Top 5 Albums of 2011

The Tab’s music writers take a look back at their favourite albums of 2011.

It’s been a busy year for music, in the charts and outside them. Tab Music get together to walk you back through the five best albums of 2011.

Bon Iver – Bon Iver

For Bon Iver, following up their debut must have been difficult. A cult album that clearly stemmed from isolation and heart-break, For Emma was all about the sheer power of emotion. However, Bon Iver shows a distinct musical shift, the raw simplicity of their debut replaced by a grand and ambitious sprawl of jazz, epic rock and even ‘80s power ballads. This diversity is what makes the album so great; the unadulterated talent and beauty is still there, but musically the album is on another level.

-David Holland

Rustie – Glass Swords

Glaswegian Russell Whyte has crafted a musical masterpiece of sweeping arpeggios, bright synth soundscapes and catchy bass lines, all glued together by his own signature  drum hooks. The production is simply divine; sonically the album is without fault. But the main strength of Glass Swords is originality: drawing on influences as far apart as hip-hop, trance and dubstep, the album has an overbearing sense of freshness. It has the balance right between smooth, relaxing electro tracks and hands-in-the-air dance floor moments that would tear apart any club.

In a pretty poor year for music, this was the best electronic album; innovative, artistic, yet still powerful enough to please dance music fans. If he can keep his productions at this level I’m sure we will be hearing a lot from him in 2012.

– John Bardsley

Yuck – Yuck

Right from the off, Yuck were saddled with comparisons and dismissed by some camps for hiding behind a banner of ’90s revivalism. With no plan to put out some grand statement, the young band simply went ahead and assembled what stands as the year’s best collection of songs. Every track earns its place – from the buzzsaw guitars of Holing Out and Operation, to more stripped-down affairs like Suicide Policeman. We also have the brilliant single Get Away, which should have been number one in some parallel musical universe. Seriously, they’re still throwing away songs as b-sides that lesser bands would kill to have written. Imagine what they could do with their next effort.

– Cosmo Godfree

The Horrors – Skying

When The Horrors first emerged from their hairspray fog back in the mid ‘00s, few could have predicted that they would become one of the most forward- thinking alternative acts of 2011. They unexpectedly slunk from genre to genre, abandoning frenetic garage howling for the vast expanse of krautrock, before settling this year on psychedelic shoegaze for their third album. By the time they’re trundling out subwoofers and baggy shorts for an ill-advised dubstep-meets-nu-metal inspired future project, we may have tired of their chameleon attitude to musical influences. Right now though, their experimentation is a novel change in the current musical climate. And more importantly, the resulting songs are incredible. From the confident bass and synth lines of ‘Still Life’ to Faris Badwan’s echoing vocals in pensive finale ‘Oceans Burning’, The Horrors have created a perfectly hypnotic album.

– Megan Kennedy

Jay-Z & Kanye West – Watch The Throne

Kanye has come a long way in the last 11 years. In 2000, he was starting out as a fresh-faced producer. His big break came producing a track called This Can’t Be Life for – you guessed it – Jay-Z.

Fast forward to 2011 and West is one of the biggest rappers in the world, doing exactly what stupidly-successful rappers do best: starting a clothing line, getting diamond teeth, climbing through the floor of chat shows and making a film about having sex with an angel.

Watch The Throne is an apt title then. Jay-Z’s dominance of the rap scene is being challenged by West the young pretender. But this competition creates a classic album; Jay-Z rises to Kanye’s challenge on tracks like Who Gonna Stop Me and Ni**as In Paris, dominating the verses, while Kanye’s signature soul-tinged production shines as fresh as ever on Otis, Murder To Excellence and Gotta Have It.

It’s by no means a perfect album; recorded over a year across the globe, at times it feels sloppy. But the sheer energy both artists bring to each track means you can’t help but be swept along by the album’s momentum. The throne is still in contention, but this album sets it out of the reach of all but Kanye and Jay-Z.

– Oscar Williams-Grut

  • Opinionated

    Real top 5 albums of the year:

    James Blake – james Blake
    Bon Iver – Bon Iver
    Beach boys – smile
    Ema – past life martryed saints
    Washed out – within and without

    • Beached

      Smile is a great album, but it was released in 2004 – the a commercial rerelease with a few outtakes chucked in doesn't make it a 2011 album.

  • BibleJohnPaul II

    I've not heard of any of those bands except for Bon Jovi. Like the reviewer, I'm also a fan of their 80s power ballads.


    BibleJohnPaul II

    • Bon


      • Dumb


  • kazuuka

    WTT in the Cambridge Tab's top five albums….Jheez! I was expecting summin more like the Bee Gees frm u! This definitely comes across as a pleasant surprise!

  • hal

    'Suck' by Yuck- ne'er was a song more fittingly named.

  • Captain of the Moon

    All I'm learning from these 'Top [x] Albums of 2011' lists is that obviously not NEARLY enough people listened to 'The Octopus' by Amplifier. Fools.

    • Pitchfuck

      I waited for that fucking album for like five years. I didn't even like the genre any more by the time it came out. Anyway, Insider blows The Octopus out of the fucking water.

  • tom

    watch the throne was a massive disappointment after my beautiful dark twisted fantasy

  • danv

    Rustie has addressed the question of arpeggios just right. Any fool can tell that you need ’em either sweeping or not at all.

  • Matt Burke

    Although I accept you don't want to put anything too mainstream for fear of losing your 'alternative' credibility, the top two albums of the year were, without question, 'Suck it and See' and 'Take Care'.

    Other potentials for the top are ames Blake self-titled, Mylo Xyloto, Ed Sheeran +, Jessie J – Who You Are and surely PJ Harvey – Let England Shake..

    • hmm

      Your surname says it all..

    • OWG

      Take Care was huge, should have been in there for sure.

  • confused

    Why is The Horrors album on so many Best of 2011 lists? It was really boring, it just sounded like The Verve. Anyone care to enlighten me as to its genius?

    • lazy comparison

      plus the verve never wrote anything as good as Moving Further Away or Oceans Burning

  • Music fan

    No PJ Harvey?? No credibility.

    • TPJ

      Let England Shake is wank, let's be quite honest about it.

      • Man

        PJ Harvey is an insane woman

  • TPJ

    I'm too busy being a twat to listen to these top 5 albums

    • Really?

      I wouldn't have thought you needed to practice so hard!

    • TPJ Fan

      You know, there seems to be a lot of pent-up hatred and anger towards TPJ that can't be doing anyone any good. It's not TPJ's fault if he enjoys rugby and wants to inform people about it.

  • just sayin'

    English Riviera.

    • Megan

      A review was written for that too, but I guess that contributions had to be cut down to a final five. I agree, though, it's a great album!

    • Ted


  • erk

    drake,blake,sbtkrt,jamiexx,(frank ocean) etc did all the mot exciting things of 2011. not a great year for indie music. bon iver, fleet foxes, tuneyards… etc but not a lot movement-wise. also i reckon watch the throne just gonna feel super outdated in 5 years. ditch the throne, OVOXO.

  • Seriously?

    This comments thread is missing The Weeknd.

    I've fixed this. House of Balloons/Thursday/Echoes of Silence were probably the 3 best and most exciting releases.

    Just sayin'

    • yepp

      drake + weeknd. noice

  • Kanye

    I've had a pretty good career for a gay fish

  • Ted

    James Blake – James Blake
    Jamie xx and gil scott heron
    Drake – take care
    Other two = whatever


    I wish I could be as alternative as the Tab, but I'm too busy actually enjoying music. The best five albums of the year were, in no particular order:

    Adele – 21
    Clare Maguire – Light After Dark
    Bon Iver – Bon Iver
    Beyoncé – 4
    Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes

    Honourable mentions to Coldplay, Florence, Radiohead, Lady Gaga, Kanye & Jay Z, Alex Clare, Jamie XX & Gil Scott-Heron, Rihanna, Fleet Foxes and Kate Bush. It's been a bloody good year for music.

    • shut uppa your face

      criticising the picks for being too 'alternative', while at the same time choosing 2 of the same 5 albums yourself, and throwing in radiohead, kate bush and jamie xx.

      • Hmm

        Well, the point is less about whether 'alternative' music can be good or not. Of course it can. The Tab just strikes me as having neglected anything that has sold more than 20 copies (except for Watch The Throne, but that's got a successful single on it with 'niggers' in the title, and we all know that being black and raptastic is the most enviable lifestyle of someone with a double-barreled surname).

  • Community spirit

    Can't believe Watch the Throne made the list… Childish Gambino much more original.

  • Not the shop

    New Look by New Look was excellent, as was Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam by Ghostpoet. The former should definitely make a top 5 list.

  • Look2TheSwedes

    I can't believe Wounded Rhymes by Lykke Li isn't on here! The swedes are killing it at the moment, producing some amazing music.

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