Friday, December 30, 2011

Top 40 Albums of 2011... 20-1

So here they are, my favourite 20 albums of 2011.  It's a little bit country-centric but that's what a holiday in Nashville does for you.

20) JANEDEAR GIRLS (JaneDear Girls) 
I was introduced to this one purely because they were an act at the Country Music Festival I was going to and I hadn't heard of them.  One spin of their breakthrough single Wildflower was enough to have me ordering the album. And whilst that song remained the best one on the album this is a CD jam-packed with modern toe-tapping Country stompers.  And if you know me, you know I love that kind of thing. CHOICE CUT: Wildflower

19) ON A MISSION (Katy B)
I have to admit to being a little non-plussed at first by that one she did with Ms Dynamite (mainly because I didn't have a clue what the guest was babbling on about) but it did grow on me (to the lengths that I was annoying people at work by constantly humming it) and a fair portion of the album has the same effect on me.  Doesn't hurt that she's rather cute either does it?  It might have snuck even higher if Louder had been on it.  CHOICE CUT: Katy On A Mission

Arguably the most "difficult" listen on this list, it is worth persevering with this one as repeated listens reward you with an experience quite unlike any other you will have had in 2011.  People have mentioned artists as varied as Patti Smith, Nirvana and Bat For Lashes as influences and/or sound-a-likes but whilst that might give you some idea as to the sound it doesn't begin to really describe it.  CHOICE CUT: Milkman

17) THE SECRET SISTERS (The Secret Sisters) 
The one album off this list that I nicked from my Dad.  Then again, I did buy it him.  I can understand why he likes it given that it's 1940s/1950s country influences are worn distinctly on it's, erm, sleeve and the line up of stellar musicians on hand is quite incredible.  The songs come from varied sources, such as George Jones, Buck Owens and Bill Monroe but such is the gorgeousness of the harmonies from sisters Laura & Lydia Rogers that every song is made their own. CHOICE CUT: Why Baby Why

16) YEAR OF THE WOLF (Nerina Pallot) 
Yes, I do love Nerina and yes, I am biased but this was, in my opinion, a step up from The Graduate, and I liked that a lot too.  In fact in Put Your Hands Up and All Bets Are Off it has two of her best ever songs.  This is typically intelligent, catchy and moving fare from Nerina. CHOICE CUT: All Bets Are Off (which is my favourite Nerina song ever).

15) DAYBREAK (Sierra Hull) 
You might be mistaken upon hearing this for the first time that you've stumbled across a hitherto unknown Alison Krauss album and there is no denying that Sierra Hull does have that sound.  And yet for all the comparisons (and it's not doing either of them a disservice to make that comparison) there is something unique and fresh about Hull's way of doing things and her fiddle and mandolin playing is second to none.  But for all the nod's to the past this is not slavishly following bluegrass trends; it's taking them and making them her own.  CHOICE CUT: Don't Pick Me Up

14) STRANGE MERCY (St. Vincent)
Back in 2009 St Vincent' Actor took the top spot in my album of the year chart.  This follow-up hasn't quite reached those heights but it is another cracker even if it never fully convinces as a whole in the same way that it's predecessor does.  CHOICE CUT: Surgeon

13) SWEET DREAMS (Mandy Barnett)
Mandy Barnett is perhaps my favourite Country N Western vocalist of all time.  I know half of you will be wondering why I have such a "favourite" in my collection but there you go.  Unlike countless of modern singers Barnett can sing Country like it should be sang.  She's a throwback to a bygone age if you'd like to put it that way.  A long career only reaches it's fourth album here but given that Barnett came to fame for her portrayal of Patsy Cline it was perhaps fitting (if LONG overdue) that she released an album of Cline songs.  And this is stunning.  She's as good as Cline, if that's not too blasphemous.  Absolutely anyone who is anyway inclined to this kind of thing has loved this when I've introduced them to it in 2011.  Plus I got to meet her in Nashville, and see her perform live twice.  CHOICE CUT: Walking After Midnight

12) SUCK IT & SEE (Arctic Monkeys) 
A bit like Franz Ferdinand, stay with me here, Arctic Monkeys seem to get more interesting to me the "less" commercial success they have.  Here they returned to the tunes that were missing from predecessor Humbug whilst keeping some of the willful strangeness in the lyrics.  It just goes to prove that sometimes bands can indeed be better when, you know, they don't go out of their way to write songs that aren't radio friendly.  CHOICE CUT: Don't Sit Down Cause I've Moved Your Chair

11) FEEL IT BREAK (Austra) 
It took me a while to get into this (and an insanely delayed flight from Memphis to New York helped give me some "quality time" with it) and it's fair to say that it's one of those "dance" records that you can't really dance to.  But slowly over time it really dug it's fingers into me.  It has some great potential singles but also meshes together as a collective whole.  CHOICE CUT: Beat And The Pulse.

This  was an example of someone coming back from a debut album that didn't wholly convince me with something that utterly struck me down numb, to the level that I had to revisit the first album just to see if I'd gotten it wrong the last time.  I hadn't, just about, beacuse Youth Novels was definately a work in progress whereas Wounded Rhymes is fully realised in every sense.  Heralded by the awesome Get Some, the rest of the album lived up to that first taste and more so.  CHOICE CUT: I Follow Rivers

9) YOU & I (The Pierces) 
Initially I was a bit upset that The Pierces had shunned their slightly weird side to hook up with some bloke from Coldplay and records an album of radio-friendly smashers, but then I realised that who was I to question a career move of that nature, especially when it seems like the other option had been giving up altogether.  And deep down this still has that strangeness that made them such a standout proposition in the first place.  CHOICE CUT: Love You More

8) OH LAND (Oh Land) 
I don't normally go in for bemoaning the state of the record industry, but it perplexes me that someone like La Roux (one and a half decent songs) can have quite a bit of success and someone like Oh Land labours somewhat more towards the bottom end of the charts when Nanna Oland Fabricus has an album like this where virtually every song on it SHOULD be a decent chart hit.  Still as long as she keeps producing albums like this I can live without the hits... CHOICE CUT: We Turn It Up

7) KITTY WELLS DRESSES (Laura Cantrell)
Another album on my list that consists (mostly) of cover versions, this time seeing Laura Cantrell singing the songs of Kitty Wells.  It's also another CD that I bought for my dad and then promptly stole from him.  The arrangements are generally simple and relatively sparse but that's all this fantastic collection of songs need.  Great timeless songs sung by a great timeless singer.  What more do you need? CHOICE CUT: It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels

6) CINDERELLA'S EYES (Nicola Roberts) 
After the abysmal solo effort by Nadine and the really rather bland Americanised pap that Cheryl offers up it was with some trepidation that I met the news of Nicola's solo project.  But bugger me, if it wasn't a smasher.  Lead single Beat Of My Drum was an effective showcase for an album packed full of weird, wonderful but above all catchy pop tunes with a lyrical sensibility that can make you both laugh and cry, sometimes within the one song.  CHOICE CUT: Porcelain Heart

5) CONCRETE (Sunny Sweeney) 
If Dolly Parton was some kind of time travelling queen and started her music career in 2011 she might well have been something like Sunny Sweeney (and I know that Sweeney had one stab at stardom back in the previous decade). That's not to say that this has a "Dolly" sound at all (and in fact lyrically, its more Tammy Wynette) just that Sweeney is one of the precious few around in the modern Nashville scene who can really sing the style and mean it from the bottom of her heart.  It doesn't fit entirely with what Nashville Radio is after, but when it's something this good, who cares? CHOICE CUT: Helluva Heart

4) ANNA CALVI (Anna Calvi) 
In some ways she was this year's Bat For Lashes; in that a beguiling and mysterious characterisation was backed up by some of the finest songs knocking about at the moment.  A virtuoso voice and some seriously kicking musical beats.  And if you were ever in any doubt that this was all style over substance along comes The Devil, with just Calvi, a guitar and some haunting raw emotion.  A genuine experience you could get nowhere else in 2011.  CHOICE CUT: First We Kiss

I've been a fan of Ladytron since happening upon the delectible Seventeen for some long forgotten reason years ago.  Gravity The Seducer was, in my ears, their best album since Light & Magic.  There are a high number of instrumentals here and on other tracks the vocals seem less important to the atmosphere than ever before and it didn't get a universal reception compared to Velocifero, but I'm right.  This is even better than that.  CHOICE CUT: Ritual

2) EXPERIMENTS (Florrie)
You may accuse me of cheating.  You'd be right too.  Yes, this was only a 6 track EP but as every track was a belter (and I could have fitted all six songs into my top, say, 30 songs of the year without any trouble) and she was the most exciting "pop" act of the year for me (in the true sense of the word) I had to put this in this list and it had to be as high as it is.  I hope 2012 is the year she makes a proper impact even if my usual curse proves to come true again.  CHOICE CUT: Experimenting With Rugs

1) LITTLE RED BOOTS (Lindi Ortega) 
As soon as I heard this album my first thought was that this was the best thing I'd heard all year.  I haven't changed my mind either.  It's perhaps fitting given the year I've had that a "Country" album grabs the top spot but this is more than a great Country album, it's a bloody brilliant album full stop.  Sass, attitude and lyrical wit combine with killer tunes to make an album that doesn't have a less than great song on it.  Absolutely stunning.  CHOICE CUT: All My Friends

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