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 clichéd, 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'.

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