Entries in music (25)

Friday
Dec022011

My favourite albums of 2011

This time last year I listed my bands of 2010 and figured I'd do the same again this year. 2011 was a good year for music, some great albums released, mind blowing gigs and opportunities to attend some amazing festivals. It was a tough choice but here it goes!

10 - Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost


Father, Son, Holy Ghost
Release date: 12th September 2011
Label: True Panther

Father, Son, Holy Ghost was a surprise album for me. I wasn't expecting to like it but have found over the past few months it's an album that I've not taken off of my playlist. The album contains many references to lead singer Christopher Owens's bizarre childhood being brought up in the cult Children of God and it's genre switching mixture of surf-rock (Honey Bunny), metal (Die), and indie-rock make this second album from Girls an interesting listen.



9 - Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring For My Halo


Smoke Ring For My Halo Release date: March 8th 2011
Label: Matador Records

Likened to Tom Petty, John Fahey and Bruce Springsteen Smoke Ring For My Halo is Kurt Vile's fourth full length album. With its wry lyrics and intricate guitar its the best indication yet of what is likely to come from this 30 year old.


8 - The Dodos - No Color


No Color Release date: 16th May 2011
Label: Wichita

No Color is the 4th album from The Dodo's and follows 2009's disappointing Time To Die. The addition of influence and vocals from Neko Case (The New Pornographers) appear to have made a big difference and tracks one through to seven are great, it's a shame that the final two tracks of the album slightly let it down.


7 - Cass McCombs - Wit's End


Wit's End Release date: 11th April 2011
Label: Domino

Wit's End is Cass McComb's fifth album and first of two releases in 2011 (it was followed later in the year by Humour Risk). It's a stripped down, moody album at the kind of pace you've come to expect from the enigmatic figure. Certainly an album to listen to at the right time.


6 - The Phoenix Foundation - Buffalo


Buffalo Release date: 10th January 2011
Label: Memphis Industries

Wellington six piece, The Phoenix Foundation have been around for over a decade yet have struggled to make much of an indent outside of their home country. In 2007 their third Album, Happy Ending, received good reviews but quickly disappeared. 2011's Buffalo, will I hope, be a different story. It sounds like a much more complete and grown-up album with dreamy, hazy sounds akin to the Beach Boys or possibly some Belle & Sebastian. They toured Europe earlier this year, hopefully they'll be back again in 2012.


5 - Russian Circles - Empros


Empros Release date: 14th November 2011
Label: Sargent House

For me Russian Circles are one of those bands who'll always sound better live than on album, but that aside Empros is probably their strongest recorded album to date. Their dark, instrumental rock has a slightly different feel to previous albums, most notably on album closer - Praise be Man.


4 - Explosions In The Sky - Take Care


Stuck In This Ocean Release date: 18th April 2011
Label: Bella Union

Everything about Explosions In The Sky is pretty epic. Their songs are epic, their videos are epic and their live performances are epic. Hailing from Austin, Texas the four piece set up of three electric guitars and one drum kit describe their music as "cathartic mini-symphonies". Perfect listening for almost any occasion.


3 - tUnE-yArDs - w h o k i l l


w h o k i l l Release date: 18th April 2011
Label: 4AD

A blend of R&B, folk, afro-beats and lo-fi combined with Merrill Garbus extraordinary voice makes for a great sound. The albums edgy theme deals with topics such as "power struggles that arise from inequity and lead to further cruelty and injustice" immediately obvious on tracks Powa, Gangsta, Killa, Riotriot and Doorstep.


2 - William Elliot Whitmore - Field Songs


Field Songs Release date: 12th July 2011
Label: Anti

I was lucky enough to see William Elliot Whitmore play a few weeks ago at one of his rare London gigs. I did a quick write up of what was a truly amazing gig. Despite being in his early 30s William already has seven albums to his name and his latest, Field Songs, is in my humble opinion among his best. Its a much stripped down affair switching between banjo and guitar to accompany his throaty vocals. The lyrics on the album, like many of William's others, talk of real life, working to make a living whilst still trying to stay true to who you are. Perfect listening for cold, dark nights with a bottle of your favourite drink.


1 - St Vincent - Strange Mercy


StrangeMercy Release date: 12th September 2011
Label: 4AD

Prior to this year I didn't know too much of St Vincent, I'd given 2009's Actor a brief listen but quickly discounted (probably a bad move) and it wasn't until one of my housemates and I were talking about our favourite albums of the year that I was pointed in the direction of Strange Mercy. Straight away it jumped into my top albums of this year. Throughout the album there are complex hooks and riffs which combined with Annie Clark's angelic yet melancholic vocals keeps you enthralled and on edge from start to finish. For me, stand out tracks of the album are: Cheerleader, Northern Lights, Cruel and Dilettante.

Narrowing down to ten was a challenge in itself, putting them into a one through ten was almost impossible. Anyway, if I was going to do a top twenty list here are the (unlisted) albums that probably would've made the cut.

Saturday
Nov192011

William Elliott Whitmore - Windmill, Brixton

Photo by Pieter Morlion

There are many great things about living in Brixton and one of those is being just a stone throw from the Windmill where on Thursday evening William Elliott Whitmore took to the stage. A rare opportunity to see William play in such an intimate venue the gig sold out weeks in advance, however being both slim and very lucky I was allowed to squeeze in!

At the Windmill it's been a fine year for artists of the folk-punk/alt-country genre with Austin Lucas, Digger Barnes, Two Cow Garage, Crazy Arm, Frontier Ruckus and Franz Nicolay to name just a few who with tattooed arms and shots of whiskey have taken the stage in recent months.

Support on the evening came from London based, and Windmill regular JD Smith. I arrived a little too late to catch his set but based on previous times I've heard him play he's well worth checking out if you get the chance.

William's act is a minimalist one accompanied with just his banjo and kick-drum, and there was a sense the evening would be a long one as he invited folk to make room for others saying "there's plenty of room up here on the stage, just don't touch me or touch my shit!". And a long one it was, for the £10 entry you certainly got value for money with a set which topped the two hour mark.

With seven albums to his name there were plenty of songs to play and it seemed as though William would have been happy playing through all of them. Taking numerous requests from the audience William was willing to play whatever the eager and informed crowd wanted to hear, and the frequent stops between songs for banter, a steady flow of whiskey being passed forward from the back of the room and the lights down low it only added to the intimacy of the event.

Although a great banjoist it's William's voice that really sets him apart. His deep, throaty vocals are often described as 'the voice that Tom Waits has been after for years' and something of a mix between Solomon Burke and Captain Beefheart with plenty of whiskey and cigarette abuse thrown in for good measure. A blend of gospel, blues, folk and country it's a sound that wouldn't be out of place in the 1930s but fits equally well in 2011. And lyrics of solid Americana pedigree speaking of drinking, loving and losing, the devil and darkness, as well as reflections of life growing up on his grandparents farm in Keokuk, Iowa you were left entertained, informed and feeling as though as long as people kept making music like that then everything was going to be alright.

If you get a chance to see William live you should, and if you don't then you should at least give him a listen!

Tuesday
Sep062011

D Generation at The Borderline

This evening I fulfilled a missed teenage opportunity. To see D Generation live. Described as one of the most important bands in punk rock history I was introduced to them whilst working at a friend-of-the-families record store in Soho.

Led by the captivating Jesse Malin, D Generation, or DGen, formed in pre-hipster Brooklyn during the early 90s gaining reputation playing venues such as CBGB and The Continental, and through supporting tours with the likes of The Ramones, Kiss, Social Distortion, Cheap Trick and Green Day.

Over the years I've seen Jesse Malin a number of times, playing both solo and with bands of various guises. In earlier gigs he regaled stories of growing up in New York, failed attempts with hookers as a young teenager, and later antics as a removal man for the rich and famous. More recently his enthusiastic between song rants (in the best possible way) have been of the state of the music industry and how people today would rather watch a song on YouTube than go to a club. He may have point, but at least they're listing to The Music, right?

This evening, D-Gen rifled through in a 'best of' set list to an eager and knowing crowd. Highlights were a'plenty, with standouts being Frankie, Capital Offender, Helpless. My pick of the night? The set closer, No Way Out.  I suggest you check out this YouTube video and then go see some live music: