Yes folks it’s that time of year again where people huddle in darkened corners to make lists of the things they have been listening to during the year in an effort to remind you of the cool things you may have missed. Last year I did something like this but was a bit more specific and did radio shows on best gig, best act, best album etc – but I only had one show then so I was limited on what I could ram down your ears during the last few weeks of the year.
This year – with a little more air time available – I thought I would concentrate on albums for this show – so for this week and the next three in the run up to Christmas I am playing a track each from what I and a select bunch of chums (Fall Fans and DJs mostly) feel have been the best releases in the long form format during in 2011. This proved exceedingly difficult of course in that people are troublesome types and when you ask them to list their five favourite albums of the year they deliver lists which numerically vary between 0 and 30 odd albums. So I have to use my judgement and skill (don’t laugh) to get down to around 50 albums which at least made us smile amongst all of the Elbow/Muse/Coldplay clones out there in the wide and wacky world of rock and roll.
The criteria for getting on the list is that it must be a full album, not a re-release and have been released during 2011.
You are not going to see a great number of local bands in this list as they will be dealt with in a “review of the year” run of shows on Salford Music Scene.
So the first batch – in no particular order – as nominated are:
PJ Harvey – The Last Living Rose – Let England Shake (February) – I have to admit to initially being a bit disappointed with this after the magic of “White Chalk”, however it holds up well ten months later and at least she is back to her best on the words side of things after the dip in quality on the last album with John Parrish. This is probably her most political album to date and reflects the state of the nation quite effectively. There are one or two Polly Jean classics on here and the stripped down sound suits her best. Begs the question mind you where she goes next with her music.
Dave Graney – I’m Gonna Release Your Soul – Rock ‘n’ Roll Is Where I Hide (April) — an abiding obsession for me, wherein the high priest of coolness reinvents a number of tunes from his back catalogue. The album was recorded at Soundpark in Melbourne by Graney and the Lurid Yellow Mist and mixed by Victor Van Vugt in New York. It was released with Graney’s second book, 1001 Australian Nights, by Affirm Press, which concentrates on his life as an artist and performer, which I must track down and read – not had the time. The excellent track featured is actually an old Coral Snakes number from 1994 which was released on the “You Wanna Be There But You Don’t Wanna Travel” album (also on The Baddest compilation).
Ryan Adams – Chains of Love – Ashes and Fire (October) – back to his very best after a long lay-off. Incredibly laid back and a little less angry than he has been previously. Some commentators likened it to Bob Dylan in the 1970s which I think is a little lame frankly. This is an artist who, after many years of mis-direction, appears to have found his inner voice and how to express it coherently and cogently.
Earth – Old Black – Angels and Darkness, Demons of Light Volume 1 (February) – Dylan Carlson, like Ryan Adams, had been on an extended break (five years) and came back with a totally re-invented sound for Earth. The trademark drones are there but this is an altogether more ambient and laminal sound. The restrained tension in this music creates a unique listening experience and removes the band from the general melting pot of doom to create something rather special. A perfect example of less is more in music.
The Raveonettes – Recharge and Revolt – Raven Is The Grave (April) – the one album which caused the greatest amount of debate amongst the participants in this little exercise. Views varied from admiration to “I only play the first track” through to “very disappointing”. Given I came to this band late in their existence I found myself erring on the side of positive – the reviewers felt that the sound had got “more pop” and “less guitar” – coming at it cold, with no back history as such, I found it to be a good listen. The band have defined sound of their own which is well worth over a listen.
Rocket from the Tombs – Sister Love Train – Barfly (October) another gap between initial formation and release (however in this instance some 36 years) the band that would become Pere Ubu and The Dead Boys, returns with it’s debut album. Uniquely quirky and rather marvelous in a way that anything associated with David Thomas usually is. Sounds nothing like the original band of course, for any number of reasons, but mostly I guess the experience of the collected members from their other work has taken the initial plan and moved it on somewhat.
Atlas Sound – Mona Lisa – Parallax (November) – Bradford Cox, of Deerhunter of course, in his solo guise. The third “proper” album after the flurry of Bedroom Databank releases last year. There is a clearer link between his main bands work on this release which moves between a populist sound and the more experimental end of his work in this incarnation.
Grails – All the colors of the dark – Deep Politics (March) – a little self indulgence from me here as no-one else picked this album but I think it is so marvelous that it requires inclusion. The Portland bands back catalogue is replete with some excellent instrumental, and mostly post-rock, music – however in this instance they have upped their game considerable with some excellent writing – touching on an almost cinematic approach to their writing. This track alone is worth the price of the album.
Mogwai – San Pedro – Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will (February) – Ten albums in and the grandaddies of post-rock seem to have gone back to their initial agenda for an album which, whilst not their best, still kicks the bottom of most of the young pretenders out there. There is enough variety in here as well to keep the most jaded of listeners entertained.
The Ettes – Excuse – Wicked Will (August) – some would argue (and I would be one of them) that Greg Cartwright’s production on the predecessor to this release removed a lot of the primal cohones of The Ettes. This album gets us back to the core garage rock sound of the group. Thus demonstrating no doubt that recording garage rock in London works, but it completely fails in Nashville.
The Strange Boys – Punk’s Pajamas – Live Music (October) – a group feted by the Alliance DJs on Salford City Radio after hearing their sophomore outing “Be Brave” in 2010. This is better and just as weird/strange/unique/wonderful as the first two albums. This can sound as though they are doing things without much effort until you start to burrow deeply into the layers of musical history that makes up this bands work.
Boston Spaceships – Tourist UFO – Let It Beard (August) – if you have immersed yourself into the music of Guided By Voices over the years then you are duty bound stick with Robert Pollard to see what madness he is going to deliver next. Pleased to say that five albums in to this ongoing endeavour with John Moen of The Decemberists and Chris Slusarenko of The Takeovers that he hasn’t lost his ability to be utterly unigue and surprise the listener. There are a fair few guest guitarists on this if you would to play spot the star – Colin Newman, Steve Wynn etc etc
65 Days of Static – Space Montage – Silent Running Rescore (November) – gone are the angry young men of the previously releases with their intense and breathtaking re-invention of math and post rock – instead we have an excellent soundtrack to an excellent movie. A band that deserves a lot more attention than it has got hitherto has grown up somewhat.
To listen to the show – click the link below