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.
6 – AM & Shawn Lee – Celestial Forces [spotify]
I’ve been listening to a fair chunk of multi-instrumentalist and sometime Ping Pong Orchestra man Shawn Lee for a while and have liked the odd track but never quite fell fully into any album (other than the Bully game soundtrack). This transatlantic collaboration with AM produced a surprisingly great record with a genuinely warm down-tempo retro sound and some pretty melancholy lyrics. I could happily rest in many a park over the summer with this coursing through my ears.
5 – Pete and the Pirates – One Thousand Pictures [spotify]
I came to Pete and the Pirates due to becoming obsessed with Tap Tap, lead vocalist Thomas Sanders’ side project last year. Somehow, I never quite took to Pete and the Pirates the same way but with their third album I think they’ve captured some of that magic into their main sound, perhaps because they’ve dropped the guitar sound a bit further back in their mix to focus on Sanders’ rather appealing vocals whose higher notes just reek beautifully of the angst of young men. What grounds this album nicely is the way it picks up from ordinary lives and paints them into exciting little moments of melodrama. And there’s a lot of singable choruses. This is the kind of We All Drink And Try To Have Fun music Hard-Fi wish they were. And yeah, maybe it’s a bit more mainstream than normal for me.
4 – The Advisory Circle – As The Crow Flies [spotify]
The Advisory Circle is one of a number of particpants in the Ghost Box record label and is actually a moniker for one Jon Brooks aka King of Woolworths whose earlier works I’ve mentioned here before. There is a theme of Public Information Films, 70s discomfort (perhaps even 70s disco) and intricate electronica with odd perhaps found, perhaps not spoken word sections. I think As The Crow Flies is a simply perfect album, one of those rare items I can point to that got influenced massively by Boards of Canada but is also a little weirder, a little stranger and entirely itself.
3 – Andy Meecham – Monophonic Volume 1 [spotify]
Now Mr Meecham is another man known in many guises, one half of Bizarre Inc and hence also half of Chicken Lips I first came to and worshipped him seven years ago for the first Emperor Machine album. He’s now releasing under his own name (!) and setting himself the stiff target of making tracks using a single synthesiser, rather than the massively indulgent synthrepair.com reliant range of synths he was using on the similarly retro Emperor Machine project. This is absolutely glorious progressive synth stuff, with the same intriguing Radiophonic hues throughout that made me love Emperor Machine so much and yet refreshingly new in direction and tone. I can’t wait for volume two.
2 – Metronomy – The English Riviera [spotify]
Alright, I admit it, I got snared in by The Look as a single. But then I wound up buying the album a few weeks later and was utterly bewitched. This is a fascinating album in many ways. It represents a different, certainly more broadly appealing sound than their earlier work, though it had me diving back for their earlier far more electronic and angular work. In a year when England didn’t really have a summer this let me have one every single time I played it.
1 – Misty’s Big Adventure – The Family Amusement Centre [not on spotify 🙁 but their earlier stuff is]
I’ve been raving about Misty’s on here for about five years now. A few albums and a world of grumpy fun later they wound up having to finance the release of their latest album themselves in a fan funded campaign on pledgemusic. Quite why that should have happened escapes me, as this is easily their finest album and it’s probably no exaggeration to say I’ve listened to something from this most days since I got it.
Why is this? Am I just a crazed fan then? No, The Family Amusement Centre is the perfect balance. Yes, Misty’s are not creating perfect happy accessible pop songs. Yes, they do purposely make pretty odd songs. Yes, Gareth’s voice is not quite that of an angel. But, thing is, Misty’s are a band packed full of musical talent and knowledge who’ve just kept going and are always a blast live. Just Another Day and Cheer Me Up leapt out from the album to soundtrack my summer. They’re not entirely happy songs, but they are optimistic despite talking of life in it’s complexity.
DISCLAIMER: Yes, I am a massive Misty’s Big Adventure fan. Yes, I paid something like £60 to get a special box set from the band when they were seeking support to get this put out. But no, I did the same for They Might Be Giants and their new album was, frankly, crap, so it’s not just my emotional and monetary investment combined. Yes, they’re a bit odd. Watch my playlist of their fantastic live gig in London in November.
FURTHER DISCLAIMER: I’m sure Misty’s next album will be even better, save your money for that.