These Go To 11 Awards: Top Albums

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[BoxTitle]James Blake: James Blake[/BoxTitle] [MusicVideo][/MusicVideo] [Spotify target="blank"][/Spotify] [BuyNow][/BuyNow]

It’s easy to let the last few months of inevitable backlash—encouraged by a low-key EP, a (let’s face it) subpar duet with Bon Iver, and a few press-frenzied quotes on the state of dubstep—eclipse the truth that James Blake’s self-titled debut absolutely stunned us at the start of the year (that, and a team of 2010 EPs, are why these potential slips are newsworthy to begin with). It’s doubtful the 23 year old British electronic producer who’s been successfully touring the world (and dealing with what was probably an unexpected role as charming poster boy for an entire genre movement), would mind if everyone took a step back. The LP portrayed Blake as a guy who values space; at times letting only his voice or a heartbeat bass be the elements up for tweaking, he didn’t fill the open air as much as he utilized it. The result was a minimal form of singer/songwriter pop, simultaneously crushing and soothing.

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[BoxTitle]The Horrors: Skying[/BoxTitle] [MusicVideo][/MusicVideo] [Spotify target="blank"][/Spotify] [BuyNow][/BuyNow]

Skying, probably the most accurately titled album this year, managed to soar with a refined wall of sound, maintaining a general epic-ness with precision rather than brute volume. And what’s funny about that development is how far it’s taken The Horrors from their original 2006 sound, a screeching rock which at around the “Sheila Was a Parasite” point made them one of the more accurately named bands. The evolution however was for the best; they kept some of that eyeliner on but instead of glamming out in a UK garage they shoegazed at the heavens. Always a band to take notes from the greats, they pulled from all the right ones here, with vocals recalling The Verve and Spaceman 3 and sonics everywhere from My Bloody Valentine to The Cure to Simple Minds—tributes with new tweaks, a hybrid all their own, superbly produced and presented. They paced and flavored each song to work together as a ten-track journey, and on that note, we’re about to go Skying again just thinking about it.

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[BoxTitle]Atlas Sound: Parallax[/BoxTitle] [Spotify target="blank"][/Spotify] [BuyNow][/BuyNow]

Bradford Cox made his finest bedroom album essentially by stepping out of the bedroom. Nothing on Parallax feels unfinished or constrained; it’s a confident step outward from an infamously inward-facing songwriter. While that bold look could have backfired, Cox flourished in it, singing with newfound intensity and range. While it’s easy to hear the spiraling “Te Amo” or galloping “Mona Lisa” and think its straightforward pop that marks this album’s progression, each up has a counterpoint or downstroke of ambient architecture. This relationship all comes together on the final suite of “Flagstaff”, a song so dark that it has no choice but to sputter out halfway to its end, “Lightworks”, a guitar/harmonica ditty turned soul-baring ballad, and the two “Quark” pieces, where gadgets spin, chirp, and strum to infinity—a fascinating and career-defining sequence.

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[BoxTitle]Girls: Father, Son, Holy Ghost[/BoxTitle] [MusicVideos][/MusicVideos] [Spotify target="blank"][/Spotify] [BuyNow][/BuyNow]

In a time where there’s no shortage of acts taking cues from each other, here’s a band with their ears fixed squarely on the less relevant past—the crisp studio recordings of the 1950s/60s/70s, those glory days of pop radio and old fashioned rock and roll. On their follow-up to 2009’s Album, San Francisco’s Girls arrived at a sound was even more referential, and also distinct, which should have been impossible. For all the eras that filter in Father, Son, Holy Ghost, its eleven songs feel incredibly refreshing, built spacious yet packed with well-placed organs and back-up singers and all those classic elements that rarely get done right anymore. And the real reason it all works is Christopher Owens, who possesses that rare gift for saying the heaviest things with such simple sincerity.

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