Saturday, 31 December 2011


Since I don't think Let England Shake is the best album of the year (not quite), and since list-making is the kind of public masturbation everyone's okay with, here's my end-of-year list.

50. RADIOHEAD - The King Of Limbs

Fixated Radiohead fans discovered all the hidden genius buried underneath this album; cynics slayed The King Of Limbs to pieces. But the truth is, this is a merely good album by a great band. Today it still sounds like Amnesiac p.II with weaker tunes. More ambient and dirge-like than needed, but I insist that "Lotus Flower" has one of their loveliest vocal hooks ever. Read more


One of the stronger indie rock efforts of 2011. By turns jangly and grungy, Veronica Falls is full of tasty guitars that manage to salvage certain weaknesses in songwriting. The opening epic "Found Love In A Graveyard" is goth-pop at its shimmering best. Read more

48. STEPHIN MERRITT - Obscurities

Not exactly a new album - more like an odds-and-ends compilation of Merritt's past work. The record includes songs recorded by The Magnetic Fields, The 6ths, and The Gothic Archies. By no means essential, but no Stephin Merritt fan (and aren't we all?) should be without it. The wistful pop anthem "Yet Another Girl" is the standout. Read more 

47. SARAH NIXEY - Brave Tin Soldiers

With no Luke Haines or John Moore around, Sarah has no chance of capturing the cynical pop magic of those classic Black Box Recorder records. But Brave Tin Soldiers is still a huge improvement over the rather bland and bloodless Speak, Memory from 2007. Sinister and understated, its melodies will start seeping through with further listens. Read more


God, how do they come up with band names like that?!? I almost refused to consider this nice little Sonic Youth-meets-twee pop record for my list because of that. But Belong is a solid album full of beautiful and lush noise, emotional singing, and lots of catchy melodies. Read more

45. THE LADYBUG TRANSISTOR - Clutching Stems

The Ladybug Transistor's (another silly band name) previous albums used to be a lot more immediate. Clutching Stems is the kind of record a very refined person raised on The Go-Betweens would make. Crucially, the band lacks charisma, but this is still a nice, tasteful collection of understated pop tunes. You'd have to give this one some time though. Read more

44. DESTROYER - Kaputt

A year without a New Pornographers album is a sad year for music. But then a year without a New Pornographers associated album is near impossible. This time it's Dan Bejar's Destroyer. Kaputt is jazzy, long-winded and relies on atmosphere a lot more than the band's past efforts, but Bejar's whimsical hooks just keep coming out of nowhere. Nocturnal stuff. Read more  

43. DEAR READER - Idealistic Animals

Dear Reader is all charm. But however much this concept album about maturing borders on saccharine, and however childish and naive the girl's voice sounds, nothing can hide the unmistakable songcraft behind this consistent collection of chamber pop sweetness. Read more

42. JONNY - s/t

Jonny is a collaboration between Teenage Fanclub's Norman Blake and Euros Childs from Gorky's Zygotic Mynci. Basically, that's all I need to say. A nostalgic, feel-good, toe-tapping experience, Jonny is as great as throwawayish can get. Read more

41. OKKERVIL RIVER - I Am Very Far

I Am Very Far is Okkervil River's usual indie drama. Passionate, emotionally charged vocals plus some of the band's most inspired tunes ever. The band still lacks consistency, but tracks like "Lay Of The Last Survivor" and "Wake And Be Fine" keep pointing to a possible masterpiece I'm still so eagerly awaiting. Read more

40. HALF MAN HALF BISCUIT - 90 Bisodol (Crimond)

Half Man Half Biscuit's latest is the usual deal: catchy, singalongish punk rock with a slight folky edge. 90 Bisodol is somewhat derivative, and the songwriting is not as inspired as on 2005's terrific Achtung Bono, but as long as they can come up with something as addictive and anthemic as "Rock And Roll Is Full Of Bad Wools", they are all right. Read more 

39. THE FALL - Ersatz G.B.

Mark E. Smith's relentless post punk onslaught shows no signs of winding down. Erzatz G.B. is The Fall album no.29. As sloppy, crude and maddeningly brilliant as ever. Not a classic by any stretch of imagination, but Smith by the numbers is still exciting enough. Read more

38. CAT'S EYES - s/t

This one caught me by complete surprise, since I couldn't expect Faris Badwan (of The Horrors) to pen such a nice little set of sophisti-pop compositions. Sung by a Canadian opera singer (Rachel Zeffira), these songs are cold, exquisite and intriguing. Read more

37. KING'S DAUGHTERS & SONS - If Then Not When

This rather obscure Kentucky-based band plays dark Low-esque ballads with complex post-rock arrangements and murderous lyrics. The often rough guitar tones are alternated with more heartfelt, acoustic delights. A fine indie-folk/slowcore album that should be more recognised. Read more


A very authentic sounding folk album of traditional English ballads that are both haunting and beguiling. Plus a couple of well-chosen covers (King Crimson's "Starless" and Tom Waits' "No One Knows I'm Gone"). Last is the sound of stately, delicate melancholy. Read more


Lindsey Buckingham's comeback may have been inconspicuous, but it contains some of his best solo work. Underneath his fluent, intricate guitar playing, there is some pretty diverse songwriting, from funky (yes!) to adult-contemporary (no!). The missteps are few, though, and the majestic "Rock Away Blind" is pure aural bliss. Read more

34. THE BLOOD ARM - Turn And Face Me

However derivative these Franz Ferdinand soundalikes may be (though truth be told, they appeared at around the same time as Alex Kapranos' band), Turn And Face Me is filled with some of the catchiest songs of 2011. Joyful, never-ending energy rush; what's not to like?.. Read more

33. FLEET FOXES - Helplessness Blues

I've grown to like this one somewhat more than I did initially, but I still don't hear it. A very well-written, well-executed album full of hippy-ish vibes and brilliant harmonies, but it's so meticulous and self-consciously perfect, it lacks the inspired freshness of the debut. Not a bad song in sight, though, and miles ahead of Bon Iver's washed-out second. Read more

32. R.E.M. - Collapse Into Now

If this is to be the band's last album ever (though I seriously doubt it), there's absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Collapse Into Now is a fine, tasteful follow-up to 2008's punkish Accelerate - only this time it's softer, janglier. And better. Nothing overwhelming, but then nobody was expecting to be overwhelmed. Read more

31. NILS FRAHM - Felt

Any music recorded today is popular music, and Germany's Nils Frahm is case in point. His gorgeous, minimalist, Satie-indpired modern classical can be understood and appreciated by everyone. Felt is neither difficult nor cheap: it's just beautiful. Read more  

30. DRUGSTORE - Anatomy

Another hidden gem from 2011. Anatomy is a very languid, relaxed, slightly Spanish-tinged album by a little known London-based band. The closest analogy would be Beth Gibbons' autumnal classic Out Of Season from 2002. This is just as moody but a lot less dark and depressed. Read more 


The purveyors of nerdy pop are back in business (after a series of children's albums). As ever, it's fairly diverse, but it's the infectious, full-blown pop that fares best ("Canajoharie", "Can't Keep Johnny Down", "When Will You Die"...). The lyrics are hilarious and the melodies are irresistible. That's all we asked for. Read more 

28. EMA - Past Lifes Martyred Souls

Normally I'm not a big fan of 'look at me I'm bleeding' approach to music, but the glorious piano chords of EMA's "California" literally pinned me to my chair. Past Lifes Martyred Souls is not perfect: it's the sound of anguished, fucked-up beauty. Mesmerising and strangely appealing. Read more 

27. TOM VEK - Leisure Seizure

One of the most stylish pop records of the year, Tom Vek's Leisure Seizure is a funky, inventive affair. The production is clever and eleborate, which is not too surprising: he had 6 years for that (Tom's debut, We Have Sound, was released in 2005). Some people seem to have a problem with the vocals, but my guess is that those people have never heard of punk. Read more


Another stylish and sexy release, this one comes from a Fiery Furnaces sibling. While the Furnaces are better known for their experimental, Zappa-esque sound, Last Summer is something entirely else: it's soulful, melodic and perfectly accessible. Read more

25. FIONN REGAN - 100 Acres of Sycamore

Fionn Regan is an Irish artist whose take on folk music is just not hipsterish at all. It's poignant, moody, and autumnal in a Bryter Layter sort of way. Sombre melodies and evocative lyrics sung in delicately, hauntingly. 100 Acres Of Sycamore has revealed itself to be a a contemporary folk classic, no less. Read more 

24. FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE - Sky Full Of Holes

Fountains Of Wayne usually take time between recording a new album, and in their case it seems to be a mark of good taste: Sky Full Of Holes is another adorable, filler-free power pop addition to their consistent catalogue. Drenched in sugary hooks and summary vibes. Brilliant. Read more


Ryder-Jones' lovely and loving musical adaptation of Italo Calvino's If On A Winter's Night A Traveler has literally nothing to do with his former band, The Coral. Influenced by Erik Satie and Claude Debussy, If... is full of mystery and heartfelt classical soundscapes. Read more

22. MARY HAMPTON - Folly

My Mother's Children, Mary's pretty and disturbing debut, was one of my favourite albums of 2008. Folly was no worse: bizarre, whimsical, otherworldy music for those who like their folk music with a twist. Edgy and intriguing. Read more

21. GILLIAN WELCH - The Harrow And The Harvest

Profoundly good, of course. How else? Crystal clear vocals, crystal clear production and 10 languid, perfect Americana compositions that seem to gather all the dust and atmosphear of Nashville. Slightly too transcendental for her own good, but a new Gillian Welch album is a classic experience you won't get anywhere else. Read more 

20. STANDARD FARE - Out Of Sight, Out Of Town

This late 2011 release is everything an indie rock album should be: intelligent, memorable, unpretentious. The jangly/twee/c-86 sound of Out Of Sight, Out Of Town is infused with tasteful guitars and breathtaking, bubblegum choruses. Read more

19. BILL WELLS & AIDAN MOFFAT - Everything's Getting Older

Everything's Getting Older is a collaboration between two Scottish musician, Bill Wells and Arab Strap's Aidan Moffat. It's a bleak, adult album about, well, getting older. But however cheerless, the album's relentless depression is backed up by a set of absolutely gorgeous tunes. Check out "Ballad Of The Bastard" for proof. Read more

18. THE DECEMBERISTS - The King Is Dead

Whenever a band of The Decemberists' status and popularity produces a new album, some section of world's population will be sure to put it down with relish; regardless of the quality. What's wrong with this one? The King Is Dead is a straight, driving collection of tuneful folk-rock that once again proves that Colin Meloy is one of the prime American songwriters working today. Read more

17. THE FEELIES - Here Before

Here Before is one of the more satisfying comebacks in recent memory. The Feelies' trademark intense strumming is back, only this time it's more mature and jangly. Gone is the nervy restlessness of Crazy Rhythms, but the unique style is very much evident on these 13 melodic, consistently brilliant tracks. Read more 

16. TIMBER TIMBRE - Creep On Creepin' On

Timber Timbre (Canadian songwriter Taylor Kirk) creates a fairly original sound. Creep On Creepin' On is dark, bluesed-down rockabilly with swampy vocals and folkish vibes. A couple of unnecessary instrumentals notwithstanding, this is a brooding, expertly produced near-classic. Read more


My pick for the best debut of the year, Hunger is like a cross between Orange Juice and Dexys Midnight Runners (no big surprise: the album was produced by Edwyn Collins). A true post punk riot of catchy, danceable melodies and soulful, dramatic vocals. Read more

14. ROBYN HITCHCOCK - Tromso, Kaptein 

There's no such thing as a bad Robyn Hitchcock album, and this one's further proof. Even if by Robyn's usual standards Tromso, Kaptein is a lesser record, his Lennon-meets-Barrett songwriting will top almost everyone else's. As ever, lots of personality and melodic substance. And his productivity is astonishing. Read more

13. COMET GAIN - Howl Of The Lonely Crowd

Partly like a lusher version of The Pastels with no out-of-tune singing and partly like The Go-Betweens as a c-86 band, Comet Gain might have hit their creative peak with the emotional, irresistible Howl Of The Lonely Crowd. Both sad and life-affirming. Read more 

12. MAGAZINE - No Thyself

A brilliant return to form for Howard Devoto. As edgy and paranoid as their classic debut, Real Life, and brimming with most creative, bizarre hooks in existence. Disturbing lyrics, too. No Thyself is still Kafka after all these years. Read more

11. SMITH WESTERNS - Dye It Blonde

Smith Westerns' sophomore release is several heads above their lo-fi first. When I reviewed Dye It Blonde, I called it a seedless watermelon, and I haven't changed my mind since. Fuzzy, intensely tuneful and big on slide guitars, this is pure glam-rock brilliance. Read more

10. KATE BUSH - 50 Words For Snow

A new Kate Bush album is an event, not least because it only happens once a decade. 50 Words For Snow is so wintry, slow and long-winded, many will lose patience with it. It might well be her least immediate album ever, with only the memorable single "Wild Man" sticking out of the bunch. But behind the cold and dreamy structures, there's lots of whimsical, enchanting mystery only she could provide. Read more

9. TOM WAITS - Bad As Me

Bad As Me is reliably great, of course. A unique style made popular is unlikely to fail a talented man, but it certainly helps that Tom came up with such a strong set of songs. The production is a little too slick, too smooth, but enough roughness and adventurousness is retained to make for a hugely satisfying listen. From screamers ("Hell Broke Luce") to heartbreaking ballads ("Pay Me"), it's wild and wildly entertaining. Read more

8. ARCTIC MONKEYS - Suck It And See

To say that this came as a shock would be an understatement. A truly excellent, mature album by Arctic Monkeys that has a lot to offer besides a bunch of good riffs. Namely: classic songwriting and Alex Turner's terrific vocal tone. They don't get rid of the heaviness of Humbug (not entirely) or the youthful swagger of their first two records, but (for once) Suck It And See is mostly about tunes. And what tunes. Read more

7. PETE ASTOR - Songbox

Pete Astor (The Loft and The Weather Prophets) is all but forgotten these days. He is one of those 'old-fashioned' British songwriters who are all about a good song. Songbox is Pete's strongest creation ever: a collection of 11 stark yet delicate songs of startling simplicity and beauty. The kind of intelligent pop music that would only sell in a better world, Songbox is honest and, in case of the closing "Mistress Of Song", confessional art. Read more   

6. MICK HARVEY - Sketches From The Book Of The Dead

As much as I love Bone Machine and Murder Ballads, Mick Harvey's 2011 offering (his first since parting with Nick Cave) could be my new favourite album about death. There are people who claim that the album's atmosphere overshadows its songs, but these dark, gorgeous melodies imbued with gently strummed acoustic guitars and eerie pianos are among     this year's most haunting and hard-hitting. Read more

5. LUKE HAINES - 9 1/2 Psychedelic Meditations On British Wrestling Of The 1970's And Early 80's

I derive no special pleasure from including Radiohead and Luke Haines on the same list (even if there are so many points in between), but I guess I can live with that. Anyway, by recording an album this brilliant about wrestling (an homage to his childish obession) Haines once again proves that he is the world's strongest, most consistent songwriter. His sinister croon and his way with melodies are just amazing, plus another batch of dark, witty lyrics. Read more

4. THE JAYHAWKS - Mockingbird Time

The first time I heard Mockingbird Time, I didn't think of it much. A nice enough comeback, but equally I thought it was The Jayhawks by the numbers with a collection of well-written but ininspired songs. But my God, from chiming to glorious power pop to all those jangly delights, this soon revealed itself to be The Jayhawks' best album ever. Colourful, thoughtful, timeless songwriting. Read more

3. KATE BUSH - Director's Cut

Perhaps Kate Bush's second album of the year shouldn't be on this list at all - it being a collection of her late 80's/early 90's material reworked and updated. I wouldn't call the changes drastic, but it does sound fresh. Some of it was slightly rearranged and some of the lyrics are now completely altered (for instance, she finally got permission from the James Joyce estate to quote Molly Bloom's dialogue in the new version of "The Sensual World"). Read more

2. PJ HARVEY - Let England Shake

Everybody's favourite album of 2011 is deserving of all its praise. In fact, it's not too often that you get a chance to hear a political album this good.  Let England Shake is an intense, emotional rumination on contemporary Britain. Basically, the album is made up of folk songs that have this ominous, dramatic (not least due to Polly Jean's high-pitched vocals) edge to them. Chilling and breathtaking. Read more

1. THE WATERBOYS - An Appointment With Mr Yeats

So it took W.B.Yeats' poetry to revitalise Mike Scott's songwriting and bring it back to the level of The Waterboys' greatest albums (Fisherman's BluesThis Is The Sea). An Appointment With Mr Yeats is astonishing, hair-raising stuff. There are moments of catchy pop ("Politics"), gorgeous folk ("Before The World Was Made") and even some dramatic, operatic balladry ("Let The Earth Bear Witness). And it's all brimming with hooks, adventurous ideas, celtic spirit and a most inventive mix of pianos, brass, violins, orchestration. An absolute artictic triumph, literate, passionate, rip-roaring, and a rare case of classic poetry working on a rock'n'roll record. Read more