Welcome to the fifth and final part of our albums of the year countdown – for the rest of the week, we’ll be bringing you our favourite albums of 2011, as voted for by our writers. Earlier this week, we revealed 50-41, 40-31, 30-21 and 20-11. We’ll bring you our favourite songs of the year next week. All in all, 24 lists were totted up by Mitchell Stirling, and votes were cast by Tom Bolton, Paul Brown, Sam Cleeve, Jane Corcoran, Lucy Dearlove, Rosie Duffield, Ben Dufton, Paul Faller, Stephen Ferdinando, Paul Gettings, Alex Kavanagh, Dannii Leivers, Steve McGillivray, Kenny McMurtrie, Jim Merrett, Greg Salter, Natalie Shaw, Andrew Schagen, Harley Sherman, Stef Siepel, Mitchell Stirling, Stephanie Stevens-Wade, Antonio Tzikas, and Russell Warfield. This list, and everything else that we do, would not have been possible without them and all our other writers – thank you!
After the sleeper success of their debut, Friendly Fires’ return was anticipated by many, and they didn’t disappoint. Pala is pure escapism – a carnival for a year when you might just have needed some distraction from the real world. The songs came in the colours of the parrot’s feathers on the LP cover – ‘Live Those Days Tonight’ and ‘Hawaiian Air’ in particular sounded like colour and sunshine and, briefly, forgetting everything else.
“Just like space is a vacuum – except for the hulking great lumps of stuff within it, this planet being one of them – Space Is Only Noise is minimal techno in the sense that it’s actually constructed from a chattering web of disparate genres and influences, from Tom Waits to Panda Bear. If nothing else, the Chilean ex-pat should be commended for out Lynching David Lynch.” Jim Merrett
“There’s something about midnight that heightens ones senses, isn’t there? In previous years I have often picked the album I defer to when on the midnight commute to my little ol’ home for the top spot. This album just has that midnight, distant vibe all over it. Emotion through a sense of disconnect, like you are watching events unfold in life as opposed to being part of it. Or maybe I’m just thinking this for the French cinema bits thrown in there. Jaar has this very rare sense of knowing when to use what kind of sound. And in music, that is a gift, and an important one at that. Not to mention that the actual songs that come out of it are tremendous, especially that killer combo smack down in the middle of the album. The songs ‘Problems with the Sun’ and ‘Space is Only Noise If You Can See’ are such great examples of not only Jaar’s musical skills, but also how they can be turned into good songs.” Stef Siepel
“Dance music for people who don’t feel like dancing, would prefer to listen to musique concrete, but aren’t averse to beats that bounce like a giant rubber band. De la bombe!” Tom Bolton
Joe Mount, with the help of his band of musician, re-imagined his hometown in the south west of England on The English Riviera – it became a place of romantic possibility and summer escape. The appeal came not just from Mount’s tender imagination, but also his band’s patience with a number of elements that could have derailed the whole thing – those liquid basslines are inviting rather than cheesy, and the textures and attention to detail gesture towards ‘70s soft rock without getting mired in pastiche. The English Riviera seems genuinely thoughtful and sincere, as well as featuring the best songs of Metronomy’s career.
“The Horrors finally find their sound, a great psychedelic album and one that restored my faith in the band.” Antonio Tzikas
“While not the quantum leap forward that 2009′s Primary Colours represented, Skying saw The Horrors consolidate their sonic progression with another fine collection of songs – as well as finally earning a deserved chart breakthrough, (on their own terms, no less). From the driving, look-laiden likes of ‘I Can See Through You’ and ‘Still Life’ to sprawling, brilliant epics ‘Moving Further Away’ and ‘Oceans Burning’, Skying moulds The Horrors’ myriad influences into a sound that is very much their own.” Paul Faller
“Probably one of the most addictive albums of the year, this took over my life for a little while. A nocturnal soundtrack that had the ability to seep into your mind.” Jane Corcoran
While the release came out of nowhere, the content didn’t. Sitting somewhere between the tenderness of In Rainbows and the crunchy electronica of Kid A, The King Of Limbs was at once a futurology lecture and a Radiohead history lesson. Colder than its immediate predecessor and not the massive paradigm shift of the band’s mid-career albums, this was no less a joy to actually listen to and the only real complaint is its all too brief length. And since when is being left wanting more a bad thing?” Jim Merrett
“Not to everyone’s taste, Radiohead continue to defy expectations. A darker, shorter and more brooding album than In Rainbows, it continues Thom Yorke’s fascination with electronica while keeping a firm grip on their signature sound.” Alex Kavanagh
“A lot was said about Radiohead’s previous album to this, In Rainbows. Was it a return to form after their more experimental phase? While everyone was still figuring this out, along came The King of Limbs. Now nobody was thinking about it as this was most definitely a brilliant Radiohead album – this was Radiohead back to their glorious best.” Steve McGillivray
“The baffling omission of Smother from the Mercury Prize shortlist turned out to be but a minor blip in the continued ascent of Wild Beasts. The band adopted a more pared down, less-is-more aesthetic than on previous records, which has been exquisitely combined with their thought-provoking, intimate lyricism to produce one of the year’s most stunningly beautiful records.” Paul Faller
“The clue’s in the title: smooth, insinuating, sinister, replete with thinly veiled threats sung in unsettling falsetto. Wild Beasts make seriously complex music, but resistance is futile.” Tom Bolton
“The fact that the record is self titled ought to have provided a clue to the ‘where are the fucking beats?’ naysayers. This isn’t a quasi-sequel to ‘CMYK’ – it’s a standalone artistic statement; an invitation from James Blake for us to re-evaluate his craft with completely fresh ears. Still laced with an incredible – if sparing – sense of rhythm, the album is a fabulous exercise in restraint, of doing more with less, and the possibilities of subtle build and release. Incredibly simple-but-effective shifts in texture frequently push these songs into unduly emotive territories, even when (or especially when) Blake’s vocal is accompanied only by piano, or nothing at all. To get angry that the record didn’t meet preconceived notions of what it would (or should) have sounded like is ridiculous. He can go back to proving himself as an unparalleled dance producer in due course. But for the moment, we’ve been happily introduced to a second Blake – one with an abundance of soulful atmospherics and a keen ear for vocal harmony. There’s more than enough room on my iPod for both Blakes.” Rusell Warfield
“An interesting and at times haunting album that pushes sound in new directions. Blake’s cover of ‘Limit To Your Love’ is undoubtedly a highlight.” Rosie Duffield
“SBTRKT’s debut album was worth the wait – paring down and smoothing out element of grime, techno, dubstep, garage, jungle and, yes, pop, he produced one of the most listenable and coherent album of the year. For a debut, this is no mean feat. Meanwhile the guests shone – Yukimi Nagano makes ‘Wildfire’ her own, Roses Gabor relishes the spotlight on second half highlight ‘Pharoahs’ and Sampha brings a sense of melancholy and sense of self awareness that wins you over from the off. Stunning while also intimate, I’m genuinely excited to see where SBTRKT takes us next.” Greg Salter
“After a string of remixes, the bedroom producer reveals himself, sort of. A tight, poppy debut that owes as much to Detroit techno and Chicago house as it does to south London dubstep. But not even the bassline wobbles are enough to shake off that mask.” Jim Merrett
“Believe the hype. PJ Harvey makes what many consider to be her best record yet, a profoundly moving ode to an England that exists only in our imaginations, at once desperately sad and romantic.” Alex Kavanagh
“Clearly deserved (though totally pointless) winner of this year’s Mercury Music Prize, another artist still producing excellent work in her prime.” Kenny McMurtrie
“Objectively speaking, Let England Shake is one of the year’s most outstanding artistic achievements, and I’d personally rank it as the best thing PJ Harvey has ever put her name to. To take on the subject of war without resorting to “WAR IZ BAD” tubthumping is commendable in itself – Harvey takes the far more restrained approach of narrating the horrors of war as seen through the eyes of the soldiers who were there. In doing so, however, she paints a more damning portrait of war than any protest song could ever hope to – and that’s the true genius of Let England Shake.” Paul Faller
“Polly Harvey’s songs are entirely original but sound as though they’ve existed for ever, or at the very least since the 17th century. Weighed down by history, buoyed up by melody, England all over.” Tom Bolton