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Friday, December 30, 2011

Top 20 Albums of 2011: 2-1

2. Nightwish - Imaginaerum

Sure, it's not 100% perfect, but no other album displayed this much ambition in 2011. The highs on this are amongst the best things recorded this year. Mixing symphonic rock, film soundtracks, goth-rock-pop vocals and more bombast than you can fathom, Nightwish made their strongest album more than a decade into their career.

1. The Sound Of Arrows - Voyage

Like the title states, this is more of an odyssey than an album. In 2011, it was rare to find a collection of songs that played well one after another without any skipping, re-ordering or replacing. In a year of singles and EPs over albums, The Sound of Arrows made a real, classic album--cohesive in sound and message and vision. From the anthemic opener to the triumphant, epic dream of a closer, this is a singular work that sounds like nothing else out there. Bravo, guys.

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Top 50 Singles of 2011: 5-1

5. Rihanna - We Found Love

Sometimes the most amazing songs are also the simplest. Rihanna's got a lot to thank Calvin Harris for. His production on this is just stunning, but it's the gutsy, battle-cry vocals that put this over the top. Her best single yet? Maybe.

4. Example - Changed The Way You Kissed Me

An example (haha) of how to mash genres successfully and create something that's better than the sum of its parts. Electro, rap, pop... everything gets its fair share in this track, all tied together by some of the best production of the year.

3. Lady Gaga - The Edge Of Glory

Gaga goes full-out rock goddess. So good that listeners demanded it as a single. This is what happens when a mainstream pop star refuses to settle, going for something bigger and more majestic than anybody else.

2. Nightwish - Storytime

A symphonic goth-rocker from a Finnish band. I didn't see this coming, but I love surprises. This track meshes so many of my favorite things into just over five minutes. Catchy, Abba-esque vocals, symphonic bombast and a choir of rock angels.

1. Pnau - The Truth

Released at the very beginning of the year, this track takes the top spot because no other song represented everything I loved about 2011 music better than this. It wraps it all together. Drama, dance, rock, bombast, melody. It's all here, and it sounds new each time I listen to it.

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Top 20 Albums of 2011: 4-3

4. One Direction - Up All Night

After the massive success of their first single, the following album could've coasted on labored songwriting and lots of filler. After all, fans of the teen pop genre don't always have the most discerning of taste. What we got instead was an album where every track could be a single. Ranging from power pop to club to old school boyband ballads, I haven't been this excited about cheesy teen pop for years. I suppose you could call it a guilty pleasure (if I believed in such things).

3. Lady Gaga - Born This Way

Others might argue, but this is the album where Lady Gaga became a tried and true superstar. Expanding on her previous sound and offering track after track of bombastic pop/rock/dance, this album doesn't get the credit it deserves for its willingness to usher in new sounds to the pop landscape. She could have repeated the old tricks of the last album and a half, but she pushed for a bigger, more intricately layered brand of pop.

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Top 50 Singles of 2011: 10-6

Special Mention: Rebecca Black - Friday

Sure, the song's horrible (in all the best ways), but no other track had a better story behind it than this one. I'd be insane if I didn't at least mention it!

10. LMFAO - Party Rock Anthem

So right for all the wrong reasons. If you told me a year ago that I'd be putting an LMFAO song in my top ten, I'd have said you were crazy. Just shows what an incredible hook (or hooks) can do.

9. Kyla La Grange - Heavy Stone

A little known track that barely got a release, this had my absolutely riveted from the very first time I heard it. For what Kyla's doing here, she's just doing it absolutely perfectly. Haunting, beautiful, and ultimately stirring.

8. The Ark - Breaking Up With God

The Ark's swan song, and I'm so glad they borrowed their best sounds and themes when writing this. It's a smart, anthemic rock track, written from a place as personal as it always is with this band.

7. One Direction - What Makes You Beautiful

The best non-Swedish (though that's debatable, given the writers/producers) teen pop track since the turn of the century. The genre hasn't sounded this alive in a long while. The chorus alone is massive enough to convert music snobs everywhere.

6. The Sound Of Arrows - Magic

Uplifting, mysterious, and so, so catchy. This is about as cool as cool gets. One of the year's top music videos helped highlight one of the band's best songs.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Top 20 Albums of 2011: 6-5

6. Aqua - Megalomania

The comeback of the year. Aqua went from novelty pop band to something more mature and interesting. Yeah, there are still plenty of fun bubblegum tracks, but they're filtered through a band whose experience makes itself known through the laser-targeted songwriting and awesome production. There isn't one track worth skipping.

5. Melody Club - Human Harbour

Melody Club may just be the most consistent pop band out today. Every one of their albums has easily found its way into my top ten, year after year. The band knows what they do best and treats us to yet another album chock full of catchy pop tracks. The production, as usual, is flawless and varied, especially the inspired use of a children's choir in Dreamer's Wasteland.

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Top 50 Singles of 2011: 15-11

15. Martin Rolinski - Blame It On A Decent Matter

I never had any doubts that this would be brilliant after Rolinski's work with BWO. But it was even better than I'd expected!

14. Studio Killers - Ode To The Bouncer

A welcome shot of Danish electro cool in a year without enough of it. The fact that we're still waiting for a follow-up makes it a little frustrating, though.

13. Patrick Wolf - The City

His most uplifting single in ages, and a track that set Summer off on the right foot.

12. Robyn - Call Your Girlfriend

The Swedish pop queen continues her dominance of my countdowns with yet another brilliant song. Even in a year without an album release, she ruled.

11. Tove Styrke - Call My Name

And hot on Robyn's heels is the ultra-cool Tove, who gave us a taster of future work with this fantastic single, a big jump in quality from her first album.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Top 20 Albums of 2011: 8-7

8. Pnau - Soft Universe

More song-oriented than their last album, this was a very pleasant Summer surprise. It's the perfect mix of electronic music and indie rock. More than that, it has an epic scope when it comes to the sounds and structures used. Though it's buoyed by a handful of remarkable tracks, the entire thing is actually pretty consistent, especially in this genre

7. Rihanna - Talk That Talk

Rihanna's not necessarily an albums artist, but she's got about three fantastic ones under her belt. This might be the best. It's a clever distillation of aural highlights from her past. It's very poppy, but retains the darkness and experimental production that highlights her best work.

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Top 50 Singles of 2011: 20-16

20. Nero - Crush On You

It took me awhile to get into the dubstep bits, but once I did, this song quickly became one of my favorite dance tracks of the year. The sample (cover?) is just brilliant.

19. Caotico & Tove Styrke - Brains Out

This just drips cool. From the very first listen, everything about this struck me. It's like 80's Prince reincarnated.

18. Darren Hayes - Bloodstained Heart

Even though I wasn't a fan of the album, this is one of the best, if not the best, solo single by Darren Hayes. Stunning track.

17. Adele vs. Robin S - Show Me In The Deep

The original was a huge hit this year, but I much prefer this remixed mash-up. My most-played remix of the year, and one of my favorite remixes of all time.

16. Foster The People - Helena Beat

Pumped Up Kicks was their breakthrough, but this second single is what really made me fall in love with the group. Such a cool indie rock track.

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Monday, December 26, 2011

Top 20 Albums of 2011: 10-9

10. The Sounds - Something To Die For

After a disappointing detour from their synth-punk roots, the band came roaring back with their fourth album. It does what the band does best, offering up aggressive, dance-fueled rock with the glossy sheen of radio pop music. It nearly reaches the perfection of their first two releases.

9. Clare Maguire - Light After Dark

You can have your Florences and Adeles if I can keep Clare. Unfortunately, she was unable to meet their level of success with this album, but her layered 80's style really appealed to me. This is a lush album absolutely brimming with should-have-been-massive-hit-singles.

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