1. Sloan – Double Cross (Outside Music)
If PJ Harvey can be everyone’s favourite artist in 2011 then I’m going with this fantastic veteran four-piece to lead my personal 90s resurgence. With incredible hooks, smart lyrics and the idiosyncratic songwriting personalities we’ve come to expect, XX celebrates 20 band years in the strongest possible way.
2. Handsome Furs – Sound Kapital (Sub Pop) Dan Boeckner and Alexei Perry are fearless road warriors who will go to the edge of the world if it means finding inspiration for their high-energy electro rock. Can you name another band who toured Myanmar? A gifted vocalist and writer, Boeckner is probably in the South Pole or Siberia somewhere writing the next album.
3. Jessica Lea Mayfield – Tell Me (Nonesuch)
When you’re young, you get sad. And if you’re Jessica Lea Mayfield, a precocious 21-year-old country, folk singer from Ohio, you write great songs about it. Mayfield has one of those Liz Phair-like deadpan voices and her tunes smolder with the pains of love, loss and desire.
4. Ryan Adams – III/IV and Ashes &Fire (Pax Am)
Two wildly different records in the same year (technically 34 was released in late-December 2010), the first a blistering rock blast with his backing band the Cardinals and the other a mellowed-out study of acoustic and atmospheric rock. Just gonna state the obvious: Adams is one of the most versatile and underrated songwriters of his generation.
5. AA Bondy – Believers (Fat Possum)
Though not quite on the level of 2009’s When the Devil’s Loose, Believers stays on Bondy’s familiar course of gut-wrenching tunes that sound like they were written while drunk and looking for UFOs on a desert highway. And if you can figure out his lyrics you should be cracking Masonic codes with Tom Hanks.
6. Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring for My Halo (Matador)
As far as Americana rock goes, there’s something going on in Philadelphia that all the 30-somethings wearing out their Wilco collections need to take notice of. Between Vile’s baritone-voice gem of lonesome rock and the latest from buddies War on Drugs this is a scene hitting its stride.
7. Drive Soundtrack – Various Artists (Lakeshore)
Why did it take this long for someone to figure out how perfect 80s retro-electro groups like Chromatics, College and Kavinsky would be for a film soundtrack? Huge props to locals Electric Youth for their stunning turn on A Real Hero and Chromatics frontman Johnny Jewel who just dropped a two-hour imaginary film score definitely worth a Soundcloud click.
8. Stephen Malkmus – Mirror Traffic (Matador)
Beck and Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus collaborate in what would have been a Spin Magazine 90s alternative wet dream back in the day. Beck, who is becoming a recluse type producer, made Malkmus cut this record fast and clean, so it doesn’t feel laborious and overwrought like Malkmus’ other solo joints and much of Pavement’s late output.
9. Justice – Audio Video Disco (Ed Banger)
More of a bunt than a home run, this record received little love for its egregious offence of trying to be a rock record disguised as electro. Fine they misfired somewhat thinking they could be ACDC but it’s still one of the best albums of the year that can transcend from club speaker to home stereo head phones not to mention turning a party on.
10. Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie XX – We’re New Here (XL)
On here for the simple reason that Gil Scott-Heron’s passing was, in my opinion, music’s greatest loss of not only this year but for quite some time. If you’re unfamiliar with him, don’t start here but go straight to Winter in America or Pieces of a Man. Those albums are timeless, as no doubt Jamie XX would attest.