Tuesday, January 03, 2012

i was raised up believing i was somehow unique

The Top 10 Albums of 2011

1. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues (LB)

As I have already said, 2011 was a pretty ordinary year for new music. I've listened to dozens of albums this year and while there were plenty that were perfectly acceptable, I don't think I have heard one 'great' album.

So, my #1 album for 2011 is something that wouldn't have troubled the top of my list in any other previous year. Saying that, it's a lovely record and the follow-up to an album that was almost impossible to follow-up.

At the time, I wondered whether the Fleet Foxes' decision to éschew their marvellous medieval harmonies in favour of sounding more like a normal band was the right one. However, on multiple listens it appears that, in fact, Helplessness Blues was the perfect way for the band to develop. Sounding more like Simon and Garfunkel and less like something from an episode of early Blackadder, the more I listen to this beautiful record, the more I enjoy it. I do miss the wonderful vocal work that characterised their debut album but the songwriting remains superb and it's a very likeable and engaging record.

Title track Helplessness Blues also contains some of my favourite lyrics of 2011:

"I was raised up believing I was somehow unique
Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes, unique in each way you can see
And now after some thinking, I'd say I'd rather be
A functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me"

Lovely. Fantastic band and a very, very good album.

Listen to - Helplessness Blues

1. Ed Sheeran - + (bedshaped)

In the absence of Damien Rice ever releasing another album, I’m always keen to find new male singer song-writers. I love female singer song-writers too, but there’s something that touches more deeply when it’s a guy pouring his heart out. While Ed isn’t as touching and honest and broken down as Damien has been, he’s pretty good at getting heard.

He’s a honest song-writer. His lyrics are pin point accurate at times, but I wonder if his age comes into play with some of his lyrics; Wake Me Up being an example where he sings about Shrek and playing video games. I dunno. A lot of his lyrics are delivered in a “say what you see” style. There’s not much depth and typically twisted lyrics here. It’s a stark and honest way of writing. Reminds me of The Streets in a way.

A mixture of acoustic and mellow ballads and more uptempo songs, this is a very easy album to listen to. A perfect background music album. Ed delivers some great guitar work and his backing band are good enough, but it’s more his stories and the gentle feeling of this album that wins you over. There’s a lot of talk of love on here, and it’s during the ballads such as Wake Me Up and the brutal and stripped back This that really catch the attention here. Here’s a young guy who’s showing the talent that any guy would absolutely love to have. The talent and ability to write a love song about how he really feels.

The critics seem to be divided on him at the moment. Some praising this young and flourishing talent, some writing him off as a wannabe who got lucky. Whatever. In my eyes, he’s produced a brilliant album of pleasing pop songs. There’s nothing offensive here, ok, maybe the occasional naughty word, but on the whole it’s a very enjoyable album. Enough uptempo tracks to prompt a foot tapping or gentle nodding, enough ballads to stop you in your tracks and made you think.

Listen to - Lego House

1. Noah and the Whale - Last Night On Earth (Swisslet)

I’m pretty sure I should hate this band: just look at those haircuts and those over-privileged, jutting jaws and tweed jackets. Every time I see them on TV I want to smash their smug faces in (apart from the guitarist, who looks like he has wandered in from an entirely different band). This impression was further reinforced by the somewhat twee smugness of their music: 5 Years Time was initially decent enough, but suffered more with every subsequent listen.

Another band to ignore then? Well, not entirely.

2009’s The First Days of Spring began the process of changing my mind. Heartbreak had apparently beaten some of the smugness out of Charlie Fink, and the album was full of beautiful songs of loss and hurt. It’s hardly a party album, but it’s a fantastic achievement and was certainly good enough that I bought the follow-up, Last Night on Earth as soon as it came out, on the same day that I purchased Elbow’s Build a Rocket Boys!. I fully expected that Elbow would be the band to monopolise my stereo, but quite to my surprise, they got first play and then barely got a look in. It was all about Noah and the Whale.

It’s the songs, you see. Fink seems happier, but the smugness seems to have stayed away: Life is Life, Tonight’s The Kind of Night, L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N, Give It All Back, Waiting For My Chance to Come, Old Joy… the album is packed with quality songs, with Fink often cast in the role of storyteller. L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N and Give It All Back in particular never seem to fail to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.

I’ve not been to many gigs this year, but I have seen Noah and the Whale twice and they were fantastic both times (especially in the Bowery Ballroom in New York, but that’s such a great place to see a band that I’m not sure I can really count it). They still look eminently puncheable of course, but there’s simply no denying that I haven’t listened to any other record this year half as much as I have listened to this one.

Listen to - L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N.

3 Discussions:

Blogger bedshaped said...

It's been very interesting what you've both said; (and indeed from reading between the lines) about 2011 in terms of music releases. It's not been a great year.
For me, it's been the lack of Pzazz! in the new artists coming through.
Overall, I've found myself liking a lot of albums, but liking them as opposed to loving them.
While I was compiling my list, I could have quite easily replaced the bottom four or five with something else. In fact, when I was draughting the inital stages, I found it quite easy to list at least twenty albums. And that was without really thinking about it.
It's interesting to read some of your reasons for liking the albums and giving them their deserved spot in your top tens. Most played seems to be the common theme. And whilst I wouldn't necessarilly agree than our most favourite albums are the most played ( I don't play "In Rainbows", "The Seldom Seen Kid", "Ten" or "Green" very often, despite them being absolute favourites!), this year for all of us it seems to be the case.

2011 - Earworm over talent?

10:20 PM  
Blogger LB said...

I have to say that after some initial optimism regarding Ed Sheeran I now loathe him and his music.

The album got *incredibly* annoying after less than three listens, and I wanted to punch him and most of the audience when I went to see him live. He thinks he is cool, but he is basically Newton Faulkner for the youth.

Sorry, but not for me. Awful.

10:36 AM  
Blogger swisslet said...

That fleet foxes album is brilliant and I still can't get enough of it... Probably more of a "keeper" than n&tW, but I can't deny that I've listened to Last Night on Earth at least twice as often as any other album this year (including in the car this morning. Although for all that I've said above how much I enjoyed them live, their crowds have been generally appalling; chatty rather than attentive, which is especially rubbish during the slower songs).
I've not listened to Sheeran at all, but I do find myself put off by what I have heard and by the uncritical adoration of some of his fans (who piled into a perfectly reasonable review on the Guardian, for example). Bless them, we all have early musical crushes, eh?
Good, interesting lists, chaps. Bravo!

11:32 AM  

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