[SKOA Presents] The 50 Best Albums Of 2011: 5 - 1

5. Arctic Monkeys - Suck It And See [Amazon] [iTunes] [Insound]

Long gone are the days when you'd see Arctic Monkeys at The Boardwalk in Sheffield. 6 year later and with 4 albums under their belt, you can't deny how far the young boys from Yorkshire have come. The thing I love about the Arctic Monkeys is that they don't have an indefinite recipe for greatness, with each album they throw away whatever preconceptions they had for the last album and start fresh. Nothing could be truer for their latest LP Suck It And See, on which the band explore deeper the darker sounds that were dabbled with on Humbug some two years ago. Remember the days when Alex used to write about dickhead bouncers from clubs in Sheff? Well, they're long gone, as this album sees Alex grow once more as a songwriter, fathoming some psychedelic realm of subject matter. The opening lines to "Black Treacle" talk of him seeing "belly button piercings, in the sky, at night," whilst the albums title track sees him compare a girl to a can of "Dandelion and Burdock"; he's grown as a writer and this allbum is a perfect chance to show how far they've come since their debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not. Start to finish, this album has you under a spell of time changes and beautiful sounding instrumentation. Ip, dip, dog shit, rock and roll guys, this album is a triumph! —Shey

4. The Black Keys - El Camino [Amazon] [iTunes] [Insound]

There aren't many bands that can bounce back for a two year streak of getting into the top 5 album lists of not just ours, but a few other blogs too! That's exactly what Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney managed to do, though, with their Brothers follow up El Camino. From album opener and lead single "Lonely Boy," which will have you gyrating from start to finish, you can't help but fall in love with the album. It's a little more moody than Brothers, all the while finding its very own sound and hitting it home better than you could have ever hoped for. Dan's guitar tone is enough to make any grown man swoon, and Patrick takes out some hidden anger on the kit 'cos damn he kills it. The stand out track for me has to be "Little Black Submarines," with a slow building acoustic verse or two with just Dan and his guitar before a huge hair raising finale of pure awesome. Following up Brothers was never going to be an easy task, but The Black Keys threw away the rule book, did what they thought sounded good and thankfully, we agree with them! Grab this album now. You won't regret it. —Shey

3. Icebird - The Abandoned Lullaby [Amazon] [iTunes] [Insound]

Move over Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo! RJD2 and Aaron Livingston have came along to take the title for the best producer/soul singer duo with their magnificent debut album The Abandoned Lullaby. Icebird have proved they are more than a vocalist singing over the producer's beats duo with stand out tracks such as such as the soul/rock tune "Just Love Me" or the funky "Going and Going. And Going" and have made their mark as one of the top soul/rock/hip hop acts alongside artists such as Mayer Hawthorne, Aloe Blacc and Cee-Lo Green. The Abandoned Lullaby is filled with rich melody and emotion and never provides a dull moment which leaves you fiending for more after the 12 tracks are said and done. Thankfully, this wasn't just a one off project and the group are already plotting their next venture and by the looks of things so far, they have a bright future ahead. —Rocko

"Just Love Me"

2. Foo Fighters. - Wasting Light [Amazon] [iTunes] [Insound]

I don't think I have been this happy about an album since Modern Guilt came out in 2008. Sometimes being up to your eyeballs in the latest buzz bands makes you lose sight of what matters the most to you when it comes to the way a record makes you feel. When it comes to Wasting Light I felt allowed to enjoy the entire process of an album from start to finish again. These days a lot of the magic of making a record seems to get lost in the art of ProTools perfection, so when I heard that Foo Fighters were going to be recording to tape I was anxious to hear the difference between making a record in Davie Grohl's garage and a multi-million dollar studio.

Truth be told, I prefer Grohl's garage. It's hard to know what you're missing out on until it's gone. There is a warmth to albums on tape that can't be replicated with any piece of software, a lot like playing a CD versus dropping the needle on a record. The songs are thoughtful and probably the most intimate to date from Foo Fighters in my opinion, thus making it almost impossible for you to not find some way to identify with every song on the record. This album coupled with their documentary, Back and Forth, made me feel so close to the band that I feel more invested in them now than I ever had before with them or any other band for that matter. Foo Fighters solidified a place in my heart with this album and I am more than okay with that. —Kibbe

1. Bon Iver - Bon Iver, Bon Iver [Amazon] [iTunes] [Insound]

Simply put, this album and albums like this are the reason I listen to music. With his self-titled sophomore album, Justin Vernon has crafted a magnificent, ten-song opus that encapsulates everything music should be. It feels happy when it should be, it emotes the sadness that we will and have experienced in our lives, it never feels forced yet it always feels real and genuine. While For Emma, Forever Ago did this, and was an amazing album, it always felt a little bit too simple and acoustic driven, but, with Bon Iver, Bon Iver, Vernon's musical breadth has widened exponentially. "Beth/Rest" is, in itself, a symbol of Vernon's foray into the realm of risk-driven experimentation. Using the soul pop genre of the '80s as a muse, the song ends the album on the perfect note, evoking a passionate, joyful, and sombre conclusion to an incredible album. Vernon's growth and experimentation is evident with each passing song, as one will offer something that the previous didn't, and this adds a layer of depth that wasn't fully realized in For Emma.

It isn't just Vernon's instrumentation that has evolved, though, as the solitary sadness heard on his debut has grown into something beautifully melancholic here, and, as each consecutive song on the album passes, this beauty takes a number of emotional twists and turns. Album opener "Perth" starts slow, building up to a percussion-driven intensity before slowing down again and seamlessly flowing into "Minnesota, WI." "Holocene" is a masterpiece in and above itself, with Vernon's vocals beautifully rising and calming at just the right moments, and with such brevity, to evoke a humanity that is oft absent from music. Whether it is the doleful happiness of "Towers," the saddening childhood story of "Michicant," or the solemn memories of a failed relationship in "Wash.," the album conveys such powerful and meaningful messages. From beginning to end, from "Perth" to "Beth/Rest," we are taken through a journey of emotional expression, of life and all its trials and tribulations. It is this which makes the album so incredible, because, no matter who you are or where you are, we all succumb to heartbreak, to struggle, and the albums themes, themes that are part of life, of growing up, manage to transcend the album itself, and it does so in such an organic way. It is a rare thing for an album to feel so organic, so seamless and unified, with each song feeling like it should be there, yet each song offering something that only it can provide. The humanity of the album is what stands out the most, with each song evoking exactly what it needs to, not feeling too forced or underutilized. I listen to music for this exact reason, because it acts as an avenue for the emotions, enjoyment, happiness, sadness, and all the things that makes me human, and, in this regard, Bon Iver, Bon Iver succeeds in every way. —Adrian