Best Music of 2011

My favourite music of 2011, wherein I list things I like and make pithy comments. See also, from 2010. A good year in music. A good year for sellers of reverb pedals.

If you have Spotify installed, you can listen to most of the music mentioned herein (or via a web link).

Top 10 Albums of 2011

10. Cults Cults

Could best be described as 2011’s Vampire Weekend. Catchy, sugary, summery and light; singing about not much in particular, take it or leave it. Like Vampire Weekend, one might wonder how long the shtick will hold for before smacking of triteness.

9. Eye Contact Gang Gang Dance

Drawing on electro stabs, the stand out tracks on Eye Contact are of a decent length: setting a scene, packing a picnic basket, and taking you somewhere. Experimentation is leavened with pop sensibilities and mid-tempo beats.

8. 93 Million Miles Africa Hitech

High-tempo dub/wonky/dubstep/dnb/whateverwecallitnow/. With restrained production and well-programmed beats, the album is chock-full of quality tracks.

7. Portamento The Drums

Basically, a good old-fashioned pop-rock affair. Lots of catchy, somewhat twangy guitar-driven tunes. Elements of the tracks fit well together and there is enough interest and depth to keep the ear interested.

6. Deerhoof vs. Evil Deerhoof

A wonderfully accessible and rollicking adventure in art-rock. Frenetic, jangling sounds which seem to metamorphose every 30 seconds, flipping from soft gentle singing and guitar strumming to righteous guitar licks and on to fuzzy noise.

5. We’re New Here Gil Scott-Heron & Jamie xx

Fusing the spoken word of Gil Scott-Heron with Jamie xx’s production talent results in a fresh sound that swims between hip-hop, dub, two-step, wonky and dancehall. The track “Ny Is Killing Me” is one of the most anthemic tracks of the year with a piercing synth line and bouncy, rubbery toms. The collaborative effort is made more poignant by the passing of Scott-Heron in 2011 after a rather colourful life.

4. Bad As Me Tom Waits

Perhaps a little overlooked because everyone expects genius from the living treasure that is Tom Waits. Raucous shanties and soft ballads highlight Waits’ versatility and distinctive character.

3. King of Limbs Radiohead

A rather sublime release with the overall album having a muted, shimmering feel. The biggest disappointment is its short run-length, which seems over before it starts, and leaves us hanging with some rather beautifully haunting closing tracks.

2. New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges Colin Stetson

This is saxophone played in an animalistic way, seeming to channel raw agony, pain and delight. Combined with sparse vocals, looped phrases and occasional percussion, Stetson paints a grand scene. Urgent, throbbing and incredibly emotive.

1. Let England Shake PJ Harvey

I’ve never really been much of a PJ Harvey fan. I know she is a respected artist and all, but I always found her a bit dull. Perhaps it is a sign of my maturing (or going over the hill) that I find Let England Shake so wonderful. It brings together excellent, meaningful lyrics, superb singing and great compositions. It is also the only full-length album from 2011 which I enjoy listening through in its entirety. Repeatedly. It’s not a gimmicky or cutting-edge sound. But it does sound instantly familiar and reminiscent, a sound that is well-lived in somehow, and will surely age well.

(p.s., thanks Ms. Pettersen!)

Best compilations

  • House of Balloons The Weeknd
  • FABRICLIVE 59 Four Tet
  • ATP 2011 Nightmare Before Christmas Caribou

Also enjoyed were…

Didn’t quite make my top 10, but are worth a listen were:

  • Dye It Blonde Smith Westerns: Smooth, soft rock
  • Ego/Mirror Burial, Four Tet & Thom Yorke: A dream team get together for two tracks
  • Fever 2562: Sort of dubstep-infused house music
  • Glass Swords Rustie: House/dance sort of affair
  • Helplessness Blues Fleet Foxes: Ho-hum
  • Moment Bends Architecture in Helsinki: Shedding some of their indie tendencies, AiH goes electro. A bit too syrupy.
  • We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves John Maus: Rather lush electro pop
  • Gloss Drop Battles: Fun and inventive
  • The Rip Tide Beirut: A little more restrained and down-beat than previous releases
  • Biophilia Björk: Gorgeous with occasional breakbeat
  • Black Up Shabazz Palaces: High-tech hip-hop?
  • People Changes Nat Baldwin: Sweet-sounding pop
  • Pinch & Shackleton Pinch & Shackleton: Putting the dub back into dubstep
  • Virtue Emmy the Great: More of the same from Emmy the Great. Soft, singer-songwriter fare reinforced with better-than-average lyrics
  • W H O K I L L tUnE-yArDs: Frenetic percussion and layering with Merrill Garbus’s strong and diverse vocal stylings
  • Well Spent Youth Isolée: Good old fashioned house with minimal tendencies.
  • Lupercalia Patrick Wolf: Somewhat glam piano-driven pop
  • Sepalcure Sepalcure: Mount Kimbieesque
  • Street Halo Burial: No-one does it better

Tracks

Some favourite tracks from albums not mentioned above:

  • A Lot Can Tell 31Knots
  • Basterville Grinch Clark
  • Drama Cum Drama Autre Ne Veut
  • Flyin’ High Delicate Steve
  • He Knew Chalk and Numbers
  • Horse Shoes Wavves
  • Library Pictures Arctic Monkeys
  • Lion’s Share Wild Beasts
  • On Melancholy Hill (Acoustic version) Gorillaz
  • Seventh Heaven Pale Sketcher
  • Stars in Still Water Jónsi
  • The Wall Yuck
  • Think and Feel Dananananayckroyd
  • Time To Dance Tricky
  • Twist Thom Yorke
  • Under Cover of Darkness The Strokes
  • Up, Up, Up Givers
  • Vegemite (The Black Death) Amanda Palmer
  • We Will Spin Forever The Echelon Effect
  • Will Do TV On The Radio
  • Ye Ye Caribou

7 February 2012