Best Of 2011: English Music

January 14, 2012 at 12:05 am | Posted in ~Special | Leave a comment
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The highlight of 2011 has to be all the outstanding records that came from western artists. Month after month, I continued finding great albums from new talent and old. There are so many new artists and albums that have become part of my favourites. I was always eagerly awaiting releases and it was exciting to see how they would all turn out. I’m so happy to see western artists putting more creativity into their work. Some are even bringing music back to when it was just about the voice, vocalists who stand out amongst the crowd of pop stars who rely on auto-tune and vocoder. British artists are finding it easier to crossover to America, bringing music that is infectious but has depth to it. Overall, 2011 was an exciting year and if you’ve neglected English language releases, you’re missing out on some out of this world music.

Best Discoveries

 Katy B

Katy B shook up the clubs with her fantastic debut album, On A Mission, showing every pop tart in the business how to rock a club. When I first listened to the album, I wasn’t completely taken by it. Witches’ Brew ended up being a single and the video reeled me back in and I was hooked from that moment. When most people think of club music, the first thing that comes to mind is scantily clad women singing about sex. It’s not everyday you see a singer like Katy B, dressed up in jeans and sneakers, entering a genre that’s been dominated by the motto “sex sells.” She’s so appealing because she makes real club music about real experiences that go on in them. The spark that erupts from meeting someone, getting lost in the music, losing touch of everyone around you and ignoring the player that’s trying to win you over, she sings about it all. Katy keeps her emotions balanced. Depression and love are irrelevant in the club. It’s about having a good time, meeting new people and trying to make a connection. Her lyrics are so smart and mature, showing wisdom beyond her years.

 Lana Del Rey

I may have only discovered Lana Del Rey at the end of the year but she’s already on her way to become one of my favourite singers. Her look and music has garnered much controversy in just a few short months. Her lips have become a hot topic and the indie scene has had a lot to say about her. Regardless of what people are saying, I love everything I’ve heard, especially Born To Die and Off To The Races. Her droning voice, at first, sounds emotionless but listening through her songs  you see that there are a lot of different textures and tones to it. Her first album, Lana Del Rey A.K.A. Lizzy Grant, is an amazing record and listening to it is making the wait for Born To Die unbearable. She’s a remarkable singer and I love that she’s bringing with her a vintage look and sound. She’s been gaining a lot of attention and many people seem to be enjoying her music. It’s great to see an artist of her caliber causing such a big fuss on the internet. Hate her or love her, it’s going to be interesting to see what becomes of her. I’m so excited to see how Born To Die turns out but from what I’ve heard, I already know it’s going to be an amazing record.

 Natalia Kills

Zombie introduced Natalia Kills to me and it definitely kept her name in my mind. Then Mirrors came along and ignited a spark in me. When I found out her album was due out early in the year, I started looking her up and discovered amazing songs like Wonderland which made the wait for the album much harder. When it came out, I was hooked on my first listen and it continued to draw me in as I continued to listen to it. Looking back on her career, she’s changed so much. She’s gone from being called Verbalicious, Verbz and Natalia Cappuccini but the music was similar as she explored rap and pop. As Natalia Kills, her music has received a major overhaul but it’s reminiscent of what she’s done before. The raps are still there and some songs on the album were written before she became Kills. There’s been a lot of discussion on her look and attitude, people claiming that her whole persona is fake. I don’t see why people obsess over these things. I love everything about her image and from the interviews I’ve seen she’s very likable. The most important thing is the music and she’s put out an amazing debut album.

 Nicola Roberts

Nobody expects a surreal album to be made by a singer that’s part of a girl group, much less the one that’s thrown in the background. Nicola Roberts is the first soloist that I’ve ever witnessed to release an audacious and bizarre debut. Most would hire the most famous producers and writers, ensuring a hit that would bring them to the spotlight. Nicola took a different route, spending time in the studio writing and making sure everything was done to her satisfaction. When she announced that she was going to release a solo album, I didn’t think much of it. Honestly, I didn’t even care. Then Beat Of My Drum was released and it was somewhat interesting. It was slightly annoying but I later realized that its bratty nature is what makes it so good. It stood out to the other releases thanks to the crazy production and her vocal shrills. Her album is a collection of quirky tracks that show off her delicious voice. Her falsetto is amazing and I can’t get enough of it. Nicola always escaped my attention when she was in Girls Aloud but now she’s turned that all around, becoming the most interesting member from the group.

Sophie Ellis-Bextor

Sophie Ellis-Bextor isn’t a name new to me but her music certainly is. Make A Scene has a great European electropop flair that got my attention when I heard Starlight. The record is made of pure feel-good material, doing away with negativity and just bringing you into a vibrant world. There’s no time for heartbreak here. She delves into sugary love anthems and even stands up against the other woman in Homewrecker. She throws you into a synth paradise as each song boasts magical electronic melodies. Going through her discography proved her to be a formidable electropop star. Her first two albums, Read My Lips and Shoot From The Hip, aren’t great but they’re worth checking out for a few songs. Her third album, Trip The Light Fantastic, is so much better and contains very addicting songs like New Flame, China Heart, Catch You and New York City Lights. Her high voice is a pleasure to hear, blending with the electric pop melodies. It’s a delicate, soothing instrument but when she has to be tough there’s no hesitation. She’s a great artist to get into if you’re a fan of big, bright electronic songs.

Best Cover

Natalia Kills – Perfectionist

Natalia’s cover is eye catching and is spot-on in reflecting the concept of her album. The intro, Perfection, is a medical diagnosis and the cover portrays that visually. The chair resembles something that you would find in an old medical facility. There’s something unsettling about it and that’s why it’s so good because it’s the perfect display for her music. The black and white photo is accented by the red border and font. It looks very sharp and clean. I love how the title is placed in the x on her face. This cover stands out so much compared to others and I’ve never seen anything remotely similar to it.

Runner-up: Nicola Roberts – Cinderella’s Eyes

Best Single

Natalia Kills – Wonderland

I may have heard Wonderland at the start of the year but it has resonated with me until the end. This is the darkest pop gets and its menacing ambience is intoxicating. Her vocals are so twisted and the way it builds up to the chorus is amazing. The inclusion of the gothic choir halfway into the verses makes them ominous and the electric guitar in the pre-chorus  makes it edgier. It all blows up in the chorus and the infectious hook comes in, taking over your mind. Her ad-libs haunt the bridge as the heavy drums pounds away at it. This is such an evil pop song but the message behind it is incredible. It’s a realistic look at love, that it’s not always a fairy tale. This is a far cry from the love songs we’re used to hearing and her use of disturbing imagery is superb. Her dark approach on love is refreshing and it’s good to see a pop singer be brutally honest. She takes love apart and puts it into reality but this doesn’t mean that she doesn’t want love. “I believe in you and me” is the line of utmost importance because it’s hopeful and that’s the key to a relationship. It’s not holding impossible expectations but believing in each other. I was hooked on this the moment I heard it but every time I listen to it my love for it is renewed and solidified further. I don’t understand why this didn’t succeed because it’s the best pop song of 2011.

Runner-up: Natalia Kills – Free (feat. will.i.am)

Best Video

Natalia Kills – Wonderland

Being obsessed with the song, I could not wait for the video to be released. Two versions of the video were made, one censored and a director’s cut. The first is worth watching just because of the way they incorporated the censoring. It’s done well and in a way that makes it very mysterious. The video begins with Natalia wearing a red hood and being dragged by a group of soldiers. When the music starts, words are flashed across the screen, “nobody warned you” and “fuck love,” and they’re aligned with her entire message. Fairy tales are all lies and we’re constantly fed these happily ever after stories. Scenes of gore and war are also flashed and they add to the overall dark atmosphere. The most crucial part is the dining room scene and the majority of the video takes place in it. This is where elements of Alice in Wonderland come into play as all the women sitting at the table are wearing a rabbit mask. This isn’t like the tea party in the story though. While the Mad Hatter’s table was filled with tea and sweets, this one demolishes that and turns it into a gruesome scene. The cupcakes are decorated with drugs, the women are smoking and the cups are filled with alcohol. It’s the complete opposite of the fairy tale and it’s such a horrific scene. Natalia is the only one with a heart on her plate and throughout the second verse she’s hacking it up. The ideas of control and defying authority come up as she revolts against the fantasy. This leads into one of the most brutal scenes in a music video ever. The soldiers come down ripping the masks off of their faces, a sign that the fairy tale has been deconstructed, and horrifically beating them. She’s eventually dragged away screaming. She’s laid down with the camera rotating as the executioner runs his hand down her neck and this scene is just chilling. It’s beautiful but absolutely disgusting. The video ends with her beheading and her decapitated head is shown lying on the grass. There’s no other artist that I known who’s put scenes like this in a music video and I have to applaud her for it. Her horror-like videos are unique, matching her image and music. Natalia keeps her music videos to the length of the track but they’re filled with symbolism and meaning.

Runner-up: Lana Del Rey – Born To Die

Best Album

Natalia Kills – Perfectionist

I didn’t expect to love Perfectionist the way I do when I was waiting for it to be released. When I heard it, I couldn’t stop playing it and every day I became more enthralled by it. It’s my most played album in 2011 and one of my favourite albums ever. It’s so cohesive and sticks to its thematic concept for every single song which is rare nowadays for a pop album. Every song relates back to the overall message. Going through it, you can see how the songs work around the ideas that are presented in the introduction. The album deals with the frustrations, disappointments and aspirations that one experiences while trying to strive for perfection, ultimately discovering that it doesn’t exist. This is where her realistic approach to pop music comes into play. She’s labeled her music as “pop with an opinion” and you can clearly see that as you listen to the songs. The music is so brutal with imagery associated with death, blood and gore. However, there are songs that show her at her most vulnerable state. Broke is my favourite ballad of the year and it’s so dramatic, wrapped up in incredible metaphors and analogies relating to money. Heaven tears your heart apart with its warmth. It’s a song that effects your emotions in so many ways, moving between happiness and depression. The album was released in Germany at the beginning of the year and when it came out in North America, it was packaged with a new song called Kill My Boyfriend. It’s a bubbly love song that’s mutilated by her sadistic mind. No one else is signing songs like this but it’s something that comes across everyone’s mind. People are afraid to admit it but Natalia isn’t afraid to say what’s on her mind and that’s what makes Perfectionist so amazing.

Best Artist

Natalia Kills

Making her first appearance in 2009 as Natalia Kills, it took her two years to craft her debut album but everything fell into place for her in 2011. Even though her album is unknown to some and didn’t blow up as fans hoped, she’s not letting it faze her as she’s already working on her second album. Last year was quite a busy year for this new pop star. She toured with Robyn, The Black Eyed Peas, Ke$ha and Katy Perry which brought her music to large audiences of people. Her collaboration with will.i.am, Free (feat. will.i.am), sparked up an interest in her and it quickly became her most watched video on the internet. Her videos have all been on-point and perfect representations for her songs, following her conceptual vision. Her dark approach to music is refreshing and her total embrace of it is remarkable. The album, from start to finish, is a debauchery on pop music and all the songs stand on there own. Filler tracks are absent and each song provides a different look into the obsession of perfection. I haven’t been crazy about a singer like this in a long time and I just love everything she’s done and continues to do. She’s become one of my favourite singers ever and she’s already begun 2012 with a bang, releasing her music video for Kill My Boyfriend. I cannot wait to see what’s next for this axe-wielding artist.

Runner-up: Nicola Roberts

2011 was a spectacular year, right from the beginning all the way to the end. So many singers blew me away and turned me into a huge fan. I’ve added so many new singers to my all-time favourites and it’s great to see artists who challenge the mainstream. There were many albums, too many, and I wasn’t able to mention them all here, hence my “Best Of 2011: Honourable Mentions” post. Having release after release of phenomenal albums has made 2011 one of the best years of music in my life. I’m not saying that past years have been bad but I have discovered and fallen for so many great singers. This year is shaping up to be as exciting already. Rumours of Christina Aguilera’s new single have been flooding the web and I’m looking forward to seeing her on The Voice, Ameriie is set to release her next album in the spring, Lady Gaga might release a new album, Natalia Kills is already working on new material and Lana Del Rey is set to take over in a few weeks. I’m excited to see what happens this year and I hope it’s full of surprises.

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