[It Was A Very Good Year]: The Best Albums of 2014

2014 was an incredibly strong year for music, both from young hopefuls and from established acts. As always, compiling a list of only ten albums was like trying to choose between which limb you’d rather lose. However, the fact that it is a such struggle to whittle the year’s output down to ten albums is always a good sign that there’s plenty of new music to get excited about, and long may it continue that way. So, let’s kick this year off right…

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10. Jack White – Lazaretto
And in the blue corner, the genre-bending third man, weighing in at #10 this year is Jack White, whose Lazaretto came out swinging this summer. No other artist these days is so evidently firing on all cylinders, buzzing off their own momentum, but makes it look so infuriatingly effortless.

2014 Banner 99. Gemma Ray – Milk For Your Motors
Full of high drama, junkyard romance and dreamy noir, Milk For Your Motors has been successfully fulfilling my Nick Cave fix this year. Spangled guitars twinkle over shuffling percussion and carny organs, while Ray’s honeyed vocals drift effortlessly through this shadowy landscape. Simply gothic-tinged pop goodness.

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8. The Rails – Fair Warning
The debut offering from a married folk-rock duo with a fine pedigree. Their tales have an inherent universality and a healthy respect for folk tradition, but also display their confidence and capability to carve out a plot for themselves that feels totally contemporary. Fair Warning rambles, gambles, rocks and rolls.

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7. Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
I’ve always been a bit on/off with Van Etten, but this is her first record where she seems completely comfortable in her own skin, delivering yearning, accomplished rock songs that reflect a boldness which was shaky before. Replete with panoramic self-expression without resorting to navel-gazing, Are We There is acerbic, cathartic and triumphant.

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6. Interpol – El Pintor
The release of anything by NY’s best dressed is cause for celebration, but what I didn’t expect was an album that brimmed with the dark, beguiling magic that characterised their debut. Bassist Carlos D may be errant, but the remaining trio have created a surging album of nocturnal alt. rock that is quintessential Interpol.

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5. Smoke Fairies – Smoke Fairies
Beautiful, dreamy pop music of many depths that fuses elements of gentle folk, moody rock and soaring electro-pop with some of the most mesmerising vocal harmonies I’ve heard in a while. The Chichester duo have been doing this for years, but somehow they always slipped through my grip until last year. Still, better late than never, especially with such masterfully built melodies as Eclipse Them All and Your Own Silent Movie, an uplifting anthem for those who live their lives soundtracked by music. What can I say? I relate.

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4. Lee Fields & The Expressions – Emma Jean
I saw Fields, now 63, with The Expressions support Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings (who also released a stonking, hip-shaking record last year) in the autumn and for sheer energy and showmanship he blew every other act I saw in 2014 out of the water. That roaring energy is palpable on Emma Jean, which manages to take different facets of James Brown funk, Memphis soul and old-school R&B, and pull it off with inspiration and flair. Love, loss, life and struggle; it’s all here in spades and it never sounded so good.

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3. The Roots – …and then you shoot your cousin
For my money, The Roots are one of the most intelligent and significant forces in music today, and the only band that can allude to both Nas and Dylan Thomas in the space of two lines (Never). Making uncompromising use of samples and jazzy countermelodies, …atysyc is a concretely dense album full of discomfort that satirises and problematises the ubiquity of violence in society and the media. It’s exactly what hip-hop should be: a giant melting pot where disparate elements combine to reflect something of our nature. If you haven’t read Questlove’s article series How Hip-Hop Failed Black America, I really encourage you to do so.

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2. Mirel Wagner – When The Cellar Children See The Light Of Day
The second LP from the Finnish songwriter (and her first for Sub-Pop) is an elemental, earthy affair, which echoes John Steinbeck for the stark vividness of imagery and the dustbowl ghosts that seem to linger around these ballads. Her lyrics are heavy on blood lines and the tracks we make on the earth which holds our bones, while the plaintive brushing of acoustic strings seem to breathe the dust of ages. But, what resonates most is Wagner’s voice: Commanding, almost ancient in its unflinching directness, and laden with undeniable truths that bury themselves deep. Utter ragged glory and a masterpiece of songwriting.

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1. Warpaint – Warpaint
Sounding like Laurel Canyon via The Twilight Zone, Warpaint’s crepuscular sophomore effort is darker and more seductive than its predecessor (something I didn’t think possible) and was my go-to soundtrack last year. Absorbing minimalist electronics and the vast deserts of Joshua Tree into their idiosyncratic, jam-oriented formula, Warpaint have created a brooding, delicious treat that taps into something thrumming in the subconscious. No other album last year exerted the same enigmatic pull on me despite being on constant rotation. If anything, it becomes more mysterious the more I think I know it and for that reason, it takes my album of the year.

So long, 2014, and thanks for all the great music.

What were your favourite music moments of 2014? Let me know in the comments below.

– Originally appeared on Hercules Moment.

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[It Was A Very Good Year]: The Best Of 2013

Well, 2013 is officially over, which means its time to cast an eye back over the year’s finest moments. There were so many albums I loved last year that they would easily fill up a top twenty, and even then there would be pushing and shoving. However, there can only be ten (for arbitrary reasons) and so with that in mind I have chosen the albums which impressed me most and continue to impress me long after luring me back for repeated listens. So, without further ado…

The Best Albums

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10. Kwes – ilp
On his hypnotising debut Kwes blends pop, ambient and electronic influences into a gluey fog of emotion that clings to you, giving it the deeply immersive quality of Portishead’s Dummy. While the understated melodies and blurred beats don’t immediately grab attention, it is the quiet confidence and kaleidoscopic nature of the music which is ilp’s strength. It will be interesting to see where he goes next.

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9. Julia Holter – Loud City Song
Not usually my thing, but there was something very compelling and mesmerising about Loud City Song which called me back for repeated listens and made me dig deeper each time. Each layer of Julia Holter’s avant-garde pop intrigues with moments of tension and release, forming dense collages of sound. Meanwhile, her flexible voice adopts different guises and moves eerily between seeming faint in the distance or uncomfortably close, as if you were listening to a radio which could tune into different rooms of a city.

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8. Charles Bradley – Victim of Love
After the overwhelming success of No Time For Dreaming, Charles Bradley’s debut at sixty-two, Victim of Love sees Bradley spreading his wings and finding his own (loud) voice. Aided by the capable Menahan Street Band, Bradley moves effortlessly between Temptations style psych-funk on ‘Confusion’ and ‘Love Bug Blues’, and slow-burning soul ballads on ‘Give Love A Chance’ and earnest album closer ‘Through The Storm’. It is an album brimming with gratitude and he gives as good as he gets (better, I’d argue).

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7. Jim James – Regions Of Sound And Light Of God
Jim James’s first out-and-out solo LP came up trumps, inspired by Lynd Ward’s Good Man and exploring themes of living life in an age cluttered by technology. Away from My Morning Jacket’s expanded alt. country, James blends genres to great effect from new-age rock ’n’ roll to electro-gospel. As ever though, at the centre of this extended sonic horizon is his cavernous voice, which sounds more than ever like a man sending messages into outer space.

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6. Eels – Wonderful, Glorious
No other album I heard this year was quite so aptly labeled, or half as fun. Wonderful, Glorious is the sound of E revelling in finally being in a band that can keep up with him, dishing up outrageous, scuzzy rock and gentle, mellow pop in the process. A golden slice of life affirming rock and roll!

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5. Josh Ritter – The Beast In Its Tracks
An album of dark nights and new mornings, The Beast In Its Tracks is the result of Josh Ritter retreating into songwriting to exorcise his demons from divorce, alcohol and insomnia. While much of the album sees Ritter happy in the arms of a new lover, songs like ‘Evil Eye’ and ‘Nightmares’ bounce along on cheerful melodies which disguise harrowing lyrics documenting his night terrors. Between bitterness and newfound happiness, Ritter evokes a long road to recovery experienced by many and perfectly captures the turning point onJoy To You Baby’. Ritter’s Blood On The Tracks? Possibly…

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4. Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt
Twenty-three years and ten albums in, Pearl Jam could be forgiven for showing signs of age. But, on Lightning Bolt they prove themselves to be as lean and hungry as ever, equally comfortable delivering full-throttle punk (‘Mind Your Manners’, ‘Lightning Bolt’) and gentle ballads (‘Yellow Moon’, ‘Sleeping By Myself’). The only signs of age are a mature perspective on love and mortality, with ‘Sirens’ seeing Eddie Vedder “overwhelmed by the grace with which we live our lives with death over our shoulders”. Lightning Bolt shows Pearl Jam ageing gracefully; still angry and still at the top of their game.

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3. Poliça – Shulamith
Hot on the heels of their critically acclaimed debut, Poliça build on its momentum with their difficult second album. The basic elements of echoing vocals, glacial synthesisers and effervescent percussion are still present, but Shulamith is more confrontational than its predecessor (much like its namesake, Shulamith Firestone). The music is less introverted; the synths are brutalising and the pulsing beats are feverish. Meanwhile, Channy Leanaegh’s vocals and lyrics, concerned with conflicts of identity in relationships, are direct and forthright. Rather than courting mainstream success, you get the sense that Shulamith is the sound of Poliça staying true to their beliefs.

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2. Anna Calvi – One Breath
Grander in scale, but more vulnerable than it’s predecessor. Anna Calvi still has a flair for the dramatic, but she seems to let down her guard more on One Breath, not letting the façade get in the way of expressing mortal frailty on the title track or brutal honesty on ‘Love Of My Life’. Calvi’s symphonic ambitions still remain intact on ‘The Bridge’ and ‘Sing To Me’ though, and that astounding voice continues to grip the imagination, even when it is but a barely audible whisper.

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1. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away
With the departure of guitarist Mick Harvey in 2009, Nick Cave’s right-hand man for nearly thirty years, the sound of the next Bad Seeds record seemed uncertain. As a result, the Bad Seeds embrace disarmingly minimal and intimate soundscapes on Push The Sky Away, focusing on textural instrumentation and contemplative lyrics delivered with conviction by Cave. The album looks both backwards and forwards on the band’s legacy, with the cataclysmic ‘Higgs Boson Blues’ seeming an answer to their ‘Abattoir Blues’ prophesied nine years earlier, while the spiritual communion of ‘We No Who U R’ and personal mantra ‘Push The Sky Away’ gesture to the artistic boundaries which they continue to push and transcend.

The Best EP

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Sampha – Dual
A genre defying EP; part electronic and hip-hop, part soul and singer-songwriter. While Morden based musician/producer, Sampha Sisay, has been lending his skills to high-profile artists such as Jessie Ware, SBTRKT and Drake, here on his second solo EP he shows that he kept the best ideas for himself. The songs themselves, based around Sampha’s soulful vocals and commanding piano melodies, are accomplished and would make enjoyable listening by itself. However, the extra layers he constructs on these solid basics indicate a measured artistry and that Sampha has a clear direction in mind. Brief interludes such as ‘Demons’ and ‘Hesitant Oath’ brim with creative enthusiasm and give the EP a cohesiveness which is missing from many full-length releases, while the intricate composition of clipped samples that weave in and out of the ‘live’ instrumentation keeps Dual unpredictable and imbues it with a compelling sense of depth. And yet for all its intricacy Dual still manages to sound pared down to its lean essentials, with no flab or unnecessaries attached. Evocative and simply captivating.

The Best Single

David Bowie Performing

David Bowie – ‘Where Are We Now?’
Released silently on Bowie’s birthday in January, ‘Where Are We Now?’ announced the Dame’s return to recording as the leading single to The Next Day. In many ways indicative of the album’s musical introspectiveness, evoking and pastiching the diverse phases of Bowie’s career, ‘Where Are We Now?’ is the quintessential post-Bowie Bowie song. While only four minutes long, the song’s sweeping scale and slow-burning energy feels like a lifetime condensed into a single moment, as Bowie casts a forlorn backward glance at his Berlin days. Over twenty years after the fall of the Berlin wall things have changed yet remain the same, as old names and places spark memories and are filled with hurrying people crossing their fingers as they traverse busy intersections “just in case”. In the midst of the commotion which leads us nowhere, a childlike Bowie finds some solace and resolve to carry on in a few fundamentals: “As long as there’s sun, as long as there’s rain, as long as there’s fire, as long as there’s me, as long as there’s you”.

The Biggest Surprise

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Apart from Beyoncé dropping a killer pop album unannounced, Miley Cyrus’s twerktastic antics sparking mass debate on female autonomy in the music business and the early release of Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, probably the single piece of news that caused widespread shock and disarray across the music world was the sudden death of Lou Reed on 27th October. Lou died of liver disease at the age of 71, having undergone a liver transplant earlier in the year, and I guess the reason his death came as such a shock was that his body had been through so much abuse that people expected him to be one of the few things to survive a nuclear armageddon, along with the cockroaches and Keith Richards. Black humour aside, the effect Lou’s songs had on music and peoples’ lives is immeasurable and his sudden death took many off-guard as they realised there would never be another like him. So rest in peace, Lou, this satellite has gone way up to Mars.

What were your best music moments of 2013? Let me know in the comments below.

— Elements of The Best Albums appear in extracted form over at Hercules Moments.

[It Was A Very Good Year]: 2012

Well, this list may seem somewhat late, but I wanted to expand on last year’s ‘Best Of’ to incorporate more than just ‘Best Albums’ and make sure it was right. So without further ado, here are my best moments from 2012…

Best Albums

SONY MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT CANADA INC. - Leonard Cohen

10.Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas

Leonard Cohen has always been old before his time and Old Ideas sees him wearing his age comfortably, like his well-cut suits. Though his output is resigned to a per-decade basis these days, these autumnal meditations on mortality show that Cohen’s bright star remains undiminished.

9. Hubbert

9. RM Hubbert – Thirteen Lost and Found

Reasons Why I Like Independent Record Stores #8: Hearing an album in-store that you fall in love with and buy immediately. Such was the case with RM Hubbert’s stunning collection of collaborations with friends and contemporaries.

8. Godspeed

8.Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!

What is there that can really be said about Godspeed, which hasn’t already been said? Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! is Godspeed doing what they do best and is yet another jewel in their post-rock crown.

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7. Lee Fields and The Expressions- Faithful Man

Criminally underrated for over four decades and still howling like a man half his age, Lee Fields is finally getting the recognition he deserves. With the departure of Solomon Burke (R.I.P.) in 2010, Fields may be the last of the great soul singers and Faithful Man proves just that.

6. White

6. Jack White – Blunderbuss

Jack White has always had a sense of the American Gothic around his music and just one look at Blunderbuss’s cover, which seems like a modern version of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven, will give you a pretty good approximation of the album’s sound. Like a rag and bone man, White picks up scraps of whatever musical detritus is lying around and tinkers it into something which is new and recognisably his. Here, elements of traditional country and bluegrass are forged with White’s blues-punk sensibilities to create an album of astounding quality and musical ingenuity. Blunderbuss oscillates between riffy vitriol and melodic nursery rhyme, and my God does it sound good.

5. Chromatics

5. Chromatics – Kill For Love

There always has to be one album I stumble across while compiling these lists which shoots straight into it. This year it’s Chromatics’ Kill For Love, whose bewitching blend of 80’s electro-pop and Italo-disco snatched it a place in the top five. As with all Chromatics related projects (Desire, Glass Candy, Symmetry), there is a heavy focus on the cinematic and visual quality their music possesses. Here on Kill For Love, Chromatics deliver a collection of beguiling nocturnes presented in glorious Technicolor.

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4. Bill Fay – Life Is People

Full of sublimely soulful music, this album signals the return of a major songwriting talent. From the majestic opener ‘There Is A Valley’ to the contemplative closer ‘The Coast No Man Can Tell’, it is clear that Bill Fay has endured a lot in his absence from the music scene. But Fay delivers his experiences and tribulations without bitterness, just hard-won compassion. Gospel singers and triumphant instrumentation buoy up the record, while Fay delivers his perceptive lyrics in a bruised, yet magnanimous, voice. Tragic and sweet, this is an album about overcoming hardship and looking back on it from the other side with your love for humanity still intact.

3. Ocean

3. Frank Ocean – Channel ORANGE

What I suppose you could loosely term a concept album, Channel ORANGE is a sprawling collection of musical vignettes which moves between genres effortlessly, from hip-hop and jazz to funk and psychedelia  Themes of sex, love and other drugs are masterfully interweaved throughout the album, where quieter and more self-aware moments such as ‘Pilot Jones’ and ‘Forrest Gump’ sit comfortably amongst more audacious tracks such as ‘Bad Religion’ and club opus ‘Pyramids’. For me though, it’s the throwaway interludes such as ‘Start’, ‘White’ and ‘Not Just Money’ which really tie the album together and evoke an atmosphere of late-night misgivings. ‘Thinkin Bout You’ might also be one of the most simple and beautiful love songs I’ve ever heard. Channel ORANGE is quite simply an album that feels utterly original

2. Poliça

2. Poliça – Give You The Ghost

What a monster of an album. Poliça tread a fine line between warm intimacy and cool claustrophobia. Glacial synths and Channy Leaneagh’s echoing vocals provide a clinical frostiness, while resonant bass and cascading percussion give their sound an organic virility. These blend together into undulating waves that break against you in a way that is both sedating and stimulating at the same time. It’s a heady, intoxicating mix, which draws you in and envelops you on the first listen.

1. Augustines

1. We Are Augustines – Rise Ye Sunken Ships

This is a band that a friend from home turned me onto and for that I owe her a huge debt. Finally seeing release in the UK earlier this year, Rise Ye Sunken Ships was born out of the disintegration of Pela and the untimely deaths of frontman Billy McCarthy’s brother and mother. With McCarthy’s wounded heart stitched firmly to the record’s sleeve, We Are Augustines channel this emotional intensity into twelve beautifully crafted songs. Surging and uplifting, not since Eels’s Electro-Shock Blues has heartbreak and personal loss sounded so jubilant or indomitable.

Best EP

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Frightened Rabbit – State Hospital

State Hospital is a claustrophobic and chilly collection that seemed perfectly appropriate when it landed late last year, just as the Scottish winter started to kick in. There are very few moments of optimistic solace available on these brutally abrasive tracks (even ‘State Hospital’s anthemic refrain ‘All is not lost’ seems borne out of desperation), but there’s no denying the emotional truth delivered in their maudlin messages. State Hospital points to a style that is rougher than previous album The Winter of Mixed Drinks, but is no less complex for the un-sanded edges. And Aidan Moffat’s bitter drawl is always welcome as far as I’m concerned

N.B. I may not have appreciated State Hospital so much if I hadn’t also had Josh Ritter’s Bringing In the Darlings to thaw me out after. Equally wintry themed, but whereas State Hospital is the biting winds that make your eyes water, Bringing in the Darlings is the fire that warms you on those cold nights. Ultimately State Hospital is more varied, but Josh Ritter’s effort is definitely worth checking out as well.

Best Reissue

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My Bloody Valentine – EP’s 1988-1991

This was very nearly Massive Attack’s reissue of the twenty year old Blue Lines, which still sounds as fresh and intriguing as ever. However, for sheer repackaging and bang-for-your-buck I’ve chosen My Bloody Valentine’s EP’s 1988-1991, which collects the now-rare  You Made Me Realise, Glider and Tremolo EP’s with a few extras thrown in for good measure. Twenty years on, My Bloody Valentine still sound as kaleidoscopic and baffling as ever. And while their recent surprise follow up to Loveless (also reissued alongside this compilation), m b v, is worth the hype, this collection proves that the band had already made their mark and perfected their game before Loveless.

Biggest Surprise

Snoop Lion

Twenty years into his career, Snoop Dogg changes his name to Snoop Lion. You seriously couldn’t make this stuff up. Can’t fault him for not having a sense of humour though:

Let me know what your favourite moments from 2012 were =)

 Most of ‘Best Albums’ taken from my Hercules Moments article, with the exception of Frank Ocean (i.e. I changed my mind writing this up, sue me).

2011: It Was A Very Good Year….

Wow, this place has gotten dusty. I’ve found this blog very difficult to maintain in conjunction with balancing my degree, job and other time commitments, so unfortunately I haven’t been able to write as many articles as I’d desire. However, it is officially the Easter holidays and I’ve found myself with some free time so I figured I would show a face and work on some articles. To kick off I’m reposting a review of 2011 featuring my favourite albums from said year. This was originally uploaded on Hercules Moments, a music blog based in Aberdeen which is run by some friends of mine and which I contribute to on occasion. If you like what you see here, then check them out. If not, even more reason to go to their site. New content will be uploaded in the coming week, I promise. In the meantime, have a browse through what I personally deem to be the top ten albums to emerge from last year. Let me know what you think, whether you agree or disagree with my choices and why.

1. Anna Calvi – Anna Calvi

Released early this year, Anna Calvi’s majestic debut exploded into my consciousness and has occupied a space there ever since, and possibly always will. On her self-titled debut she creates dramatic guitar symphonies while her operatic voice rises above all, showing influences of Ennio Morricone, Roy Orbison, Jeff Buckley, Nick Cave and Nina Simone. What I love in her songs, along with the aforementioned artists, is her ability to create entire worlds with her music. Calvi’s songs play out like a movie scene lifted from Byronic prose: the teasing tango in the fleeting glances stolen between two lovers; the shadowy fumbling while the door key refuses to enter the lock; the midnight confessions in the candle light; the hearts left shattered like glass in the streets, while mourned love flows into the gutters. Calvi’s songs invoke crepuscular worlds of passionate trysts and broken vows, where living with your heart on the edge of a knife is the only true meaning of existence. These are worlds we have glimpsed in those rare instances in which we have briefly surrendered ourselves to purely living in the moment. In Calvi’s self-titled debut, these moments are eternal.
Full album review here.

2. Bon Iver – Bon Iver

There’s very little I can say about this album which I haven’t already said about it in my review earlier this year. I guess the only thing I can add is that this is an album that you simply need in your life and which still has the ability to move me despite having it on constant rotation since its release. Keep up the good work Mr. Vernon.
Full album review here.

3. The Horrible Crowes – Elsie

The Gaslight Anthem have been one of my favourite groups to emerge in recent years so when I heard that front man Brian Fallon had released a side project I was naturally interested. What I did not expect was anything as moving or as powerful as Elsie. Teaming up with his English guitar tech Ian Perkins, Fallon lets himself explore darker themes of loneliness and heartbreak in a more stripped down outfit than the plugged in sound of The Gaslight Anthem, showing influences of Greg Dulli on ‘Ladykiller’ and ‘Behold the Hurricane’ and Tom Waits on ‘Mary Ann’ and ‘I Witnessed a Crime’. For all these comparisons though, especially ones to Bruce Springsteen in The Gaslight Anthem, Fallon is ultimately his own musical personality and if the point ever needed proving (it didn’t), Elsie proves just that.

4. Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring for my Halo

This is an album which I only got around to listening to just over a week ago, but which impressed me so much that it shot straight up this list when it came to writing it. Immaculate songwriting all delivered in Vile’s laconic and hazy vocals which float over the soporific, sun-dappled guitar melodies. The perfect thawing treatment for the cold outside, like staring deep into the Californian summer skies.

5. Danielle Luppi & Danger Mouse – Rome

Both a tribute to the soundtracks of Ennio Morricone and in itself a soundtrack to the city of Rome, this album is the product of a long collaboration between American producer Brian Burton AKA Danger Mouse and Italian composer Daniele Luppi. Gathering the original musicians from Morricone’s soundtracks, most of whom are now well into their seventies, and Jack White and Norah Jones to provide vocal duties, Burton and Luppi managed to pull off an audacious and ambitious project with great success. Melodious and majestic, this is a soundtrack of authenticity whose example I hope others will follow in the future.
Full album review here.

6. Eddie Vedder – Ukulele Songs

In revealing his long-lived passion for the diminutive Hawaiian instrument, Eddie Vedder delivers a collection of tasteful and profoundly moving songs, the subtle high register of the ukulele contrasting perfectly with his deep baritone vocals. Having already proved himself a competent solo artist away from Pearl Jam with his soundtrack to the Sean Penn film Into the Wild, Vedder continues this trajectory with poignant airs and a stunning duet with Chan Marshall AKA Cat Power on ‘Tonight You Belong To Me’.

7. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake

Let England Shake has erupted silently over the year, gradually gathering pace and intensity like a storm before sweeping the lead position in many critical reviews of 2011 and claiming this year’s Mercury Prize Award, making PJ Harvey the only artist to ever receive the award twice. Harvey admits that this is a difficult album due to the ambivalent subject matter of patriotism and the violence that shapes one’s country (‘Our land is ploughed by tanks and feet, / Feet marching’, The Glorious Land). Aided by long-time collaborators Mick Harvey & John Parish Harvey, PJ Harvey has created a collection of edgy songs that strike an uneasy nerve and that have taken on a prophetic tone in light of the riots across England earlier this year, further cementing Harvey’s reputation to defy expectations.

8. Josh T. Pearson – Last of the Country Gentlemen

After spending a near decade in the wilderness after the implosion of Lift to Experience, Josh T. Pearson emerges with a collection of raw, reflective confessionals that literally tug at the heart strings. Well, not literally obviously, but about as close as you can get without a scalpel. From the self loathing epistle of ‘Woman, When I Raise Hell’ to the caustic rant of ‘Sorry With a Song’, Pearson’s frantic performances cut straight to the bone in a similar manner to Johnny Cash’s American Recordings and affirm the return of a musical force. Welcome back Mr. Pearson.

9. Tom Waits – Bad As Me

When people talk about art, this question will often arise: how many times can you reinvent the wheel? In the case of Tom Waits, who has tinkered and hammered his particular wheel to the point where it resembles a jagged mobian strip more than a wheel, people may be wondering how much life the old dog has left in him. Though this album may not be a great departure from the Waitsian canon (Working class misfits spending their nights drunk in a gutter, but still looking at the stars etc. etc.), there is no denying that Waits always delivers the goods. Waits always approaches subjects from a unique angle (‘Last Leaf’, ‘Pay Me’) and chucks them out with musical sensibilities you simply can’t find anywhere else. Another Swordfishtrombones or Mule Variations it ain’t, but when the output is this good there is no need to teach old dogs new tricks.

10. Ghostpoet – Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam

Straddling a fine line between dub/grime and beat poetry/jazz, Obaro Ejimiwe has created an album which is by turns amusing, contemplative, frustrated and melancholic, but always with a sharp focus on a modern day narrative. This is an album which feels utterly contemporary providing a high resolution snapshot of living in 2011.