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The Best Albums of 2011

December 10, 2011

Blah it’s that blah time of year again blah. Let’s get some of the smaller, less significant awards out of the way first:

Best meal of the year: I made a lasagne which was quite nice though the pasta was still a bit chewy.

Best lie-in of the year: I forget the day, but I was in bed until about three and there was half a muffin on my bedside table.

Best train journey of the year: Cambridge to Newmarket without a doubt. Absolutely brilliant.

Now onto the serious business. I’ve decided to do five of the best albums of the year because I could not pick just one. I’ve decided these are quite clearly MY best albums and may well not be THE best albums, not that there could ever be an objective list. These are the albums I have enjoyed the most and not the albums that will change the face of music for the rest of the blah blah blah. And, obviously, it’s out of the albums I actually own – there are a fair few I would like to get but haven’t got round to – though I might to claim to own some I actually don’t, much like everyone says they’ve seen Citizen Kane.

In no particular order –

Gil Scot Heron and Jamie xx – We’re New Here

Wow. If you thought Heron’s solo, come-back effort was enough on I’m New Here, man-of-the-moment-in-an-industry-where-moments-do-not-last-long Jamie xx has produced a beautifully-crafted remix album which will surely stand the test of time. The xx boy finds the perfect balance between Heron’s haunting spoken word and original score and his own electronic, off-beat influence. As valuable in your room as in a club, some of the bass drops are RUDE yet Mr xx never loses the under-stated subtlety which accompanies everything he touches. Even more fitting that this makes the list after Heron’s sad passing earlier this year.

 

 

Everything Everything  – Man Alive

Downloaded on a whim after I saw their Mercury Prize nomination, I cringed at the first few tracks at first listen. “What is this nauseous hipster electro-pop?” I thought. But then on second, third, and all subsequent listens I thought, “Well, knock me down, this is awesome.” And there concludes my musical journey of enlightenment through this razor-sharp pop album. The dexterity of the lead singer’s [I don’t know his name and can’t be bothered to look it up] lyrics is sensual and his voice, though difficult to like at first, blossoms into a wonderful long-term relationship complete with walks on the beach and the occasional loving tiff about which Sunday newspaper to buy. I particularly like the bit he says the problem with the French is how they won’t admit they’re fools. I don’t have a problem with the French but I like the line. Bloody French.

 

 

Wild Beasts – Smother

This album makes its way onto the list slightly off the back of the band’s previous album, Two Dancers, because it was just that damn good. But Smother (the third album) is still excellent and builds on the strong melodic foundations laid in Two Dancers. The album invokes less of a party spirit, siding with melancholy, lust, and sexual power, oh, and enemies, they like enemies, more, which creates a much more powerful and mature offering. The band have certainly grown into themselves and the fourth album promises to be spectacular. Incidentally, I saw them headline Field Day and they were a bit rubbish, but I saw them at their own gig in Cambridge and they were incredibubble. The two singers’ voices are stunning. Stunning.

 

 

Manchester Orchestra  – Simple Math

Now for my emo offering. I love this band with all my heart. They are, quite frankly, one of the best bands around. While I love their older stuff that wee bit more, their new direction (a slightly rockier one) retains the lyrical prowess of Andy Hull only with a bit more oomph on the musical backing front and a slightly less-introverted singing style. There are very few lyricists like Mr Hull out there able to evoke such vivid imagery and emotion with mere words. Just words, think of it. Words. This album has marked an important part in Manchester Orchestra’s career as they have broken out into the big time – their next album will be crucial in seeing if they can cope with that – this could be the last album to cherish.

 

 

King Creosote and Jon Hopkins – Diamond Mine

King Creosote, a Scootish songwriter has released some 29 million albums, give or take, yet it seems his big break has been to work with electronic producer man Jon Hopkins. Mr Hopkins’ touch is even more subtle than Mr xx’s with Gilly but just as important. Take, for example, the four second guitar riff barely audible before the piano chords kick in for Bats in the Attic. Such touches are what makes this album an absolute triumph. Every single sound, every single string slide or drum click has been tirelessly thought through. Creosote’s (if indeed that is his real name, phh) voice has the quivering ache of hope and sadness yet reaches almost euphoric peaks at points on the album. It is a simple masterpiece.

 

There you have it, kids. Everyone loves a list, but everyone also loves knowing what did not make the list.

Here are some honourable mentions summed up in two words:

Jamie Woon – Mirrorwriting – Beautifully dull

Bad Books – Bad Books – Devine Hull

Laura Marling – A Creature I Don’t Know – Mature progression

Feist – Metals – Didn’t listen

Ryan Adams – Ashes and Fire – Didn’t buy

And some more.

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