Song, by Toad’s Albums of the Year 2011: 1-10
So, ta-daaah, here we go, what all right-thinking people have been enjoying most this year. And if you haven’t been enjoying these most this year, then dammit, what do you do when I tell you what opinions to have about music, ignore me? Surely such a thing is inconceivable.
As those of you who listened to last week’s podcast, where I played two songs from the more forgotten albums on my first ever Albums of the Year list (2004), I am actually more fascinated by these lists in retrospect than at the time.
Looking back at this list in five or ten years, the interesting albums won’t be the ones I am still listening to, but the ones I am not. I am sure practical details, like whether I have them on vinyl or tape or just digitally, will play a role, as will drifting fads and fashions. But sometimes it really does just seem to be random – albums just drift out of favour for no really obvious reason. Or, as has been the case with Kurt Vile this year, some albums seem to remain favourites for ages, despite not necessarily being the ones which grabbed you the first time.
So enjoy, this is what I have been mostly enjoying this year. And a fine list it is too, I hope you will agree.
10: The War on Drugs – Slave Ambient This is a very late entrant to this list, because for some reason I didn’t really listen to this album at all until the last month or two, but it’s bloody brilliant, managing to drift from ambient dreamers to Springsteen-like rockers to melancholy acoustica perfectly seamlessly. And the other joy of it is: another back catalogue to explore, too!
The War on Drugs – Your Love is Calling My Name
9: Pillars & Tongues – The Pass and Crossings This is a stunning album from what I think must be my favourite record label of the year: Empty Cellar. They have released three albums in my top twenty this year, and worked with the artist who released another, and that’s before we get into the singles. This album is grandiose, beautiful and all those words like sweeping and elegiac which journalists love to use so much. Except in this case it actually is.
Pillars & Tongues – Palms to Tell
8: Milk Maid – Yucca This record is actually a collection of lo-fi home recordings, but somehow the end result has got real style. Not charmingly rough and ready style, although it has that too, but a real sense of swagger. It’s not as frantic and noisy as a lot of its lo-fi brethren this year, either. Recording Milk Maid’s Toad Session was probably one of my favourite things this year.
Milk Maid – Can’t You See
7: The Sandwitches – Mrs. Jones’ Cookies A little like Sonny & the Sunsets, this album doesn’t entirely click on every single song, but it does on most. And beyond the pop tunes, there’s a wild, wailing quality to this which had me scrunching up my face in incomprehension for the first few listens. ‘What the f… did they just… are they…serious?‘ It didn’t take too long for it to click though, and I have since been foisting this record on visitors to our house all year.
The Sandwitches – Summer of Love
6: David Thomas Broughton – Outbreeding This is a disciplined and polished pop record from a man more commonly known for spending most of his gigs figuring out just how much he can antagonise his audience before they give up altogether. A favourite of mine since I first saw him at the End of the Road Festival in something like 2008 or 2009, I couldn’t have been much more surprised by this album, but it’s fucking brilliant nevertheless.
David Thomas Broughton – Nature
5: Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring for my Halo I am getting into ‘every damn list on the internet has this album on it’ territory here, but balls to it, I still love this record. I actually struggle to explain why though, because it’s not gripping, weird, striking or anything. It is, in fact, an entirely straightforward collection of songs crooned over fairly minimal guitar, bass and drums, at a relatively middle of the road pace. But for some reason I find the whole album one I have gone back to again and again and again all year.
Kurt Vile – Puppet to the Man
4: Crystal Swells – Goethe Head Soup This is one of the mostly ferociously-recorded things I’ve heard all year, with barely the slightest quarter given to the listener’s more delicate aural sensibilities. But underneath all the buzzing, distorted racket, and despite the headache-inducing nine-minute kick in the ears that is the title track, this mini-album holds a half dozen of the finest pop songs I’ve heard all year.
Crystal Swells – Waco, Wasilla, Waikiki
3: Jonnie Common – Master of None Pure genius, this one. This album has charm to spare, but it’s not as straightforward as it seems. The actual sounds Jonnie uses in assembling his songs are really quite unusual, but the results are pure, joyous pop. He seems to have pulled off the trick of being an experimental musician, but keeping that fact completely undercover, and making us all think he’s created the pop record of the year. Which of course he has.
Jonnie Common – Hand-Hand
2: Timber Timbre – Creep on Creepin’ On I don’t know what it is about the ghostly voodoo stuff these guys do which I love so much. Certainly with the increasingly deep arrangements there is a certain theatricality to this record, but then instrumentals like Obelisk and Swamp Magic could as easily be found in one of Tom Waits’ more flamboyant nightmares as they could on the stage, or indeed a contemporary pop record. Creep On Creepin’ On is never pompous or overblown though, and displays a remarkable deftness of touch, particularly with the more
Timber Timbre – Creep On Creepin’ On
1: Josh T. Pearson – Last of the Country Gentlemen I hesitated a long time before putting Last of the Country Gentlemen at the top of this list. Apart from the fact that at times the word enjoyable isn’t exactly the right one to apply, the whole album seems to belong in a slightly different category to everything else. It’s just different to all the other albums, and it feels difficult to actually compare the emotional response to this to the emotional response I’ve had to everything else. But in the end, between SXSW, Homegame, an aborted and a successful Toad Session, the number of times I’ve heard these songs and the effect they’ve had on me, there is little doubt that this, even if it isn’t my favourite album of the year per se, is still the album which dominated 2011 and is almost certainly the album by which I will remember it.