2011 Favorite Albums / 8. Lykke Li, Wounded Rhymes

Lykke Li, Wounded Rhymes

Music Math: Björk circa Debut + 1950s doowop + Igmar Bergman films

Best Tracks: “Youth Knows No Pain,” “I Follow Rivers,” “Get Some,” “Sadness Is a Blessing,” “I Know Places,” “Jerome”

Representative Lyrics: “Like a shotgun / needs an outcome / I’m your prostitute / you gon’ get some”

Notes: This is one of the craziest sounding albums I’ve heard in along time. Li cribs from 1950s pop standards like “Unchained Melody” and groups like The Shirelles, then tosses them in a blender with tribal drums, tinkling bells, and buzzing synths, coming out of it with something that sounds intensely unique and immediately Scandinavian at the same time. Also noteworthy was her live iTunes session EP, which features stripped down versions of many of these songs–most of which lose the echoey backing vocals and allows you to hear her, just her.

Beau’s Critique: “This album makes me want to commit suicide.”

2011 Favorite Albums / 9. James Morrison, The Awakening

James Morrison, The Awakening

Music Math: ((Michael McDonald/Bryan Adams) – cheese) + Adele

Best Tracks: “In My Dreams,” “Up,” “Slave to the Music,” “One Life”

Representative Lyrics: “But I can’t help but shuffle my feet / Movin’ like a zombie, chasing the beat / She lures me in, oh sweet surrender / Locks me down like a repeat offender”

Notes: This album snuck up on me, courtesy of free listening on Spotify, where it became my background-working music for a long time. Then it became driving music. Then I found myself humming it and singing it. If you could imagine a male, slightly more funk version of Adele, that’s really what you’d find here–oh, and with a bit of Bryan Adams’s raspy voice mixed in.

Beau’s Critique:

2011 Favorite Albums / 10. Marina & the Diamonds, The Family Jewels

Marina & the Diamonds, The Family Jewels

Music Math: (Florence of Florence and the Machine + The Count from Sesame Street) + Bananarama

Best Tracks: “Shampain,” “Are You Satisfied?,” “Oh No,” “Numb”

Representative Lyrics: “If you are not very careful / Your possessions will possess you / TV told me how to feel / Now real life has no appeal”

Notes: Although it came out a few years ago, Marina found her way into my life this summer and she never left me. While her lyrics frequently border on the inane, the music is fun and sort of silly and absurd as well, so it all evens out. I listen to this all the time.

Beau’s Critique: “Love her. She’s the new solo Gwen Stefani for me.”

2011 Favorite Albums / 11. Mumford & Sons, Sigh No More

Mumford & Sons, Sigh No More

Music Math: Peter Gabriel + the soundtrack to O Brother Where Art Thou?

Best Tracks: “The Cave,” “Little Lion Man,” “Winter Winds”

Representative Lyrics: “I will hold on hope / and I will let you choke / on the noose around your neck”

Notes: I love this quirky little album of homages to bluegrass music. Plucky banjos, slappy basses, and strummy guitars dominate along with beautiful harmonies in the vocals.

Beau’s Critique: “I don’t like this and he’s ugly. I feel like I’m in Ireland or something.”

2011 Favorite Albums / 12. Fitz & the Tantrums, PIckin’ Up the Pieces

Fitz & the Tantrums, Pickin’ Up the Pieces
Music Math: (Amy Winehouse – problems) x church organ

Best Tracks: “Breakin’ the Chains of Love,” “MoneyGrabber,” “L.O.V.,” “News 4 U”

Representative Lyrics: “It’s 6 a.m. spitting gray / Don’t know why I let you treat me this way / I keep holding on to your middle finger / But now I know I gotta pull the trigger”

Notes: Aside from having possibly the greatest band name ever, Fitz & the Tantrums do classic soul straight up/no chaser. Backed by traditional arrangements and prominently featuring a church organ in most of the songs, FATT do very little to adjust the anachronism of their sound and their content (unlike Winehouse, who modernized her lyrics). These songs focus on the bread and butter of soul–heartbreak–and look at it from several different angles. Bonus: download their cover of The Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” one of the best songs of the year.

Beau’s Critique: “It reminds me of like a guy Amy Winehouse. I like it, but it’s not really my thing.”

2011 Favorite Albums / 13. Patrick Stump, Soul Punk

Patrick Stump, Soul Punk
Music Math: (Fall Out Boy – everyone except Patrick Stump) x Prince

Best Tracks: “This City,” “Spotlight (New Regrets), Run Dry (X Heart X Fingers),” “Everybody Wants Somebody”

Representative Lyrics: “Step 1: Drink / Step 2: Make mistakes / Step 3: Pretend you don’t remember / Step 4: Drink a little more / Step 5: I need to run dry”

Notes: Many of you know I was devasted when my favorite emo band for 14-year-old girls broke up a bit ago, but my wounds have been healed by this release, which gives amazing vocalist Stump the ideal platform for his frenetic and funky brand of pop-rock. His voice is fully unleashed and is the star of the show, trumped (maybe) only by the note that Stump himself played every instrument on the album. Crazeballs! I saw him live this year and he is, truly, one of the most amazing live singers I’ve ever heard.

Beau’s Critique: “I love his voice, but this album is kind of lame.”

2011 Favorite Albums / 14. The Civil Wars, Barton Hollow

The Civil Wars, Barton Hollow
Music Math: (Peter Paul & Mary – Peter) + Ulysses S. Grant / Hell on Wheels

Best Tracks: “20 Years,” “I’ve Got this Friend,” “Barton Hollow”

Representative Lyrics: “I’m a dead man walking here / That’s the least of all my fears / Walk beneath the water”

Notes: Charmingly anachronistic duo The Civil Wars blend country, folk rolk, and bluegrass sounds with their perfect cross-gender harmonies. Both singers have beautiful solo voices, which we hear from time to time, but their real strength is their dueling melodies on tracks like “Barton Hollow,” which evokes the era of the actual Civil War more vividly than many elements of the war itself.

Beau’s Critique: “This album makes me want to commit suicide.”