2011 provided more than its fair share of despair, frustration, anxiety, sadness and anger on a scale which I’ve never really faced before. From catastrophic world-events in my old hometown of Brisbane and shocking images from my adopted second home of Japan, to deep sadness at the loss of some near and dear friends, and finally giving the ending a bang by planting a personal mountain of bullshit to overcome. There have been some not insignificant highlights, too - the surprising welcoming of a new niece and my brother’s wedding counting as two peaks - but by the overall buckets of shit this year has heaped down on us, and me, it can not be too surprised if I wish it a big “fuck off” and eagerly anticipate this new one.
The upside of being forced to lay low for long periods of time (explaining why this blog attracted some dust and cobwebs) was that I was able to envelope myself even more in some cool music, so here’s my Top 10 of 2011, with a bonus 40 songs which I reckon are tops:
50 - Grieves, Speakeasy
49 - Yuck, The Wall
48 - Eddie Vedder, Sleeping By Myself
47 - Xavier Rudd and Inzitaba, Yandi
46 - Fucked Up, Queen of Hearts
45 - Scroobius Pip, Introdiction
44 - Mogwai, How To Be A Werewolf
43 - Eagle and The Worm, All I Know
42 - Radiohead, Little By Little
41 - The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, Heaven’s Gunna Happen Now
Yuck and Songs were cool discoveries this year, equal parts sludgy rock and hooky pop. Vedder picking up a uke was always going to be greeted with quizzically cocked ears, and a solo effort by Scroobios Pip somehow afforded him more lyrical balls. Rudd was rediscovered thanks to his impressive Bluesfest effort and the entire Radiohead was nodded at thanks to its teetering rhythm section, as brilliantly outlined with this song.
40 - The Bamboos, Typhoon
39 - Grouplove, Colours
38 - REM, Alligator, Aviator, Autopilot, Animator
37 - Ben Ottewell, Shapes and Shadows
36 - Gorillaz, Hillbilly Man
35 - Mick Harvey, Frankie T and Frankie C
34 - Only The Sea Slugs, Big Sky
33 - We Were Promised Jetpacks, Hard To Remember
32 - Femi Kuti, Dem Bobo
31 - Bill Callahan, America!
I got back to some singer-songwriter roots, after a bit of a break looking at new things. Ben Ottewell (that voice from Gomez) and Bill Callahan sing with a most sublime troubadour spirit, while Mick Harvey’s first post-Bad Seeds album showed some surprisingly picturesque Australian landscapes. The Bamboos have been a late addition - Melbournites of the same soul/funk revivalist movement as Sharon Jones. Booty-shaking.
30 - Yuck, Shook Down
29 - Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, Bakitju
28 - Feist, How Come You Never Go There
27 - Eagle and The Worm, Good Times
26 - Songs, It Doesn’t Exist
25 - The Herd, Salary Cap
24 - Jeff Lang, Running By The Rock
23 - The Weeknd, High For This
22 - Seeker Lover Keeper, Bridges Burned
21 - We Were Promised Jetpacks, Picture of Health
I should’ve gotten into Feist and Seeker Lover Keeper more than I did, but their put-on, over-affected vocal can tend to grate sometimes. They miss the pained huskiness or extroverted sexuality which I dig so much. That said, a bold move for three very assertive and distinctive vocalists to harmonise together for a whole album (even though Sarah does win hands-down, favourite-child sydrome style).
20 - Xavier Rudd and Inzitaba, Time To Smile
19 - Scroobius Pip, Try Dying
18 - Eagle and The Worm, Futurman
17 - Ball Park Music, Literally Baby
16 - Bon Iver, Perth
15 - Black Joe Lewis and The Honeybears, Black Snake
14 - REM, Oh My Heart
13 - Gotye, Eyes Wide Open
12 - Femi Kuti, Politics In Africa
11 - The Grates, Sweet Dreams
So REM fucked off, but left us with a true gem of heartbreak with a heartbreaking melody. Bastards. It was always going to be Gotye’s year the moment “that” song dropped, but this one is a killer also. I never really took to The Grates earlier on in their careers and found a little too deliberately indie, but now they seemed to have grown and a way more comfortable in their own skin.
10 - Holly Throsby, What I Thought Of You
It was Holly’s year. What, with her third “normal” album (she released a kids album, too) and then her part in the barnstorming Seeker, Lover, Keeper trio it’s hard to whack the shuffle on and not hear her smooth timbre. The cyclical melodic hook is heart-wrenchingly gorgeous.
9 James Blake, There’s A Limit To Your Love
Ethereal and mystical. His second offering (I think), but this one’s much more accessible thanks to actual lyrics being sung. His vocals are spooky.
8 The Black Keys, Lonely Boy
Seriously beat-worthy, which once again stakes they Keys’ claim as being the premier modern blues rock duo. The effect-ladden sloppy slide guitar intro gives way to a key-inflected melody which draws the hooks along. A classic Dad-dance film clip (akin to You Am I’s iconic Berlin Chair clip) is just the icing on the cake.
7 Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, Ain’t No Buildings In The Projects
I had the pleasure of reviewing Sharon’s live show and an advance copy of this album. Nothing makes me happier than seeing this sassy woman crunchy out some deeply felt revisited funk/soul. I’ve done my bit in spreading the word on this scene, but I’m still amazed by how little people seem to dig it.
6 - PJ Harvey, This Glorious Land
I’ve never been a huge fan of Polly-Jean... truth is, she’s always kinda frightened me. But this album is all about the toilet-bowl which England society has seemingly become to her, and this was pre-riots. The slow dirge with the under laid off-timed “charge” trumpet call is a seething coil. In another song she poses the question “What if I take my problem to United Nations?”. The Mercury Prize was well-deserved.
5 - Ben Salter, I Am Not Ashamed
Always good to see a hometown lad and mate make it big. This album has just hit, seemingly on the tail-end of the solo bandwagon (seriously heaps of them in the past year and a bit... Glenn from Augie March, Gareth from The Drones, Adalita from Magic Dirt, Mick Harvey from Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds). Anyway, I can almost feel the inner-western suburbs of Brisbane on a slow, heavy, bright January afternoon seep through this track. (The clip is from the single The Coward and it makes me instantly homesick).
4 - The Grates, Turn Me On
Finally, The Grates prove they have more than just youth and bounciness on its side. Its first two albums were fine, but they cranked the Lo-Fi ethos just a little too high. This one sees singer Patience Hodgson go from the frizzy-haired annoying girl next door to a contender as a serious rock vixen, in the Wendy James (Transvission Vamp) vein. She undermines that sex-bomb theme a little for anyone listening to her awesome tales on The Minutes podcast, but she’s still gorgeous.
3 - Adalita, Hot Air
The ex-lead singer of bogantastic 90s rockers Magic Dirt has truly blown me away with this album. I reviewed the launch at one of two sold out shows at the Northcote Social Club and found it the hardest gigs the get a reading on and have some perspective about. The Tiger and I stood transfixed, yet floating and completely moved by the coiled emotion of just Adalita’s no-nonsense presence and guitarist JP Shilo’s contorted frame.
2 - Ball Park Music, It’s Nice To Be Alive
Brisbane indie group which I’ve had the pleasure of watching grow and blossom over the past couple of years. They’re part of a record label in Bris (Mucho Bravado) which is steadily building a name for itself as a new force in the city. Seriously catchy, smart and cutesy pop with a solid base. These guys will be huge.
1 - Gotye, Somebody That I Used To Know
My number 1 and Hottest 100 Number 1 for sure, lest there be some sort of massive Silverchair-esque backlash between now and when voting closes. Nothing I can say will compare with The Vine’s detailed analysis.
The Interstellar Valley
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