Monday, 2 January 2012

MUSIC FLASHBACK: TALLAWAH’s Top 10 Albums of 2011

Much like the year before, 2011 yielded a varied crop in music. But I have one word for you: Adele. Not only did the lavishly gifted British siren prove herself the new queen of heartache, she also emerged as the ruler of the Billboard charts with her stellar sophomore record, 21 (released in May), which has seemingly connected with listeners of all ages everywhere. It’s no surprise then that countless critics have anointed the album as the year’s best release.

But the year also had other noteworthy headliners: hip-hop heavyweights Jay-Z and Kanye West joined forces to become The Throne; Chris Brown ‘forgave all his enemies’; and Drake magnificently sidestepped the sophomore jinx. And kudos to heatseekers like the fabulous Florence & the Machine and the stunning ingénues Lana Del Rey and Birdy, who are absolutely emerging singer-songwriters to pay attention to in 2012. Without further delay, the 10 best albums TALLAWAH experienced in 2011, in no particular order:

*Florence & The Machine – Ceremonials
Florence and The Machine first got notice with the release of their debut album, 2009’s Lungs, one of the bestselling releases of that year. Now the lavishly gifted songstress (flame-haired 25-year-old wonder Florence Welch) and the musicians who provide music for her voice are experiencing unprecedented raves with their latest, Ceremonials, an out-of-this-world concoction laden with soaring hymns of heartache, hope and regret. Throughout, Welch’s unforgettable voice remains a bewitching instrument. Download: “No Light, No Light”

*Drake – Take Care
More confessional than confrontational, Take Care is a stellar record, and very much like on his first album, Drake employs frequently trenchant lyrics to robustly explore everything from hurt and regret to a haunting, unshakeable remembrance of relationships past. The results are fascinating. Download: “Underground Kings”

*Jay-Z and Kanye West – Watch the Throne
Jay and Ye’s first full-length collaboration, Watch The Throne is crammed-full of chest-thumping boasts of riches, the respect they command in the face of detractors, and ruling the rap roost. But the album, bearing 12 tracks, delivers its finest moments when the protagonists are given more to introspection while affirming within the listener an optimism and the discipline to dream big and work hard. Download: “Murder to Excellence”

*Stephen Marley – Revelation Part 1: The Root of Life
Highly reflective and very much in the tradition of his iconic father (down to the raspy voice), Marley’s Revelation is authentic reggae that touches and transports with its traces of world music and neo-soul, while delving into themes as universal as hope, love, loyalty and humanity. Among the highlights: the simmering duet “No Cigarette Smoking” with R&B powerhouse Melanie Fiona; the militant “Jah Army” (featuring brother Junior Gong); and the soul-searching closer “Now I Know,” soaked in acoustic guitar and a little piano. Download: “Now I Know”

*Birdy – Birdy
She’s only 15, but listening to Birdy for the first time you’d never be able to tell. The astonishing maturity displayed by the new British sensation has not only earned her critical hosannas but helped push her eponymous debut to the top of Britain’s pop charts and radio hit lists in 2011. Haunting and ethereal, Birdy’s songs, like her sublime take on Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love” and a ghostly rendition of “Help the People,” leave an indelible impression. Download: “Skinny Love”

*Raphael Saadiq – Stone Rollin’
Stone Rollin’ is a kaleidoscopic journey through decades of old-school instrumentation that nods to Saadiq’s influences. Even so, the artist (and former frontman of the '90s R&B band Tony! Toni! Tone!) remains true to an individual musical identity that’s all about crafting an edgy, fully accessible sound. He’s a funk-soul preacher man on the pulsating title track, a song you simply wish would never end. And he maintains that energetic, percussion-rich streak on cuts like “Heart Attack” and “Radio.” Download: “Good Man”

*Kelly Clarkson – Stronger
Kelly Clarkson tapped into her pain and power on her latest album, arguably her best yet. The pop singer has stated that she was influenced by such rock icons as Tina Turner, Prince and Radiohead when recording the album. The proof is in the end product, which bears a rich blend of anthemic, uptempo cuts and soaring ballads steeped in yearning and vulnerability. But the common thread coursing throughout is Clarkson’s lush voice, a superb instrument that gets a fine showcase. Download: “Mr. Know-it-All”

*J. Cole – Cole World
The Jay-Z protégé warmed up impressively with this brilliant debut, staying wholly in the rap lane with clever punchlines and a storytelling so vivid and transporting that he occasionally reminds one of Eminem. Additionally, despite not yet being a household name in the music world, J. Cole exudes a veteran air that at once suggests someone who’s been a student of hip-hop for years. Download: “Sideline Story”

*Chris Brown – F.A.M.E
The embattled singer blazed in the spotlight with F.A.M.E, shining most on cuts that celebrate living it up in the most adventurous and fun-driven sense, as on the hyper-kinetic hit “Yeah (3X)” and the fan-favourites "Beautiful People" and “Look At Me Now,” which finds him holding his own (as a budding MC with genuine potential) while keeping company with Lil’ Wayne and Busta Rhymes. Download: “All Back”

*Adele – 21
At 22, with a platinum-selling debut and Best New Artist Grammy to her name, soulful British siren Adele boasts enviable laurels in a youth-obsessed music industry, and evidence of her intimidating talent is fully reflected on 21, her second studio album (a refreshing and endlessly charming collection) is thoroughly imbued with lyrical grace and lucidity while showcasing her brilliant songwriting. Overall, Adele’s music remains remarkably sprightly and vividly expressive and retains the appeal that has captivated her wide and loyal audience. Download: “Turning Tables”

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