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Ali's 2011: ALBUMS

My top 10 albums of 2011. Aside from the top three these albums are probably weaker than my top 10 from last year, but I feel that the general standard has been a lot stronger overall.
10The Horrors

I for one can't recall any band in recent memory changing their sound with as much success as The Horrors. Only five years ago, they were ridiculed for their gimmicky, substance-free garage punk, but now, with two masterful shoegaze albums to their name they're rightly considered among the best bands in Britain. 2009's Primary Colours was the key turning point, but with this follow-up the quintet built on it's achievements and created a significantly stronger record. 'Still Life' was a brilliant lead single, finding a perfect balance between anthemic accessibility and lush psychedelica, but there were other songs on Skying which were just as good. The savage punk attack of 'Endless Blue' in particular stood out, as did the mind-bending 'Moving Further Away,' which has provided a stunning climax to their recent live shows. There are a few lesser moments scattered around, but the record never dips below being enjoyable, and should they maintain their current rate of improvement it shouldn't be too long before The Horrors deliver their definitive masterpiece.
9Foo Fighters
Wasting Light

I've always been a fan of Dave Grohl and co, but I never expected them to come out with an album that rocked so hard this far into their career - never mind one so good. I actually enjoyed the more mellow, stripped back work of their past few records, but the return of Pat Smear as a third guitarist really has sparked new life into the band, and they make full use of that extra man-power on every track here. This is Foo Fighters at their most direct, purposeful and exciting, and while it can't boast a single as brilliant as 'All My Life,' 'Everlong' or 'Monkey Wrench,' the album as a whole is arguably their most consistent yet. That's not to say that it's without it?s standouts; 'Bridge Burning' begins proceedings in truly exhilarating fashion, but even that is torn to shreds by ballsy thrasher 'White Limo,' which in a nutshell displays everything that?s great about Wasting Light. One of the year's most pleasant surprises.
8The Decemberists
The King Is Dead

If you'd have told me back in January that The King Is Dead would be my seventh favourite album come the end of the year, I'd have been pretty disappointed. It's not that I didn't enjoy the record, but it offered few of the features which caused me to fall in love with The Decemberists in the first place, most notably their trademark ridiculousness. Once I began to forgive these songs for their simplicity, though, I came to enjoy them far more, so much so that I'd argue that this album stands as the most consistently excellent in the band's catalog. It's refreshing how honest they were with their influences too, with R.E.M.'s Peter Buck guesting on 'Calamity Song,' 'Down By The Water' and 'This Is Why We Fight' and giving them that extra edge possessed by his own band, who live on in acts such as The Decemberists even after their sad demise
7The Joy Formidable
The Big Roar

With all the "Ones To Watch" polls being dominated by female singers and synthpop duos it was refreshing to see a no nonsense rock n roll band release the year's first truly great album. They're hardly the most innovative band around, but this Welsh trio's melding of indie rock, grunge and shoegaze spawned some truly brilliant songs which made their full-length debut more than worth the extended wait. A solid rhythm section, a barrage of noisy guitars and an engaging performance from frontwoman Ritzy Bryan characterise each and every song here, with the likes of 'Whirring,' 'Cradles' and the magnificent 'The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade' standing out as highlights. There are a handful of weaker cuts, especially towards the back end of the record, but they do little to take the sheen from this fine debut by a band who could be well worth getting excited about.
6PJ Harvey
Let England Shake

PJ Harvey has enjoyed a long and illustrious career, but this eighth studio effort may just be her finest achievement yet. A harrowing account of the horrors of war, Let England Shake is nothing less than a lyrical masterpiece, with blunt lines such as "soldiers fell like lumps of meat" dominating the record throughout. It's not all about the words, though - the musical backdrop isn't bad either. The autoharp she utilises from the offset does a great job in creating a tense, barren atmosphere which serves the record well, while the likes of 'The Glorious Land' and 'The Words That Maketh Murder' show that there are some top tunes here too. Make no mistake, though, the main reason why this record has received so much praise over the past 10 months is largely down to it's lyrical content, and while I don?t quite rate it as highly as many it is fully deserving of a place in anyone's best of the year list.
5Andrew Jackson Jihad
Knife Man

I'd never listened to Andrew Jackson Jihad before this record, and it was quite an introduction! It seemed absurd to me that any album released this year could top PJ Harvey's in terms of lyrical content, but once 'Gift of the Magi 2: Return of the Magi' had reached it's conclusion I already knew that it had a challenger. Blunt, witty, funny and at times brutally honest, Sean Bonnette has truly emerged as a new musical hero of mine, and delving further back into his band's back catalog has only increased my admiration for him and his way with words. At present, though, this still stands as my Andrew Jackson Jihad record of choice, not just lyrically, but also because of moments of unadulterated brilliance such as 'American Tune' and 'Sad Songs (Intermission)' which make Knife Man by a distance my favourite punk release of the year.
4Florence And The Machine

I enjoyed Florence And The Machine's debut album Lungs, but Ceremonials saw Florence Welch and her band step up in virtually every way, shape and form. Better songs, better individual performances - especially from Florence herself - and a better production culminated in a truly monumental record which more than deserved the strong sales it inevitably received. As ever, the singer's astonishing voice was at the forefront of everything, be it the stunning chorus of lead single 'Shake It Out,' the more restrained 'What The Water Gave Me' or the eighties indebted 'Lover To Lover.' Her backing band The Machine also did much to cover themselves in glory, though, with a fuller overall sound than that presented on Lungs and an especially potent percussive element which helped to define much of the record. Kate Bush remains the key point of reference for many when discussing Florence And The Machine, but if they keep on going like this it's not unforeseeable that they could some day eclipse her achievements.
3Bon Iver
Bon Iver, Bon Iver

Other than Manchester Orchestra's Simple Math, this was easily my most anticipated release of 2011, but I?d be lying if I sad that it struck a chord right away. This record couldn?t have come along at a worse time for me - I'd become utterly attached to For Emma, Forever Ago - and so had difficulty adjusting to the new full band sound, no matter how hard I tried. Slowly but surely, though, my reliance on For Emma fell slightly, and I started to come around to the wonders of songs like 'Holocene,' 'Calgary' and 'Beth/Rest,' which equal just about anything on Justin Vernon's landmark debut. Bon Iver, Bon Iver can't match it's predecessors consistency, and so is a slightly lesser record overall, but it's peaks are quite simply astonishing and provided undoubtedly the most engaging and emotionally affecting moments of any record released this year. With a perfect debut and a near-perfect sophomore, Bon Iver seem truly bound for greatness.
2Wild Beasts

Wild Beasts have always been on my radar, but I never envisaged them making a record as masterful as Smother. Toning down the eccentricities of their previous records in favour of a more considered, calculated approach, the band crafted a stunning body of work which stands as easily their strongest statement thus far. Hayden Thorpe's eloquent vocals may still be a source of irritation to some, but if one can stomach them an album of luscious melodies, stunning soundscapes and almost intriguing tension lies in wait. In truth, there aren't any outstanding individual moments here, but the flow of the record is virtually flawless, with each and every note working in perfect coherence and contributing to a body of work which overall is nothing sort of stunning. A cult concern no more, this record has rightly raised the band?s profile tenfold, so much that they're now widely respected as one of the UK's most inventive bands.
Go Tell Fire To The Mountain

Even now, six months on from its release, I find it difficult to conjure up adjectives which can do WU LYF's debut justice. That's not just a phony way of saying how unbelievably good it is - it's genuinely a really difficult album to describe - and as such might take a little while to sink in. Once it clicks, though, there's truly no looking back, with the record revealing itself as a virtually perfect culmination of their sound which all but confirms their place as arguably the most exciting new band on the planet. It might not be the most instantly satisfying, but this is one of those records that's just so easy to fall in love with and immerse yourself in, even if it's virtually impossible to understand what Ellery Roberts is shouting or for that matter what the whole thing in general is about. Moreover, it's one of those rare records which mixes originality with substance to create something truly special, and if their follow-up even comes close to matching it then WU LYF will surely have gone some way towards securing legendary status.
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