Friday, 16 December 2011

My 50 best albums of 2011 part 5: 1 - 10

1. James Blake - James Blake

Ranging from simple piano and vocals through to heavily treated keyboards, glitchy electronics & vocoders, this might be a step away from Blake's dubstep roots, but it's definitely a step in the right direction. A record that I haven't tired off since it was released back in February, at times it's bewitchingly simple - the sparseness & gaps (at times reminiscent of latter Talk Talk) are as important as the music that's actually played. Blake has created a proper 21st century soul record, one that redefines the genre in a fascinating & revolutionary way.

2. Big Deal - Lights Out

From the best of this year's new crop of duos comes an album that instantly drags you into their fragile world, where guitars and vocals are the only things that matter - there's no room for anything percussive on the records, which adds to the stoned beauty of the thing. Equally there's no lead vocalist as singing duties are shared throughout. Great lyrics, an intense atmosphere, and a thoroughly brilliant debut album.

3. Metronomy - The English Riviera

It's quite achievement to make an album about, and inspired by, a childhood in Totnes (the English Riviera) sound like a record that belongs in the sunny & stylish French Riviera, but this is what Joe Mount and his band have accomplished. The sound of seagulls mixes with end of the pier organ in record with a real personality and a sense of fun. It sounds a bit 70s, a bit 80s, and also current, in a way that isn't likely to go out of fashion any time soon.

4. Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat - Everything's Getting Older

Bill & Aidan have spent the last 8 years on and off working on this album, and it was well worth the effort. The music is exquisite, beautifully played and produced, while 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.Possibly the best album about birth, life, love and death that you'll ever hear.

5. Dominik Eulberg - Diorama

An album inspired by the natural wonders of the world, with influences ranging from 'Belfast'-era Orbital to last year's Pantha du Prince album. Hedonistic, ravey tracks mix with more downtempo numbers, all with lush melodies and hooks that stick in your brain. The album overall is as much a homage to the early days of rave as it is to the glory of natures - both were full of wonders, although some were more chemically induced than others!

6. Gang Gang Dance - Eye Contact

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, there really is everything in here. Just take the opening track - at 11 minutes long, it's somehow reminiscent of Pink Floyd, Jean-Michel Jarre, the Art of Noise & The Orb all at the same time. Immerse yourself in it's widescreen, technicolor sound and it will reward you with its inticacies.

7. The Antlers - Burst Apart

A magnificent follow-up to 'Hospice' - a fuller sound, (slightly) happier songs, and the sound of a band letting themselves loosen up a bit and experiment with what they're doing. From the opener 'I Don't Want Love', to the closing track (and my favourite) 'Putting The Dog To Sleep' this is a mature, sophisticated and satisfying record, full of emotion, that may well make your heart burst apart.

8. Bon Iver - Bon Iver

Another album that's a step forward from its predecessor, the self-titled 'Bon Iver' is melancholic but warm, introspective but not self-obsessed, and with a broader sound than the folkier first album. 'Perth' is the jewel in the crown, but every track here rewards repeated listening. It's a bit of a 'love it or hate it' album, especially the Bruce Horsnsby-like closer, but I still like it more every time I hear it.

9. King Creosote & Jon Hopkins - Diamond Mine

A 2 year gestation period gave birth to this beautifully haunting album. Carefully layered, it combines acoustic folk songs with electronics, ambient sounds and effects, resulting in something that transcends both genres. Fragile Scottish vocals are mixed with crystal clear music & 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 & discovered a gem.

10. Lanterns On The Lake - Gracious Tide, Take Me Home

I was blown away by Lanterns when I discovered them playing in a church at SXSW while I was waiting to see John Grant. The album lives up to the live show, displaying influences from Sigur Ros to Mazzy Star, but none of these get in the way of the spirit of the music. Atmospheric and moving, with swooping guitars and violins, it's beautifully crafted and easily the best album Bella Union have pit out this year.

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