Tim Clarke’s Favourite Albums of 2011
I’m disappointed to confess that I struggled to come up with 10 albums that I’ve genuinely loved in the last 12 months, and then I found it hard to arrange the albums in any kind of order. I like these albums for very different reasons, so to rank them seemed silly. Instead, what I’ve done is arrange them thematically. It just seemed to make sense. If you haven’t heard any of the albums on the list below, I strongly recommend you dip in and give them a go.
I get really enthusiastic about albums that work well as a whole; albums that succeed as complete works of art unto themselves. An album usually grabs me when there are no missteps, when the band’s vision is completely and satisfyingly realised. In my book, these three albums are works of art, so probably qualify as my favourite three of the year.
Wild Beasts – Smother (Domino)
I steered well clear of Wild Beasts up until the release of Smother, mainly because everything I read about them made the music sound awful. What stood out the most in all the reviews was the repeated mention of Hayden Thorpe’s polarising voice and their art-rock leanings. Yuck. But for some reason I went ahead and bought this album. It has a really delicious sense of restraint and space, and a sly sense of humour that’s really compelling. It’s kinda sexy, too. Thorpe’s voice isn’t nearly as annoying as I feared – and Tom Fleming’s voice is just sublime. I can’t quite understand why people struggle to find other bands to compare them to – they sound like a cross between Talking Heads and Antony & The Johnsons to me – but they definitely have their own magic going on. Pretentious, but quite brilliant.
Snowman – Absence (Dot Dash)
Snowman’s swansong is just about as perfect as you could hope your final album to be. Most music that’s described as ‘shoegazey’ tries to replicate My Bloody Valentine and Ride and ends up sounding dated. This takes shoegaze and moves it forward by keeping it minimal, mantric and mellifluous. From the totemic triangle that graces its cover to the graceful flow of gaseous tones across these eight songs, Absence stands apart, complete, transcendent and glorious.
Implodes – Black Earth (Kranky)
Two effects: fuzz and reverb. Two comparisons: Slowdive and Windy & Carl. Two words: FUCK YEAH. Implodes have inadvertently become the archetypal Kranky band by taking all the things that make the label great and distilling them into a single slab of awesomeness.
When I listen to music that rocks, I want to feel overwhelmed. Generally, most albums just don’t cut it. Why not just listen to Raw Power and be done with it? These two come close.
The Psychic Paramount – II (No Quarter)
When I saw Comets On Fire live a few years ago, it sounded like this: loud, chaotic and thrilling. But The Psychic Paramount’s latest album is something you can experience at home, without having to pay for overpriced beer or stand next to sad men with BO. It’s instrumental and yet it never gets boring – it just gets painful if you overdose on it. So it must be good, right?!
Collections of Colonies of Bees – Giving (Hometapes)
Rock. ROck. ROCk. ROCK. This album has four songs. They rock in four slightly different ways. There are no vocals. Just ROCK. Brilliant driving music. Hard to believe that they played with Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) as Volcano Choir, but this somehow makes CoCoB all the cooler for it. This is what Battles would sound like if they weren’t so annoying.
I’m a sucker for instrumental, atmospheric stuff that you put on in the background and it ends up stopping you from concentrating on what you’re doing because it’s so beautiful. These four never fail to raise the hairs on the back of my neck.
Deaf Center – Owl Splinters (Type)
There seems to be plenty of this creepy cello and piano music around at the moment, but Deaf Center have a way of doing it that never gets boring. It’s slow, sure, but it gets where it’s going and you can’t quite tear yourself away. Feels a bit like waking in the middle of the night and imagining your dearly departed grandmother is standing next to the bed, lit only by the glow of your digital alarm clock. Scary, but strangely reassuring and uplifting.
Tape – Revelationes (Hapna)
I love these Swedes with their lithe textures and buoyant melodies. This new album is more jazzy than their earlier work and flows beautifully. Opener ‘Dust and Light’ is perfect; Revelationes as a whole is damn-near perfect.
Jacaszek – Glimmer (Ghostly International)
This new album by Polish composer Jacaszek doesn’t quite scale the heights of his earlier album Treny, but it certainly whips the ass of the latest Tim Hecker. In fact, Jacaszek out-Heckers Hecker, blending scouring noise into his usual palette of chiming stringwork and droning portent. Sounds like the melted soundtrack to a ’70s European arthouse movie.
Grails – Deep Politics (Temporary Residence)
It’s been really satisfying to witness Grails evolve from a doomy instrumental band into a slightly-less-doomy instrumental band whose every song sounds like the soundtrack to something dark and dramatic. This newie is probably their most sophisticated release yet, in that in rarely lapses into quiet–LOUD dynamics during its runtime, instead weaving skilfully around a host of almost-familiar melodic themes and atmospheres that take you somewhere strange and interesting.
And finally …
The Caribbean – Discontinued Perfume (Hometapes)
My first impressions of this album were that it’s too basic and there are way too many words. It did my head in. I felt angry at Michael Kentoff for trying to be so clever and for cramming too many lyrical ideas into the songs. And why do the arpeggios and drum beats repeat so persistently? Then the kaleidoscopic sounds starting coming at me: syncopated hi-hats pinging across the stereo field; flanged tambourines; snatches of looped voice; atmospheric detritus. It’s a minutely detailed universe to lose yourself in – if you give it time. Having spun this album countless times, my lingering impressions are that these guys are fantastic yet idiosyncratic songwriters, they’re obsessive-compulsive when it comes to production details, plus they have a healthy sense of humour. In short, this is downright lovable if you can get past its quirks.
I also enjoyed…
Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver (Jagjaguwar)
Earth – Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light (Southern Lord)
Jeniferever – Silesia (Monotreme)
Mastodon – The Hunter (Roadrunner)
Ohayo – The State We Are In (Hapna)
Rebecca Pronsky – Viewfinder (Nine Mile)
Radiohead – The King of Limbs (self-released)