Saturday, 31 December 2011

Lovesong: Albums of the Year

I'd been grumbling about the year's lack of musical quality to anyone who'd listen (basically the butcher). Sure, there were albums that I'd eagerly anticipated but which left me kind of flat: Paul Simon, Joe Henry, Wilco, Iron and Wine, Martin Simpson and Brian Eno to name but a few.
That's me (right), miserably looking down my nose at them all...
Then a wonderful thing happened; my external hard drive crashed, trashing all of my downloaded back catalogue. Rather than just gormlessly 'ipoding' newly purchased CDs to await their reappearance on 'Le Shuffle' I was forced to sit down and actually listen to the CD itself; often its entirety. 
I found that a couple of those disappointments started to reveal there charms, particularly Elbow's 'Build a Rocket Boys' and Peter Gabriel's 'New Blood'. 
I started enjoying my Linn stereo system again, turning things up to 11 and enjoying sound as well as song. Instead of dissecting the arrangements and productions, I found myself sitting back and bathing in the sheer ambient joy of music. 
I think that this might have effected the choices I made; rather than chasing words, I went for albums that made me feel good, although not necessarily happy; there's some glorious melancholy here...

Kate Bush 
'50 Words for Snow'
I've never been smitten with Kate until now. Sure 'This Woman's Work' was gorgeous and I liked the sound of 'Hounds of Love' but I could never grasp what moved her and therefore had trouble relating to the warbling. Her concept here is so simple and so perfectly realised that you cannot help but to fall for it. Wintry tone poems are shaped by piano, double bass and Steve Gadd's subtle drumming to provide the perfect backdrop for the musing. Her son appears as a snowflake (I am light, I am sky) and Kate somehow makes this into a moving pean on the transience of life (or childhood) and the importance of care, (the world is so loud, keep falling, I'll find you). The most laudable element is the space; Kate takes her time, and the songs reveal themselves in their own sweet time, most of them clocking in at over 7 minutes. I'm not sure that this makes it 'radio friendly' but I love it all the more for that. Even a guest appearance by Elton John cannot break the spell as the icy beauty washes over you. Bonkers, bold and beautiful.

Lanterns on the Lake
'Gracious Tide, Take Me Home'
Speaking of 'icy beauty' I didn't think that I was going to warm to this when I first heard it; I initially felt that it wore its influences too boldly. However, once you stop looking at it in the eye and let it insinuate itself, the Mazzy Star/Cocteau Twins veneer is soon forgotten. Rather than covering up for the lack of something, the reverb actually adds to the woozy atmosphere and highlights the dry beauty of the strings when they come into focus. 
It's not really an album of songs; more the sound of a group of youngsters trying to make the most beautiful noises that they can, and (by heck) they nail it!

Civil Wars 
'Barton Hollow'
On first listening this reminded me of the Robert Plant/Alison Krauss album 'Raising Sand'. 
I think that the chemistry between the two protagonists here is more vivid, more sexually charged. 
Whilst they are not a 'couple', there's an undeniable frisson that crackles from the speakers, something reinforced when you witness their potent live performances. 
The songs are just beautiful, and their delivery, pitch perfect.

James Vincent McMorrow 
'Early in the Morning'
There's a whiff of Bon Iver in the breathy, multi tracked delivery, but this is a more accessable music; less intense, easier on the ear. This was my 'Car Stereo' album of the year.

Leisure Society 
'Into the Murky Water'
Nick Hemming and Christian Hardy have been around the bittersweet block a time or two. They have wounds but possess the wit and the musical chops to articulate the hurt. This album is a brilliant box of paints; the musical dexterity could have rendered it unfocussed; showy, impressive, but bloodless. 
This is remedied by the joyful melodic melancholy; sanguinely fuelled by a great big heart. 

And my album of the year is....

King Creosote & Jon Hopkins  'Diamond Mine'

In this collaboration, the fairly traditional songwriting of Kenny Anderson (the 'King') is tweeked by the ambient, Enoesque tamperings of Hopkins. 
Tender, gentle, sad, yet oddly compelling, there is a real, almost claustrophobic sense of place (a small Scottish fishing village in Fife apparently), not somewhere I'd particularly like to live, but am happy to revisit (it's a short piece) by hitting the 'Play' button time and again
It's the aural equivilant of that great big steaming mug of milky cocoa your Mum used to make you after you'd fallen off your Chopper and skinned your knees...


  1. A Linn stereo system! Very impressive. I’ll struggle on with my Dansette (it goes all the way up to 4 you know).

    Things I’ve enjoyed listening to during 2011 (present company etc ) in no particular order (apart from my first choice)...

    Holly Reynolds – Half Light ep (a masterpiece!)
    Al Lewis – In the Wake
    Civil Wars – Barton Hollow
    Foo Fighters – Wasting Light
    Noah and the Whale – Last Night on Earth
    Alison Krauss – Paper Airplane
    Jenny and Johnny – I’m Having Fun Now
    Caro Emerald – Deleted Scenes From the Cutting Room Floor
    Kd Lang – Sing it Loud
    Elbow – Build a Rocket Boys
    Glen Campbell – Ghost on a Canvas
    Kate Bush – 50 Words for Snow
    2 Door Cinema Club – Tourist History
    Adele – 21
    Feist – Metals
    Judee sill – Complete Asylum Recordings

    Best track I’ve ‘rediscovered’ during 2011 – Joni Mitchell – Woodstock (live) from Shows and Light. Absolutely beautiful.

    Happy New Year everyone

  2. oops... meant Shadows and Light (and that's before I started on the wine!)