We’re pretty much half way through the year so I thought it would be good to sum up what albums I think have made the grade and will be showing up in the end of year round up. So far 2011 has been rather excellent for new records, although for me there has not, as yet, been a real stand out contender for the best of the year title but I think that’s more to do with the fact that there are a handful that sit side by side as contenders.
Of the forty odd new releases I have listened to so far this year it’s surprisingly hard to sort out a current top ten, so I’m going to list twenty albums I’ve heard this year that I think you should investigate, they’re not going to be in any specific order other than how I have written them down in the list. Deciding on chart positions will have to wait until I do the whole thing in December. Spotify links to the album will be in brackets where available.
Here we go then…
Wire – Red Barked Tree (Spotify)
The seminal post-punk group return with a fine album of memorable tunes and killer hooks. They may be approaching their sixties but they can still show a lot of the younger bands how it should be done!
Mogwai – Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will (Spotify)
Scottish post-rock stalwarts released their seventh studio album in February and it was generally extremely well received. I was blown away by it, my favourite Mogwai release has always been Happy Songs For Happy People and for me this is their best since that.
The Twilight Singers – Dynamite Steps (youtube)
Greg Dulli’s follow up band to The Afghan Whigs may not exude the same sort of sleazy lounge style as the Whigs did but Dulli’s slightly discordant voice plus guest vocals from gravel-voiced sometimes partner in crime Mark Lanegan still give this album a real ‘late night’ feel.
PJ Harvey – Let England Shake (Spotify)
Polly’s ode to Englishness is a beautiful collection of songs. Returning to more up front tunes than on her previous more introspective album “White Chalk” this is certainly one of her more ‘accessible’ albums, not quite as radio friendly as “Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea” but conversely not as ‘out there’ as elements of “To Bring You My Love” or “Uh Huh Her”.
Radiohead – The King of Limbs (Lotus Flower video)
One of the bigger surprises of the year, in February Thom Yorke and co caught everyone on the hop by announcing a new Radiohead record mere days before it was digitally released. The furore was predictably huge and there were plenty of knee-jerk reactions (me included to a certain extent!) proclaiming it as the second coming in musical form. It wasn’t obviously, it is however a pretty darn good Radiohead record even at a conspiracy theorist baiting short run time of 38 minutes.
Ringo Deathstarr – Colour Trip (Spotify)
For those of you who like a bit of shoegaze or a bit of My Bloody Valentine, Ringo Deathstarr could be for you, switching between female and male vocals, upping the distortion to ear bleeding levels one minute then bringing it down with some nice Cure or Lush style jangly guitars on the next track gives this brief thirty minute album more longevity than expected. Very nice surprise of an album this was.
Grails – Deep Politics (video)
Portland’s Grails release the follow up to 2008’s “Doomsdayer’s Holiday”, it is a lighter and overall more enjoyable album as a whole. One to get truly lost in! Reviewed here.
Obits – Moody, Standard and Poor (You Gotta Lose live video)
The creators of my favourite album of 2009 return with the follow up. More of the same, good old garage rock from Rick Froberg’s latest band, he of Drive Like Jehu and Hot Snakes fame.
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Belong (Spotify)
March saw the release of New York’s The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s second album. Riding on the praise received for their debut almost guaranteed some backlash, but although on first listen I was quite nonplussed, it has grown on me significantly on subsequent spins.
Low – C’mon (Guardian album stream)
Minnesota’s Low released their ninth album in April. “C’mon” is not streets away from what they have always done but is less experimental than previous album 2007’s “Drums and Guns” and, for me anyway, one of their most enjoyable in a long time.
Explosions in the Sky – Take Care, Take Care, Take Care (Spotify)
The Texan post rockers produce another album of beautiful, long instrumental pieces. In my opinion the best album they’ve done since 2003’s “The Earth is Not A Cold Dead Place”. Twinklier than a fully dressed Christmas tree!
The Mountain Goats – All Eternals Deck (youtube)
Singer/Songwriter John Darnielle’s latest is another clutch of brilliantly written observations on life. Until this I was not aware of this band other than having heard their name in passing, but now I’m a convert. Personally they remind me of a more mature sounding Bright Eyes!
And So I Watch You From Afar – Gangs (Spotify)
Belfast’s ASIWYFA return with their second album, no sign of it being ‘difficult’ on the evidence of this! A blistering 45 minutes of riff filled insanity! I caught them live again the other week, just awesome, one of the best live acts out there at the moment, they all seem to just have so much darn FUN playing! I urge you to catch them live if you can!
Maybeshewill – I Was Here For A Moment Then I Was Gone (Spotify)
Leicester instrumentalists Maybeshewill released one of my definite end of year contenders last month. With “Critical Distance” they’ve certainly created my tune of the year so far.
Okkervil River – I Am Very Far (Spotify)
Another long standing band that I have only recently become aware of, having got hold of previous albums “The Stage Names” and “The Stand Ins” last year and growing to love them, I was looking forward to this one and so far it does not disappoint. Their albums take quite a few listens for me to fully appreciate and this one has a few listens to go yet but it’s a cracker.
So that’s a snapshot of some of the albums that will doubtless get mentioned come the end of the year, but what about disappointments or failures? Luckily they have been quite thin on the ground so far in 2011 but there are a couple that need mentioning;
Elbow – Build A Rocket Boys! Yes, they’re not the sort of band that usually get mentioned on these pages but I have been a fan of Elbow for years, ever since their debut “Asleep in the Back”. I’ve seen them live on more than a couple of occasions and although they’ve had their dips (I wasn’t mad on “Cast of Thousands”, “Leaders of the Free World” had a few duff tracks on it) I’ve stuck with them and consequently bought this when it came out. I have tried and tried, but God it’s dull, a total snooze-fest! What has happened to exciting tunes like “Newborn” or “Fugitive Motel”? Guy, you’re going to have to go some way to win me back after this!
British Sea Power – Valhalla Dancehall It pains me to put this here, I’ve loved BSP for years, I’ve defended their last one (“Do You Like Rock Music?”) when it’s been criticised but this one, despite the promise of early single “Who’s In Control”, is a total damp squib. Since I heard it a couple of times at the start of the year I have had no desire to listen to it again. Even live, where even one’s least favourite songs can have new life breathed into them by a talented live act such as these guys usually are, I was left unimpressed. Maybe it’s me!
Cut Copy – Zonoscope I have to admit that this one needs further listening as at the time of writing I’ve only given it a couple of spins, but it certainly didn’t have the immediate impact of debut “In Ghost Colours”.