Albums of 2011- part one (10-1)

   

   

10: Bill Wells and Aidan Moffatt, Everything’s Getting Older

The former Arab Strap man teams up with the Glasgow indie scene’s favourite jazzer to make this masterpiece of mid-life reflection. Inevitably there are echoes of the Strap, and also prime-period Pulp in the way ordinary, everyday experiences are dissected and set to music, and the prosaic is made poetic in the process.

9: Baby Dee, Goes Down to Amsterdam Damn Damn

The sheer pleasure of hearing the full breadth of Dee’s repertoire, in a live setting with a band and a thunderous Steinway grand piano, could have got this double CD set even higher in my favourites of the year. Only my reservations about whether live albums really count, and my familiarity with many of the numbers on here, held it back to number nine.

8: William D Drake, The Rising of the Lights

There are moments when this album gets a tad too whimsical and precocious for my tastes, but it remains a beautiful, warm, intimate, enigmatic collection. And in ‘Me Fish Bring’ it contains possibly the finest single song I’ve heard all year.

7: Sarabeth Tucek, Get Well Soon

I was surprised to find myself rating this album so highly at the year’s end, but it’s true that every listen uncovers new nuances and fresh subtlety. In a soundbite: imagine if Neil Young had teamed up with Karen Carpenter to make the follow-up to On the Beach. A lonely, late-night classic.

6: Bill Callahan, Apocalypse

Beyond a couple of songs (‘Cold Blooded Old Times,’ ‘Dress Sexy at My Funeral’) I never really followed Bill Callahan’s career as Smog. Then I was stopped dead hearing this album playing in my local record shop. Then I was asked to review it (by the Quietus, natch). It’s a beauty; a deadpan, post-grunge Astral Weeks, no less. And like Astral Weeks, I still don’t know what it’s really all about, and don’t need to know, either.

5: Trembling Bells, The Constant Pageant

No longer content to be pigeonholed as an electric folk group in the Fairport / Pentangle mould, Trembling Bells explode in all directions on this glorious, dizzy, joyously melodic and catchy prog-pop-folk-rock confection. Also features probably the only mention ever of the West Yorkshire village of Mytholmroyd in a prog-metal anthem.

4: Wooden Shjips, West

The Shjips’ third album proper is their most dynamic and fully-realised yet: a loose concept album about death and rebirth masquerading as a loose concept album about San Francisco and California. That killer Neil Young inspired rising riff on ‘Home’ emphasises the distance between Wooden Shjips and Ripley Johnson’s other project, Moon Duo: once almost interchangable, it’s now clear that while the Duo make fabulous mutant rockabilly pop, the Shjips are a rock band to be reckoned with (see the Quietus for full review).

3: The Horrors, Skying

The style vultures and trendspotters watch eagerly; what will The Horrors sound like next? Are they goth? Are they krautrock? Is it their shoegaze album? Have they gone- gasp- baggy? Skying is all this and more, a veritable catwalk tribute through the golden years of British alternative music (say, 1977 to 1993- an extended eighties, basically). There are nods to everyone from the Psychedelic Furs to Suede, Simple Minds to My Bloody Valentine and more. By turns gloriously amateur and breathtakingly adept, and still hiding odd corners that reveal themselves fleetingly and for the first time on each listen, this album is far more than just flavour of the month. Still my favourite indie boy band, basically.

2: Puro Instinct, Headbangers on Ecstasy

A kind of feminine, American counterpart to Skying, this overlooked album just has the edge for me. There’s something altogether strange and magical about it: two young sisters from Texas taking the gothic Scottish post-punk pop of Strawberry Switchblade or early Altered Images and pulling it through a hazy shoegaze filter, with a little help from the esteemed Ariel Pink. Melodies like candy floss, echo-laden, unsophisticated harmonies, haunting, spiralling guitar solos; glass brittle yet gossamer soft. The term Dream Pop has never seemed so appropriate.

1: Arbouretum, The Gathering

And so my album of the year is this lumbering, monolithic slab of stoner folk-rock: if Richard Thompson had joined Black Sabbath, or if Loop had merged with My Dad is Dead. But the apocalyptic overtones of almost every song seemed entirely right for 2011’s lowering mood; those slow, uncoiling solos the right way to gradually release the tension. Stormclouds gather overhead, but beauty is never far away. The stars shine down on the burning city, and Arbouretum are heading for the border.

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