Twelve for ’12

We haven’t even put the new calendars up yet, but already the release schedules for the first quarter of 2012 are filling up nicely. This year has produced a veritable embarrassment of musical riches, and if the below lists are anything to go by the following twelve months are going to be just as busy. Here are the 12 albums that I am currently most looking forward to:

Cloud Nothings Attack On Memory (Carpark/ Wichita) – Dylan Baldi’s full band-assisted second album proper is, by all accounts, darker and heavier than its brattish, pop/punk-fuelled predecessor. Inspired by Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy and the Wipers, the album – released on January 24 – also benefits from typically raw production from Big Black/ Shellac’s Steve Albini.

Leonard Cohen Old Ideas (Columbia) The septuagenarian legend’s forthcoming album – his first in eight years, featuring partner Anjani Thomas and singer Jennifer Warnes –  promises “overtly spiritual” songs about “Love, sexuality, loss & death”. Pretty standard Cohen fare, then, but if that isn’t reason enough to get psyched I don’t know what is.

Disappears Pre Language (Kranky ) – Chicago psych-rockers release their third long-player in the space of two years on March 1; further refining their reverb-soaked Kraut-punk sound,  Pre Language was recorded with John Congleton at Sonic Youth’s New Jersey studio and sees (former?) SY drummer Steve Shelley promoted from live collaborator to full-time member.

Grimes Visions (Arbutus) – Vancouver-born, Montreal-based Claire Boucher – recently profiled in Vogue and named one of the coolest people in music – is slowly moving away from her DIY art-punk roots and showcasing a pop sensibility inspired by R&B and avant-electronica; her fourth album in two years – out January 31 – looks set to propel her into the indie “big time”.

Lindstrom Six Cups Of Rebel (Smalltown Supersound) – Hans Peter Lindstrom’s 2010 disco-pop collaboration with singer Christabelle, Real Life Is No Cool, was the Norwegian producer’s most popular release to date. His reaction? Record an album of tough, twisted funk grooves featuring his own digitally warped vocals. Colour me excited.

The Men Open Your Heart (Sacred Bones) – Brooklyn post-hardcore outfit offer a swift follow up to their surprise 2011 AOTY list fixture Leave Home; their third full-length in as many years, out in March, promises more of the same – ragged riffola, pummelling cosmic Krautrock and blissful noise – with an added country kick.

Nite Jewel One Second Of Love (Secretly Canadian) – Los Angeleno Ramona Gonzalez has been twisting lo-fi synth funk, disco and R&B into new, poppy shapes for the past four years, on acclaimed debut album Good Evening and a string of singles for ultra-hip labels like Italians Do It Better and Mexican Summer; her sophomore set, recorded with Ariel Pink cohort Cole MGN, is already inviting comparison with Eurythmics-era Annie Lennox, Sade and Tracy Thorn, as well as more urban girl-groups like TLC and SWV.

Of Montreal Paralytic Stalks (Polyvinyl)  – For that tricky eleventh album, Kevin Barnes drops the characters and adopted personas in favour of more intimate, confessional lyrics; meanwhile, new arrivals Kishi Bashi and Zachary Cowell add strings and brass/ woodwind arrangements, hinting at Barnes’ most ambitious musical vision to date.

Rick Ross God Forgives, I Don’t (Def Jam/ Maybach Music) – The follow-up to 2010’s best rap album (Teflon Don) was originally due out around now, but ill-health forced hip-hop’s current Boss to postpone its release until he was well enough to promote it; let’s hope that happens sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, a mixtape made up of entirely new material is promised very soon, with a full-length Drake collaboration scheduled for later in the year.

Sleigh Bells Reign Of Terror (Mom & Pop)  – Over the past eighteen months, it seemed as though every time you switched on the TV a different track from Sleigh Bells’ debut Treats was being used on an advert: it’s what’s known as “the Moby effect”. Sophomore album Reign Of Terror, out Valentine’s Day, offers eleven more booming, shredding songs for you to gradually get sick to death of; luckily they seem every bit as enduring as the last batch.

Sharon Van Etten Tramp (Jagjaguwar) – If the other ladies on this list are a bit too poppy for your tastes, then Ms. Van Etten’s sultry, soulful tones might be just up your street. With members of Beirut and the National lending a hand (and some additional indie street cred), SVE’s Jagjaguwar debut will appeal to fans of Feist and Cat Power, and in an ideal world would make her as big a star as Adele.

Dustin Wong Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads (Thrill Jockey) – Anyone who heard 2010’s spellbinding double LP Infinite Love could be forgiven for thinking the Ponytail guitarist was the future of experimental music; his latest offering – another free-flowing stream of interlocking, repetitive patterns and sunburst psychedelia – is sure to convince a few more.

Also announced…

January: The Big Pink Future This (4AD) / Black Bananas Rad Times Express IV (Drag City) / Lana Del Rey Born To Die (Interscope) / Francois & The Atlas Mountains E Volo Love (Domino) / Guided By Voices Let’s Go Eat The Factory (Fire) / Eyvind Kang The Narrow Garden (Ipecac) / Neal Morgan In The Yard (self-released) / Pop. 1280 The Horror (Sacred Bones) / Prinzhorn Dance School Clay Class (DFA) / Rhyton Rhyton (Thrill Jockey) / Trailer Trash Tracys Ester (Double Six/ Domino) / Jason Urick I Love You (Thrill Jockey / 2 Bears Be Strong (DFA)

February: Blondes Blondes (RVNG. INTL.) / Bright Moments Natives (Luaka Bop) / Field Music Plumb (Memphis Industries) / Heartless Bastards Arrow (Partisan) / Damien Jurado Maraqopa (Secretly Canadian) / Perfume Genius Put Your Back N 2 It (Organs/ Turnstile) / Pontiak Echo Ono (Thrill Jockey) / Shearwater Animal Joy (Sub Pop) / White Car Everyday Grace (Hippos In Tanks)

March: Kindness World, You Need A Change Of Mind (Female Energy/ Polydor) / Magnetic Fields Love At The Bottom Of The Sea (Domino/ Merge) / The Shins Port Of Morrow (Columbia/ Aural Apothecary) / Spiritualized Sweet Heart, Sweet Light (Double Six/ Spaceman)

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Albums of 2011: EPs, Compilations and Reissues

And finally…

EPs:

  • James Blake Love What Happened Here (R&S)
  • Darkside Darkside (Clown & Sunset)
  • Flaming Lips Strobo Trip (self-released)
  • Holy Other With U (Tri Angle)
  • King Krule King Krule (True Panther)
  • Jens Lekman An Argument With Myself (Secretly Canadian/ Service)
  • Light Asylum In Tension (Mexican Summer)
  • Mi Ami Dolphins (Thrill Jockey)
  • Milk Music Beyond Living (Perennial)
  • Toro Y Moi Freaking Out (Carpark)
  • Trash Talk Awake (True Panther)

 Reissues:

  • The Beach Boys The Smile Sessions (EMI)
  • Can Tago Mago 40th Anniversary Edition (Spoon/ Mute)
  • The Fall This Nation’s Saving Grace (Beggar’s Banquet)
  • Marvin Gaye What’s Going On 40th Anniversary Edition (Universal)
  • The Louvin Brothers Satan Is Real/ Handpicked Songs 1955-1962 (Light In The Attic)
  • Foster Mangyani Ndzi Teke Riendzo (Honest Jon’s)
  • Mickey Newbury An American Trilogy (Saint Cecelia Knows)
  • Primal Scream Screamadelica 20th Anniversary Edition (Sony)
  • Talk Talk Laughing Stock (Ba Da Bing)
  • Throbbing Gristle 20 Jazz Funk Greats (Industrial)
  • U2 Achtung Baby Super Deluxe Edition (Island)

 Compilations:

  • Sorry Bamba Vol.1 1970-1979 (Thrill Jockey)
  • Disco Inferno The 5 EPs (One Little Indian)
  • Mark McGuire A Young Person’s Guide (Editions Mego)
  • Theo Parrish Ugly Edits CD (Ugly Edits)
  • REM Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982-2011 (Warners)
  • Scritti Politti Absolute (Virgin)
  • V/A 20 F@#&ING Years – We Ain’t Dead Yet (Planet E)
  • V/A Back & 4th (Hotflush)
  • V/A Bangs & Works Vol. 2 (Planet Mu)
  • V/A Let The Children Play (Ed Banger)
  • V/A Silkmix Vol. 1: Mixed By Sir Stephen (100% Silk)

Next week, I’ll be looking forward with “12 for ’12”; twelve albums scheduled for the early part of next year that I am already dying to hear. Until then…

Albums of 2011: honourable mentions

Because 100 is never enough…  Here are a few that didn’t make the list but are definitely worth checking out:

Rock & Pop:

Rap & R&B:

  • Action Bronson Dr Lecter (Fine Fabric Delegates)
  • J. Cole Cole World: The Sideline Story (Roc Nation)
  • Don Trip & Starlito Step Brothers (Grind Hard/ Sittin’ Phat)
  • Fiend Tennis Shoes & Tuxedos (self-released)
  • Freddie Gibbs Cold Day In Hell (self-released)
  • Giggs Take Your Hats Off (self-released)
  • Gunplay Inglorious Bastard (Maybach Music Group)
  • Juicy J Blue Dream & Lean (self-released)
  • Frank Ocean Nostalgia Ultra (self-released)
  • Pusha T Fear Of God 2: Let Us Pray (G.O.O.D. Music)
  • Young Bleed Preserved (Strange Music)

Jazz & Outer Limits:

  • Balam Acab Wander/ Wonder (Tri Angle)
  • Cut Hands Afro Noise Vol. 1 (Very Friendly)
  • Fire! & Jim O’Rourke Unreleased (Rune Grammofon)
  • Hubble Hubble Drums (Northern Spy)
  • Nicolas Jaar Space Is Only Noise (Clown & Sunset)
  • Julian Lynch Terra (Underwater Peoples)
  • Prurient Bermuda Drain (Hydra Head)
  • The Psychic Paramount II (No Quarter)
  • Siinai Olympic Games (Splendour)
  • Temporal Marauder Makes You Feel (Spectrum Spools)
  • Bill Wells Lemondale (Double Six/ Domino)

Beats & Electronica:

  • Africa Hi-Tech 93 Million Miles (Warp)
  • Azari & III Azari & III (Loose Lips)
  • BNJMN Plastic World (Rush Hour)
  • Damu Unity (Keysound)
  • Fred Falke Part IV (Work It Baby)
  • Roman Flugel Fatty Folders (Dial)
  • Laurel Halo Hour Logic (Hippos In Tanks)
  • Robert Lippock Redsuperstructure (Raster Norton)
  • Maceo Plex Life Index (Crosstown Rebels)
  • Andy Stott Passed Me By/ We Stay Together (Modern Love)
  • Tiger & Woods Through The Green (Running Back)

Metal:

  • Arabrot Solar Anus (Fysisk Format)
  • Bones Bones (Planet Metal)
  • Craft Void (Southern Lord)
  • Disma Towards The Megalith (Profound Lore) 
  • In Solitude The World, The Flesh, The Devil (Metal Blade)  
  • Loss Despond (Profound Lore)
  • Morne Asylum (Profound Lore)
  • Speedwolf Ride With Death (Hell’s Headbangers)
  • Trap Them Darker Handcraft (Southern Lord)
  • Unkind Harhakuvat (Relapse)
  • Weedeater Jason… The Dragon (Southern Lord)

Tomorrow: the best EPs, compilations and reissues of 2011

Albums of 2011 : The Top 11

And finally… the top 11:

 

11. Danny Brown XXX (Fool’s Gold)   Detroit MC Danny Brown has been around for a while now, but it was this free mixtape, featuring gritty beats that straddled mainstream hip-hop and the du jour “cloud rap” of G-Side, Main Attrakionz et al, that finally brought the ready-made superstar the attention he deserved. Whilst the title actually referred to the fact the rapper had just turned 30, XXX could have easily served as a content warning: sex and drugs (and, to a lesser extent, rock ‘n’ roll) were high on Brown’s list of priorities, but his impressive flow – pitched somewhere between Andre 3000’s literate wordplay and the late ODB’s potty-mouthed surrealism – ensured the jokes (?) never wore thin. 

  

10. Sepalcure Sepalcure (Hotflush) / 9. Machinedrum Room(s) (Planet Mu)  These two albums were essentially two sides of the same coin: Room(s) saw Travis Stewart warp the machine-gun beats of the Chicago-born “footwork” sound and the neon-lit 3AM melancholia of Burial’s post-rave R&B into a pop-savvy  electronic master-class, whilst the debut full-length from Sepalcure – his project with Praveen Sharma of Braille –blended together elements of techno, house and dubstep with the skill and panache of the world’s best big-room DJs. Both albums were equally suitable for headphone listening, car journeys or dancefloor catharsis, but Room(s)’ of-the-moment originality put it ahead by a nose.

8. Fucked Up David Comes To Life (Matador)  What made this Toronto hardcore collective think they could succeed where Green Day failed and convincingly pull off the “punk rock opera”? Who knows, but succeed they did, and in spectacular fashion. Embellishing the concept with lovingly detailed extras (a clever marketing campaign, additional material), Pink Eyes and co. threw their hearts and souls into David’s world; if the record was perhaps a little too much, it was only because they had so much to give. A monumental achievement, and irrefutable proof that punk is most certainly not dead.

7. Cold Cave Cherish The Light Years (Matador)  Wes Eisold was once described as a “new young god of nihilism and despair”, but Cherish The Light Years – the sophomore album from his latest band Cold Cave – displayed a pop sensibility that even the hipster goths that wore sunglasses and leather jackets to their shows couldn’t refuse. The icy synths were still present and correct, but Eisold and his motley crew (including Prurient’s Dom Fernow and Glassjaw’s Daryl Palumbo) used them as the focal point for the kind of danceable alt-rock anthems groups like Bloc Party and the Killers would die for; that the album’s crossover potential was largely ignored was very much the mainstream’s loss.

6. Oneohtrix Point Never Replica (Software/ Mexican Summer)  Daniel Lopatin showed off his pop side earlier in the year with Channel Pressure, his synth-centric collaboration with Joel Ford, but it was Replica, the sixth OPN long-player in the space of four years, that confirmed him as one of the sharpest minds in contemporary experimental music; constructing intricately detailed sound collages from – among other things – sampled ‘80s TV ads, Lopatin somehow managed to wring melody and emotion from the most unlikely of sources.

5. Drake Take Care (Young Money/ Cash Money)  Love him or hate him, there’s no denying 2011 was Drake’s year. His sophomore album saw the former child-actor overtake his former mentor Lil’ Wayne in terms of both ability and popularity, and justifiably so: completely on-point with his collaborators (The Weeknd, Kendrick Lamar, Rick Ross, Andre 3000) and lyrical subject matter (hedonism and its emotional aftermath), Take Care was a scarily ambitious epic in the same vein as Marvin Gaye’s Here My Dear that impressed in terms of both idea and execution.

Bon Iver

4. Bon Iver Bon Iver (Jagjaguwar)  Anyone who saw the stunning 2009 full-band Bon Iver live show, or heard the electronic side-project Volcano Choir, should have known better than to expect For Emma, Forever Ago Part 2, but nobody was prepared for the huge stylistic leap Justin Vernon took on this astounding follow-up. Adding post-rock textures (and saxophone!) to the folky template of his debut, this heartbreakingly soulful album was the surprise hit of the year, earning Vernon some serious advertising money and four (unwanted) Grammy nominations.

3. James Blake James Blake (Atlas/ A&M)  Twelve months ago James Blake was one of the brightest hopes for the year ahead, but it wasn’t the futuristic dubstep and R&B productions that had earned him those plaudits that ended up justifying the hype. On his debut album, Blake dropped the BPMs and unveiled his piano-man singer-songwriter side for a collection of late-night electronic soul ballads that owed as much to the jazz and folk stylings of Joni Mitchell, Feist and Bon Iver (all of whom Blake has either covered or collaborated with) as to club-friendly peers like Burial and Four Tet. A stunning, defiantly contemporary record that felt like a timeless classic.

 

2. Destroyer Kaputt (Merge/ Dead Oceans)  It doesn’t take a genius to see that I’m a big Destroyer fan, but Dan Bejar’s track record of major stylistic changes from one album to the next meant that a thumbs-up for his latest release was far from a sure thing; thankfully, Kaputt turned out to be Bejar’s most widely adored offering to date. Drawing from sources that were previously considered uncool, but have since become omnipresent – jazz-funk a la late-period Miles Davis, the synthesized AOR of Steely Dan in their prime – these brass- and woodwind-augmented arrangements made the impossible look easy, succeeding in shifting the focus away from Bejar’s (still astounding) lyrical wit and onto his “proper” pop chops. Kaputt was released way back in January, and – in terms of memorable, melodic songwriting – nothing else in 2011 has even come close; if 2012 produces anything this special, it will be a good year indeed.

   

1. Shabazz Palaces Black Up (Sub Pop)  Seattle’s Shabazz Palaces generated surprisingly little buzz with their two self-released 2009 EPs, but among the few that did pay attention to the whispers about them being “the future of rap” and “the most important band to come out of the city since Nirvana” were the bigwigs at Sub Pop, who made the group the first hip-hop signings in the esteemed label’s 25-year history. After setting the standard for the current “cloud-rap” movement with those early releases, former Digable Planets MC Ishmael “Palaceer Lazero” Butler and multi-instrumentalist Tendai Maraire raised the bar even further with their debut album proper, a staggeringly inventive mix of literary beat poetry, Black Power politics and Daisy Age psychedelia played out over a backdrop of stuttering beats and spacey synths. And African percussion. And free jazz. Oh, and gospel. In fact, Black Up played like a condensed history of Afro-American music – from Sun Ra to Outkast via Sam Cooke, Sly Stone, the Last Poets, Carl Craig and Public Enemy – as seen through the eyes of alien mystics, and it was this combination of reverence and exploratory forward-thinking that made this album the benchmark for new music in 2011.

Previously: Part 2 (50-12)   Part 1 (100-51)

Tomorrow: Honourable Mentions

Albums of 2011 : Part 2

Here’s 50 -12; top 11 tomorrow…

  • 50. Metronomy The English Riviera (Big Beat/ Because)
  • 49. Cut Copy Zonoscope (Modular)
  • 48. Youth Lagoon The Year Of Hibernation (Lefse)
  • 47. Black Tusk Set The Dial (Relapse)
  • 46. Total Control Henge Beat (Iron Lung)
  • 45. Skull Defekts Peer Amid (Thrill Jockey)
  • 44. Liturgy Aesthethica (Thrill Jockey)
  • 43. Lykke Li Wounded Rhymes (LL Recordings)
  • 42. Holy Ghost! Holy Ghost! (DFA)
  • 41. The Rapture In The Grace Of Your Love (DFA)
  • 40. Little Dragon Ritual Union (Peacefrog)
  • 39. The Weeknd House Of Balloons (self-released)
  • 38. G-Side The One: Cohesive (Slow Motion Soundz)
  • 37. Rustie Glass Swords (Warp)
  • 36. Cass McCombs WIT’s End (Domino)
  • 35. Bill Callahan Apocalypse (Drag City)
  • 34. Atlas Sound Parallax (4AD)
  • 33. Iceage New Brigade (What’s Your Rupture?)
  • 32. Thee Oh Sees Carrion Crawler/ The Dream (In The Red)
  • 31. John Maus We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves (Upset The Rhythm/ Ribbon)
  • 30. Tune-Yards Whokill (4AD)
  • 29. Panda Bear Tomboy (Paw Tracks)
  • 28. The Field Looping State Of Mind (Kompakt)
  • 27. Hebden/ Reid/ Gustafsson Live At The South Bank (Smalltown Supersound)
  • 26. Tom Waits Bad As Me (Anti)
  • 25. Das Racist Relax (Greedhead)
  • 24. A$AP Rocky LiveLove A$AP (self-released)
  • 23. Josh T. Pearson Last Of The Country Gentlemen (Mute)
  • 22. Julianna Barwick The Magic Place (Asthmatic Kitty)
  • 21. Matana Roberts Coin Coin Chapter 1: Gens Du Couleur Libres (Constellation)
  • 20. Colin Stetson New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges (Constellation)
  • 19. Sandro Perri Impossible Spaces (Constellation)
  • 18. Planningtorock W (DFA)
  • 17. Death Grips Ex Military (self-released)
  • 16. Jay-Z & Kanye West Watch The Throne (Roc-A-Fella/ Def Jam)
  • 15. PJ Harvey Let England Shake (Island/ Vagrant)
  • 14. EMA Past Life Martyred Saint (Souterrain Transmissions)
  • 13. Girls Father, Son, Holy Ghost (True Panther)
  • 12. M83 Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (Mute)

Previously: Part 1 (100 – 51)

Albums of 2011 : Part 1

Well, here it is folks: the first annual Foam Hands Best Albums list. 100 – 51 below, 50-12 to follow tomorrow with the top 11 (of 2011; see what I did there?) to be announced on Wednesday. I’m not offering any explanations or justifications as these are my honest opinions, regardless of whether the choices are “cool” or not. Hyperlinked titles will take you to reviews that I have written here or had published elsewhere. As always, please feel free to comment, speculate or let me know your own choices.

  • 100. Iron And Wine Kiss Each Other Clean (4AD)
  • 99. Raleigh Moncrief Watered Lawn (Anticon)
  • 98. Pure X Pleasure (Acephale)
  • 97. Triumph Of Lethargy Skinned Alive To Death Some Of Us Are In This Together (Burnside)
  • 96. Yob Atma (Profound Lore)
  • 95. Woods Sun And Shade (Woodsist)
  • 94. Main Attrakionz 808s & Dark Grapes II (Mishka)
  • 93. Lil’ B I’m Gay (I’m Happy) (Basedworld)
  • 92. About Group Start & Complete (Domino)
  • 91. Austra Feel It Break (Domino)
  • 90. CANT Dreams Come True (Warp)
  • 89. Black Lips Arabia Mountain (Vice)
  • 88. Mikal Cronin Mikal Cronin (Trouble In Mind)
  • 87. Gang Gang Dance Eye Contact (4AD)
  • 86. Smith Westerns Dye It Blonde (Fat Possum)
  • 85. Big Troubles Romantic Comedy (Slumberland)
  • 84. Cave In White Silence (Hydra Head)
  • 83. Human Eye They Came From The Sky (Sacred Bones)
  • 82. Cass McCombs Humor Risk (Domino)
  • 81. Future Islands On The Water (Thrill Jockey)
  • 80. The War On Drugs Slave Ambient (Secretly Canadian)
  • 79. Tim Hecker Ravedeath, 1972 (Kranky)
  • 78. Co La Daydream Repeater (NNA Tapes)
  • 77. Ford & Lopatin Channel Pressure (Software)
  • 76. SBTRKT SBTRKT (Young Turks)
  • 75. New Look New Look (K7)
  • 74. Toro Y Moi Underneath The Pine (Carpark)
  • 73. Bruno Pronsato Lovers Do (Thesongsays)
  • 72. Thundercat The Golden Age Of Apocalypse (Brainfeeder)
  • 71. Peaking Lights 936 (Not Not Fun/ Domino)
  • 70. James Ferraro Far Side Virtual (Hippos In Tanks)
  • 69. Araabmuzik Electronic Dream (Duke)
  • 68. Ponytail Do Whatever You want All The Time (We Are Free)
  • 67. Wild Flag Wild Flag (Merge/ Wichita)
  • 66. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks Mirror Traffic (Domino/ Matador)
  • 65. Florence + The Machine Ceremonials (Island)
  • 64. Julia Holter Tragedy (Leaving)
  • 63. The Men Leave Home (Sacred Bones)
  • 62. Mastodon The Hunter (Roadrunner)
  • 61. Red Fang Murder The Mountains (Relapse)
  • 60. Tombs Path Of Totality (Relapse)
  • 59. All Pigs Must Die God Is War (Southern Lord)
  • 58. Korallreven An Album By Korallreven (Acephale)
  • 57. St. Vincent Strange Mercy (4AD)
  • 56. The Antlers Burst Apart (Frenchkiss)
  • 55. Fleet Foxes Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop)
  • 54. Real Estate Days (Domino)
  • 53. Family Portrait Family Portrait (Underwater Peoples)
  • 52. Devon Williams Euphoria (Slumberland)
  • 51. Kendrick Lamar Section 80 (Top Dawg)

Top 50 Songs of 2011

OK, I’m sure there are some that I have forgotten, but here it is: Foam Hands’ Top 50 Songs of 2011. I have to admit that I don’t often choose to listen to individual tracks; I prefer to set aside some time and absorb a whole album. But there are always songs that stand out, and the following are the fifty (complete with Youtube links) that have made the biggest impact on me this year:

A few notes: I have listed these songs in alphabetical order as my personal enjoyment of individual tracks depends on any number of interchangeable factors, so whilst I might place a sunny indie-pop track at number one on a hot summer day, different weather or a different mood would inevitably shift my focus onto something from a different field altogether (for what it’s worth, though, if I had to pick an overall winner it would be M83’s “Midnight City”). Also, I have tried to limit my choices to one song per artist, although – as you can see – when it came to the four singles from Beyonce’s album, I have cheated somewhat as I just couldn’t pick a favourite. But hey: my blog, my rules. You may also have noticed a few glaring omissions, such as Shabazz Palaces, PJ Harvey, Drake, Bon Iver and James Blake: this is because (as you will see next week) their albums are so consistent that it proved impossible to pluck any one track out of its original context. Anyway, justifications over… check out the links, see if you agree with me and please feel free to share your opinions.

Coming Up…

You may have noticed things have been a bit quiet round these parts lately; that’s because I’ve been busy compiling the Foam Hands year-end lists, and they’re just about ready. Check back here on Friday for the first of these, my top 50 songs of 2011; then, next week, I’ll reveal my three-part albums of the year list, followed by honourable mentions, rounding off the week on Friday with the best EPs, compilations and reissues. Finally, on Wednesday December 21st, I’ll be previewing my twelve most anticipated early-2012 releases. I’ve really enjoyed this year in music, and putting these lists together has been fun; I hope you’ll enjoy reading them, and – as always – please feel free to share your comments and maybe even some of your own lists.

The Quietus’ Albums Of 2011

Just a quick heads-up… the ever awesome Quietus have just published their Albums of 2011 list; I won’t post too many spoilers, but it’s nice to see some titles that have been somewhat neglected elsewhere, such as Azari & III, Cut Hands and Arabrot, plus a few albums that I have reviewed for them: Skull Defekts, Fucked Up, My Disco and Cold Cave.  Read the full list here: http://thequietus.com/articles/07520-quietus-albums-of-the-year-2011

Bill Wells : Lemondale

Bill Wells - Lemondale

Falkirk’s Bill Wells is something of a big fish in the admittedly small pond of contemporary Scottish jazz, but, as the man himself argues, the strange and often beautiful music he writes is only “jazz by default”. Fair enough, elements of his gently enchanting compositions recall those of arrangers like Count Basie or Gil Evans, but they have as much in common with the likes of Burt Bacharach and Brian Wilson, who used jazz’s experimental techniques and varied instrumentation as a means of expanding their forward-facing pop music into the future standards we all know and love. A quick glance at the list of Wells’ collaborators over the past twenty years – Phantom Engineer, the Pastels, Isobel Campbell, Aiden Moffatt – suggests an affinity with the country’s indie community, but the guitar/ bass/ pianist also maintains strong ties to the Japanese underground (stemming from his previous work with psych-folk troupe Maher Shalal Hash Baz) and it’s this particular connection that brought about his latest album. Apparently, Wells awoke one morning having dreamed about an imaginary Japanese soap opera – the titular Lemondale – but whilst he could only recall hazy details of the actual story, he remembered the theme tune so vividly that he immediately sat down to record a demo version of it; an entire suite of songs followed and, for the sake of authenticity, Wells travelled to Japan to record the album with a hand-picked, 13-piece dream team of the country’s finest alternative and improvising musicians. Of course, such a large group – including pianist Satoko Fujii, Saya and Uneo of Tenniscoats, singer Nikaido Kazumi, MSHB’s Tori Kudo, gadget-maker and sound artist Tetsuya Umeda and the now Tokyo-based American avant-garde legend Jim O’Rourke – proved to be something of a logistical nightmare, and after much synchronizing of calendars it was found that there was only one day when all the players could be in the studio together. Factor in limited rehearsal time and the occasional language barrier problem, and Lemondale could have easily turned into a painful and ultimately fruitless pursuit; instead, the resulting album is a rough-around-the-edges labour of love that is testament not only to Wells’ vision and determination but to the community spirit and stellar musical abilities of everyone involved. With brass swells, Kazumi’s dreamy vocals and Fujii’s lyrical piano runs rubbing against the more abrasive sounds of O’Rourke’s guitars and some interesting noises conjured up by Umeda and an electric fan, Lemondale’s charms are subtle without ever fading into the background. It may only be jazz by default, but Wells’ music – as ever – is lovely by any definition.

Listen: “Piano Rolls”/ “Different Pans”/ “Lemondale”  http://soundcloud.com/dominorecordco/sets/bill-wells-lemondale-sampler

 Lemondale is out now on Double Six/ Domino Recording Co.