2011: Part Two...


Lug 5 2011, 13:27

And here we are, halfway through the year 2011. I honestly hope it's been better for you than it has for me, but then I spend most of my days being needlessly miserable and drowning out the continuous mess of the world with any great new music I can get my ears to listen to (plus much drinking and partying, it must be said), so that shouldn't be too difficult. But rather than bore you with such regaling, let's get down to business and have a listen to some of the best music to have been released over the past three months, eh?

1) Perfection by Oh Land

Kicking things off is the lovely Nanna Øland Fabricius, a singer-songwriter from Denmark who had previously trained as a ballet dancer only to have it torn away from her as a result of a nasty spinal injury. Turning her hand to pop music, she received enough local acclaim for her 2008 debut Fauna for Epic to sign her up and help her release her eponymous sophomore effort, which just so happens to contain some of the most head-turningly gorgeous pop you're likely to hear this year. One highlight from the LP is this contender for Best Opening Track For An Album Of The Year, riffing on Fabricius' dance background not just through the beautiful orchestral backing and her lyrics that evoke an obsessive scrutiny of her subject (is she singing about an unrequited love, a rival or herself?), but mostly on her vocal, so nimble and graceful as it pirouettes past the drum-machines whilst still retaining a wrenching yearning for something she feels is so out of reach, the irony being, with this song at least, she can lay claim to having achieved what her song's ultimately about.

2) Starlight by Sophie Ellis-Bextor

Let it be known right now that Mrs Ellis-Bextor really is the present generation's unsung disco queen. Despite being a natural successor to Kylie Minogue's niche of blissful, charismatic, swathed-in-poppers dance-pop, our dear Sophie has had a tough time getting her fourth album out into the world, thanks mainly to clangers perpetrated by her prior record label that have ultimately seen her release the frankly fabulous Make a Scene independently. To be honest, Not Giving Up On Love would have been on this list if it hadn't have been ignored by everyone (including myself) on its initial release last year, but Starlight is another just-as-sterling example of Sophie's star-power, a wistful disco-ballad about love that cements its superiority through Ellis-Bextor's adorable plummy-mummy cadence , not least when she offers one of the best lyrics of the year: "'Cause tonight/We've found Heaven in the dark"... I'm pretty certain she's not singing about drunkenly staggering through Soho trying to find G-A-Y, and even if she is, it's because she loves us gays that much! The Eurovision campaign starts here!

3) Checkers by WhoMadeWho

But don't worry, it's not all gay-friendly music around this place, I do have time for somewhat deranged dance music too. The first example being this pummeling piece of arm-throwing decadence from a Danish triumvirate who have coasted cult success with their previous releases but now, on the back of new mini-album Knee Deep, released under über-cool electro-label Kompakt, they seem to be poised to take no prisoners with regards to anyone caught under their meditative wares of dance-rock. Coasting on danceability for the previous few years from their self-released works, Checkers is a prime example where they let rip with utter confidence, but not before illustrating some intoxicating teasing courtesy of some of the finer slow-burn builds 2011 has yet heard.

4) Adult Goth by Gang Gang Dance

This was the band that threatened to sue Florence + Her Machine and won before it went to court. If that doesn't make you love this band, then how about the fact that they've composed the best club-friendly indie-electronica album you are likely to hear for the rest of this year (it's called Eye Contact, and it is fucking amazing!)? Describing it would be futile, so you'd just do well to listen to it for yourself. If you're still not convinced, then there's something wrong with you... and I would apologize on your behalf, but that would just be patronizing in the extreme.

5) NYC by Burial

There are those who dislike Burial, if you can believe it, for the fact that he doesn't deviate enough from his signature sound of dusty jungle beats and ambient distortion punctuated by otherworldly sampled vocals. Still, you can't really take those critics seriously if the likes of Four Tet and Thom Yorke are knocking on your door for a collaboration, and though those sessions brought a couple of mighty fine tunes on their own, Burial's own Street Halo EP is where the future of electronic music can be found. The best of the recent tunes is this one, which has already got his last.fm fans excited enough in order to prepare for a state of seemingly eternal rapture (I mean "ejaculating forever"? Really??)

6) House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls by The Weeknd

And if he collaborated with this singer-songwriter, they could very much take over the whole of the music-geek blogosphere with their thematically-familiar wares of alienation and loneliness filtered through with their post-modern perspective on urban decadence. If Wikipedia's to be believed, this particular R&B crooner isn't even legally allowed to enter the kind of establishments that his premier mixtape, House of Balloons, describes in such dark worldly beauty, but that doesn't stop him from composing some of the most sublime prog-rock R&B that the world needs to hear right now. There's a reason why the likes of Drake and Jamie xx are collaborating with him, and this title track is a prime example of the luridly epic scope that this young man's music has to offer, especially with regards to his impressive vocal skills.

7) Easy Please Me by Katy B

One of the breakout stars from the dubstep scene that exploded last year was Miss Kathleen Brien, a 22-year-old London native who raised a few impressed eyebrows when her debut single, Katy on a Mission, sauntered into the UK Single Chart's Top 5 last year. Fast forward eight months later and her debut album On a Mission fulfills that single's promise tenfold, Katy emerging as a star blessed with a mercurial likeability that is amiable and easy-going enough to sate mainstream radio listeners but still possesses a gritty enough edge so as not to sell herself out and betray her musical background. The album has plenty of wonderful moments to savour (not least one heralding the long-awaited return of one Ms. Dynamite), but as a succinct summation of the witty intelligence to be found on this R&B/Dance/Pop crossover, as well as having a video keenly demonstrating Katy's immense charm, Easy Please Me is the one that finds a spot on my playlist (and for the last time, no she doesn't sing "Africans"...)

8) Right Thing to Do by SBTRKT

And yet there's even more lovely urban dance music to celebrate on this blog entry; I blame the hot weather we've been having, because this South London producer's debut album in particular sports a mix of club-friendly sweatiness married with moments of chilled contemplation that provides the perfect soundtrack to strolling through the city during a hot summer. Having gained attention via some well-received remixes for the likes of M.I.A. and Little Dragon (who happen to feature on lead-off single Wildfire), as well as his somewhat-secretive nature in performing whilst wearing a formidable tribal mask, Aaron Jerome's LP has confounded a few listeners with its subtle production smarts that don't crash around your ears on first listen and immediately demand you throw some shapes, which is an assured curveball from a premier disc from an electronic dance artist. Still, you can't argue with sounds that send out as good a vibes as these, one highlight being this particular tune that may have the cutest bassline of 2011.

9) Second Song by TV on the Radio

I can't help but be moved every time I listen to this particular song from TVOTR's fourth studio album, Nine Types of Light. Not just because of its innate awesomeness, it being a sublime mix of funk, rock and soul that has been an assured characteristic of the band's output since they first started ten years ago; but also because the band's bass player Gerard Smith passed away due to lung cancer this year. I'm not normally moved by this kind of stuff to the extent that I write about it (I mean, people die; it's sad, but that's a given) but the fact that a member of my Favourite Band In The World died on my birthday isn't something I can't not think about.

10) Holocene by Bon Iver

In keeping with the Let's Just Have A Big Cry motif that my playlist seems to have inexplicably taken a drastic turn towards in the space of one song, here's one of the more beautiful tear-stained moments from Justin Vernon's eponymous follow-up to 2008's For Emma, Forever Ago, which could very well turn into the biggest album of the year, given the reaction from both critics and fans. Arriving after landing the most head-scratchingly curious guest spot on last year's hugest event record (mind you, pretty much everyone else in the world ended up on that album, didn't they?), Bon Iver's return is delicate, emotional and rich with ornate beauty, the kind of wonderful album that will get played relentlessly by BBC Radio but will still retain enough gorgeousness to survive continuous airplay for the next year or so.

11) Grown Ocean by Fleet Foxes

And following Iver on this list we have another folk outfit from America who made a big splash in 2008 after quietly selling over a million copies of their eponymous debut LP. Their sophomore effort Helplessness Blues boasts the typical features of a band taking a bigger-budgeted and more confident stride into the world after carving their own niche of wintry acousticisms, the arrangements being just that little bit more robust to sound more accessible to the passing listener whilst keeping their fans sated with plentiful examples of the beautiful harmonies that made everyone swoon in the first place. Closing track Grown Ocean is one such moment where Foxes are at their typically wistful best but also delivering something more emotionally accessible to the previous album's heartbreak, opening with an agreeable rumble that would have had no place on their previous album before giving way to a lovely flourish of woodwinds as frontman Robin Pecknold intones a dream-based narrative wherein he seems to experience a transcendent epiphany of the world's beauty. Some times, letting the light in will make everything alright.

12) Your Radio by Little Scream

Of course, the ebullient light of the Foxes' latest work can't stay around for long round these parts, and to begin the crash back down to earthy reality, we have the debut album from Laurel Sprengelmeyer, a self-learned multi-instrumentalist who has finally gotten round to releasing her debut album The Golden Record after spending years performing alongside the likes of Atlas Sound and Handsome Furs. Named after the 1977 Voyager 1 Space Shuttle's audio-visual disc that cataloged various sounds and images from Earth intended to be viewed by any other sort of intelligence the universe may yet behold beyond our own, Sprengelmeyer's premier disc is a strange beast boasting a head-turning mix of alt-indie electronica and soft moments of folk-tinged melancholy. An example where this particular one-two punch works best is when the almost-illegally pretty The Heron And The Fox is followed by this track, wherein Sprengelmeyer's layered vocals extol reassuring resolve to an unnamed comrade in her apocalyptic plight as the guitars and drums grow ever-larger and finally consume them. It's sublime stuff and worthy very much of your time.

13) Putting the Dog to Sleep by The Antlers

Having already established their reputation as one of the leading purveyors of emotionally-harrowing indie-rock with their well-received third album Hospice in 2009 (on which frontman Peter Silberman is still more-than-reluctant to be drawn into the events that provided the LP's inspiration), it makes sense to follow Little Scream with a cut from The Antlers' latest disc, Burst Apart, eerily so considering that she is supporting these guys on their current US tour. And though Burst isn't nearly so much on the emotional offensive as Hospice was, it still has its fair share of downer-inducing wares, the most clear-cut of which is this piece that closes the album with all of the subtlety of a sledgehammer making violent contact with a sheet of sugar glass, featuring Silberman wailing after his antagonist who is very much keen to put their relationship out of its misery, punctuated by a belligerently bluesy guitar riff whilst organs moan reservedly in the background. Still, with a title as tasteless and baiting as that, you're not expecting a barrel of laughs really, are you? (And don't worry, I'm certain they didn't have to put any animal down to make this song!)

14) We Bros by WU LYF

World Unite! Lucifer Youth Foundation. The name alone just screams pretentiousness, and the Manchester collective have been courting plenty of hype and controversy thanks ironically enough to their cagey affections for both the music press and major record labels keen to snap them up after courting substantial cult success in the native town, eventually opting to self-release their debut album Go Tell Fire to the Mountain and thereby cementing their reputation as British Indie Rock's Next Big Genuinely Exciting Thing. And lo and behold, be damned if the album itself exhibits enough surprisingly moving barminess to warrant such attention, combining post-rock, punk and world music to create a unique texture that doesn't sound like anything else around these days, particularly via the yell-along regularly-incomprehensible vocals that give the songs an urgency as dramatic, coarse but ultimately as uplifting as being trapped in the thrall of a joyous chant in the stands of a football ground. Galvanizing stuff, the best of which the band has to offer being found on the above track.

15) Sooner or Later by Cat's Eyes
And we finish up on some ultra-hip fuzzy indie-pop courtesy of The Horrors' Faris Badwan and classically-trained singer and composer Rachel Zeffira, whose shared fascination with girl group pop from the 1960s, especially works produced by the legendary Phil Spector, have yielded a curiously special little album, composed and produced whilst Badwan's bandmates built their own studio to record their highly anticipated third album. Endorsed by the Vatican after performing an impromptu concert for various of its cardinals via Zeffira's classical connections, the results have yielded some of the sweetest and lovely sounds to have been released this year, amongst some of the most doom-laden and forboding, a prime example of the latter being this Badwan-led mood piece wherein his dread-filled moans are punctuated by sinister electronics and a horrifically ominous horn section that appears to be playing live from the underworld. It might not be characteristic of some of the more indelible charming moments that the album has to offer, but it's the song I can't seem to stop playing most from this rather wonderful collection Badwan and Zeffira have wrought so wonderfully.

But I shan't end this blog entry on such a sour note, but rather ask that you follow this link, wherein you will find a free download of Will Wiesenfeld's latest EP under his Geotic band name, Bless the Self. It constitutes of fourteen minutes of the most beautiful music you will listen to all year, it's that pretty.

Now, enough of this blog malarkey. Until next time, take care!! ;) xxxo


  • ankitruva

    Wow! I'm listening to 'Sooner or Later' on your recommendation, and, wow!

    Set 23 2011, 10:25
  • Angelsmaycry

    You ROCK! :)

    Ott 31 2011, 13:33
  • astrolabe1976

    expansive, extensive and well done! i havent heard of half of these. i guess i have a lot of listening to do myself!

    Nov 29 2011, 16:26
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