When the powers-that-be at SSC (that’s “Sputnik Staff Central” for those out of the loop) almost ruled that all staff were to place their year-end lists on the blog this year, I quivered at the thought. It usually takes me about 15 minutes to center one picture, so could you imagine 25 or 40 of them!?
As it thankfully turned out, the consensus suggested such posting would be non-mandatory, allowing staff to be flexible with what they put up on the blog. All of a sudden, I thought that I would manage to scrape something half-decent together. And then, my learned colleagues had to get all artistic on me, didn’t they? Sowing led out before I even knew what my Top 25 albums consisted of… Chan & Tyler posted cool photos which would probably see me in jail for licensing infingements… Newbie Adam Knott went with the simple – but cool – idea of just listing songs instead of albums… Jom posted more links than I could click at… While Matt appeared from nowhere with a Hemingway-inspired half-a-dozen that totalled all of 18 words!
It was all too much for my feeble mind to take in… Resulting in this hodgepodge of albums, EPs, songs, videos, gigs & one final defining moment of 2011. Hopefully, it doesn’t come off as too informal and/or half-assed in places, and in the next week or so I will be formally posting my Top 40 albums & songs of 2011… As a LIST! Fuck change, it’s a tradition.
- TOP 3 ALBUMS OF 2011
I actually went into the year with the hope that none of my top 25 albums submitted for the year-end staff list would come with a 3.5 rating. As it turned out, there was no issue at all, with a strong year in music resulting in me finding a grand total of 34 albums that I rated a 4 or higher. Unfortunately, nothing earned a 5, but there were four albums which I eventually granted the prestigious 4.5 rating to. Apologies to The Jezabels for leaving ‘Prisoner’ off this blog post, but a top 11 is a top 11.
1. GIVERS – In Light
Not renowned for indie-pop, Louisiana has produced an extremely promising talent for the genre in Lafayette’s Givers. Their debut LP ‘In Light’ takes you on a trip around the musical world, with subtle Cajun & funk influences differentiating the band from the pack. With all 5 members being multi-instrumentalists & a brilliant boy/girl vocal dynamic, an expansive array of sounds & influences are apparent. Creative & experimental without sacrificing accessibility, ‘In Light’ is without filler & begs for repeated listens to explore its numerous layers, rhythms & melodies. Recommended Tracks: Meantime, Up Up Up, Atlantic, Noche Nada & Ceiling of Plankton.
2. MANCHESTER ORCHESTRA – Simple Math
After putting the “rock” back in indie-rock, Manchester Orchestra return in majestic fashion on ‘Simple Math’. An even fuller sound is evident here, with intricately layered arrangements being complemented by a strings ensemble & occasional horns. Both within songs & between them, the balance of vulnerable intimacy & tense power is expertly crafted, with Andy Hull’s intensely captivating vocals begging to be crooned, & then screamed, along to. With only the closer approaching filler, this is another superb & consistent release from this prolific & evolving Atlantan quintet. Recommended Tracks: Mighty, Simple Math, Virgin, Pale Black Eye & Pensacola.
3. FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE – Ceremonials
Bringing along her soaring, ethereal voice, flame-haired Florence Welch leads her Machine back for their 2nd LP ‘Ceremonials’. Unapologetically more sumptuous & grandiose than its captivating predecessor, the usual cavalcade of instruments & fantastic rhythms are once more evident. More cohesive than ‘Lungs’, Paul Epworth’s huge-sounding production initially muffles diversity & lacks restraint, but ‘Ceremonials’ turns out to be a real grower. It is ultimately a winner too, due to its bewitching nature, stirring highlights, rousing climaxes & alluring vocals. Recommended Tracks: What The Water Gave Me, Shake It Out, Spectrum, No Light No Light & Heartlines.
For the full list of my Top 40 Albums of 2011, click here: http://www.sputnikmusic.com/list.php?memberid=268913listid=92365
- TOP EP OF 2011
For whatever reason, I actually listened to a lot of EPs that were released in 2011… & surprisingly few really stuck with me. January had an excellent contender with the debut 12 minute release from Foster The People, which happened to include one of the catchiest songs of the year. Otherwise, this category was dominated by The Dear Hunter, the only band who somehow managed to release more EPs than James Blake! In truth though, I probably have 3 of their ‘Color Spectrum’ EPs at the top of this list! Which color was at the very top? Well, I’m certain it will be an unpopular choice, but while ‘White’ & ‘Violet’ were close behind, you all know I’m a rocker & love me some Andy Hull vocals.
1. THE DEAR HUNTER – Red EP
The most focused & consistent of all 9 EPs in ‘The Color Spectrum’ collection, the ‘Red EP’ highlights what The Dear Hunter can do when pulling back their progressive tendencies & playing straight-ahead alt-rock. The sound is reminiscent of a band like The Foo Fighters, where passionate anger & driving melodies combine seamlessly to result in a near faultless 14 minutes worth. The bass-driven ‘Deny It All’ is best, perfectly showcasing the guest vocals of Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull, who provides just the antidote to anyone claiming this effort lacks variety. Recommended Tracks: Deny It All, I Couldn’t Do It Alone & A Curse of Cynicism.
- TOP 2 SONGS of 2011
I’ve mentioned a few times around the site that I try not to fall into 3 common traps which many people seem to find unable to resist. The first is what I have titled “Lead Single Syndrome”, the 2nd is the hate for all things “mainstream” & the final one is the much feared “overplaying” of a song. Of course, it helps that I never listen to radio & very rarely watch music videos on television, but anyway… Ignoring the existence of ‘Party Rock Anthem’, I think the mainstream populous actually got a lot right in 2011 (I await my firing from SputnikMusic after that comment), with 2 of the most played & purchased songs (in Australia) being right up there as ’song of the year’ contenders.
1. ADELE – Someone Like You
For months, I couldn’t split album opener ‘Rolling In The Deep’ and closer ‘Someone Like You’. As a spoiler, whenever an album has 2 song of the year contenders, it’s pretty much a certainty that release will end up in my Top 10 albums of the year. ‘Someone Like You’ eventually won me over marginally more because of the way it blended genuine emotion with a sense of (for want of a better word) catchiness. Ballads which strike a chord with the mainstream populous will usually have one or the other, but not both. Also, they are usually very general so as to be easily relatable… ‘Someone Like You’ is, yet it is also undeniably personal. Beautifully sung by Adele & written by Adele and Semisonic vocalist Dan Wilson, this is the type of song that is timeless. And if ever an exclamation point had to be put on a song, then it was emotionally delivered at the BRIT Awards…
2. GOTYE (FEATURING KIMBRA) – Somebody That I Used to Know
“I don’t even need your love, but you treat me like a stranger and that feels so rough”. With that lyric alone, Wally De Backer (aka Gotye) sums up this song perfectly. His eloquent – yet to-the point – words are exactly how our own thoughts will always lack objectivity to some degree. In a sense, it’s such a simple story to this track, yet the way in which it is told is as beguiling as it is satisfying. And just when you think you have it pegged, Kimbra arrives with the other side of the story, almost chiding the male for how convincing his one-sided story is. ‘Hearts A Mess’ was really really good, but ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’ has deservedly earned mainstream crossover success for Gotye. His albums may be a little scattershot, but when he gets it right, he shows you exactly where the bullseye is.
- TOP 2 VIDEOS OF 2011
In these days of technological advancements, I may be alone in my “Fuck change, it’s a tradition” motto… But when I go to the movies, I prefer to watch films in 2D… & with as little CGI as possible. Of course, some studio trickery can assist in making for a better experience, but don’t let it take over the movie itself. This thinking seems to have found its way into my mind when it comes to music videos as well, with many of my best videos of 2011 being (for want of a better word) simple. Sure, the makers of my #1 video are probably cursing me for the time they spent on it, but the idea, photography, etc… is ultimately exactly that: simple… And all the more captivating for it too.
1. GOTYE (FEATURING KIMBRA) – Somebody That I Used to Know
No, it’s not because I like staring at naked Belgian born Aussie men for 4 minutes… Nor is it because I like body paint, angular art or Kimbra’s haircut. Yet, there is something just mesmerizing about the way in which this video has been put together. The choice of shots, as well as Wally De Backer’s face & movements perfectly capture the story of the song, as pieces of the puzzle come together in much the same way as the art in the video. And then, the significance of Kimbra’s entry into the track & her movement towards De Backer, as if her response is very much one that is controlled offense (ie: she’s a woman & she ain’t taking this shit). Of course, the man has the final say & she is (literally) put back in her place & takes her clothes off!
2. THE BLACK KEYS – Lonely Boy
To be honest, I’m unsure I can explain why I enjoy this video so much. I mean, everyone likes it when they first see it… But surely, it gets boring seeing it over & over again. NOPE! It works every time. Maybe, it’s because its simplicity & the cool dude’s actions perfectly highlight the components of the actual song, which is a ripper that will hopefully open up The Black Keys’ discography to a greater audience. Maybe it’s because this is simply how most people enjoy their favorite sing-along anthems when they are all by their lonesome or as drunk as a skunk performing karaoke. Or maybe it’s because he pulls out the chainsaw move rather than the cliched air-guitar solo. Who knows, who cares… It works.
- TOP 2 GIGS OF 2011
Every year I say that I’m going to attend more live gigs & every year I do… If only just. 2011 was once more productive, but there is always a sense that I could get out and see even more acts in a city which is especially well-known for its live music. Of course, much of it has to do with the hip pocket, and – in a sense – it’s ironic that was the reason why I almost did not go see the show which ended up taking out my #1 spot for 2011… & probably #2 for all-time!
1. ANBERLIN (August-29. Palace Theater)
I had already seen Anberlin twice earlier in 2011, so was initially leaning towards giving their “An Evening With…” show a miss when they journeyed back down under in August. Thank God that I did not, since the show may well have been the best concert I have experienced to date! Thinking outside of the square and, more importantly, big, the Floridian quintet carried this performance off with a confidence and charisma that may well be the final piece of the puzzle which has been required to send Anberlin to even more dizzying heights. A few lesser-known songs were played, a sensational version of Crowded House’s ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ made an appearance, as did We The Kings’ Travis Clark, Tonight Alive’s Jenna MacDougall & Horsell Common’s Mark Stewart. There was an acoustically played section, a little Q&A with the band and the 26 song setlist was aptly capped off by the phenomenal & awe-inspiring ‘*Fin’. On previous occasions, I had been a little critical of the band for attempting to rock themselves up too much, ultimately drowning out their major strengths: intricate musical hooks and Stephen Christian’s superb vocals. On this night, however, everything sounded so crisp… So (dare I say it) perfect!
2. FOO FIGHTERS (December-2. AAMI Park)
In a strange contradiction, the last decade or so has seen every man & their dog laud the Foo Fighters live show, while maintaining their recorded output has been on a steady decline. However, I am pleased to report that the arrival of their excellent seventh LP ‘Wasting Light’ did not see a reversal in fortune, with the Fooeys doing what they always do best: Rocking the f**k out. Headlining the first ever show at Melbourne’s AAMI Park (a 35,000 odd capacity soccer & rugby venue), Dave Grohl & Co. highlighted just how deep their back-catalog is, with hit after hit after hit leaving the audience in raptures. Whenever a break was needed (excluding the multiple stage invasions), extended instrumental jams were added on to the likes of ‘Breakout’ & ‘Stacked Actors’. The melodically catchy ‘Arlandria’ was the pleasant surprise of the new tunes, while the raucous ‘White Limo’ pleased those more metally inclined. The band were on point throughout, while Grohl was his usual captivating & charismatic self that makes him the kind of guy you just want to sink a pint with down at the local pub.
For the full list of my Top 10 Live Gigs of 2011, click here: http://www.sputnikmusic.com/list.php?memberid=268913&listid=91592
- TOP MUSICAL MOMENT OF 2011
1. TIFFANY LAMSON’S VOCAL ENTRANCE ON ‘MEANTIME’ BY GIVERS
While it wouldn’t be my personal choice, a valid argument could easily be made that the ‘musician of 2011′ was Londoner James Blake. The fact that the producer/singer-songwriter released a bevy of EPs as well as his debut LP, almost automatically made him a contender this year. One of his much-quoted strengths was the way in which he used silence as a weapon. Personally, I thought Blake too often did not provide a successful payoff for the silence, and – as can be seen with my high ranking of albums by both Manchester Orchestra & Florence and the Machine – I often prefer the exact opposite anyway. Meticulously layer a million noisy instruments in a way which pleases my ears and I’m happy. However, when the noise collides with beauty (silence or otherwise), pure bliss results. Such an example can be heard between the 2.28 & 2.38 minute marks of the following video: