As we come to the end of another year, it’s time to look at the best music released in the last twelve months.
I think it’s been a pretty good year, overall. I’ve bought 14 new albums released in 2011 and attended 9 live events, and none of them were particularly disappointing. I’m not going to try to review them all, but here are my top five albums of 2011…
#1 – My Morning Jacket, “Circuital”
© 2011 Rough Trade
My Morning Jacket are a band I’ve been following at a moderate distance for some time. Their breakthrough success Z and 2008′s Evil Urges were already among my favourite albums ever so I was very excited about this year’s release. Turns out it surpassed all my expectations and earns its place at the top of my list this year.
Circuital is a very diverse, but very consistent, record. The building repetitive power of Victory Dance leads into MMJ’s best song to date, the wonderful 7-minute Circuital, and then through many musical styles telling the story of letting go in various ways, including the brilliantly tongue-in-cheek Holdin’ On to Black Metal.
I also got the chance to see the Jacket live this year for the first time, and their set was a real crowd-pleaser: almost no hits left out.
If you’ve not heard Circuital yet, be sure to get yourself a free copy of the awesome title track by signing up for the MMJ mailing list at their web site.
#2 – Fleet Foxes, “Helplessness Blues”
© 2011 Bella Union
I reviewed this album for this blog back in May, and it continues to be one of my absolute favourites of this year. I got to see them perform to a sold-out Leeds Academy in December and they sound just as amazing live as they do on the record.
The Shrine/An Argument was the standout track from the beginning but it just gets better and better on every listen. I’m sure this album will still be spinning on my playlist in ten years’ time.
#3 – The Decemberists, “The King Is Dead”
© 2011 Rough Trade
My top three this year are all by bands I got to see live for the first time in 2011, but I’m quite certain that’s just a coincidence.
The latest offering by The Decemberists is a return to their Americana-influenced pop after their epic and dramatic previous two albums (including The Hazards of Love, one of my all-time favourites by anyone). The songs are catchy, humorous and – most importantly – of the highest quality. Lead single Down by the Water isn’t just influenced by 80s REM, it actually features REM guitarist Peter Buck!
Extra special mention here goes to Calamity Song: the cheeriest song about the end of the world I’ve ever heard…
#4 – Radiohead, “The King of Limbs”
© 2011 Radiohead
The ever-brilliant Radiohead can’t release an album any year and escape my top 5.
This year’s The King of Limbs was a surprise release from nowhere. It’s only a very short album (under 40 minutes) but it manages to pack in a tight and well concocted sound that shows Radiohead have no plans to jack it in any time soon.
Best track by far is the time-signature-messing Codex, which sounds like an answer to Amnesiac‘s standout track Pyramid Song.
And also, let’s not forget the new video to Lotus Flower gave rise to a whole series of Thom Yorke dancing mashups, including these 31 seconds of genius.
#5 – Kate Bush, “50 Words for Snow”
© 2011 Fish People
I’ve only owned this album for 5 days and it’s already made its way into my top five. This is the second album for Kate Bush this year (Director’s Cut is reviewed elsewhere on this blog) after a six-year absence and it is typically beautifully crafted.
On 50 Words, Kate strips the music almost down to just her voice and piano, and drums by session legend Steve Gadd, with the usual stellar cast mostly lending their voices – guest vocals are provided by Elton John, Stephen Fry and Kate’s son Albert amongst others – and every track has a wintery theme. Like many of her albums, it plays more as a single long track than as a series of songs.
Kate’s more mature voice is less shrill than people who know her earlier albums might expect, and for once she has produced an album that is both artistically brilliant and also suitable to have on in the background at a party. Preferably with a winter theme.
This brief summary hasn’t given me chance to talk about the brilliant new albums by Guillemots, Gruff Rhys, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Bright Eyes and more, but there’s only room for five in a top five!
What are your favourite albums of 2011?