Like last year, I got in touch with many Irish bands and artists to ask them to countdown their top five albums of the year. For the next week or so, I’ll be unveiling five lists a day, coming from the biggest and best names in Irish music.
- Tom Waits – Bad As Me
This is Tom Waits’s 17th studio album (if I’m not mistaken), and no-one has a right to be making music this good after 17 albums. It just sounds so fresh and vital, and he’s in great voice throughout. The vocal delivery – the grunts and the ‘huh!’s and the falsetto on ‘Talking At The Same Time’ – are just brilliant. It’s quite accessible by Tom Waits standards (the only really mental song is ‘Hell Broke Luce’, which is fantastic), but none the worse for that. The ballads are brilliant, especially, ‘New Year’s Eve’ which would have sat easily on Small Change. Best Tom Waits album since Mule Variations in 1999.
- Josh T Pearson – Last Of The Country Gentlemen
First saw this guy doing ‘Woman, When I’ve Raised Hell’ on Jools Holland and just thought it was amazing – that’s probably the single song I’ve listened to most this year, and I ordered the album the next day. It’s definitely not easy listening – really long songs, all of which are just incredibly mournful and sad, and almost entirely consisting of just acoustic guitar and Pearson’s whispered vocals. He sounds utterly beaten by life, but at the same time there’s a vein of desperate humour in the words too. A pretty harrowing album, all in all, but really rewarding. Every time I play it I get the urge to break out the whiskey so I have to ration it a bit.
- Bonnie ‘Prince Billy – Wolfroy Goes To Town
Another really hushed, downbeat album. Will Oldham is probably my number one, all-time favourite artist, and while neither he nor anyone else is ever likely to equal I See A Darkness, I think this may be his best since maybe The Letting Go. Just an incredible songwriter, the lyrics are really cryptic and gnomic and his voice, as always, is amazing. He’s always singing about God, which despite not being a religious person is something that really appeals to me, I don’t know why. The backing of the other musicians and vocalists is really subtle and perfectly judged. ‘New Whaling’ and ‘We Are Unhappy’ are two of the best Bonnie songs of recent years.
- Roots Manuva – 4everevolution
I feared the worst when I first saw that title, because it’s absolutely terrible, but it’s a superb album. It’s really diverse and adventurous, with an incredible range of styles: throbbing mutant disco (‘First Growth’), lolloping dancehall (‘Who Goes There?’), clattering ragga (‘Go Champ’), not to mention two absolutely fantastic pop songs in ‘Wha’ Mek’ and ‘Banana Skank’. ‘Skid Valley’ is a really fierce state-of-the-nation address, ‘The Throes Of It’ is completely epic and of course Roots is an amazing MC. He even sings a bit – he has quite a nice baritone going on.
- Jonti – Twirligig
Stones Throw have released some weird stuff over the years, but even for them this is pretty out-there. The production is absolutely outrageous, he’s basically operating in a field of one at the moment. It’s highly psychedelic, with pop melodies and sweet vocal harmonies rubbing up against crunching beats and jarring electronic noise. Full of really short songs and unexpected changes of direction, which could be annoying but he totally pulls it off on stuff like ‘Frightened Mice (Dots)’, ‘Nightshift In Blue’, ‘Firework Spraying Moon’ and ‘Cyclic Love’. A truly audacious first album, so weird but so accomplished. Completely unlike anything else I’ve heard this year, or any other year come to think of it.
Padraig, The P Affection
- St.Vincent-Strange Mercy
‘Cruel’ is perhaps one of the grooviest tunes of the year!
- The Strokes-Angles
A solid comeback from one of my idols! The Strokes kept it old-school cool with tracks like’ Happiness is two different things’ and ‘Machu Picchu’. Will always influence our music!
Saw them in the button factory a few weeks ago and was blown away by the force of their music. Album is full of anthems!
- Bombay Bicycle Club- A Different Kind Of Fix
These lads seriously just have it. The first records was amazing, the second was beautiful and this album is just downright groovy! A new sense of texture to the music gives it that lasting factor. A classic as far as I’m concerned.
- Mogwai- Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will
What can be said? Mogwai are Mogwai!
Elaine, The Riot Tapes
- ADELE – 21
This is a stunning record. Every single song is beautifully written and produced. There’s not one track that would cause a touch of the skip button. With so many wonderful songs, it’s so difficult to pick a favourite, but if I was pushed to, I would choose the amazing “Someone Like You”. The power of this song lies in its sparse arrangement, a solo piano and heartfelt vocals; Simply mind blowing. This is the one song that ever had me in tears! As a whole this whole album is genuinely brilliant. A true masterpiece!
- LYKKE LI – Wounded Rhymes
The Swedish princess has produced another fascinating album. Miss. Li has gone for the “dark” vibe in this record. With an album full of this much variety, there’s something to sit with every mood. “I Know Places” is now in my top 10 favourite songs of all time. Watching Lykke master the stage at Electric Picnic 2011 has made this album even sweeter!
- ROYSEVEN – You Say, We Say
Royseven’s 2nd album may not have received glowing reviews but it has been blowing out the speakers of my little Citroen all year long. This pop/rock album from Paul Walsh and his boys, is one that I have happily played over and over again. Their most popular song “We Should Be Lovers” opens up the album and gives a good indicator of what pleasures of radio friendly tracks to expect throughout the rest of the record. To add to the wonderfulness of the recordings, these guys also perform this whole collection astoundingly well live! Fav track: “Killer”.
- COLDPLAY – Mylo Xyloto
Like almost everyone, I fear that each new Coldplay record will fail to deliver. However, this new album from Chris Marin and co. has not disappointed. It’s full of energy and is consistent right the way through. When I put this album on, I’m guaranteed to be dancing!! Like all their previous albums, this too is a work of genius! Fav track: “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall”.
- GROUP LOVE – Never Trust a Happy Song
This group has been my star find of 2011 ever since watching them blow everyone out of the water at Electric Picnic. After seeing them live, I immediately went out, to an actual record store, and got the album straight away. The best song on this charming record is clearly their big hit “Colours”. However, it’s always a joy listening to all these wonderful ear warming tracks!
- HARD-FI – Killer Sounds
I got this album as a present this year, and oh my god, how I have loved it. The back of the CD will show just how much it’s been played. What surprised me most about this album was the fact of how unpopular it is! This record deserves more attention that it has received. It’s full of hard core energy and has at least of couples of anthems in there. Never fails to wake me up! Give it a go!! Fav track: “Give it up”
This beautiful album is new to my ears but I literally can’t stop listening. I find it incredible how a 15 year old school girl can put her stamp on all these tracks. Although they may be covers, she has certainly picked them well. From Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love” to The Naked and Famous “Young Blood”, this little Birdy almost makes these songs unrecognisable. The voice of an angel! Fav tracks: “Skinny Love” and “Terrible Love”.
- BLACK KEYS – EL CAMINO
After hearing everyone ranting and raving about this album, I had to see what all the fuss was about. Although I don’t know it inside out just yet, it has certainly already proven it’s worth. I wasn’t 30 seconds into the 1st track before it had me hooked! Pure rock, pure class!
- PJ HARVEY – LET ENGLAND SHAKE
This album is a million miles away from why I first fell in love with PJ Harvey with the likes of “This Is Love”. I was so excited when I heard she was releasing a new album this year. Honestly, the first listen didn’t exactly do it for me, however after two or three more listens I eventually succumbed to its unique charms and now just as much as Polly Jean’s previous works of art. There is something so special and unique about this album, it would be impossible for it not to grab your attention.
- THE AMBIANCE AFFAIR – BURIALS
This record is… special. It’s not exactly what I was expecting after seeing them live, but for a band that seems to morph and grow almost daily this shouldn’t be surprising. I do think it’s sort of a shame there’s no immediate single on it, but they’re not that sort of band, yet. As one of the best live bands I’ve seen in Dublin over the last few years, I knew I had to give this record a proper chance, and I’m glad I did. It’s about mood and isn’t just about black and white, but subtle shades of grey. A perfect album for a cloudy day.
- Im not one for writing about music so I’ve included a link to a track from each that I think sums up the each of the albums for me.
- The Weeknd – House of Baloons
The Party and The After Party
- Future Islands – On the Water
Before The Bridge
- Shabazz Palaces – Black Up
Are You Can You Were You (Felt)
- Modeselektor – Monkeytown
- Nicholas Jaar – Space is Only Noise
- Cashier No. 9 – To the Death of Fun
This has got to be my favourite album of the year. I listen to it at least four or five times every week and can honestly say that nothing can induce a strut walking home more than opening track Goldstar. With every track on it an absolute belter, To the Death of Fun will go down as one of the greatest Irish albums of all time. Produced by David Holmes, it’s the best thing he’s done since he told Phil and Paul Hartnoll to release ‘Belfast’ as a single.
- Wild Beasts – Smother
I’ve been in love with this band (like everyone else it appears) ever since their second album Two Dancers. Smother, their third LP is nothing less than fantastic. The intricate guitars and subtle synths delicately curl around singer Hayden Thorpe soaring falsetto in ways that could make the stoniest of hearts melt. Closing track End Comes Too Soon is the highlight of the ten songs for me, mesmerising stuff.
- Mogwai – Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
This is the seventh studio album by the Glaswegian post rockers. While it may not be their best record to date, (Mr. Beast holds that title and I will fight anyone who disagrees) it’s still a barnstormer. Tracks like White Noise, Rano Pano and Death Rays are sublime and bring the joy in a way only Mogwai can. This album proves that Mogwai have the ability to stay on top after all these years and remain relevant. After watching them play a mind blowing set in the Olympia earlier in the year, I can confirm that there is no better live experience than hearing Mogwai Fear Satan live. Damn I wish I was in Mogwai.
- Squarehead – Yeah Nothing
First off, any album that has Fake Blood on it is going to be on my end of year list. It is a perfect pop song and the best Irish song I’ve heard since Jape’s Floating. This album though shows us that there’s more to this three piece than just one song. The other songs on it will rid the most critical listener of any doubt, particularly humdingers like Midnight Enchilada, Axes of Love and Mother Nurture. Our old mucker Shane Cullen in K9 Studio did a great job making this and to be honest, I’m a little bit surprised that this album hasn’t been massive overseas, maybe it will be yet, it should be.