Another year, another format for my best music of the year. This year, I’m dividing into three parts: my favourite six albums, my favourite tracks and my favourite old music.
So, to kick off here are the six albums from 2011 that I really enjoyed in 2011. There are lots of surprising omissions from this list, as a lot of artists that I really like and even saw live such as St Vincent, Amon Tobin and Devotchka had new albums this year. But, much as I enjoyed a few tracks from each of their albums I didn’t actually get into them as albums. It really was in many ways a year of rather disappointing albums. However, these six are really damn good. None of them are début albums, though some marked new directions whilst others put a level of polish on that made for supremely easy repeat listens. There is an order to this list and I’ll go in reverse order.
This week I have been mostly listening to the new St Vincent album, Actor. I originally tripped up over her first album Marry Me on emusic, having seen it reviewed on Pitchfork. Marry me was stuffed full of lengthy, wordy songs with her clear and crisp vocals matched with equally clear and crisp guitar and light orchestration which made it at times feel like some kind of Broadway musical. If anything frustrated me it was a slight lack of edge, but I still loved what was there.
Then, smack out came her new album Actor preceded by the single Actor Out Of Work, which hinted at but didn’t reveal the fine balance that the Actor would tread.
For St Vincent it’s indecently loud, with NOISE everywhere, little wonder the others in the music video are crying. There’s also distortion everywhere, and it’s distortion that this album really specialises in. [1. At times, having just installed a new sound card, I was getting concerned my drivers were installed wrongly and malfunctioning.] One track that’s really come to be my favourite is Marrow, where the noise and distortion is combined with horns to create a fascinating funky backing to the kind of pitying lyrics that I’m more used to hearing from male vocalists. [2. maybe because I listen to more of them]
In a rare move, critical judgement of this album is similarly positive elsewhere though I am perplexed by an NME review that seems little more than a list of name checks.
…you’ll have to eat your meat.
Or so it seems on emusic, where after many attempts at finding a solution to the problem of licensing the excellent DJ Kicks series of mix albums they have added a new download restriction – albums where you either download the whole thing or nothing. Reaction in the reviews on the albums has been mostly furious, especially as for one of them (Four Tet) they’ve only uploaded part of a mix. I’m not sure I get the anger myself, these are mixes after all, so they should be enjoyed in their totality. On the other hand it is always nice to test the waters on an album with a single track, and restrictions are always a bad idea unless absolutely necessary.
Obviously the problem behind this is licensing of compilations. I’ve only ever bought a couple of DJ Kicks albums myself, being the rather excellent ones by Annie and Erlend Ã˜ye (the singing DJ). I have now whacked the Kruder & Dorfmeister onto my save for later pile, which at a mere 295 albums possibly needs a bit of a prune. emusic may be about to suffer interesting times again now as various bigger players move into the non-drm digital music market, hell I’ve even bought a few things from itunes plus, though only because they took too long to appear on emusic. My two year sub with emusic runs out in a couple of months and I’m still pretty likely to renew, having to pay once every so often for access to a huge library of independent music is hard to beat.