21 December 2011

Scots Way-Hay - The Artists Albums of the Year 2011 (Part 3)

What with all of the excitement of yesterdays BAMS post, I forgot I hadn't scheuled this post to go up. Better late than never eh?! This weeks chosen albums of the year come from Adam Stafford, A Band Called Quinn, St. Deluxe, Mondegreen, The Son(s), Bear Bones and Sparrow & The Workshop...

Micachu & The Shapes - Chopped & Skrewed chosen by Adam Stafford

Most of the albums that I've admired in 2011 have come from female perspectives - PJ Harvey, Tune-Yards, Sleigh Bells, St Vincent - but Micachu & The Shape's Chopped & Skrewed really comes out on top because it sounds like nothing else anyone released during the year. Virtually ignored by the public and lukewarmly reviewed by the critics (isn't all great music!) on its release, the LP is a live album, of sorts, performed only once and recorded at the time with the London Sinfonietta - a very bold way of recording an album. The musical content can be described as "Wonk-Step", a hybrid of avant-garde Classical, Dub-step and Pop with most of the music played on odd home-made musical instruments such as clanging percussion which sounds like pots and pan lids being smacked off of pipes and a Cello made out of an old CD rack. If that sounds like shite, it's anything but; the innovative Harry Partch-esque approach is offset by lead-singer (and composer) Micachu's sudden burst of gravely Pop choruses which leap out unexpectedly through the woozy milieu of discordant string screeches and trippy-as-fuck hip-hop beats. Then we'll descend into bonkers free-jazz which sounds like it's improvised but is actually scored to the letter, before blooming gorgeously into some sort of backwards melody that plays like a segue from a lost Technicolor Musical. At once nightmarish and beautiful, the LP ends with the worrying refrain "We've swam too far/We've lost our way" before the music fades and the audience are heard rapturously applauding, only for them to be chopped half way through the thunderous reception suddenly, without warning. A strange end to totally bizarre record. If, like me, you prefer your music to sound like a nauseating haunted house lost at sea then please give Chopped & Skrewed a spin.

Mazes by Moon Duo chosen by Brian McEwan (St Deluxe)

My favourite album of the year is Mazes by Moon Duo, who are the other project from Ripley Johnson (the guitarist in Wooden Shjips) along with his partner Sanae Yamada on synth/keyboards. It keeps a lot of the elements of that band - drones, repeated riffs, meandering guitar solos, lots of phase and delay. The songs are a bit more hooky and accessible though - some of it is relatively ‘pop’ if Wooden Shjips is ‘rock‘ - and it’s more stripped back in terns of instrumentation: drum machine, synth, fuzz guitar and vocals mainly.
You can hear lots of influences in there - Suicide, Neu!, Spacemen3 etc are some of the obvious ones - but it has a character of its own I think - great drone/psych/space-rock in its own right. The new Wooden Shjips record is really good too, but this edges it for me.

PJ Harvey - Let England Shake chosen by Matthew Gilliland (Mondegreen)

My surprise album of the year by a mile. I don't really like or dislike anything PJ released before this, so I was caught off-guard when I saw her playing The Words That Maketh Murder on Jools Holland. The songwriting here is on another level to anything else I heard this year - the lyrics read well on their own, all Olde English hindsight, angelic and reflective, but the instrument choices and the echoey church sound give this record an ethereal, otherworldly atmosphere, and I like how that sound haunts from start to finish.

Tamer Animals by Other Lives chosen by The Son(s)

The album of 2011 is Tamer Animals by Other Lives. They were the best act at EOTR too. However I'd punch you in the face if you told me that I can't also have Aiden Moffat/Bill Wells - Everything's Getting Older. That's a beautiful set of songs, one I suspect I will continue to listen to longer than anything else this year. Oh and I'm going to kick you square in the balls if you won't let me mention that anyone who professes to like music should buy The Ship's Piano by Darren Hayman, The Party's Over by KPK and Office Doodles by The Weary Band. Oh and the single of the year was Snakes in the Grass by Sparrow & the Workshop. Don't you dare cut this before I say how good factorycraft is.... still here? You'd better not have cut this.... Or else when I meet you I'm going to...

Mine is Yours by Cold War Kids chosen by Ben (Bear Bones)

I first heard this album shortly after its release in late January. I didn't love it at first at first and only listened to it two or three times. A couple of months later I was in a hip, independent boutique when the bongo and bass intro of Royal Blue started plodding over the speakers with all the warmth and familiarity of a Mr. Matey bubble bath. Frustratingly, I couldn't remember what it was and I was far too proud to get on my tiptoes to Shazam the Topman (the illusion is shattered) speakers. I rushed home to trawl the whole of Spotify and soon realised my new favourite song was one that I'd discarded months before. I hated myself. Mine is Yours is far and away the best thing Cold War Kids have ever done and with the possible exception of Cold Toes on the Cold Floor, it is one of my favourite records ever. It is melodytastic from beginning to end and if you are patient and forgiving of it from the outset, I promise you will love it forever.

Within & Without by Washed Out chosen by Louise (A Band Called Quinn)

My album of the year is Within & Without by Washed Out. I'm sad I missed him live when they played Edinburgh but this is an absolutely gorgeous record with amazing synth sounds & production. It sounds so effortless & the lyrics are great too, although you can't really make them out (look them up!). Amor Fati is probably the stand out track for me & around half a million other people but it's just such an uplifting, euphoric sunny sounding record but still manages to be melancholic & tap into all the right dark places too. I did greatly admire PJ Harvey's Let England Shake too but from a sheer sensory enjoyment perspective Within & Without gets my vote. On the home front great music from Remember Remember, Star Wheel Press, Hektor Berzerk & a lot of the acts playing the Hear Glasgow Thursday nights at George Square (plug plug). Emile Sandee too - she is the real deal.

Miracle Fortress by Was I the Wave chosen by Gregor (Sparrow and the Workshop)

Have to say that most of the new music I am exposed to these days, certainly in album format, comes from meeting and playing with different bands on the road and trading albums with them. In Munich we shared a bill with a Canadian band called Miracle Fortess. Their new album 'Was I the Wave' was my stand out favourite of all the records we stacked up in the front of the van this year. It's a fantastic mix of dreamy melancholic electronica, well-crafted vocal melodies and intricate drum patterns. I love the way it's been put together, the layers are superbly mixed and listening to it in a different way (like headphones as opposed to a noisy van) revealed another side of complexity that made me smile as I'd enjoyed it so much already I was glad they'd gone to that effort with the detail but not let it distract from the core of the music. First class!


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