Friday, 13 January 2012

2011: A Year In Music [Part 1 of 4]

I purchased 56 albums in 2011, and only 2 were 2011 releases (Build a rocket boys! and The king of limbs). There's a few more albums on my "to purchase" list from 2011 -- in particularly Bad as me, 50 words for snow and The whole love. Needless to say that, similar to previous years, most of my musical enjoyment has come from discovering gems from the past.

Here is my top 20 list of my album purchases / musical discoveries of the year.

Enjoy the list - and happy new year!

20. Bob Dylan - Self Portrait

A bit of an odd choice, really. It's now been 50 years since Bob Dylan's self-titled debut album, and the man has one of the most expansive back catalogues in history. Once you have gone through the classics (Blonde on blonde, Blood on the tracks, Highway 61 revisited -- amongst many others) and uncovered some of the lesser-known gems, where does a Dylan fan go? You go to an album that was (and still is) considered by critics to be the nadir of the Dylan catalogue, an album which destroyed the near-flawless streak of albums that Dylan released in the 60s.

This was released in June 1970, and the whole package, from the album title, the cover, the long running time (73 minutes) is all somewhat tongue-in-cheek. If you try not to take this album seriously (a mean feat considering that it's about 2/3 covers, sung in Dylan's Nashville skyline croon) -- one can uncover many hidden gems here. Days of '49, Belle isle, Copper kettle, The mighty quinn and Minstrel boy are all great songs (the latter even sounding like it may have influenced Tom Waits' work).

I'm pretty sure that if this album didn't begin with All the tired horses -- a 3 minute repetitive dirge where the same line is repeated again and again by a female backing group -- history would have been a bit kinder to this album. Getting past that song, I look at this as just another facet in Bob Dylan's fascinating musical output.

19. The Lemonheads - Car Button Cloth

Let me get this straight first -- if you don't have a copy of the Lemonheads' 1992 album It's a shame about Ray, go and get it now. It's a flawless album of pure, hummable, lyrical, toe-tapping alternative pop/rock which is looked upon now as one of the absolute gems of the 90s. Their follow-up album, Come on feel the Lemonheads, had its moments but it was overly long and lost a bit of steam by the end.

Car button cloth was released in 1996 and it was their last album before they broke up in 1997, before reforming in 2005. I was already familiar with If I could talk I'd tell you as it got a bit of airplay back in the day and I had listened to it on one of those Triple J compilation CDs. I bought this album with some hesitation but was pleasantly surprised.

Like much of the Lemonheads' work, there is a dark undercurrent to a lot of the lyrics here (Break me, Hospital) which is understandable considering frontman Evan Dando's history with substance abuse. The outdoor type is another killer cut, a humorous alt-country ballad about hating the outdoors and wanting to spend all of your time inside. C'mon daddy is another great song, apparently about Liv Tyler discovered who her real Dad was.

18. Nirvana - Unplugged In New York

I'm not usually a big fan of live albums, but this is an interesting piece of work. It's an intimate recording of acoustic songs recorded by a band who were known for turning the volume up, recorded only a few months before the frontman committed suicide.

What is most fascinating about it is that almost half of the album is made up of cover versions, including a 10-minute mini-set of songs by cult Arizona band Meat Puppets (a big influence on Cobain). Another thing to note is the exclusion of their biggest hit, Smells like teen spirit. Maybe they felt that an unplugged version wouldn't do it justice.

I wasn't a big Nirvana fan at the time, so wasn't affected by Cobain's death. But I could imagine what this album must have been like to fans when it was released in November 1994, 7 months after Cobain's suicide. An emotionally charged album which shows Cobain's songs in all of their stripped-back glory.

17. Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning

My friend Pete lent this to me back in 2005 with strong recommendations. I wasn't particularly blown away at the time, but maybe I hadn't given it the chance it needed. I had subsequently picked up his 2002 album Lifted and was very impressed, and I eventually picked this one up too.

Bright Eyes is a bit of a polarising musican, and the new-Dylan tag which the musical press attached to him probably didn't help a lot. Looking past the image and his unfortunate (and unfair) connection to the emo musical genre/lifestyle, this is a great indie-folk album full of clever lyrics and toe-tapping melodies.

At 45-minutes, consider it a compressed version of the long (but still incredible) Lifted. Don't let the spoken-word introduction to the opening track put you off; there is music here to be enjoyed!

16. Sparklehorse - It's A Wonderful Life

It's saying a lot (especially coming from me) when the worst track on an album is a collaboration with musical genius Tom Waits. Dog door, also included on the Tom Waits compilation Orphans, is a decent (but not brilliant) Tom Waits song, but it stands out on this album like a sort thumb and completely destroys the flow of it.

With the exception of that song, this is a very lo-fi recording of the late Mark Linkous' fragile vocals, dark lyrics and spare intrumentation. Various special guests (including PJ Harvey) show up on a few tracks in more subtle roles than Waits', but this is Linkous' show. It's heartbreaking stuff in light of what happened to Linkous 9 years after its release.

I have a few Sparklehorse albums -- their debut Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot, the Danger Mouse/special guest collaboration Dark night of the soul -- but this one is their most stunning piece of work and the one I would recommend to newcomers.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Jiggy

    Great to see another post up on this site. I have had Unplugged in New York for quite a while now, and it is a gem of an album, but strangely, I don't often listen to it, despite the fact that I would consider it a classic. Will have to drag it out and have another listen. Love About a Girl though, brilliant track.

    I think Pete lent me the Bright Eyes album too, and I think I struggled getting over that opening track, although there is some quality on the album.

    Look forward to seeing the rest of the list...



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