"Art is not a thing; it is a way."

Elbert Hubbard

Monday, December 26, 2011

THE MUSIC OF 2011...10-1

'The SMiLE Sessions'
The Beach Boys
When an album can be listened to and its influence on modern music can still be heard some forty years after it was created, it’s an astonishing thing. For new listeners to The Beach Boys at their best, this is an insight into where that combination of happy hooks, psychedelia of the 60s and 70s and sheer genius song construction were put into place. The sessions behind the creation of the SMiLE album, which was never released on its completion, are amazingly fluent and for lovers of Sufjan Stevens, Belle & Sebastian, Kings Of Convenience, Fleet Foxes or Megafaun a possible inlet into what came before them. Perhaps the only masterpiece of 2011, and in fairness it’s from 1967 so it doesn’t really count, it sounds as relevant today as it perhaps ever has.

'Ritual Union'
Little Dragon

There’s something so right about Little Dragon, something so modern it almost hurts. From the sexy bordering disinterested vocal deliveries of Yukimi Nagano to the minimalist melodies it’s as if the time has been captured and recorded within almost pitch perfectly. Harvey may have written the best album protesting the predominance of ambivalence. Little Dragon gives the best rendition of it and that very ambivalence somehow pays off in spades.

'Let England Shake'
PJ Harvey

Polly Jean grew up in a way that escaped self-righteousness but yet managed to get her point across nonetheless. An astounding collection of protest songs that go beyond protest and land firmly, at the risk of damning praise, in the realm of importance.

'Burst Apart'
The Antlers

The Antlers’ ‘Burst Apart’ takes everything great about modern music and creates what is ultimately a massive finger to the mainstream. There is nothing popular about this collection of moody mixed-up messes of songs that scream both a sense of the quiet and in your face at the same time. It’s a gorgeously confident set that should have had them break through a little more than they have.

'Breaks In The Armor'
Crooked Fingers

Eric Bachmann had a big year with the rerelease of Archers Of Loaf’s Icky Mettle and this sixth LP from his solo venture, Crooked Fingers. Working with Matt Yelton and Liz Durrett, Bachmann created a beautifully subtle rock record. It’s proof that content still far outweighs gimmickry and production. Stellar.

'James Blake'
James Blake

James Blake is a crooner of the blues variety so beyond his years this collection of mood pieces is the perfect accompaniment to mindless wandering through cold, wet London streets and an example of how age means little when the storyteller gene is inherent within the one desiring to go beyond the surface of any emotion.

'Anna Calvi'
Anna Calvi

She’s a belter. She’s a mean instrumentalist. She’s a throwback to the Robert Palmer music video girls. And despite all of these things she’s able to somehow still come across as soft. Her diminutive size hinders in no way the fact that she arrived in 2011 and she arrived with a considerable thud through the music door.

'We're New Here'
Gil Scott-Heron & Jamie xx

Scott-Heron left a significant hole in the music world with his passing earlier in the year. What a triumph then that his I’m New Here from late last year and the Jamie xx remixed version, We’re New Here from this year ended his career on a huge high. It’s the perfect realisation of his immense writing skills being made more accessible through the work of Jamie Smith whose work as a part of The xx bears an at times beautiful echo of Scott-Heron’s work. A greater meeting of minds did not take place in 2011.

Mara Carlyle

She’s the outcome of a sedated Björk or a somewhat chemically enhanced k.d. Lang. There’s a greater accessibility to her music and a gravitas and tone to her voice that even with her idiosyncratic charm Björk can’t come close to and a modern willingness that leaves Lang for dead. Carlyle should be a far greater name than she is. In fact, that she’s a practical unknown is beyond a musical travesty.

'Born This Way'
Lady Gaga

Everything about this album in its excess should spell disaster but as a whole it envelops everything that is glam about her and wraps it up in a perfectly grubby but entirely glossy set of electronic pop. There is an amount of filler on the album but its filler with purpose as she wails, scratches and bulldozes her way to that final edge she so brazenly tiptoes towards. Fantastically fun.

THE MUSIC OF 2011...20-11

'Wounded Rhymes'
Lykke Li

She’s a dynamo, riddled with angst and a backing track of drums so dense one can’t help but move when she enters the airwaves. She’s the continued example of Scandinavian pop and how that region’s music has developed from the hook-heavy days of 70s and 80s ABBA to something with considerable heft.

Black Joe Lewis And The Honeybears


Motown throwback, this Texas band brings a sincere and energetic honesty to this blues-soaked 2011 release. It’s as if Caleb Followill joined a big band and toned down his rock sensibilities and let the musicianship say as much as his boozey drawl. Joe Lewis combines that with his James Brown-esque vivacity to bring about one of the true toe-tappers of 2011.

When Saints Go Machine

The Danish electro-pop group arrive with their second studio album and deliver in absolute spades. It’s a perfect combination of folk-inspired electronic pop and the bizarre. Beautifully structured – it reminds of the sublime I Am A Bird Now by Antony And The Johnsons – it brings a real focus to the combination of the electronic beach-and steel-drum inspired sounds – Konkylieliterally translates as seashell – leaving the listener with a skip in the step that has significant heft. This is far from lightweight fare.

Young Galaxy

This moody album by the Canadian indie electronic-pop band brings to mind the synth-soaked eighties, the earnestness of nineties lyricism but with a completely modern sensibility. This is smart music that invokes a significant amount of support for the mantra that less is more. Good stuff.

'Diamond Mine'
King Creosote & Jon Hopkins

Stunningly beautiful, this collaboration between the Scot, Kenny Anderson, and the Englishman, Jon Hopkins, does wonders with sound as it constructs both a sense of place and space within both the lyrics and music. It’s a beautifully tempered piece of modern folk that speaks a language truly relevant to the music world of today. With a genius understanding of simple melody, this may be the prettiest album of 2011.

'On A Mission'
Katy B

She seems completely unassuming when looking at her and yet that voice that tells her story is one filled with such a nuanced balance of sex and mischief and plain excitement that one finishes up her album with a sheer sense that she is something to get excited about. There are classics amongst the lineup and whilst it doesn’t maintain that level of consistency throughout one can’t but argue that she is indeed on a mission and a mission worth completing.

'The Rip Tide'

Bringing their energetic big-band/carnival sound to this, their third, album, Beirut show once again why they’re an important part of the slightly left of centre sound of the once-again growing folk scene. Lyrically it harks back to the genius of The Decemberists’ Picaresque and it’s perhaps as grand in scale. A terrific addition to their canon and another reason why even a not-quite-brilliant Beirut album is still one of the best releases of any music year.

Zola Jesus

Diminutive in height only, Nika Roza Danilova is the epitome of that tried old saying that good things come in small packages. From the gravitas evident in her voice to the intelligence which she employs in creating a real sense of cohesion in her set, the brains behind her Zola Jesus are not in question. With Conatus we can see the potential in spades. Her next step will be to prove that she’s not a one-trick pony. It’s another of the great ‘modern’ releases this year.

'On The Water'
Future Islands

If Leonard Cohen and La Roux, both in their prime, had a baby it’d be called Future Islands and On The Water would be its defining words. Beautifully odd.

'The Year Of Hibernation'
Youth Lagoon

Trevor Powers out Bon Ivers Bon Iver and brings a beautiful weirdness to his melancholic musical journey. The Year Of Hibernation is that perfect combination of old and new finding its way through the growing mass of electronically tinged singer-songwriter albums to emerge as one of the more memorable LPs of 2011.

THE MUSIC OF 2011...40-21


'In The Mountain In The Cloud'
Portugal. The Man

'Revelation Road'
Shelby Lynne

Vijay Iyer With Prasanna & Nitin Mitta

'Soul Time!'
Sharon Jones And The Dap-Kings

'Glass Swords'

'All 6's And 7's'
Tech N9ne

The Roots

'Little Bird'
Kasey Chambers

The Unthanks

'No Time For Dreaming'
Charles Bradley

'Director's Cut'
Kate Bush

'Build A Rocket Boys!'

'50 Words For Snow'
Kate Bush

'Back To Love'
Anthony Hamilton

'Thao & Mirah'
Thao & Mirah

The Rural Alberta Advantage

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart

'Making Mirrors'

'Smart Flesh'
The Low Anthem

THE MUSIC OF 2011...60-41

'Grinderman 2'

'Watch The Throne'
Jay Z & Kanye West

Panda Bear

'End It All'

'Grown Unknown'
Lia Ices

'A Creature I Don't Know'
Laura Marling

'Last Train To Paris'
Diddy - Dirty Money

'Seeker Lover Keeper'
Seeker Lover Keeper

Delicate Steve


'Music Sounds Better With You'
Acid House Kings

'Bon Iver, Bon Iver'
Bon Iver


'Ashes & Fire'
Ryan Adams

'Native Speaker'

'S/T II: The Cosmic Birth And Journey Of Shinju TNT'

'Teenage And Torture'
Shilpa Ray And Her Happy Hookers


'We Live In Rented Rooms'
East River Pipe