The Music of 2011 So Far

Mostly Film contributors discuss the music of the year so far after the jump …

The Mostly Film panel pretend they wouldn't rather be listening to Adele

Mostly Albums – Jim Eaton-Terry

One day a year like this might, eh, see us acclaimed as the new Housemartins

I started this year with a plan; to only listen to music released in the month, each month. Actually the first draft of this resolution was to choose an album a week and listen only to that, but the sheer grinding dullness of my week 3 choice soon scuppered that.   But for most of the time I’ve stuck to the programme.

James Blake – Limit to Your Love

James Blake is a wonderful producer and singer, but he just can’t write a song. So the standout track on his album – the most convincing of the wave of more or less poppy dubstep efforts of the year – is his cover of a Feist song. It’s an old trick, overwhelming a song with its own echoes – you could probably trace it back to Alvin Lucier – but it’s always effective, especially if the song in the foreground is strong enough. Turn up the bass if you’ve not heard this before, or you’ll miss the point.

PJ Harvey – The Last Living Rose

It’s only listening back to this now that I realise it’s the most conventionally PJ Harvey production on the (brilliant) album. But it’s also the best song. There’s something clumsy and unfocused about the lyrics on Let England Shake which, married to the kaleidoscopic sound of the record, comes closer than I’d have imagined possible to capturing the fragmented, dangerous, chaotic world of the dub and folk records she harks back to. The utter seriousness of PJ Harvey’s output has kept me at a distance since 4-Track Demos but here, perhaps by widening the canvas, she pulls you into her world.

Tune-Yards – Gangsta

Who-kill is, without doubt, the record of the year for me. Riot Grrl, The Pop Group, Nina Simone, Gracelands – every time I listen, I come up with a different list of reference points. It’s not an easy listen, but I’d almost forgotten that a singer could cover so much ground sonically, lyrically and vocally and still hang together as a pop song. I love Tune-Yards so much – and no, I’m not going to indulge her wacky typography – that here’s a DVD extra: her cover of Burning Spear, which again sounds like nothing on earth:

Elbow – Lippy Kids

From New York art riot to Manchester nostalgia. Build a Rocket, Boys! (incidentally the title of the year) is as polite and polished as modern rock gets. Gently progressive (in both senses), Guy Garvey’s haunting collages of the past and present are delivered with a mahogany sheen. The uptempo songs are fine, but this 6 minute lament for lost youth is what stays with me.

Thurston Moore – Benediction

I love this. I never thought that Thurston’s voice and the songs were at the heart of Sonic Youth, but I’ve listened to his Beck-produced acoustic album Demolished Thoughts more than any SY record this century.

Cher Lloyd – Swagger Jagger

Moth seems to have unaccountably overlooked this. It’s still a lost opportunity – I was really hoping for the dubstep ‘Sound of the Underground’ from Cher – but it’s still the pop single of the year. And as I suspect she’s about to vanish without a trace, let’s all enjoy her while she lasts, eh?

Mostly Pop – Mr Moth

Jessie J: 2010's Katie B

1 DevBass Down Low

=2 Nicola RobertsBeat of my Drum

=2 Wretch 32, ft. ExampleUnorthodox

4 Jesse JDo it Like a Dude

5 Nicki MinajGirls Fall Like Dominoes

6 Kanye WestAll of the Lights

7 Lady GagaBorn This Way

8 Bruno MarsLazy Song

9 Jennifer LopezOn the Floor

10 Cee Lo GreenBright Lights Bigger City

If I’m honest, this hasn’t been a vintage year so far. Granted, when the pop has been good, it’s been exceptional, but examples of the quality songs inhabiting the top half of my top ten have been few. Even the usually reliable Gaga’s output has been substandard; Born This Way is an energising riff on Madonna and Judas is stomping and has a beautiful video to recommend it, but neither are a patch on Bad Romance or Telephone and it seems that even the record company is having their doubts – the clip for Edge of Glory has a single set, no costume changes, and no dancers. Difficult second album, indeed (though I think Jim missed the point that Bill Drummond recognised – Gaga’s natural home is the single, and the music video, not the album). Enough about Lady G, though. The rest of the chart!

When I first heard Dev’s Bass Down Low, I thought little of it – pretty girl doing vocals over a banging club track. Then I found myself nodding when it turned up in the background. Then I sought it out. Now I love it. Who knew, I said excitedly when I found out, that Dev is not the name of some faceless electro group but the singer?! She’s a person!

Nicola Roberts,Wretch 32Jesse J have all had me quack on about them already, so we’ll skip to another oddball in the chart, Nicki Minaj. Not generally my idea of fun, Minaj excels with Girls Fall Like Dominoes, a winning marriage of battery acid rap (strictly speaking it’s a sequence of rhyming namedrops) and the sweeping chorus of The Big Pink’s minor 2009 hit Dominoes. The last of the great pop singles of the first half of the year, and staggeringly there is STILL no readily-available promo video for it.

The lower echelons of the chart are occupied by a mix of good-but-not-classic – Kanye, showing that he’s still one of the best rappers out there, with a Hype Williams video designed to induce rage in cineastes (the opening credits of Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void are, um, heavily referenced) and a seizure in the rest of us, or Bruno Mars with a track only really included for its video (and no, I don’t mean the one with Leonard Nimoy essaying a bad-tempered take on The Dude) – and simple space-fillers. I don’t really like the Cee- or J-Lo songs. They’re all right, J-Lo winning on points for the inclusion of breakout reggaeton star Pitbull, but sheesh. They represent the rest of the year in the charts: bland, slick, safe. Christ, I was thiiis close to including  Katy Perry’s ET, not because I like it – or her – but just because it was something a little different. I crave novelty.

Mostly Noise – KasperHauser

Tim Hecker tries to find the undo button

As one of those weird people who still listens to records from start to finish, I find it easier to pick my favourite albums rather than individual songs from them. A tentative top ten from this year would look something like:

1. Giles Corey – Giles Corey

2. 40 Watt Sun – The Inside Room

3. The Caretaker – An Empty Bliss Beyond This World

4. *Shels – Plains of the Purple Buffalo

5. Sims – Bad Time Zoo

6. Nicolas Jaar – Space Is Only Noise

7. Sean McCann – The Capital

8. Hauschka – Salon des Amateurs

9. Vakill – Armor of God

10. Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972

In case anyone just glanced at the list and is now reeling in shock…no, Giles Coren hasn’t released a solo album (but just imagine what it would sound like, go on, imagine). Giles Corey is the solo project of one Dan Barrett, and is, in his own words “acoustic music for the end of the industrial revolution”. In my words it’s “Godspeed You! Black Emperor recording a séance in a cathedral during an earthquake”. Occasionally, actual songs emerge from the gloom, gothic folk/Americana sounding not unlike early Okkervil River.

No One Will Ever Want Me

40 Watt Sun are regarded as a doom metal band, a term that will immediately cause most people to skip to the next paragraph. There’s more to doom than Sabbath riffs and lyrics about witchcraft, though (but if that’s what you’re looking for, then there’s the Blood Ceremony album). Singer Patrick Walker writes long, introspective songs about lost loved ones while sounding like a man staring into the abyss. If anything, though, The Inside Room is less gloomy than Walker’s previous work. Lyrically it’s the story of someone coming to terms with their grief and learning to live in the world again. Acoustic versions of these songs reveal that Walker has more in common with, say, Mark Kozelek than with Black Sabbath.

Carry Me Home

There are a lot of hip-hop albums I’ve liked so far this year (Cunninlynguists, Big K.R.I.T., DC The Midi Alien, DJ Quik, Has-Lo) but I find myself skipping to certain tracks regularly, so in that respect the Sims and Vakill albums stand out as being the most consistent for me. Sims is one of the Doomtree collective and Bad Time Zoo has their distinctive, in-house style, courtesy of producer Lazerbreak. Chicago MC Vakill’s ‘Armor of God’ is his first album in 5 years, an absence that would normally prove fatal in hip-hop, but here he sounds as good as ever. There seems to be some kind of overarching narrative, where Vakill gets offed in the intro and returns to earth as God’s avenger. Or something like that. It’s not important.

Future Shock

Endless Road

As for the other albums, it’s hard to write about drone/ambient music without coming across as a pretentious arse, but I will say that they’re perfect albums for drifting off to while you’re having a post-dinner nap. You don’t get much higher praise than that. I’ll leave you with a track from Salon des Amateurs by German pianist Volker Bertelmann, aka Hauschka.


Mostly Soundtracks – Victor Field

Alan Silvestri grips his wheels of steel

Whether because of financial quandaries or age, the first six months haven’t seen much new stuff that genuinely makes me want to get the disc – James “I was Sir Elton’s bitch on Gnomeo & Juliet” Newton Howard’s The Green Hornet wasn’t bad (but of all the scores that Columbia chose to leave unreleased it had to be THAT one), whereas Henry’s Jackman’s lacklustre music in X-Men: First Class was almost completely outdone by John Ottman’s The Usual Suspects under the Bad Hat Harry logo. And the less said about the ripoff situation of the Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides soundtrack the better.

On the brighter side, Joseph LoDuca’s lovely small-scale rustic score for Patagonia (it’s always good when American composers score British [or in this case Welsh] films instead of vice versa) is a pleasant little surprise, perfect backing for travelling through Argentina; Hop showed again that Christopher Lennertz’s talent outshines his projects; and Michael Giacchino’s “Super 8 Suite” from the film of almost the same name fulfils its mission of harking back to the very early ’80s (even though it’s closer to James Horner than John Williams, J.J. Abrams’s love for Spielberg notwithstanding).

The highlight of the year so far for me, though? Alan Silvestri’s Captain America: The First Avenger – proper oldschool heroic scoring, with themes and everything, and ensuring I might even see the movie on opening day. The long gap until John Williams’s Tintin  score just got more bearable…

Jim Eaton-Terry writes Mostly Records, Mr Moth writes Mostly Pop, KasperHauser doesn’t have a blog or a twitter account and can occasionally be found listening to hipster death metal, and Victor Field is a sometime writer for fun and mosttime soundtrack fan for more fun.


8 thoughts on “The Music of 2011 So Far

  1. As for worst song of the year, people might automatically think of Rebecca Black, but it’s got to be ‘Hotspot Junkie’ by Queensryche. Pretty much every single line is toe-curlingly embarrassing:

    “I abuse, I abuse, the world wide web and all the pictures on youtube, youtube.”

    Dearie me. Actually, there may be even worse songs on the album, but that was as far as I managed.

    Still to look forward to this year – off the top of my head I can think of Bjork, Mastodon, P.O.S. and Converge. Apparently, Dre’s ‘Detox’ is slated for a 2011 release, but that’s like the Duke Nukem Forever of hip-hop.

  2. I would just like to point out that Swagger Jagger is only released this month, so IF I was to review it, it would’ve been in this month’s column. So, you know, ner.

  3. Yeah, I’d agree. There are certainly more deserving targets for scorn. Speaking of which, The Kooks have a new album coming out…

  4. Personally, I seem to be on some sort of novelty record jag so far this year. For example, the new Beastie Boys album is all well and good, but I’m spending more time listening to their comedy counterparts The Lonely Island, whose I Just Had Sex is frustratingly still my favourite single of 2011 so far. In terms of what Kasp calls ‘noise’, Princess Ghibli by the Imaginary Flying Machines collective transcends its novelty premise – Japanese speed metal covers of the theme songs from Studio Ghibli cartoons – and turns out to be a delightful mixture of pretty singing and primal screaming. (Interesting to note that the Ponyo theme is apparently IMPERVIOUS TO METAL, and the only one whose tune had to be rewritten to fit.)

    Popwise, nothing has given me as much pleasure as the ZTT label’s compilation of 80s extended remixes, The Art Of The 12 Inch, because I am old. And if we can extend soundtracks to cover Broadway as well as Hollywood, then I can heartily recommend The Book Of Mormon. Without wishing to sound smug, you really need to have seen it on stage first, as its showstoppers are best experienced when they’re actually stopping a show. Nevertheless, You And Me (But Mostly Me) is a great non-spoilery demo of how Parker, Stone and Lopez send up the Broadway cliches while doing them better than anyone else. Can I get an embed?

    1. I, too, am old, and nearly mentioned the unofficial KLF compilation I linked to earlier in the year. I’ll track that ZTT thing down.

  5. “I Just Had Sex is frustratingly still my favourite single of 2011 so far”

    The video’s fun too (especially John McEnroe’s “before”/”after” bit and the faces pulled by Jessica Alba and Blake Lively).

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