Friday, 30 December 2011

My Albums of 2011

The Preamble

As always, I’m not deluding myself that anyone actually reads this stuff and, even if they do come across it thanks to a typo in a Google search, that they will take any notice of it but I find it good year end therapy and an opportunity to remind myself how good (or bad) a year its been for ‘proper’ music.

Again, as always, the rules are that no re-issues, no best-of’s and no live albums can make it in the list which, this year, stops The Jesus & Mary Chain taking the top 4 or 5 slots!!!

Its fair to say that this could have been a top 30, 40 or 50 list this year and there is some great stuff missing mainly because you have to draw the line somewhere!

Final consideration … I am in no way saying these are the best albums of the year, but that they are my favourite albums for many reasons. 

Feel free to scoff and comment at the stuff you have heard but keep you’re opinions in check on the stuff that you haven’t until you get the time to go find it and listen.

The List

20.    Bombay Bicycle Club:  “A Different Kind of Fix”

           The Crouch End collective’s third album continues the theme of sounding completely different from the last one and delivers a superb collection of polished alt / indie tunes that often start in one place and then head off somewhere completely different just because …

            Check out:  “Beggars

19      Lou Reed & Metallica: “Lulu”

          A classic example of when having access to albums before the music press reviews hit the web / shelves can afford you time to make up your own mind long before the sop called experts try to make it up for you.

          I would class myself a fan of Lou Reed and more of a distant appreciator of Metallica and had been looking forward to this since it was announced.  It surprised me how complex and challenging this album was but I’d encourage anyone who might like the combination to invest some quiet time to listen to this properly and ignore the populist reviews that appear to have buried this.

          Now all we need is a Mark E Smith and Black Sabbath album in 2012!

          Check out: “The View

18      Radiohead : “The King of Limbs”

           Another example of Radiohead catching everybody by surprise by announcing the fact that the album existed on the same day they offered it for download.

           Initially disappointing, repeated listens were encouraged by the brilliance of “Lotus Flower” and “Codex” … these repeated listens continue to draw you into a collection of tracks that grow into one of the band’s most cohesive, if not best, collections.

           Check out: “Codex”                                                         

17      R.E.M: “Collapse into Now”

            Anyone who discovered R.E.M. as a result of (or after) ‘Everybody Hurts’ may have failed to recognise the history of ground breaking indie-Americana they had served up previously via brilliant albums such as “Life’s Rich Pageant”, “Document”, “Green” and “Out of Time” … despite a fast decent into mediocrity since the departure of drummer Bill Berry in 1997, their last (ever?) albums of “Accelerate” and this offered some glimpses of the genius that had gone before.

            Should history find the possibility of pretending that  “Up”, “Reveal” and “Around the Sun” never happened then R.E.M. should be considered one of the worlds most important bands, ever.

Check out: “UBerlin

16      Iceage: “New Brigade”

            Danish youth punks deliver debut album of raw structured noise that reminds you what it was like to listen to The Pixies for the first time  … nuff said !

            Check out: “New Brigade

15      dEUS : “Keep You Close”

            The Belgian outfit have been around (on and off) since 1994 when they released the edgy art-punk album “Worst Case Scenario” that caught the attention of many including me.  I’ve been a fan since and watched them develop in many directions, often varied, often unsuccessful. 

            He band have taken several breaks in their 6-album career and while “Keep You Close” doesn’t have the edge of the debut, it retains the essence of creativity that made me like them in the first place.

            Check out: “Keep You Close

14      Explosions in the Sky:  “Take Care, Take Care, Take Care”
            Ah, the ubiquitous instrumental post-rock fascination continues … and not for the last time on this year’s list!

            The Post-Rock genre is often accused of being ‘samey’ with many claiming ‘ it all sounds like Mogwai’ but closer inspection reveals many different facets of the quiet-quiet-loud-LOUD-quiet genre that takes so much time to appreciate but delivers so much in return.   Texans Explosions in the Sky deliver their sixth album which is less accessible than many of its predecessors but retains the effortless sonic layering that we have become accustomed to.

            Oh,  and based on this years offerings by both bands … its sounds nothing like Mogwai !!!

            Check out: “Last Known Surroundings

13      Girls: “Father, Son, Holy Ghost”

            Second album from the San Francisco duo that made the top of many of the music press reviews of the year for good reason.  A varied album that includes influences from many musical eras but delivers a fresh, angst-ridden and contemporary indie-Americana feel.

            Check out: “Vomit

12      Wild Beasts: “Smother”

            I have to admit that I wasn’t a fan of Wild beasts up until the release of this album … I gave previous album “Two Dancers” a fair chance but just couldn’t tune into the falsetto vocal style that saturated the sound.

            Early reviews of “Smother” suggested that this had been toned down and, while its still there, there is much more space to appreciate the song structures and textures.

            I’ve seen them live twice now and encourage anyone who hasn’t to do so when they can … rarely can a band with such a complex sound deliver so well on stage.

            Check out: “Reach a Bit Further

11      British Sea Power:  “Valhalla Dancehall”

            Brighton’s post-punk collective cough up their fifth album of pseudo-topical, arcane-ironic that your either gonna love, hate or never listen to … up to you.

            Check out: “Who’s in Control

10      Peter Murphy:  “Ninth”

            The undisputed godfather of goth’s ninth (albeit only eighth studio) album while being uncreatively named includes some of the best post-Bauhaus stuff we have heard from the great man.

            On first listen, it’s important to either grin and bear the first couple of tracks or just skip them (don’t worry, they eventually work) and delve deeper into the darker moments that commence around “I Spit Roses”.

            Repeated listens are required to do this collection justice … then go and dig out your Bauhaus collection, we’ve all got one … don’t we?

            Check out: “The Prince and Old Lady Shade

9         Blueneck:  “Repetitions”

            The Bristol ambient post-rockers follow up 2010’s “The Fallen Host” with an astounding album of mostly ghostly chill out sounds but where the volume knob is sometimes cranked up slowly and deliberately.

            Haunting vocals and often unstructured arrangements require the right frame of mind to appreciate but well worth the effort.

            Check out: “Pneumothorax

8         The Strokes:  “Angles”

            Since the release of the 2001’s “Is This It”, the muso press constantly called for The Strokes to re-invent their sound to avoid them becoming too one-dimensional.  When the band tried to do this on subsequent albums they were panned for losing their identity … they couldn’t win!

            So, 10 years on and after a lengthy hiatus that saw many solo albums from band members, The Strokes return with a sound that is exactly what people where calling for … clearly still The Strokes but with some spot and polish.

            Unfortunately, the band appear to be tainted in the eyes of many of the populist press these days but for those with open ears, they sound (almost) as good as they did 10 years ago.
            Check out: “Under Cover of Darkness

7         Arctic Monkeys: “Suck it and See”

            After the mixed reviews of 2009’s “Humbug” where the band re-invented their sound, they play a blinder by coming back with an album that had influences from all over the place.

            Preview tracks like “Brick by Brick” and “Don’t Sit Down …” led us to believe the sound would be similar to the murky rock-blues of the previous offering but when the album was unveiled we heard bits of Stone Roses, some Echo & the Bunnymen and not a shortage of David Gedge’s Cinerama (one for the purists the last one!)

            Again, many made their mind up based on the early reviews and more fool you, this is a wonderful and varied album and was certainly the soundtrack of my summer!

            Check out: “That’s Where Your Wrong

6         The Fall:  “Erstatz GB”

            The great John Peel once said of The Fall that they were “always different, always the same” and this remains true to this day.

            One of the most consistent Fall albums in years, it has been given some stick by the so called purist Fall fans who don’t rate it … I think they worry that it might just be listed to by people who are not worthy!!

            If you’re a Fall fan you will have your opinions on this but I rate it very, very highly … If your not a Fall fan, this might just be the very place (and time) to start … enjoy!

            Check out:  “Taking Off

5         Blanck Mass:  “Blanck Mass”

            The solo guise of Benjamin Power who is one half on electronic noisemeisters Fuck Buttons … this is one of those indescribable pieces of work that you will find either hugely affecting or completely disposable.

            Genre busting electro-drone that is effectively a collection of ambient soundscapes that on first listen don’t add up to much of anything but given the right collection of circumstances can be the perfect accompaniment to those times of reflection and concentration.

            Check out: “Chernobyl


4         We Were Promised Jetpacks:  “In the Pit of the Stomach”

            The Edinburgh indie-collective follow up 2009’s “These Four Walls” with a way more mature collection that sounds great first time round but continues to grow on repeated listens. 

            Another example of brilliant Scots indie rock that builds on the success of The Twilight Sad, Frightened Rabbit etc.

            Must be played loud!!!

            Check out: “Human Error

3         Mogwai:  “Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will”

            So, all instrumental guitar based post-rock sounds like Mogwai then eh?   Well, I reckon this changes the game slightly as Glasgow’s finest decide to back off the noise a tad and focus on adding even more layers to the sound structure that has stood them in good stead since 1997’s “Mogwai Young Team”.

            The essence of the Mogwai sound is all here and many of the arrangement styles have been heard on previous albums (‘White Noise’, ‘Rano Pano’, ‘You’re Lionel Ritchie’ etc) but these are accompanied by some radical departures like ‘Mexican Grand Prix’, ‘How to be a Werewolf’ and the stunningly beautiful  ‘Letters to the Metro’.

            John Peel’s Fall quote of “always different, always the same” could equally apply to Mogwai, another band that Peel loved.

            I managed to see Mogwai live twice in 2011 and they continue to deliver the best live experience around.

            Check out: “Letters to the Metro

2         This Will Destroy You:  “Tunnel Blanket”

            I discovered TWDY thanks to the wonders of where they were presented as a band that I may like based on my previous listening, given that their first album was pretty much a post-rock by numbers offering (albeit a brilliant one), were not wrong.

            “Tunnel Blanket” departs from their initial offerings in many ways … its still instrumental, its still guitar based rock but it takes on a much more drone structure in many ways that takes some serious effort to tune in to.

            This is an important album for me in several ways, firstly because its brilliant … its takes many listens to appreciate but it is utterly brilliant.  Secondly, this is the album that was a constant for me around the death of my father earlier this year and seemed to fit perfectly with that ‘I don’t know what I should be listening to here … Am I sad? Am I angry?’ mode.

            Given this, I appreciate that this won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but I always say that personal music taste is all about reference points and they don’t come much bigger than this for me.
            Check out: “Black Dunes

1         Wu Lyf:  “Go Tell Fire to the Mountain”

I’m sure I mentioned on my Facebook page very early in 2011 that these guys would be on many peoples best of list come the end of the year … well, after repeated listens and revisits, they certainly deserve to be on top of mine.

The most under-promoted and under-hyped band in a long time, this reminds me of listening to Happy Monday’s ‘Bummed’ for the first time (after a colleague gifted it to me as he thought it was shit, thanks Graham!!!) it also reminds me of what a fusion of Foals, Arcade Fire and the Clash would sound like.

I don’t care that the lyrics are largely undistinguishable … I don’t care that the sound is raw and unpolished … despite the influences its fresh and that will do for me !!!

Check out: “LYF