Albums of the Year 2011: 20-11

I’ll be the first to admit that this isn’t a proper blog. After all, I’m not sure I’ve published more than five original (that haven’t been published elsewhere) posts this year. But I always make time to do an end of year list. This year’s is probably my favourite to date. It’s been a fantastic year, full of cracking albums. Usually it’s a struggle to find twenty records I’ve loved. This year, I could’ve named thirty, or forty. Enjoy my list, please leave your own favourites and recommendations in the comments box.

20. Youth Lagoon – The Year of Hibernation

I was introduced to Perfume Genius late last year and instantly fell for his fragile-as-eggshell melodies, emotionally brazen lyrics and lower-than-fi production. This year, Youth Lagoon has filled the vacuum in my eardrums left by Perfume Genius. The Year of Hibernation is a beautiful, gentle album. Trevor Powers’ voice crackles as the tape hisses across ten near perfect pop songs. In parts, it’s (slightly) more buoyant than Perfume Genius, though. It’s nostalgic, yes, but looks to the past through spectacles a tad rosier than some of its peers.


19. Nicolas Jaar – Space Is Only Noise

I was living in a tiny, one bedroom apartment in Korea when this album came out. I remember firing it up to eleven, and lying on my bed, before eventually dozing off. I woke up confused and disorientated. The record had sent me into some of the strangest dreams I ever recall happening, inhabited by Jaar’s samples and narrated by the deep, gravelly voices that appear on the album. Space Is Only Noise is powerful, inventive and innovative. That its author had only just reached 21 when it was released helps this album become even more extraordinary.


18. Loch Lomond – Little Me Will Start A Storm

“Lots of albums pack an at-face-value emotional punch, and for obvious reasons (Antlers’ Hospice being a great example). But it’s less frequent that they come so stealthily loaded, the mood woven gently into pop songs. In that respect, Little Me… evokes The Rhumb Line by Ra Ra Riot, amongst others: the preservation of memory, the articulation of emotion synthesised sweetly, euphonically, gracefully… perfectly.”

Full album review here


17. Beirut – The Rip Tide

While it’s always nice to see an artist as explorative as Zach Condon, I worried for a while between the second album and this one that he’d lost his way slightly. Would he ever return with a consistently excellent long player, which had, well, songs and that? The Rip Tide is an emphatic “yes”. It’s his best record since Gulag Orkestar and boasts some of the finest songs he’s ever written.


16. Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat – Everything’s Getting Older

If the cherry atop the latter half of the year in Scottish music was Arab Strap’s one-night-only reunion at Sleazy’s, then one of the highlights of the first was this staunchly miserable affair. Aidan Moffat told us that his post-Arab Strap days haven’t given him reason to be cheerful, but nor have they blunted his razor sharp lyricism. Multi-instrumentalist Bill Wells provided deft, often lovely musical backing on an album that gets better with every listen.


15. Lanterns on the Lake – Gracious Tide Take Me Home

This is the album I’ve heard latest this year that’s made it onto the list. I heard it in November and wasn’t initially too taken by it. Noticing it creeping up on a few end of year lists, I revisited it and was utterly charmed. An album out of Tyneside that’s as sonorous and sweeping as the best of Sigur Ros, complete with the best male-female shared vocals since Lanegan and Campbell.


14. The Antlers – Burst Apart

Their first album, Hospice, blew me apart, even if it took me the best part of a year to get into. Burst Apart isn’t as stark, nor is it as obviously bleak. It is still, however, a fine album, and packs a significant emotional punch. ‘Putting The Dog To Sleep’, as a case in point, is particularly vitriolic. But whereas Peter Silberman would have whimpered the lyrics on Hospice, he’s almost defiant here when he sings: “Prove to me, I’m not gonna die alone”. I’m fairly sure The Antlers are the most interesting and exciting of all the Brooklyn bands right now.


13. Rob St. John – Weald

I first heard Rob St. John through a cd with his name scrawled on it in messy handwriting, passed to me at a party about five years ago. The two tracks were sparse, but powerful. There was nothing on it, however, that suggested he had an album like this in him. Weald reminds me a lot of David Thomas Broughton’s first album – particularly in the inventiveness of his guitar work. Naturally, then, it’s not a happy album (there are few of those in my collection), but it’s one of the most positive musical developments I’ve heard this year.


12. James Blake – James Blake

Twelve months ago, I bemoaned the lack of variety on my end of year list. As an annual rule, men with beards and guitars would populate it. They’re still here, but I like to think they’re keeping more eclectic company these days. I didn’t give James Blake a chance for a long while, mainly because the word “dubstep” was usually in close proximity to his name. I’m a professed musical snob and shamefully sidestep whole genres, often to my own aural detriment. Blake isn’t one to be pigeon holed though. There are some beautiful tracks on here, many of which are more structured on vocal gymnastics than tinny beats.


11. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

“Parts of the album – thematical and conceptual – have been in Gonzalez’s head since he was a child. When recording, he seems to have taken his foot off the brakes of adulthood and let his sense of wonder run wild. “I had a lot of crazy dreams when I was a kid,” he said at the time, smiling. Not many artists do regression as stylishly as this.”

Full album review here

Interview with Anthony Gonzalez here

Numbers 10-1 will be available tomorrow


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