The G-Man's top 10 2011 albums of the year are :
10. Apocalypse by Bill Callahan
It's not fair (or accurate) to say the artist formerly known as Smog found his identity on his 2009 release Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle - which made the first ever "G-Man Best of" back in 2009 Albums of the Year">2009 - but it might strike closer to the bone to say Callahan at least became more comfortable with his self, casting off the need for an alter ego in the process.
This confidence and surety permeates through every pore of Apocalypse, another masterpiece from the Maryland genius.
9. The Harrow & The Harvest by Gillian Welch
It has taken me quite some time to come to terms with missing Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings multi-encored performance last November in the Grand Canal Theatre (Dublin). The new year started well but after listening to The Harrow & The Harvest a number of times in the past week it looks like my heart has gone and break itself again.
8. Feel It Break by Austra
Katie Stelmanis' mix of electronica and operatic virtuosity left me quite speechless way back in July (click here for a review). The feat was repeated when I caught Austra again in September at End of the Road. The only worry I had about Feel It Break was could the bouncing energy of the likes of 'Lose It' and 'Beat And The Pulse' be recreated live. If not I may have had to ask myself can I still include the record in the top 10. Fortunately that question never needed to be asked.
7. Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes
Robin Pecknold and his wonderfully hairy chums were always going to come under serious scrutiny with the release of the follow up to their surprisingly smash hit, eponymous debut. A slight tweak to their successful mix of folk, harmonies and complicated song structures resulted in Helplessness Blues, an - although not groundbreaking - excellent second record.
6. Kiss Each Other Clean by Iron And Wine
The fourth full length studio album released as Iron & Wine sees the man from South Carolina take the last few steps in the direction of a fuller band sound as opposed to the sparse, acoustic solo efforts that introduced Samuel Beam to us nearly ten years ago. The transition is traditionally a rocky road but the quiet man seems to have navigated the terrain quite magnificently. Although released a year ago to the day I still smile every time I hear the saxophone in 'Me And Lazarus'.
5. W H O K I L L by tUnE-yArDs
On first listening to W H O K I L L I simply thought : "Wow. That's mad.". On that same listen I also knew I absolutely loved it. Any album that blends folk and afro-beat deserves a listen. Any album that can successfully combine the ukulele, electronic samples and scatting deserves some sort of medal. Even better live.
4. C'mon by Low
Album opener 'Try To Sleep' alone should get this record on any "Best Of 2011" list. Even on Low's "happy" album there runs an underlying dark which creates the perfect balance of tension and melody that Parker, Sparhawk and Garrington seem to arrive at effortlessly.
3. Bon Iver by Bon Iver
Bon Iver's outstanding For Emma, Forever Ago was as raw folk as it gets these days but the Wisconsinites (yes I made that up) have gone down a very different path with the follow up. If you have listened to Bloodbank - which acts as a kind of bridge between the 2008 debut and last year's Bon Iver - this will come as no surprise as you will already have heard the electronic elements barging in on top of glorious songwriting.
What I like most about the album is that there can now be no mistake that Bon Iver is a band (quite a well populated band at that) and not just an alter ego for Justin Vernon which the guy never intended in the first place it must be said. A personal highlight on the recording is when the drums kick in on 'Towers'. Lovely.
2. Let England Shake by PJ Harvey
For nine months of 2011 there was not a shadow of doubt in my mind that, come December/January, Let England Shake would be sitting handsomely on top of the pile. As brilliant as the idea was audacious (the horrors of war - more specifically World War I), Harvey has produced an album with so many layers your eyes will water if you try to peel them away. It feels ridiculous attaching the number 2 to such a staggering collection of songs including 'The Words That Maketh Murder', 'The Last Living Rose' and 'All and Everyone'. I may have to go back to religion so I can rightfully burn in hell where I belong.
1. If Then Not When by King's Daughters & Sons
At the beginning of November I decided to have a nosey on Rachel Grimes' official website in hope that The Rachel's pianist would treat the good folk of Cork (or at least Ireland) to a repeat performance of her mesmerising appearance in Jurys back in 2009 (see here for more details). On that front I would have no luck but what I did stumble across was the first mention of King's Daughters & Sons, a relatively new project that saw Grimes involved in a rather tasty collaboration.
In 2008 and 2009 Todd Cook, Kyle Crabtree (both Shipping News), Joe Manning, Michael Heineman and Rachel Grimes gathered to record parts for some of the most beautiful songs I have heard in years. The reason for the delayed release date is that, until the heroic Chemikal Underground stepped up to the plate, the five struggled to find a label to release what would become If Then Not When but however long it took to get here I just thank the gods it did.
"I will be there, call me by my name I will volunteer
Even though I've strayed from every other promise I've ever made"
Read The G-Man interview with King's Daughters And Sons here.
To see the rest of the Top 50 click here.
2009 Albums of the Year
2010 Albums of the Year