By Padraic Gilligan, Vice President Industry Relations, MCI
New music in 2011 has been as good as it has ever been with new bands releasing great debuts and old bands reaching new heights. These are my favourite releases from 2011 in no particular order. Hidden in their midst are some 2010 releases which I didn’t discover until 2011. Big thanks to 2 people in particular for ensuring that I’m constantly presented with new musical stimulation – Taylor Black, author of the music column on Andrea Michels /Extraordinary Events excellent weekly Good News ezine and the inimitable Tony Curtis of Ovation Global whose taste is so catholic it belies his Protestant origins!
No Shore, Alex Cornish
Cornish is an artist I only discovered in 2011 although No Shore is his 3rd release (I now have the first two albums and they’re excellent too). A Scot, Cornish belongs to a great tradition of superlative singer songwriters – Roddy Frame, Edwyn Collins, Belle & Sebastien. No shore is full of great hooks, wonderful melodies, clever lyrics and soaring vocals but leaves enough white space there to give the songs subtlety and nuance. Probably the album I listened to most in 2011. If you want a standout track try “Skyline of Paris”.
The Olympus Sound, Pugwash
Ireland has punched way above its weight in the terms of global success and yet so many brilliant Irish artists miss out on the acclaim they deserve. The lack of recognition was partially fixed for Thomas Walsh, aka Pugwash, when The Duckworth Lewis Method, his collaboration with Neil Hannon aka The Divine Comedy was nominated for an Ivor Novello award. Thankfully Walsh continues to push out sublimly original tunes with a respectful nod to heroes Paul McCartney and Jeff Lynne.
You and I, The Pierces
“You’ll be mine” became my soundtrack of the summer since Intrepid Musical Explorer Tony Curtis flagged it to me in June. The rest of the album by sisters Allison and Catherine Pierce follows suit. I never understood the ABBA comparisons mentioned in the press releases as this is country pop at its best with definite shades of later Fleetwood Mac – great songs with harmony vocals that fit seamlessly together like Lego blocks.
Sky Full of Holes, Fountains of Wayne
For me Fountains of Wayne have more in common with Richmond Fontaine and Tom Waits than, say, Blink 182. Like Willy Vlautin and Tom Waits, Fountains of Wayne create astonishing 3 minute vignettes which lead you into the fascinating world of intriguing characters like the idiot entrepreneurs from the eponymous “Richie and Reuben”.
Don’t be put off by the band’s name. Contrary to external appearances Dan Bejar’s band is not a Death Metal project but a one man outfit whose 9th album, Kaputt, was one of the highlights of 2011. Difficult to categorise, Kaputt, presents an eclectic mix of Zero7 / Royksopp style ambient lounge, early 80s synth pop with prominent fretless bass and latent prof rock tendencies. Sounds implausible but it’s stunningly good!
Lover Boy, Brett Dennen
Another mid year discovery thanks to Taylor Black, Lover Boy is a cracking collection of magical, upbeat, feel-good pop tunes delivered in a quirkily pleasing vocal style with shades of Ben Folds, Jack Johnson and Ben Harper.
Build A Rocket Boys, Elbow
A brilliant evocation of the aching pleasures of adolescence, this album endures and endears on every listen. You’ll find lots of musical allusions and echoes, including the bird imagery, on the much later, and much more commercially successful Mylo Xyloto by Coldplay! But this is the original and the best.
Ghost on a Canvas, Glen Campbell
I was ridiculed and laughed at back in the 70s when, stupidly, I admitted to liking “Rhinestone Cowboy”. When I heard Glen singing the great Jimmy Webb songs I loved him even more. This time I told nobody. Now, older and slightly more confident, I shout it from the rooftops. This man is a legend whose voice reveals the vicissitudes of a life lived at the edges. Like Johnny Cash.
Mount Desolation, Mount Desolation
I had listened to and thoroughly enjoyed this eponymous album 4 times before I knew who was behind it. With its mix of alt folk, country and pop it was right up my street in terms of personal taste. Real tasty piano licks, gorgeous harmonies, clam-tight playing it was no surprise to discover that Mount Desolation are a side project for Tim Rice-Oxley and Jesse Quin of Keane with assistance from friends in Noah & the Whale and Mumford & Sons.
Last Night on Earth, Noah & the Whale
I know I should be listing P J Harvey and not Noah and the Whale on this “Best of 2011” blogpost but I’m comfortable now with my guilty pleasures. This album has more sharp hooks than a salmon Fisherman’s hat and recalls some of the best 80s synth pop of ABC and Culture Club. Seriously infectious and insinuatingly irritating at the same time, the single L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N will not easily ghost out of the recesses of your brain!
Other really good albums discovered in 2011 – Bella, Teddy Thompson, 50 Words for Snow, Kate Bush, So Beautiful or So What, Paul Simon, In the Mountain In the Cloud, Portugal. The Man, Chateau Revenge, The Silver Seas, Barton Hallow, The Civil Wars