Annual Round-Up pt. 2: My 2011 – Releases of The Year
So, in a slightly different format to past years, here are the best albums, EPs, re-releases and compilations I’ve heard this year. In summary, and in my opinion, there’s been plenty of good, but few truly great releases, but nevertheless congratulations to all of the below, all sufficiently good-to-downright-great to have made the list.
Particular congrats go to 4AD . Three releases so high up the pecking order is no mean feat. Festive wishes to all … except Glasvegas who should be damn well embarrassed with this year’s emotionless bleating. Rant over.
Best releases of the year :
1. Gang Gang Dance – Eye Contact [4AD]
From wishy washy world-beat jams to tribal trance overlords, these cooler-than-you Brooklynites take not only the crown for best album this year, but also the one for reinvention of the year.
Opening dreamily, enlightening arpeggios twinkle with sentient life. Later there are Eastern European accents, curry house bhangra, jazzy inflections and yet 4AD still seems the perfect home for Gang Gang Dance. And that’s not just because singer Lizzi Bougatsos mews all Elizabeth Fraser -like during the 11+ minute opener.
Just as 4AD legends Cocteau Twins were otherworldly, so too are 2012’s Gang Gang Dance. With calypso programming here, synthetic Middle Eastern grooves there, Eye Contact could well be all of Earth’s radio stations as heard simultaneously from Mars.
There’s a real skill to this blend. Exotic, foreign language interludes and samples bewitch and charm when they could have been plain annoying. That said, despite all this oddness, fairly popular beats and bass sequences underpin this sometimes-highly danceable aural collage. There is relatively straightforward single material to consider too. “Adult Goth” is an intoxicating cut that threatens as much as it caresses. Though more aggressive “MindKilla” is also no less compelling, interesting nor commercial.
A proper album that couldn’t nor shouldn’t work on shuffle, Eye Contact holds your gaze far longer than is polite and does so with an irresistible promise of the unknown. Be impulsive. Dance.
2. Bill Callahan – Apocalypse [Drag City]
Career best from the former Smog man Callahan? Stand out alt-folk cuts like “Baby’s Breath” would certainly suggest so. Playful, intelligent and contemplative, Apocalypse is a worldwise collection that more than merits a place in yours.
3. Moonface – Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I Hoped [Jagjaguwar]
It might not have been the vibraphone record Spencer Krug desired, but his organ-synth psyche skills were wholly impressive all the same. There are some astonishing moments here trust me.
[sic] review: Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I Hoped
4. Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo [Matador]
Smoke Ring For My Halo is a very classy outing from Vile who distilled decades of FM rockers for this modern heartland rock pillar. Could have been recorded any time in the last four decades – go-to guitarman-ship of the highest order.
[sic] review: Smoke Ring For My Halo
5. Dirty Beaches – Badlands [Zoo Music]
Where did this come from? Well, Canada via Taiwan is the answer. This proto-psyche/noir rockabilly belter has also been branded a trashcan Elvis and, you know, there’s some truth in it.
6. Crystal Stilts – In Love With Oblivion [Fortuna Pop]
Iconic sounding, 60s psyche-indebted garage masterpiece that reels from classic to classic. Crystal Stilts are fast becoming one of America’s best bands, and there’s plenty to choose from so that’s recommendation enough.
[sic] review: In Love With Oblivion
7. Porcelain Raft – Gone Blind EP [Acéphale]
Major talent alert! This London-based Italian chucks out memorable, unique singer-songwriting of majestic calibre with ease. Anticipate his LP debut in early 2012.
8. Sealings – Cassette EP [Italian Beach Babes]
Still under the radar, still banging out extremely rough-edged industrial shoegaze gold. I could listen to “King Shot” all day, and some days I do.
9. Bon Iver – Bon Iver [4AD]
The confidence to put out this soft rocking album after the inimitable For Emma is commendable. That it was a rampant success wasn’t a surprise in the slightest to those following his career slavishly. Guilty as charged.
10. The Antlers – Burst Apart [French Kiss]
These tender indie boys sure know how to pack a punch, inducing tears at every believable turn. That’s twice now fellas. Once more and you’ll be my de facto break-up band.
11. tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l [4AD]
The real lady gaga, Merrill Garbus sounds like she’s having a whale of a time here, her looping skills impressive and politicised experimentation adding intrigue and weight.
12. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake [Island]
Everyone heard it; everyone loved it. Right back on form. A shoe-in for major awards. Nuff said.
13. Holy Other – With U EP [Tri Angle]
Helping to establish the R&B-indebted, chop-and-paste post-dubstep landscape, Holy Other is a revelation. Oh, and the tunetastic “Touch” is the track of the year bar none.
14. CHLLNGR – Haven [Green Owl]
Another that owes more than a little to a certain bass-led genre, this Denmark-based beat-maker crushed the scene this year with similarly mutilated sounds.
15. Hunx & His Punx – Too Young To Be In Love [Hardly Art]
Camp as the proverbial row of tents, this re-imagined 50s rock ‘n’ roll ripped up the rule book whilst driving down the iconic “Lovers Lane”.
16. Girls Names – Dead To Me [Tough Love]
Irish album of the year and make no mistake. Sounds like Crystal Stilts ‘ In Love With Oblivion , if you were listening to J&MC at the same time that is = win.
17. Grimes – Halfaxa [Lo Recordings] (re-release)
At the experimental end of chillwave is Clare Boucher and on top of being a total babe she peddles impeccable, sometimes-Russian-language awesome weirdness.
18. Wooden Shjips – West [Thrill Jockey]
Ripley Johnson and company lightened their vocal cloak and heavy psyche mood this year and West is surprisingly friendly as a result.
19. A Grave With No Name – Lower [Boiled Egg]
Even lower budget outing than last time for Alex Shields . This creaking psyche-folk should crush it on a Woods -size scale, but it doesn’t and that’s a real shame.
20. Lumerians – Transmalinnia [Knitting Factory Works]
Keeping it psyche and keeping it cosmic, Lumerians may not be the first name on many’s lips but their dark psyche disco is difficult to shake once there.
21. Ga’an – Ga’an [Captcha] (re-release)
Doing it for the stoners, this out-of-nowhere sleep-metal/psyche-rock re-release blew minds afresh in 2011, pummelling with pillows.
22. Yuck – Yuck [Fat Possum]
Outright thievery isn’t to be recommended, but I’ll make an exception for Pavement … I mean Yuck. Way better than Cajun Dance Party chaps.
23. Craft Spells – Idle Labor [Captured Tracks]
If any end-of-year music list fails to mention the hazily nostalgic indie of Craft Spells then that list is wrong. Fact.
24. Balam Acab – Wander/Wonder [Tri Angle]
Another Tri Angle special. A watery, bass-heavy wonderland was made available courtesy of this hyper-talented young beat-monger unafraid of space and sound.
25. Mazes – A Thousand Heys [Fat Cat]
Catchier than a wicketkeeper (sorry), these Manc boys condense all that’s good in garage-rock/pop in little over 30 minutes, so I’ll be just as succinct as they.
26. Black Lips – Arabia Mountain [Vice]
Still going. Still great. More? Ok. Black Lips once again shows all other garage rockers/psyche punkers a clean pair of cowboy-boot heals.
27. Vondelpark – NYC Stuff And NYC Bags EP [R & S Records]
Where chillwave, post-dub and contemporary non-bling R&B meet you find Vondelpark, and they totally own the keys to that location. Boom, boom.
28. Julianna Barwick – The Magic Place [Asthmatic Kitty]
Surprise package of the year? The Magic Place is well named, combining naturalistic drone, choral vox, a few beats and enviable looping skills.
29. The Decemberists – The King Is Dead [Rough Trade]
Out with the prog-opera of The Hazards Of Love , Colin Meloy is back to what he does best. His literate American indie hasn’t sounded so solid in years.
30. Tu Fawning – Hearts On Hold [City Slang / Provenance]
An odd one this, difficult to categorise, but this artish indie/rock manages to charm, if not burn its way deep into the memory all the same.
31. WU LYF – Go Tell Fire To The Mountain [LYF Recordings]
The only indie-rock album of note this year. These local (to me) lads attack the tired genre with fresh ideas and anthemic enthusiasm. That organ helps too.
32. Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes [Atlantic]
Lykke Li is one of the best pop stars around. This Swedish lass has something to say and she wraps it up in an imaginative, catchy, occasionally fragile package.
33. Peaking Lights – 936 [Not Not Fun]
936 is a lovely, warm ambient-dub collection that has steadily grown in momentum all year. Sometimes words do suffice.
34. Rape Faction – Gone Forever [Skrot Up]
At the other end of the spectrum, Gone Forever houses some of the nastiest, most unsettling, sexually charged and excellent lo-fi noise doing the rounds this year.
35. The Men – Leave Home [Sacred Bones]
Bleached punk and severely frayed rock with variety … and heart … and muscle … and bile. Lots of bile come to think of it.
36. Other Lives – Tamer Animals [TBD]
A new strain of Americana I hear you say? No, not really, but Other Lives’ scattergun approach to the genre hits plenty of targets as it goes.
37. TV Ghost – Mass Dream [In The Red]
Another ugly release courtesy of TV Ghost who pick up the sludgecore/post-punk reins in this year’s absence of current genre titans Clockcleaner and Pissed Jeans .
38. She’s Hit – Pleasure [Re:peater]
Scottish album of the year and no contest. Is it J&MC inspired garage, proto-psyche or surf? No one really knows but Pleasure just about sums it all up.
39. Bass Drum Of Death – GB City [Fat Possum]
This fearsome twosome’s ants-in-their-pants grooves are nearly too much thanks to their blown-out power chords and high tempo drums. Only nearly too much.
40. Björk – Biophilia [One Little Indian]
Could have been a mess but wasn’t – Björk’s career to date in a nutshell. Biophilia is no different, musical Tesla coils and all.
41. Suuns – Zeroes QC [Secretly Canadian]
Breathing life into that Clinic sound when Clinic were good, Suuns also like bottom-end wobble, motorik funk and post-punk. Intrigued? You should be.
42. The Horrors – Skying [XL]
Stripped of the power to shock The Horrors could have found themselves naked. They didn’t. That is all.
43. Zola Jesus – Conatus [Sacred Bones / Souterrain Transmissions]
Less of her darker stuff, more of the reserved new wave stuff, yet Conatus is far from tantric tosser territory, despite a recognisable climax never truly coming.
44. Future Islands – On The Water [Thrill Jockey]
Here’s another band trying life out of the shade, and Future Islands’ resultant shimmery post-wave is their most assured material to date.
45. La Sera – La Sera [Hardly Art]
You’ve had your Vivian Girls and you’ve still got your Dum Dum Girls . This year you’ve also got La Sera. Done.
46. S.C.U.M. – Again Into Eyes [Mute]
Unsurprisingly Again Into Eyes is quite like Skying – there’s little brothers for you! But S.C.U.M. come without any of the previous and are all the better for it.
47. EMA – Past Life Martyred Saints [Souterrain Transmissions]
A strange blend of alt-rock, Americana and the Last Of The Mohicans soundtrack, EMA is either a genius or damn lucky. Here’s to erring on the side of the former.
48. White Hills – H-P 1 [Thrill Jockey]
There’s always space for more psyche-rock and, despite White Hills’ lengthy track times, H-P 1 soars on black wings straight for the outer rings of your mind.
49. Pure X – Pleasure [Acéphale]
The slowest loud around, this roaring miserablism positively (negatively?) drips with nods to syrupy shoegaze and half-speed post-rock, possibly.
50. Iceage – New Brigade [What’s Your Rupture?]
Improbably young, suspiciously continental, these studious punk upstarts know precisely what they like – absolutely nothing.
The best of the rest (no order and with some loose genre classification):
The Weeknd – House Of Balloons (R&B) [S/R]
Youth Lagoon – The Year Of Hibernation (Indie) [Fat Possum]
The Mountain Goats – All Eternals Deck (Literate Indie) [Merge]
Ty Segall – Goodbye Bread (Garage-Rock) [Drag City]
Times New Viking – Dancer Enquired (Garage-Punk) [Merge]
Light Asylum – In Tension EP (Synthwave) (re-release) [Mexican Summer]
Colourmusic – My Is Pink (Experimental Rock) [Memphis Industries]
Acrylics – Lives And Treasure (Indie/Pop/Ital-Disco) [Friendly Fire Recordings]
Big Deal – Lights Out (Indie/Pop) [Mute]
Lia Ices – Grown Unknown (Singer Songwriter) [Jagjaguwar]
The Vaccines – What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? (Rock ‘n’ Roll/Punk/Pop) [Columbia]
Warm Brains – Old Volcanoes (Indie) [Marshall Teller]
Austra – Feel It Break (Synthwave) [Domino]
Veronica Falls – Veronica Falls (Indie/C86) [Bella Union]
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Unknown Mortal Orchestra (60s Psychedelia) [Fat Possum]
Wild Beasts – Smother (Experimental Indie) [Domino]
Braids – Native Speaker (Experimental Pop) [Kanine]
Gold Leaves – The Ornament (Singer Songwriter) [Hardly Art]
Cerebral Ballzy – Cerebral Ballzy (Punk) [Cooking Vinyl]
Bodies Of Water – Twist Again (Indie/Pop) [Secretly Canadian]
Underground Railroad – White Night Stand (Post-Punk) [One Little Indian]
Panda Bear – Tomboy (Experimental Pop) [Paw Tracks]
Silk Flowers – Ltd Form (Synthwave) [Past Present Medium]
Papercuts – Fading Parade (Dream-Pop) [Sub Pop]
Cults – Cults (Pop) [In The Name Of]
Woods – Sun And Shade (Psyche-Folk) [Woodsist]
Water Borders – Harbored Mantras (Electronica/Post-Dubstep/Goth) [Tri Angle]
The Weeknd – Thursday (R&B) [S/R]
White Ring – Black Earth That Made Me EP (Witch House) [Rocket Girl] (re-release)
A Classic Education – Call It Blazing (Indie/Rock) [Lefse]
Gross Magic – Teen Jamz EP (Indie) [Fat Possum]
The Soft Moon – Total Decay EP (Electronica/Coldwave/Industrial) [Captured Tracks]
St. Vincent – Strange Mercy (Experimental Pop) [4AD]
PS I Love You – Meet Me At The Muster Station (Garage-Punk) [Paper Bag]
Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost (Indie/Rock) [True Panther]
Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean (Alt-Folk) [4AD]
Moon Duo – Mazes (Psyche-Rock) [Sacred Bones / Souterrain Transmissions]
Fucked Up – David Comes To Life (Experimental Hardcore) [Matador]
Crystal Stilts – Radiant Door EP (Indie/Psyche) [Sacred Bones]
Wet Paint – Woe (Slacker Pop) [Records Records Records]
Mikal Cronin – Mikal Cronin (Garage-Pop) [Trouble In Mind]
Widowspeak – Widowspeak (Indie) [Captured Tracks]
Esben & The Witch – Violet Cries (Goth/Indie Rock) [Matador]
Puro Instinct – Headbangers In Ecstasy (Dream-Pop) [Mexican Summer]
The Raveonettes – Raven In The Grave (Pop/Shoegaze) [Vice]
Gauntlet Hair – Gauntlet Hair (Experimental Pop) [Dead Oceans]
John Maus – We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves (Synthwave) [Upset The Rhythm]
Beat Connection – Surf Noir EP (Chillwave) [Republic Of Music]
Weekend – Red EP (Noise-Rock) [Slumberland]
Clams Casino – Rainforest EP (Electronica/Post-Dubstep/Hip Hop) [Tri Angle]