Friday, 30 December 2011

Albums Of The Year 2011 - 50 to 25

50 - Jonny - Jonny
This was the debut album from Teenage Fanclub's Norman Blake and Gorky's Zycotic Mynci's Euros Childs. As well as wonderful tracks such as Candyfloss and The Goodnight, the album was sadly let down by silliness such as 'Cave Dance' and the ridiculous 'Waiting Around For You'. Without such unnecessary eccentricities this album would have featured a lot further up the list...

49 - Frankie and The Heartstrings - Hunger
"So definitely not deserving of some of the hype, but a likeable enough album of fun, inoffensive and slighly nerdy indie pop. 'Photograph', 'Ungrateful, 'Hunger' and 'Want You Back' are definitely the stand out moments on an album filled with way too many moments that come across as a bit half arsed and rather lightweight."

48 - REM - Collapse Into Now
"The eclectic choice of songs is one of the record's strengths, however their sense of quality control seems to desert them in places, when they could easily have spent more time working on the choruses, and maybe putting the weaker songs away and waiting for better ones to come along. but when 'Collapse Into Now' is good, it produces some incredible music. But those magic moments don't come often enough on an album suffering from major inconsistency.... REM need to learn that recapturing your former glory relies on a lot more than just trying to sound like you did 20 years ago. It also involves making sure that the songwriting is up to the same standards, if not higher."

47 - The Strokes - Angles
" There are times when 'Angles' sticks to the old formula and pulls it off very well (Under Cover Of Darkness), and times when attempting new things works brilliantly (You're So Right). And when they add new elements to well crafted songs (Taken For A Fool, Macchu Picchu) the results are fantastic. But when they attempt to spruce up dull and unmemorable songs with new and unusual arrangements, it can't hide the fact that they could've tried a lot better. The fact is if The Strokes were making songs like this when they first formed, they certainly wouldn't have gained any attention from the music press or the public. Luckily back then they had plenty of great songs, an uber-cool sound and a real knack for writing catchy tunes, and thus they became one of the defining bands of the 2000's. Now ten years on from their debut, apart from on the 4 very good tracks here, they sound tired and completely uninterested in the music they're making."

46 - The Crookes - Chasing After Ghosts
"The Crookes debut album is a rather pleasant old fashioned indie rock album that doesn't create too much excitement or adoration. They do very well on 'Chorus Of Fools' and 'Just Like Dreamers', which both showcase lively Smiths-esque guitar work and charming melodies, and then there's the brilliant 'Bloodshot Days', full of jangly guitars and boasting the brightest tune on the album. However the album demonstrates a lack of diversity, and sticking with the singer's voice for a whole album does become a chore. It's a nice enough album of nice songs, but with about four memorable tracks that rise above everything else here. So a patchy debut, but still a promising band."

45 - Mirrors - Lights and Offerings
"So in age where guitar music is supposedly out of vogue, many bands have turned to playing the electro card... at times groups resurrect that 80's sound and compliment it very well with fresh new sounds, or combining it with more traditional alternative rock influences as in the case of White Lies. But unlike White Lies, you won't be hearing any huge bursts of guitar from Mirrors, what they specialise in is smart emotional electro pop. Possibly the finest example of their craft is the superb closing track 'Secrets', where they take their stylistic strengths and take it to great heights, and at over 10 minutes a great length. But the epic deserves every one of those minutes, as it breaks down into a bed of dreamy synth ambience, before the rhythms reappears and brings the record to a satisfying close. And if they can come up with more moments like this, we could see some truly great albums from Mirrors in the future."

44 - My Morning Jacket - Circuital
The first My Morning Jacket album that I've really investigated, this album was a most pleasing listen. Heartfelt vocals, earworm melodies and of course that excellent single 'Holding Onto Black Metal'. This is another album I somehow didn't find time to review, but in hindsight this one was surely worthy of a write up....

43 - Little Barrie - King Of The Waves
"The press release for this album describes it as "an album for anyone who likes the idea of Link Wray meeting The Creation in Detroit with the MC5 and Motown in residence", and I think thas's a pretty fair summary, although I reckon it sounds more like Primal Scream making a surf guitar record. Perhaps a few tracks too long, and with just a tiny bit of filler. But in generally 'King Of The Waves' is a great, no-nonsense piece of work."

42 - Steve Cradock - Peace City West
"'Peace City West' is the second solo album from the Ocean Colour Scene man and Paul Weller guitarist, and it's fair to say this set of songs is pretty much what I expected. Which in the case of retro man Cradock is not a bad thing. Overall the record is largely more acoustic than the mod-rock his band specialise in, and flourishes of psychedelica touch the album's sound. There's no doubting Steve Cradock's solo work is different to his band's, but perhaps the best of these songs are the ones that sound most like Ocean Colour Scene. Despite a few duff moments, 'Peace City West' is well worth a listen."

41 - Gruff Rhys - Hotel Shampoo 
"Definitely not a perfect album, although it starts and ends brilliantly. Neither is it an album that really treads new ground or breaks boundaries, but at times it manages to make some very odd sounds into perfectly accessible almost traditional songs, and the more straight forward moments sound very well written indeed. Except for tracks 6,7,8 and 9, which represent a big sag right in the middle of this album. They're not even really bad songs, they just sound rubbish compared to the rest of this album. I have a skip button on my CD player and I'm prepared to use it, because when the songs are good they're more than worth a listen..... Looking forward to the Super Furry Animals returning at some point, but until then this'll do just nicely."

40 - White Denim - D
Another album that for one reason or another I didn't get round to reviewing upon its release. 'D' was a colourfully bizarre album full of interesting rhythms, instinctive time changes and some brilliant percussion. Opener 'It's Him' and the single 'Is And Is And Is' provided the undoubted highlights.

39 - Stephen Malkmus And The Jicks - Mirror Traffic
"'Mirror Traffic' is the fifth album from Stephen Malkmus' current outfit The Jicks, and after years of gradually moving away from the old Pavement sound, here Malkmus returns to it in a way that will doubtless please fans of his old group. Beck's production is both suitable and audiably evident, in fact 'No One Is (As I Are Be)' brings up memories of Beck's more acoustic material. Elsewhere there's the dreamy haze of instrumental 'Jumblegloss', the humble beauty of 'Asking Price' ad the no-nonsense rock n roll fun of 'Tune Grief', which has an enjoyably mad grunge-punk bite. It's an enjoyable listen although at 15 tracks it does overrun a bit, and certainly isn't completely filler-free. But fans of Malkmus' solo work and especially Pavement will be pleased with this return to stylistic roots."

38 - The King Blues - Punk And Poetry
 "These songs are definitely a soundtrack of the times, the sort of sound you'd expect to come from a country in crisis being run by a clueless coalition government at odds with each other. This album would in most cases satisfy some of the disgruntled members of the British public who have took parts in the protests/riots of these last few years, or in fact anyone with a rebellious streak. A lack of energy certainly isn't present on the roaring 'We Are Fucking Angry', which spits out Subhumans-esque lyrics to thrashing guitars, a filthy bassline and a thumping dancehall rhythm. 'Set The World On Fire Again' is like a 21st century continuation of what The Clash did, and has an anthemic chorus that will stick in your head as soon as you hear it. 'I Want You' and 'Headbutt' both lean towards American pop-punk, and are the most lightweight songs on the album. But they do the more mainstream aspects of punk very well on 'Does Anybody Care About Us', which has a huge air-punching chorus and sounds a bit like Bad Religion or The Living End's later material. This album does have its weak moments, like when it tries to be a bit too pop-punk. But when they're firing out blistering ragga punk anthems and discontented ska, they impress very much."

37 - Pete And The Pirates - One Thousand Pictures
The debut from Pete And The Pirates was patchy but mostly very pleasing. Full of lovely indie guitars and yearning choruses, 'Cold Black Kitty' and 'Washing Powder' were the stand out moments, while elsewhere they proved that perhaps their best was yet to come. A promising album rather than a great one.

36 - Death In Vegas - Trans Love Energies
"Overall 'Trans Love Energies' is a fairly cohesive album that seems to have a dark sexual thread running through it. It's certainly as wildly eclectic as 'Scorpio Rising', but it makes for a record that has more of a direction and more of a defined idea of where it wants to be. While the album starts in a rather dark fashion this mood reaches a peak with the pleasing highlight 'Witchdance'. And what follows it seems to approach the light at the end of the tunnel. Definitely an album that takes a while to sink in, but overall 'Trans Love Energies' is a rewarding and inspired listen."

35 - Low - C'Mon
"This album is without a doubt a night time album, a fact which is made even clearer by opening track 'Try To Sleep', a sparkling lullaby that eases you in to the album, and the wonderful 'Nightingale', featuring some quiet dusky electric guitar that creates a beautiful atmosphere. Then there's the slow, gentle pound of 'Majesty/Magic' which soon builds into a wall of choral harmonies and crashing drums, and then there's the album highlight, closer 'Somethings Turning Over' where the playful strumming of the verses recalls Teenage Fanclub, with the chorus echoing Neil Yong's 'Harvest Moon'. Overall this record is a treat when it comes to a darkly lit room and some good headphones."

34 - Coldplay - Mylo Xyloto
"For the majority of this album it's bright, full of positivity and splashed with wonderful bursts of colour, proving that Coldplay are far from the boring balladeers many cynics accuse them of being. Even when it's at its worst it's certainly never unpleasant, and even the two weakest tracks are proper earworms that have annoyingly catchy qualities. Brian Eno has definitely helped bring out the best in this band, as their greatest strengths are applied to the music in a fresh and effective way. OK, it's hardly a groundbreaking album but it does set a nice balance between trying out new things and feeling comfortable with the best aspects of their sound. There's people that love Coldplay and there's people whose tastes are offended by their very existence, but this album makes it clear that this band aren't about to fade away anytime soon. Like it or not they will be top of their tree for a long time to come."

33 - Puressence - Solid State Recital
Another album that I didn't get around to reviewing. In fact it took me three months to realise 'Solid State Recital' was even out there, such is the poor quality of coverage given to decent music nowadays in the press and of course on the radio. The first material from this band that I had heard in well over a decade, and on the evidence of the stunning 'Burma' this was a most welcome return. Sweeping, emotional and grand indie epics.

32 - Airship - Stuck In This Ocean
"Airship's music does audiably display a number of varied influences. However the group's subtle way of blending these influences makes sure the Airship sound is interesting and unique. Of course this album isn't absolutely perfect: one or two of the choruses don't quite match their sky high ambitions and there are a few moments where you wish they didn't sound so miserable. But when Airship get it right (which they often do) this misery makes for some beautifully heartfelt music."

31 -  Wire - Red Barked Tree 
"How this group manage to sound so fresh and completely in tune with 2011 is incredible, since they formed back in 1976 and have a career spanning 34 years. And here it's the final two tracks that reveal this record to be a stunning piece of work: 'Down To This' and the title track 'Red Barked Tree' are both dark (but with major glints of light), hypnotic, filled with very pleasurable sounds and once again home to simple but very addictive melodies. The guitar work on both these tracks is just beautiful, the production is absolutely perfect, and songs like this demonstrate why Wire are just as innovative and essential today as the many bands that their work has inspired. 'Red Barked Tree' is fantastic to listen to and deserves many many plays. Go and get it."

30 - S.C.U.M - Again Into Eyes
When I first heard of this band it was in an article that drew jmany comparisons with The Horrors. And it isn't hard to see why: there's the sky-high synth explosions, the dark and spaced-out euphoria, the Simple Minds and Psychedelic Furs influences and also to top it off one of S.C.U.M is a brother of one of The Horrors. And the finest moment? The final track 'Whitechapel', which can become increasingly addictive with every listen...

29 - Beastie Boys - Hot Sauce Committee Part 2
"This record had been delayed for the last couple of years while Adam 'MCA' Yauch was treated for cancer, and during that time the album has been reworked and released as 'Hot Sauce Committee Part 2'. In terms of sound, this record is a welcome return to their early 90's sound, songs with funk basslines, heavy guitars as well as hard hitting hip hop beats.  'HSC2' is a brilliant album, and surely the best hip hop album of the last 15 years. It's fun, experimental, crazy and it is essentially the sound of three aging New Yorkers showing everyone how good hip hop can still be when it's made by the right people and not the usual macho wannabe gangster idiots you find in the world of hip hop these days."

28 - Roddy Woomble - The Impossible Song And Other Songs
"For those who don't know, Roddy Woomble is the singer in British indie-rock greats Idlewild. As the band's sound has gradually moved from thrash grunge to acoustic warmth, Woomble's solo material has reached even more folkier climates. This record is a cozy collection of songs, driven by collaborations with folk musicians from Woomble's new home of Mull. 'The Impossible Song And Other Songs' is by no means perfect, in fact at times it can be a bit too comfortable and is possibly a couple of tracks too long. But give most of these songs a chance and they will open themselves up and become well loved."

27 - Half Man Half Biscuit - 90 Bisodol (Crimond)
"Unlike a lot of bands Half Man Half Biscuit don't have to cope with certain pressures and expectations. They don't have to worry if their latest album doesn't climb up the charts because they've hardly ever featured in them anyway, and they certainly don't care if their songs don't get played on the radio, since daytime playlist compilers don't take kindly to songs entitled things like 'Joy Division Oven Gloves' and 'Deep House Victims Minibus Appeal'. So it's business as usual in 2011 as they release their 12th album '90 Bisodol (Crimond)', which is as always a barrel of laughs, peppered with grim humour, catchy melodies and an epic amount of pisstaking. If you buy this record you'll not only have a laugh but also encounter a collection of catchy singalongs that may pop up in your head from time to time. Overall this an album that leaves you feeling glad that HMHB haven't changed their ways."

26 - Metronomy - The English Riviera
Out of all the albums nominated for this years Mercury Music Prize, this one and Elbow's 'Build A Rocket Boys' were the most worthy of contenders. Here Metronomy's sound matured and expanded, producing an album of mostly very chilled out electro-indie pop magic. Singles 'The Look' and 'The Bay' were infectious radio hits and 'everything Goes My Way' was a smart slice of female fronted sophisti-pop.

25 -  White Lies - 'Ritual'
"'Ritual' is the second album from White Lies, and if you're after some sleek electro-fuelled indie rock then this is definitely one for you.  'Bigger Than Love' and 'Streetlight' boast some mouth wateringly perfect synth sounds as well as great tunes to back them up. But as well as the perfect synths the guitars are sounding brilliant too. After the awesome 'Holy Ghost' (possibly my favorite White Lies track) the remaining four track do slow the album down a bit and admittedly do take a lot more plays to grow than the first part of the album, but after a few listens they reveal themselves to also be great songs, especially 'The Power And The Glory' which reminds me of LCD Soundsystem, Bowie, Gary Numan, Joy Division and (weirdly) Kate Bush's 'Running up The Hill' thrown into a blender. A strong album definitely worth checking out."

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