The IPTOS 50 Best Albums of 2011 – Part Two, The Next Batch

We continue with this year’s best 50 albums heard by yours truly. Today sees the second chunk of twenty albums that have impressed me this year, again in no real order (although it has dawned on me that they are slightly alphabetical, due to the printed out spreadsheet I’m working from!)

The Horrors – Skying

One of the more pleasant surprises from the past year, I was initially reluctant having not fallen into the collective love-in that was generated following their last album Primary Colours. So I approached this one quite guardedly half expecting to dismiss it as more NME bait. But what I heard was not what I expected, on this album they have looked at a whole new arena to draw influences from and this album screams its late eighties inspirations from the rooftops. The most common comparison seems to be early Simple Minds which I can certainly hear, especially in tracks such as “Still Life”, however I can also hear echoes of The Chameleons and Echo and the Bunnymen. Not an album that will sit as a classic in years to come due to the band’s habit of genre-flitting, where will the next album draw its influences I wonder, ragga? But overall a very pleasant listen nonetheless. Check out the track “Moving Further Away”;


Radiohead – The King of Limbs

Back in April Thom and his cronies surprised everyone by releasing a brand new studio album with no warning to press or public. This was all the more remarkable in these days of leaks and the internet, and the furore was predictably intense for a few weeks. Once the dust had settled it became apparent that this album, the shortest in their repertoire, does not really stack up against the best of their mostly stellar back catalogue, but all things are relative and although this may not be a new OK Computer, or even a new In Rainbows it is still an excellent addition to the Radiohead canon. I still love that little guitar trill in “Separator”, listen to it here;


The Antlers – Burst Apart

This one very nearly made the Top Ten, it’s a sign of how good albums have been this year that this one has to make do with languishing here instead of having a number attached to it! This is an album that grew on me like a rash, on early listens I wasn’t that impressed, the vocalist’s occasional falsetto straying a little close to Wild Beasts territory for these ears. But I pushed myself to stick at it as I could sense there was something there, I am very glad I did, over the weeks this album gave up more and more. No doubt about it, this is a class album! One of the many highlights is the heart breaking “Putting The Dog To Sleep”;


Okkervil River – I Am Very Far

I am a bit of a latecomer to Will Sheff’s Okkervil River, the Texan folk rockers were a name I’d seen mentioned here and there but had never investigated. I think I downloaded previous album The Stand Ins after hearing track “Lost Coastlines” on a Drowned in Sound Spotifriday playlist and falling a little bit in love with it. Their particular brand of folky rock reminds me in places of Wilco, Buffalo Tom, My Morning Jacket, The Veils or at times a more together Broken Social Scene. Track “Rider” has a very strong Arcade Fire feel to it. I Am Very Far is their sixth album proper and the first to be produced by Sheff himself, it’s literate, at times intense and really quite a magnificent effort. Listen to “White Shadow Waltz”;


Ringo Deathstarr – Colour Trip

Although the pun-tastic name elicits a wry grin, their fuzzed up, shoeward looking sound is nothing but serious. Over a tight thirty two minute runtime Colour Trip starts off sounding like an ever woozy My Bloody Valentine but then the vocal duties change over for song two, the machine gun attack of “Do It Every Time” recalling A Place To Bury Strangers on a more tuneful day, third track “So High” shares the vocals and comes across like The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart! Vocals and tempos continue to change during the rest of this little album, but always remain in the lush, dreamy arena of shoegaze and dream-pop, bassist Alex Gehring’s voice bringing Lush and Curve to mind. Listen to track “Two Girls” to see what I mean;


The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – Belong

Their self titled debut rode high in a lot of lists at the end of 2009, mine included, but this year’s follow up seems to have been forgotten already. Admittedly it didn’t set my heart on fire when I first heard it and maybe it’s not quite up to the debut’s high level, but after giving this a good few spins I am of the opinion that this is still a very good album that does not deserve to be as harshly judged or ignored as it seems to have been. Listen to “Too Tough” and see if you agree;


Washed Out – Within and Without

While we’re in the territory of shoegaze, dream pop and chillwave, it seems apt to mention the debut full length from Washed Out, the vehicle for bedroom producer Ernest Greene. Following on from his well received EP of 2010 Life Of Leisure, Within and Without is an album that inhabits the same sorts of territory as last year’s list making album Gemini from Wild Nothing, redolent with washes of synths, slightly woozy atmospherics and images of sun-kissed Balearic beaches. Listen to the arms in the air joy of “Amor Fati”;


Zola Jesus – Conatus

Nika Rosa Danilova under her nom de guerre Zola Jesus made these very pages last year with her debut full length Stridulum II. The darker goth elements of that album are slightly left behind in favour of a more electro feeling to Conatus her second full length. But her powerful classically trained voice is still there in spades, such as on this track “Vessel”;


PJ Harvey – Let England Shake

Polly Harvey’s ode to war and Englishness is the one album on this list that is likely to be found on a awful lot of lists around this time of year! For good reason, as this, her eighth album is possibly her best and most accomplished. More accessible than previous albums such as Uh Huh Her or White Chalk, yet not as mainstream as Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea, the Mercury prize winning Let England Shake stands as a high water mark and proof that the singer songwriter genre can still craft new and innovative songs that not only move your feet but your soul as well. With its slightly jarring background bugle call, “The Glorious Land” still stands as my favourite track;


True Widow – As High As The Highest Heavens And From The Center To The Circumference Of The Earth

Winner of the longest album title of the year award, True Widow’s debut sounds like a collision between Low, The Jesus and Mary Chain and a bucket of slowed down Melvins sludge. Although possibly an interband joke, they have even chosen themselves a whole new genre pigeonhole of “stonegaze” with which to describe their sound! Interesting and quite enjoyable but it struggles to hold my attention for its entire 49 minutes, but it is still worthy of your investigation. Listen to the relative upbeat track “Skull Eyes”;


Roots Manuva – 4everevolution

Time to put away that fuzz pedal and indeed that guitar now as it’s time for a bit of British hip-hop from reliable stalwart Roots Manuva! Rodney Smith’s (for ’tis his real name) new album was a welcome listen, as you may have noticed my tastes are usually totally within the guitar rock arena but now and again I like to dip my toe in more foreign waters, and have enjoyed Mr Manuva’s previous output although was not that impressed with predecessor Slime and Reason. This new one though is a joyful, if a bit long, holiday from all things rock. It utilises far more ‘real’ instruments than before and has a real funky vibe to it, overall I think it is his best so far. Listen to “Watch Me Dance” and see if you can resist!

Remember Remember – The Quickening

I mentioned in the preamble to this list that there were albums this year that took a while to click, Glasgow septet Remember Remember have produced one such album. I bought it on a bit of a whim from the ever marvellous Norman Records after reading their glowing album of the week review, mentioning Mogwai, Russian Circles and post-rock in a review is bound to get me interested. But on receiving it and giving it its first spin I was a bit confused, the references did not seem to fit, this initially impenetrable morass of twinkling guitars, piano, strings and xylophones did not seem to be the post-rock I was expecting. But perseverance again paid off and these initially intimidating pieces started to unknit and show their inner delights! Bearing some resemblance to minimalist composers such as Philip Glass and Steve Reich one moment on tracks such as “Ocean Potion” or the almost chaotic instrumentation of bands like Efterklang on tracks like “Unclean Powers” but all hiding within so much more, this album keeps getting better! Try out the gorgeous “One Happier” a track Sigur Ros would be proud of;


Vessels – Helioscope

In similar but more direct and arresting territory we have Vessels. I was blown away by this the Leeds band’s second album back in March as attested by this little review I did at the time! Their debut White Fields And Open Devices is also highly worthy of your attention if you’ve not heard it, but in the meantime have a listen to one of few tracks of theirs to contain vocals, “Recur”;


Thurston Moore – Demolished Thoughts

You may think a solo album by Sonic Youth frontman and noise aficionado Thurston Moore would be a potentially challenging, dare I say unpleasant proposition? But far from it, the Beck produced album Demolished Thoughts is a rather delicate, beautiful listen. Mostly acoustic guitars overlaid with strings and Thurston’s breathy vocals, the nine songs here surprised me with their prettiness. Some parts could quite easily be described as Sonic Youth Unplugged (eg. “Illuminine”) but even if you’ve never been a fan of his other, more noisy material you should give this a try. Listen to album opener “Benediction”;


The Mountain Goats – All Eternals Deck

Another band that I’m very late to the party with! The Mountain Goats are basically just North Carolina’s John Darnielle, who garnered a strong following based on his prolific early lo-fi analogue recordings, a bit like a singer songwriter Guided By Voices! In a bizarre mirror of the backlash Dylan received when he went electric, some of his early fans have rejected his more recent, better produced recordings. I can’t understand that, why would not want someone who’s music you love to sound even better? Anyway, as a latecomer I’m loving this, his thirteenth (!) album, a collection of heartfelt songs with intelligent lyrics, making me think of a more mature, less emo Bright Eyes! Have a listen to one of his more raucous numbers “Estate Sale Sign”;


That Fucking Tank – TFT (bandcamp link)

From the sublime to the ridiculous(ly entertaining)! I am a bit previous with this one as it’s not actually officially released until 11th December but I had to include it after listening to the full stream on their bandcamp site a couple of times (linked above) and especially after dancing around my living room like a lunatic while listening to the track “Acid Jam”! The two piece from Saltaire in Yorkshire make a really upbeat instrumental racket from the set up of just drums and guitar and TFT shows them at their most creative; the AC/DC stomp of title track and opener “TFT”, the downright funkiness of “Acid Jam” and the threatening “Threads”. Get your dancing shoes on and experience “Acid Jam“!

Wire – Red Barked Tree

Aside from the track “Outdoor Miner” and having heard of Pink Flag only in passing, Wire had never really played much of a part in my music listening history. A bit too young to appreciate them first time around I had in recent years, more through a feeling of duty than of desire, listened to Pink Flag and Chairs Missing and found them good but nothing that really made me think I was missing a great deal. Their eleventh studio album though, has made me think again. The main band members might be knocking on the door of getting their bus passes but Red Barked Tree sounds as raw and pissed off as any gang of disillusioned teenage punks, as opener “Please Take” spits out, “Fuck off out of my face, you take up too much space”;


Russian Circles – Empros

To the instrumental post-rock riffology of Chicago’s Russian Circles now, I was a bit disappointed with previous album Geneva but I am happy to report that fourth album Empros is a staggering return to form, the immediate heavy chugging hit of opener “309” recalling the best of Pelican but with better riffs, following this with the almost anthemic “Mlàdek” makes for an excellent start to a thrilling 45 minutes of instrumental music. Listen to “Mlàdek” here;


The Twilight Singers – Dynamite Steps

With the Afghan Whigs Greg Dulli produced some of the best, most sleazy, late night rock ‘n’ roll I’ve ever heard, and as such his follow up band to the departed Whigs, The Twilight Singers were never going to come up to the heady heights of albums such as Black Love or the sublime Gentlemen. But they do a mighty fine job of trying! Previous album Powder Burns was a favourite way back in 2006 and it’s been quite the wait until February when they released Dynamite Steps. It’s good to have you back Greg! Have a listen to the down and dirty squall of “Waves”;


The War On Drugs – Slave Ambient

Second album from Philadelphia’s The War On Drugs gives us krautrock grooves with a psychedelic rinse, sounding markedly like Tom Petty or Dylan in places with buckets of echo and reverb thrown in. Stoned Americana would be a good description, peer through the smoke and have a listen to the beautiful “Brothers”, just don’t breathe in too much if you’re going to be driving or operating machinery in the near future!


Stay tuned for the Top Ten, any guesses as to what’s made it? Coming soon! 🙂

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  1. New That Fucking Tank Album – TFT « Monkey Defies Gravity

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