Welcome to the second part of our Oxford review of the year. Excited? We are! This rundown, from 10 – 1, is pretty much all that we believe made this year a great one for Oxford music. Where international and national indie has floundered delivering only a handful of worthwhile albums (you can see our staff albums of the year on Friday), Oxford has been a glistening centre of hand-crafted, DIY music which inspires and shines brightly as a hub of creativity and imagination. There have been sad times for Oxford music this year (the losses of Ute and Truck Festival amongst others), but generally the year has been a fruitful one. Want proof? Listen to all the releases in this top 10 and I challenge you not to enjoy most, if not all of them.
10. Mat Gibson – Forest Fire
Maybe not the most mould-breaking release of the year, but certainly one of the most accomplished listens you’re likely to hear. Forest Fire is a well defined and masterfully arranged album with instant enjoyability and an enduring sound. Taking obvious inspiration from it’s heroes of Americana (especially Neil Young), Mat Gibson’s skill as a songscraftsman is what elevates this album from fine to sublime.
9. Cat Matador – The Address EP
Proof that great songs and a good work ethic will gain you fans in a scene as thriving as Oxford’s, Cat Matador have earnt their substantial local following the old-fashioned way. The Address EP is such a pleasurable listen because it is the sound of a band finally capturing what makes them such a charming live act, to tape. The closing refrain of ‘We Can Change’ is one of the most blissful moments of 2011, local or otherwise.
8. Gunning For Tamar – Deaf Cow Motel EP
In much the same way as Cat Matador, Deaf Cow Motel is the sound of Gunning For Tamar coming to terms with their own brand of post-rock and capturing it in a way that does their songs justice. This is the sound of stepping out of the confines of math-rock just enough to lock into a mode that flows with organic flourish and with enough space to let the choruses shine too.
7. Spring Offensive – ‘A Stutter And A Start’
Firstly, an admission. When 2011 clocked in, my general view of Spring Offensive was one of ambivalence. I could take them or leave them. Where some songs stood out, others failed to move me completely. At the time of writting this, however, I have grown to love this band immeasurably. Most certainly one of the best live bands in Oxford, they have improved with each new release. ‘A Stutter And A Start’ was a watershed moment for me and this band. A landmark year beckons.
6. The Epstein – I Held You Once EP
Longtime members of Oxford’s finest, I Held You Once is The Epstein at their best. Flying the flag for local Americana, The Epstein wear their hearts on their sleeve in the form of beautiful and touching poems-turned-songs. The last couple of years may have been a great time for Oxford’s electronic scene, but this EP proves that Oxford will always excel in the kind of acoustic music it has become known for.
5. Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs – ‘Trouble’
Here we have an artist who outgrew the confines of “local” music quicker than the time it takes to read this sentence. TEED has become such an adored phenomenom within UK electro that he has played BBC gigs in Ibiza with Norman Cook as well as jet-setting across to Miami to provide the perfect soundtrack to sunsets, sand and palm trees. ‘Trouble’ was Orlando’s first release on a major label and, boy, doesn’t he sound comfortable at the top.
4. Fixers – Here Comes 2001 So Let’s All Head For The Sun EP
Truly one of Oxford’s most constantly-evolving acts, Fixers first showed an eagerness to develop with the release of Here Comes 2001 So Let’s All Head For The Sun earlier this year. Ditching the surf of their earlier demos and embracing the cosmic, this EP thrives with creativity and an itchy desire to wrongfoot the listener in a manner that makes more sense with each passing listen. Although having already moved on with latest release, Imperial Goddess Of Mercy, …Head For The Sun will always mark the point that Fixers stood out from the crowd and into the set of truly exciting new acts.
3. Trophy Wife – BRUXISM EP
When Trophy Wife released ‘Microlite’ last year, I couldn’t help but think that this was the sound of a great band in waiting. One year later and, despite remaining relatively elusive, BRUXISM was recieved so eagerly that you could forgive them if it was a bit of a let down. This, however, was simply not the case. With each track produced by a different person, you could forgive them if it was a little disorderly. This also was not the case. What they did deliver was the sound of a band itching to take their music into unknown and sometimes, in the form of final track ‘Wolf’, unnerving territory. A statement of intent, Trophy Wife could be as big as Foals.
2. Radiohead – King Of Limbs
A new release from Radiohead is always cause for excitement and the 21st Century has been a better decade for a 90s rock band than it really ought to have been. King Of Limbs, with its typically unconventional soft-release (marked by a one-off newspaper, handed out my Thom Yorke himself, of course) should serve to demonstrate just how unafraid Radiohead are to go against the grain. Sure their huge following doesn’t hurt but neither does the fact that King Of Limbs stands up musically against Radiohead’s best and most left-field work.
1. Chad Valley – Equatorial Ultravox
Since its formation, Chad Valley has always felt special. Hugo Manuel, already a local hero as the front man of astounding (not so) local outfit Jonquil, was well-known known for his lush melodies and smooth vocal tone, so letting his voice soar over beats and thick synths seemed a natural progression from the moment his early demos spilled out of the speakers. Unusually for the chillwave scene, Manuel encorporated proper songwriting structures and techniques that has continuously given his take on the crowded genre the edge. Equatorial Ultravox is a beautiful sonic landscape of a mini-album that appeases as much to the listener’s desire to sing along as it does wash over you, it is One Note Forever’s favourite local release this year and we couldn’t be prouder to have him around.
This list was compiled by Tom Jowett and Jack Olchawski.