Tuesday, 27 December 2011

My Favourite Albums of 2011 (Part 1)

So with the year nearly over I figured it'd be an opportunity to talk about the albums I've enjoyed most this year. I'm listing my 10 favourite (note: favourite, I don't think these are necessarily the best 10 albums of the year, just the ones I've enjoyed the most) albums over two posts.

First though, some honourable mentions - either albums I liked but didn't listen to enough to get a judge of how much I liked them, or albums I know are great but didn't enjoy as much as the others:
"Let England Shake" by PJ Harvey (1st half great protest record, 2nd half stereotypical chin-stroking PJ record)
"Smother" by Wild Beasts (who'd have thought such exotic music could come from Kendal?)
"Ghosts on the Canvas" by Glen Campbell (I'm a sucker for a great voice in their twilight years).
"Good Things"  by Aloe Blacc (good year for soul music, this features probably the year's best single in "I Need A Dollar")

OK, now my 10 favourites

In stark contrast to their previous album (a very sombre break-up record), "Last Night On Earth" is packed full of optimistic, nostalgic sing-a-longs. Lead single "L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N." proved to be a big hit, and typified the style of the album. There's echoes of "Born To Run" era Springsteen here, and certainly I hear a lot of Bruce's voice in the narrative and vocal style that Charlie Fink uses on this album.That's a big reason why I enjoyed this album, but the sheer optimism of songs like "Tonight's The Kind Of Night" was also what grabbed me the most.

Arctic Monkeys really fell out of favour with me a few years ago when they released "Humbug". That album was just so dull, I felt they'd lost what made them unique recording in the U.S. with Josh Homme of all people, to try and become Queens of the Stone Age knock-offs. What were they thinking?

I wasn't very interested in this album initially because of it, and to be honest when I first heard lead single "Don't Sit Down 'Cause I've Moved Your Chair" (not knowing it was the monkeys at first) I thought "Christ, Metallica have gone soft these days haven't they?". But the album started to get good press, so when their label Domino uploaded the album to their Soundcloud page I gave it a listen and was very impressed. To my surprise I found an album full of great, lively, jangly guitar riffs and some nice basslines that were lively, colourful and (more importantly) incredibly catchy. "The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala" and "She's Thunderstorms" are great examples of which.

Alex Turner's lyrics are also great, if you can accept the band no-longer write songs about some wanker who lives down 't road that talks bollocks in 't pub etc. Having said that some lines are still very idiosyncratically British ("You're rarer than a can of Dandelion & Burdoch"). I mean it's hardly the highs of "Whatever People Say I Am...", but there's plenty of unique witticisms here that raised a smile, some of my favourites being "That's not a skirt girl, that's a saw-off shotgun" ("Suck It And See") and "She looks as if she's blowing a kiss at me, and suddenly the sky is a scissor" ("That's Where You're Wrong").
Not the genre, generation defining classic of their debut, but a return to form nonetheless.

#8: "Collapse Into Now" by R.E.M.

I should have seen it coming that this would be their last record: their reluctance to tour it, the sleeve with Michael Stipe waving goodbye, hell the entirety of "All The Best". The hints were there in plain sight.
Still, this was a nice goodbye. It saw the band attempt to mix the sharp, concise nature of previous effort "Accelerate" with the resonance and tenderness of "Automatic For The People".
Most of the highlights are when the band attempt the latter - "Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando And I" is very sweet and minimalist, "Uberlin" has echoes of "Drive" with it's acoustic guitar hooks and Stipe's vocal, while "It Happened Today" features perhaps the highlight of the whole album with it's closing, lyricless singalong that's as joyous as anything the band have ever done. That's not to say the band fail when attempting the former though, "Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter" is catchy and addictive with a great riff, while the Byrds-esque "That Someone Is You" is delightful.
I mentioned in earlier posts how I felt the band were justified to walk away on their own terms, and I still feel the same. This album was a good point to call it quits, and a very good high note to finish things on.

This album came from nowhere for me really. I'd never really payed much attention to Metronomy before and just saw them as the band that did sub-standard remixes of indie hits. But the combination of their Mercury nomination and a fair bit of airplay on 6Music perked my ears up and brought me to give this a listen. What a great listen it is too!

This album feels wonderfully retro, yet somehow still very progressive and fresh - you know you're onto something special when you get that feeling. There's no better example of this than "The Look" - it's opening synths sound like Daft Punk playing about on Blackpool promenade by the sea, with the closing minute and a half being a wonderful freak-out that either makes you feel like you're floating in space somewhere or listening to some 80's TV show's theme tune while on some form of hallucinogens.

The other highlight for me is "Everything Goes My Way" which on the other end of the scale is a nice, simple, catchy singalong. This was a very happy find for me.

Another great album from the first lady of the folk revival. Marling seemed to really find her voice on last years effort "I Speak Because I Can", and this album finds her continuing to grow and once again show maturity and deftness of song-writing beyond her years. I wish she'd lose that American-tinge to her voice at times, but that doesn't stop me enjoying great songs like "The Muse".
What's most enjoyable about this album, though, are the songs where Marling cuts loose a bit more. The more sprawling efforts like "Sophia", "The Beast" and "All My Rage" are songs I never would have imagined her capable of writing when she first came on the scene, all quaint, disciplined and defeatist. It's really a joy to hear her try things that one wouldn't have thought here style as such.

Well, that wraps up this half of the blog. I'll be back with my five favourites before the year is out.