Sunday, 3 July 2011

The Ten Best Albums of 2011 (so far)

It's halfway through the year, so the Bumper Book of Official Music Blog Rules tells that I have to turn my thoughts to the best albums of the year so far. In no particular order, here are my favourites from the first half of 2011:

The Antlers - Burst Apart

A real step up from their previous album (to my ears at least), this is an utterly entrancing album. Beautifully arranged, melodic, emotional and moving, it just gets better and better each time you hear it. Closing track 'Putting The Dog To Sleep' is, quite frankly, a masterpiece, and is the perfect end to an album which is sure to finish in many end of the year Top Tens.

Metronomy - The English Riviera

An album about, and inspired by, a childhood in Totnes (the English Riviera), that manages to sound like a record that belongs in the sunny and stylish French Riviera. An atmospheric and ultimately fun record, it mixes the sound of seagulls and end-of-the-pier organs with a human personality and a timelessness which ensures that this record won't go out of fashion. Undoubtedly Joe Mount's masterwork.

James Blake - James Blake

In contrast to the Metronomy record, this is an album that is completely and utterly current - in some ways it sounds brilliantly futuristic. Dubstep influences mix with soul and jazz vibes to create a sound that's completely compelling. The sparseness and gaps left within the music sometimes say more than the music itself. Every single sound and note here serves a purpose, and they've been layered up to provide a haunting experience. A proper 21st century soul record, one that redefines the genre in a fascinating and revolutionary way.

Rival Consoles - Kid Velo

Released on 27th June, this only just made it into the first half of the year, but due to the innovative marketing strategy some of the tracks have been around for a few months. The record label decided to set the tracks free, one a week, via different websites, to build a buzz around the record.  Putting the hype aside, this is the electronic album of the summer - like Daft Punk soundtracking an Atari videogame from the 80s, it's tinged with European electro vibes and is full of pretty huge tunes that could burst the airwaves apart.

Dominik Eulberg - Diorama

Talking of European electro, here's 'Diorama', the latest release from Dominik Eulberg, a German who combines his music career with a part-time job on a nature reserve and who also leads guided bird-walking tours. On this record he's selected the 11 natural wonders of the world and written a track for each of them. Musical influences range from 'Belfast'-era Orbital to German contemporary Pantha du Prince, and the result is an albums that's as much a homage to the early days of rave as it is to nature.

Gang Gang Dance - Eye Contact

The fifth album from these New Yorkers is a pretty stunning achievement. Immerse yourself in its widescreen, technicolor, 3D sound and you'll find a record that will constantly reward you with its intricacies. The album starts with a snatch of dialogue - 'I can hear everything, it's everything time' - and then pretty much lives up to that statement. This is never more true than with the opening track 'Glass Jar', which is 11 minutes long and is somehow reminiscent of Pink Floyd, Jean-Michel Jarre, The Art of Noise and The Orb, all at the same time.

Moon Duo - Mazes

The second album from this San Franciscan duo 'Mazes' was recorded in Berlin. But rather than produce the standard clichéd, grey and depressing album from this location the end result here is powerful, concise and ultimately uplifting. It's deceptively simple, but full of quite brilliant guitar work from Ripley Johnson (who also plays in Wooden Shjips). In some ways the guitar is telling the story more than the vocals, the solos are so expressive and never lose their way as the songs progress. This is lo-fi surf-psych-rock of the highest order.

King Creosote & Jon Hopkins - Diamond Mine

A two year gestation period gave birth to this rather lovely album. Beautifully layered, it combines acoustic folk songs with electronics, ambient noise and effects, resulting in something that transcends both genres. Fragile Scottish vocals are mixed with crystal clear music and sounds, creating a record that works perfectly at any time of night or day, and in any location. As the title suggests, they've dug deep - and in the process have discovered a gem.

Crewdson - Gravity

Another recent release, the first full length release from Huw 'Crewdson' Jones is a great mixture of choppy beats, occasional slices of funk, and some unexpected jazz stylings. It's an organic mix of home-made sounds (no samples of anyone else's work here) that come together in a hot soup of cool music. If Caribou bumped into Mount Kimbie, they spent the evening together, and ended up in a jazz club recording an album, it would probably sound like this.

Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat - Everything's Getting Older

Wells & Moggat have spent the past 8 years on and off creating this album, and it was well worth the effort. The music is exquisite, beautifully played and produced, with hints of jazz and rhythmic stabs. The vocals range from softly sung words to spoken diatribes. Never less than honest, at times brutally so, and liberally sprinkled with swear words, Moffat's lyrics wear their heart on their tattered sleeve for all to see. Probably the best album about birth, life, love and death that you'll ever hear.

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