Thursday, 22 December 2011

Albums of the Year

Since I'm trying to make an effort to ensure more is happening here I thought I'd add a post of my favourite albums of the year.  However, since I'm not a flash music reviewer who gets free albums I only have three albums from 2011.  So this is a list of my favourite albums that I bought this year, regardless of when they came out.  In reverse order (to build a sense of excitement for my album of the year!):

15 - Japandroids - Post Nothing (2009)

For some reason they felt the need to add some really annoying vocal distortion to this album.  I just found it distracting.  Nonetheless this is a really good debut album.  I still have no idea why they chose not to include Younger Us though.

14. No Age - Everything in Between (2010)

Somewhat similar in sound to Japandroids.  This album reminded me a lot of New Zealand's Flying Nun era bands, particularly The Clean.  Which is a good thing.  I haven't heard any of their other albums so I don't know if that is a consistent theme.

13. Spiritualized - Songs in A & E (2008)

I'm sure a lot of people already know a lot about Spiritualized, but I'm pretty late to the party.  Although I know this isn't supposed to be his best album, its still one I've really enjoyed.  It feels really well formed and coherent.

12. Wild Billy Childish - My First Wild Billy Childish Album (2006)

When you've put out over 100 albums since 1979 (and that's only to 2006 when this was released) it can be quite daunting for the newcomer to figure out where to start.  Hence the need for a good compilation.  This pulls together material from a variety of his recent work.  Sound-wise you'll hear a bit of the White Stripes and Nirvana, who were both heavily influenced by Childish. 

11. Don McGlashan - Warm Hand (2006)

I went through a bit of a Don McGlashan/Muttonbirds kick at the start of the year.  For Australians think of him as New Zealand's Paul Kelly - incredibly talented singer/songwriter who probably hasn't had the international success they would have if they hadn't put so much of their home country into their music.  Don't take that to mean this is inaccessible to non-New Zealanders though - this is just a great album regardless of nationality.

10. Okkervil River - I Am Very Far (2011)

Hopefully you managed to make it to one of Okkervil River/Will Sheff's recent shows, in which case you know how good this album is.  It doesn't quite reach the heights of The Stage Names, but it does show greater musical variety, which is a good sign for their future.

9. Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest (2010)

Another band that made a trip to Australia in 2011 in support of a great album that doesn't quite reach the heights of their very best material (Microcastle).  Nonetheless, one of the marks of a truly great band is the ability to string together a series of brilliant albums, one or two more and I suspect these guys may be playing arenas.

8. McLusky - McLuskyism (2006)

I discovered McLusky via Japandroids cover of To Hell with Good Intentions.  Punky music, amusing and pointed lyrics, and incredible hooks make this hard not to enjoy.  McLuskyism collects their singles together, so is a good place to start.

7. Soundgarden - Live on i5 (released 2011, recorded 1996)

For those with BDO tickets wondering what Soundgarden are like as live band this will tell you all you need to know.  The only real letdown is their cover of Helter Skelter, otherwise this provides a great run through of their career in a live setting.

6. Sam Cooke - Portrait of a Legend 1951 - 1964 (2003)

This may seem a bit left field given the albums that have gone before, but I have pretty broad tastes, including a love of soul music.  Many people may only know Sam Cooke from A Change is Gonna Come (that was me before I got this album), but he produced a large number of amazing soul and gospel tracks (Only Sixteen, Chain Gang, Summertime, Good News, Shake, Havin' a Party).  For those unfamiliar with soul music I'd recommend starting with Otis Redding (The Dock of the Bay is a good compilation), and then checking this out.

5. Liam Finn - Fomo (2011)

This could easily have been my best album of 2011 (5 through 3 are pretty much interchangeable).  It's a nice progression from his debut album, and although theres still a lot of melody and noise, there is also a clear broadening of his vision.  I can't imagine that he won't be a huge star in the near future.

4. Byrds - Untitled/Unissued (originally released 1970, deluxe version released 2000)

I always liked by the Byrds but never found any of their albums that didn't seem to have major flaws.  This covers all the bases, without any flaws (even among the packed second disc).  The original idea for the album was to have one record of live material and another of new studio material.  The bonus disc here follows the same format, adding alternate studio takes and new live tracks, including four Dylan tracks.  The only real criticism could be that two packed discs are a bit overwhelming for those new to the Byrds, but for any fan I can recommend this unreservedly.

3. Wilco - The Whole Love (2011)

My favourite 2011 album.  Wilco fans have been split on their recent material (I'm a fan), but fans and critics alike have united behind this one, I'd put it in the same class as Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and A Ghost is Born.  Some have seen this as an album that pulls together strands from all their previous albums.  I think that its more of a summary of where they are, acknowledging aspects of country, folk, pop, noise, and rock.  I can't recommend it more than to say I check every day to see if they've announced an Australian tour yet.

2. Robert Plant - Band of Joy (2010)

I like Led Zeppelin, but I'm not a big enough fan to bother with their solo stuff.  At least until I heard Robert Plant performing a couple of these tracks on Jules Holland.  This doesn't sound anything like LZ, instead it fuses classic folk and blues with a modern sound that is at once fresh and old (to understand the contradiction you'll have to listen to the album).  If this is what we get in exchange for no LZ reunion the world isn't such a bad place.

1. Japandroids - No Singles (2010)

Easily my favourite of the albums I've purchased this year.  It's hard to describe the perfection of this album - every track is a winner, fusing punk and hardcore into anthemic songs that will hold a gun to your head and force you to dance round the room.  I initially discovered them through the free Winston's Essentials compilation, which includes their recent non-album single Younger Us (maybe the best thing they've ever written).  Another band that desperately needs to tour Australia (I think I would die if a Wilco/Japandroids tour is announced).

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