My favourite ten albums from 2011

Just discovered my long-abandoned music / photography blog seems to have fallen off the Internet, so I have nowhere except here to blog about my ten (and some!) favourite albums of 2011, something I’ve done every year for the past five or so… So even though it’s slightly off topic, here it is!

If 2011 was a huge year for news (remember Bin Laden died… Nope? Yeah that’s because SO much other stuff happened too!) then it was a pretty giant year for music too. This has been the hardest best of the year list I can remember doing – and any year when Bright Eyes have a new album that doesn’t make the ten has to be good… Other near-misses this year include Fucked Up’s amazing David Comes To Life, Washed Out’s Within and Without and the so-nearly but not quite great Watch The Throne album. But enough of the also-rans, here’s my favourite ten records of the year:

10 – Wild Beats – Smother
Strangely I’ve seen Wild Beasts more than any other band this year (ok only three times, I don’t get out much alright!), and despite it being not particularly summery, Smother soundtracked mine – washed out and windy as it was.

9 – Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
It took me quite a long time to like this record I have to admit… At times I’m still not sure I do as it breaks into introspective free-jazz noodling, but like coffee, olives and Ingmar Bergman films, I think it’s an acquired taste worth acquiring. Moving away from the Creedence by way of Brian Wilson’s garage sounds of the debut was always going to be tough but on Helplessness Blues Fleet Foxes manage the transition with aplomb, hopefully setting themselves up as one of the great folk rock bands of the next decade in the process.

8 – Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes
Another entrant delivering on earlier promising albums with a definitive statement of their sound in 2011. Wounded Rhymes as a complete package is a dark journey through romance and sorrow, and in its Sadness Is A Blessing delivered a very strong contender for single of the year.

7 – Ghostpoet – peanut Butter Blues and Melody Jam
The only vaguely urban album on the list (no, James Blake certainly doesn’t count) is a woozy, near-spoken word, slippery beats and static-packed 30 minutes. The album sounds like a Tube journey listening to half-heard and detuned spoken-word and grime AM radio stations, in the best possible way. It’s also replaced the XX and before them Burial, as my late-night London soundtrack of choice.

6 – James Blake – James Blake
James Blake should not work at all. On paper he should be massively puncheable and his music should make me hate people who like it. In practice, I adore it… The album soundtracked a fair amount of time I spent laid up recovering from the afore-mentioned surgery, but despite the fairly negative memory, still makes me smile. The only downside is his recently- released collaboration with Justin Vernon doesn’t quite deliver on its promised excellence.

5 – Cults – Cults
One of only two entries in the list that I don’t actually own (thank you Spotify!) Cults sound like a brother and sister who got handed a bunch of Phil Spector records by their parents and left in a shack by the beach for a summer. In case you’re in any doubt, this is a very good thing!

4 – Low Anthem – Smart Flesh
Weirdly I bought this soon after it came out, listened loads, then all but forgot about it for months on end… That sounds like an insult but my excuse is a big chunk of my spring this year was taken up having heart surgery, do despite this being great, it wasn’t the first thing on my mind! It’s at one of at least three brilliant sophomore albums released this year, it smoothes off some of the debut’s edges and the result is a awesome slab of Americana.

3 – Radiohead – The King Of Limbs (and TKOL RMX)
It’s slightly cheeky allowing two albums to comprise one entry into the list, but it’s Radiohead, so I’ll do what I want… I’ve been genuinely surprised that TKOL hasn’t been higher up more Best Of lists this year – to me it sounds better than In Rainbows on repeated listens (and if you remember, I said very nice things about that in 2009). The addition of the remix album is the icing on the cake… Though actually the From The Basement DVD also deserves and honourable mention for both the interpretations of the existing tracks and the new tracks.

2 – Josh T Pearson – Last Of The Country Gentlemen
Deciding between second and third place was actually tougher than first place, but in the end, two things swung it for Josh T Pearson in my mind. Firstly his (to me) utter novelty this year, and second, like Bon Iver, I saw him live and he was both superb and darkly hilarious. A break up album that sounds like it’s not only a woman he’s ending it with, but his faith and the world as well all at once. The final treat of an EP of Christmas tunes put out through Rough Trade sealed the Josh T Pearson deal for me, his O Holy Night is hauntingly brilliant.

1 – Bon Iver – Bon Iver
I never expected the second Bon album to move me in the same way the first one did… With the best back story in indie, For Emma, Forever Ago was always going to be a hard act to follow, but with his eponymous second record, Justin Vernon did just that. While the rest of the world bought a laptop and holed up in their bedrooms, Vernon bought a studio and holed up with an orchestra. The result is the magnificent, ethereal Bon Iver. A peon to the mid-American areas he grew up in, the album transcends its geography magnificently. Bon Iver were also the best live act I saw this year – at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Paris… So inspite of the album being honestly tied in my affections with Josh T Pearson and Radiohead, it gets the formal top spot.

Be a shame to do this whole list without one MP3, so although its not actually from the album, but the B-side of its first single, hope you enjoy Bon Iver’s cover of I Can’t Make You Love Me.

Some other very honourable mentions:

Watch the Throne – Watch the Throne
Scroobius Pip – Distraction Pieces
Bright Eyes – The People’s Key (although the SXSW Live Bootleg’s better!)
Jamie XX & Gil Scott Heron – We’re New Here
Washed Out – Within and Without
Scala & Kolacny Brothers – Scala & Kolacny Brothers
Elbow – Build A Rocket Boys!
Fucked Up – David Comes To Life

And finally, there have been a few albums that the world has raved about that I simply don’t get:

Metronomy – The English Riviera
Yuck – Yuck
The Vaccines – What Did You Expect from the Vaccines?
Wu Lyf – Go Tell Fire To The Mountain
Tyler The Creator – Goblin
Lana Del Rey (at all, whatsoever)

Posted in Blog by Nic Stevenson on December 31st, 2011 at 7:29 pm.

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