2011 was not a vintage year for music. My gig highlights were largely sets by established acts like Pulp and Snoop and few breakthrough artists really grabbed my attention. I discover Tuneyards too late in the year to decide if I like it or not, admired but couldn't adore PJ Harvey's award winning Let England Shake and seem to have let Bjork's Biophilia pass me by. None of those artists are in my top ten...
Bon Iver: Bon Iver
A stunningly beautiful album of haunting, yearning songs. Justin Vernon has an amazing vocal range which invests his simplistic yet moving lyrics with a majesty and intimacy which others can only dream of. Opener Perth features the greatest military tattoo of all time and Holocene was the year’s best single bar none. I was not magnificent? I beg to differ!
Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues
There are too many songs about apple trees and orchards, but setting aside the twee lyrics, Fleet Foxes have raised their game. The multi layered harmonies have oomph and bite which has previously been missing and Grown Ocean was one of 2011’s strongest singles. Helplessness Blues is an album from a band who are growing in stature.
Radiohead: The King of Limbs
Released when nobody expected it, The King of Limbs surprised Radiohead fans with its appearance – but not with its quality. It’s a truly brilliant album (although perhaps would have benefitted from a couple more tracks) featuring a riff which sounds like it was stolen from a seventies cop show, a touch of dubstep and arguably Radiohead’s most beautiful ever song: the haunting, delicate Codex. My thoughts in full can be read here!
Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi: Rome
Is it a film score? Classical music? Pop? It’s pretty difficult to categorise Rome – but to try and do so would be to miss the point. It’s all of those things and more, features Jack White’s vocals and manages to make Norah Jones sound interesting. It’s a wonderful tribute to an era of classic film soundtracks by the likes of Ennio Morricone and has reputedly inspired a film: surely the first example of a soundtrack leading to a movie production. For more, click!
Elbow: Build A Rocket Boys
There’s nothing new for Elbow fans here: just another great big bear hug of an album from Guy Garvey and his brilliant band of Mancunian poets. It’s a beautifully nostalgic meditation on Northern life and friendship from a band who are fast becoming the nation’s favourite. And Lippy Kids features the best whistling since Otis Redding’s Dock of the Bay. The full review is here.
Gruff Rhys: Hotel Shampoo
It doesn’t matter whether Gruff is recording with Super Furry Animals, Neon Neon or as a solo artist: he’s always brilliant. This is more reminiscent of the former, and none the worse for it. Eccentrically poppy, always interesting and genuinely warm, Rhys is a thoroughly likeable artist who produces consistently likeable, catchy tunes. Great stuff.
Beirut: The Rip Tide
One of my all time favourite bands return with multi-layered accordions, a bit of oompah, some jaunty singalongs and even a little bit of electronic. It’s certainly not an album for everyone, but main man Zach Condon is a genius in my eyes and this was by far the most listened to album on my iPod in 2011. My fuller thoughts are here.
Fionn Regan: 100 Acres of Sycamore
Regan has unplugged his amp after the wildly inconsistent The Shadow of an Empire, preferring to return to the more comfortable and comforting acoustic sound of his earlier material. He can certainly pick a phrase, meaning that the lyrics are arguably more interesting than the tunes, but either way this is an album worth listening to for anyone with a passing interest in singer-songwriters more interesting than Ed fucking Sheeran. The full review can be read by clicking this!
Explosions in The Sky: Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
Apparently this is their seventh album. This begs the question: how have I only just discovered them? Intensely melodic, epically understated, huge but intimate. It’s a sound you can almost – but not quite – put your finger on. Is chilled-out prog-rock the right label? Have a listen and decide for yourself.
Black Keys: El Camino
Normally December releases are compilations and ‘best ofs’ designed purely to shift units to non-discerning listeners in the build up to Christmas. So let’s thank fuck that The Black Keys blew that idea out of the water with the release of their excellent El Camino. Produced by Dangermouse and channelling Led Zep, The White Stripes and a million-and-one other influences, El Camino is both forward thinking, retro and – most importantly – fun.