15 December 2011
Articles | News

Albums of the Year: 10-1

Our ten favourite records of 2011. It isn't rocket science, etc

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Here we are, then: a brief-but-respectful doffing of the cap to our ten favourite records of 2011, following on from yesterday’s 50-11th ranked efforts. We tried to keep the politicking to a minimum and stick with the records we hammered hardest throughout the year — click the album titles to find out more about each of the artists. Not much more to say, really, except if you’ve yet to check any of this lot out, make sure you give them a whirl. That’s what these things are here for, innit.

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TIMBER TIMBRE, er, creep in at [10] with Creep On Creepin’ On; an eerie, backwoods set which unfolded with the satisfaction of a well-told ghost story on release in April. Enchanting and engrossing.
ICEAGE are currently Denmark’s second hippest export after the pattern for Sarah Lund’s jumper, and this is because they bottled punk rock/post punk/no wave lightning with New Brigade [9]. They are a teenage band who have fully realised their own desired sound exactly without any studio, record label or journalist clarts sticking their stupid fucking oars in. Skål.
Berlin-based Boltoner Janine Rostron made her debut as PLANNINGTOROCK with 2006’s Have It All, but it was W [8] which marked the thrilling moment her art-school wheeze took on daring life of its own; a bold and bizarre reimagining of the self inspired — but by no means overshadowed by — friend and collaborator Karin Dreijer Andersson, aka Fever Ray.
With Replica  [7], ONEOHTRIX POINT NEVER’s Dan Lopatin journeyed ever deeper into a web/real-world crossover zone. Gone were the pillowy drones of last album Returnal — these tracks were brazen and sampladelic, all jarring angles and the glottal click of voices frozen mid-word. But they didn’t sacrifice the woozy, heady quality that’s kept him at the forefront of the current synth explosion. His best so far.
The brainchild of Portland-based New Zealand ex-pat Ruban Nielson, UNKNOWN MORTAL ORCHESTRA’s self-titled debut [6] knocked our socks clean off with its heavily funk-inspired garage psych, made righteous by its gnarly, lower-than-lo-fi production. A deviant masterwork.
An arch conceptualist with a penchant for DJing house at BPMs slower than an expiring snail’s heartbeat and spouting off at length about John Cage, there was no denying the somber, meditative brilliance of newcomer NICOLAS JAAR’s Space Is Only Noise [5], a debut mixing musique concrete, trip hop and house with exquisite good taste. No doubt, he’s earned his lofty perch.
Perhaps key to understanding lo-fi rocker KURT VILE’s appeal is that he seems to share some of Bob Dylan’s oft-quoted “restless, hungry feeling”; plugging his brusque, Philly-accented introspection into the grand American tradition of sonic wanderlust. Smoke Ring For My Halo [4], his second album for Matador, was existential music in the truest sense; lonesome and free as prairie-blown tumbleweed.
No one was as surprised as us to find rank outsider CONNAN MOCKASIN sitting pretty at number [3] in our end-of-year polls, but the more we thought about Forever Dolphin Love, the more we felt ourselves seduced by its witchy, wonderful otherness. It’s a record that exuded magic like no other this year, and made Mockasin perhaps the only artist in our time equally beloved of The Horrors and Frank chuffing Skinner. While props are surely due to Erol Alkan for giving the record its milky, moonglow sheen, it’s Mockasin’s languid, psych guitar style and alien croon (he makes Syd Barrett sound like a fucking accountant) that makes this such a rare treat for the ears.
Canada’s AZARI & III look like buff versions of the zombies in Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ vid and make pummelling house songs of such raw, untrammelled sexuality they’d have Jamie Principe crying off for an early night. Their self-titled debut [2] makes even Hercules & Love Affair’s perfectly serviceable Blue Songs sound like an embarrassingly gauche homage to the Chicago sound. So unremittingly euphoric is this record, in fact, you can practically lick the sweat of the nightclub walls while hearing it play.
If you ever needed an example of how music towers above any other art form in terms of relevance, impact and incisiveness as it relates to the state of Britain in the 21st century then you couldn’t wish for a more visceral example than Let England Shake, PJ HARVEY’s 10th studio full-length and our number [1] album of the year. And visceral this album is: guts are festooned in bushes, limbs hang from trees in grim tribute to Francisco Goya and blood seeps deep into the soil of the Iberian Peninsula, the Persian Gulf and the Dardanelles. This isn’t simply conflict documentary, however — it’s a celebration of war art itself, acting as a conduit through to poets, painters and authors past, and a call to arms for future recruits. To record this fearsomely ingenious album, Harvey executed several high-risk sonic strategies that paid off fulsomely. As well as adopting several clearly signposted narrator’s roles, she chose to play the relatively unfamiliar autoharp and saxophone, putting her once again outside of anything that might be called familiar or comfortable. From the personal to the political, she has proved herself the UK’s finest songwriter.

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Reviews by Alex Denney, John Doran, Rory Gibb

Read about the best of the rest HERE

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