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Most Underrated Albums Of 2011 - What's Yours?

By Laura Snapes

Posted on 16 Dec 11

 
 

A couple of days ago, American public radio station NPR published a blog entitled 'The 20 Unhappiest People You Meet In The Comments Sections Of Year-End Lists'. As anyone who's ever sat and read commenter after commenter telling you that everything you like is categorically complete and utter shit will aver, it was entirely accurate, and wickedly funny.

Whilst end of year lists are brilliant fun to debate, huffing and puffing in the comments section about other people's lists being totally wrong, maaaan is futile, and makes you look like a tiresome blowhard with far too much time on their hands. So rather than complaining, now's your chance to nominate the albums that you thought were enormously underrated in 2011 - and read NME's staff and writers on their under the radar picks of the year.

Remind yourself of our Top 50 albums of 2011 and check out our most underrated albums of 2010 blog.

Laura Snapes, Assistant Reviews Editor
Colin Stetson - ‘New History Warfare Vol 2: Judges’ (Constellation)
"Stetson is a saxophonist who seems to play about three different parts at once: a bass note, a melody (of sorts) whilst screaming down the instrument, his sax transformed into a kind of cyberpunk beast that looks as though it’s physically trying to attack him, such is the effort he puts into his performance. If that sounds unpleasant, well, I suppose it kind of is - his album is apocalyptic, intense, unnerving – but strangely comforting."



Jamie Fullerton, Features Editor
The Strange Boys - 'Live Music' (Rough Trade)
"It's like Exile On Main Street played by hoodie-housed slackers: the great honky tonky piano album of 2011."
Read NME's original review



Tim Chester, Deputy Editor, NME.COM
Joker - 'The Vision' (4AD)
"While the majority of the world went beserk for crass dubstep/metal/whatever behemoth Skrillex (and will no doubt do the same for Flux Pavillion in 2012) it was the comparatively subtle bass of Bristol’s Joker that really tickled my fancy this year. Does that make me a dubstep purist? I’d also offer honourary mentions for Africa Hitech, New Look, Keren Ann and the twin math rock (relative) underdogs Three Trapped Tigers and Vessels."



Matt Wilkinson, New Music Editor
Baxter Dury - 'Happy Soup' (Rough Trade)
"Dury is an underrated genius, and this is his best album."
Read NME's original review



Love Inks - 'ESP' (Hell, Yes!)
"The Austin, Texas trio were one of the surprise finds of 2012, with album standout 'Blackeye' a masterclass in musical catchiness – while also allegedly being about a fight-friendly member of fellow Austin band Harlem."
Read NME's Radar Band Of The Week profile of Love Inks



Peaking Lights - '936' (Weird World/Domino)
"Though it was stifled by a terrible release plan (it came out in the US months before the UK, thus killing any kind of release buzz over here), '936' was a stellar trip of an album. No surprise at all that Bobby Gillespie named Peaking Lights his favourite new find of the year."
Read NME's original review



Gavin Haynes, writer
Various Artists - 'Rave On Buddy Holly' (Fantasy Records/Concord Music Group)
"Buddy Holly is widely recognised as the father of rave music. And it was in his capacity as the Derrick May of 1956 that the great and the good bore tribute to this tragic member of the 22 Club, on 'Rave On Buddy Holly', a hits-covering exercise spanning Patti Smith, Paul McCartney, Lou Reed, Flo, and Julian Casablancas among many others. Here, you soon realised, were songs so enmeshed with pop music's DNA that even Kid Rock couldn't dent their paintwork, all guaranteed to make you go: 'Chuck us the t-shirt with the LED on it, swallow a tin of tiger balm and bosh some Mitsubishis: it's a rave, Dave.'"
Read NME's original review



Ash Dosanjh, writer
The Fall - 'Ersatz GB' (Cherry Red Records)
"Many labels can be pinned on The Fall’s stalwart leader Mark E Smith: tyrant, miserablist, nihilist, strange old man in need of a hug. But what’s often missed is a simple truth: he’s one of music’s enduring funnymen.

"His band’s 29th album proves it. If he’s not berating the sterile mainstream, as on ‘Mask Search’ (“I’m so sick of Snow Patrol and where to find Esso lubricant” – who isn’t?), then he’s dedicating a whole song to someone called Nate (and all words that rhyme with that name): a character incongruously drawn from that US show oft frequented by Sonic Youth (for no other reason other than the band’s own vanity), Gossip Girl. But what ‘Nate Will Not Return’ lacks in Wildean prose it makes up with Peter Greenway’s abrasive guitar onslaughts. Elsewhere, the same man’s six-string flourishes and the cyber freak-outs supplied by MES’s Mrs, keyboardist Eleni Poulou, ignite ‘Taking Off’.

"MES may claim that track ‘Greenway’ is a comical imagining of the life of his current guitarist if Greenway were a gangster, it’s safe to say that his many light-fingered fanboys – hello, These New Puritans – will be discomfited by Smith’s derisive snarl of “If it’s good enough for me/Then it’s good enough for you”. The same track evidences the unique position occupied by Smith. Who else do you know could get away with this lyric: “I had to wank off the cat to feed the fucking dog”?

"The sleeve art may declare that “brightness does not fit with ERSATZ GB”, but that’s The Fall being unusually modest. In fact, this record positively sparkles with a certain Salfordian’s stoic charm and sardonic wit."
Read NME's original review



Priya Elan, Assistant Editor, NME.COM
John Maus - 'We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves' (Upset The Rhythm)
"I thought this exuded as much tip top crackly '80s radio fun as last year's Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti album, 'Before Today', but got none of the attention that masterpiece did. Maus sounds like Ian Curtis fronting a cold wave band. What's not to love?"
Read NME's original review



Jamie Crossan, writer
Aidan Moffat & Bill Wells - 'Everything's Getting Older' (Chemikal Underground)
"Aidan Moffat is one funny cunt. There’s proof of that all over this album, especially on the frankly brilliant ‘Glasgow Jubilee’ where his tongue licks out tales of sexual conquest and woe. But there’s more to Moffat than just tittersome lines such as “She kissed my cock goodbye”, as this album, recorded with Scottish composer Bill Wells, contains some of the most emotional songs released this year. ‘The Copper Top’ is a brutally vivid and honest account of a funeral and ‘(If You) Keep Me In Your Heart’ is made for those lonely, winter nights pinning for your ex. Sniff, sniff."
Read NME's original review



Glasvegas - 'Euphoric///Heartbreak\' (Columbia)
"It’s a disgrace that this album has been left out of so many an end of year list; it’s got quality right through it. Yeah, having your mum appear on a track (‘Change’) is a bit Oedipal but ‘Euphoria, Take My Hand’ and, even better, ‘The World Is Yours’ are stonking, great songs. It may not be as raw – or as celebrated - as their debut, but it deserves to be recognised. If only for the stunning ‘Lots Sometimes’: was there another song released this year as euphoric as that?"
Read NME's original review



Simon Jay Catling, writer
Cymbals Eat Guitars - 'Lenses Alien' (Memphis Industries)
"Despite a smattering of critical positives from the right outlets, Cymbals Eat Guitars' assured second LP drifted off the radar relatively quickly upon its August release, baffling considering the plaudits that garnered the group's more emotionally strained Pavement-leaning debut offering 'Why There Are Mountains' in 2009. Whether down to poor publicity or the group's decision to eschew their more straightforward college angst in lieu of taking 'Lenses Alien''s ten tracks through a hallucinogen-inspired conceptual journey, it mattered not. The New York-based four-piece moved forward with maturity, passion and a willingness to circumvent their basic guitar-based setup. Eloquent in its intended thematic vagueness, 'Lenses Alien' worked almost like a good novel in placing its audience into an alternate world, while all the while the music raged with a more feral energy behind. If Fucked Up deserve all the adulation received for their own-concept based album this year, then surely Cymbals Eat Guitars, though more cerebral in their attack, deserved similar praise."
Read NME's original review



Gnod - 'Ingnodwetrust' (Rocket Recordings)/'Chaudelande Vol. 1' (Tamed Records)
"Manchester 2011: if you weren't on the endless chase for a slew of smoke-and-mirror acts sneaking around the Victorian back streets and grubby suburbs of their city, then you were feverishly buying up all remaining stocks of flares and parkas in anticipation of The Stone Roses' multi-million making return. This is, of course, what Manchester will be best known for this year, but unfairly, as proven by this brace of albums from Gnod, the north west's premiere far-reaching psychedelic troupe. Firstly with the Rocket Recordings-released 'Ingnodwetrust' Gnod sought to melt minds methodically, 'Tony's First Communion' stretching to over 20 minutes of gradually swirling echoes and half-caught vocals, a stoic one-note bassline keeping all at bay; 'Vatican' dragged the intensity further with slowcore riffs bludgeoning the senses into the darkest depths. Then, following the group's decampment to Chaudelande, France, they really let loose: 'Volume 1' the ensuring collection of recordings from a drug-fuelled few days, boasts riffs charred to within an inch of their life and the wildness of their motorik threatening to tear throbbing limb from limb when transferred live. In my opinion, if you wanted to focus on WU LYF's pre-determined theatrics then you're welcome to them; but it was Gnod who who provided a snapshot of the city's real core."



Pete Cashmore, Editor-at-large, Nuts Magazine
Rum Committee - 'Boozetown' (Suspect Packages)
"Brilliant boozy (as the title suggests), ribald hip-hop from a hefty Brighton collective that somehow manages to sonically recreate the experience of rocking up at, and then proceeding to get well and truly hammered in, the party capital of the south coast. It starts out edgy and downbeat, blossoms into a good half dozen bona fide club bangers, and then ends up in the wee small hours sobering up and reflective, a bold little coup de grace. British rap album of the year, and yes, that includes Professor Green and Rizzle Kicks."



Jazz Monroe, writer
Gazelle Twin - 'The Entire City' (Anti-Ghost Moon Ray)
"While Peej had the whole war art thing covered, Brighton’s Gazelle Twin (think Cocteau Twins being unwittingly inhabited by the ghost of Fever Ray), alias Liz Walling, was exploring artistic planes yet more wayward - namely the surrealist art of Dadaist pioneer Max Ernst, whose depiction of a moonlit stack of houses, crumbling in 1930s Germany, gave this hauntingly resplendent debut its title. Darker than early 2000s Radiohead, sinister, esoteric and edgy as a pentagram, 'The Entire City' stuck its flag in the volatile middle ground between Joy Division and These New Puritans and grinned wildly, watching the skies burn to ash."
Read NME's original review



Leonie Cooper, Deputy News Editor
William Elliott Whitmore - 'Field Songs' (Anti-)
"With sublime album releases from Josh T. Pearson, Bon Iver, Jonathan Wilson and Nathaniel Rateliff, 2012 seemed to be the unofficial year of the fantastically facial haired American gentleman. The king of them all however, was William Elliott Whitmore and his gorgeous ‘Field
Songs’. An all too short eight-track collection of impressively melodic and deceptively simple dustbowl dervishes, it was devotedly strung together with banjo, acoustic guitar and William’s honeyed honky tonk croon. Housing pastoral Springsteen-ian tales of toiling on prairies, Whitmore’s sepia tinged stories were moonshine for the ears."
Read Uncut's original review



Niall O'Keeffe, writer
Clean George IV - 'God Save The Clean' (Tenement)
"Skipping along a mere four years after the Edinburgh-based act’s debut single, the debut Clean George IV album achieved sonic alchemy from unlikely base ingredients: math-rock time signatures, George McFall’s gruffly intoned bar-room philosophy, and the borrowed stadium-sized guitar sound of Big Country (ask your tartan-wearing uncle). The improbably thrilling result gained extra allure from the irresponsible narcotic and medical advice that accompanied it. ‘Real Men Take Speed’? ‘Impotence Is Bliss’? ‘Fat Equals Dead’? More a missive from the margins than a mainstream manifesto, perhaps – but all the more compelling for it."


Ben Cardew, writer
The Jet Age Of Tomorrow - 'Journey To The 5th Echelon' (Odd Future)
"It seems unlikely in what's pretty much been Odd Future's year that anything the collective did could pass under the radar - let alone a release that is, for me, the best album to date from OFWGKTA. But scan the annual best-of lists for 'Journey To The 5th Echelon' by The Jet Age of Tomorrow and you'll go away disappointed. There are, maybe, mitigating circumstances: the album was released as a free download right at the start of 2011 when January hangovers were still fresh in the air, and it's hardly a typical Odd Future album, packed to the brim with psychedelic soul, live instrumentation and warm vocals rather than gynaecological rap. In fact, if anything, 'Journey To The 5th Echelon' sounds more like a cross between Janelle Monáe’s whip-smart soul and the more adventurous outings from NERD, with a little of Odd Future’s gnarled experimentation and Sun Ra’s cosmic obsession thrown in. Then again – come on! – it’s hardly a low-key album, featuring Odd Future staples Tyler, The Creator, Hodgy Beats, Left Brain and Mike G, as well as Matt Martian and Hal Williams, and it is still widely available for free. So what are you waiting for?"



David Westle, writer
Liturgy - 'Aesthethica' (Thrill Jockey)
"Last year had Celeste's 'Mort(e)s Nee(s)', a 21st century black metal record so unrelentingly bleak this writer can barely endure it for fear of developing paranoid schizophrenia inside half an hour (the title roughly translates from French, it appears, to 'Born Dead'). This year had 'Aesthethica', one of two uncharacteristic and brilliant albums released by the rejuvenated Thrill Jockey label, alongside The Skull Defekts' 'Peer Amid'. High concepts are hardly new to the genre, but these unrepentant Brooklyn provocateurs definitely took the notion to a higher plain, with a middle finger to the purists, seemingly pissing off 95 per cent of those who listened en route. Vicious and inventive needn't be mutually exclusive, screams Liturgy's message. And they're right."



Lisa Wright, writer
Veronica Falls - 'Veronica Falls' (Bella Union)
"The tail end of the year may have been dominated by doe-eyed songstresses and potty-mouthed rappers, but at the opposite end of the spectrum Veronica Falls released an eponymous debut of wryly understated indie-pop brilliance. Packed with Postcard Records jangles and Vivian Girls-esque lo-fi nods, the LP was as melodically sprightly as it was knowingly lyrically morose - dousing songs about graveyards with riffs so buoyant they could practically reawaken the dead."
Read NME's original review



Ailbhe Malone, writer
Class Actress - 'Rapprocher' (Carpark)
"Elizabeth Harper's solo effort (she's also a member of Girl Crisis, aka the best lady choir since Gaggle) slipped under the radar rather unfairly this year. Channeling 'Sunday Girl'-era Blondie and the lovelorn aspects of the Human League, 'Rapprocher' is a cold-hearted, hot-blooded electro-pop gem."
Read NME's original review



Louis Pattison, writer
Frank Fairfield - 'Out On The Open West' (Tompkins Square)
"Ragged old-tymey country-blues from a young man from Los Angeles who looks like he stepped straight off the set of O Brother, Where Art Thou? - crisp button-up shirts, pomade in the hair, fiddle held in the crook of his arm, etc etc. This sort of thing can so easily come off like pastiche but Fairfield does it so raw and sincere that it's totally compelling. Helps that he plays the banjo like a motherfucker, too."



Sam Wolfson, writer
Alexis Jordan - 'Alexis Jordan' (Columbia)
"Alexis Jordan is a sweet talking teenager from the deep south, so girl next door you could survey her partioning wall. The opening track proper of this album, 'Happiness', sounds like a happy clapping church song that happens to be produced by Stargate and Deadmau5. Yet her moralistic resolve weakens across this record, so by track six it's all "take my body you can have it". As a listener you're never sure if you're hearing an emancipation or something more sinister. Either way, this record said far more about sexualisation in pop than Rihanna's tiresome musical peep show."



Jeremy Allen, writer
Jane's Addiction - 'The Great Escape Artist' (Capitol)
"Not only is 'The Great Escape Artist' one of the most underrated albums of the year, it is also one of the most misunderstood. Jane’s Addiction returned from yet another hiatus with a knockout collection of songs - indeed some of the best tunes they’ve ever written - and garnered universally lukewarm reviews. Like most hacks who’ve endured "did you even listen to the record?" comments on messageboards, I say this defiantly: DID THOSE OTHER REVIEWERS ACTUALLY LISTEN TO THIS FUCKING RECORD? ARE THEY ALL FOOLS?!

"Having given the record an 8, much soul searching ensued, not to mention sleepless nights. I have wrestled with my conscience and even seen a doctor to test my critical faculties. And I have concluded that I am right and those other reviewers are all wrong. And I have come up with two reasons why.

"Firstly, there is perhaps a perception of what people think Jane’s Addiction are, and a slickly-produced rock and pop band bringing out records with killer hooks with Rich Costey at the helm does not fit with these preconceptions. 'The Great Escape Artist' features none of the speed-driven insanity - or on the flipside the drugged-up experimentalism of 'Ritual De Lo Habitual', their most lauded album, but that was recorded 21 years ago, folks. If we as human beings regenerate every seven years so that no flesh nor cell remains then they are entirely different people three times over!

"Secondly, and I think more pertinently, we need to look at the ‘pop’ word we encountered earlier. Let’s be honest, men in their 50s encroaching on pop’s landscape makes people feel uneasy. Like Peter Stringfellow makes people uneasy. There’s something unseemly about men making pop, like men of a certain age cycling in lycra. It is this ageism that needs to be addressed, not Jane’s ability to bring out another brilliant record."
Read NME's original review



Fraser McAlpine, writer
The Unthanks - 'Diversions Vol. 1 - The Songs Of Robert Wyatt And Antony And The Johnsons
"It's a live album, recorded at the Union Chapel, by a well-respected family folk act, and the songs are all covers. It is also one of heaviest musical statements I've ever experienced. Not heavy like metal but heavy like a mountain, heavy like despair. Two poised and beautiful voices – one lost and mournful, one sharp and clear  – deliver a quiet suite of stark and thoughtful songs, which happen to deal with gender confusion, war crimes, identity crises and whether there is any such thing as free will. The fact that they appear to be doing it for larks – there's lots of giggling between songs – just makes it all the more affecting."



Tom Edwards, writer
Vivian Girls - 'Share The Joy' (Polyvinyl)
"Just as some said plain old guitar-led indie rock seemed to lose its last sparkle of excitement this year, along came this NY trio's third album to remind just what can be done with the very simplest of motives. Hardly instantaneous, 'Share The Joy' opens with a sprawling six-and-a-half minute dirge then veers off into a bipolar mix of Shangri-Las call-and-response pop ('Take It As It Comes') and chilling spittle-inflected punk (their transcendent re-reading of Green On Red's 'Sixteen Ways'). Their way with capturing the sound of creeping disquiet is a rare skill."



Laura Snapes, Assistant Reviews Editor
Pat Jordache - 'Future Songs' (Constellation)
"Pat Jordache’s (pronounced Jor-dash) record - also on Montreal's Constellation - is easier on the ear. He used to be in Sister Suvi with Merill Garbus before she became Tune-Yards, and he’s good pals with Grimes too (whose ‘Darkbloom’ EP from this year is well worth rooting out). However, ‘Future Songs’ sounds nothing like Tune-Yards’ loopy ululations – instead, it’s a strange, scruffy little record, in a similar vein to Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s debut (though a bit shyer in approach) and Menomena/Lackthereof’s recent albums. There’s something deeply sad about Jordache’s low, hurried vocal."



Eleanor Friedberger - 'Last Summer' (City Slang)
"Eleanor Friedberger’s first album away from The Fiery Furnaces, ‘Last Summer’, was also enormously underrated. Whereas her brother, Matt, has got lost in some obscure doomhole where he’s released eight very iffy solo albums this year, Eleanor’s record seemed to pick up where the Furnaces’ ‘I’m Going Away’ left off. It’s easier on the ear than the band’s normal knotty work; full of deft, Todd Rundgren-indebted guitar fuzz and twang, and often wry, sometimes sad lyrics that trace obscure locations in New York. I love how she appears in the record – she’ll sing about herself in the first person, but then spot herself in mirrors, and find her own doppelgangers in the faces of girls she dislikes. And ‘Owl’s Head Park’ is one of the most beautiful, saddest songs of the year."
Read NME's original review



Bill Callahan - 'Apocalypse' (Drag City)
"At only seven songs, ‘Apocalypse’, Bill Callahan’s slip of a third album under his own name (rather than as former nom de plume Smog) deserved a lot more attention than it received. Split into two sides, it plots a journey of acceptance and coming to terms with one’s prickly personality – from opener ‘Drover’, where he admits to driving people away, via the unusually comedic ‘America!’, about his relationship with his country and the militarization of entertainment, and ‘Riding For The Feeling’ – which I hear as a man putting himself in the docks in front of his friends and family, owning up to wrongs, trying to make a clean start and offering them answers to anything they want to know, only to find they have no questions – and ending in ‘One Fine Morning’, a song of rebirth that links to the less obvious meaning of the album’s title, that of revelation rather than doom."
Read NME's original review



"2011 was a great year for drone and ambient works too: I loved Julia Holter’s ‘Tragedy’ and Julianna Barwick’s ‘The Magic Place’, Tim Hecker’s ‘Ravedeath’ is a dazzling claustrophobic rush, and A Winged Victory For The Sullen’s self-titled debut (though its creators have made many albums before) and Ohio’s Sam Goldberg’s ‘Winter Hallucinations II’ were my go-to falling asleep records…"



And the final word...

Mark Beaumont, writer
The Wombats - 'This Modern Glitch' (14th Floor/Warner Bros)
"What, so we're all too far up PJ Harvey's arse to appreciate arguably the best no-nonsense, packed-with-bangers indie pop album of the millennium so far, are we? I despair…"
Read NME's original review



Congratulations if you made it all the way through the list! Let us know which 2011 records you think went chronically underrated in the comments section below.

 
 
 
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