Sunday, December 25, 2011

2011 End-of-Year Celebrations: Artists' Best Of 2011

There's been so much great music this year that there was no way that AMR was going to get to all of it, so what better way to represent the broader spectrum of the year's sounds than by asking the great artists who make it? Reaching out to a bunch of cool people/acts/shakers and makers, the Rant simply asked what their picks for 2011 were. Here are their respsones -  in vaguely alphabetical order
Melbourne's Alpine are as fresh as the snow that caps those same mountain ranges, their axeman Christian (second from left) chooses his top 5 tracks of 2011. 
Grouplove - Colours
"I heard this track in the van on our way to a show and it was the most perfect song for how brightly the sun was shining that day. They played after us at Splendour In The Grass, and they were incredible. They’re like a combination of Pixies and Modest Mouse, but with better diets."
Radiohead - Lotus Flower
"I actually saw the parody of this video before I saw the real one. I loved this track so much. Thom Yorke has the best falsetto ever, and it’s so cool to have an entire song that sits in that range again."
Lana Del Rey - Video Games
"This song is incredibly cool, its over the top orchestration, the pouting and how it just plods along and repeats that amazing chorus over and over. Love. Real love."
Kimbra - Cameo Lover
"I had to work out how to play this song for a student recently and it is an incredibly intricate, well-written bunch of chords. We love Kimbra. She’s going to take over the world."
Jay-Z & Kanye West - Lift Off (feat. Beyoncé)
"This song is so cool and it's in 6/4! I can't think of a hit in 6/4 since Sheryl Crow's Strong Enough. Great Song."

Young, talented, and bridging some fascinating gaps between electronic and organic sounds, it should come as no surpise then that Albert Salt likes him some great, ambitious-sounding stuff himself.

"2011 proved to be a very exciting year in music with new releases from some of my favourite artists, including Radiohead, Jack Conte, Justice, Gotyé and Death Cab For Cutie. Here's an assortment of things that made this year great."

1. Radiohead - Staircase
2. Justice - Audio Video Disco
3. Gotyé - State Of The Art
4. Radiohead - Codex
5. Hanz Zimmer - Bane Chant (Dark Knight Rises)
6. Justice - On and On
7. Jack Conte - Long Long Time Ago
8. Jinja Safari - Hiccups
9. Metronomy - The Bay
10. Radiohead - Little By Little

triple j presenter, breakfast provocateur and part-time dancefloor killer: Alex Dyson, waxes sycophantic about one of the year's most enduringly popular debuts
"Foster The People's Torches is, for the majority of the album, getting away with things. Whether its using the same simple riff for an entire song in Pumped Up Kicks, or singing the sappy-on-paper lyrical hook "oo la la, I'm falling in love" on I Would Do Anything For You, there are plenty of opportunities for the album not to work. However, through either sheer luck or the simple genius of Mark Foster and his people (that's Mark Pontius and Cubbie Fink), it comes off every time. Instead of being cliché-ridden, it saddles up those same clichés and rides them off into the Californian sunset in one of the most interesting, catchy and consistently brilliant releases of 2011."

The guitar-pop splendour of ARMS was originally the work of Todd Goldstein (second from right), then he got a bunch of talented buddies to cement a full band line-up for this year's excellent Summer Skills. Cue love for spacious electronic abstractions.
"Nicolas Jaar is a 21-year-old kid who makes some of the most beautiful, strange, sexy electronic music I've ever heard -- his full-length Space Is Only Noise is a patchwork of intake-breaths, ping-pong balls, and carefully programmed drums humming beneath Nico's low-key vocals, and I can't get enough of it. In the interest of full disclosure, ARMS' keyboard/noise guru Dave Harrington plays in Nico's live band and also with him as an excellent duo called Darkside, but that close-to-home-ness has only driven me deeper into Nico's world, and I am forever grateful. One of the things about Space Is Only Noise that excites me the most, is its sense of potential - this kid is an artist of the highest order, and is clearly just getting started. I can't say enough nice things about this gorgeous oddity of an album. By far one of my favorite things this year."
Melbourne's best musical duo, Big Scary (©Forever. Al's Music Rant) had an epicly successful year touring, playing and releasing their critically acclaimed debut album. The pair tell us what tickled their eardrums in the last twelve months. First up is strummer Tom Iansek,
"My newfound love of hip-hop-pop started with Dizzee Rascal, continued somewhat with Kanye and now cemented with Spank Rock. I can't understand why I like it (and why it still can't lead me to develop an appreciation for Aussie hip-hop). Everything Is Boring and Everyone Is A Fucking Liar. posesses thoughtful and creative production, buckets of 'tude: "just two tits in a bra, just two licks on my balls" and catchy as shit. Definitely one of my favourite releases this year"

and here's Jo Syme's musical high-lights of 2011.
"Most exciting new artist: Lana del Rey. Video Games is like a Hollywood drama in four minutes. Totally loved discovering No Age's Everything In Between, although it wasreleased 2010 I only heard it a few months ago. I also finally started listening to Nick Cave in all his forms. I watched Grinderman at Hombake, and obviously I'm in awe. How can a band be both hilarious and genius? Favourite albums came from The Vasco Era, eponymous debuts from Step-Panther, James Blake and Unknown Mortal Orchestra. As well as The Antlers' Burst Apart, Bon Iver - Bon Iver, Real Estate - Days, Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring For My Halo and The War on Drugs....and I stress out that I've probably forgotten others!"
Radical Adelaidian mavericks Fire! Santa Rosa, Fire! know what it takes to write an off-kilter pop tune, so five of their six strong line-up selected one that mattered most to them this year
Florence & The Machine - Shake It Out (By Caitlin Duff - Vocals) 
"This is my favourite song of 2011 for two main reasons: the ebbs and rises of the song are so emotionally driven, and Florence's voice and vocal techniques are used both sparingly and overwhelmingly in equal parts. The second reason is the lyrics. For me, 2011 can be summed up in the sentiment those lyrics create, "It's hard to dance with a devil on your back, so shake him off!". A song to dance or to cry to."
Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Ffunny Ffriends (By Nathaniel Morse - Guitar)
"If this single is anything to go by, UMO are a band involved with textures. The amazingly original and idiosyncratic sounds they achieved are dumped over the standard pop song structure to devastating effect. I have no idea what the lyrics are, and I don't care. There's something better being conveyed here, that refuses to be revealed in any one element. Listen to it as a whole, preferably while drunk."
St. Vincent - Surgeon (By Samuel Stearne - Drums) 
"Annie Clark is a huge heroine of mine and Surgeon is the best representation of what she's all about. Odd, bright, quirky indie pop played with unbelievable attention to detail. She's a beast on the guitar, too. The sky's the limit for this super lady."
Radiohead - Bloom (By David John Williams - Guitar) 
"I can't get enough of this song. While a level of criticism has been laid against King of Limbs for its length and inaccessibility - which I can understand to some degree - Bloom demonstrates their further explorations into texture, melody and arrangement. The way it swoons, attacks and recedes drives me absolutely nuts."
Toro Y Moi - New Beat (By Josh Flavel - Bass) 
"Quite simply a brilliant little number that ticks all the boxes. While it’s clearly the main synth line hook that you notice the first time, it's the clever arrangement of the supporting instruments that give it a huge replay factor. The interesting use of vocals for both dreamy harmonies and rhythm roles is a big winner for me, coupled with that slick funk bassline. There’s really no wondering why it’s my favourite/most played track of 2011."
The Minnesota-based and criminally underrated Halloween, Alaska mix pop nous with fine synth textures. Band linchpin James Dier (far right) proffers "three excellent self-titled albums from 2011"
Anna Calvi - Anna Calvi
"The record is fantastic, as is the band. We supported them on a UK tour in October/November and it was a thrill to watch Anna knock people on their asses night after night. Totally commanding."

Cepia - Cepia
"Minneapolis' best-kept arty-electronic-soundtrack-to-your-aspirational-life secret. Huntley [Miler] is also a really great mastering engineer, which is actually too bad since it probably keeps him from making more records like this."

Megafaun - Megafaun
"We've been friendly with the Cook brothers long enough to follow the entire evolution of this band, and it truly has never sounded better. Eternal hope for so-called 'Americana' music."
As someone who's been following the fuse for a while, it was awesome to see 2011 as the year Kimbra exploded. The talented Ms. K took time out of her world-domination schedule to give us some of her top cuts of the year.
Mini Mansions - The Room Outside
"This is definitely one of the most exciting bands of the year, it's like Queens Of The Stone Age (as it features their bass player Michael Shuman) meets Queen or Silverchair, with a Paul McCartney vibe too. The changes in this song are wonderful and the guitars sound huge. I think they're the much needed rock band we've all been missing."
The Room Outside
Wild Beasts - Plaything
"I love this album and especially this song for the charming vocal performance and sparse but interesting drum production. There's a kind of Antony & The Johnsons vibe, but with more driving arrangements. I like how this song makes me feel kind of uncomfortable."
Bilal - Cake and Eat It Too
"From one of my favourite releases of the year. I love the gospel style chorus and the off-time lazy drums so that you can never quite lock into the beat. It's got so much swagger and I'm in love with his voice. This track takes him away from the more straight up R'n'B and into a more psychedelic D'angelo territory."

Thundercat - Daylight
"This track blows me away. The vocals are so sexy, I love all the lush sounds mixed with the sloppy drums, and crazy funk synths. There's a great fusion of jazz and old school soul but what sets it apart is the modern production by Flying Lotus. The whole album is killer."

Beyoncé - Love On Top
"Six key changes in the space of 3 minutes and 20 seconds. Need I say more? It makes me so happy."

Fleet Foxes - The Shrine/An Argument
"This song is one of the most emotional songs I've heard in a really long time. The cathartic vocal melody is so heart wrenching and I love how this song works more like a series of different acts, rather than one whole song. This song really shows a more aggressive side of Fleet Foxes which wasn't as prevalent in the previous record."

The ubiquitous Kins got several mentions in the recent Good, Bad & James Blunt Awards, now frontman Thomas Savage (second from right) has his own awards to give

"My Favourite Film Clip of 2011 is without doubt Big Scary’s Gladiator. A+ for having no fears of expressing some radical personality."

"Favourite Beats goes to Portland, Oregon’s Starfucker, for their album Reptilians. Somebody spilled lame all over it prior to duplication of the master copy, which I was quite thankful for."

"My Favourite ‘Missed the boat on that one’ is Deerhunter's 2010 release: Halcyon Digest. They partially produced it themselves, which I assume is why it seems to sound as though they’ve sacrficed some production techniques due to a wild vibe chase. Favourite 'Before I Was Born But Only Just Discovered' is Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights. What can I say? Gah. Favourite Album Of 2011 has to be PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake. It’s a seemingly effortlessly perfected record; and I completely agree - England needs a big shake."

Purveyors of 'Tchaikokroksky,' [Me] are currently galavanting about the UK, and six-string maestro (re: guitarist) Damian Tapley (far left) takes the time to plug his new favourite live act
"Would have to say one of my fave records is Kasabian - Velociraptor!. I had no idea how absolutely huge they were until we supported them in Nottingham. They did 2 x 10,000 shows there, and the population of that city is only 800k. They also played O2 Arena in London for two nights, and their live set is absolutely phenomenal. Velociraptor! is their fourth record and it's a very strong record; seeing them play makes me think of a headline band at Glastonbury. A true stadium act, amazing crowd skills and extremely nice guys. Big Day Out 2012 audiences will know what I mean. Oh, and here's a picture of them slaying Nottingham."

Busily putting the finishing touches on his debut album (due early next year), Spender drops by to talk up Merrill Garbus' musical abilities
"My favourite album of 2011 would have to be tUnE-yArDs - w h o k i l l. I was waking up in a friends kitchen over a big mug of coffee and a bastard of a hangover when on came 'this' song (lead single Bizness).
I'd been in the middle of re-working one of my own compositions that shared similar elements, so my ear instantly pricked up during the intro. I remember the feeling as soon as I heard Merrils' voice. At first I thought it was a man - perhaps an alto - singing. I was so excited, it was so raw and great and exactly what I want my own stuff to be like. 
When the announcer said it was a woman I fell in love!
It was also the first time I was able to use the shazaam app to great success. I bought the single on iTunes right there and then. I sent it out to a bunch of muso/producer type mates and had a really mixed bag of feedback. Which made me like it even more as people don't normally respond to that type of thing. w h o k i l l came out a month or so later, and it wasn't long before it was always on in our house. Sometimes I hear elements of Arrested Development's brilliant debut album (1992's 3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the life of...) which was a huge record for me when I was growing up.It still makes me feel excited about music and ideas, it's just so unrestrained and direct, something I really miss about most modern music."
When Otto there, the red-hooded one above, isn't crafting epicly cathartic post-rock with sleepmakeswaves, he's listening to some pretty sweet atmospherics himself. Here are his some of his favourite records of the year.
"I know this has been done to death by now, but I have to share my continued fascination with and appreciation of Bon Iver's latest record. Every new listen reveals some new aspect - a shade added by a particular instrument, a lyric which unravels a meaning."
"I have also really enjoyed Russian Circles' Empros, an energetic and atmospheric blend of sludgey/prog metal and post-rock, and Tunnel Blanket by Texan powerhouse This Will Destroy You. They call it 'doomgaze' with their tongues in their cheeks. They can call it whatever they want, but when I give the record some time and attention it rewards me with its crushing emptiness and energy."
Mladek by RussianCircles
Killed the Lord, Left for the New by GirlieAction

The Trouble With Templeton is the moniker for one Thomas Calder, who delivers chilling, borderline-prodigious alt-folk, and whose choices indicate a variety of musical influences.
"On a good day it’s incredibly difficult for me to pick my favourite releases in any given time frame, but having to choose from a year like 2011 is nearly impossible. The past twelve months have been filled with so much great music over so many differing genres, the best I can offer is just a slice of my favourites list (In no particular order)"

Tom WaitsBad As Me
"It’s impossible not to get excited by a release from one of your all-time favourite artists; Tom Waits never fails to amaze, and totally blow my mind."

Death Cab For CutieCodes and Keys
"Another great addition to their incredible catalogue, DCFC are constantly trying new things, and always producing beautiful records."

Bonnie 'Prince' BillyWolfroy Goes To Town
"This man could sing one note for 45 minutes and I would probably find a way to love it. Will Oldham is a genius."

Laura MarlingA Creature I Don't Know
"I love her voice, I love the theatricality of the music, I love this album. Enough said."

"and just some other favourites I have to mention: A.A. Bondy - Believers, St. Vincent - Strange Mercy, Jay Z & Kanye West - Watch The Throne and, of course, Wilco - The Whole Love."

New Zealand's other great feminine export, electro-pop chanteuse Zowie, talks her top tunes from the last twelve months
M83 - Midnight City
"Amazingly dark and moody but so pretty at the same time. Anthony Gonzalez is a fantastic song writer, along with his musical lab partner Justin Meldal-Johnsen. It has dirty synths layered up with pretty sparkle on the top - and dreamy atmospheric vocals ending with the perfect sax solo."

Spank Rock - Car Song (feat. Santigold)
"'Bitch gonna be my Vicky Vale!' The lyrics are dirty on Spank's side and then mixed with Saantigold's soothing vocals, it's a great fit for this track and so cheeky - the elements sound almost like a big band with the cool live guitar throughout. It really is the perfect car song or date song."

PJ Harvey - The Words That Maketh Maurder 
"This song is dark but still so weirdly happy. You could imagine it in Sweeny Todd while Johnny Deep and Helena Bonham Carter make finger pies.  I love her unique vocal delivery. Lots of vocal layers while the double clap beat is perfectly killer."
White Lies - Holy Ghost
"This haunting track has stuck with me since the album came out earlier in the year. That New Order synth, and production by the amazing Alan Moulder. The BVS in the chorus are so hooky and what I tend to sing along with the most. When I listen to it I picture it being right in so many films - which I love."
Björk - Mutal Core 
"I was just shown this track a couple of weeks ago. It's so fresh and the heavy beats that burst in and out thrashing all over the place! They are Ninch Inch Nails-esque, all crushed and rhythmically exciting as it anxiously builds. At the two minute mark, it goes into the most amazing spooky feel.  The 5/4 signature is exciting, particularly at the end when it bursts into the huge beat. Unreal! Wish that bit went on for longer. A very clever track - it's nuts."

A huge thank-you to everyone who participated, stick around too - 'cause although it's running a bit behind schedule, the top 20 Albums of the Year (according to Al's Music Rant of course) are coming up. Watch This Space.

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