Seven Great Records of 2011

Started thinking about this a few weeks ago and I realised it’s been a really strong year for new releases – I could’ve named twenty albums very easily. On top of that I’ve recently picked up on a couple of records from this year in the last couple of weeks – the Wilco and Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat – ones both of which I’m pretty sure would’ve been on this list if I knew them a little better…

So …

Seven Great Records of 2011

Bad As Me – Tom Waits

Had a real binge on Tom Waits last year and consequently hadn’t spent a lot of time on him this year until this came out. A real stormer in the Real Gone tradition rather than Alice – lots of rough and ready, Beefheartian rumbles and a motor that still runs pretty well after all these years.

High Points:Chicago; Bad as Me; Raised Right Men

It’s bravest to stay,

Even braver to go,

Wherever she goes, I go.

Everything will be better in Chicago

Slave Ambient – War on Drugs

This is an interesting record in that it’s got a number of immediate first appearances that I’m not keen on (not a huge fan of Dylan, not a huge fan of Springsteen) and yet I can’t leave it alone. Some beautiful melodies, some surging synth atmospherics and some wonderful Byrds-y guitar work. Above all it’s a record characterised by some really engaging lyrics that drift, unhurried, through the songs as they unfold. Lovely rich stuff.


High Points
: Your Love is Calling My Name; Best Night; Brothers; I Was There

I was there catching air
Thought I had him by the hand
Only had him by the glove

D – White Denim

I come from a generation for whom the word “virtuosity” was considered a bit of a slap in the face, not something you aspired to, or at the very least concealed with some care. Although hardly new, it’s still pretty refreshing to find a band wearing their technical expertise proudly on their sleeve, not to say flaunting it a lot of the time. These fellers can all play, not just the guitars but the bass and drums are all interesting listens. Bracing, stimulating, invigorating – all in large dollops!


High Points
: Burnished/Back at the Farm; Street Joy; Anvil Everything

Crossed an ocean,

Faced a fear…

Gentle Spirit – Jonathan Wilson

I’ve already used “unhurried”, haven’t I, I’ll go for “leisurely”, then, as my go-to word for Gentle Spirit. I don’t get the impression Jonathon Wilson does any hurrying, and a quick scurry to Wikipedia to discover that this gorgeous folk gem took four years to put together doesn’t really surprise me at all. A beautiful, sun-blistered collection of leisurely, folky songs from another age. Not come across anyone unmoved by it…

High Points: Desert Raven; Can We Really Party today?; Valley of the Silver Moon

When my word’s come out

It’s like oil and water,

Separation, no reaction

Writing you now from the valley of the silver moon

Last of the Country Gentlemen – Josh T Pearson

A record that I bought before I went to Green Man, but which I didn’t really get into at the time. The last few weeks though, it’s really grabbed me by the throat. A huge contrast to the Jonathon Wilson record, unremittingly miserable and bitter (but in a good way) and really (really) intense. His deft guitar playing lightens the mood a little and is occasionally supplemented with heart-breaking violin. I love the way the songs are shapeless explorations (“ramblings” you could say, four of them running past the 10 minute mark) that come to a natural conclusion in their own sweet time. Phew!

High Points: Country Dumb; Woman When I’ve Raised Hell; Thou Art Loosed

Don’t make me rule this home with the back of my hand
Just let me sit alone in this chair, my own make believe little throne

 

The King is Dead – The Decemberists

I think I said last night, that I’ve rediscovered Colin Melloy and the Decemberists, courtesy of this record and the evening at the Academy. Really didn’t like The Hazards of Love (sounded like Queen to me), but the new record is a strong, strong come back from there. It’s a return to simpler songs and more understated canvases on which to tell his stories. I reckon the difference between this album and some of the earlier (great) ones is that the rest of the Decemberists have (been allowed to) come of age here and make tangible, intelligent contributions to what is a rich, quality record.

High Points: This Is Why We Fight; Rise to Me; Rox in the Box

And when we die,

We will die,

With our arms unbound

Zeroes QC – Suuns

I realise that I love this record beyond reasoned argument and get the feeling that it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the other records here in anyone else’s ears. Maybe one day, when the brouhaha has all died down, I’ll give this a listen and wonder what the fever was all about. But now, right now, from the first dull thud of the drum and the stylophone meanderings that introduce Armed for Peace, to the last heady drones and squeaks that complete Organ Blues, I just love this record. Damnit, why am I so bloody old!

High Points: Pie IX; Up Past the Nursery; PVC; Arena

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