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.
Part One: The Casanova Wave, Toby Kaar, Eleanor McEvoy, Storyfold, We are Losers
Part Two: My Pilot, The P Affection, The Riot Tapes, Tenaka, and Youth Mass
Part Three: Alarmist, Bantum, The Debutantes, I am Not Lefthanded, and Yeh Deadlies
- Bonnie Prince Billy – Wolfroy Goes To Town
Will Oldham is one of those characters who never really makes it into the spotlight, so I cherish anything he releases, feeling like almost part of a secret club. So, when Wolfroy came out toward the end of the year I bought it in full confidence I wouldn’t feel the need to hit the ‘flick’ button on my car stereo. The album is so simple it almost makes me use descriptive words like ‘beautiful’ and ‘delicate’ without feeling a loss for my masculinity. I immersed myself in this and in return it provided me with the invisible warmth of an electric blanket. Songs like ‘Black Captain’ are shamefully good. I made up excuses to go on long drives just to spend more time with this record. It didn’t, however, improve my driving skills. Oh well, great album!! (C.L.)
- Foo Fighters – Wasting Light
This is personally one of the most anticipated albums of 2011 and unlike most it delivered more than a mid-wife. The whole romantic recording story with analog equipment had me won over even before the album was released. This is a full-on, no nonsense assault from maybe the biggest rock and roll band alive today and at their peak. It made my dentures shake and had those familiar Foo’s hooks that kept their songs stored in my head well into the year! (C.L.)
- Tom Waits – Bad As Me
I get the feeling from this album that many of the songs could fit perfectly on many other releases from Tom Waits throughout the years. Opener Chicago could easily have appeared on Rain Dogs, or Pay Me wouldn’t be out of place on The Heart of A Saturday Night, but as a complete album the mix of songs maintains a cool groove. Legends Charlie Musselwhite, Keith Richards and Flea all make appearances on several songs across the record and Tom’s own son, Casey, plays drums throughout. Standout songs for me are “Satisfied”, “Get Lost” and “Bad as Me”. (S.McG.)
- Ryan Adams – Ashes and Fire
I was always a massive fan of his work and this album is an amazing addition to his collection. Lucky Now is one of my favourite songs of 2011. (D.McA.)
- Seasick Steve – You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks
This aptly titled album is a beautiful dirty blues record featuring legendary former Led Zeppelin bassist, John Paul Jones. Slightly more varied in approach than the bluesman’s previous stuff but perfectly satisfying if your coming to the album not looking for a revelation in his sound. (E.L.)
Come on Live Long
- Ken: Radiohead, The King Of Limbs.
On their 8th studio outing, Radiohead continue to confuse and astound with ground-breaking material which, unsurprisingly, sounds very little like anything else they have released thus far – It feels dark (think Hail To The Thief) while still remaining hopeful (think In Rainbows). The first 5 tracks are all choppy, layered, intricate beats, infused with samples and synths, eventually giving way to three soulful, transcendent ballads (check out the flugelhorn on Codex). TKOL does however, retain the distinctive Radiohead feel – warm guitar tones, subtle basslines, Thom Yorke’s cryptic lyrics and distinctive falsetto, Nigel Godrich’s production…At just 37 minutes, TKOL still manages to feel absolutely epic. And like every other Radiohead album, it gets better each time you listen to it. But if that’s not enough for you, check out the TKOL remix series featuring the considerable talents of Caribou, Nathan Fake and Four Tet among others (Four Tet’s remix of Separator might well be the greatest remix of all time).
- Dotts:The Weeknd, House of Balloons.
This album came out in March and completely blew us away. The man behind the music , Abel Tesfaye who we believe is Ethiopian/Canadian has made RnB cool again with the release of House of Balloons. Its hard bass lines , sweet melodies and drug fuelled lyrics make this release stand out as one of the best albums of 2011. Stand out tracks include What you need and The party and the after party.
- Steve:Bon Iver, Bon Iver.
It was always going to be tough for Justin Vernon to follow up 2008’s For Emma, Forever Ago. Having been catapulted into the limelight by a debut offering that encapsulated a man with a heavy heart and a lack of perspective, Bon Iver is a confident and self-assured follow up.Driven by lush hooks, pounding percussion and soaring moments of brass, string and vocal interplay, it is hard not to be moved by the stunning musicianship on this album.There is a visceral instinctiveness about Vernon here; something that appeals to your gut feeling deep down and to achieve that is a feat in itself. Stand out tracks include “Holocene”, which is accompanied by an amazing video, “Perth”, “Towers” and “Minnesota WI”.
- Rob:The Middle East – I want that you are always happy.
This album blew me away. I discovered it thanks to Jim Carroll in The Ticket. He said “It’s a brave band that leaps from a speeding bandwagon” and that’s pretty much what they’ve done. They broke up soon after the album was released but needless to say, they left us with some amazing songs. Check out the tracks ‘Jesus came to my birthday party’, ‘Land of the bloody unknown’ and ‘Black death 1349′ and you’ll see what I mean.
- Some more albums that we really enjoyed this year include:
James Blake, James Blake
Toro Y Moi, Underneath the Pine
PJ Harvey, Let England Shake
- The Field – Looping State of Mind
The field’s music always has that ability to suck you into his world of tiny sample fragments and simple beats, and keep you there. On this album he’s done it again but he seems to have added another layer to everything, and well, it’s just lovely to listen to.
- Tenaka – EPhemeral
This is definitely my favourite Irish release of the year, and there’s been plenty of competition! I know it’s not a full album, but just listen it to twice, it’s worth it. Also kudos must be given for his curating skills, the guest appearances read like a best of list themself. Excellent electronica.
- Alva Noto – Univrs
An album where not one noise is used unnecessarily, it is a kind of exploration of the building blocks of sounds themselves, and how they are generated, in the form of replicating rhythmical patterns, interspersed with bleeps and what sounds like office machines dying. It’s one for the headphones when you are in the mood for something a bit different.
- Patrick Kelleher and His Cold Dead Hands – Golden Syrup
This is one album I kept coming back to in 2011. It draws on a range of styles alright, but channels a lot of these disparate elements to form a sound and aesthetic that works, aided no doubt by some strikingly good songcraft. Miracle Candle is an especially fine album opener.
- M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
Anthony Gonzalez has done himself proud with this one. It is a joyful, exuberant, brilliantly textured work that turned my preconceptions of the double album on their head. Again he creates a world that you can get lost in – maybe that escapism is what makes this such a compelling album.
- Cass McCombs – Wits End
After “Catacombs” Cass McCombs could have done pretty much anything he wanted and still been a total hero in my book. Great voice, great musician, great performer. The first song released was “County Line” which is as near to a perfect song as you could imagine. The album followed through in the same vein. Full of subtleties, there’s a gentle dynamic to this album that is rare and precious.
- Josh T Pearson – The Last of the Country Gentlemen
It’s one of the best break-up albums ever! He covers all the angles, all the thoughts and with total openness. Pearson lays it all out using same chords as the rest of us but its all about that delivery and the melodies. I guess sometimes you have to be in the humour for it but I find it draws me in pretty quickly. I guess a pre-cursor to this could be Willie Nelson’s “Phases and Stages” but I really can’t think of any other folk album that has the breadth and power of Last of the Country Gentlemen.
- The War on Drugs – Slave Ambient
As a big fan of Dylan, Petty and Springsteen its hard to resist The War on Drugs. It somehow manages to have them all hear in equal measure between melodies and composition. It’s not all guitars pushed out front which adds to its longevity and there’s some great drifty synthy moments. Looking forward to listening to this one in the summer.
- King Creoste and Jon Hopkins – Diamond Mine
Its almost like listening to film at first, the opening minutes have almost no music as you hear a Scottish waitress taking orders in a café. Its an album that really transports you, the fragile voice and traditional sounding melodies make it sweet and nostalgic. When I heard Jon Hopkins involved I was expecting it to be laden down with electronic parts but they’re a light touch that just keep it interesting, adding another dimension. Lyrically I’d liken Creoste to maybe Aidan Moffat…on the dry! It’s also a great headphones album.
- JAPE – Ocean of Frequency
One of the main things that attracts me to Jape is Richie’s grim lyrics and sense of humour. This carried me through my first few listens, then the music took over. There’s so much going on between various electronics and live instruments it should be overwhelming but it just works. I think this is a testament to the man’s patience and skill. “You Make the Love” and “Its Shadow Wont Make Noise” are two one of my favourite songs of the year. One for going out at night, the other for when you get home.
- Other notables:
Norabelle – The Wren
Wye Oak – Civilian
Bill Callahan – Apocalypse
John Maus – We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves
- Shabazz Palaces – Black Up
Along with some OFWGKA material, this album was a rare breath of fresh air in the fairly stagnant world of US rap and hip hop. Full of sharp lyrics and inspired production, this is a rich and engaging listen which reminds me of classic Outkast in its originality and creativity. Great to hear some reverb on rap vocals too! (Neil)
- Thundercat – Golden Age of Apocalypse
No bass player could resist this album – the guy’s technique is ridiculous. There’s so much more than that, though – his pop sensibility, his feel for a groove, his knowledge of when to hold back and when to indulge, and the way the whole album flows as a whole piece of work. Having Flying Lotus as producer doesn’t do any harm either… (Tim)
- Little Dragon – Ritual Union
Seeing them play a cracking set in the Button Factory last month really sealed the deal on this one. The album already had me hooked though, they have that great knack of making music that seems simpler than it really is – each track is deceptively layered and crafted, and full of lovely analogue synth sounds to get lost in. (Tim)
- Beirut – The Rip Tide
Probably the best thing he’s done. You don’t get many surprises with Beirut, but on this album he’s really refined everything about his music – the arrangements are consistently interesting, there are a few real “wow” moments, and every song hits the spot. (Tim)
- Metronomy – The English Riviera
This album isn’t perfect, and I think it meanders a bit in the middle. But the good moments are amazingly good, and the production is so consistently excellent – full of lovely bass grooves and unexpectedly great synth solos – that the album gets away with having a huge amount of stylistic variation. (Tim)