After the first part of my review focused on the visual, today’s second and concluding part is very much concerned with the audio, as I count down my top 30 singles and albums from 2011. I did a lot of album-buying this year, and it’s fair to say that, as I type there are one or two potential late entrants, such as Luke Haines, and the King’s Daughter’s and Sons, who I didn’t get round to purchasing. My apologies to them, and I’ll be sure to add them to my New Year’s shopping list. In the meantime, here’s a countdown of the ones that I did get. Starting with the albums:
30 – Sondre Lerche – Sondre Lerche
29 – Deerhoof – Deerhoof vs. Evil
28 – Erland and the Carnival – Nightingale
27 – Feist – Metals
26 – Sarah Nixey – Brave Toy Soldiers
25 – Dutch Uncles – Cadenza
24 – Wye Oak – Civilian
23 – Bon Iver – Bon Iver
22 – British Sea Power – Valhalla Dancehall
21 – Björk – Biophilia
20 – Joan As Police Woman – The Deep Field
19 – Arctic Monkeys – Suck It and See
18 – Hercules and Love Affair – Blue Songs
17 – Wild Beasts – Smother
16 – The Decemberists – The King Is Dead
15 – Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
14 – Guillemots – Walk The River
13 – Bill Ryder-Jones – If…
12 – Leisure Society – Into The Murky Water
11 – The Real Tuesday Weld – Songs for The Last Werewolf
10 – Frankie and the Heartstrings – Hunger
The sons of Sunderland are a musically fecund bunch, what with Futureheads, Field Music and now Frankie and the Heartstrings. Their debut long player was suffused with the spirit of Dexy’s and Orange Juice (the latter especially so on Ungrateful). And they have a hot ginger in their number. What’s not to like.
9 – Kate Bush – Director’s Cut
A frankly hasty six years after Aerial, La Bush released this album of reimaginings of tracks from The Sensual World and The Red Shoes. These were mostly sympathetic re-renderings of tracks from her two most overlooked albums – I say “mostly sympathetic”, as I’m still not totally at ease with the lashings of auto-tune on Deeper Understanding. Perhaps the most rewarding is the re-recording of the title track from The Sensual World, in which Kate essays an older, wiser, and infinitely more carnal, Molly Bloom.
8 – Patrick Wolf – Lupercalia
Patrick Wolf doesn’t do predictable, that much is plain. Having appeared to have embraced mainstream pop with 2007’s The Magic Position, he then collaborated with noise merchant Alec Empire on The Bachelor (Part One). Whether the follow-up to this was the intended Part Two, I’m not altogether sure, but it was markedly more accessible: dizzyingly joyous pop music from a man in love and, quite literally, having the time of his life.
7 – Anna Calvi – Anna Calvi
The opening track, Rider To The Sea, puts you in mind of nobody so much as Chris Isaak (and we shall return to the subject of David Lynch collaborators near the very end of this post). The rest of this album is parched and blackened, sung by a young woman who has had her heart broken until she’s numbed to many years beyond her age.
6 – John Maus – We Must Become The Pitiless Censors of Ourselves
Looking at the forbidding title, the listener might assume they were in for a bit of industrial hardcore along the lines of Nine Inch Nails or Add N to X. Not, as is the case here, a perfect simulacrum of what The Human League would have sounded like had they made an album between Travelogue and Dare. After all, this is John Maus, who once recorded a song whose lyrics were mainly a repeated mantra of “rights for gays, oh yeah”. He does his bit for feminism here for declaring “pussy is not a matter of fact”. It’s Maus’s obvious love for 1980s synthpop that saves this from being a purely intellectual exercise and makes it a warmly lovable record.
5 – Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes
2008’s Youth Novels had marked Lykke Li out as one to watch, but it was her sophomore record that confirmed her as one of the most exciting and painfully honest pop lyricists of today. Thirty years ago, everyone who had ever had their heart broken had Soft Cell’s Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret to latch on to. Now, they have this.
4 – Elbow – Build a rocket, boys!
This was the year in which Elbow veered dangerously close to National Treasure territory, with another acclaimed album, a sell-out tour and the kudos of composing the official song for the 2012 Olympics. None of which, fabulously, stops Guy Garvey from being the most unassuming pop star imaginable. This record doesn’t reach the giddy heights of The Seldom-Seen Kid – but then, as far as I was concerned, nothing else released in the whole of the 2000s did. It is, however, as warm and tender a record as you would expect from Elbow, a plea for tolerance and a reminder to remember one’s roots.
3 – Kate Bush – 50 Words for Snow
In which it was confirmed that Kate Bush albums really are like London buses, as her output over the last six years equalled that of the preceding twenty. Here, some said, was her Christmas album, although the C-word doesn’t appear once, and of course it’s about a weather phenomenon, not a time of year. More than that, it’s about Kate getting horny. Really horny. She has sexytime with snowmen, yeti, even Sir Elton John. The album as a whole is suffused with that muffled, interior acoustic quality that the snow lends to the world. Truly magical.
2 – Metronomy – The English Riviera
When Metronomy first appeared in 2008, with tracks such as Radio Ladio, I dismissed them as Klaxons wannabes. The ravey synths, the day-glo clothes, the funny haircuts. How things change. The Klaxons released a follow-up that left critics and the record-buying public non-plussed, from its Lolcats cover inwards, and even their Mercury Prize-winning debut doesn’t sound so great anymore. Meanwhile, Metronomy go and release this, just about as perfect a paean to romance and the seaside as anyone has recorded, or is ever likely to record. It would probably have won the Mercury, and would have definitely been my album of the year, had it not been for this…
1 – PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
I’ll be the first to admit, I didn’t really “get” PJ Harvey until this record came along. Now I’m wishing I’d got her sooner. A meditation on the futility of war (and the shameful coercing by the English of allied nations into our conflicts), an almost pathological examination of what it means to be English, and an attempt to reclaim notions of Englishness from the idiotic bigots of the BNP and the EDL, Let England Shake shows England to be shaken, but still standing, and at a crossroads. You can only hope that, on the advice relayed in this moving, compelling record, England chooses peace and tolerance.
That’s the albums, now how about the individual tracks. Here’s my Top 30:
30 – Holy Ghost! – Do It Again
29 – Dark Dark Dark – Bright Bright Bright
28 – Foster The People – Pumped Up Kicks (Chrome Canyons Mix)
27 – Arctic Monkeys – The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala
26 – Santogold and Karen O – Go
25 – Silvery – Two Halves of the Same Boy
24 – The Decemberists – Calamity Song
23 – Björk – Moon
22 – Those Dancing Days – Can’t Find Entrance
21 – Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
20 – Erland and the Carnival – Springtime
19 – Deerhoof – Behold a Marvel in the Darkness
18 – MEN – Credit Card Babie$
17 – Alex Turner – Piledriver Waltz
16 – Frankie and the Heartstrings – Hunger
15 – Elbow – Jesus is a Rochdale Girl
14 – Joan As Police Woman – Forever and a Year
13 – John Maus – Head for the Country
12 – Lady Gaga – Edge of Glory
11 – Guillemots – Walk the River
10 – Anna Calvi – Blackout
Darkness descends, the singer’s voice periodically like a siren warning of danger. But it’s too late. Because you’re already ensnared and enchanted.
9 – Kate Bush – 50 Words for Snow
In which Stephen Fry really does do as the Inuit do, giving us terms ranging from the poetically beautiful (“Blackbird braille”, “Hunter’s dream”) to the wonderfully nonsensical (“Icyskidski”, “Santanyeroofdikov”), La Bush egging him on from the sidelines all the time. And, just as it should, every word is perfectly evocative. Now excuse me, as I have to clear the fallop’njoompoola from my drive.
8 – Ladytron – Ace of Hz
Released to tie in with a best-of album, this rises above the usual status of obligatory-song-to-make-diehard-fans-buy-songs-they-already-have to be one of Ladytron’s best tracks. Delivers a sophisticated kick to the heartstrings.
7 – Hercules and Love Affair – Painted Eyes
Still partying like it’s 1989, and still doing so in the most exquisite fashion imaginable, here are Hercules and Love Affair with some of the most elegant string stabs ever laid down in pop music.
6 – Patrick Wolf – The City (Richard X Remix)
That joyousness I mentioned in the review of his album earlier? It’s encapsulated none more so than in this single, and none more so still than in this Richard X remix. May he and his partner William make sweet music for many years to come.
5 – PJ Harvey – The Words That Maketh Murder
What if she takes her problem to the United Nations?
4 – Metronomy – The Look
Those opening and closing few seconds of echoey, haunting, organ, like a thousand late summer evenings on that last day at the seaside before you have to go home, have to leave behind your romance with the seaside, with the person you found there. That.
3 – Nicola Roberts – Beat of My Drum
In which the 21st-century Cilla wipes the floor with the entirety of Cheryl Cole’s solo career to date in less than three minutes and is promptly rewarded with a chart placing barely inside the Top 30. Who said the world was fair?
2 – Lykke Li – Sadness is a Blessing
Continuing the Soft Cell analogy I started earlier, here’s this generation’s Say Hello, Wave Goodbye.
1 – Lana Del Rey – Video Games
And so we arrive at the top tune of 2011. Much has been written about Lana Del Rey. Is she is an artist working of her own free will, or a record company construct? Frankly, if she’s going to produce music like this, then who cares? She is Julee Cruise with better career prospects, the soundtrack to a David Lynch project that hasn’t yet happened but surely must. I can never get tired of hearing this, and I hope you never do either. Roll on 2012 and her album. Happy New Year until then.