I’ve been thinking about my favourite albums and singles of the year since I was asked to submit my list to Peenko for the annual Scottish Bloggers and Music Sites Awards they do. In case you don’t know, Peenko asks all the active bloggers and music writers they know to submit a list of three albums and that’s compiled through averages and whatnot until they get a consensus from all the bloggers. I was going to hold this post back a few days, but since everyone else has fired the starting gun on their end-of-year lists, it can’t hurt to saturate some more.
Anyway. This, is my thirteen favourite albums of 2011. I tried to get to ten, then went beyond. So I’m thinking outside the box, outside the limit, off the hook. I haven’t mentioned a particular favourite on purpose because it would defeat the point, comparing the artists on would be apples & oranges. In chronological order, then, here goes:
Adele – 21
Gorgeous, simplistic and soulful, 21 was probably the mega-album of this year, but it was deserved. Essentially borne on the momentum of two televised performances – here on Later With Jools Holland and here at the Brit Awards – 21 has a more mature, melancholy sound to 19, but it exhibits a fully evolved, determined singer who proposes an antidote to the swarms of autotuned Europop derivatives we’ve seen labelled as ‘pop’ this year.
Yuck – Yuck
Built from the wreckage of Cajun Dance Party, Yuck is a twee take on noise rock; crunchy guitar riffs swim alongside softer vocals and shoegaze sweetness is dyed with red-raw rock sympathies. The album’s highlight, median track Georgia, is one of the best songs I’ve heard this year.
The Douglas Firs – Happy As A Windless Flag
I was pretty psyched to hear this album when it came out, and I was super pleased with what greeted my ears. The Douglas Firs’ debut is the culmination of seven years work by their frontman Neil Insch, and on it he doesn’t just give us a collection of songs but creates an audio landscape that takes your breath away. As a single piece of music, it is perfect.
Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
Beautiful melodies and enigmatic lyrics, Helplessness Blues builds on what Fleet Foxes achieved with their debut and goes further into new territory. The lyrics and use of acoustic guitar on Sim Sala Bim and Helplessness Blues are sublime, and the record just seems to drip with harmony and honey; if you’ve listened as many times as I have, you’ll be sympathetic about my desire to live in Innisfree.
Bon Iver – Bon Iver
If nothing else, 2011 was an excellent year for artwork. My favourite cover piece is probably Bon Iver’s even if I haven’t a clue behind the symbolism of it. Anyway, this second outing from Bon Iver (which means ‘good winter’ in French!) is gorgeous, exploiting new directions whilst retaining the mellow core that made everybody fall for For Emma.
King Post Kitsch – The Party’s Over
A brilliant, blazing solo debut from King Post Kitsch. It grabs you, chokes you and then asks you to think a while on the meaning of that altercation. I was hooked from the start; if you need any proof of my fandom, come around for a cup of tea and I’ll show you the Don’t Touch My Fucking Honeytone 7” I bought rather sheepishly from the Song, by Toad stand at the Teviot Zine Fair.
Hot Club de Paris – Free The Pterodactyl 3
I struggled with whether to include this record, because I already like the band so much that my opinion might be considered too biased. However, any music writing is inherently subjective so it’s allowed in. It’s great. Progress on their last two records, and some really excellent tracks that, like most things Hot Club do, slow-burn on your mind until you decide you really like it.
The Son(s) – The Son(s)
Inhabiting a mysterious rock/folk world, The Son(s) didn’t really sound like anything else I heard this year. In the best way I could ever possibly mean that sentence, another fishhook record that runs off with your ears.
Edinburgh School for the Deaf – New Youth Bible
I’ve been intensely interested in Edinburgh School for the Deaf, ever since I saw them perform a very loud set in the Grassmarket at Easter. And if the government wants to shut them down they must be good. Opening like a torpedo attack in the dead of night, the opening riff of New Youth Bible is a guitar-screamed battlecry, and although the pace subsides to allow less wildcat tracks to take centre-stage, the quality stays with you for the whole 37.3 minutes of ESD’s first album.
Battle Avenue – War Paint
Larynx-straining vox and ear-drum straining guitar – War Paint is an excellent rock album. It includes some brilliant climactic tracks, and in particular the drop on Dark Horse/Light Horse sends shivers down my skin every time that howling stuka distortion slams into my speakers.
Laura Marling – A Creature I Don’t Know
Laura Marling is probably my favourite artist of the last three years, let alone 2011. Everything she’s produced I have swallowed up without exception, and Creature is an awesome example of her best work. The influences of Americana and blues shine through brighter than on previous albums, and tracks like Sophia are easily among her best.
The Stormy Seas – Of Rust And Loss
A maelstrom of folk, The Stormy Seas’ debut sails upon emotive waves of discontent. It’s beautiful and homely and lovely – innovating in a different way to Marling (above) – but losing none of the potency, and sailing upon the crest of the UK’s current folk revival.
Rob St John – Weald
Last but by no means least. Weald is wild at heart; listen to it as you watch the rain or are thrown about by the wind. It’s utterly compelling, you’re drawn to the heart of the album in Stainforth Force like water drawn over the edge of the waterfall the song is named for. And the highs of Sargasso Sea still hold me like the greatest of drugs. I don’t need narcotics when I have guitars to listen to.