Albums to watch

Ry Cooder was one of three established artists whose albums earned huge acclaim on release but disappeared from the end-of-year lists

The ADM Top 10 2011

Forget perverse opinions and personal foibles. When it comes to the most acclaimed albums of the year, here's the facts and figures ...

Now everyone's had their fun with the Best Albums of 2011 roundups, it's time to take stock of the cold hard facts of what really were the most critically-acclaimed albums over the past 12 months.

The Any Decent Music top 20 of 2011 is the most reliable guide to what earned the most extensive overall praise from reviewers. It's not skewed by idiosyncratic judgments or personal prejudice or peer pressure - it's the widest survey of worldwide critical opinion around, and you can't argue with mathematics.

The majority of the albums in our top 20 were reviewed by between 30 and 50 of our sources from the UK, US, Canada, Australia and Ireland, and the formula we apply to arrive at the ADM rating takes the number of reviews into account. (We also exclude any albums with fewer than 10 reviews.) We've listed them here with an extract from one selected review which best sums up the general reaction to the album.

The most obvious variance from all the end-of-year favourites is the presence at the top of the ratings of a trio of established names, Ry Cooder, Tom Waits and Gillian Welch, each of whose albums earned exceptional praise upon release but disappeared from the reckoning when it came to looking back on the year's highlights. Of the three only the Tom Waits album figured in the top 50, and even then at a comparatively lowly 18.

When the vast majority of the remainder of this list tallies quite closely with the Best Of lists, it's hard to work out why this should be, except to hazard a guess that these albums represent yet more high-quality material from very established artists with a string of acclaimed releases behind them.

Thus they might not be regarded as landmark albums deserving of being singled out as high points of the past 12 months in the same way as albums from less-established (and arguably more experimental) artists such as Bon Iver or Tune-Yards.

Another notable omission from the Best Of lists is that of the Earth album, Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1, which is the highest-ranked rock album in this list, but did not appear in the top 50 of the Best Ofs. In this instance this is probably down to the fact that Earth's doom drone noise appealed to a narrower band of reviewers who rated it extremely highly (as reflected in its number of reviews).

That aside, there is no question that this has been PJ Harvey's year. As well as heading this list and topping the Best Of ratings by a huge margin, her Let England Shake is at No.3 in our all-time list (all-time in our world being the three years of our existence).

 

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8.7

PJ Harvey

Let England Shake

An awe-inspiring, challenging album in all the best ways.

Consequence Of Sound

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8.6

Ry Cooder

Pull Up Some Dust And Sit Down

These are songs of a broken, divided society and the gap between rich and poor, but with the anger matched against humour.

The Guardian

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8.5

Tom Waits

Bad As Me

This will certainly be one of the year's best releases and deserves to be seen as one Waits' finest achievements.

AV Club

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8.4

Gillian Welch

The Harrow & The Harvest

This is one of the most defiantly traditional, non-radical and deceptively simple albums in recent memory.

music OMH

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8.3

Bon Iver

Bon Iver

After the closeness and austerity of For Emma, Vernon has given us a knotty record that resists easy interpretation but is no less warm or welcoming.

Pitchfork

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8.2

tUnE-YaRdS

w h o k i l l

Garbus is now writing and performing at a new and spectacular peak.

The Irish Times

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8.2

Earth

Angels Of Darkness Demons Of Light 1

A beautiful, slow-burning jewel of an album, proof that Earth's continued march is unmissable.

AU Magazine

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8.2

Wild Beasts

Smother

While Two Dancers made apparent that Wild Beasts had become a great band, Smother confirms that they have now transformed into nothing less than an important band.

State

 

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8.2

Kate Bush

50 Words For Snow

To the relief of anyone who carries a torch for the reclusive genius, it's a beauty.

Independent On Sunday

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8.1

Shabazz Palaces

Black Up

The only thing worth asking is, "how can this be bettered?".

The Line Of best Fit

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And the next 10

  1. 8.1  The Horrors Skying
  2. 8.1 PS I Love You Meet Me At The Muster Station
  3. 8.1  St Vincent Strange Mercy
  4. 8.0  James Blake James Blake
  5. 8.0  Fleet Foxes Helplessness Blues
  6. 8.0  Gang Gang Dance Eye Contact
  7. 8.0  Atlas Sound Parallax
  8. 8.0  Destroyer Kaputt
  9. 8.0  The Weeknd House Of Balloons
  10. 8.0  Laura Marling A Creature I Don't Know

 

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