And with this post, we bring an end to 2011 on One Note Forever. First off this week we looked back over the year in Oxford music (check out parts one and two here), and now we will look at what other releases from around the world have excited and proved pleasurable listening over the past 12 months. We asked our contributing writers to pick one album which they have enjoyed the most to be released in 2011. Overall, I would say that 2011 has been somewhat of a let-down for indie/rock music. 2008 had debuts from Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver, 2009 saw the Brooklyn indie-renasissnce hit it’s creative peak, 2010 gave us career high albums from already defined bands such as Deerhunter, Ariel Pink, Arcade Fire and Caribou. However, there were some more low-key moments to savour in music this year and here are just a few of them.
Tom Jowett: The Mountain Goats – All Eternals Deck
Difficult to choose a clear winner for album of the year in 2011. The obvious choice was Bon Iver’s magnificent self-titled follow-up to For Emma, Forever Ago, however, the album which has given me the most joy this year has to be All Eternals Deck. The timeless production of three/four guys just playing their instruments true; it’s the lyricism that will make this album a long-lasting great. The songs themselves are varied in mood and delivery, plus John Darnielle’s voice has never sounded so good. ‘Never Quite Free’ being the album’s highlight; the combination of glorious pedal steel and pure poetry from Darnielle is a genuinely touching moment.
Nick Seagrave: Gang Gang Dance – Eye Contact
After hearing the album opener ‘Glass Jar’ late one summer’s eve, I was instantly hooked on the slow-paced, infectious, evolving complexity that unfolds throughout its 11.5 minute duration. Eye Contact goes on to explore both traditional and contemporary sounds, complete with hints of mid-nineties dance, reminiscent of early Leftfield/The Knife. Eye Contact transports you to another world, a must for any dance/electronic/tribal connoisseurs!
Jack Olchawski: Bon Iver – Bon Iver
Following up an album as poetically beautiful as Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago was never going to be an easy task. It was an album that was hard to articulate just what made it just so touching. With a new band behind him, Justin Vernon’s second album under the Bon Iver moniker somehow, despite all expectations bettered the first, and not in a way that anyone might have expected. Drawn out jazz interludes, shimmering indie-rock and simply some of the most exquisite melodies put to tape make this an album that is never over-dense, continuously intangible in its beauty and above all else, the nicest and most moving listen of the year.
Matt Simpkin: Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi – ROME
Danger Mouse began composition of a spaghetti western album back in 2005 with Italian composer Daniele Luppi. Six years in the making and featuring the distinctive vocal talents of Jack White and Norah Jones, ROME is a marvelous renaissance of a landmark period for both film and music. The album was recorded using equipment of the era and featured many of the musicians and even the choir that appeared on the The Good, The Bad And The Ugly soundtrack. ROME is yet another excellent twist to Danger Mouse already superbly eclectic back catalogue. The simply is nothing else like it right now.
Mark Wilkins: Colin Stetson – New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges
‘Solo saxophone record’, though entirely accurate, is a feebly inadequate description of Colin Stetson’s second LP. Such is the diversity of tone and texture, so full and developed are the compositions, that it’s hard to believe that this is the sound of one man, playing one instrument, recorded in one take. Through extensive and ingenious mic placement, every last creak, clack and hiss is coaxed from Stetson’s tenor sax – the percussive thump of the keys and the ghostly wail of the man’s own vocal cords supplement and accentuate the immense sound of the horn itself. Unique, for sure, but totally absorbing and surprisingly accessible with it.
Biu Rainey: Metallica & Lou Reed – Lulu
2011 saw some great efforts by any number of great artists [see: SBTRKT, Flashguns, Tubelord], but it was also graced by perhaps the best ever effort ever in music, ever. Lulu is that rare thing – an album that genuinely has to be heard to be believed. An album so monumentally shit, that before it was even officially released, it had already been voted in the worst 5 albums of all time on several websites. Lou Reed called it some of his best ever work. Best. Ever. Bullish Risk. Anagram THAT, Lou.
Callum McCulloch: Korallreven – An Album by Korallreven
Korallreven’s first LP has taken two years to manifest itself, this, if you have been waiting like me, has seemed a millennia, however, the finished product is well worth it. The Swedish duo take you, the listener, on a trip – be that chemical or spiritual – allowing the mellifluous and resonant tones to envelop you. The opening gambit of ‘As Young As Yesterday’ followed by ‘Sa Sa Samoa’, has proved unbeatable this year, and thankfully the following tracks maintain the high standard. In short, a truly excellent album full of everything delightfully brilliant.
Charlotte Krol: Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
Pecknold and co. returned this year with a more ambitious follow up to their critically-acclaimed debut. Billowing flutes and Middle-Eastern tinged violins are but a few of the experimental nuances that have expanded Fleet Foxes’ signature sound of open-tuned guitars and glowing harmonies. Tracks such as the toe-tapping, variably structured, ‘Helplessness Blues’ explore the album’s complex motif of maturity, while gentle, jazzy snare snaps in, ‘Bedouin Dress’ offer escapism to the tranquil, Yeats-inspired, “Innisfree.” Certainly, the most brave move on the album – and by the band to date – exists in, ‘The Shrine/An Argument’, with bizarre, dissonant trumpets that succinctly reflect the brashness of a passionate feud. A colourful and triumphant return.
Dexter Bush: M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
Anthony Gonzales has been making irresistible records for years, each of them progressively becoming more and more pop orientated and immediate. But it is hard to describe the quantum leap of awesomeness made by Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. An outrageous double album self assured and confident enough to feature spoken word stories about frogs, bombastic, Phil Collins drum fills and some of the oddest samples imaginable. It takes it’s queues from the work of the Smashing Pumpkins, My Bloody Valentine and the very best of 80s synth pop, but does so in a meaningful, earnest way, by layering these references over genuinely beautiful, heartfelt songwriting. Gonzales also comes into his own as a frontman on the album, singing his heart out and giving M83 one of the only things they missed in previous albums – genuine passion and heart.
Luke Smith: Ramshackle Glory – Live The Dream
I’ve heard Johnny Hobo described as the band that make you want to kill yourself, and Wingnut Dishwashers Union as the one that make you realise you shouldn’t. I don’t know if I fully agree with this, but it does give you a good idea about Schneeweis’ previous projects. After a yearlong stay in rehab for heroin addiction, Live The Dream is a perfect mix of the personal and political, with Pat’s lyrical abilities as strong as ever. Everyone should buy this album, as well as download everything that is related to Patrick Schneeweis because it is all brilliant.
Alexey Provolotsky: The Waterboys – An Appointment With Mr Yeats
So it took W.B.Yeats’ poetry to revitalise Mike Scott’s songwriting and bring it back to the level of The Waterboys’ greatest albums (Fisherman’s Blues, This Is The Sea). An Appointment With Mr Yeats is astonishing, hair-raising stuff. There are moments of catchy pop (‘Politics’), gorgeous folk (‘Before The World Was Made’) and even some dramatic, operatic balladry (‘Let The Earth Bear Witness’). And it’s all brimming with hooks, adventurous ideas, celtic spirit, and a most inventive mix of pianos, brass, violins, orchestration. An absolute artistic triumph, literate, passionate, rip-roaring, and a rare case of classic poetry working on a rock’n’roll album.
Jon Clark: Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost
The seemingly invincible Girls “Absolutely Smashed It”, to quote Tulisa, this year, with their second album Father, Son, Holy Ghost; an album in which music’s past becomes its present with stunning results. From the irresistible shuffle of opener ‘Honey Bunny’ to the mournful Hammond Organ of closer ‘Jamie Marie’, Girls have once again shown their prowess at creating excellent, retro pop music without seeming hackneyed or stale. In a year when masterpieces such as Let England Shake and Smoke Ring For My Halo provide ample representation for guitar music, Girls’ effort is both refreshing and welcome.
Cydney Yeates: Bombay Bicycle Club – A Different Kind Of Fix
In August Bombay Bicycle Club released their third album A Different Kind Of Fix. This is one of my favourite albums of 2011 as the band has demonstrated their pure flexibility and talent through creating a completely different sound to their previous albums. Bombay Bicycle Club’s front man Jack Steadman illustrates his beautifully susceptible voice in the poignant songs ‘Beggars’ and ‘Fracture’. My favourite song on the album however, is the opening track ‘How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep’. The fifty second intro adds climax to the song along with the perfect balance of strong repetitive guitar chords.
Kim Astley-Cooper: The Antlers – Burst Apart
Let’s start by saying this is a band that makes a living out of writing melancholy, melodramatic and metaphorical concept albums. Their last album Hospice angled a terminal illness in the form of a relationship. Lead man Peter Silberman is a lover of words and ambient sounds. He is a genius at bridging the gap between Postishead-esque electronics, rustic horns and dream like vocals. It’s safe to say I fell in love with the bands 4th album Burst Apart before I’d even heard it. But I have now and it’s even more mind blowing, beautiful, tragic and expansive then I ever could have imagined. Day dreaming never felt so good.
Joel Atkin: Foo Fighters – Wasting Light
Had The Black Keys’ El Camino hit my ears a month earlier, I would not be writing this. However Wasting Light is a triumphant return to form for the Foo Fighters, easily their best work since There Is Nothing Left To Lose. Not only is Pat Smear back on board full-time for the album, it has a(n awesome) guest spot from Krist motherfuckin’ Novoselic! ‘Rope’ was such a powerful first single and ‘Arlandria’ sends shivers down my spine every time. I strongly urge everybody to watch the Letterman performance of the album as well. Utterly incredible.
Will Pedley: Mastodon – The Hunter
To some extent, The Hunter is just the next logical step in the trajectory that Mastodon have been following since day one and yet this album sees the band travelling far beyond the boundaries of their previous works into hitherto uncharted territory. More melodic, more triumphant, more daring and more fun than ever before, while there’s been a discernable refining of their sound, Mastodon are still monstrously heavy. As if it wasn’t already blindingly obvious, album number five clearly marks them out as one of the best and most interesting bands in contemporary heavy metal.
Alex Meakin: Ryan Adams – Ashes & Fire
On October 11th 2011 Ryan Adams released his thirteenth studio album. Now I know, quality and quantity are usually very different things and it’s not often said that “Thirteenth times the charm”. But here are eleven tracks of exceptional song writing taking the well-trodden sound of the acoustic guitar and making it his own. Don’t take my word for it, try track eleven – ‘Lucky Now’ – if your not hooked then that’s not blood in your veins. In a world of One Directions and X Factor’s, let some raw talent shine through.