As Dec. 31 gets closer and closer, there will be plenty of ends – the end of a semester, the end of Christmas celebrations and the end of a music year that brought everything from an explosive collaboration to plenty of strange, intriguing music videos. The best albums of 2011 can’t all be detailed here, but some of the best were the ones that really stirred up the music world. It’s one thing to create a good album; it’s another to create an album that can go down in music history as an important album. There are a few standouts from 2011 that belong to a group that’s created buzz that will have to be topped come 2012.
Lady Gaga – Born This Way
Mother Monster is obviously well known for causing a stir in popular culture. But it’s Born This Way that has capitalized on this attention and turned it into fuel for a worldwide dance party hosted by Gaga. Criticized by some for its pastiche-like arrangement of sounds and influences and hailed by others for including loveable tracks, such as the anthemic “Born this Way,” Gaga’s latest shows a newfound freedom in creativity. Gaga is not afraid to take risks, both musically and lyrically. And if new single “Marry the Night” is any indication, Gaga is still intent on bringing back the music video as both an art form and a phenomenon. In fact, Born This Way proves that Gaga will continue to push plenty of boundaries over the rest of her music career.
Skrillex – Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites
Electronic music is huge right now – there’s no doubt about that. From festival to festival and concert to concert, the new frenzy for electronic sound expands, and it might be now or never for DJs/producers to introduce their expertise and plug in their new sound. Among the big stars of the movement is Skrillex, whose Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites is a testament to the brain-rattling impact of dubstep. Skrillex’s slick tracks follow the electronic music pattern well – build up the tension before dropping the bass – but there’s something inherently thrilling about the deep sounds that escape the speakers. Now Skrillex has got “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” featured on a GoPro Action Camera commercial and has been Grammy nominated for Best New Artist, even without Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites being a huge chart-topper.
Adele – 21
Adele fans, or maybe just anyone who had heard her sing, recognized that the musician had a powerful, sultry voice and a knack for cooing heart-wrenching songs. But 21 proved just how talented Adele is without having to resort to fancy production or elaborate costumes. Adele’s tracks on the album are sincere and sung beautifully. Yet Adele did take some risks in the album. “Someone Like You,” for example is a bare-bones song that is only her voice and the piano. Somehow, the emotional intensity is concentrated enough in Adele’s voice that the track needs nothing more, and it’s been a chart-topper in numerous countries. Who knows what will come with the next numerically-named released.
Jay-Z and Kanye West – Watch the Throne
If any music lover had his/her doubts about how much swagger could fit into one album, Kanye West and Jay-Z offered an answer. Watch the Throne was a highly anticipated album that was destined to cause a stir from the beginning. From its production to its inclusion of different musical influences to its subject matter – mainly wealth and fame – Watch the Throne has gone down as one of the albums that is not only musically intriguing but interesting to view as an event. Two of rap’s titans teaming to talk about, well, mostly themselves, sounds like a basic plan but it’s somehow unfolded into 12 carefully-crafted tracks. Within the first minute or so of songs like “Otis,” it’s obvious that Kanye and Jay-Z meant business. You can’t mean anything else with an album title such as this.
Plenty of other releases are important for 2011, but when you look back a decade or so from now, these will be some of the most earth shaking that will pop into your head. The year might be ending, but the energy that these artists have raised in the music world is only just starting to grow.