Skip to content

The official Rambling Fox best of 2011: #5-#1

08/01/2012

Welcome to the grand final of the official ten best albums of 2011. If you’ve somehow missed the past two entries where we looked at the first five albums and the ones that not quite made it, or just feel too lazy to go back to the front page, you can access them easily via making a handy new browser tab from this tag list.

What will be #1? Does anyone but me care? Click the cut or scroll down to find out!

#5: TV ON THE RADIO – NINE TYPES OF LIGHT

I have little prior experience about TV on the Radio; I only got into them this year through Nine Types of Light and it took me until December to actually hear any other albums of theirs. Thus it’s impossible for me to see Nine Types of Light as a part of a bigger context, to hear its changes and nuances in comparison to the band’s past history. Who are TV on the Radio and are they really a group I’ll fawn over for years to come? Too early to say. But I love Nine Types of Light, enough to make me want to hear everything else this band has done because there’s no way something as good as this can be a fluke.

Nine Types of Light is an album of two sides. On one hand it’s tender and gentle, as evidenced through its choice of relaxed grooves and occasional balladry. On another, there’s a hulking rock beast churning underneath and occasionally appearing all rumbling and tumbling through some notably more assertive, and even aggressive, songs. What makes the album so special as a whole is that both sides lend their strengths to eachother and thus form a whole new sound. The pounders are enveloped in an atmospheric haze, while the gentler moments have the same tight, muscular backbone that their louder siblings work with:  “Will Do” is as hard-hitting as a ballad can be and “New Cannonball Blues” is far spacier and relaxed than you’d imagine it being in the hands of someone else, as an example. The brilliant production, filled with its own nooks, crannies, twists and details, gives the songs the perfect finishing touch.

With my limited knowledge I can’t ramble on about how Nine Types of Light reflects upon the band in general, but the fact that it’s an album that’s made me fall in love with the band instead of just the album despite it being my first touch of them should hint that it’s a very, very strong album indeed. Nine Types of Light is all-around expertly done, and bits like the horn explosion of “New Cannonball Blues”, the frantic repetition of “Repetition”, the grown man ache of “Will Do” and the Peter Gabriel-esque groove of “Second Song” are all among my top song moments of the year.


Will Do

Also check: Second Song / New Cannonball Blues

#4: GUILLEMOTS – WALK THE RIVER

I’ve raised the notion before, so apologies for repeating myself, but Walk the River is an album of true rebirth for Guillemots. It’s the new sound and band chemistry that Red messily demonstrated, married with the cohesive magic that was one reason for why Through the Windowpane is a modern classic. If Red was a practice round for a new sound, Walk the River is what you get when you’ve mastered that sound. And like Windowpane, it sounds like it’s busy building it’s very own world that it wants to invite the listener into.

At best, which is often, Walk the River is straight-up enchanting. The songs frolic through the space they inhabit, gracefully growing from baby steps to grand statements in a fashion that makes everything seem that much more exciting. The fantastic, almost classic melodies and hooks are back and they’re working tightly together with a deeply dreaming sound to create something that could be best described as euphoric. The choice of band image up there isn’t just me taking the first up-to-date image I could find of the band: the lighting and mood of the image perfectly represent the sound of Walk the River, and that bright light cracking through the mist is the frequent revelationary delight you get when the songs suddenly kick yet another gear up a notch. It’s dynamic, vibrant, alive and often quite spellbinding and hair-raising.

Walk the River effectively creates Guillemots a whole new musical world to operate in. It’s a fascinating land where everything seems a bit unreal and somewhat weird, but in an oddly comforting way, and it’s covered in a dreamy haze. If Red disappointed you, rest assured – Guillemots are officially back as one of the new millennium’s most excellent acts.


Walk the River

Also check: I Must Be a Lover / Sometimes I Remember Wrong

#3: RADIOHEAD – THE KING OF LIMBS

How can album so unwilling to make a big fuss out of itself be so captivating and attention-grabbing that you’d think it was the loudest sound in the world? From the sudden release to the low-key mannerisms that have (hardly) surrounded it after its release, The King of Limbs refuses to make a big deal out of itself. It simply feels like Radiohead gathered into the same room together, realised they had accidentally come up with some new songs and then decided to release them with a “might as well” tone. The album’s eight songs follow suit: they never reach for any grand statements, never try to push any new borders. In a lot of ways, you could imagine The King of Limbs being the result of Radiohead finally relaxing a bit.

And yet, such an inconspicous album is one of this year’s most captivating, hypnotic releases. Its eight songs may not kick up a much of fuss about themselves but they’re stealthily strong compositions: manic rhythms and relentless grooves transcending into shining gold. Nearly every song locks into a tight, rigid and fairly active rhythmic groove filled with loops and percussive clatter, which then acts as not only as the backbone but also as one of the main spotlight layers in each song: while there’s all sorts of details to look out for, it’s the multiple-layered percussions and basslines that move from stylishly organic to throbbing depth that are thrown in the forefront, replacing the usual melodies and harmonies as the leading stars. he constant movement from one heavily-emphasised beat and rhythm to another acts hypnotically, locking the listener into the feel of it all. Songs become movements inside a single unity, changing forms but keeping the hypnotic embrace, effectively turning The King of Limbs into an album which is hard not to continue once started. And with the relatively short length (although 37 minutes isn’t particularly minimal either) it becomes all too tempting to hit play again after the end to keep the loop going. And furthermore, despite how efficiently the songs work together to serve an unified purpose, all eight of The King of Limbs’ tracks still sound completely unique and individual, each one filled with several memorable moments that you fall in love with.

The King of Limbs isn’t out to prove anything and its low-noise release mirrors that: it sounds like eight tracks of the band simply grooving out in front of some recording equipment for fun, rather than something that sounds like a deliberate mission to create another album. In a strange way, despite its tight and almost mechanic sense of rhythm, The King of Limbs carries the sound of Radiohead letting loose in their own way. In a slightly neurotic, pent-up way, but that’s Radiohead for you. You shouldn’t confuse with low-key and lack of fuss for inferior quality and a desire to brush things off: The King of Limbs is one of 2011’s landmark albums both in terms of the songs and in terms of how they’ll hypnotise you to play them over and over and over again.


Lotus Flower

Also check: Bloom / Separator

#2: MOBY – DESTROYED

Destroyed is the ‘soundtrack for empty cities at 2am’. The description, given by Moby himself, is a good thing to repeat whenever talking about the album because it instantly evokes what kind of Destroyed is. Like an urban jungle it’s dense and active, constantly pulsating with technological life in the background. But when the human element of those urban metropolii go to sleep, you’re left with an oddly melancholy ghost of the city’s former self: once-packed streets are suddenly empty and the sound of life has faded away, resulting in an enchantingly eery feel that the few travellers and signs of life that’ll always be there only add to. Which is also where Destroyed picks up its inspiration from: its shimmering, vibrant electronic soundscapes reflect upon that eeriness of watching a city fall asleep, merging the oft-dancelike rhythms with a sense of melancholy and weariness.

Which would be a result for an amazing album in itself, but Destroyed takes its quality even further by being Moby’s strongest since his immortal classic Play and the first album of his in years where he both plays up to his strengths and delivers something unlike anything else in his discography. Ever since moving onto his own label and deciding to stop attempting to create the sort of hits people were expecting from him, his inspiration has increased ten-fold. This was already clear in Wait for Me (2009) but it’s Destroyed where it glows. Moby’s always been criminally underrated as a songwriter and throughout his career he’s been a master of atmosphere: Destroyed shows him at his peak in both.

Destroyed is fantastic all-around.


Sevastopol

Check also: The Low Hum / Victoria Lucas

#1: BRIGHT EYES – THE PEOPLE’S KEY

Is The People’s Key an obvious classic? No, and if we’re honest I’d have to do a double-take before pronouncing it as a classic myself – despite it being by and far my number one album of 2011 and an album that I’ve passionately obsessed over for a good chunk of last year, falling in love with it over and over and over again as I keep re-realising its strengths. All the over-the-top fawning and hyperbole over I’ve layed over the other albums in this very entry wouldn’t suit The People’s Key: my usually overimaginative writer struggles trying to come up with some really corny super-optimistic adjectives to use from it. Does it sound like your typical grand return comeback statement you’d expect after five year’s worth of absence under the Bright Eyes moniker? Doesn’t sound like there’s been any extended leave between this and the last album. Nor does it have the faintest hint of the final Bright Eyes album that Oberst slyly hinted about eons ago and which no one knows whether it’s still true.

But what it is, is an already fantastic band being in absolute top form. Everything that have ever made Bright Eyes great is present on The People’s Key, and not just represented but downright underlined. It’s an album which takes a great big arrow sign and points it at the band, stating “this is why we are fantastic. This is why you love us so much. This is everything that makes us great”. Everything. Oberst’s naturally brilliant frontman act and voice. His lyrics. The musicianship. Mike Mogis’ production style and skills. The songwriting. The evocative quality. The emotional impact. The self-referentialism. The traditional trademark quirks. The musical styles. The reasons that made you love Bright Eyes in the past, be it for a few albums or the entire discography.

That’s what makes The People’s Key special and a Bright Eyes classic. That’s what makes it both the perfect comeback album and the perfect possible final album. On surface it may not seem to do much – it’s not even a big stylistic leap – but from the very first listen it sounds close already. It’s an entirely new and unique Bright Eyes experience but it distills everything that makes the band so amazing within its ten songs. It’s such a perfectly crafted run of ten songs that despite my unabashed love for everything else in these two top 10 entries, The People’s Key is the only album that’s made me go “wow” each and every time it’s finished.

The People’s Key is the album of 2011, by a long shot.


Jejune Stars

Check also: Shell Games / One for You, One for Me

—————

And that was 2011. Good job all around for everyone involved. Except you My Morning Jacket and Coldplay. You’re still bitterly disappointing.

Advertisements
No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: