So, as the New Year approaches, here are our favourite albums of 2011 for your consideration. Feel free to dispute, argue, or otherwise put us right because, if nothing else, music is as about as subjective topic as it is possible to get. Some of these may not be the “best” albums of the year as far as the critics are concerned, but that matters not, as they were the ones we enjoyed listening to most – give them a try, you might feel the same.
So, the penultimate entry before Mrs Mackerel finishes off this year’s set of Top Ten postings tomorrow is my very own.
Without further ado…
10. Milk Music – Beyond Living
Although it was released early in the year, I only discovered it recently. A full on, no holds barred, nihilistic 70s punk attitude and the very best of the heavyweight riffs of the grunge era is a mighty powerful combination. One that makes me wish my car stereo went all the way up to eleven.
If there is one mystery to me in the world of music, then it is how James Jackson Toth aka Wooden Wand can be so damn prolific across so many genres and yet suffer no discernible dip in quality – not that I’m complaining. Another great year and too many tracks to choose from, but in the end it was this, seemingly an afterthought on his forthcoming boxset that makes up Volume 3 of his archives – a simple folk ballad that still managed to be head and shoulders above most things released this year.
I’ve mentioned this two or three times recently and posted it earlier today so not much more needs to be said about this either. Simply that it is pure, sugar-coated garage pop with just the right amount of surf inspired twang that in a parallel world would have been the woozy, feel-good hit of the summer.
Deer Tick’sDivine Providence was, mostly, a rowdy, rambunctious good time rock’n'roll record that was meant for late nights of whiskey drinking and bar-room brawls. But tucked away in the middle of all the heady intoxication was this track: sombre, reflective, and undeniably sobering. It was the soundtrack to a heavy heart and lonely regret washed by the first light of an early morning dawn and may well be the best thing they’ve ever done.
3. Felice Brothers – Fire At The Pageant
Voodoo, zombies, sinister nursery rhyme chants, classic Felice Brothers lyrics and a woozy, old-timey, back porch rhythm means this song should have been an utter mess. That it was the complete opposite stands tribute to this bunch of ramshackle mavericks of increasingly experimental Americana.
The most bitterly caustic song I heard all year meant it was a shoe-in for my top ten. I originally said “it drips venom over a heavy, single drumbeat, a vicious guitar strum, and spits lyrics like physical bullets”, and this still sounds a pretty fair summation to me.
1. Middle Brother – Daydreaming
From the simple picked guitar line and weary, melancholy opening lyric, the scene is set for a raw, unflinching excursion courtesy of McCauley’s craggy vocals and beer-soaked romanticism. Loneliness never sounded so…well, lonely.
Almost Made It
The Wooden Shjips pulverising Lazy Bones, Tom Williams & The Boat’s observationally wry and off kilter Wouldn’t Women Be Sweet, the blistering euphoria of Wye Oak’sCivilian, and LONG’s criminally ignored and under-rated Shoot Your Dog. If there was a better example of dark, claustrophobic psych-rock this year than the Ganglian’sJungle then I didn’t hear it, while A.A. Bondy’s dark-hearted The Twist and Twilight Hotel’s epic road trip Mahogany Veneer were both superb examples of modern Americana. Back home, Metronomy’s ultra catchy The Look, and Male Bonding’s fuzzed up, yet still sugary What’s That Scene? flew the flag for the UK - on another day, in another year, all could so easily have been in the final shake up.
Download The Ganglians – Jungle mp3 (from Still Living)
Download Metronomy – The Look mp3 (from The English Riviera)
Hurray for the Riff Raff’s mesmerising My Sweet Lord and Phosphorescent’s reverent take on Neil Young’sAre You Ready For The Country? were both outstanding, but just pipped by Siskiyou’s own Young cover, the skeletally menacing Revolution Blues. Titus Andronicus payed due homage to Nirvana’s classic Breed, but best of all was Middle Brother’s version of the Replacement’sPortland.
How on earth had Okkervil River escaped me for so long, particularly John Allyn Smith Sails and the superb For Real. Likewise with Wilco’sMisunderstood – I’d heard it, but this year I actually listened to it. Shellac’sPrayer To God is the most vicious song I’ve ever heard and one of the best, and so too Fugazi’sWaiting Room. Richard Buckner’s heartbreaking Emma was a revelation and James McMurty’s rollicking live version of Choctaw Bingo was eight minutes of pure, adrenalin fuelled Americana.
Despite the end of the year fast approaching, thankfully the quality of new music shows no signs of slowing. Here are the best of our November offerings, together with some tasty new tracks to round off the mix.Over thirty great songs – just right for the roaring fire and the cocoa!
Simply stunning excursion into a shifting, twilight world that slowly builds on the back of a sparse, plucked guitar and almost spoken vocals into a swirling, epic peak of rhythmic guitars and cracked vocal harmonies.
And there’s more. To round off the mix we have a gorgeous new one from MM faves, the folky Bowerbirds who will release a new album in March on Dead Oceans, the first taste of individual bubblegum garage from Hunx (as in & His Punx) solo effort appropriately called Hairdresser Blues, the effortlessly sleazy Black Bananas (formerly RTX) and Rad Times from their forthcoming album Rad Times Xpress IV and lastly former Dawes member Alex Casnoff has a new band Harriet and a new EP Tell The Right Story. I Slept With All Your Mothers is the brilliantly named and gripping lead track.
Siskiyou’s new album Keep Away The Dead is an unsettling one. The vocals of Colin Huebert are probably the antithesis of what should be considered good and proper – the epitome of wavering, or quavering perhaps – and yet they work beautifully on this collection. The music itself is a restless blend of country rock, folk, and grander orchestral rock and like a musical butterfly, the album touches on all in turn but barely stays long enough to create a sense of belonging before moving on again to touch down somewhere else.
Don’t be fooled though – this is not a cheerful album – far from it. The album starts with the invocation, “Death to me, death to him, let’s all die young” and that pretty much sets the scene for what follows. In fact the sense of isolation and loneliness that runs through is it is palpable like a presence in the room with you. It is an intense album, one that demands attention and is unwilling to grant even the briefest of refuge or respite from from the bleakest of images and moods that the songs create. In fact it feels as though it often evokes the biting northern winds of the chilly town of Mara where the record took shape.
The centrepiece of the album is a stunning cover of Neil Young’sRevolution Blues and it is presented in the most haunting and paranoid way imaginable. Insecurity, fear, and barely suppressed rage compete for supremacy in a genuinely spine tingling way.
Have a listen.
While our download problems continue you can grab yourself a freebie from the album in the shape of the pleasingly ragged Twigs And Stones from the excellent Folk Hive blog here.