Best Music Albums of 2011: The Weeknd, Drake, Britney Spears, and More
1. The Weeknd: House of Balloons
Who is The Weeknd? From what we know, he’s a sultry 21-year-old R&B crooner named Abel Tesfaye from Toronto with a piercing falsetto who released three acclaimed mixtapes for free via his website this year. Rumor has it he also turned down a $7 million recording contract. Despite being unsigned, he’s partnered up with rap superstar Drake, had his music featured on Entourage, and been recruited to remix tracks by music luminaries like Lady Gaga and Florence and the Machine. The first of The Weeknd’s three mixtapes, House of Balloons, is a hedonistic, melancholic rumination on shameful late nights replete with hard drugs and empty sex. “Bring the drugs baby, I can bring my pain,” The Weeknd sings in his beauteous, soaring voice, backed by off-key sonic beats. This album possesses a mastery of mood, transporting you to a cramped, caliginous nightclub full of lost souls, and signaling the arrival of the most exciting R&B voice in ages.
Download the album here: The Weeknd: House of Balloons
2. Drake: Take Care
Whereas fellow Toronto native The Weeknd’s downbeat R&B saga is all open arteries, Drake’s follow-up to his acclaimed debut, Thank Me Later, sees the artist tackle the typical hot-button issues of women, partying, and fame with a clearer conscience and a more mature understanding. Granted, Drake is still prone to dick measuring, as in the bipolar track “Marvin’s Room” (“I’ve had sex four times this week I’ll explain”), but, despite many contradictions, the rapper seems to have settled into a comfort zone. Like Kanye West, Drake confronts his neuroses head-on. Unlike Kanye, he manages to dissect them and, in the process, give his audience a greater sense of who he is and what makes him tick. “I think initially I was turned off by [fame] and reluctant, but now I’m just embracing it,” Drake told. “I feel like I’ve learned to ignore the negative stuff around me, and I feel like I can truly find myself in this life.”
Purchase the album here: Drake: Take Care
3. Smith Westerns: Dye It Blonde
Whereas the self-titled debut of this Chicago indie-rock band was distorted and raw, for their sophomore effort they decided to enlist indie superproducer Chris Coady (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Beach House), and the difference is huge. The band sounds more mature, like a fuzzier T. Rex, and the instrumentation here is awe-inspiring. Guitar hooks screech Thin Lizzy–style (“End of the Night”) before soaring into the stratosphere like Lynyrd Skynyrd (“Still New”), and the album is filled with hook-filled single after single of melodious dream pop. Forget Katy Perry—this is the real “teenage dream,” and it’s one that you’ll be bobbing your head along to for quite some time.
Purchase the album here: Smith Westerns: Dye It Blonde
4. WU LYF: Go Tell Fire to the Mountain
Hailing from Manchester, England, the band’s name stands for “World Unite Lucifer Youth Foundation,” and, like The Weeknd, these lads are shrouded in secrecy. They don’t give interviews, have deleted their Wikipedia page several times, and used to perform with bandanas over their mouths. Ellery Roberts’ raw, yell-sing vocals are cast over ADD instrumentals that thrash around like a caged animal, before crescendoing into the heavens. It’s Explosions in the Sky on meth, and one of the most thrillingly alive debut albums released this year.