Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Albums of the Year 2011

The first thing I notice about this list it felt like effort. Not because I didn't like any of these albums, but because my 2011 purchases have been minimal and after the Top 5, numbers 6-10 was difficult to choose from what was left. Despite this year's purchased collection of older music, I've bought 15 albums from this year. I've listened to a few more on Spotify, but I've been far from my usual keen self for music.

The second thing I notice is my last blog entry here was the Top 10 Albums of 2010. This disappoints me as I love writing, and have been told by a good friend I'm far better at it then I think. It does surprise me that I have offered nothing to the blogosphere, but this is no different to my art output this year. I've simply been distracted by work, exams and trying to have some sort of social life. This will change next year, but I'll change the way I blog, I expect. Possibly a new blog as BTSS seems to represent a younger, less wittier me, so this may well be my last blog here, so enjoy.

10) ANTHRAX - Worship Music (Nuclear Blast)

It's been ten years since Anthrax released their last studio album of brand-new material, and considering the vocalist soap opera in that time, it feels like a miracle that Worship Music ever got made. In the end, 80s frontman Joey Belladonna sorted the vocals out for an album that sits firmly with other great Anthrax records. The familiar stomp of Earth on Hell sits happily alongside the great choruses of The Devil You Know and Fight 'Em Til You Can't. However, it's the slow-burning triumph of In The End that shines this album's light. You can indeed keep your faith in Metal based on this.

Fight 'em Til You Can't

9) MIRRORS - Lights and Offerings (Pure Groove)

This Brighton four-piece named themselves quite appropriately. Throughout this debut, it feels like all four synths are constantly reflecting and amplifying each other. A sense of identity is still being searched for amongst the familiar Kraft-League-OMD-isms, but writing good songs is one hurdle they have leapt with ease. Textured soundscapes underpin the flow Fear of Drowning and Ways to an End. Look At Me and Hide and Seek throw up the necessary chorus while Searching the Wilderness and Write Through the Night show they can master different tempos with confidence. A sparkling debut.

Look at Me

8) OPETH - Heritage (Roadrunner)

The surprising thing about this album was how much it surprised a lot of Opeth fans. Compared to their previous offerings, Heritage is pretty much a full-on Prog odyssey, albeit one with Metal guitars. Considering the scope of previous albums like Still Life and Ghost Reveries, Heritage's bouts of indulgence isn't surprising at all. However, Opeth realise that their strength is still complex metallicisms, hence the likes of Folklore and Slither. But in truth, tracks like Nepenth and I Fell the Dark are no different to the more restrained tracks of their past that dotted past efforts. The fact that one album is full of them should be commended.

The Devil's Orchard

7) WHITE LIES - Ritual (Polydor)

The Joy Division comparisons are probably never going to disappear unless the Ealing trio go all pop-punk on us, so they may as well just carry on with improving the songwriting. Debut To Lose My Life... was good and showcased a handful of classic tracks, and Ritual thankfully has more of them. In Love and Turn the Bells represent a better approach to their mellow introspection but it's when the really let rip that they prove they're a band in the own right. Stranger and Bad Love shine an epic shadow and light respectively, while Holy Ghost storms through at a comparatively frenetic pace to a storming climax.

Holy Ghost

6) AND ONE - Tanzomat (Machinery)

Knowing your strengths is the first key to success in this business, and Berlin's And One certainly know theirs. For fifteen years, they've been very good at being the world's best Depeche Mode tribute band, despite the fact that Basildon's finest changed yearly from 1981. Tanzomat's 2006 predecessor Bodypop rooted itself deep in Depeche's 1983 sound, which seems fair considering Depeche recorded much of their 80s output in Berlin, and Tanzomat follows much the same route. Bodypop's strength was its contribution of the best synthpop tracks Depeche never wrote and Tanzomat has a fair old whack at the same title. It's not quite there, but it passes the exam by a long shot. The hook of Shining Star compliments the slow baroque of Playing Dead but it's the otherworldly throb of The Aim is in Your Head that raises this album's bar alone.

Save the Hate

5) FEIST - Metals (Polydor)

An album title that raised my hopes that Leslie Feist had done a Dave Grohl and recruited Metal's finest into her fold. Not so, although she is covering Mastodon for their split-EP next year. However, Metals abandons the Indie whimsy of 2007's The Reminder and takes its cue from the Chain Gang songs of the Deep South. The likes of Caught a Long Wind and Comfort Me stand head-to-head with any great Blues track of the last 80 years, while How Come you Never go There and The Circle Married the Line lends a welcome sense of familiarity to the proceedings.

Comfort Me

4) LADYTRON - Gravity the Seducer (Nettwork)

The annoying thing about Ladytron is they make this lark sound too easy. Hip digi-electro coolness? Check the first 2 albums 604 and Light & Magic. Melding cool synths with wistful gothic impulse? Hello 2005's Witching Hour. Synth-pop that uses the biggest beats and the deepest bass? Gotta be 2008's Velocifero and this writer's Album of that Year. So what next? Unsurprisingly, Liverpool/Scotland/Bulgaria's finest opted to chill out a bit, as Gravity the Seducer happily drifts the electronic ether. White Elephant and Ambulances prove the notion that 'beats' are not the be-all and end-all of good music, while White Gold and Moon Palace throw up some sinister restraint. One of 2011's more stark and beautiful albums.


3) COLD CAVE - Cherish the Light Years (Matador)

2009's debut Love Comes Close was an assured and intriguing tribute to New Wave's slightly more pretentious artists. There were some great sounds, but too much introspection and experimentation seemed to get in the way of creating some great tracks. And it appears someone told them so afterwards as the 'difficult second album' is anything but. Hurtling in with some unexpected post-punk guitars colliding with some classic synth, The Great Pan is Dead waves its songwriting flag high up before smacking you hard with a killer chorus. From then on, Cherish the Light Years sways and lurches, while all the time, a guitar lines hug synthesizer hooks like the best mates they are. Stand-out track Icons of Summer proves that they can do 'the build-up' as well, while ending single Villains of the Moon is one of 2011's great pop songs. If there's a criticism, it's that the 80s influences are pretty obvious, and it sometimes feels like a New Order tribute album. Luckily, the tracks are that good.

Villians of the Moon

2) MACHINE HEAD - Unto the Locust (Roadrunner)

Ten years ago, Robb's boys didn't paint a pretty picture. Their fourth effort Supercharger seemed to quite happily throw its lot in with the commercial Nu-Metal crowd, to unpleasant results. Realising that their strength was, quite simply, Metal, they quickly found the right path and have increased in muscular Metal beauty since. If you thought 2007's The Blackening was a career-definer, then this follow-up will make you seriously rethink things. Unto the Locust takes all the strengths of The Blackening and distills them into seven massive tracks that lay to waste any claim that seething Metal can't be 'accessible'. Be Still and Know's triumphant chorus would ensure Number One status in some Metal-Friendly Scandinavian countries. This is the End pays homage to both Metallica and Maiden without stealing wholesale while Who We Are borrows the local kindergarten choir to scary effect. All that, plus it would fit on a 45-minute-long cassette side, and that's the best compliment. Metal Album of the Year.


1) LYKKE LI - Wounded Rhymes (Atlantic)

If you had heard Lykke's stripped-down poppy debut Youth Novels, then her sophomore effort may very well had scared the bejeezus out of you. The degree to which she clambered into her own soul and unearthed something quite different is astounding, and Wounded Rhymes frequently astounds. There certainly appears to be almost no instrument that hasn't been used in concocting this stellar album and it wouldn't surprise me to know that steel drum sound was in fact the kitchen sink being hammered.

Youth Knows No Pain kicks off with it's Hammond-Organ hippy riff and rides a classic 'come on' chorus. I Follow Rivers continues the pace before Love out of Lust wists through and steam-cleans the vibes of before. Unrequited Love and I Know Places offer much the same sense of creeping caution, the former as if the Ronettes covered the great Blues artists and the latter a simple strum in the park. But as hinted, the dark overtures rear their head very often with the likes of Rich Kids Blues and Jerome blending typical pop accessibility with an overwhelming sense of introversion. The album's 'low'light, however, is Sadness is a Blessing, the most tearfully intense track you're likely to hear all year, its 'Be My Baby' drumbeat ready to make the hardest of males burst into tears.

The best compliment I can give this album is that it is frequently indescribable. I hope you have as much difficulty. Utterly brilliant.

I Follow Rivers

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