28 December 2011

Scots Way-Hay - The Artists Albums of the Year 2011 (Part 4)

With the New Year fast approaches, here's the last in my series of Artists Albums of the Year for 2011. To finish off the year we have some pretty fine choices from the likes of Aerials Up, Inspector Tapehead, Miaoux Miaoux, Woodenbox, The Seventeenth Century, Edinburgh School for the Deaf, Ghost Pants and Sojourner.

Villagers by Becoming a Jackel chosen by Debbie Kate (Aerials Up)

On a bored cold winters night I was on the hunt from some good auld irish music to soothe my soul... and that I found. Villagers, just one Conor O Brien's latest album 'Becoming a Jackal' is a masterpiece in itself.

Bored of a similar sound that seemed to be seeping out of every radio station I found comfort in this unique gem. Playful lyrics, haunting piano, random sporadic sparseness (Track 5: HOME) and a strange comforting eerieness puts this album into its own mini genre. Conors fragile vocals make you belive you really are apart of his ghost like adventure from start to finish, similar to that of 'Bright eyes' or 'Elliot Smith'. A truely unique piece of music.

Thurston Moore by Demolished Thoughts chosen by Chris (Inspector Tapehead)

There have been quite a few albums that have captured my imagination released this year, but none more so than the latest release from Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, which still blows me away each time I hear it. As an album it hangs together beautifully, with the same sparse arrangement of guitar (6-string and 12-string), double bass, violin and harp used throughout. A drum kit is heard only once, with subtlety and to great effect towards the end of album opener ‘Benediction’, which is about as perfect a ‘Side One Track One’ (to use High Fidelity parlance) as you’ll ever hear. Those familiar with Sonic Youth who haven’t heard any of his solo material to date may wonder how this stripped-backed instrumentation will suit Moore’s noisy avant-garde sensibilities. Most of the album is in fact quite serene if a little brooding, but at times he’s managed to channel that same intensity into these full-on folk-ish songs without ever having to reach for the distortion pedal(s), making it reminiscent of Sonic Youth without ever sounding much like Sonic Youth. The instrumental second half to ‘Circulation’ is a perfect example of how you can grind out that tension through writing alone – it’s a persistent cycle of well-worked discords built up on guitar and violin which occasionally but briefly resolve onto a major chord, providing some very sweet moments in the midst of a disorientating sequence. It’s a really breathtaking passage of music. Many songwriters will tell you that what they’re trying to achieve with their work is a balance of being simultaneously listenable and original, familiar and unfamiliar. It’s a tricky thing to pull off, but with ‘Demolished Thoughts’ Thurston Moore has given us nine songs that are often catchy but most assuredly far-out. It left me with the feeling that it could only be made by someone of his vast experience.

Interestingly he is helped along the way by producer Beck ‘Beck’ Hansen, who gives the album a lush, detailed and spacious sound which fits the tracks. Along with his other production job this year (‘Mirror Traffic’ by Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks), Beck is proving himself to be quite a distinguished producer. Both albums sound quite glossy but still have a lot of character, which is some feat.

My other favourites from this year include the releases from the aforementioned Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks, Vetiver, Jonny, Jonnie Common, City Center, Ry Cooder, Mist, Julian Lynch, Los Campesinos! and Gruff Rhys.

Build a Harbour Immediately by Adam Stafford chosen by Julian (Miaoux Miaoux)

This record really knocked me out. It distills everything that was great about Adam's work in Y'all Is Fantasy Island, and splices it with his live-looping prowess to amazing effect. It's like a pop record that slowly melts and disintegrates - kicking off with awesomely catchy 'Fire and Theft', but by the time you get to 'A Vast Crystal Skull', you're seriously questioning your perceptions of reality and space-time. A huge progression for Adam, and as an album and artistic statement, it's unbeatable this year.

Florida by the Felice Brothers chosen by Ali (Woodenbox)

I was excited for this one coming since yonder is the clock is a mainstay on our stereo. Celebration Florida is a beautiful unpredictable record which keeps throwing new things at you with every listen. It has a real attitude. The standouts for me are ponzi and honda civic which mix up amazing horn parts with modern beats and amazing piano parts. This record will still be a highlight of 2012.

Ashes & Fire by Ryan Adams chosen by Ryan (The Seventeenth Century)

It is no secret among my friends just how much I love Ryan Adams, but it is also well know that records a lot of what comes in to his head, puts it on an album, and releases it. Therefore it's no surprise that since his first release with Whiskeytown, "Faithless Street" in 1996, he has released another 15 albums, along with a selection of EPs and books. So as you can imagine, with that much going on, a lot of the stuff somewhere in the middle gets a bit hazy, especially when only a couple of years ago he had started up some heavy metal project that never seemed to take off.

But to get the point, amongst a lot of crap and some fillers, Ryan Adams always delivers for me, because there's always those 4 or 5 gems per record, at least! But there have been just generally good albums like "Heartbreaker", "Gold", "Love is Hell" and so on, and I will gladly add "Ashes & Fire" to that list...

"Ashes & Fire" is already for me a classic Ryan Adams album as it reminds me of listening to "Heartbreaker" for the first time, with country songs and folk songs, stripped back arrangements for a more intimate feel, I just love it. After thinking in 2009 he had completely packed it in due to a hearing problem, he brought it on home nicely with this record.

The Other Half of Everything by Martin John Henry chosen by Mike (The Seventeenth Century)

I was always a big fan of De Rosa and was sad to see them split having put out 2 really good, strong albums. So when I heard Martin John Henry was releasing a solo record I was looking forward to hearing where he could progress his sound too without the help of his former band mates. On hearing the finished product I was both impressed and surprised. The album contains a wide range of styles from electronic to acoustic based songs. All of these are married together perfectly by Martin's familiar Scots-tinged vocal. What is apparent on this album is that Martin Henry still has an incredible ability to write catchy and interesting melodies. Songs like 'Ribbon on a Bough' and 'Span' are toe-tapping and energetic whilst 'I Love Map' and 'Seventh Song' are both atmospheric and thought-provoking. The haunting 'There's a Phantom Hiding in My Loft' is a perfect album closer that leaves the listener longing to hear more from this extremely talented and prolific songwriter.

The Whole Love by Wilco chosen by Andy (The Seventeenth Century)

Wilco are a strange band, you either don't really get them or are totally obsessed. I'm obsessed. I think they're a band where you don't know what to expect from each record they release. The new Wilco album has a bit of everything: Standout tracks include 'I Might' which is a great rock tune and uses a sample of The Stooges' song 'T.V Eye', the grass root/country tinged 'Capitol City' which echoes back to the bands original roots, the catchy ' Born Alone' and the beautiful finale 'One Sunday Morning' which is a simple, yet inspiring folk lament telling the story of a strained relationship between a father and son that clocks in at around 12 minutes. The melody is so strong though that it could easily go on for longer, a superb ending to one of Wilco's better albums. I don't think they'll ever hit the high points of albums such as Being There or Yankee Hotel Foxtrot but it's up there. It's not a perfect album, but it showcases that the bands creativity and willingness to experiment are still strong, 17 years into their career. I also saw them live at the Royal Concert Hall in October and they were incredible, probably one of the best bands I've seen live. Jeff Tweedy has that ability to draw the audiences attention and Glenn Kotche is an unbelievable drummer – very creative but doesn't overplay.

I also really enjoyed the Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat record 'Everything's Getting Older'. It's a really daring record – there's truly beautiful and thought provoking songs such as 'The Copper Top' as well as filthy, Arab Strap-esque tracks like 'Glasgow Jubilee'. Superb.

Youth Lagoon's record 'The Year of Hibernation' was also a little gem that was released this year. Only 8 tracks long, but every song is a beautifully structured lo-fi pop cracker. Beautiful, simple melodies with Trevor Powers' dream like, soft vocal makes for one hell of a record. He's only 22 years old as well. Bastard.

Constant Pageant by Trembling Bells chosen by Mark (The Seventeenth Century)

I have chosen Trembling Bells - Constant Pageant as my album of the year, I have been following them since i saw them support vetiver in stereo in February of 2009 where they out shone the main act with no space for rebuttal, from then on i have bought all there albums each one a contrast to the next. there latest LP is quite far removed from there earlier material preferring a popier sound but still being true to there alternative roots. the track "otley rock oracle" has the band delving in to a kraut rock style repetitive and extremely interesting song that melts quite naturally to goathland which has the feel of a stately waltz. the closing track on the album is called "new years eve is the loneliest night of the year" is a rousing yet melancholy look at the lonely side of the festive period which was also released on 7" single with one of my greatest influence's bonnie prince billy singing it in December of last year further more it is a great album and i would recommend it to anyone who has lost there faith in Glasgow music.

Days by Real Estate chosen by Nicholas (The Seventeenth Century)

It is easy for fresh faced bands to suffer from the dreaded 'Second Album Syndrome', symptoms include chain smoking, Ren and Stimpy blood shot eye balls, severe sweating (that turns my curly locks into a Sly Stone afro) and a stressful sprawl of lyrical flimflam that I pass off as music. However, the boys from the New Jersey band, Real Estate, are an exception from this unfortunate standard.

They released 'Days' in October this year through Domino Records, and compared to their self-titled debut album, they've flourished from the lo-fi 80s pop band feel (Felt, The Go-Betweens, The Chills and the like) into their own form of stoner surf rock, but still maintaining the roots of their influences.

Martin Courtney's chilling vocal takes a more prominent place as a distinct melody maker for the band, with a soothing Kelvin Shields touch but with a ghostly Mark Kozelek twist to muster feelings of nostalgia that makes you sit-down-and-sigh rather than get-up-and-go. The opening track 'Easy' does just that, a great opening hit, fitting for any day regardless of the weather, which is what the whole album seems to incline. The instrumental track 'Kinder Bluemen' stands out as a more wintery dream , perfect for your typical December Scottish weather or an emotional O2 advert.

My favourite track has to be the hazy 'Green Aisles', which I think should have been placed neatly in the middle of the album, because it expresses the reminiscence at its best, like the 'days' when your BMX was your best friend and being covered in muck and dog shit. It's what you want to smile and look back on. But coming from Wishaw, my fondest memory was being chased by 2 grown men called Razz and Purp, but Real Estate capture their fond memories from their hometown better than how I ever could.

Wild Flag chosen by Grant (Edinburgh School for the Deaf)

I like the Wild Flag record because you never really get enough chances to hear women of a certain age having fun in music. Women usually drop or are dropped by the wayside or are bent into a paraody of some benignly, demented witch or else sexually aggressive and more cod-sophisticated facsimile of their younger imagined self. You never seem to hear a gang of women, as apposed to girls, cracking opening some cans, having fun and making a deadly and life affirming noise. They also remind me of Slumber party and a bit of the Organ, two great touchstones.

The Eno record with the poet guy was great when it was great and when it was bad it plunged the utter depths of middle England smoking a spliff while cleaning away the dinner party dishes. How can you close your eyes and see Angels on one track and Jamie fucking Oliver on the other? However `pour it out` was my song of the year.

936 by Peaking Lights chosen by Jamie (Edinburgh School for the Deaf)

I thought long and hard about this, as there has been so much good this year - Balam Acab, Police Acadmey6, L.W.H, The Soft Moon, Lorelle meets the Obsolete, ICEAGE. Nothing very mainstream, that's not to discount it, but there's been nothing of note, it seems to be moving at glacial pace into the realm of the bland.

My album is 936 by peaking lights.

It's not an immediate album, rather one that eventually ends up worming it's way in after a lot of plays. What was an early evening listen bled through to the morning,to the afternoon, until it was almost ubiquitous.

I have also loved pretty much everything the Captured Tracks label has released this year too

$o$ by Die Antwoord chosen by Alex (Edinburgh School for the Deaf)

Album of year - real estate - days or ducktails - arcade dynamics, blood orange - coastal grooves.
MikoJohn Maus - We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves
Ashley - Vivian Girls - Share The Joy. Really though, I have been listening all year to the Die Antwoord album even if it is from 2010.

Diaper Island by Chad Vangaalen chosen by Paul Carlin (Ghost Pants)

All the best things come from Canada. I swear it's true. Chad VanGaalen is one of those things. Diaper Island arrived as spring was, well, springing and completely knocked my socks off from the first listen. It's the most cohesive-sounding album CVG has ever made and owes a fair bit to 'Public Strain' by Women (which CVG produced) in that it's stark, awkward and clanging. The songs, however, are some of the sweetest this man has ever written. CVG has such an ear for melody and an incredible sense of space. It's a wonderful record and, in Peace On The Rise, he wrote what is probably one of my favourite ever songs. All of Chad VanGaalen's records are sprawling, delightful and diverse. What he brought to the table with Diaper Island, however, was an ability to control the dark and light in his music and it's barely left my stereo all year.

Snowglobe EP by Jesca Hoop chosen by Grant (Sojourner)

Much like the e.p i’ll keep this short and sweet. When i went to see the Eels earlier in the year i found myself listening to a woman who had lovely hair and a lovely voice. This woman was Jesca Hoop. Subsquently i listened to her Snowglobe release and i througholly enjoyed it. I won’t go into too much detail about every song and the like but the whole thing has been recorded very well and sounds fantastic .The first track ‘City Bird’ is a great opening track to the e.p and the rest plays through with ease and no unnecessary production. I should have been listening to her years ago. Hopefully it will be your cup of tea as well.

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