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BBC Music Writers' Top 25 Albums of 2011

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Mike Diver Mike Diver | 17:15 UK time, Thursday, 1 December 2011

It's that time of year: a time for reflection, for celebration... for lists. And here's a rather important one: the top 25 albums of 2011, as voted for by BBC Music's team of album reviewers.

The science bit - i.e. how this top 25 was calculated - can be read at the bottom. A full list of writer top-fives will be published next week.

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Bright Eyes - The People's Key

25 - Bright Eyes - The People's Key
(Polydor/Saddle Creek, released 14 February)
Recommended by: 6 Music Album of the Day

"On the finer cuts, such as the title-track, a weird, mescaline-soaked narrative is woven through hallucinatory images of Americana. On the piano ballad Ladder Song, Oberst laments, 'I know when this world's done / This world is an hallucination,' which captures the new paradigm."

Read the full BBC review
Watch the official video to Shell Games (external YouTube link)

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Laura Marling - A Creature I Don't Know

24 - Laura Marling - A Creature I Don't Know
(Virgin, released 12 September)
Recommended by: Lauren Laverne, Jo Whiley, Jarvis Cocker, 6 Music Album of the Day

"Ending with a cathartic, skirt-swishing burst in All My Rage, A Creature... is another fine release from Marling, lyrically dark but skewing in the main towards an increasingly sunny, sophisticated sound. Her worldly-wise tone can still come over a little smug but give her time - she'll grow younger than this yet."

Read the full BBC review
Watch the official video to Sophia (external YouTube link)

- - -
Cold Cave - Cherish the Light Years

23 - Cold Cave - Cherish the Light Years
(Matador, released 5 April)
Recommended by: Rob da Bank

"Cherish the Light Years is, apparently, the record frontman Wesley Eisold always wanted to make. And, boy, does that shine through. From the crashing, urgently dramatic announcing bars of The Great Pan Is Dead, sheens of gothic 1980s veneer actually conceal something much deeper, more uncomfortable. This is what the much-maligned cold wave sound should have achieved."

Read the full BBC review
Watch the official video for Villains of the Moon (external YouTube link)

- - -
Trap Them - Darker Handcraft

22 - Trap Them - Darker Handcraft
(Prosthetic Records, released 28 March)
Recommended by: Rock Show with Daniel P Carter

"At no point do Trap Them offer respite. Darker Handcraft is a half-hour statement from a band not only on the top of their game but currently ruling over everyone else's. The Louisville/Seattle trio has delivered an album that every fan of extreme music should own. Bravo."

Read the full BBC review
Listen to The Facts on the official Prosthetic Records YouTube channel (external link; contains language which may offend)

- - -
The Decemberists - The King is Dead

21 - The Decemberists - The King is Dead
(Rough Trade, released 17 January)
Recommended by: 6 Music Album of the Day, Another Country with Ricky Ross, The Late Show with Stuart Bailie

"They've chipped off the embellishments, reined in the pomp and walked towards the light. The bookish Portland five-piece started life as indie-mongers with a penchant for English folk, and their sixth album recaptures their youth, only now they've shifted their allegiance back over the pond. It is, simply, a thing of beauty."

Read the full BBC review
Watch the official video for This is Why We Fight (external YouTube link)

- - -
EMA - Past Life Martyred Saints

20 - EMA - Past Life Martyred Saints
(Souterrain Transmissions, released 9 May)
Recommended by: BBC Introducing in Wales

"For all the gales of feedback, throaty growling and Anderson's propensity for outrageously insouciant lyrical soundbites, the music is far from the voguish noise rock racket one might expect. There is some of that, true, but the most memorable moments on debut album Past Live Martyred Saints tend to be the passages of thrilling unfamiliar drone-folk."

Read the full BBC review
Watch the official video for California (external YouTube link; contains language which may offend)

- - -
Julianna Barwick - The Magic Place

19 - Julianna Barwick - The Magic Place
(Asthmatic Kitty, released 14 March)
Recommended by: Tom Ravenscroft

"The Magic Place, splendidly, isolates the listener, cuts them off from the world around them. So if it's a little disconnect from hullabaloo that you're needing, slide into Barwick's sublime soundworld and immerse yourself for the duration. It's unlikely you'll want to come up for air the whole time."

Read the full BBC review
Watch the official video for The Magic Place (external YouTube link)

- - -
Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues

18 - Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
(Bella Union, released 2 May)
Recommended by: Lauren Laverne, 6 Music Album of the Day, Fearne Cotton

"Helplessness Blues is born out of a fraught gestation period, touched by doubt, uncertainty and the travails of growing older and finding your place. But it is also a thing of beauty, and as the blissful outro of its title-track or the breathless, exuberant surge of closer Grown Ocean demonstrate, at its core lies a tangible sense of wonder and hope."

Read the full BBC review
Watch the official video for The Shrine / An Argument (external YouTube link)

- - -
Kate Bush - 50 Words for Snow

17 - Kate Bush - 50 Words for Snow
(Fish People, released 21 November)
Recommended by: Bethan Elfyn, Jarvis Cocker, 6 Music Album of the Day

"Six years after Aerial's bursts of summer sound, Kate Bush's winter album arrives, each track exploring the long Christmas months. They reflect a season which brings out the profound and absurd in equal measure - the feelings of longing and loneliness that emerge as the dark nights bed in, the party-hat silliness that pops up when the same nights stretch out. It's classic Kate - she can still move us with her fire and ice."

Read the full BBC review
Listen to Wild Man on the official Kate Bush YouTube channel (external link)

- - -
Anna Calvi - Anna Calvi

16 - Anna Calvi - Anna Calvi
(Domino, released 17 January)
Recommended by: Victoria Derbyshire, Radcliffe & Maconie, The Late Show with Stuart Bailie, 6 Music Album of the Day

"In a world overflowing with female singer-songwriters, Anna Calvi's exceptional guitar playing and raw, elemental style certainly mark her out as different from the herd. Whether the mass market has the stomach for her challenging, often freeform compositions remains to be seen, but you're likely to hear a lot more of Ms Calvi in 2011 and beyond."

Read the full BBC review
Watch the official video for Desire (external YouTube link)

- - -
Gil Scott-Heron & Jamie xx - We're New Here

15 - Gil Scott-Heron & Jamie xx - We're New Here
(XL, released 21 February)
Recommended by: Benji B, Nick Grimshaw, 6 Music Album of the Day

"Those approaching this release as fans, exclusively, of either Scott-Heron or The xx might be at a loss, but this collection works on separate level. Whilst I'm New Here marked an introspective turn from Scott-Heron, this set offers a multi-layered retrospective of the music which bore and surrounds Jamie xx. It's not merely a rehash of the original, but a cohesive, considered masterpiece in its own right."

Read the full BBC review
Watch the official video for NY is Killing Me (external YouTube link)

- - -
Drive-By Truckers - Go Go Boots

14 - Drive-By Truckers - Go-Go Boots
(PIAS, released 14 February)
Recommended by: Loose Ends, The Late Show with Stuart Bailie, Another Country with Ricky Ross

"It's the Hood/Cooley/Tucker trifecta that makes Drive-By Truckers such a consistently fresh proposition. Go-Go Boots is one of the best examples yet of the separate yet complementary skills of the Truckers' three leaders, melding styles and switching moods but retaining an overall feel that's distinctly theirs."

Read the full BBC review
Watch the official (live) video for Used to Be a Cop (external YouTube link)

- - -
Katy B - On a Mission

13 - Katy B - On a Mission
(Rinse, released 4 April)
Recommended by: MistaJam, Annie Mac

"Katy B is a new breed of singer, adding a vibrant gloss to a new combination of sounds with a charm and personality all of her own. She's shining bright and crying out to be taken on as Britain's new favourite pop star - and if this album is anything to go by, it looks like the stage is set."

Read the full BBC review
Watch the official video for Katy on a Mission (external YouTube link)

- - -
SBTRKT - SBTRKT

12 - SBTRKT - SBTRKT
(Young Turks, released 27 June)
Recommended by: MistaJam, Zane Lowe, 6 Music Album of the Day

"This album is paced like a perfect DJ set - it reads the listener with incredible insight, combining the immediate and familiar with intense passages of warm-up, breaking to allow for moments of blank space and reflection. The mix of shiny vocals with tight, accelerated textures is steeped deep in a glorious combination of two-step, UK funky, dubstep, US RnB and Chicago house."

Read the full BBC review
Watch the official video for Pharaohs (external YouTube link)

- - -
Bjork - Biophilia

11 - Björk - Biophilia
(One Little Indian, released 10 October)
Recommended by: 6 Music Album of the Day, Radcliffe & Maconie, Jo Whiley, Lauren Laverne

"A mesmerising album which confirms that Björk can weave dumfounding wonders from Silly String - whatever's placed before her, she can turn to her advantage, taking her audience on a trip the likes of which no other contemporary artist is capable of planning, let alone embarking on. In a word: amazing. Again."

Read the official BBC review
Watch the official video for Crystalline (external YouTube link)

- - -
Iceage - New Brigade

10 - Iceage - New Brigade
(Abeano Music, released 5 September)
Recommended by: Nick Grimshaw, Huw Stephens, Marc Riley

"One easy comparison is the very earliest Idlewild material, although Iceage's pop instincts remain more deeply buried. At least, until You're Blessed - a climatic, romantic hardcore racer that finds frontman Rønnenfelt defiant, taking heart from the expression of his own vulnerabilities. It's a stirring end, and caps off a record that's easily as good as any punk release you'll hear in 2011."

Read the full BBC review
Watch the official video for New Brigade (external YouTube link)

- - -
Bon Iver - Bon Iver

9 - Bon Iver - Bon Iver
(4AD, released 20 June)
Recommended by: Victoria Derbyshire, Lauren Laverne, 6 Music Album of the Day

"There can be no doubt that certain critics will have come to this album expecting it to fall short of the precedent set by its predecessor. That it doesn't, and actually far surpasses the still-echoing resonance of that debut set, is indicative of its standing as one of 2011's most absorbing, affecting and downright brilliant LPs. It just goes to show that there's really only one act capable of 'doing a Bon Iver'."

Read the full BBC review
Watch the official video for Calgary (external YouTube link)

- - -
Josh T Pearson - Last of the Country Gentlemen

8 - Josh T Pearson - Last of the Country Gentlemen
(Mute, released 14 March)
Recommended by: Another Country with Ricky Ross, Jarvis Cocker

"Women come, women go; spirits are lifted and downed; the heavens may smile or pour scorn. At the end of the day, a stool, a stage, and a spotlight comprise the environment that Pearson ultimately found comfort in. And Last of the Country Gentlemen is a brilliant framing of this home, bittersweet home."

Read the full BBC review
Watch the Mute Studio Session version of Woman When I've Raised Hell (external YouTube link)

- - -
Beyonce - 4

7 - Beyoncé - 4
(Sony, released 27 June)
Recommended by: Victoria Derbyshire, Trevor Nelson, Westwood

"Following schizo double I Am... Sasha Fierce, Beyoncé took a year off but has come back brighter. Dozens of songs emerged from the original 4 sessions and the promo circuit's been leapt on with a vengeance, culminating - at least over here - in the intriguing Glastonbury headline slot (yet to wow us as we go to press). With 4's best bold tunes, Beyoncé has spruced up an already handsome catalogue. She's got the armoury to trump husband Jay-Z's perception-altering Pilton turn."

Read the full BBC review
Watch the official video for Run the World (Girls) (external YouTube link)

- - -
Metronomy - The English Riviera

6 - Metronomy - The English Riviera
(Because, released 11 April)
Recommended by: Lauren Laverne, Marc Riley, 6 Music Album of the Day

"If Metronomy's last LP, Nights Out, was the soundtrack to an all-hours party that threatened to blow the speakers, The English Riviera is the music in the ears of a restless insomniac. The type of punch this band now packs is differently varied, and instead of relying on catchy melodies, its excitement and originality is more broadly sourced."

Read the full BBC review
Watch the official video for The Bay (external YouTube link)

- - -
Tom Waits - Bad as Me

5 - Tom Waits - Bad as Me
(Anti, released 24 October)
Recommended by: The Late Show with Stuart Bailie, Another Country with Ricky Ross, Jarvis Cocker, Marc Riley, 6 Music Album of the Day

"It would be a twisted world where Bad as Me was judged a disappointment, as there isn't a dud on it. But it's also the Tom Waits album that most undeniably echoes previous works. It mostly finds Waits roaming his property, repainting the fence instead of jumping over it into the next uncharted field. But while this isn't a great album it's still a very good one, and even lesser Waits is worth a lot in any other currency."

Read the full BBC review
Watch the official video for Satisfied (external YouTube link)

- - -
The Antlers - Burst Apart

4 - The Antlers - Burst Apart
(Transgressive, released 6 June)
Recommended by: Gideon Coe

"The Antlers' 2009 album Hospice was one of those niche successes. The sort that has the blogs purring, the odd clued-up broadsheet too, but doesn't quite stretch beyond the word-of-mouth glass ceiling. For Burst Apart, the New York trio have made their sound a little fuller - in the sense that an aircraft hangar's fuller if you throw in a sofa. No surprises then, just a collection of mesmeric, epic stillness."

Read the full BBC review
Watch the official video for Every Night My Teeth are Falling Out (external Vimeo link)

- - -
The Horrors - Skying

3 - The Horrors - Skying
(XL, released 11 July)
Recommended by: Zane Lowe, 6 Music Album of the Day, Fearne Cotton

"There's no fault to be found with Skying - truly, every song here hits its mark, and while The Horrors are evidently a band happy to change its spots from record to record (and steal a few licks, too), only the most ungracious of observers could deny that they've now crafted two of the finest British albums of recent years. From the most incongruous of beginnings they've become national treasures in waiting, and now possess the ability to realise any ambitions."

Read the full BBC review
Watch the official video for I Can See Through You (external YouTube link)

- - -
Wild Beasts - Smother

2 - Wild Beasts - Smother
(Domino, released 9 May)
Recommended by: 6 Music Album of the Day, Marc Riley, Bethan Elfyn, Janice Long

"Anyone who has seen the video to lead single Albatross will have an idea of what to expect here: an uncommon beauty, distilled through disquiet, presented at what appears to be high-definition half-speed. This is a world away from the boisterousness of the band's debut, Limbo, Panto - a world of self-discovery, unexpected achievements and focused development. If this doesn't secure Wild Beasts another Mercury Prize nomination, it'd be a travesty for British pop." (It didn't! Boo!)

Read the full BBC review
Watch the official video for Albatross (external YouTube link)

- - -
PJ Harvey - Let England Shake

1 - PJ Harvey - Let England Shake
(Island, released 14 February)
Recommended by: Radcliffe & Maconie, Rob da Bank, Victoria Derbyshire, 6 Music Album of the Day

"The title of Polly Harvey's seventh album, 2007's White Chalk, seemed to address England's psycho-geography by way of Dover's iconic coastline. Perhaps that's projection. But her eighth most definitely does. It's a concept album, folks. Song titles include The Last Living Rose, England and The Glorious Land, with a distinct whiff of landscape and legend. A fragile Hanging in the Wire even namechecks 'the white hills of Dover'. Pete Doherty doesn't have a copyright on singing about Albion, you know. God bless unique, unfathomable, great Queen Polly."

Read the full BBC review
Watch the official video for Let England Shake (external YouTube link)

- - -

This top 25 was calculated based on individual top five lists (ranked) provided by each contributing writer. First place was awarded 10 points, second five, third three, fourth two and fifth one. Points were added together to provide final scores for each album. When albums finished with the same number of points, the Metacritic score* assigned to the corresponding review (the BBC does not score its own reviews) was used to determine which album placed higher. And when that score was the same, the Metacritic average score was used to determine the higher-ranking release.

The top five lists from every contributing writer will be published on the BBC Music Blog next week.

(* Metacritic collates reviews of albums, taking individual scores and providing each release with an average. It assigns the BBC reviews a score based on the tone of each piece. The website can be found here. Scores used in the ranking process accurate as of 30 November 2011.)

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