To say I was underwhelmed by music in 2011 is an understatement. Last year I managed to write a blog about 50 albums before the year was out with ease. This year it’s taken me until the end of January just to write about 20. Maybe I listened to a lot less, maybe I’ve become more cynical or maybe music doesn’t excite me much anymore. Whatever the reason it’s taken me until now to sift through everything I’ve listened to from 2011 (some 100 odd albums according to my i-pod) to produce my final list. Looking back through it I realise I’ve turned into a middle aged Mojo reader but fuck it, if that’s who I am now I’m gonna embrace it….bring my pipe and slippers…..
Never had a lot of time for Polly Jean. I’ve twice walked out of her gigs through sheer boredom and the over-reverential fans constantly bug me. ‘Let England Shake’ may be the corner turning moment in our fractious relationship though. The first listen effortlessly captured my attention resulting in an unprecedented immediate dive into round two where I became completely hooked. The stirring lyrics, that off kilter bugle call and the tunes – my god what perfectly beautiful tunes. By the twentieth spin the results were clear….album of the year…no competition.
Another band that I’d pretty much dismissed as being too pretentious and lacking in quality tunes returned with an understated and untitled second album that didn’t need gushing press and sycophantic fans to convince me of its genius. Every song is built around a cacophony of gorgeous instrumentation and celestial vocals building to dramatic climaxes and leaving shivers on the spine. I was converted by perfection.
Indie-Dance is such a fucking dirty phrase but when it’s delivered with such unbridled joy (just listen to ‘How Deep Is Your Love?’ or ‘Come Back To Me’) it can’t fail to raise a smile and a fist firmly into the air. ‘In The Grace Of Your Love’ is The Rapture’s big moment, an album of dance floor friendly tunes dumb enough for the clubbers and weird enough for the fashionista. Unafraid to pillage classic Italian house piano, 80s sax solos (or for that matter pilfer a Take That title) it’s an album to soundtrack your life.
Concept albums – how terribly (and horribly) Pink Floyd. In the hands of Toronto’s? Fucked Up though, a magnificent beast bursting at the seams with tunes and guaranteed to leave you grinning. The increase in vocals from sole female member Mustard Gas helped to drive home the melodies but as always it was the frantic delivery from front man Pink Eyes that drew the crowds. A blisteringly coherent set from punk’s most extravagant exponents.
Steve Albini dropped by to lend his particular brand of…well, whatever Albini’s thing is…to the Israeli garagers latest and it paid dividends. Ultimately a band who normally only make sense in a live scenario (crowd interaction being the key), ‘Not Yet’ showed that they could also deliver the tunes in a studio setting. Loud, brash and deliriously danceable.
Not easy to describe (or ignore) ‘Wondervisions’ is just the kind of record people seemed to have stopped making. Unafraid to clash disparate genres or produce unabashed tunes Delicate Steve became the perfect accompaniment for lazy afternoons in the sunshine bathed lusciously in hazy blissfulness . A buzz of feedback hits intricate soloing whilst a cacophony of melody flits gently by on a caressing breeze of tribal rhythms. ‘Wondervisions’ is a record to fall in love to (and with).
My guilty pleasure for 2011 was this cheeky little collection from Summer Camp – a new-wave infused, giddy as a schoolgirl, irony free dance with pop perfection. Pretty much the perfect soundtrack to a John Hughes movie ‘Welcome To Condale’ delivered end to end thrills never once scrimping on the need for one…more…huge…chorus….
In all the kerfuffle surrounding Lana Del Ray and her bee-stung lips it was easy to miss ‘Weekend’ the equally breathy slice of chanteuse-pop from another Brooklyn based femme fatale. “You make me late for work, you make me late for church, so hold me” she cooed as the few who listened swooned. The rest of ‘Rapprocher’ was just as sublime delivering a delicious slice of New York cool for all who cared to taste.
What can you say about the Beasties that hasn’t been said a million times before? Constantly surprising, lyrically inventive and sonically superior to pretty much everyone else in the hip-hop game they delivered another near-perfect set in the long delayed ‘Hot Sauce Committee Pt 2’. No maudlin ballads bemoaning the well reported cancer battle of MCA just old skool Beasties goodness from thrilling start to exhilarating finish.
Noisy, just very very noisy – the only way to describe The Men’s ‘Leave Home’ a record that channelled Japandroids, No Age, Butthole Surfers, Flipper and Spacemen 3 in it deliriously giddy swirl of confusion. But there were tunes too – buried deep beneath the layers of intensity sat enough melody to draw return visits and fresh discoveries with every listen.
Navigating the same melody driven route that Beach House and Grizzly Bear have made their highway of choice Treefight For Sunlight’s self-titled debut arrived early in the year but only really came into its own when played on a gorgeous summer’s day (and those were few and far between). Nothing fancy here but if you swoon to The Beach Boys, Flaming Lips and The Shins then you’ll love this – it’s you basic sound bed to every US indie movie about the trials of romance and all the more lovely for it.
The gorgeous follow-up to the equally sublime ‘Primary Colours’ finally laid to rest the criticisms that this was a band more interested in haircuts and skinny jeans than making music. ‘Skying’ was all bouts of Mary Chain feedback and MBV atmospherics entwined with sumptuous melodies creating a batch of songs both intimate and epic capable of taking the leap from you i-pod to the festival stage with ease.
Another dip into the world of guilty pleasure pop saw Cults debut album gain continuous plays on the old i-pod during the year. Dashes of 60s girl groups and Spector-esque production meant this was another perfect soundtrack to summer strolls but the killer tunes were equally at home down the indie disco or in your local boozer.
Faris from The Horror’s again proved he’s more than just a hipster style icon with this collaboration with opera soprano and composer Rachel Zeffira that saw them serenade The Vatican and deliver an album of sophisticated, intelligent pop beauty. The initial claim that they had made a record that channelled 60s girl groups proved a slight mis-direction (there are certainly production flourishes which recall the era though) and instead Cat’s Eyes created a timeless slice of experimental pop that is destined to become as much a cult classic as the dusty old records Faris undoubtedly rummaged for in back street record shops to gain inspiration.
Mash-ups were a bit last decade but when you’re talking the twitchy, glitchy post-hardcore instrumentation of the world’s greatest DIY punks and the lyrical gymnastics of the most inventive of hip-hop dynasties TOGETHER….AT LAST…then it’s a slightly different matter. Spotting the sample often proved pointless but this isn’t a trainspotting exercise more a joyful romp through the sizable back catalogues of two towering musical forces perfectly complementing each other to create something, whilst not more than the sum of its parts, at least its equal.
There’s not enough bands channelling the Dinosaur Jr major label years when J.Mascis and co delivered stratospheric noise-pop masterpieces like ‘Start Choppin’ and ‘Feel The Pain’…..Yuck though felt inclined to do the unfashionable and take 90s US indie as their template. Dashes of Pavement, Built To Spill and even Teenage Fanclub filter through in a collection of songs that’ll have you rummaging for those plaid shirts and battered docs before the final wash of feedback has drained from your ears.
Former frontman of Lift To Experience delivers a record so damn depressing that when I played it out loud in the office I got told it was too miserable for people to work to (although at the time, work was making me too miserable to work so it had little effect on me)…. ‘Last Of The Country Gentlemen’ is a record of deep personal honesty, full of guilt and naked truth. Hard to listen to but certainly harder to have lived, it’s uncomfortable and fragile but does offer up rewards with every fresh listen.
Sixteen slices of old school hardcore – nothing fancy, nothing over a minute and a half long – in and out quicker than a pickpocket’s sticky fingers. Featuring members of Circle Jerks, Black Flag, Burning Brides, Redd Kross and Hot Snakes, OFF! are a fanboy’s wet-dream of a band delivering lean slices of 80s LA punk just like you always wanted. Angry and essential and everything the Cerebral Ballzy record wasn’t.
The first hip-hop record to be released on the world famous grunge / alt-pop loving Sub Pop label is a remarkable left-field collection so far removed from your Pitbulls and Chipmunks that you have to question whether it can really be classed in the same genre. Bass rumbles, glitchy treats and lyrical dexterity are the key players here and there’s a subtle funk to proceedings to help reign in the more avant-garde moments and create if not an easy, certainly a pleasurable listening experience.
While in no way equal to the near classic ‘Politics Of Cruelty’ this second full length certainly had its moments not least in the cheesy but entertaining titles ‘Nine Inch Males (Born To Hate)’, ‘No, I’m Married To Jesus. Now Keep Your Fucking Hands Off Of Him’ and the glorious Slade cover ‘Cum On Feel The Boize’ (that’s right – they even gayed the title up). Frantic screams, stabby guitars and plenty of post-hardcore dynamics are all present and correct all wrapped up in sexual deviancy, silly puns and untamed energy.
What, no DIY?
Honourbable mentions must also go to Cherry But No Cake’s ‘Unveiling’, Astrohenge’s ‘II’ and Nitkowski’s ‘Stay In The Home You Love’ which all deserve Top 20 places but in the spirit of the DIY scene they are all part of I felt it went against the ethos to put them in competition with each other – numerical acclaim should and never will be their ambition.
Worst Albums Of The Year (avoid….please, just avoid – you’ll thank me for it)
1. Beady Eye – Different Gear, Still Speeding (Beady Eye Records)
2. Ed Sheeran – + (Atlantic)
3. City and Colour – Little Hell (Cooking Vinyl)
4. Adele – 21 (XL)
5. Vaccines – What Did You Expect From The Vaccines (Columbia)