2011 has been an amazingly big year for new music, and so if you’re looking for some new items for your library’s collection (or a last minute chrissie present for the music lover in your life) I’d like to share my Top 5 albums.
As this year’s list is an all-international affair, some honourable mentions must go to a couple of local gems.
Gotye has produced a stellar followup to 2006’s Like Drawing Blood with Making Mirrors. While occasionally sounding a little more clichéd and twee than its predecessor, it’s still a fantastically rich and fun album. It has samples from, and stylistic tributes to, what feels like almost the entire history of pop music. Couple this with de Backer’s lyrics going from strength to strength, and you get an album that won’t get old in a hurry, with new layers and depth to be found on each listen.
Western Australian youngsters Tim & Jean, having been runners up in last year’s Triple J Unearthed High School competition, released their debut album Like What. Despite being only 17 & 15 years of age, this duo have a sonic tightness and polish that rivals some veteran studio bands. Synth-laden melodies soaring over clever rhythms & bass lines, their feel-good sound leaves you unable to stop yourself tapping your foot in time and with a big smile on your face.
And now on to the Top 5!
5. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
Energetic, passionate and driven, this album pulls no punches. A war anthem, filled with anger and disillusionment at a country, and a world, filled with violence and destruction, it’s hard not to get caught up in its power and intensity.
This album is superlative – PJ Harvey at her very, very best.
4. Paul Simon – So Beautiful or So What
Paul Simon himself calling it “the best work I’ve done in 20 years”, this album to me is Graceland‘s little sister. Filled with sharp guitar riffs and hooks, a fusion of musical styles from all over the world, and a balance of deep soulful lyrics with light-hearted fun and humour, this is superb songwriting from a master of the art.
3. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
Having been enamoured with their self-titled debut in 2008, I began reading about Fleet Foxes’ followup album before its release, and hearing Robin Pecknold citing influences like Roy Harper’s Stormcock and Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks only made me more excited for what was in store. And it did not disappoint. More mature, deep and diverse than their previous album, Fleet Foxes have been able to tread new ground while still remaining true to the core of what makes them so great – intricate guitars, warm and personal songwriting, and incredible harmonies.
2. Kate Bush – 50 Words For Snow
Every time I listen to a new Kate Bush album, it takes some time for me to adjust to it. They are always different, with new sounds, concepts and ideas. 50 Words For Snow is no exception. This is a subtle album, much more stripped back than previous offerings, and definitely took a few listens for me to completely warm to it. However, that said, it has become one of my favourite albums by Kate Bush, and also in general.
Luscious, airy, and ethereal, this album captures the snowy feeling of winter perfectly. Even putting aside all musical and artistic merit this album would always have garnered a mention this year, if only for the fact that it features Stephen Fry speaking Klingon!
1. Elbow – Build A Rocket Boys!
Following up from their 2008 Mercury Prize winning The Seldom Seen Kid, which thrust the normally underground band into the popular spotlight, this album takes the band in a somewhat new direction. Notably quieter than its predecessors, Build A Rocket Boys! won’t ever have the same radio appeal as earlier albums, indeed I think it would be hard to pick any individual track as a standalone ‘single’.
However, the album as a whole is fantastic. Musically mature and clever, the subtle beauty of this album grows over time and subsequent listens, until suddenly you’re hooked. This, combined with Guy Garvey’s exceptional lyrics, make for what is in my mind the greatest Elbow album to date, and far and away my Number 1 for 2011.
I did a few quick OPAC searches and found that many libraries around Victoria, and Australia, have at least one of these albums in their collection, so I highly recommend checking out your local library and having a listen. And should you be looking at updating the music collection in your library (or at home), I hope you might find some options here.
If you do listen to any of these albums (or already have), please let me know what you think. Or, for that matter, if think that I’m completely wrong and have other albums you’d put in this year’s Top 5. I’d love the feedback. I really hope these albums bring you the same happiness and enjoyment they have brought to me.
Have a safe and happy holidays.