Editor's picks - Albums of 2011
By: Brett Spaceman
Hello, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all. Thank you for your continued support for what we are trying to do here at [sic] Mag. For an extensive, exhaustive review of 2011 in its entirety look no further than Rob Gannon’s round up. Link provided. To paraphrase legendary author Gene Wolfe, genius is not about doing things better than everyone else, but rather in doing things nobody else can do. Ladies and Gentlemen I give you Rob Gannon’s review of 2011.
Heeding Mr Wolfe’s warning, I won’t try to compete with my trusty Deputy. Consider my list to be somewhat marginal and very personal. I have always been out of sync with trending and the populist acts. And I’ve always believed in ‘my’ bands. Remember, in the eighties The Smiths were kept off top spot by acts like Howard Jones, Nik Kershaw and Thompson Twins. These days The Smiths are (rightfully) discussed in the highest terms. Arguably Britain’s best band since The Beatles. Who talks about Howard Jones now? And yet it goes further than that. The Smiths broke through, but what about The Chameleons? What about The Sound, Pale Fountains, Go Betweens? The list goes on: Cocteau Twins (should have been massive), House Of Love, Kitchens Of Distinction, Catherine Wheel, The God Machine, Wire … my God, Wire should be on the national curriculum.
I’m right, I know I’m right and the world is wrong. The world won’t listen. That’s why [sic] exists. To keep banging the drum until someone somewhere caves in and gives this kind of music the platform that it deserves.
You’ll notice a lack of post-rock this year. The riches of this particular genre were probably mined during the last decade. Post-rock is still around, of course, for anyone with the time to spare fanning its dying embers. My pick would probably be A Winged Victory For The Sullen. Actually I would argue that it isn’t post-rock because the instrumentation is classical, not rock. Ambient neo-classic, whatever. It’s pretty. It’s also a tribute to the late Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse) putting real meaning behind the music.
This is my personal round up of the year’s albums. I think I have written at some length in past year reviews of my dislike for certain other publications’ listings. Some just seem so integrated into the industry that the lists themselves are reduced to self-celebratory, corporate brochures. There are one or two big-name ‘zines that I don’t even bother looking at any more. Indeed, the only round-ups I find truly valuable are those of my peers and colleagues. Not wishing to overplay this aspect but it is there and needs to be said. It is also one of the reasons why [sic] is doing something different, something for music fans.
Ironically a brief discussion of the records that didn’t quite make my cut reveals a more recognisable and perhaps generically credible list than my final top ten. Sorry, that’s just the way it came out. It would be insincere of me if I manoeuvred them around to appear more trendy or clever. I’ll kick things off with a mention of a recent release, and one that may escape the attention of many. Kate Bush’s 50 Words For Snow is her best album since Hounds Of Love. Eccentric as ever, expansive, but focussed Ms Bush remains a unique and beautiful snowflake. Fiftyfold.
Pedantry aside, (Red Barked Tree was released digitally last December but the physical came out in January) the aforementioned Wire should be included. Red Barked Tree saw the band tread familiar ground. That is to say familiar to fans of art-rock, Britpop and post-punk (most of which Wire invented). It also saw the album back to their snarky best, despite the loss of Bruce Gilbert. Wire, at their best, are without peer and they hit these heights frequently on Red Barked Tree.
Twilight Singers dropped another worthwhile collection into our laps in the form of Dynamite Steps. In many ways Dynamite Steps is a continuation of Powder Burns. Yet for me it improves on its predecessor overall. As always, soul-infused rock noir, except polished-up from the grungy past of the Afghan Whigs. Blackberry Belle probably remains the Twilights album of choice but Dynamite Steps comes a close second. ‘On The Corner’ is the keystone track.
The Afghan Whigs, by the way, will play together again next year. Wonderful news for those, like me, who’ve missed seeing Rick and John alongside Greg.
Other notable mentions go to Bon Iver. Yes. And Fleet Foxes. Yes. Hardly a misstep in either of those follow-ups. Fleet Foxes have developed into the band I hoped Band Of Horses might have become. Atlas Sound should also be on your radar. So too James Blake who, rest assured, isn’t James Blunt.
So what did make my top ten? Here goes….
10. Chapel Club – Palace
Palace is a patchy album that I’ve included for reasons of hope more than anything else. When they’re good (‘Blind’, ‘White Knight Position’) they’re very good and they urinate over White Lies and their ilk. I happen to have the double disc version where the ‘extras’ outshine the album itself. The dub-leaning ‘Bodies’ is a marvel. More please Chapel peeps.
9. Wild Beasts – Smother
They’re a one trick pony, this lot. Trouble is, it’s a great trick. The English eccentricity of a Suede or Morrissey sprinkled with calypso percussion and vocals that evoke Sparks and the Associates. Smother was no great departure from Two Dancers. Wild Beasts have nestled into fine-tuning mode and I worry if it’ll be enough to keep them on the radar.
8. Black Swan Lane – Staring Down The Path Of Sound
Dreamy post-punk in the vein of The Chameleons and The Smiths. They’ve got my name written right through them and of course I just love them. But this is the forth BSL album readers! Come on guys. The train has well and truly left the station now. You can still get on board. It’s up to you.
7. The Antlers – Burst Apart
Terrific album this. Fitter, happier than Hospice (hardly a stretch in itself) and yet Antlers are stretching out and rightfully so. A must listen. Brooklyn is calling me.
6. I Break Horses – Hearts
Another triumph for Bella Union. This electro hipster act approximate Galaxie 500 transported into an M83 setting making Hearts one of the most addictive and dazzling releases of the year. This one has real longevity as well. Depending upon what twists and turns the next eight years have in store we might well be discussing this record in our decade review. And we won’t be alone.
Did I mention that they’re Swedish! Reel me in. Marvelous!
5. Dalot – Minutestatic
For me, 2011 was less intensively ambient/electronica than previous years. Certain marquee acts stuttered (M83, Hammock) but quality rises to the top and look no further than Greek born composer Maria Papadomanolaki, or Dalot as she’s better known. Now added to the n5MD canon, this should ensure the perfect platform for her talents – graceful, fragile compositions that linger in the thoughts long after the record ends.
4. Dead Guitars – Stranger
If anyone shouldn’t be surprised by this it’s yours truly. I have followed the Dutch/German act since debut Airplanes and witnessed their craft first hand at numerous gigs. That said I wasn’t quite prepared for the depth and scale of ambition displayed by Stranger. A richly fulfilling recording.
3. Jeniferever – Silesia
One of my favourite bands of all time. They transcend post-rock for me and that’s their great strength. Sure they have those intricate, ringing guitars in spades. Any more so and I’d expect a Cathay Pacific girl to pop up. (Bonus) But the pieces are rooted into songs. Real songs with an emotive punch, coming from the unresolved reflections of Kristofer Jönson. It’s beautiful.
2. The Boxer Rebellion – The Cold Still
If I say any more about them people will think I’m on the payroll. If only singles ‘Runner’ and ‘Step Out Of The Car’ were as memorable on record as they are live, this could’ve taken top spot. They’ll have to content themselves with Band Of The Year instead.
1. Repeater – We Walk From Safety
No 1 with a bang. They should re-name Long Beach, Long Raincoat Beach. X Factor? It’s here in Steve Krolikowski’s ‘caustic soda’ vocals. Post-punk is back with a vengeance. Funny, the opening track doesn’t do much for me. Normally that would be a problem but the rest is so thrilling that it renders the issue immaterial. For someone who grew up on a diet of The Cure, Cocteau Twins, Joy Division and The Chameleons, this sure hits the spot. I’m waiting for the physical release now. The We Walk From Safety CD can be album of next year too as far as I’m concerned. Although if the new material, (which I’ve only heard in demo form), is anything to go by, the next release will be pretty interesting too. Expect a new-wave sheen.
Finally a word for a tremendous EP release. There were not enough EPs to merit a list per se but Weekend‘s Red would have probably topped mine. Kudos to Jeff Runnings, the front man with For Against for turning me onto this release. Dark, brooding shoegaze with a nod towards, you’ve guessed it, post-punk.
2. The Boxer Rebellion
4. Dead Guitars
6. I Break Horses
8. Black Swan Lane
9. Wild Beasts
10. Chapel Club