… and what I didn’t quite enjoy. But let’s start with the good things: here’s a list of artists and songs that made my year (in a pretty much arbitrary order).
Most probably the band I have been waiting for since amazing British indie rock acts stopped popping up in about ’06. Strictly speaking, they’re nowhere near reinventing the wheel on their debut, but hell, is it good. 12 songs that are each for itself perfect, none sounding like the other and yet all sounding like the same band. What I expected from The Vaccines? Well, I had stopped hoping for this but in fact, here you have your perfect debut. And they’re killing it live.
My other discovery of the year, sadly, hasn’t released an album yet, but listening to their first EP ‘Here comes 2001 …’ quickly became my favourite passtime activity (and once 2012 comes, the debut is said to follow within the first month). Taking MGMT’s psychedelia, Vampire Weekend’s afrobeat drums and Friendly Fires’ danceability, they still sound as unique as if all that had been their idea in the first place. However, only months after the first EP, the second one already presents even more sonic experimentation – the awaited debut album promises to be quite a surprise bag.
BOMBAY BICYCLE CLUB
I admit it, I’d been ignoring them for years, until ‘Shuffle’ slowly crept up never to leave again. Now they’re probably one of my most played bands this year (I mean, I had three albums to catch up with) and one that dares to play around with their sound all of the time without ever losing themselves. And that’s exactly what you need to get very, very far. (No Twilight soundtrack necessary, by the way.)
Happening to be in Manchester when their ‘Build a Rocket, Boys’ was released, I couldn’t help but finally fall for these masters of orchestral indie pop myself, especially after seeing them live in summer. I must say though that I found their latest album almost too calm for my taste and instead spent the second half of the year listening to ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’; but still, one of the bands that made my year.
This year, Alex Turner’s Last Shadow Puppets buddy finally got all the attention he deserved. His solo debut was a catchy, devotedly retro box of treats, which he played at sold out venues all across the UK. While I passionately promoted the work over at his official German web page, Miles hasn’t played more than a few festivals and support shows over here, so I bet 2012 could be even bigger for him if a little tour through Germany could be done, huh?
Right now, Arctic Monkeys seem to be the only relevant band left from the many successful upstarts of the 2004–2006 era, and their fourth album holds all the reasons why: Like any truly good band, they have never stagnated, constantly developed their sound, and, what has become one of their most important markers, their lyrics miraculously get even better with every record. ‘Suck It And See’ is, like every of their albums, a wondrously coherent collection of songs you want to hold very very tightly and never let go again. Plus, spontaneous crying fits at their shows cannot be ruled out. (Nevermind the irony of thousands chanting, fists in the air: ‘But I crumble completely when you cry!’)
This year, my beloved Indelicates released their personal ‘Chinese Democracy’: For years, Simon Indelicate had been talking of writing a musical about cult leader David Koresh, and 2011 finally saw its release in the form of The Indelicates’ third album, accompanied not only by hilarious videos as the one above, but even a browser game. The album itself manages to melt religious philosophy and upbeat anti-folk into a coherent whole and even finds a way to musically represent the week-long siege ending in a house fire that killed most cult members and their leader. (I shouldn’t even think about how my knowledge of the world has increased by help of this band alone.)
I came across this weirdo group from Oklahoma while preparing my timetable for Dot to Dot Festival, and a couple of days later, I sat in a bar interviewing them for Hivemag. Their second LP ‘My ___ Is Pink’ gives a darker, at times almost metal-ish touch to the light-hearted tunes from their debut; both records, however, are well worth listening to. Live, they tend to drown you in noise like you wouldn’t believe. Oh, and no, that wasn’t the bloodiest of their videos.
One of the bands I would have said to look out for in ’12 unfortunately announced two months ago that they had split, merely one single into their career. However, the demo above has been on of my songs of the year and it’s still up for free on their website, if you want to join in the mourning.
Now to something more pleasant: Nevermind that their debut album ‘Welcome to Condale’ was released after summer had in fact passed; the ‘Young’ EP had all it took to have us dance through the warm season with lo-fi pop, handclaps and cleverly told stories of smalltown teenage life. The sunnier alternative to upstarters Cults (see farther below).
Another band I hadn’t cared about until this year – bless England’s radio stations and the fact some of them do play good music. With much patience and some tears I also managed to get into a live performance of theirs and I must say, it was worth it. Endless ideas, amazing songwriting and a multi-instrumentalist frontman who can actually fucking sing just don’t come together in one band that often.
Early this year, their single ‘Colours’ became one of my ‘earworms’ of 2011. Later this year, another song of theirs (‘Tongue Tied’) was used in an Apple ad. I hope this means I’ll get to see them live soon. I’m afraid this means I won’t get tickets, and if I do, it’ll resemble a Foster The People show (see right below). So I’ll hope for a festival instead, probably the better occasion for their neo-hippy summer songs to properly unfold.
FOSTER THE PEOPLE
‘Torches’ was close to becoming one of my albums of the year, but my unspoilt appreciation of this band was wiped out when I attended a show of theirs where the audience would seriously chant ‘Foster The People!’ followed by five handclaps, which is something football fans may do, but no self-respecting concert goer would even think of. To make it worse, I found FTP’s flawless performance to be among the more boring I had seen. Which doesn’t change the fact they’ve written some of the catchiest tunes of the year; but somehow I couldn’t care less. (Doesn’t happen often that I wish I hadn’t been to a show!)
One of the last bands to make an impression this year: I saw the three mask-eteers live in November and went home with their album, which has been spinning on heavy rotation ever since. (Of course I knew them before, though ^^) Not the world’s biggest electro geek, I still took pleasure in the estranged vocals, the both bitter and hopeful lyrics and of course the walls of basses crashing all around you. (Please note the above video might offend people averse to female nudity.)
2011 offered dreamy girl pop in vast amounts – all the better that Cults came to push sweet melodies and scratchy lo-fi sound into the abyss of strangely alienated vocals and stylised black-and-white aesthetics, making the duo one of the few new acts which a sound of their own and their debut one of the more fascinating outputs of the year.
When I saw Gotye live in 2008, he was already a little creative miracle, standing on stage all alone juggling his laptop and various instruments at the same time. Then this year, there was a song and a video that might very well keep me from seeing him live again next year (as I can’t buy tickets, cause there are none left). Actually, I think going would be a bit frustrating knowing no matter what he does, people will be standing there waiting for one song. But hey, as long as it gets a seriously good artist the attention he deserves, it’s probably for the best.
Maybe his musical niche was already filled out by Foster The People too nicely, but that doesn’t mean Wolf Gang’s album isn’t worth a listen, especially if hyperactive falsetto pop is exactly your thing. Just like FTP, he wasn’t impressive live either, but some of those tunes of his definitely came to stay.
Best of the rest: More tunes of the year
JUKEBOX THE GHOST
THE HEAD & THE HEART
A new dimension of beautiful.
Do not click play unless you want to hear this song over and over in your head for days … weeks?
Finally, something convincing from the bulk of ‘darker’ British indie rock bands …
FRANKIE & THE HEARTSTRINGS
Oh no, please not irony again! Then again, the hooks in this song certainly aren’t a joke …
A band you must love for their absolute devotion to crazy ideas. Just don’t ask what the hell he’s actually singing …
I will probably never understand why The Kooks decided not to include this tune on their new record, as everything on there is harmless and lovely but not even close to the song above. At least it makes for a highlight at their live shows …
Their unique, atmospheric blend of electro, folk and indie lands another of the more rewarding debuts of the year.
THE BLACK KEYS
Unlikely as it may seem, they are getting even better …
Not a doubt: Happiness is very en vogue again.
DISLIKE: The Top 5 Disappointments of the Year
Note: The term ‘disappointment’ refers to the album as a whole, not necessarily to the chosen song.
I know Strokes albums can take a while till you grasp their whole genius, but no matter how many times I listened to ‘Angles’, it just doesn’t get close to what I would expect from one of my favourite bands. The fact ‘Under Cover …’ is probably among their three best songs ever doesn’t help. Also, as you guys usually have brilliant lyrics, why don’t they come with the CD? Gah.
Kasabian’s problem isn’t that their new album wasn’t good. It’s that the others were better. By now, you expect them to have some immortal dancefloor tunes on there and you just feel tricked when ‘Re-wired’ is all they have to offer. At least the more melancholic tracks, like ‘I Hear Voices’ and ‘La Fée Verte’, are reminiscent of WRPLA’s glory.
An amazing tune off a less than impressing album. Patrick’s overwhelming happiness can seem a bit over the top at times and takes some of the depth from his music. Which doesn’t mean, however, that you shouldn’t try and catch him live. The man still remains a captivating artist.
While their first album was often labelled ‘landfill indie’ and still spawned a handful of hits, the second one showed off how amazing they can sound if you add strings, mariachi trumpets, or Paolo Nutini. Instead of more pompous experimentation, the promisingly titled third album ‘Breads & Circuses’ remains a sad attempt at rewriting the successful debut.
PANIC! AT THE DISCO
Shame that their third album ‘Vices & Virtues’ had little to do with its beautifully beatle-esque precedessor ‘Pretty Odd’ and instead of embracing strings and folky guitars turned to soulless mainstream pop that maybe didn’t lack all of the drama, but the originality of their debut ‘A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out’. At least they still appreciate a certain lavishness in music videos, as demonstrated above.
2012 can come …
What I’m looking forward to in the new year:
THE BIG PINK
Good to know that 2009’s heroes of fist-in-the-air electro-rock haven’t lost any of their perfection along the way. ‘Future This’ hits the ground in January.
Until the Oxford lads (see top of this article) drop their debut set for middle of the year, their freshly released digital EP ‘Imperial Goddess Of Mercy’ should help us pass some of the time.
Norwich’s loveliest ADD victims also have a new baby coming in January, titled ‘Soap’. The video for their single ‘Eyes’ isn’t out yet either, but do check out some of their older stuff if you’re curious, it’s well worth it.
No new material here yet either, but I’m positive that after his little excursion with Broken Bells, James Mercer is overflowing with good ideas to make the most perfect album the world has seen since 2007’s ‘Wincing The Night Away’. ‘Port of Morrow’ is expected in March, first songs can be heard in January.