14 December 2011

Scots Way-Hay - The Artists Albums of the Year 2011 (Part 2)

If you're already getting sick of all of this talk about albums of the year, then you might want to stay well away from this site for the next two weeks. Continuing on from last week, here's the second out of four scheduled Artists Albums of the Year. This is the bit where I get folk who've done interviews for me over the past two years to tell me a bit about what's been tickling their fancy in 2012, we even have one of our artists choosing an album by someone else who's writing about their favourite album - I hope to fuck that makes sense to you. This week we have the choices of Sebastian Dangerfield, Bronto Skylift, Sugar Crisis, Song of Return, Mike Nisbet, Neil Milton, Washington Irving, United Fruit, French Wives and The Scottish Enlightenment...

Bon Iver - Bon Iver chosen by Stuart (Sebastian Dangerfield)

The first thing that came to mind was “Bon iver’s, Bon Iver”. Then I thought, “Is that too obvious?” Then I thought; that’s probably the reason why it should be my favourite album this year.
I was nervous to hear that Justin Vernon was bringing a band in to do his second album and to record it in a purpose built studio, just incase he lost that intimate and unique sound he had on "For Emma...". But it’s a huge step away from the first album and is arguably an improvement that seems more confident.
The sound and the production are bigger, the songs are more detailed, and there are a few controversial synth noises just to keep you on your toes. It also helps that he has a cracking voice and a great sense of melody.... and the show at Usher Hall this year was the tits.

Mogwai - Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will chosen by Niall (Bronto Skylift)

I find it difficult when talking about anything as the best of the year because my moods vary wildly throughout the year and something I was maybe digging a few weeks ago (say, Mastadon) might not be massaging my eardrums as I write this so I guess i have to think about the piece of work that has drawn me back time and time again like some kind of magical Pony Magnet...
Honourable mentions have to go to the cassette based rumblings of PAWS even though they did not make an album but released enough to constitute an album and to the BREW RECORDS BRW015 Split 10" with Kong/That Fucking Tank/Castrovalva/Shield Your Eyes which has been melting my head and making we want to live in Leeds.

So, after studying flow diagrams, pie charts and polishing all metal objects on site I can safely say my album of the year has been - Mogwai: Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will.
I remember when they released Rano Pano as a free download. I instantly thought "these guys have made a ripper of an album and are so confident of it's rippage that they have given this for nothing" And how true a thought that was.The flow of the album is beautiful.
The sound so mighty and immersive that you could almost believe that anyone could learn a foreign language using Linguaphone.In two weeks.
At times when i listen to it and I'm drawing pictures I find myself ;sketching the legendary nature pundit David Attenburgh (White Noise) employing sharp lettering and slogans (Mexican Grand Prix) and feeling like I could take on the whole empire myself (How to Be A Werewolf)
Oh yeah and the title alone makes me want to tear the clouds from the sky and use them as loofers when in the shower.

Veronica Falls - Veronica Falls chosen by Neil and Lorna (Sugar Crisis)

They're such a beautiful sounding band and the songs are rocky and dreamy and a delight. Loved them from the first chord.

Radiohead - The King Of Limbs chosen by Graig Grant (Song of Return)

There was a time, I know there still is for other people, where I'd always create a lot of pomp and ceremony about my first listen to a new record by one of my "favourite" bands (in fact, my first listen to sigur ros' "takk" on the day of it's release whilst hanging the free embossed poster I made sure i got in early for made me 15 minutes late for work and almost got me fired). But in spite of how I still feel after all this time, I am not sixteen anymore. By a long shot. And yes I did pick up "King of Limbs" on the day it was released, but what I am getting at is that it was much more of a slow-release drug affair, like all music and the changing way people use and listen to it these days.

Now I've followed radiohead since my teens, but what I think I appreciate most about their current 'embodiment', really from "In Rainbows" to present, is the distinct lack of pomp and ceremony. These guys have toured the world extensively. they have been the biggest band on earth at some points. But they are have not become the Rolling Stones, the don't live on separate islands that they own. they are just a bunch of regular guys living in rural Oxfordshire and using their time on earth to absorb beautiful and far out music, and transforming that education in to beautiful and far ourt music of their own. but yet, in spite of this new, accessible, down to earth persona, they have still managed to make something which is altogether elusive, mysterious, entrancing even. This combination makes a band magical, still makes one feel like the teenage fanboy.

And it's this mystery which draws me back listen after listen. It's a code. I remember from a great piece in Rolling Stone not long after it's release that "nothing at Radiohead HQ is an accident", meaning of course that the form and structure of the record, not to mention it's length, seem at first jarring. But it's all in there, waiting to be figured out. The content is there. It requires listening with intent to acquire it's hidden meanings. And that is what makes a great record. Mystery.

Gillian Welch - The Harrow & The Harvest chosen by Mike Nisbet

I fell in love with Gillian Welch on a cold dark night, out on the west coast mid winter, and I was a little drunk, the conditions were just right. Reading an online magazine and caught a picture of her, she look like she was from another time, and I had to know what this 'time' sounded like. Being a late comer to Gillian I didn't have to wait the 8 years everyone else did for this new record but god it was worth it! It's a world that I frequently sink into, a place I find painfully beautiful at times, a place that reminds me what a song can really do to you.

Highlight have got to be Down Along The Dixie Line & Hard Times, Gillian singing her cut throat lyrics 'I've never been so disabused, I've never been so mad, I've never been served anything that tasted so bad' underpinned by Dave Rawling on lead guitar (my favourite guitarist of all time, hands down by the way) with harmonies that at points can bring you to your knees.

If you've not ventured through the music of Gillian Welch yet, wait till it's dark, pour your self a stiff drink and welcome home.

Jóhann Jóhannsson - The Miners' Hymns chosen by Neil Milton

I first heard Icelandic composer, Jóhann Jóhannsson around 2006 when he released what has become one of my all time favourite albums, IBM 1401 - A User's Manual. Since then he has become a great inspiration to me so I was excited to hear he would release the soundtrack he had written to accompany the Bill Morrison film, The Miners' Hymns. Like everything that Jóhann does it seems to balance delicately between glorious, sweeping celebration and poignantly sorrowful nostalgia. Its use of brass, a group of instruments commonly associated with colliery life, perfectly identifies with the social history of the northern English miners that the film sets out to depict. The Miners' Hymns is a beautiful modern-classical requiem and one I can't recommend highly enough.

Mike Nisbet by Vagrant chosen by Joe (Washington Irving)

This album takes the prize for me. There’s no-one like Mike in Scotland at the moment. Taking influences from Nick Cave and Tom Waits, he’s produced something really unique with a lot of guts, dirt and soul. The song ‘El Frida’ shows a real step up in his song writing and guitar playing, and tracks like ‘Snow Me In’ and the title track ‘Vagrant’ show him at his most mournful and melodic. The record has consistent sense of morbidity, loss and desire set in Mike’s own desolate, wintry world. I think the reason I rate it so highly is because the listener is invited into this place, or at least catches a glimpse of it and sees Mike, guitar in hand, wandering down his long, lonesome road.

Empros by Russian Circles chosen by Marco (United Fruit)

Basically it is the best thing to happen to instrumental music since Godspeed.

A Different Kind of Fix by Bombay Bicycle Club chosen by Jonny (French Wives)

We were lucky enough to support this band at the tail end of last year, however, regrettably, I'd never paid much attention to them; previous offerings have never stood out and grabbed me in the way that this third record has.

Arguably a combination of genres from the first and second record, 'A Different Kind of Fix' marks a huge step up for BBC. A beautifully restrained effort, the album flows with such a consistent groove yet never threatens to lose it's dark, lo-fi appeal. Tracks like 'Lights Out, Words Gone' and the initial single 'Shuffle' demonstrates intelligent vocal layers and some truly remarkable rhythms. Heavier tracks such as 'Your Eyes' and 'Take the Right One,' although bold in exterior, Jack Steadman's haunting tone keeps them perfectly in line with the understated feel of this record.

A genuinely great album and I think I've given it as birthday presents to about 4 people which can't be a bad sign!

Happy as a Windless Flagchosen by Douglas Firs' chosen by David (The Scottish Enlightenment)

My album of 2011 is Douglas Firs' Happy as a Windless Flag, and this has got nothing to do with them being on the same label as us. The record is totally fascinating. I keep finding new things in it to wonder at. I cant imagine how some of the ideas came into being and It probably wasn't the intention, but it's like Edinburgh cast in musical form. Neil's delicately warbling murmur and the fragility of the performances really draw you into the dark, quiet closes within the music that separate great slabs of blackened grandeur. This bipolarity of intimacy and bombast, and the diversity of rhythm that carries the songs on dancing feet, makes it a totally satisfying listen, and a case study in why albums are a really good musical format. They also happen to be the best live band in Scotland as far as my experience goes. Long live The Douglas Firs!

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