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KINGBLIND TOP 15 ALBUMS OF 2011 (#5-1) (PART 3 OF 3)

Here is what you have all been waiting for. The top 15 albums of 2011. Broken down into 3 parts. (15 thru 11) – (10 thru 6) -(5 to 1)

Today we have our final batch.. So enjoy numbers 5 through number 1.. is going on Christmas break, We will return in early January.. Merry Christmas and Happy New Years!!

#5) Mastodon- The Hunter

How exactly does one go about following up a series of four concept albums on each of the elements, one of which was a loose adaptation of Moby Dick and the last three of which have sold in excess of 100,000 copies? If you’re Mastodon, it means letting loose and generally fucking around a bunch for that archetypal back-to-basics record, of course. Even as the term has devolved into little more than a trite press release buzzword in recent years, employed by everyone from Kylie Minogue, Metallica and a 30-years-washed-up Zombies to imply a big, shocking departure/return to form, it isn’t unheard of for an act to revert to their old ways for their best work in years.

In many ways though, The Hunter is very much a back-to-basics album, Mastodon’s most forward-thinking record yet that reprises the punchy force and (relatively) short track lengths of their 2004 opusLeviathan, while retaining many of the increasingly divergent qualities they’ve picked up along the way to album number five. Not that they’ve been around long enough to warrant cries for a return to form – and few wouldn’t argue that their last two records have been their best – but freed from the confines of elements and concept albums, Mastodon sounds fresher than ever. Single “The Curl of the Burl” opens to Brent Hinds’ snarl of “I killed a man ’cause he killed my goat, I put my hands around his throat!”, while the brutal “Bedazzled Fingernails” offers up another hilarious reminder that metal too can have a sense of humor (the band has previously scored Jonah Hex and written songs for the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie).

Any fears that Mastodon’s running out of elements to conceptualize would result in a weak, unfocused effort this time around are soundly put to rest a few seconds into “Black Tongue”, when that savage riff comes in for the first time. And that’s just track one. Perhaps Mastodon’s greatest asset as a band is their adaptability. Their ability to integrate an ever-expanding variety of influences and styles into their repertoire while balancing their raw technicality with their flair for the ambitious has made them one of the most highly regarded metal bands in the world. Indeed, Mastodon almost absorbs the qualities of each element as they recorded under its respective, drawing on sludgy, molten fury on 2006′s Blood Mountain, unofficially hailed by fans as the band’s ode to fire, and stretching their craft into epic, proggy, almost ethereal soundscapes on 2009′s Crack the Skye.

The most noted departure here is one that’s sure to rile up a fair amount of Mastodon’s fanbase, the near-total inclusion of clean, sung vocals. Mastodon has long expressed their favoring of classic rock and sludge heroes the Melvins, ZZ Top, and Thin Lizzy over the extreme metal they often share stages with, but never before have their stylistic leanings been this evident. The spaced-out “Stargasm”, on which Neurosis’ Scott Kelly lends Mastodon his vocals for the third straight album, recalls Crack the Skye in its eerie synthesizer touches, while the heavily vocoded vocal part on “Octopus Has No Friends”– a track much more somber than its jokey title lets on – will come as a surprise to most.

It isn’t until The Hunter‘s awesome midsection, though, that Mastodon fully hits their stride. In less than 10 minutes, the band creates the two best tracks of their career, encapsulating everything they do best between “All the Heavy Lifting” and “The Hunter”. Opening to a typically ferocious lead part courtesy of Brett Hinds, the band moves from Remission‘s urgent pounding and Leviathan‘s mighty riffage to Blood Mountain‘s technical battery before breaking into the sort of huge, heartfelt chorus they wouldn’t have dared attempt before Crack the Skye, conjuring up every bit of the awesome poignancy they managed on yester-album’s highest points – and in under five minutes to boot. The Hunter‘s title track is the album’s most solemn, dedicated to Hinds’ recently deceased brother. A delicately fingerpicked intro gives way to an expansive soundscape that, more than anywhere else on The Hunter, brings the band’s mastery of dynamics to the surface before culminating in a pair of colossal solos that are among the most intense Hinds has ever ripped. Prepare to be hunted.

#4) Atlas Sound- Parallax

There’s always been an otherworldly quality to Bradford Cox’s solo recordings as Atlas Sound, but on his third studio album it comes across with more unsettling clarity than ever. Parallax is dedicated to Trish Keenan, the ethereal-voiced singer with Broadcast, who died earlier this year; at times the sense of loneliness it communicates is so profound, you’d think it was Cox himself trapped beyond the grave. “Cold, cold, cold,” he chants in the final throes of Modern Aquatic Nightsongs, over ghostly echoes of guitar. The spectral shimmer ofTerra Incognita is eerier still, especially when Cox beckons “Will you join me?” in a voice as seductive as it is chilling. What you hear most of all in that voice is a full-blooded 1950s croon, with shades of Gene Vincent in ballad mode. It’s a guise Cox revels in, pouting inPraying Man, quivering across the bubbly pop of Mona Lisa, and, in The Shakes, seeming to embrace death without regret.

#3) Dirty Beaches- Badlands

Dirty Beaches is Alex Zhang Hungtai, a Taiwanese musician from Montreal whose lo-fi debut, Badlands, doesn’t sound anything like the languidly sunny blog-pop his moniker suggests. Instead, Hungtai steers clear of indie-rock jangle to marry the grimy, red-eyed rumble ofSuicide to ghostly rockabilly licks. It’s a pastiche that moves right on by ’90s nostalgia and into the warm embrace of sexy (though submerged) ’50s songcraft and mythology. Whether he’s evoking ravine races in “Speedway King” or channeling the shrieks and love pumps of Sun-era Elvis on “Sweet 17,” Hungtai’s pomaded visions are charged with spidery menace. Much of that is rooted in their mineshaft sonics; every inch of Badlands is coated in sheets of echo and shadow, giving the record an atmosphere much more in tune with the darker, twisted tones of his influences than his bedroom-bound peers. Even when Badlands softens up, as it does with the shop-window balladry of “True Blue” and “Lord Knows Best,” the result is every bit as unsettling as it is romantic. 

#2) Jay Z and Kayne West- Watch the Throne

Kanye West is where pop music is at right now. If you want to know what the 21st century sounds like, listen to last year’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. In West’s extraordinary mix of rock and soul samples with manic hip-hop grooves, you can hear 50 years of pop culture refracting and contorting in a futuristic digital prism. West has talent on the scale of a Phil Spector or a Lee Scratch Perry: he’s miles ahead of his peers, blazing a trail through his own madness.

But how do you follow a masterpiece? For Watch the Throne, West joins forces with another towering character of contemporary rap, Jay-Z, a lyricist whose skills and delivery are second to none but whose real authority comes from the philosophical and emotional depth that underpins his work.

With its live rhyme-battle roots, hip hop is uniquely suited to pitting wordsmiths against each other. So-called supergroups are all too often less than the sum of their parts, but Watch the Throne showcases rap Olympians competing at their best.

With two big egos on the microphone, braggadocio predictably hits new levels of self-aggrandisement. Yet the wit and absurdity of their rival claims creates a mood of swaggering, cartoonish heroism entirely suited to the epic scale of productions by West and his star studded collaborators.

Tracks bustle and hustle, jamming together samples from soul legends like Otis Redding, James Brown and Nina Simone with counterintuitive snippets of prog rockers Phil Manzanera and Spooky Tooth and ripe, melodic choruses sung by an eclectic array of contemporary stars including Beyoncé, Mr Hudson and La Roux.
West’s attention to detail is mesmerising, piling hook upon sound effect upon melodic twist, so that his grooves never stop developing. This is, indeed, music to boast about.

Crucially, a sense of political purpose drives the whole enterprise towards a higher plane. Counterweighing delight in their own good fortunes with observations from the mean streets, Watch the Throne builds to a powerhouse finale of musings on the worst and best of black culture.

Perhaps the most extraordinary achievement of this funny, hard-hitting, thrilling album is that it actually sounds like a coherent and purposeful piece of work, a statement of what hip hop can mean, and where it can go.

#1) Girls- Father, Son, Holy Ghost

The more cynical listeners out there might backhandedly describe Christopher Owens, the creative lynchpin behind Girls, as ‘a great student of rock history’ – in other words, somebody who knows the canon inside out and lifts from it liberally. And sure, there’s no denying that a lot of the ideas here are probably older than Owens himself; that much is clear within the first minute of the album, as “Honey Bunny” bursts out of the traps sounding like a lost early Beach Boys classic with a few Carl Perkins-esque guitar licks thrown in for good measure.

Yet one of the most fascinating things about this album for me is that it very rarely sounds truly retro, or that much like its primarily influences. Instead, it’s closer to a raft of other ‘great students of rock history’ that have appeared in the past two decades – Beulah, Elliott Smith, Oasis, Neutral Milk Hotel, Teenage Fanclub, The Magic Numbers, even Wolfmother on “Die”. It’s almost as if Girls have made a conscious decision to take those bands on at their own game, to prove that they’re better at updating all the ideas from the ’60s that indie rock has decided are worth holding onto. It’s probably not true, but if it was, they would deserve all the credit in the world, because they’ve actually succeeded.

The quality of sound and songwriting on Father, Son, Holy Ghost is frequently breathtaking, and the most telling indicator of that is that, on first listen, even though your natural instinct is to play a game of spot the influence, it becomes impossible; you’re too busy marvelling at how good it is. Even “Honey Bunny”, probably the album’s most blatant throwback, gets over the Beach Boys comparison through its breakneck energy, sheer enthusiasm, and pure melodicism, all of which are more in tune with acts like Dinosaur Jr than anything from the rock’n’roll era.

Elsewhere, the album can be described perfectly by two old adages – the first that stealing from one person is plagiarism while stealing from two or more is just good research, the second that a great song is a great song regardless of its origins. The first is a valid defense of the album but the second is the important one – these are seriously fucking great songs. Picking a favourite is nigh-on impossible – the absolutely beautiful “Jamie Marie”, the dark and panoramic “Vomit”, the wistful “Forgiveness”, and the airy “My Ma” are all solid contenders, as is “Honey Bunny”. Each song has a tune you can hum, a lyric somebody somewhere will probably get tattooed, and a musical twist to keep repeated listens as enthralling as the first, and what more can you really ask for from a pop or rock album? And that’s before we even mention the production, which is little short of perfect – it’s spacious, crystal clear, and warm, making this the kind of album that somehow sounds wrong on MP3.

And the music? Brilliant, both instantly familiar and neoteric. The album’s sole nuts-out riff fest, “Die”, will probably be described as Zeppelinesque by quite a few people, but its riff actually feels more like Wolfmother’s “Woman” and Muse’s “Knights of Cyndonia” than anything recorded before 2000, and its melody is catchy enough to overshadow the bridge, which hints at Pink Floyd. “My Ma” has a wistfulness that instantly recalls Elliott Smith, but can be traced further back to The Byrds and The Beatles, with a guitar solo that could have been on a Bowie song. “Vomit” takes it listener on an exhausting journey first time out, collapsing out of its atmospheric arpeggios into noisy, scuzzy garage rock, before pulling itself back together for just long enough to escalate into a wave of soulful female vocals and organs that doesn’t sound all that much like “The Great Gig in the Sky”, but recalls it anyway – oh, and there’s room for another guitar solo too, this time with more of a country influence. (And is it just me, or does the melody just carry the tiniest hint of The Cure’s “Lovesong” about it?)

And yet for all these half-memories of other songs that Girls conjure, it sounds bang up-to-date. A big part of that is the song structures, which often change up completely half-way through; it’s a path that’s been well-trodden by the likes of Arcade Fire, Coldplay, and Muse in recent years, but barely anybody has done it as well as Girls do here. Yet a lot of it is a simple matter of energy and, dare I say it, honesty; Owens at his best is a gloriously unrestrained frontman, both in his performance and his writing. There’s something really charming about a songwriter that’s as happy to include lyrics as silly as ‘they don’t like my bony body/they don’t like my dirty hands’ as he is to sing something as sincere as ‘maybe I didn’t realize the way I loved the way you moved, until you moved so far away I couldn’t see you anymore’, not to mention a man that’s willing to write two openly positive songs about his mother while working in a genre that places more emphasis than most on how cool you act.

One of the best thing about following music is being proven wrong, so I’m happy to say that Father, Son, Holy Ghost makes me look foolish – despite liking Album, I never, ever imagined Girls would be anywhere near this good. I didn’t even think they’d make it to a third album, if I’m being honest, yet suddenly they sound like they’ll probably end up being one of the most enduring bands of our era. I’m always happy to admit that I’m wrong though, as long as I can have albums as brilliant as this in return.