Best of 2011, No.1s: Josh T Pearson – Last of the Country Gentlemen & Richard Warren – The Wayfarer

 

I’m not entirely sure if this means that I can’t make my mind up, or that I can’t count, as this technically makes the whole malarkey a Top 51.  Then again, even before I started to compile this list I knew that these would be top of the pile, and as I was further listening to all of the records in this list and beyond to try to find some sort of pathway through it all, it became harder and harder to separate them.  So, in the end, I didn’t bother.  Because not only was it ultimately pointless to try to convince myself that one was better than the other, the two records could almost be brothers – not twins, as the differences are just as great between them as the similarities that bind them, but each fits with the other so well that it’s now difficult for me to listen to one without the other.  So, it’s far from an annoyance for me that I can’t pick between them, it’s more of a joy.

 

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Best of 2011, No.2: Daniel Martin Moore – In the Cool of the Day

This time last year, I was freezing just across the road from the English Channel (or la Manche if you’re that way inclined) just a short stroll from the De La Warr Pavillion where I’d seen Billy Brag perform the previous evening.  I’d not gone to see Bill though (enjoyable, funny and stirring as he was), instead I’d driven 270 miles to catch a support act who had come up with one of my favourite albums of 2010.  And here’s half of that act with one of my very favourite albums of this 2011.

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Best of 2011, No.3: The Head and the Heart

Another fine tip-off from my Washington Correspondent, I said back in February after listening to it for a few weeks previous that “I strongly suspect that this band and this album will be all over the place by the Summer”, and I’m happy to say that I wasn’t that far off.  The Head and the Heart have been quietly and happily snowballing their way through the year, and it’s a rare end of year list that doesn’t have this somewhere towards the top end (although the Guardian seem to have taken a bit of umbrage with it in general).  Such was the sheer swell of word of mouth surrounding this, I’m fairly sure that I would have embraced it at some point anyway, but it’s nice to have got in somewhere near the start and got those few extra months’ worth of pleasure out of it.  As well as getting to pretend briefly that people actually read this nonsense.

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Best of 2011, No.4: Dustin O’Halloran – Lumiere

And so on to the next part of this coincidental double-header.  Like the previous entry this, somewhat obviously, features Dustin O’Halloran (who has, by my reckoning, been involved in four of this top 50 in one way or another and is also on two that didn’t end up being included), it’s more minimal neo-classical performances, and it also makes my eyes go funny in the nicest possible way, although this once more means that it’s banned from my car as I’m not sure that my insurance covers synaesthesia-based “incidents” on the road.

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Best of 2011, No.5: A Winged Victory For the Sullen

 

Right, let’s see if I can get the right year this time shall we?  I’ve now changed the year in the title of the last one from 2001 to 2011, wish it was that easy to do my Birth Certificate…  Anyway, the plan is to get two of these out of the way today – partly because I didn’t do one yesterday due to a spot of cold-based bedriddening, but mostly because this one and the next are linked by personnel, style and neurology.

I find it difficult to write about any artist or musical work unless the subject is playing.  Moods and feelings are easier stirred by what’s going on rather than what’s just happened.  This is an album where doing so is nigh-on impossible as it doesn’t so much require rapt attention throughout as subtly force it upon you anyway.  It’s also an album that exposes the ridiculousness of doing a list such as this as I’m not sure why it affects me so, why it sits here near the top of my favourites of 2011, or indeed why I so often sit listening to it as often and as bewitched as I do.  Although I have to admit that the synaesthetic lightshow that tends to accompany it is a bit of a help.

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Best of 2011, No.6: Screaming Trees – Last Words

If I had allowed pure sentiment to run the rule over this Top 50, this would be Number 1 for the sheer amount of memories I have accrued whilst listening to this band.  In the spirit of fairness however (I know, that I have one of those came as a surprise to me as well) I’ve had to put it purely in the contextual vacuum of this year alone, and so here it happily sits.  It’s something that I will mention a bit later on in the week, but something that became apparent to me very early on when putting this list together is that the number of plays a record gets does not necessarily push it to the top; the criteria is far more complicated and involved than just that.  Or I might just be saying that to disguise the fact that I’m making this up as I go along.

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Best of 2011, No.7: Erland and the Carnival – Nightingale

I have one of those brains that tends to work on the basis of “if it’s a bit strange, then I like it”.  This record (and, indeed, band) are very strange, and I like them a lot.  No great surprise there, then.  To be merely a bit strange in the context of this record would be to mention that this is one of two albums in my Top 50  that have been recorded on boats.  To be more specifically odd, this particular one was recorded on a converted Mystery Ship that spent much of the Second World War pottering about in the North Atlantic disguised as a Merchant Vessel, luring and subsequently attacking U-Boats.  Recording in this floating representation of nothing being what it seems has has quite the effect on this group of eclectic folk-pop magpies, and the end result is something rather bizarre, disquieting and brilliant.

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Best of 2011, No.8: Black Whales – Shangri-La Indeed

I have to admit that I have have had a little bit of help this year.  Much as I wish that I could, I don’t sit here, sage-like, plucking unheard-of records out of the air.  It’d save me a fortune for a start.  But no, I have been assisted on more than one occasion this year with handy recommendations, pointers and samples from a friend over in the Pacific Northwest of the US – indeed, in addition to this pearler, my favourite EP would have remained unknown to me still if not for her, and another one later in this here list got listened to a lot earlier than I would have otherwise done thanks to many, many, many enthusiastic plugs.  To be honest, I should have said “Thankyou!” to Sheri back when I was doing my Singles/EPs rundown back whenever that was.  But, it seems far more apt to do that here, given that the Northwest UK/Northwest US bridge is spanned by more than friendship with this record from yet another Seattle band,given that their sound is far more rooted in my Northwest rather than their own, thus completing some circle or other that probably made a lot more sense at the start of this sentence than it does at this end.

Cheers matey.

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Best of 2011, No.9: Matthew Ryan – I Recall Standing As Though Nothing Could Fall

 

Of all the new music I prattle on about here, almost all of them are written about while they are being played for after very few spins – usually I write during the second playthrough, sometimes it’s the first (the latter made obvious by mentioned tracks appearing in chronological order).  The reason I do this is because I want to write about the new stuff as a polar opposite to the ones I write about from back in the day – where these older recordings have many emotional attachments (mine or other peoples’, it tends to vary), it’s fun to hack away at the brand new records completely unencumbered by anything.  It’s something I enjoy doing (and hope it’s something that someone somewhere enjoys reading; although if not, ah well it kills an hour), even if it does mean that more often than not I tend to miss out on those hidden layers and depths that only repeated listenings can divulge.  This is one such record, as I suspect that I completely got the whole idea behind it wrong.  Then again, six months down the line, I may well have done this again.  Anyway, my own ignorant interpretations haven’t gotten in the way of enjoying the emotional wringer of an album.

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Best of 2011, No. 10: Elbow – Build a Rocket Boys!

After that stunning array of punctuation in the subject header, I suppose that I’d better get on with it.  My top ten of this year was fairly easy to decide upon in terms of pretty much who was going to be in it, the tricky bit was (and still is – it’s a bit fluid) working out in which order to place them.  I’d better get a shift on then with this before I change my mind again…

At number 10 then, we have this gem from a band who are increasingly becoming Global Ambassadors For The North, with an album that has found itself just as much at home in stadia as it is in the pub.  Quite handily, this ties in nicely with their own rather splendid brand of ale – a marketing coup that is setting a trend of its own, as Motörhead’s Red Wine and the awfully-punned “MmmHops” beer from Hanson, which shocked me to the core and made me feel suddenly ancient when I realised that most of that band are probably now old enough to drink it.

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