middle eight: top noises of 2011 so far

your half-time report. guitar solo optional

one of my earliest blog posts was a review of 2010’s best music (in my biased opinion, of course). it was great fun to compile, so i plan to do the same as 2011 dies, whether you like it or not. but i thought it’d also be interesting to offer my half-time report on the year so far. we’ve had fine music (see below), average music (sorry, arctic monkeys, aside from this slab of geniussuck it and see tastes a bit samey) and dull music that everyone thinks they should love (hello, radiohead. king of limbsking of yawns, more like).

so, below, are my faves so far. i hope you approve. but i’m not listing my top sounds solely to force my tastes on you (though that is, admittedly, my primary objective); i’m sharing my favourite albums and tracks of 2011 to date because i’m curious to see how many will still rank as high come the end of the year.

last time round, i compiled my top 5 albums, songs and reissues. but as we’re only halfway there, i’m limiting my choices to a top 4, and not focusing on reissues (what’s the point? i’ve rambled on about reissue of the year here already). as before choices are subjective and admittedly limited. some artists feature twice, but why not? as i’ve said before, it stands to reason that a great album will feature (at least) one key track you can’t exist without.

don’t be a stranger; let me know what you think. and, more importantly, tell me what i’ve missed. i promise i’ll listen to whatever you recommend, so who knows? you could introduce me to my favourite song of 2011. imagine that. bet you never knew you were a taste-maker, eh?


1) ‘lee majors come again’ – beastie boys

“oh yeah, did i spill the beans? / i see your grandpa in apple bottom jeans!”

if a song’s sheers awesomeness is defined by the number of times you find yourself playing it really fucking loud on your ipod, then the beasties’ ‘lee majors come again’ has to be, for me, 2011’s greatest release so far. full-on punk rock, smart lyrics and a killer chorus…i just can’t get enough of this song. yes, it’s basic. yes, it’s dumb. yes, it’s skatepunk thrown up by big boys who should know better…but i love it for those very reasons. ‘lee majors come again’ feels essential to me because it’s the sound of pure energy. beastie boys have never just been about white boy rap, and one of the most refreshing things about ‘lee majors come again’ is that it takes things back to their roots, and accurately mimics some of the beastie’s very first tracks. before the medallions, caps and cold metal came the noise, and ‘lee majors come again’ is such a joy because it sounds so similar to their twenty-nine year old debut thrashes. our beastie boys aren’t young anymore. but, on record, they’ve barely aged at all and here they sound like kids. happy, talented kids making noise with gleeful abandon.

2) ‘united’ – pete and the pirates

“girl, i don’t want to die / i just want some sunshine.”

i’ll say more about pete and his pirates further on but, with regards to this recent single: wow. ‘united’ sounds timeless; understated and arch until it floors you with that chorus. and it’s all about the chorus here: big, anthemic, more addictive than chocolate-coated crack. plus it offers a great pay-off: the word ‘united’ conjures up images of scarf-waving boys bellowing the pirates from the terraces, but really this band’s concerns are far dirtier: ‘we are united…on the carpet’. stirring, glorious and celebratory, this to me is a true anthem. the song deserves to be number one, and it probably would be if a bigger band got its manicured hands on the tune.

3) ‘you’re lionel richie’ – mogwai

(the calm) / (the storm) / (hello, is it me you’re looking for)

mogwai are the kings of the song title, but with ‘you’re lionel richie’ they’ve outdone themselves. apparently so-named because it’s what inebriated frontman stuart braithwaite shouted at the famous all-night-longer upon spotting him at an airport, ‘you’re lionel richie’ is one of mogwai’s most sumptuous tunes. whereas its title is ridiculous and comical, the song itself is – like so many of mogwai’s finest moments – heart-wrenching and sombre. it follows mogwai’s well-established trick: the track starts quietly and then, about halfway through, doubles in volume, intensity and impact. but ‘you’re lionel richie’ stands out against its competition because it’s so…other-wordly. there’s that strange, garbled voice near the beginning, and there’s that riff: endlessly repeated, but increasingly beautiful. plus it ends brilliantly, a strange exhalation of relief following the apocalypse. mogwai make music that affects the heart, and ‘you’re lionel richie’ manages to sound life-affirming when you’re up, and unbearably sad when you’re down. it is also, incidentally, the only song i’ll now dance to when on the ceiling. fact.

4) ‘human again’ – young knives

“upset, upset the harmony / your wicked words are killing me.”

‘human again’ is ornaments from the silver arcade‘s stand-out track and, like all their best moments, cashes in on the band’s key talents: great hooks and melodies, english-as-they-come concerns and an incurable melancholy. but, even by their standards, ‘human again’ is a winner. catchier than a cold, with more than a sly wink to the kinks, it handclaps along marvelously, and seems…delightful. but listen to the lyrics, note how the tone changes with that midpoint “you’re killing every part of me”, how the seemingly buoyant chorus layers over itself in an increasingly desperate fashion; this is downbeat pop masquerading as bubblegum. predictably ignored when recently released as a single, ‘human again’ deserves a lot more love than it’s received, as do young knives themselves. no wonder they’re downhearted.


1) let england shake – pj harvey

“what is the glorious fruit of our land? / its fruit is orphaned children.”

pj harvey has now comfortably settled into her role as our true first lady of rock. she used to be rawer and louder, but let england shake‘s hushed assault is as angry as anything from her riot grrrl past; a delicate, dreamlike and achingly sad album. and it is a true album; individual tracks may be as strong as anything she’s ever recorded, but let england shake‘s majesty can only be appreciated as a whole. its themes are war, death, the dark depths our island sinks to, and it sounds infinitely lovelier than it should. again and again, polly jean references young men on battlegrounds, blood, destruction and fire, her voice an unnervingly childlike falsetto, as the music remains upbeat. there are, of course, some fine moments to savour: ‘the glorious land’ takes a police riff, adds a jarring bugle war-cry, and creates something stunning – a soulful, moving nursery rhyme of doom. ‘written on the forehead’ hangs on a sample, its violent lyrics again at odds with such seemingly joyful music. war may be a constant theme, with the jauntily doom-laden ‘the words that maketh murder’ watching “soldiers fall like lumps of meat”, but pj’s inspiration seems to come from the destruction served up in the great war, rather than any recent battle. similarly, when she sings, in ‘the last living rose’, “let me walk through the stinking alleys / to the music of drunken beatings”, she could be referencing england at any moment between victorian times and last saturday night. and, despite the horrifying image of blood-saturated soil in the closing ‘the colour of the earth’, let england shake sounds somehow…patriotic. it doesn’t matter whether pj harvey is speaking for england in the past or present, on let england shake she’s made her mark; this is one album to serve the future.

2) one thousand pictures – pete and the pirates


“i like you when you’re sad / i like you having fun / but I wished you liked yourself / no, you don’t like anyone.”

believe me, i didn’t see this coming either. previously, this reading-based band’s appeal had passed me by. but i’m human, and therefore occasionally ignorant, because one thousand pictures is a stunning album. it all started, for me, with single ‘come to the bar‘: near-six minutes of pop brilliance, comprised of a so-geeky-it’s-cool vocal, a glorious chorus that gains momentum each time it’s sung, and a psychadelicious, off-kilter finish. then came the afore-mentioned ‘united’, followed swiftly by this album. the hit rate on one thousand pictures is impressively high: opener ‘can’t fish’ is downbeat but beautiful, ‘cold black kitty’ starts a little limp but ends in the type of detuned guitar glory dEUS revel in, whilst they master the art of the two-minute-wonder on ‘little gun’ – an absolute gem of a song. then there’s ‘blood gets thin’ and its vicious ‘reprise’, which wouldn’t sound out of place on franz ferdinand’s debut. in fact, if those ferdinand boys released one thousand pictures, the music press would be all over it. but, as it’s by pete and the pirates, the album’s been ignored. it deserves better. it’s currently 1,083 in the charts here. do your bit and shift it up a bit. you won’t be disappointed. or rather, if you are, it’s over between us.

3) hot sauce committee part two – beastie boys

“the future us-es are complete idiots…can’t even untie a fuckin’ dancemat…”

sometimes, b-boys just wanna have fun.

for that sheer enjoyment factor alone, beastie boys’ hot sauce committee part two is a bitch to beat because, as lead single ‘make some noise’ makes clear, these boys came to party. hot sauce committee part two is deliriously good fun, and their commitment to making you smile as you bodypop like it’s 2087 means that this may be their best album yet. as ever, their white boy hip-hop is only part of the story. ‘lee majors come again’ is skatecore-tastic fun, ‘too many rappers’ (featuring nas) and the sunkissed reggae pop ‘don’t play no game that i can’t win’ (featuring santigold) make great use of their guest stars whilst doing something new with the b-boys trademark sound. elsewhere, the beastie’s sample themselves on the hard-hitting ‘say it’ and serve up some vintage rhymes on ‘long burn the fire’, including the ludicrous: “proof is in the pudding and the pudding’s in my pants / you heard me rap, now watch me dance.” but the fun doesn’t stop with the album. special mention must go to the promo released ahead of the album, ‘fight for your right revisited’ (posted above in its entirety for your viewing pleasure, because i love you). yes, it’s over the top, yes it’s the kind of promo only very well-connected musicians with limitless budgets can make…but, fuck it, it’s brilliant. seriously, watch it now. it’s funny, occasionally smart and frequently dumb, it makes great use of hallucinogens and urine, and it’s a roll-call of practically every american celebrity you can think of. but, above all else, it – like its creators – consistently entertains. as i’m sure those beasties must say back home: enjoy.

4) my main shitstain – paris suit yourself

“run, bloody nigger, run / aaah! aaah! aaah! /…where is my soul?”

as you can probably tell from the (admittedly-awful) title of their debut album, paris suit yourself aren’t here to charm you. mixing punk, prog rock, dirt and despair, my main shitstain may not to be everyone’s tastes…but it is an astonishing ride. there are shades of pil, the fall and ol’ dirty bastard throughout, but really paris suit yourself can’t be pigeonholed so neatly. their album’s messy, inconsistent and abusive…and all the better for it. to really appreciate these parisians, they need to be seen live. i first heard paris suit yourself when they supported the fall last november, and then a few months later at a tiny venue in old street. both times they were mesmerizing. live, each song is drawn, building in intensity before imploding in a mess of contradictions. my main shitstain can’t quiet sustain this assault (and it is an assault) as the songs sound comparatively conventional. however, there’s plenty to recommend it: jazz-infused ‘craig machinsky’ is atypical of their sound; oddly rhythmic, with luvinsky atche’s brutally defensive “‘cos my skin is black” lyrics underpinned by viciously sweet la-la-la backing vocals. elsewhere, ‘rollin’ on’ hits the mark with increasingly unhinged guitars, and ‘sometimes’ shows that paris suit yourself can be a natural rock band when they wish; the single is typically moody, but it’s also insanely catchy. no doubt you’ll hear it in the elevator on your way down to hell. my main shitstain can’t always sustain the brilliance, but you can, and should, forgive this band anything for ‘lost my girl’. it’s primal and insane, all the way from its punky start to breakneck gospel finish. you’ll love it…as long as your favourite gospel music is the type sung by satan’s singers after a gobful of peyote-infused holy water. welcome to the church of paris suit yourself. it’s a frighteningly enlightening place.


One Response to “middle eight: top noises of 2011 so far”


  1. middle eight: top noises of 2011 so far « daaanlewis - 12/07/2011

    […] middle eight: top noises of 2011 so far […]

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