The IPTOS 50 Best Albums of 2011 – Part One, The First Twenty

Here we are again, end of year list time, the culmination of nearly twelve months of listening, nodding (sometimes shaking) of head and tapping of feet. Lots of good stuff heard yet again with thankfully only a few disappointments. Some took longer to click than others, some unfortunately never did, but this year I have had to cull more stuff from the 50 that in previous years would have been mentioned purely because I had not heard enough really good stuff to make up a list of fifty.

As I mentioned in the preview post I will not be ranking these first two batches of twenty albums, some may have some tenuous link but will generally be completely random, and regular readers will no doubt spot many that I have already mentioned or burbled on about over the last eleven months or so. But hopefully there will be stuff that you either haven’t heard or will want to investigate further. That is, of course, why this blog’s here! Spotify links, where available, will be the album heading.

So, in the inimitable words of Snoop, let’s do this shizzle!

Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost

Light, but hiding a ‘happy to wig out now and again’ side, this 2nd full length record by the San Francisco group offers a breezy hit of crowd friendly tunes. A last minute entry (ie. yesterday!) after downloading it months ago and forgetting all about it (I had also previously been slightly put off by the slightly twee-pop opener “Honey Bunny”). Elements of Teenage Fanclub, Built To Spill, Weezer and The Beach Boys are evident throughout and this charmingly titled track, “Vomit” is a particular highlight;

And So I Watch You From Afar – Gangs

After being suitably blown away by Belfast’s finest instrumentalist’s self titled debut in 2009 I was eagerly awaiting this follow up and on initial listens I was not disappointed. However, although blistering, it has not held my attention for quite as long, maybe I was hoping for too much. That should not be seen as too much of a criticism as this is still great selection of instrumental guitar hooks and infectious riffs. This band are also one of the best most energetic and involving live acts I have seen in a long time, a band that clearly appear to be having a great time is always an infectious invite to the crowd to do the same! Have a listen to this rather timely titled track, “7 Billion People All Alive At Once”;

LaFaro – Easy Meat

Sticking with Belfast we have the second album from furious rockers LaFaro. Coming out of the gates at about 150mph with the aptly titled “Full Tilt” it barely slows for its entire 43 minutes! Johnny Black’s sneering snarl perfectly at home with the sounds of guitars and drums being apparently used as bludgeoning weapons as much as musical instruments! A sweaty, booze fuelled, bar fight of a record that may cause damage to furniture and surrounding family members when listened at above average volume! If you like Motorhead, Therapy? or even the Jesus Lizard you will find stuff to love here. Have a listen to “Sucking Diesel”;

Alexander Tucker – Dorwytch

Phew, after that onslaught how about some nice folky, droney melodies from Alexander Tucker’s new album Dorwytch to help mellow you out a little? The Kent born multi-instrumentalist has produced a quite beautiful album of tunes that slowly unfurl and reveal themselves, as The Quietus’ John Doran states “A relatively still surface daring you to dive in, its sharp, cold depth containing bindweed, or maybe worse… things that threaten to drag you under, away from surface beauty into a totally different, forbidding world.” If that has intrigued you have a listen here to track “Red String”;

Jeniferever – Silesia

Sweden’s Jeniferever returned earlier this year with their third album “Silesia”. Kristofer Jönson’s gentle breathy vocals still sound the same but the album’s sound overall seems larger and more insistent than their previous offerings. Despite the tracks not being any shorter they certainly feel like they have a less aimless, more direct feel which for me makes this album a far easier and more pleasurable listen than either of their previous albums. The track attached here, “The Beat of Our Own Blood”, should have catapulted them to wider audiences.

I Break Horses – Hearts

Remaining in Sweden for a moment we have I Break Horses, a Stockholm duo of Maria Lindén and Fredrik Balck who deliver a debut album of perfectly pleasant nu-gaze/chillwave, whatever genre you’d like to nail on it. It won’t win any prizes for originality  but in a genre so well populated the dreamy vocals and synths reminiscent of Engineers as well as the more obvious MBV and Jesus & Mary Chain influences raise this above just an average listen to one worthy of attention. Track highlight “Pulse”;

Cold Cave – Cherish The Light Years

As we’ve mentioned synths let’s go the whole hog with New York’s Cold Cave. The second album immediately kicks things off with the urgent “The Great Pan is Dead”, oodles of ’80s goth sensibilities collide with insistent synth work! Depeche Mode, The Knife, Patrick Wolf, Joy Division, The Chameleons, The Bravery, Ladytron, even Classix Nouveaux (if anyone remembers them!), all bands that I thought of at some point during this album. Check out the track “Confetti” here.

Ladytron – Gravity The Seducer

Sticking with the synth-pop genre, Liverpool’s Ladytron released their fifth album “Gravity The Seducer” in September and although on first listen I was a bit nonplussed, repeated listens have drawn rewards. Some excellent electronic pop hooks here on tracks such as “Mirage”, “Ace of Hz” and “Melting Ice” (attached below)

Altar of Plagues – Mammal

Right, that’s enough of your namby pamby synthesisers for a moment, time to point those devil horns to the sky, stick out that beard, nod that head and go “uuurrrggghhh!” for lo, ’tis time for the first metal release of the list! 2011 has seen my ears embracing bands and music I would previously not normally have ventured near, I have long been a fan of Wolves in the Throne Room but had never tried to broaden my ears to other bands of similar ilk. But after getting into Agalloch in a big way earlier in the year when I read on the DiS message board that this record was like a “black metal version of Isis” I had to investigate. Ireland’s Altar of Plagues have made, with their second album “Mammal”, a metallic slab of blackened post-metal that on first listen had my jaw on the floor. Split into four long tracks this is a bleak, brutal but invigorating journey! Try out the blistering 12 minute “Feather and Bone”;

Fen – Epoch

Sticking with metal of the blacker variety we have the second album by East Anglian outfit Fen. All I can say is after listening to this East Anglia must be a far more bleak and depressing place than I’d previously thought! Although tagged as a black metal band, their music really has more in common with the more post-metal bands such as Cult of Luna or Isis, the vocals are less BM scream or wail and more death metal growl. Behind the vocals, however, lie some really nice guitar parts and melodies. Listen to “A Waning Solace”;

Fucked Up – David Comes To Life

The punk/hardcore concept album is not a massively over populated genre, but Canada’s Fucked Up have pretty much made it their own here with this near eighty minute double album! The story revolves around a kid named David (obviously) who apparently works in a lightbulb factory in England in the 1980s, and his love interest Veronica. The whole rock opera thing goes on from there, but it seems an odd type of music for all this rock opera stuff and the one sticking point for me here is that lead vocalist Damian Abraham’s (aka Pink Eyes) guttural shout/roar gets a little tiresome after eighty minutes. For me this record would have been a whole lot better if it was about thirty minutes shorter. There are some stand out tracks here though and for me this one, “Ship of Fools”, is about the best.

Explosions in the Sky – Take Care, Take Care, Take Care

If records were Christmas decorations this would be the twinkliest number on the tree! Texan post-rockers Explosions in the Sky return with this, their sixth album and to these ears, the best one they’ve done since 2003’s “The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place”. Treading familiar territory it comprises fairly long instrumental passages that despite being in a genre still rife with below par copycats, EITS still manage to remind us what was so damn great about post-rock in the first place! Listen to “Last Known Surroundings”;

Brontide – Sans Souci

With a name meaning “the sound of distant thunder” and their instrumental mostly guitar based songs, Brontide clearly show allegiances to bands such as Russian Circles and Karma to Burn, but also tipping the hat to more danceable math-style bands such as Adebisi Shank, You Slut! or Battles. This confident debut from the UK three piece has been a long time coming, but worth the wait! Listen to opener “Matador”;

Let’s Wrestle – Nursing Home

In June it was second album time from the creators of 2009’s utterly charming debut “In The Court of the Wrestling Let’s”, and “Nursing Home” sees them leaving behind some their more Hefner-esque styles that were evident on the debut and getting a whole lot rockier on our collective asses! See my little review I did at the time for more or just listen to “In The Suburbs”, or do both!

Dananananaykroyd – There Is A Way

Second and final album from the Glasgow pop-punkers who decided to go their separate ways this year, a devoted but, basically too small fanbase possibly a contributory factor. In York the other month they put on a great, energetic and well received show to, what was basically a venue only a third full and when that venue (Fibbers) is not very big anyway, maybe the writing was on the wall. I blame the unwieldy name, it’s a bugger to type! Anyway, if there’s anything that can dispel any doom and gloom it’s this album of joyous, pointy, punk songs sung, or rather shouted, with all the energy they can muster. Tracks such as “E Numbers”;

Amplifier – The Octopus

This was one of the first albums I heard this year that I was confident would appear somewhere in this list. The audacious 2 disc, 2 hour prog-rock odyssey by Manchester’s Amplifier clearly showed its shrugged off record label demands by not being afraid to do 10+ minute rock songs, eschewing the culture of single track downloads and playing for the ‘album as an experience’ school of thinking. Steering clear of going for the whole Muse style operatics, they keep it reined in and are paying more than a passing homage to bands such as Porcupine Tree and even Pink Floyd. Spend a couple of lost hours in the Octopus’s embrace! Have a taster with the epic “Interstellar”;

Low – C’mon

Minnesota’s Low released this their ninth album back in April and was the first Low album in a while that I’ve listened to and really liked on first listen. Previous release Drums and Guns didn’t really do it for me, I’ve barely listened to it more than a few times but saying that I did enjoy the relative rockiness of The Great Destroyer. They’re one of those bands whose style may vary within the confines of their own particular sphere of musicality, but yet they are still unmistakably Low, the vocal harmonies of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker and the slow brushed drum beats serving as as good a trademark stamp as anything else! Lovely stuff, try “Especially Me”;

dEUS – Keep You Close

Belgium’s dEUS have changed a lot since their 1994 debut Worst Case Scenario, some may say for the worse, but I am not one of those, going against the title of my blog I actually think I prefer their later stuff! That’s not strictly true but why pass up the chance of a weak joke! My favourite of theirs still remains 1999’s The Ideal Crash, but to be honest I have found myself wanting to listen to later albums such as Pocket Revolution or Vantage Point rather than Worst Case Scenario or In A Bar, Under The Sea more times that not. On this one they almost go too far down the middle of that road to Coldplay or Snow Patrol easy listening territory a couple of times, but elsewhere there are some really nice tunes, nothing more, nothing less. Check out the video for first single “Constant Now” here where lead singer Tom Barman appears to be doing a passable impression of Simple Minds’ Jim Kerr!

Maybeshewill – I Was Here For A Moment, Then I Was Gone

Leicester’s Maybeshewill returned with their third album this year and along with it an early tune of the year with “Critical Distance”. Their previous two albums have used vocal samples to a greater or lesser effect, a particular great being “Not For Want of Trying” with its brilliantly used sample from the film Network, whereas this one uses none at all, which is my only criticism of what is another beautiful collection of tunes. Listen to the excellent “Critical Distance”;

Obits – Moody, Standard and Poor

Album number two for Rick Froberg’s garage rockers, their 2009 debut was high in my end of year list that year and although its successor doesn’t quite reach the same heights, parts of it feel a bit ‘phoned in’, it’s still a very enjoyable bit of rock n’ roll that gets the toes a’tappin’! Tunes such as “Beggin’ Dogs”;

Ok, that’s the first twenty, hope you enjoyed and are intrigued to see what’s coming up, the next batch will along presently!

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