Muruch’s Top 25 Albums of 2011

This year’s top album list pretty much assembled itself throughout the year. The top 4 in particular are albums I expect to continue to listening to over and over for years to come. Click on the album titles to read the full reviews, purchase the albums, and, in some cases, download mp3s…

Muruch’s Top 25 Albums of 2011

25. Bell X1: Bloodless Coup

…turns the band’s signature blend electro-pop and rock up a notch

Buy @ Amazon

Hey Anna Lena by Bell X1

24. The Good Natured: Skeleton

…combine catchy electro-pop with airy dream-pop….What sets The Good Natured’s songs apart is the occasional splash of exotic strings or thunderous, syncopated beats. I’m enjoying this album immensely.

Buy @ Amazon

23. Shona Foster: The Moon & You

…moody piano melodies with subtle instrumental and vocal flourishes

Buy @ Amazon

Shona Foster – The Moon & You (Sampler) uploaded by Beach Hut Records

22. Mediaeval Baebes: Illumination

…churns the all-female vocal ensemble’s signature Gothic choir sound with even more exotic instrumentation, faster tempos and fiercer wails….brimming with dark drama, intoxicating rhythms and haunting choral harmonies

Buy @ Amazon

21. The Decemberists: The King is Dead

…From the opening blast of harmonica through the finale, The Decemberists have woven layers of delicate instrumentation and poetic lyrics into even the most buoyant and infectious song on this album.

Buy @ Amazon

20. Driftwood Fire: How to Untangle a Heartache

…truly a delight…airy pop-folk songs…”Appalachian Hills” is the album’s biggest stunner. The haunting folk ballad explores the beautiful landscape and horrific racism in the Shenandoah valley during and after the Civil War.

Buy @ Amazon

19. Zola Jesus: Conatus

…dark and entrancing pop songs…slinky beats, a chilling trill of piano and Zola’s haunting multi-layered howls make “Vessel” absolutely hypnotic.

Buy @ Amazon

18. Lykke Li: Wounded Rhymes

…Quirky, moody, syncopatedly rhythmic, femme electro-pop and indie-rock

Buy @ Amazon

Youth Knows No Pain by LykkeLi

Unrequited Love by LykkeLi

17. Patrick Wolf: Lupercalia

…marries the electro-pop of his recent releases with the eccentric troubadour style of his early albums, then takes things a step beyond with classical strings, big brass and a newfound lyrical optimism.

Buy @ Amazon

16. Matraca Berg: The Dreaming Fields

…the music on this album is exquisite and the songs examine deeper, darker themes than are typically found in the modern country-pop era

Buy @ Amazon

15. The Civil Wars: Barton Hollow

…a gorgeous, intimate blend of pretty pop melodies and sparsely atmospheric folk with an occassional punch of rowdy country-blues.

Buy @ Amazon

The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow (mp3)*

14. Company of Thieves: Running from a Gamble

…Lead singer Genevieve Schatz’ voice is distinctively strong and pretty, and the band’s pop-rock songs are far more catchy and lyrically substantial than anything on the radio…one of those albums I like more with each listen.

Buy @ Amazon

Company of Thieves – Modern Waste (mp3)*

13. Zaz

…The poor kid must be sick of the comparisons, but what else can I say here? This little gem of an album sounds like Edith Piaf singing modern, slightly quirky, jazz and pop tunes. I adore it…There really are no weak tracks on the album, the intricacies and charm of the arrangments are a perfect match for Zaz’ superb and distinctive voice.

Buy @ Amazon

12. Imelda May: Mayhem

…adds just enough modern rock noise to Imelda’s signature growling rockabilly sound to make it interesting without losing the retro style that makes her music so charming.

Buy @ Amazon

11. Sarah Slean: Land and Sea

…grand in scope and beautifully complex, yet one of the most irresistibly accessible collections I’ve ever heard. This magnificent new song cycle finds Sarah taking pop, folk, rock and classical to places they’ve never been before.

Buy @ Amazon

Sarah Slean – Amen by muruch

10. Flogging Molly: Speed of Darkness

…more of a American rock musical sound than the seminal Celtic punk band’s previous efforts…a lyrically brilliant and sonically solid effort inspired by the U.S. economic collapse – particularly its harsh effect on Detroit’s factory workers.

Buy @ Amazon

9. Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears: Scandalous

…gives these brilliant musicians some new opportunities to show off their substantial skills…”You Been Lyin’” is the best, most exciting collaboration any album ever had. The quaking duet with “Dallas gospel funk band” The Relatives sounds like The Staples Singers and George Clinton jamming with The Darkness.

Buy @ Amazon

8. Lia Ices: Grown Unknown

…The album’s brilliance lies in Lia’s unusual use of instrumental embellishments to punch up her otherwise gentle melodies…Lia’s beautiful voice makes even the most basic ballad absolutely stunning.

Buy @ Amazon

Lia Ices – Daphne (mp3)*
Lia Ices – Grown Unknown (mp3)*

7. Eva Cassidy: Simply Eva

…previously unreleased material by the late, great Eva Cassidy…composed entirely of acoustic versions of Eva’s best known recordings. Accompanied only by the soft strum of her guitar, Eva’s extraordinary voice is beautifully displayed in this exquisite collection.

Buy @ Amazon

6. Tori Amos: Night of the Hunters

…One of the more impressive releases of 2011 so far, Night of the Hunters was an ambitious undertaking for Tori Amos and one that, despite its weaknesses, can be called a success. It’s also a definite step in the right direction for the songstress and has won my loyalty back after a decade of disillusionment.

Buy Night of the Hunters @ Amazon

and

Tori Amos: Sin Palabras (Night of the Hunters Instrumental)

…Sin Palabras has all of the strengths of Night Of Hunters, yet none of the weaknesses…gorgeous instrumental version illuminates all of the intricacies and nuances of the arrangements. The brilliance of Tori’s piano playing, as well as that of her accompanying orchestra musicians, is put on full display.

Buy Sin Palabras @ Amazon (only $4.99!)

5. Florence + the Machine: Ceremonials

…has almost Seraphic reverence to its bombast. And Florence Welch’s unearthly wails remain unparalleled and mesmeric.

Buy @ Amazon

4. Heather Nova: 300 Days at Sea

…Heather’s unusually gorgeous voice has always been the driving force in her songs, but her intricate layering of high energy pop-rock instrumentation with haunting folk melodies continues to put her music into a category of its own.

Buy @ Amazon

3. Alexis Marceaux: Orange Moon

…a brassed up brand of eerie indie-rock, melodic pop, delicate folk and the lightest hint of Zydeco…From her first wail in the mesmeric, churning, chill-producing opener, “Leila and the Orange Moon,” I knew I would love this album.

Buy @ Amazon

Orange Moon – Sneak Hear by AlexisMarceaux

2. The Sweetback Sisters: Lookin’ for a Fight

…a delightful nod to vintage Western swing, honky tonk and classic Nashville country…the whole album is a toe tappin’, hip shakin’ wonder. I expect it to be on my best of the year list come December.

Buy @ Amazon

1. Sonya Cotton: It is so

…I don’t recall ever having been so profoundly moved by an album. The lyrics read like classic poetry, full of beautiful, nature-evoking imagery and immense sorrow…Sonya’s broken heart is deeply embedded in the marrow of this spectacular album, as her personal loss intertwines with metaphors depicting the loss of natural habitat and sanctuary for animals in the wild. Such personal and universal themes coupled with lush, intricate arrangements must surely destine It is so to become a folk classic.

Buy @ Sonya’s Site

*all mp3s & streams uploaded by & posted w/ permission of artists, labels and/or their PR reps

Patrick Wolf: Lupercalia

Lupercalia is the new and fifth studio album by singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Patrick Wolf. Wolf here marries the electro-pop of his recent releases with the eccentric troubadour style of his early albums, then takes things a step beyond with classical strings, big brass and a newfound lyrical optimism. Though not as eerily mesmeric as Wind in the Wires or Lycanthropy, Lupercalia is Wolf’s most artistically mature work to date.

The stand out tracks “The City,” which opens the album, and string-embellished “Together” are soaring, infectious pop tunes ready for radio…circa 1984 on radio stations that played bands like The Smiths and The Cure.

“Bermondsey Street” is a lovely cornucopia of acoustics, strings, piano, horns, programmed beats and handclaps.

“Armistice” has a fantastic retro Goth atmosphere akin to Ultravox’ “Vienna,” while a delicate pluck of strings waltzes through the otherwise serene “The Days.”

Aside from a few faint blips and beeps in the background and one big reverberating repeated beat, the opening verse of “Slow Motion” puts the spotlight back on Patrick’s voice where it belongs. The song builds and spreads out with lovely classical strings and exotic backing vocal flourishes, but its Patrick’s haunting vocal that remains center stage throughout the duration of the song. The track is just waiting to be incorporated into a film score.

The buoyant disco-pop finale “The Falcons” picks up the tempo again without letting go of Wolf’s signature dramatic edge.

I was not granted permission to share an mp3, but you can hear samples at the links below…

BUY @ AMAZON

Lupercalia - Patrick Wolf

Patrick Wolf Official Site

Patrick Wolf: The Bachelor

Patrick Wolf’s The Bachelor will be released by Nylon Records on August 11th. The album blends the uptempo electronics of Wolf’s previous release with the dark troubadour sound of his earlier works. Funded by fan donations, The Bachelor was originally intended to be a double album. It will instead be released as a single disc, followed by a forthcoming sequel. The album features guests Tilda Swinton, Eliza Carthy, and Matthew Herbert.

The first portion of the album builds on the creaky electronic style of The Magic Position, while other tracks – such as “Count of Casualty”, “Vulture”, and “Battle” – explore a harder industrial sound.

Many of the album’s lyrics express Wolf’s cynical view of love and marriage. This theme is most apparent in the haunting electro-piano title track, which culls its lyrics from the traditional Appalachian poem “The Turtle Dove”. “The Bachelor”, as well as “Damaris”, sounds like Antony covering songs from Wolf’s debut.

There’s a lovely Celtic element to the dramatic arrangement of “Thickets”, and “The Sun Is Often Out” recalls the plaintive, eerie wails of “Ghost Song” (my personal favorite of Wolf’s catalogue).

Overall, I think Wolfs’ done a solid job of staying true to the delicate style that initially drew fans to his music while also experimenting enough to keep the sound fresh.

Patrick Wolf – Vulture (mp3 expired) *

*mp3 provided by & posted w/ permission of Biz3 Publicity on behalf of artist

Patrick Wolf Official Site

Buy @ Amazon

Siobhan Donaghy: Ghosts

Siobhán Donaghy’s sophomore solo album Ghosts was released by EMI/Parlophone on June 25th. Siobhán was formerly a member of UK girl-pop group Sugababes and recently collaborated with Patrick Wolf (which is how I came to know of her) on a remix of her single “So You Say”. This is not the dramatic eccentricity of Wolf, nor is it as fluffy as Sugababes. Instead, Ghosts falls somewhere in between. There are catchy pop melodies and dance beats aplenty, but the vocals and music are multi-faceted enough to make it appealing.

Songs like “Don’t Give It Up”, “So You Say”, “Sometimes”, and “Make It Right” have an airy girl pop vibe, with Donaghy’s whispery vocals layered over electronics. The lovely tone of her voice becomes more apparent on the sweet breeze of “There’s A Place”.

The humorously cursed and lovelorn traveller’s saga “12 Bar Acid Blues” is by far the stand out track. Siobhán gracefully balances a tricky speak-sing verse style and melodic chorus over electro-beats, pulses, and warbles.

“Medevac” lifts the pop sound up a bit with noisy sirens and a more prominent beat beneath Siobhán’s ethereal vocals. And the retrograde finale “Ghosts” is indeed haunting.

You can download a free mp3 of “Ghosts” by signing up for the mailing list at Siobhán Donaghy’s Official Site (left side of main page).

Siobhán on MySpace
Parlophone Records

Buy the CD (US)
Buy the CD (UK)

Patrick Wolf: The Magic Position

Patrick Wolf’s third album, The Magic Position, was released on May 1st, and I have to say that I love it. The new album is almost cheery compared Wolf’s previous recordings. The Magic Position layers the best elements of his romantic and tragic troubadour style with electronic beats, synthesizers, and intricate string arrangements. At times the new material reminds me of New Order or even Duran Duran, but there’s still a melancholia to Wolf’s sound that adds enough depth to his songs to keep them from sounding like a total exercise in New Wave nostalgia.

The Magic Position slides open with the dramatic drum beat and shimmering strings of “Overture”, followed by the buoyant title track. “The Magic Position” mingles a string quartet with glockenspiel, handclaps, foot stomps, ukulele, dulcimer, and trombone among other implements of noise into what is by far Wolf’s most catchy pop melody to date.

“Accident & Emergency” has a very faint hint of industrial in its vibrating synth-pop. The slow-burning piano of “The Bluebell” serves as an introduction to “Bluebells”, which resurrects the synth-pop with a dash of fireworks. The midway tracks like Marianne Faithfull guest spot “Magpie” and “Augustine” return to the somber tone most often associated with Patrick, before “Get Lost” shakes the circus tents again with electro-beats, handclaps, space rockets, and arcade machines. And the album quietly closes with the twinkling instrumental “Finale”.

I remember when I first fell in obsessive love with Patrick Wolf’s music – particularly “Ghost Song” – back in 2004-05 and I tried my best to promote him here on this blog and on my old Livejournal music community Audiogasms (predecessor to Audiography)… until stories of Patrick’s distaste for the internet, blogs, and file sharing began circulating along with other strange tales about him.

In a post here in May 2005, I wrote: “I hope that the fanciful stories of his life and inspirations that are now floating about don’t drown out his talent. There’s a fine line between the eccentricity of Björk and the dementia of Tori.” Judging from the brouhaha over Patrick’s recent outbursts on stage, my prediction that his persona would overshadow his music seems to have come true.

But Wolf or at least his management has apparently changed their stance on “New Media” with this album, so hopefully his antics won’t do too much damage. Instead, I hope that this new found appreciation of blogs will help catapult his career as it has his old tour mates Arcade Fire. Wolf is currently supporting Amy Winehouse on tour.

Patrick Wolf – The Magic Position (mp3)

Patrick Wolf’s Official Site
Patrick on MySpace

Buy the CD