Cheating a bit here. Posting it for the end of 2011, but I’ve written it much more recently. Watch out for me filling in all the missing years. I started most of them at the right time, but ended up with a backlog of nearly a year.
I had started writing this article years and years ago. And then started again, fewer years ago. Not sure where it went, but it seems not to be on my Google Drive. Ah well. This is a look back at my favourite albums of 2011, with mainly my 2015 head on, and a hint of 2017. I’ve even spent a few minutes tidying it up in late 2019! Oh dear. That said, I don’t imagine much has changed; I also don’t well remember a couple of these entries. Let’s see how I get on then…
- Pulling Teeth – Funerary
This was very nearly a tie at the top. Funerary and The Magic Place were like two kindred spirits at the top of the 2011 music pile. Though utterly opposite in style, they shared a mournful intensity and ridiculous high standard of composition and performance. Based on the amount of play the albums have received from me, Funerary takes the top spot. Ostensibly a metallic hardcore album, the now late (as of the end of 2011!) Baltimore band run the gamut of great heavy sounds.
The album opens with a run of frenetic, short metallic hardcore songs with more than a little Slayer snarl to them. They are catchy, chaotic and dazzling. The mood changes for the epic, doom-laden titular centrepiece, a trawl through sludge and damnation. From here, the slower pace takes over, but the songs aren’t simple doom tracks. You get melodic terrace chanting, unbelievably cathartic passages (“At Peace” gets almost unbearable, such is the intensity of the emotional outpouring), and the most edifying mix of metal styles since Botch and their ilk ruled the roost.
I really need to check out the bands that emerged from the ashes of Pulling Teeth, because their skill and ability to pull anything off is not something I hear nowadays.
2. Julianna Barwick – The Magic Place
Super lovely stuff. Not quite ambient, not quite dream-pop, but it’s also both of those things to the nth degree. Julianna released an album prior to this one, and it had nice ideas and sounds, but was like a demo compared to this. You, the listener, get taken not on a journey, but into a world for three quarters of an hour. There is a definite ennui permeating these grooves (and outright mourning on “Flown”, linking thematically with Funerary), but the overall sensation is one of bliss.
I’ve actually not dared listen to the 2013 follow-up, Nepenthe, on account of the singular nature of this work of art.
3. Britney Spears – Femme Fatale
As magnificently-produced modern pop albums go, I’m not sure whether this tops the Ke$ha debut. It is, however, at least as consistent (the one blip being the awful Will.I.Am-produced “Big Fat Bass”), and the sound is a lot thicker and more housey, which I like. The fact a lot of the producers (Dr. Luke, Benny Blanco, Shellback) are the same on both records helps a lot, as their work is very of its time with a good sense of dynamics and attention to detail.
Though “Toxic” gets all the plaudits, and “Baby One More Time” is the best-written Britney song, Femme Fatale is the Britney album with the overall highest standard of quality, the apex of a great trilogy that also includes Circus and Blackout. Sadly, 2013 follow-up Britney Jean was disappointingly flat and felt a bit rushed (and had a lot more Will.I.Am on it, rather than Dr. Luke). If you strike “Big Fat Bass” from the record, I can listen to this over and over. And I have.
4. Cave In – White Silence
Cave In! I have a real soft spot for this lot, ever since they released one of my favourite ever albums, Jupiter, in 2000. Not only was it amazing, but its style being such a break from previous album Until Your Heart Stops, made it a pretty mind-blowing surprise. Then they signed to a major on the recommendation of Dave Grohl, stagnated briefly, were dropped from a major and went on hiatus after the okay-but-not-great Perfect Pitch Black.
Six years of silence later (albeit a period including side projects and solo albums), the band came back with an album that just sounds like fun. The pressure of being on RCA was long gone, as were scenester accusations of selling out. White Silence had moments of silliness (is that a Danzig impression on “Iron Decibels”?), but this was no mucking about album. Songs like “Summit Fever” had elements of Queen in their grand sonic scale, and this is comfortably the band’s second best album. The bad news? They seem to be on a break again.
5. Josh T. Pearson – Last of the Country Gentlemen
I love Josh, and this album is great. In fact, it’s a “better” album than at least the two above it. I reviewed it here. It’s just an ordeal to listen to, the “country album” he told me he would do before bringing Lift To Experience back, in a chat we had in about 2006 when he was selling CD-Rs in working men’s clubs. This is a beautiful record whose songs are well constructed and brilliantly performed, some being plaintive epics. I just can’t listen to it that much, so it’s not a favourite of mine, even if it is stunning quality. And, you know, it’s not Lift To Experience, and anything he writes that isn’t that will suffer. “Honeymoon’s Great! Wish You Were Her” is just devastating.
6. The Weeknd – House of Balloons
This was an album Fact got me into, and man alive was I glad to find out about Weeknd’s trio of sexy, seedy party hymns, handily uploaded to Tumblr at the time. I think at some point I might write properly about this set of albums, as they were noticeably new-sounding and super-modern at the time, and hindsight has shown them to be positively epochal.
Not only in the method of distributing music online for free (think how few people were using legit streaming services in 2011/12), but the close production and hyper sexual themes and delivery. Looking since then at the likes of Banks, FKA Twigs, Billie Eilish at al (not really many men, if we’re honest – ginger buskers?), these albums might sound a bit normal, but I’m not convinced any of those would have sounded like they do were it not for this hit.
7. Rustie – Glass Swords
This is the result of coming back to this year so long after it ended. Fact Mag, as I recall, declared this their album of the year (turns out they didn’t, but it was high up), and I was unconvinced. After a few more listens, though, I’m enjoying it. It’s very 80s and airbrushed, the logical conclusion of Daft Punk’s Discovery album in a pre-Drive world. But Rustie makes it work. The musical shapes on this album are dazzling and crystalline, flawlessly produced and seemingly untouched by human emotion. Maybe that’s why I can’t really connect with it: it’s the soundtrack to a 2011 Patrick Bateman dinner party.
8. Boris – New Album
This one is a little crackers. I think we all know I’ve had a lot of love for our favourite mixed-sex Japanese power trio (mixed-sex because I think I prefer eX-Girl for overall Japanese power trios) over the years. New Album certainly has its moments. “Tu,la la” is an absolutely gorgeous rock song (like something off Pink), and “フレア” has a fantastic sense of melody.
The album as a whole is just so goddamn haphazard – early 90s indie here, heavy synth bombast there – that it loses cohesion. Granted, that’s because this is actually a version of two separate albums (Attention Please and Heavy Rocks). But still, if you’re going to mash two albums up, there will probably be some stylistic issues when you’re dealing with a band as eclectic as Boris. Certainly worth listening to, even if it’s far from their best album.
Why are these together? No idea. But try playing them together. The flip side of the coin from our Britney, Kimbra is a young New Zealander who’s written her own songs from an early age: that past is evident on Vows, where the styles change with regularity. You will have heard her on that Gotye song that spent a million years at number one. This one of hers is much better, anyway. She can get a bit chintz-souly at times, but the singles (“Cameo Lover” and “Settle Down”) are fantastic, and she’s a great singer. I even like that shlight shpeech impediment she sheems to have. Adds character, you know? I think she put out another album, so I should check it.
Gridlink were just the most intense metal band since Discordance Axis, the other incredibly intense Jon Chang gridcore band. Maybe more so. Orphan followed where Amber Grey started (and final album in the triptych, Longhena, concluded) with its mix of science fiction and melancholy. But mainly the deluge of inordinately technically-composed rock noise.