a shift in the greater musical landscape, what Mylo Xyloto does do is bridge a gap between the stadium bands of old and the R&B acts that dominate in the 21st century. Capturing the essence of both and diluting neither is a impressive achievement – if there is one band to save the music industry, you’ll hate me for saying Coldplay. But I’m afraid the answer is Coldplay.

Coldplay – Princess of China (feat. Rhianna)

Coldplay – Major Minus

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4. Manchester Orchestra – Simple Math (Released 9th May)

It’s difficult to place why Manchester Orchestra are still limited to such a relatively small following. At a push, it would be possible to put them in a box – annoyingly labelled ‘heavy rock’ or similar – but their particular scene was long gone by the time debut I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child hit the shelves in 2006. But since then they’ve been steadily building up a loyal following, especially with the music press – Andy Hull’s whiny yet powerful voice instantly recognisable as it bursts with emotion and anger.

As an album, Simple Math has made waves, and many more than any of it’s predecessors and the praise is rightly deserved. It moves from the measured calmness of opener Deer, to the crashing drums and brutal guitars of April Fool to the album’s title track and highlight Simple Math.

Bringing together to calmness before the orchestrated strings and guitars roar over the chorus – Hull sings of a young man trying to find guidance and love and has an uncanny ability to draw the listener in as everything seemingly crashes and collapses around him.

The album reeks of maturity and a band finally finding their own voice and playing to their strengths – storming guitars will placate those who like to have their ears punished, whilst those who appreciate the more measured and introspective moments will equally find much to enjoy. Dripping with emotion, darkness and brilliance at every turn – Simple Math deserves more credit than it’ll ever get, but that’s what makes it all the better, and I hope it stays that way.

Manchester Orchestra – April Fool

Manchester Orchestra – Simple Math

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READ PART I OF ‘THE ALBUMS OF 2011’

READ PART III OF ‘THE ALBUMS OF 2011’

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[…] is Part I – you can see Part II HERE, and Part III HERE (coming […]

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