Saturday, 10 December 2011

Scottish Fiction - Best Of 2011 - Albums (Part 1)

What's that? There isn't enough lists floating about? Calm your jets good baying mob, for here is Scottish Fiction's Best Albums of 2011 Part 1.

I've made a conscious decision to split my best album lists into two. Part one features my favourite albums of the last 12 months from outside Scotland. And part two, which will be forthcoming will feature my favourite albums of 2012 by Scottish artists. Why? Well, as you know the focus of the blog is Scottish music, but it would be folly to ignore a whole years worth of musical output simply because it was made by people outwith our snowy windy borders.

So here's my attempt to countdown in an order of meaning. Don't be bummed if you think number 27 should be higher than number 14, at the end of the day I've no real basis for deciding anyway!

30. The Beastie Boys - Hot Sauce Committee Part II

29. Lykke Li - Wounded Rhymes

28. Iron & Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean

27. Trips And Falls - People Have To Be Told

26. M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming

25. Anna Calvi - Anna Calvi

24. Friendly Fires - Pala

23. Smith Westerns - Dye It Blonde

22. Male Bonding - Endless Now

21. Fair Ohs - Everything Is Dancing

20. Noah And The Whale - Last Night On Earth

19. Vivian Girls - Share The Joy

18. TV On The Radio - Nine Types Of Light

17.  Bright Eyes - The People's Key

16. Gil Scott-Heron / Jamie xx - We're New Here

15. Alex Turner - Submarine OST

14. Yuck - Yuck

13. Danger Mouse & Danielle Luppi - Rome

12. Rob St. John - Weald

11. Radiohead - The King Of Limbs

10. Metronomy - The English Rivera

Metronomy returned in April with their third, Mercury nominated, album. Simmering with cutting beats, synths that climb into full blown dancefloor fillers and bass lines steeped in jazz, this album sees a progression of Metronomy's classic indie-dance fare whilst still paying tribute to their foundations on 'The Look', which is an album highlight. It's intelligent music, very well put together and full of confidence and charm.

9. Wild Beasts - Smother

Wild Beasts third album was released in May of this year, and it's the quartets finest to date. Revisited '80's pop with a fresh impetous, they manage to fuse the best bits of Adam Ant, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, et al with the minimalist touches that permeate British dance music at present. Opening duo 'Lion's Share' and 'Bed Of Nails' are both exude an enchanting beauty and the album retains a collection of tender moments throughout.

8. Dum Dum Girls - Only In Dreams

There's just something about girls and guitars. Released on Sub Pop in September, The Dum Dum Girls second album is a huge step forward from their debut. Dreamy fresh lyrics replace the 'la-la-la's' that took away from their first album, and the overall sound is touched up such that it retains the C-86 influence but doesn't sound as if it's been recorded in a garage in downtown LA. The album is straight out of the Spector 'Wall Of Sound' book, with trademark snapping guitars, grungy hooks and sharp drum beats. The above 'Bedroom Eyes' shows why The Dum Dum Girls are the most likely contenders from the 2010 Los Angeles 'stoner rock' scene.

7. J. Mascis - Several Shades Of Why

Despite various side projects over the years, Dinosaur Jr's J. Mascis only released his first fully solo album back in March this year. Mascis decides to steer away from his usual waves of noise tempered with gargantuan amounts of distortion and showcase his softer side. It's a delicate, mainly acoustic affair with the sense of a warm wind blowing past on a mild summer's twilight as you reflect on the day just past. Which is a nice feeling.

6. Battles - Gloss Drop

I have a friend that heard the above track 'Ice Cream' at a Battles gig in early 2010. He had the tune stuck in his head for a year solid before being able to listen to it again with the release of Gloss Drop in June. That should tell you something about the sheer catchiness of this album. Doing what Battles do best by hooking you in with beats and loops so intricate they could have been carved out of crystal by Swiss jewellers. Electro legend Gary Numan makes an appearance on 'My Machines' which tops off one of the most interesting and eclectic albums of this year.

5. Beirut - The Rip Tide

The Rip Tide is Beirut's most mainstream offering yet. Zach Condron manages to temper the Eastern European folk influences into a thoroughly enjoyable slice of alternative rock. Full of romanticism and swooping melodies that engulf with the ability to create a sense of optimism and feeling that maybe the world isn't all that bad after all. Standout tracks are 'Santa Fe', 'Port Of Call' and 'The Rip Tide'.

4. The Shivers - More

How often do you buy an album without hearing anything from it? And how often do you do this with a band you've never heard of? Not very in my cash strapped world. So buying The Shivers album released on Fence Records in September is the equivalent of winning the lottery with a lucky dip. The influences of their hometown New York seep out of this record, there's hints of the indie stylings of The Strokes circa 2001, synth driven melodies ala The Rapture, and elements of smooth jazz. I love this record. You should to.

3. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues

Fleet Foxes follow up their eponymous 2008 album with Helplessness Blues, again released on Bella Union. Their debut was one of the most critically received albums of the '00's so following it up was always going to be a tough ask. Thankfully Fleet Foxes showed why they can be quite rightly regarded as the future of alternative American music. It's mostly a case of more of the same from Fleet Foxes on Helplessness Blues. The Van Morrison / Neil Young influenced folk is the core of an album which simply pushes the boundaries that little bit further. Always inquisitive in it's nature, Pecknold's lyrics are at their peak on title track 'Helplessness Blues'.

2. Bon Iver - Bon Iver 

For Emma, Forever Ago was universally acclaimed. Yet Justin Vernon's second album 'Bon Iver' has divided a good many music critic. I'm not sure why, but I have a theory that it may be the sheer expectation that came along with this album that causes some to dislike it, or at least not rate it as much as 'For Emma, Forever Ago'. Perhaps because 'For Emma...' was a slow burner it felt more of something you discovered rather than expected. Something that was underground rather than mainstream. Something that was free from expectation rather than weighted down with trying to follow one of the most heartfelt albums of the last ten years. I love 'Bon Iver'. Do I think it's as good as 'For Emma...'? No, but it was never going to be. And I think as soon as you can let that go, you can appreciate a fantastically well crafted album, which goes in a opposing direction introducing synths, distortion and brass to suppliment the basis structures of Vernon's songs.

1. Cat's Eyes - Cat's Eyes

An unlikely pairing, an even more unlikely debut gig at the Vatican, and yet this April release from Horror's frontman Faris Badwan and soprano Rachel Zaffira is more favourite album of 2011. It's sophisticated music, full of classical elements intertwined with '60's girl groups and that man Phil Spector again. Full of warm reverb, the soaring operatically trained vocals of Zaffira complement the baratone Badwan. Proof that Badwan's love of the obscure can wield positive results, this album is unlike anything else I've heard this year, full of swirly orchastrations and dainty little touches almost like the brushstrokes of the great artists. Lowlights are non existant, but the album swells to magnificent proportions around 'The Best Person I Know', 'Face In The Crowd' and 'Over You'.

So there you have it. Scottish Fictions 30 best (read favourite) albums from 2011 from outwith Scotland. There's no doubt there a vast myrad of music I've missed. That's either because I don't rate it that highly (PJ Harvey) or I simply haven't heard it. Both of which are valid reasons. Stay tuned folks for the best Scottish albums of 2011.

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