And so to yet another 2011 Best Of; you know the drill. Unimaginative music blog sits in a darkened room, pen and paper at hand. First the process of assimilating the year’s fresh records. Then it’s all about awarding each marks out of ten for various nonsensical attributes – artistic merit, technical acumen, top speed, configuration of heavy weaponry – whilst the reserve stocks in the cocktail cabinet grow increasingly depleted. If I drink enough I think, every single album will begin to sound like Suzi Quatro’s Greatest Hits. I always find I accrue some semblance of inner peace when every record begins to sound like Suzi Quatro’s Greatest Hits. The sort of Zen-flavoured state where I topple over like a scarecrow in hurricane-strength winds, then need to have a very long sleepy.
Still, when it comes to 2011, I’ve decided to make the arbitrary evaluation of the year’s ten “best” releases somewhat straight forward by only listening to ten albums…
…and yes, I have been looking forward to cracking that particular joke for months. More seriously: below – in some random order as defined by astral alignment – are those first four of the ten albums that have provided me with maximum reams of pleasure during 2011 (we can probably leave the word “best” at the front door, such is the subjective ubiquity of these kind of things). Tomorrow I’ll post the next five (click here), and the day after that I’ll write about the one album from this year that I treasure most deeply – and no, it isn’t Let England Shake by PJ Harvey. Or anything (more’s the shame) featuring Suzi Quatro.
Blanck Mass: Blanck Mass
The allure of density. If you’re looking for uplifting melodic pop music, best head further down the page; the début solo release from Benjamin John Power – one half on sonic terrorists Fuck Buttons – is an intense slab of sound that surges from stereo speakers like a thrown brick. Taking as a starting point the wind-shear mechanics of drone, Blanck Mass is an album constructed from monolithic sweeps of chord, across which Power weaves subtle pattens of dissonant guitar and keyboard. It’s this latter aspect that elevates this collection beyond the one-dimensional; such is the aural depth on display that repeat listens are intrinsically rewarded, entire seams within the tracks revealed through persistence. Not the most immediate album of 2011, but certainly one of the more intriguing. When they start putting drunks in space, I wrote earlier in the year, this will be what the approach to Neptune will sound like. An apt description – strap yourself in for this record.
Blanck Mass / Land Disasters
Lanterns On The Lake: Gracious Tide, Take Me Home
Melancholia as a graceful construct. It would be so easy for this collection of songs to lean towards the overtly-introspective, the insincere, or the irrelevant. That Lanterns On The Lake’s début works so convincingly is down to the layers of warmth that underpin each song. Rough in places, elegantly subdued in others, it’s a stately, wistful album, not afraid to reveal itself in stages, in cadences that sweep across the thermals of cognition. It’s true that there may not be too much that’s revolutionary here, but by applying such composure, such elegant vocals, such subtle twists and feints amongst the instrumentation, this is a record that’s done nothing but grow on me as the year’s spun out.
Lanterns On The Lake / The Places We Call Home
Cornershop: Cornershop And The Double ‘O’ Groove Of
Ignore the slightly weird premise of a Cornershop album failing to feature Tjinder Singh on vocal duties; this is one of the strongest, most stylistically coherent albums from their twenty year career. This is in part thanks to the delightful Bubbley Kaur, singing entirely in Punjabi; her bouncy, fluid voice helps to focus the band’s poppy, funk-infused dynamic. Long in gestation, it nonetheless feels fresh and immediate, tracks such as ‘Topknot’ and the electric ‘Don’t Shake It’ sparkling brightly. If I had one criticism of this band (and yes, I’m a long-standing fan) it’s that there’s always the propensity to drift towards voguish production – it’s forced some of their back catalogue to sound a trifle dated; The Double ‘O’ Groove, however, changes all that – I’m looking forward to dancing to this in ten years time, safe in the knowledge that there’ll be no need for irony or crappy nostalgia.
Cornershop / Topknot
Zwischenwelt: Paranormale Aktivitat
I bought this record on the strength of a review. And having spent the last hour and a bit failing to out-write said review, I’m certain that it’s these other words (rather than mine) that do Paranormale Aktivitat justice. This is from John Calvert in The Quietus:
Released on Richard D James’s Rephlex imprint, Zwischenwelt (German for ‘the inbetween world’) is an international project featuring surviving member of the legendary Drexcyia, Gerald Donald. Typically of Donald, (an undying exponent of first-wave Detroit techno) Paranormale Aktivitat is sounds deserted and coldly mechanical. He fills gaseous environs with the sound of contracting metal and retro Roland effects that spit battery acid and blue sparks onto the tense, prowling beats. It gives the impression of a hissing, grinding machine, moving scorpion-like through the snowy forests of his now native Germany. Were it not for the Siren-esque vocals preserving a very frail sense of the human, its sparse ambient workings would stall in the freeze, suffocating the fascinating sci-fi story at its core: a future-occult mystery where every night a blood red sun sets on the ghosts of Russian sailors, and the glare burns cataract-riddled eyes through the interstices of venetian blinds.
Yup. I agree with the above.
Zwischenwelt / Clairvoyant