Friday, 30 December 2011

The Evening's Empire - Top 20 Tracks of 2011 (5 - 1)

Well, I certainly have left this late! I could claim that I was just being thorough; making sure there aren't any earth shattering singles released on December the 30th which everyone else's  “end of year lists” would have missed..... but lets face it, it's just down to procrastination and laziness. Regardless, I am still within the 2011 time frame, so without much further ado - my Top 5 Tracks of 2011.

5.   Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues

Fleet Foxes sensational follow up to ther self-titled debut, was an  absolutely huge success this year. Widely recognised by critics and and public at large as being one of the albums of the year. It is on this effort that Pecknold stopped looking at the world at large, and instead turned the lyrics upon himself.

'Helplessness Blues' is one of those songs that you know straight away is going to be huge. It has just the right amount of sing-ability without it becoming clich├ęd, the right amount of catchiness without being too shallow and lyrics that are excellent without necessarily telling you exactly what they mean. Rich in the usual excellent, quirky musicianship and gorgeous swooning harmonies that we've come to expect from the Seattle six-piece - it's a truly special track.

`What's my name, what's my station, oh, just tell me what I should do'

4.   Laura Marling - Sophia

What more is there to say about Laura Marling...... To me she is probably the most astounding, young talent currently in music.. The incredible albums by the age of 21 is clearly the form of a prodigy at work. When I look at artists from the 60/70's I think about how incredible it must have been to grow up with the likes of Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen; to me Marling will go on to be held up there with these greats.

I could have pretty much picked any track from her incredible third album A Creature I Don't Know, but I've gone for 'Sophia'. 2 minutes 55 seconds of beautifully crafted musicianship before the track eventually reaches a crescendo layered with country-style vocals and a melody that forces the listeners attention.

'Rarely I weep, sometimes I must, I am wounded by the dust'.

3.   Ryan Adams - Dirty Rain

That's more like it Ryan! Where on earth have you been keeping tracks like this when you've forced us to endure albums like III/IV?! Whether Ashes & Fire marks a return to form or just a positive blip on a career in free fall is yet to be seen, however, one thing is certain - This is a fucking great album!

There are a number of tracks that could have made it on the list from Ashes and Fire; however, I settled on the opener 'Dirty Rain'. Riddled with semi-autobiographical references of looking at the past, at how things used to be, and wondering how to get back to what you once were.

'Now I'm here lookin' through the ruble, tryin' to find out who we were'.

2.   Frank Turner - If Ever I Stray

For me it wouldn't be an end of year list (or any list) without the inclusion of Frank Turner somewhere amongst it. So here he is; just shy of the number 1 spot. Earlier this year he released his forth studio album, England Keep My Bones, which moved him into the conciousness of the last few people in the UK who were still unaware of his music. Full of themes of national identity (not to be confused with racism), mortality and what it means to grow old; it was a far more mixed album, straying from his tried lyrical formula of travelling and taking to the road.

'If Ever I Stray' is a song about making sure you stay true to who you are, and having people around you to keep you grounded. Featuring an infectious guitar riff, superb vocals and one of the best crescendos i've ever heard, it's another instant classic from the Folk/Punk songwriter.

                             'Sometimes it's hard to remember, I couldn't do this on my own'.

1.   Bon Iver - Holocene

Bon Iver, Bon Iver is as hauntingly beautiful an album as you are ever likely to hear. It's not background music and sometimes it isn't even enjoyable in the traditional sense, but it is so well written, so detailed and immaculately created that it has surpassed all other albums this year for me. 

This was always going to be the difficult second album for Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver) in the wake of his debut, For Emma For Ever Ago, which cemented itself in indie music folklore, complete with a back story of sadness and sombre isolation. His latest effort is bigger, richer, more sophisticated in its arrangement. It's safe to say that Vernon has moved well away from his back story which could otherwise have type-cast him for the rest of his career as that-bearded-guy-who-wrote-an-album-in-a-cabin.

It is on 'Holocene' that Bon Iver is truly at his best. The finger-picking guitar opening is warm yet sombre; then comes the vocals from Vernon, which are more like an instrument in their own right then an audible vocal. It climaxes in the heaven-bound chorus, when a lyric tears into the listeners conciousness, 'and at once I knew, I was not magnificent'. Sometimes a song has a quality that you can't quite put your finger on; this song has that quality in abundance.

                                        'Someway baby, it's part of me, apart from me'.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

The Evening's Empire - Top 20 Tracks of 2011 (10 - 6)

Firstly, I hope you all had a great Christmas. I hope that Santa got you everything you wanted, I hope that the pretty girl/guy in accounts that you've liked all year sent you a merry Christmas text - But mostly I hope that you didn't have the misfortune of having to listen to that Michael Buble Christmas album.
    Anyway, things are getting serious now, as we reach my Top 10 Tracks of 2011.

10.   King Creosote & Jon Hopkins - Bats In The Attic

Earlier this year I wrote a review of the new King Creosote & Jon Hopkins album Diamond Mine (read here). Off this beautifully simple, distinctly Scottish album there was on song of particular quality - 'Bats in the Attic.

A tale of a relationship on the verge of breaking down, and one party's desire to repel this inevitability. Built around a simple piano part, and complimented with a gorgeous ambient soundtrack courtesy of Jon Hopkins.

9.   Manchester Orchestra - Pensacola

In an era of music rich with Indie Pop, Electro, and Folk it's nice to have a bit of good old fashioned rock and roll. Sounding like a cross between Jimmy Eat World and The Get Up Kids, Manchester Orchestra are one of my favourite new bands of the year.

Firstly it's catchy, really catchy. The drum roll leads you in to an anthemic chorus, which cries for you to sing along. Just a great track for those of you with a soft spot for pure and simple American rock music.

8.   Coldplay - Paradise

Say what you like about Coldplay (and most people do); Mylo Xyloto was a huge change in musical style and direction for a band which made their millions making heartfelt, pop-rock for the masses.

Paradise was the album's second single, and one which I've been listening to fairly solidly since its release. Yes, it does feature some suspect lyrics and stretched syllables; but the production & beats more than make up for this. Add an instantly singable melody and gorgeous piano and violin and you have another huge hit from the world's biggest band.

7. Ben Howard - Keep Your Head Up

This time last year I was talking of Ben Howard's talent and even chose him as my number 1 artist to look out for in 2011. Well he's had one hell of a year with his highly received debut album, a string of prestigious tour and festival slots and even a stint as Zane Lowe's 'Hottest Record in the World'.

'Keep Your Head Up' comes from his debut album Every Kingdom and is 4 minutes 20 seconds of pure inspired folk.

6.   Drake - Marvin's Room

Drake's 2011 album Take Care made a huge stir with critics and the music community at large, proving that his debut success with Thank Me Later was not a one off.

From this 18 track masterpiece, one song instantly blew me away, 'Marvin's Room'. It is based around a drunken phone conversation with his ex girlfriend, who he wants back in his life. He admits that although his life may look perfect from the outside that in reality it is far from it - 'I’ve had sex four times this week I’ll explain, Having a hard time adjusting to fame'. Such lyrical honesty and vulnerability is on display throughout 'Marvin's Room', demonstrating the huge chasm that separates Drake and the majority of his contemporaries. 

Friday, 23 December 2011

The Evening's Empire - Top 20 Tracks of 2011 (15 - 11)

Following swiftly on from my earlier post, prepare for another selection of fine music and even.... *pause for effect* a little bit of hip hop.

15.   Wolf Gang - Lions In Cages

I first heard this song on the radio whilst I was driving through the National Parks of Southern Utah; so admittedly it does perhaps have that added positive sentiment.

Regardless, I instantly loved this track and it will certainly go down as one of my most played this year, despite the fact it was October before I first heard it. Catchy Indie Pop at its best.

14.   Childish Gambino - Outside

Now I will openly admit that I was very late to the Gambino bandwagon. It seemed that every end of year list I read featured this young talent, so I thought I'd give him a try.

About 1 minute 24 into the album's opener ('Outside'), I fully understood the hype. Whitty, cutting lyrics, huge beats and an absolutely game-stopping chorus makes for what is a truly spectacular song.

13.   Okkervil River - Wake And Be Fine

I'm a huge Okkervil River fan, and consider Will Sheff to be one of the finest lyricists in alternative music; which meant I was hugely excited that 2011 saw the release of OR's sixth studio album, I Am Very Far. A change of sound with a touch of class.

'Wake and be Fine' is a highlight on an album rich with highlights. Sheff's vocals have never sounded stronger, matched with superb lyrics

12.   Kurt Vile -Jesus Fever

What a year it's been for Kurt Vile. His album Smoke Ring For My Halo was released to widespread critical acclaim. His lo-fi, roots driven rock has drawn similarities to Bruce Springsteen and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.

'Jesus Fever' is Vile at his best. Emotive lyrics, simple guitar work and a grungy vocal line come together to create something really special.

11.   The Antlers - I Don't Want Love

 Hospice was truly remarkable. A concept album built heavily around an abusive relationship. Their sound has developed on Burst Apart; the tracks are larger and more heavily produced, but the starkness remains.

'I Don't Want Love' is a beautifully simple track about a sexual relationship, where one person just wants no further part in it, but can't help but keep coming back. 'So if I see you again, desperate and stoned, keep your prison locked up, and I will leave my gun at home.'

Thursday, 22 December 2011

The Evening's Empire - Top 20 Tracks of 2011 (20 - 16)

'Tis the season to be jolly'......... or based on my Twitter feed, spout opinions of what your favorite tracks of the year were. So not to fall behind the curve, here are my selections for my top 20 tracks of 2011, starting with numbers 20 - 16:

20.   fun. - We Are Young

I first heard this song a couple of weeks ago and instantly loved it. I was equally impressed to find out that my girlfriend had also heard it....... unfortunately it was because it featured recently in an episode of Glee.

Fun is the perfect adjective for this track. Positive lyrics, and uplifting chorus make this a feel good anthem for the festive period.

19.   Frightened Rabbit - Fuck This Place

Earlier this year they released three tracks in the form of  A Frightened Rabbit EP. As I've come to expect from FR, it was something of real quality.

'Fuck This Place' isn't a traditional love song per se; it's about feeling lost and just needing someone to look after you. Layered with piano, rich brass and gorgeous hamonies courtesy of Camera Obscura's Tracy Ann. Pure class.

18.   Smith Westerns - End Of The Night

Dye It Blonde was one the early stand out albums of the year. The young Chicago-based outfit know how to write timeless rock n' roll numbers, and with 'End Of The Night' they strike pure gold.

Catchy, swooning, rock n' roll at its best.

17.   The Mountain Goats - Damn These Vampires

All Eternals Deck received widespread favourable feedback from critics and fans alike, and was one of 2011's finest.

'Damn These Vampires' is a tale of drug addiction and the struggles that come with it. Despite the dark subject matter, it's a beautifully uplifting track.

16.   Admiral Fallow - Squealing Pigs

Show me a more catchy song and i'll show you a liar. Admiral Fallow write beautifully incricate folk tracks, and their debut Boots Met My Face showed heaps of potential.

Heaped in nostalgia 'Squealing Pigs' is catchy and pop-y in all the right places. I expect big things from this Scottish six-piece.