Top 40 albums of 2011
1. Kate Bush ’50 Words For Snow‘
Sensual brilliance from one of our best songwriters and a work of serious genius that re invents the art of songwriting and takes it into uncharted territory.
2. Tom Waits ‘Bad As Me’
Less a return to form, more a return to the peerless standard of Rain Dogs and Swordfishtrombones. Every track on Bad as Me is a cinematic masterpiece: noirish, grotesque, darkly hilarious, nightmarish and abstractly beautiful. Waits is almost unique as an artist who improves with age, and the longer THAT voice seems to abstain from toxins the more imbued with smoke and whiskey it seems to get. Brilliant album to spend a dark night getting lost in.
3. PJ Harvey ‘Let England Shake’
Making a sound that is as old as the hills of Merrie England, PJ Harvey has created a startling release that somehow evoked long lost folk musics of England without sounding like them. In a stark and powerfully atmospheric work she somehow manages to capture the tension of a nation at war and the dark side of the world situation with a non judgmental eye. With a collection of moving and emotional songs and an imaginative musical backdrop this album is the pinnacle in an already brilliant career.
4. Fucked Up ‘David Comes To Life’
The Canadian based Fucked Up have already been a key part in the reinvention of hardcore- a form that has become weighed down in metal and guitar solos for the past few years. The initial hardcore adventurism of Black Flag, Minor Threat and Bad Brains was invoked by the band, not so much musically but spirit wise and their psychedelic, no holds barred take on the form had already resulted in some great releases. ‘David Comes To Life’ saw the band hit a new height in creative overload with a take on the much maligned concept album with interlinking songs telling the story of the life of David. It may have been a concept but it did not lose any of it’s hardcore ferocity or imagination.
5. The Horrors ”ËSkying‘
Three albums in and the Horrors have honed down their sound. Their now brushed away first album still sounds great, all garage rock shakes and twitching ‘billy shuffles. Their switch in sound to the more melancholic, post indie darkness saw them grab critical acclaim and now taking this to perfection on ‘Skying’ saw the band compared to the pre stadium pomp Simple Minds when to these ears they were closer to Pyschedelic Furs in a perfectly executed album of intensity and serious music.
6. Can ‘Tago Mago 40th Anniversary Edition’
Including reissues may be seen as a bit of a cop-out, but that’s the only reason for keeping this magnificent album off the number one spot. Arguably the single most influential album recorded since 1970, it’s impossible to overstate just how strongly it’s touched everyone from Bowie to Radiohead that matters as well as many who don’t. Tago Mago has never sounded so good as in this brilliant two disc reissue.
7. Atari Teenage Riot ”ËIs This Hyperreal’
Who better to soundtrack the end times of capatilism than the recently reformed Berlin techno punk noise crew. Sounding even fiercer and more intelligent than they did before, the band ask all the right questions in a maelstrom of digital hardcore noise that empowered and inspired in equal measures.
8. Kvelertak ‘Kvelertak‘
Like AC/DC on steroids this Norwegian crew have cranked up hard rock to a powerful and thrilling extreme. Live they are like a tidal wave of Viking filth- all hair, testerone and fabulous noise. In an overcrowded genre they stand out a mile by being prepared to go the extra yard and crank the motherload. The fact they also have great songs doesn’t do them any harm either.
9. Off! ‘First Four EPs’
Keith Morris was the original vocalist from Black Flag and after years in the Circle Jerks he brilliantly returns to the ninety second rushes of the earliest days of hardcore in this brilliant series of songs. His yelping vocals and brattish energy remain undiminished and if this release was from the tail end of 2010 it qualifies for this list because of it’s pure thrilling genius and also because of its slightly delayed impact.
10. Iceage ‘New Brigade’
Yet another example of the rising dominance of the Scandanavian countries when it comes to noise, Copenhagen’s teenage Iceage where the first breakout band of a very strong hometown scene. Their discordant sound came on like mid eighties UK Death To Tread Rock band, all colliding riffs and manic energy. They married this to melodic vocals in a potent and thrilling mix.
11. Wu Lyf ‘Go Tell Fire To The Mountain’
Breaking with a hometown tradition that wasn’t there’s to be saddled with Wu Lfy created a fuss with secret underground gigs and an aesthetic that was closer to US hardcore than baggy. With a manifesto that came on like prime time Nation Of Ulysses the band backed up their talk with an album of stunning intensity and an almost spiritual feel underlined by the church organs and the fact that it was actually recorded in a church. The vocals are so impassioned you can feel every stretched sinew and every emotion in this key release that will either create a platform form them to eventually break out big time like the Horrors or become a catalytic band for a generation of purists.
12. The Fall ”ËErsatz GB’
The Fall go rock? Shades of the dark side of Black Sabbath and even industrial rock like Rammstein flavour the usual Fall motornik in an album that Mark Smith himself claimed was ‘Greek heavy metal’. The Fall sound, though, was still dominant,complete with the usual snarling anger, cynicism, dark humour and and taproom psyche wisdom.
13. The Spartan Dreggs ”ËForensic R n B’
Superior garage rock- really rough and ready with a touch of the early Syd Barrett’s to it and a great off kilter English sense of humour from Billy Childish’s latest project.
14. Wire – ‘Red Barked Tree‘
It may be glacial and frigid, but never devoid of passion. On the contrary, there is a simmering rage here, made all the more palpable by the album’s slow-burning emotive arc. There is a multifaceted anger within the album, directed at both society and at their peers. In the case of Wire it is a deliberate antithesis to the bands who copied the bands who copied them; an antidote to the Joy Division-lite sounds of Snow Patrol, and apotheosis, a contra to The Hold Steady’s watered-down version of The Cure. The opening track’s disarmingly jangly chorus bluntly urges these bands to “fuck off out of my face, you take up too much space”Â, and there really is no come back.
15. Radiohead ‘The King of Limbs.
One of the most important bands of the past twenty years once again treading into more-or-less uncharted territory, transcending the boundaries between marginalised genres such as electronica and dub-step and exposing them to the wider public eye. It was doing this with avant-garde jazz that made Kid A the most fascinating album of the last decade; whilst this isn’t of the same caliber, it’s a strong attempt to do the same again.
16. Cerebral Ballzy ‘Cerebral Ballzy’
Another example of the revival of American hardcore, maybe the distance of time since its inception has created enough space for it to be reappraised, Cerebral Ballzy strip the form down to its fast and furious roots- a time and place where there was no baggage and every note had to count, in a series of thrilling and high energy missives.
17. The Master Musicians of Bukkake ‘Totem III’
Atmospheric soundscapes that are dark and brooding with a tripped out psychelic edge complete with the mantra like drones of Indian music all mashed together into a hypnotic soup. This was a dark and mysterious album that you could get seriously lost in.
18. Odd Future ’12 Odd Future Songs’
A compilation from controversial hip hop collective Odd Future whose musical imagination and brilliance is in direct opposite correlation to their sometime lyrical content. Like many before them putting noses out of joint with cartoon violence and casual sexism seemed to be more important than making something positive but then if Nick Cave can sing about murdering women then why not? After all neither party means it and the ugly imagery is, arguably, filmic.
The album is made up of 13 songs previously released by members of OFWGKTA and a brand new 13th track and underlines their musical brilliance.
19. British Sea Power ‘Valhalla Dancehall’
The latest album from British Sea Power was another example of their salt stained imagination and their idiosyncratic, eccentric and quietly brilliant genius. With that sort of outsider spirit fostered by their roots in the misty hills of the Lake District they plough their own furrow and have quietly encroached upon the mainstream. Elder brother of the band and music journalist Roy Wilkinson’s biog on his days managing his brothers, ‘Do It For Your Mum’ was also another quiet hit.
20. Vaccines ‘What did you Expect from the Vaccines’
If this AOTY line-up was judged on value for money, What Did You Expect From The Vaccines would feature just above that charity single consisting of two minutes’ silence. Luckily, the concise songs, (rarely over 2:30 minutes), are packed with the sure fire confidence of deliberately blunt lyrics, punchy riffs and inescapable innuendo, proving that size doesn’t matter.
21. Kasabian ‘Velociraptor!’
Often mistaken by cynics as lumpy lad rock, Kasabian prove yet again that they have a bountiful imagination and a real depth: marrying 3D film soundtrack, the electronics of Primal Scream, stadium anthems, post Oasis swagger to a palate that stretches as far as world music and car boot sale obscurities. How they managed to convince hordes of lager heads to fill stadiums with their quietly eccentric music is rather fascinating.
22. Dropkick Murphys ‘Going Out in Style’
The Boston based Irish roots crew stormed the American top twenty with another album of Pogues meets second wave punk rock that has seen them become a serious proposition. Again great song writing and the knack for creating the perfect anthem without straying from their Irish roots music or punk rock rushes has really worked for the band.
23. Poly Styrne ”ËGeneration Indigo’
Poly’s final album was a triumph and her death robbed us of a great talent. The album she worked on in the last year of her life was a cross pollination of styles from neo Reggae to almost X Ray Spex style punk rock chuggers. And all the time her perceptive and brilliant lyrics, that made her one of the best lyricists of her generation, shone though. A friend of Louder Than War, her death was the year’s saddest moment for us in music and we miss her.
24. Wooden Shjips ”ËWest’
A real trip, Ripley Johnson’s psychelic crew utilize drone rock to fry the mind on a series of hypnotic wig outs that were very much part of the psyche revival that was going on in the hipster circles this year.
25. Kate Bush ”ËDirectors Cut’
Much of the material is an improvement certainly on The Red Shoes and perhaps even on some tracks from The Sensual World. Most impressively of all, the track ”ËDeeper Understanding’ makes AutoTune, the bÃÂªte noir of serious musicians, a creative and almost beautiful sound with its eerie robotic backing vocal. This truly is a landmark.
26….. Boris. ‘Heavy Rocks’ ‘Attention Please’
The leaders in a loose collective of drone rock bands, Japanese outfit Boris redefined the word hypnotic with songs that were drone rock masterpieces and deep, dark sonorous works of mind blowing genius. This was like al those great dog eared seventies albums by groups with esoteric names rolled into one and all the better for it.
27. Crass ‘Yes Sir I Will’/’Penis Envy’
Yes we know these are reissues but like all the Crass catalogue lovingly reissued by Southern records this year the albums sound more contemporary now than it did on release.’Penis Envy’ is Crass’s masterwork, their ‘Sgt Peppers’, an angry confrontational feminist statement sung by women and multi layed with a musical imagination and genius that only starts to come to light decades later, ‘Yes Sir I Will’ is a dense maelstrom of anger inspired by the Flaklands war.
28. Josh T Pearson ‘Last Of The Country Gentlemen’
With the finest beard in rock n roll Josh T Pearson backed up his follicle adventures with an album of country tinged heartbreakers and hobo anthems that redefined a genre and made the classic seem contemporary.
29. White Hills ”ËH-p1′
New York based space-rock explorers took their cosmic trip to a visceral, exhilertaing and loud conclusion on their second album
30. Seasick Steve ‘You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks’
The album title says it all and the oldest dog on the scene paired down his old tricks to a perfection. More wheezing blues and world weary observations with clanking train rhythm section and slide blues brilliance.
31. Sun Araw ”ËAncient Romans’
Pulsating soundscapes in an album to get lost in, like the stretched out grind of Earth but with a nod to musical concrete and a freak imagination.
32. Bjork ”â ‘Biophillia’
Yet another absolutely unique record from Iceland’s most ostentatious artist. Biophilia is a fantastically unhinged album, as well you’d expect from something that uses Tesla Coils as an instrument.
33. Oneida ”â Absolute II
Ambient music but not for airports. This is a series of dark scapes and a real metal machine music that packs an aggresion into its confusion of sound.
34. Bethia Beadman ‘Made Of Love’
Sensual and sexual blues from an astonishing singer whose songwriting talent drips out of these songs. There is a stripped away honesty and deep intelligence to the music that balances the raw simplicity of the blues with a yearning emotional content.
35. Botanist ”ËThe Suicide Tree / II: A Rose for the Dead’
Black metal is one of the genuinely few areas in music where the frontiers keep moving. Botanist is a prime example of this and on this album the solo drummer makes music that sounds like nothing else. Recorded in the forest playing drums and a dulcimer this is atmospheric music that is about plants and the power of nature – every song title has a Latin name for a plant and the music, whilst retaining the aggressive passion of rock also has the scope and ambience of film soundtracks.
36. Tyler The Creator ”ËGoblin‘
The second solo album of Odd Future leader Tyler is another example of his musical imagination and ability to create hip hop in new shapes.
37. Rammstein ‘Made In Germany 1995”â2011’
Would have been higher if not for the fact we already know and love all these songs that make up thGerman band’s greatest hits set. Selling out stadiums worldwide with their German sung anthems has been a cool trick in what is still a predominantly Anglo American dominated music industry. The fact they have done it with virtually zero mainstream media attention makes it even more so.
38. Mariachi El Bronx ”ËMariachi El Bronx’
The Bronx are one of the finest hardcore influenced bands on the circuit and this, their curveball switch, to mariachi music in what started off as a joke has been a master stroke. They pull it off so well that they almost sound like the genuine article in an album of great songs and a seriously thought out take on the great Mexican music that is so part and parcel of their home city of Los Angeles.
39. Black Lips ”â Arabia Mountain
Black Lips have just stormed the mainstream with this, their latest album, which takes their garage knuckle shuffle and springs it into glorious technicolour due to Mark Ronson’s brilliant production that gives the whole album a sixties sheen.
40. Wilco ”â The Whole Love
Opener ”ËArt of Almost’ is the wildly distorted, piano-and-shredding-led sound of Wilco bursting from the skin of alt country comfort like the xenomorph in John Hurt’s chest. From here the album diversifies and clambers across genres without losing the unique brand of genius in instrumentation that sets Wilco apart as indie deities, before closing with the twelve-minute, most beautifully tired song of 2011, ”ËOne Sunday Morning’.
Special mention to
Gil-Scott Heron & Jamie xx ”â We’re New Here
It’d be easy to include the late hip-hop pioneer Gil-Scott Heron on sentimental grounds alone, but this is a genuinely brilliant album. 2010’s I’m New Here may have been a return to form for the great poet, and it’s to the credit of the man from the overrated xx that his production actually improves the record.
And another special mention to King Blues