Tuesday, December 27, 2011

what if I’ve been trying to get to where I’ve always been?

The Top 10 Albums of 2011

6. Manchester Orchestra - Simple Math (bedshaped)

Not from Manchester nor an orchestra, these guys from REM’s neighbourhood have produced a great rock and indie album, with imaginative arrangements and hooks a plenty. There’s quite a scope within the album, as such it’s quite difficult to pin them down. And that’s one of the nice things about it. Tracks begin with gentle intros, grow into indie, touch on a country twang, then mature into rock. Then we have the orchestrations adding bulk and emotion to the songs. There’s certainly brushes with REM, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Young Knives, Noah & The Whale, Smashing Pumpkins, The Decemberists, even They Might Be Giants.

This album is packed with great songs; bringing together rock ‘n’ roll, blues, indie, folk and AOR under one roof. And melting them with some lovely orchestra arrangements that compliment the songs perfectly. Especially the strings. Oh mannnn, it’s always the strings! The orchestrations add to the growth of the songs. Pale Black Eye is a perfect example, beginning in a dirty, bluesy style, then finding itself more of an indie tune before the orchestral backing sweeps in and grows the song to anthemic proportions.

It may be unfamiliar territory for many people, but as the album plays through, (and I can remember this, the first couple of times I heard it) it all sounds so strangely familiar. Without being an album that treads old ground. It’s not breaking new boundaries by any means, but it’s different enough to have captured my ears for the year.

Listen to – Simple Math

6. PJ Harvey - Let England Shake (Swisslet)

I stumbled across PJ Harvey at some point around 1993 when, as a student, I innocently picked up a copy of Rid of Me after reading about it in the NME. Oh my goodness. I was somewhat ill prepared for the assault on my ears that followed, and Harvey’s exhortation to “lick my legs, I’m on fire” has stayed with me ever since. To say that record is raw and angry doesn’t really even begin to do it justice. I was hooked.

I can’t think of anyone else in the British music business who has so steadfastly followed their own muse as Polly Harvey. Trends come and trends go, but PJ Harvey can always be relied upon to go her own way and she certainly doesn’t repeat herself. Sometimes, as with Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea and To Bring You My Love, her work has been accessible and popular, but many of her other albums are far less immediate, even if they are generally uniformly excellent. White Chalk is a stunning record, but it sounds like nothing else recorded in 2007, that’s for damn sure.

Perhaps it should be no surprise then that, if anyone was going to record an album about the horrors of World War I and the post-War chaos that ultimately led to the rise of the Third Reich, that PJ Harvey would be the person to do it. As she did on White Chalk, Harvey sings much of Let England Shake in a kind of falsetto, and this lends an air of almost detachment as she sings about “soldiers falling like lumps of meat”. It won the Mercury Prize for the record of the year, and although it isn’t my number one choice, it’s a damn good choice.

Listen to - The Words That Maketh Murder – somehow rendered all the more effective by her echoing of Summertime Blues in the lyrics.

6. Kelly Clarkson - Stronger (LB)

Sometimes you just can't beat a bit of high quality pop music. And, since winning American Idol in 2002, that's exactly what Kelly Clarkson has been providing us with.

In many ways Clarkson is the Belinda Carlisle of the 21st century. She's beautiful, has a great voice and produces guitar power pop of the highest order, including classics such as Since You've Been Gone and My Life Would Suck Without You.

On Stronger, it's more of the same classic Kelly and the album weaves its way through a wide array of styles from the gentle R&B of Mr Know It All to ballads such as the excellent Dark Side. And, of course, there's a smattering of classic uptempo pop here - title track Stronger is brilliant as is I Forgive You and Don't Be A Girl About It.

There's nothing particularly big or clever about this record, and that's one of the reasons I like it. It's pure entertainment but with Clarkson's brilliant voice and knack for picking tunes from the higher quality end of the pop spectrum, it's a cheery, likeable hour of pop goodness.

Listen to - Mr Know It All

2 Discussions:

Blogger bedshaped said...

I really want to like PJ Harvey's album, but I've found it grinding on me each time I've hit play. More listens required methinks.

I found Kelly's album average at best. Whilst there's nothing to dislike, it just doesn't stand out for me over many other AOR ladies. I dunno. It's good, but there's too much 'meh' for me. I'm starting to sound like a right music snob! Argghhhh! Apologies.

8:12 PM  
Blogger LB said...

I have never heard a PJ Harvey song in my life.

11:35 AM  

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