This is 2011’s “big list”, comprising of three posts I did over three days in December 2011 (top 10 at the bottom);
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!
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;
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”;
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”;
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”;
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.
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”;
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.
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)
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”;
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”;
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.
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”;
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”;
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”;
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”;
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”;
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!
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”;
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!
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!)
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”;
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;
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”;
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”;
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;
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;
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”;
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”;
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;
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”;
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!
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;
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”;
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“!
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”;
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;
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”;
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! 🙂
Here it is then, the ten best albums I have heard this year. These releases earnt their place by basically being the albums I have kept coming back to, they are the albums that have had me close to approaching awe, or in that place where you just give thanks for a working pair of ears!
I hope you have found something in this year’s list that you feel you want to investigate, or have found yourself nodding in agreement to at least a few of my choices. There are still a few weeks of 2011 left and I might hear something that would have warranted a place, if so I will do something to mention it on these pages, so stick around!
Ok, a slight cheat here as I’ve included Dropped Pianos, but as it’s a kind of companion piece of early “sketches” for material later to be found on Ravedeath I consider it valid! Tim Hecker’s beautiful soundscapes were an unexpected treat to these ears earlier in the year. One of the single greatest things the internet has done for the music listener is the ability to have a proper listen to music that you would not, in previous times, have risked your hard earned cash to buy on spec. Thanks to Spotify and other sites such as Bandcamp I have heard some startling music this year I would never have heard otherwise! I have also, in most cases, bought them in various physical or digital ways!
I spoke a bit more about Ravedeath, 1972 here in a review I did earlier in the year, but I also want to mention the recently released Dropped Pianos. I downloaded this the other week and have only given it a couple of listens but it stands out as much mellower and less threatening than a lot of RD1972, each track is titled “Sketch” and at 32 minutes it is quite easy to see it as one long piece. It is also different enough from it’s sibling to almost stand on its own right as another Tim Hecker album.
If you’re interested in hearing something that has the power and mystery to truly take you somewhere else, give these a go. They all work better consumed as a whole, but have a listen to “In The Fog II”;
With Feel It Break Toronto’s Austra have produced the best ‘pop’ album I’ve heard this year, The Joy Formidable’s album was riding high for a while but I found it waned alarmingly quickly and I haven’t listened to it in months. This one, on the other hand, I often feel the desire to listen to it’s infectious hooks. Have a look at the review I did for it here and have a listen to one of my favourite tracks off it, “Spellwork”;
8. Grails – Deep Politics
I said most of what I want to say about this bloody marvellous album in this little review from earlier this year, but if you read that and didn’t investigate here’s another chance, and for those of you who are unaware of Grails, listen to “I Led Three Lives” and if that doesn’t convert you then nothing will;
Sticking with powerful instrumentalists we have the seventh album by Mogwai. After a couple of albums which, although great, lacked the power of the earlier releases, Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will sees them return with their best album since 2003’s Happy Songs For Happy People. Where their earlier albums were more reckless in their construction, Hardcore.. sees them tightened and refined but by no means staid, there are still the fuzzed up riffs of “Rano Pano”, the gentle piano melodies of “Death Rays” followed immediately by the furious “San Pedro” and closer “You’re Lionel Richie” which harks back to the quiet/loud dynamics of “Like Herod”. Its variety and relative brevity of tracks is another thing that propelled this album to where it is in the list, it is another album that rewards repeated listens. Most of all it’s encouraging that after fourteen years and seven albums they are still able to produce such a fine collection of music, bring on album number eight! Here’s “George Square Thatcher Death Party”;
After the psychedelic prog metal of 2009’s Crack The Skye I was interested to see where Mastodon went next, how could they build on the epicness they’d reached with first Blood Mountain and then Crack The Skye? The answer was, they wouldn’t try, instead they have gone back to basics. The Hunter is an album of 13 tracks of pure rawk! Cutting back on the long songs, (the longest here is closing track “The Sparrow” at a positively sprightly 5 and a half minutes) this is a rock album in its purest sense, stupid, balls out rock songs to make you forget your troubles and have a good goddamn time!! It puts its agenda out there from the off with lead single “Black Tongue”, goes all Black Sabbath with “Curl of the Burl”, and then goes completely tonto with “Blasteroid”, where apparently “I wanna drink some fuckin’ blood! / I wanna break some fuckin’ glass!”, their tongues are clearly in their cheeks here! It’s not all furious 100mph stuff, “Stargasm” goes all space-rock and I can definitely hear some Alice In Chains in “Dry Bone Valley”, all of it is served up with Brann Dailor’s still awesome drumming and Brent Hinds’ riff mastery! The only mis-step for me is the track “Creature Lives”, written solely by Dailor and sung by him, it just doesn’t really fit on the album. When it all comes down to it this is basically just a damn good rock album! Here’s the ‘lighters in the air moment’ title track “The Hunter”;
Entrancing, beautiful, strange, noisy, hypnotic. A few words that have come to mind while trying to quantify and describe what this album by Benjamin John Power is all about. Completely without beats but still dripping with power and menace at times but juxtaposed with gentle twinkling dreamscapes at others. As I said in the little review of it I did back in the summer (here) it is an album that demands you turn the volume up, it’s power is just not as evident at lower volumes. The background wall of guitar noise on tracks such as “Sundowner” acting to shore up the twinkly foreground synths. Just beautiful! Listen to “Sundowner” here;
4. And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead – Tao of the Dead
Released right at the beginning of the year I had almost forgotten this was released in 2011! Trail of Dead’s seventh album is an attempt by the band to return to “the way I listened to albums when I was a kid….I always liked listening to records that were just a continuous piece, like an orchestra or a symphony” to quote Conrad Keeley. Hence the album is made of just two long tracks, the first, “Part One: Tao of the Dead” is the eleven separate tracks of the album mixed together to form one thirty five minute “piece”. The second track “Part Two: Strange News From Another Planet” changes key and instead of numerous tracks mixed together to form one, this is one long song split into five “movements”. Another band whose last couple of albums have not really matched the best of their efforts, Tao of the Dead shows them still capable of producing the exciting tunes that got me into them in the first place. The bonus disc gives us individual versions of the tracks that make up Part One, so I don’t have to expect you to sit through the whole thing, here’s “Summer of All Dead Souls”;
3. A Winged Victory For The Sullen – s/t
With this self titled album, Stars of the Lid’s Alex Wiltzie along with Dustin O’Halloran have created the most gorgeous restful album I’ve heard all year. Not an album you’re going to be dancing along to or sticking on as you get ready to go out, this is an album for listening to late at night, eyes closed, letting it wash over you and letting the gentle piano melodies soothe you and wrap their metaphorical arms around you in a big hug! See what you think with the glorious “Minuet For A Cheap Piano Number Two”;
It very nearly made it to the top spot! Maynard James Keenan’s decidedly tongue in cheek side project has produced an album of disparate, desert inspired tunes. As regular readers will know I was more than a bit gobsmacked with single “Man Overboard” (see here) so was hoping the second album from Puscifer would be better than their lacklustre debut, and er, yes, it is, a LOT better!! The tracks run the gamut of full on Tool-esque rock on tracks like “Toma” or “Telling Ghosts”, to almost dubstep on “Horizons” and bluegrass harmonising on closer “Tumbleweeds”. My only criticism of this album is that it’s not a Tool album and this has taken Maynard away from recording a new one! But, my goodness it will do as a very decent stop-gap! Have a listen to “Green Valley” below and if you haven’t click this to watch the video for “Man Overboard”;
1. Wolves in the Throne Room – Celestial Lineage
If you’d told me at the start of the year that my favourite album at the end of it would be a black metal album I would not have believed you! But here we are and Olympia, Washington’s Wolves in the Throne Room have made an album that, even after double figure listenings, still has my jaw on the floor from start to finish! The gorgeous voice of Jessika Kenney (amusingly on Wikipedia she’s credited with “Clean Vocals”!) leading into a pummelling tour de force of blast beats and Nathan Weaver’s wail on “Thuja Magus Imperium” sets the bar or an album that then goes on to take that bar and fling it into the weeds! The atmospherics, the guitar melodies and the powerful sonic journey that this album takes you on just keeps bringing me back to listen again and again.
As this is the Number One, here are two tracks to sample, first the epic opener “Thuja Magus Imperium” followed by the fantastic “Astral Blood”;
So there we have it, fifty albums that I feel you should hear. To recap, the full fifty looked like this;
Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost
And So I Watch You From Afar – Gangs
LaFaro – Easy Meat
Alexander Tucker – Dorwytch
Jeniferever – Silesia
I Break Horses – Hearts
Cold Cave – Cherish The Light Years
Ladytron – Gravity The Seducer
Altar of Plagues – Mammal
Fen – Epoch
Fucked Up – David Comes To Life
Explosions In The Sky – Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
Brontide – Sans Souci
Let’s Wrestle – Nursing Home
Dananananaykroyd – There Is A Way
Amplifier – The Octopus
Low – C’mon
dEUS – Keep You Close
Maybeshewill – I Was Here For A Moment, Then I Was Gone
Obits – Moody, Standard and Poor
The Horrors – Skying
Radiohead – The King of Limbs
The Antlers – Burst Apart
Okkervil River – I Am Very Far
Ringo Deathstarr – Colour Trip
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Belong
Washed Out – Within and Without
Zola Jesus – Conatus
PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
True Widow – As High as the Highest Heavens…
Roots Manuva – 4everevolution
Remember Remember – The Quickening
Vessels – Helioscope
Thurston Moore – Demolished Thoughts
The Mountain Goats – All Eternals Deck
That Fucking Tank – TFT
Wire – Red Barked Tree
Russian Circles – Empros
The Twilight Singers – Dynamite Steps
The War on Drugs – Slave Ambient
10. Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972 & Dropped Pianos
9. Austra – Feel It Break
8. Grails – Deep Politics
7. Mogwai – Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
6. Mastodon – The Hunter
5. Blanck Mass – s/t
4. …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead – Tao of the Dead
3. A Winged Victory For The Sullen – s/t
2. Puscifer – Conditions of My Parole
1. Wolves in the Throne Room – Celestial Lineage
Please let me know in the comments section what you think of this year’s list. If I’ve missed your favourite tell me all about it and why it’s your favourite!