A lot has changed over the last decade; the world is a different beast from the one that is one ten years ago. Just about everything in the world has shifted over this time, fashion trends like skin-tight chinos from Topman have thankfully been put into a retirement home, and few things have managed to survive the test of time in popular culture.
The musical landscape of 2011 was like the wild west, and that made for some groundbreaking records. The indie domination of the noughties was firmly laid down to rest, and it was a tremendous year for albums. While neu-folk made a renaissance, many vibrant styles co-existed together and provided a mirror into the future.
A decade ago, music was in a state of flux. Streaming platforms were yet to hold the keys as to whether they could make or break careers, MySpace had already disappeared as a mechanism for bands to rear their head out of nowhere, and the internet didn’t matter as much for artists as it does today. However, it still worked as the best hype machine around.
Ten years is a long time for a record. Many albums can age within three listens, so any LP that still sounds exciting a decade from its release is a special kind of record. While 2011 isn’t a year that’s traditionally steeped in musical heritage, here are ten albums that you need to revisit and get around your ears once more.
The 10 Best Albums from 2011
10. Ghostpoet – Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam
British artist Ghostpoet’s debut album, Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam, may not have sold millions of copies. Still, the trip-hop sensation delivered a startling first offering which made him immediately stand out from the pack.
The album boasts enchanting tracks like ‘Survive It’, ‘Lines’ and ‘Cash and Carry Me Home’, which all remain exciting even a decade on. Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam was deservedly nominated for the Mercury Prize, which Ghostpoet would again be up for in 2015 following his third record, Shedding Skin.
The record is a brave effort that didn’t fit into any conventions. Ghostpoet expressed the full range of his versatile artistry across the album, which all builds towards the epic theatrical crescendo, ‘Liines’.
9. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
Amid all the chaos that life throws at you, Fleet Foxes have always been a port of call for a seldom moment of calm and reflection. Their sophomore album, Helplessness Blues, is also the only album by the group, which features Josh Tillman, AKA, Father John Misty, who drums on the record and chipping in with backing vocals.
Helplessness Blues never veers into pretentious territory and is just a beautiful record from start to finish. Fleet Foxes take risks on the album, which pay off spectacularly, especially on tracks like ‘Bedouin Dress’, or the thrilling eight-minute effort, ‘The Shrine/The Argument’, which is possibly the finest piece of music the band have ever released.
8. Florence + The Machine – Ceremonials
There was a weight of expectation on Florence Welch and her machine’s shoulders following the monumental success of the 2009 debut, Lungs, which sent her into superstardom. On Ceremonials, Welch guides the band through Lungs on steroids, as the songs get bigger than ever before but still keep alive the spirit that made so many enamoured with the debut album.
For the record, Welch worked again with acclaimed producer Paul Epworth who knows the best way to enhance her sound, and Ceremonials remains a bona fide triumph.
Tracks like ‘Shake It Out’ and ‘What The Water Gave Me’ are tailor-made for that headline set at Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage, which Florence + The Machine would go on to play in 2016.
7. The Horrors – Skying
The Horrors’ Skying was a revelation. Few would have guessed that the grumpy goths that emerged in 2007 with Strange House could create Skying. The record is a psychedelic masterpiece that captures you under its spell and keeps your attention for every second across the ten songs.
The album was some sonic departure for the group and signified their artistic progression. There are shoegaze elements that ripple throughout the album, and The Horrors drown the songs in reverb which all feel cooked to perfection. It’s an ambitious record and the first time that the band self-produced an album that allowed The Horrors to experiment freely, which they expertly pull off on Skying.
6. Metronomy – English Riviera
If you listened to the first two Metronomy albums, then you wouldn’t have guessed for a moment that the Joe Mount fronted group had the capabilities to produce something as stellar as English Riviera.
It took Mount three albums to discover the sound that suited him and set the blueprint for everything that Metronomy has done since.
The frontman summed it up best himself when he said, “It’s very laidback, there are kids who’ve got so much time they can spend hours in a recording studio and make this sun-kissed, seaside music.” English Riviera sees him look back at his days spent growing up in Devon and allowing the blissful memories of youth to influence the record, which suited Metronomy to a tee.
5. Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo
Kurt Vile’s fourth studio album, Smoke Ring For My Halo, is a brutally honest piece of work that feels intimate between Vile and the listener as he lets his thoughts unravel across the record.
The record cemented Vile’s status as a king of the underground. He laid his beguiling talent bare over the album. However, his most impressive skill is Vile’s knack for writing authentic yet, infectious rock songs for all to see on Smoke Ring For My Halo.
Reflecting upon the album in 2013, Vile stated, “I proved myself with Smoke Ring. It was me maturing. I made a good pop record. And all the songs were me, but that was like a growing record. Growing in a lot of ways. But it didn’t feel exactly me. I wasn’t entirely comfortable or experienced with the scenario, and I feel that [subsequent album, Wakin on a Pretty Daze] is just 100% my voice all the time.”
4. Laura Marling – A Creature I Don’t Know
There are few greater modern British songwriters than Laura Marling. She is a storyteller who has a way with words that is truly spellbinding. The beauty of A Creature I Don’t Know derives from how it could be released in any era, and it would sound effervescent.
Marling’s style is timeless, and the tropes of love and loss, which she explores throughout, A Creature I Don’t Know and only makes you further fall trapped into the world which she has created. While there have been plenty of artists who lean heavily on the past, Marling’s style never feels contrived or cliched, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
3. Arctic Monkeys – Suck It and See
Suck It and See is Arctic Monkeys’ firmly in transition as they travelled to the destination which would spawn 2013’s AM.
The album wondrously manoeuvres around being both classic and contemporary. There is a liberating charm to Suck It and See as it captures snapping out of their Humbug era and is their first record since moving out to Los Angeles, as they let their desert years commence.
There are some fine highlights on the record, such as the fire cracking ‘Brick By Brick’ that showed that there was no end to Arctic Monkeys’ versatility. The slower anthemic tracks that dominate the end of the record are sublime such as the title track and epic closer, ‘That’s Where You’re Wrong’.
2. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
It takes a unique kind of artist to create their magnum opus with their eighth studio album, but PJ Harvey is no ordinary artist, as she proved with Let England Shake. The record deservedly took home the Mercury Prize in 2011, as Harvey became the only artist ever to win the coveted award on two occasions.
The album is heart-breaking, emphatic, powerful, visceral and politically charged in equal measure. Let England Shake is riveting and audacious. Few records will leave a mark on you for as long as this album does. The album’s timing couldn’t have been any more appropriate, with it arriving just a few months before the London Riots, which confirmed the tension that Harvey uses to fuel Let England Shake.
Harvey told Pitchfork in 2011: “The record is dealing with a lot of things that are happening in the world right now — conflict, shifts in power, the change in society and in countries’ relations to each other. Although I sing specifically from the point of view of an Englishwoman in England, I hope that I’m addressing feelings that are much more universal.
“Hopefully, many people can relate to these sorts of feelings – the push and pull that you have with your country, the love and the disappointments. And the nature of conflict is timeless, this cycle of war that has been here since time began and will be here long after we’re gone. It’s something we all live with.”
1. Bon Iver – Bon Iver
Following on from Justin Vernon’s debut project in 2009, For Emma, Forever Ago, where he took himself off to the woods to get over heartbreak and came back with a masterpiece, Vernon made sure that he wasn’t going to sit still for his eponymous sophomore album.
He was still at the helm as a producer on the album but brought in a wealth of talented musicians as Bon Iver evolved from a solo project into a band. “I brought in a lot of people to change my voice – not my singing voice, but my role as the author of this band, this project,” said Justin Vernon about the decision. “I built the record myself, but I allowed those people to come in and change the scene.”
It was a risk to turn Bon Iver into a collective entity, but it turned out to be a masterstroke from Vernon. That fragile earnest energy oozed out of his debut is only enhanced as Bon Iver leaned into more atmospheric territory on the 2011 record.
The arresting ‘Holocene’ captures everything divine about the album, while ‘Calgary’ and ‘Beth/Rest’ hinted at the electronic direction that Bon Iver would later follow. There are few more influential records over the last decade than Bon Iver. Despite the countless imitators of Vernon’s distinctive sound, nobody is yet to master it better than the man himself.