I’m an album-minded man, so most of these are picked from my top albums of 2011 and it’s albums that I mainly talk about here. I’m in my mid-30s, hence the lack of new bands and the inclusion of numerous relics from the 90s.
11. “benediction” – thurston moore
The announcement of the break-up of Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon this year adds new meaning to this mournful song, doesn’t it. The rest of the Beck-produced album, Demolished Thoughts, doesn’t quite live up to this beautiful opener but if it’s the end of Sonic Youth there’s likely to be a lot more solo stuff coming from Thurston, and I’ll be thirstin’ for it.
10. “IS IT DONE” – J MASCIS
Speaking of guitar noise merchants quietening down with their acoustics, the reformed Dinosaur Jr album from 2009, Farm, blew me away so I was enthused for a J Mascis solo album. Seeing J as a guest on Aussie music quiz show Spicks & Specks before it bowed out this year was fantastic. He was comedy gold and I don’t think I’d ever seen him smile before then. Several Shades Of Why has 4 or 5 really good songs on it and this is one of them.
9. “masters of war” – bob dylan
Ok, I know this is cheating to pick a song from the early 60s for an end of 2011 list but this recording, released on this year’s Bob Dylan In Concert:Brandeis University, 1963 may well be the best version. I can only imagine what it would be like hearing this for the first time. Songs like this weren’t written before. When I first heard this version it had an effect on me that I had not experienced with this song before; the venom spitting from Dylan’s mouth is ominous and chilling.
8. “friday” – rebecca black
Akin to Nirvana’s video for Smells Like Teen Spirit 20 years ago, this viral hit is one of those wonderfully freaky moments in popular culture that a record executive could never predict happening. Some patronising people used the word ‘manufactured’ to describe this uber-catchy song but they couldn’t be further off the mark. There’s nothing parodic or self-conscious about it. It’s a rare moment, in this day and age, of sincerity. With Friday costing $2,000 to make, Rebecca Black makes most obscure hipster bands with their ‘indie cred’ look like corporate rock whores.
Rebecca Black is the new black.
7. “Perfection” – adalita
With the first solo album from Magic Dirt’s Adalita Srsen (following the death of bass player Dean Turner) she could have gone down the direction her band had previously gone down in the band’s later years: Triple J Weezer-esque pop (not that there’s anything wrong with that, necessarily. In fact, I’d rate What Are Rock Stars Doing Today which was a move towards a poppier, glossier sound as their best album.) But there’s nowhere near a hit single in sight here. Let’s just say it’s closer to Cat Power or PJ Harvey than Veruca Salt. Like Gareth Liddiard’s Strange Tourist from last year, it’s almost literally a solo album – it’s mainly just her and a guitar. I’ve also really enjoyed her video clips like this one and Fool Around. Adalita being as stylish and sexy as ever (at 40) helps with the visuals.
6. “TIGERS” – STEPHEN MALKMUS AND THE JICKS
“I caught you streaking in your Birkenstocks / A scary thought…”
There may be a good reason for one to be cynical about bands reforming (I saw one of Pavement’s reunion shows last year and enjoyed it well enough as a piece of 90s nostalgia, though the gradual accumulation of new Pavement fans over time meant the show was way crowded. I usually like concerts better when they’re not sold out) but one of the not-so-obvious benefits of bands getting back together is that it can inspire the principle songwriter(s) to go back to what made them such luminaries in the first place. Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation shows inspired The Eternal and Dinosaur Jr got back together and performed their 80s album You’re Living All Over Me before making Beyond and the even better Farm album. Stephen Malkmus’ Mirror Traffic sounds more like a Pavement album than any other of his solo albums and I found it surprisingly addictive. You could maybe cut a few songs from the second side (15 songs is a tad too many) but other than that the album contains equally solid songs throughout. And Beck adds some nice touches with the production (I think he should continue producing alt-rock icons. He does a good job and I can’t see him making any more exceptional albums himself). Mirror Traffic is my melodic indie guitar rock (my cup of tea) album of the year.
5. “THE LAST LIVING ROSE” – PJ HARVEY
PJ Harvey makes all other women musicians sound inauthentic. Ok, maybe that’s not a true or fair statement (and probably sexist) but you get my drift. She’s the yardstick. Let England Shake has got plenty of praise already including winning The Mercury Prize for a second time and I don’t really need to add to it. Actually, to be honest, I didn’t think the album was that good – my heart lies with her 90s work – but I would agree that it’s her best album in about a decade and for that I’m going to let her give me a little kiss on the cheek.
4. “riding for the feeling” – bill callahan
“Leaving is easy / when you’ve got some place you need to be”
Each album of late from Smog/Bill Callahan has been recorded differently. While the A River Ain’t Too Much To Love album was produced sparsely (great), the follow-up Woke on a Whaleheart sounded too thick and busy for me. Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle had nice lush string-laden production and Bill’s new one, Avalanche (finally, a short title!) is the more raw sound of a band in a room (though when I say raw, I don’t mean angsty. It could be his most mellow, breezy album yet). With only 7 songs it could have done with a couple more but it’s still over 40 minutes long and, as is usually the case with this guy, highly recommended.
3. “powa” – tune-yards
Best album of 2011: W H O K I L L. Artist of the year: tUnE-yArDs. Best live act: tUnE-yArDs, Best discovery of 2011 etc. etc. You get the picture. The songwriting, the vocals, the production (the detail!), the instrumentation, the lyrics; all fresh, unique and invigorating.
This is a song about needing sex to get to sleep (“Your power inside / it rocks me like a lullaby”), though I could’ve chosen any track from this album. They’re all great.
2. “hard times” – gillian welch
This is just exquisite. It’s been 8 years since her last album but I admire Gillian for waiting until the top-quality stuff arrived at her creative doorstep rather than just releasing a bunch of half-baked songs because her record company required her to do so. Time (The Revelator) is great but The Harrow & The Harvest is certainly up there with her best albums.
1. “helplessness blues” – fleet foxes
Song of the year. The album Helplessness Blues may not have quite matched their debut, but it sure had some highpoints and this song, beginning side 2, is the centrepiece. Okay, so maybe the crusty rich hippy Robin Pecknold wouldn’t really give up his fame and fortune to pick fruit in my hometown of Tatura, but a song is not a rational exercise. A song is supposed to lift your spirit up close to the heavens. And this does.