I know it’s 2012 and all, but my laptop threw a hissy fit and decided to delete my almost completed list. So better late than never, right?
2011 saw the class of 2009 return with new albums, dubstep becoming inexplicably popular and Adele causing mass crying amongst all the single ladies.
On the local front, Gotye finally got the recognition his music deserves (although the album was something of a let down), Triple J Unearthed became a radio station and Boy & Bear proved that you can still win an ARIA if you use instragram to create your cover art.
Since this is a personal music blog, this list is more about what I enjoyed the most, rather than the objective best albums of the year. But I hope you enjoy it anyway
19. Los Campesinos!- Hello Sadness
Los Campesinos! have always walked the thin line between total sincerity and irony and with each passing album they seem to be heading into darker territory. Like previous releases Hello Sadness combines Gareth Campensino’s desperate vocals and witty song writing backed by frantic indie pop.
With the departure of violinist Harriett Campesinos, this is a much darker and more masculine album. If you’re looking for the angsty party tunes from their debut you will be disappointed. But if you enjoyed Romance is Boring, chances are you’ll love this album just as much.
18.Ball Park Music- Happiness and Surrounding Suburbs
It would be easy to write off Ball Park music as yet another sunny Brisbane indie band. And inmany ways there is very little separating them from the likes of Hungry Kids of Hungary or whoever else Triple J is flogging this week. However there is something a shambolic about them, as thought it could all fall apart at any second.
This aspect of the band has yet to be shown properly on record, but their debut album is still a solid one.
17.Yae!Tiger- Casualty of the Avalanche
Yae!Tiger could be on this list for the pop-up cover art alone. However the music on their debut album is also worthy, featuring the kind of lo-fi indie pop that The Pains of Being Pure At Heart should have released this year. A whole lot of fun, a little bit serious and a perfect summer album.
16.Mountain Goats- All Eternal’s Deck
Their relative obscurity is both the best and worst thing about the Mountain Goats. The worst because that kind of talent should be admired by even the most casual of folk fans, yet the idea of 16 year-olds writing the lyrics to No Children on their Facebook walls is downright scary.
Despite their high album count, every Mountain Goats album is all about the lyrics and All Eternal’s Deck does not disappoint. John Darnielle could write about what he ate for breakfast and make it sound poetic and while not as personal as 2005’s The Sunset Tree, the lyrical content is both raw and memorable. Even if the music comes second.
15.The Decemberists- The King Is Dead
2009’s The Hazards of Love was ambitious to say the least. Even for a band known for its literary influences and unusual instrument choices a fairy tale rock opera is hard to pull off. While they managed it in style, it’s not hard to see why they wanted ot turn back of their folk roots.
The King Is Dead is not the best Decemberists album and nor is it close. With guest appearances from Gillian Welsh and REM guitarist Peter Buck it wears its influences on its sleeve. And while the lyrics at times boarder on old English instead of content territory, there’s something so charming about this album that makes it worth repeated listens.
Cults seemed to come out of nowhere this year, but they caused a massive splash. Their sound is half 60’s girl group and half modern indie band, with just enough lo-fi buzz to stop their songs becoming saccharine.
Singles Go Outside and Abducted are by far the best tracks, but the album as a whole is still excellent.
13.Mogwai- Earth Division EP
While Mogwai released Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will this year, it’s their Earth Division EP that really grabbed my attention. Mogwai have never been a very melodic band, with the quieter moments in their music usually met with loud crescendos only moments later. On this EP however, we get to hear them in strings mode and while it’s not their best work, it’s an interesting change from what we expect from them. The songs are pretty and delicate (never thought I’d say that about Mogwai) and it’s interesting to say the least.
12.Geoffery O’Conner-Vanity is Forever
This is not the first time Crayon Fields front man Geoffrey O’Conner has released a solo album, however it is the first under his own name. His previous solo work as Sly Hats had an adolescent quality to it, with bedroom style production and a certain sense of insecurity. Not this time.
Above everything, Vanity is Forever sounds good. An 80’s sheen covers all of the album’s tracks which suits the laid-back songs perfectly. And it isn’t too heavy on the synths, something that more bands last year really needed to take notice of.
Much like Los Campesinos! Slow Club’s sound has matured greatly in-between releases. Their debut Yeah So felt a bit like reading a diary from your teen years to a quirky indie-folk soundtrack, and while some of their angst is still there, Paradise presents a much different sound.
Instead of focusing on the harmonies between Charles Watson and Rebecca Taylor, Paradise sees Taylor taking lead vocals for most of the tracks and the result is a much cleaner, more darker and much more timeless record.
10.Kurt Vile- Smoke Ring for My Halo
No matter what he’s singing Kurt Vile sounds somewhat detached on Smoke Ring For My Halo. Given the way folk music has started to cross over into over-earnest territory, it’s just the thing the genre needs right now.
There are no gimmicks on this record, just fuzzy Americana which is precisely why I rate it as one of the best released this year.
9.Wilco- The Whole Love
The Whole Love could almost be a best of with the amount of ground it covers. From the 70’s rock of I Might to the sweeping 12 minute One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend) it combines all of the things there are to love about Wilco. It’s no Yankee Hotel Foxtrot but it’s the sound of a band who could play it safe, yet still push forward.
This is how you do an eighth album.
Taylor Swift is 22. And she’s still singing about being the unpopular girl at school. Laura Marling is 21 and she’s released three albums that would rival anything someone twice her age can create.
On A Creature I Don’t Know she follows three separate characters and if you didn’t know anything about the record, it would be hard to pinpoint when it was released. There’s a depth to her voice that sounds like 300 heartbreaks. While it may not have the hype behind it that other female songwriters enjoyed it is nothing short of excellent.
7.Beirut- The Rip Tide
The Rip Tide is Beirut’s most accessible album to date, and his first that focuses on his own town rather than globetrotting through his influences.
The horns are still there, and so is Zach Condon’s unique voice, but this time the songs themselves seem more important than influences. Goshen is a beautiful piano driven ballad, while Santa Fe ventures into electro-pop territory.
6.Girls- Father Son Holy Ghost
Forget logcabins and broken hearts, Christopher Owens has the most interesting back-story of any current indie artist. Growing up in a religious cult, forming a band with Ariel Pink and indulging in a plethora of illicit substances has lead to the creation of some interesting and excellent music.
The album maintains a retro feel but jumps from style to style. Honey Bunny has a garage twinge while the shoegazey Vomit is an album highlight. But what makes the album so great is that Owens’ personality is visible on every track. At times its uncomfortable listening, but more often than not it’s familiar and universal.
5.Okkervil River- I Am Very Far
I Am Very Far is Okkervil River’s first non-concept album in eight years. In the past each of their releases have had similar themes running through them, making their albums a cohesive package that fans can easily spend months obsessing over.
Will Sheff’s lyricism is as strong as ever and the rock and roll lifestyle, broken relationships and metaphors about sailing still manage to find a way in. The sound however is very, very different. With many of the instruments layered in post-production it’s the biggest the band has ever sounded and for once the music is just as important as the words. The only fault of the album is that Mermaid, easily one of the year’s best songs, was cut.
It’s no Black Sheep Boy but with repeated listens it is a very rewarding album.
4.The Antlers- Burst Apart
2009’s Hospice was a concept album about cancer, death and strained relationships. It’s was a haunting, sad and beautiful listen that seemed to come out of nowhere.
Burst Apart is the follow-up and while there is no theme, The Antlers show they are just as capable of making brilliant music without one. There may not be as many heart-wrenching tracks and Peter Silberman’s voice sounds a lot stronger, but there is plenty to love. I Don’t Want Love and Putting The Dog to Sleep are must-listens.
3.Fleet Foxes- Helplessness Blues
So you’ve released a highly acclaimed, near flawless debut that almost single-handedly sparked a folk revival. What now?
For The Fleet Foxes the answer was to expand on their sound and take a few risks. And it’s certainly paid off. Helplessness Blues sounds like a band in transition. All of the glorious harmonies and gentle folk that made everyone fall in love the band are still there. Montezuma echoes the insecurities of being young perfectly and Helplessness Blues is the best first single you could hope for. On the other hand, Shrine/An Argument uses aggressive horns and Battery Kinzie sudden end would be out of place on their debut.
But there’s no use comparing really. This is an album that stands up on its own and shows that second albums can be worth the hype.
2.Bon Iver- Bon Iver
In 2009 Justin Vernon’s trip into the woods would become the stuff of legend. For Emma Forever Ago helped nurse countless broken hearts and all of a sudden he became a sensation. He appeared everywhere from a Kanye West album to David Letterman and there was no way his follow-up record could sound anything like For Emma.
Bon Iver has a much fuller sound but Vernon’s falsetto is as haunting as ever. The tracks are less wispy than those on the debut and all of them are sound-outs, even the heavily eighties sounding Beth/Rest. It’s an album that’s as enjoyable on the 50th listen as it is on the first.
Am I allowed to include live albums on this list? Who knows? But as a release, nothing else from 2011 could match Inni, both in terms of how often it graced my stereo and sheer musical brilliance.
Taken from a film that focuses on a live performance from 2008, all of the songs except one have already been released. In fact for the most part, the track list reads like a best of that spans across most of the band’s albums. The songs lose none of their warmth live and it’s almost unbelievable they can pull a sound like theirs off without studio trickery.
Inni is my album of the year purely because nothing else released was going to be able to sound better than this.