top noises of 2011

naughty words and nasty music

here are my favourite 5 songs, albums and re-issues of 2011. back in july, i compiled my half-time review, showcasing what i considered to be the best of the year so far. it’s been interesting revisiting and refining that original list; some favourites remain, but the latter-half of 2011 has thankfully provided a few new thrills.

so. what have i learnt whilst painstakingly compiling this end-of-year noisefest for your pleasure? well, three things:

1) i’ve fallen in love with a lot more songs than albums this year. i had no trouble pinpointing tunes i wanted to celebrate, but i struggled to find more than a handful of new albums i rated in 2011. that probably means i need your help. so get in touch: what did i miss in 2011? answers on a postcard. or it may be simpler to reply at the bottom of this post.

2) i don’t always get it right, but when i do, everyone shamefully copies me. that’s right: my n0.1 album of 2011 is also the guardian‘s and nme’s. i wouldn’t mind, but i told them both about let england shake in the first place.

3) swearing in songs is big, clever and occasionally sexy. but then you knew that already.

songs:

1) ‘your loft my acid’ – death in vegas

“i can feel for days and days and days…”

like an update of donna summer’s ‘i feel love’ with added bliss and naughtiness, ‘your loft my acid’ is a stunning example of music as narcotic, whether taken in its original form or dropped deep-fried for the ‘fearless trans-house mix’. from trans-love energies – a real return to form from richard fearless’ death in vegas – ‘your loft my acid’s ambient soundscape switches halfway through into a gorgeous meld of disco, electro and aural sex, helped on its wanton way by katie stelmanis’ near-impenetrable lyrics. who knows what she’s singing, and who cares; her vocals are pure, uncut atmosphere and, combined with the song’s enigmatic title, conjure up feelings of being a little lost, a little loved-up, and very elegantly wasted.

2) ‘lee majors come again’ – beastie boys

(#1 in middle eight: top noises of 2011 so far)

“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 one of 2011’s greatest releases. 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.

3) ‘united’ – pete and the pirates

(#2 in middle eight: top noises of 2011 so far)

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

‘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 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.

4) ‘ghost’ – dEUS

“scared of being the demon / tired of being ignored / hoo-HA!”

when dEUS are on form, they’re one of the best rock bands around, capable of creating songs at once odd and beautiful, fragile and furious. highlights such as 1999’s the ideal crash rank amongst my favourite albums, largely because songs such as ‘instant street’ so skilfully adapt as they go on, in this case mutating from gentle love song to frankly unhinged rock behemoth within minutes. it’s a classic dEUS trick, but in recent times these belgian boys have lost some of their magic. this year’s keep you close isn’t bad, but it’s far from their finest moment…aside from ‘ghost’, that is. as loopy as anything from their early days, this is a song of two halves. starting out as a pleasant pop song, complete with beguiling melody and hooky chorus, it goes fucking mental (to adopt a technical term) for its final act. as tom barman’s vocals grow increasingly frenetic, so does the music, ushering in the most exhilarating 2 minutes of 2011. guitars piledrive into each other, backing vocals ape al pacino with the finest “hoo-HA”s known to man, and ‘ghost’ implodes, as if too unsane to deal with the mess it’s made. frightening.

5) ‘212’ – azealia banks

“who are you, bitch, new lunch? / i’m-a ruin you, cunt.”

i know next to nothing about azealia banks, except:

1) she’s a 20-year-old rapper from harlem.

2) you’re going to hear plenty from her in 2012.

3) she’s got a filthy mouth.

4) she proves she’s got a filthy mouth on ‘212’. there’s plum licking and everything.

5) the effortless flow of her rude words on ‘212’ aren’t even the best thing about the song.

6) that’ll be the tune: fierce, fun, addictive.

7) the video for ‘212’ is phenomenal. for reasons i probably shouldn’t go into.

bubbling under:

‘still life’ – the horrors

‘you’re lionel richie’ – mogwai

‘greenway’ – the fall

albums:

1) let england shake – pj harvey

(#1 in middle eight: top noises of 2011 so far)

“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 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) ersatz gb the fall

“i had to wank off the cat / to feed the fuckin’ dog.”

at last! the fall have released an album everyone can enjoy, full of beautiful ballads and mid-tempo pop classics. not really; ersatz gb won’t win mark e. smith a single new fan, and has probably lost him a few of his most patient supporters. not that he cares, of course:  this is the band’s 29th album, and the 3rd in a row with the same line-up (a significant achievement for the fall). even by their usual standards, ersatz gb is a rough ride – messy, rude, noisy, and now with added phlegm, thanks to m.e.s’ new vocal style. on first listen, it’s almost…well, unlistenable. but mark knows what he’s doing and – like all the best fall albums – ersatz gb repays repeated listens; like last year’s your future our clutter, it’s a whole lot of fun. the highlight has to be ‘greenway’, a slab of un-fall-like metal coated with lyrics so furiously rude you’ll think m.e.s has been hanging out with azealia banks (though i doubt even she’d do what he does to his poor animals). ‘greenway’ is practically a novelty song, but elsewhere ersatz gb delivers other highpoints: ‘mask search is a gnarled blues stomp, complete with the classic “i’m so sick of snow patrol / and where to find esso lubricant”, ‘taking off’ is near-conventional but blessed with a dazzling downbeat tune, whilst ‘age of chang’ ends the album in a gloriously discordant manner, its tune just about scrabbling out of the noise. reminiscent of their modern classic, ‘bury’, ‘age of chang’ may well be the album’s messy highpoint; like the rest of ersatz gb, its riches are worth digging for.

3) one thousand pictures – pete and the pirates

(#2 in middle eight: top noises of 2011 so far)

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

this reading-based band’s appeal had previously passed me by, but now i’m hooked, because one thousand pictures is a fine 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 the pirates 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.

4) hot sauce committee part two – beastie boys

(#3 in middle eight: top noises of 2011 so far)

“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. funny, occasionally smart and frequently dumb, it makes great use of hallucinogens and urine, and is 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.

5) ornaments from the silver arcade – young knives

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

though not on a par with their glorious superabundance, young knives’  fourth album is still a joy. more 80’s-tinged than previous albums, and chock-full of harmony-tastic tunes such as ‘everything falls into place’ and ‘sister frideswide’, ornaments from the silver arcade veers from power pop to – gulp – funk, and rarely misses a beat. stand-out track has to be ‘human again’; like all their best moments, the single cashes in on the band’s key talents: great hooks and melodies, english-as-they-come concerns and an incurable kinks-esque melancholy. almost as impressive is the way ‘silver tongue’s downer pop segues into ‘storm clouds’ moshpit freak-out before the lush ‘glasshouse’ caps the album off in epic style. sharp as ever, these chaps.

bubbling under:

my main shitstainparis suit yourself

trans-love energies – death in vegas

skying – the horrors

re-issues etc:

1) this nation’s saving grace (omnibus edition)the fall

“all those whose mind entitles themselves / and whose main entitle is themselves / shall feel the wrath of my bombast!”

why you need what you need.

2) nevermind (deluxe edition) – nirvana

“come on over, shoot the shit / love you so much, it makes me sick.”

there’s not too much left to say about nevermind (apart from the fact that in utero is probably the better album). some albums are so ubiquitous, so a part of your musical upbringing, that you feel you need never hear them again. nevermind sometimes suffers for its over-familiarity, but this 20th anniversary re-issue is essential because it offers the opportunity to hear these nuggets of beautiful noise with fresh ears. ‘lithium’, ‘come as you are’ and ‘in bloom’ are obvious highlights, but more relentless tracks such as ‘breed’ and ‘endless, nameless’ still really hold their own and, all these years on, i’m still convinced that the frenzied ‘territorial pissings’ represents the album’s true teen spirit. what really attracts about this box set, though, is the extras – yes, the demos are gnarly and nasty in places, but rarities such as ‘sappy’ are a joy to re-discover, whilst b-sides such as ‘even in his youth’ and ‘curmudgeon’ prove that nirvana in their prime were a band with hooky classics to spare. never is this truer than with ‘aneurysm’, a ‘smells like teen spirit’ b-side which bastardises and betters its parent. fevered, fervent and fucked-up, it’s as fine as any nirvana song, and its inclusion on this box set is a true highlight.

3) 13 chambers wugazi

“what a tangled web we weave / when first we practice to deceive.”

like wu-tang clan? like fugazi? of course you do. and that’s why you’ll love wugazi. like all the finest mash-ups, 13 chambers takes two disparate genres and splices them together to create something exhilaratingly new. wu-tang clan’s masterful hip-hop stylings may not seem like the ideal match for fugazi’s angular punk, but 13 chambers really is something special. producers cecil otter and swiss andy skilfully meld together the a capella flow of various wu-tang members’ rhymes with fugazi’s tautest rhythms and riffs, and at its finest – on the explosive ‘plo squared’ or irrepressible ‘sweet release’ – wugazi manage to outdo their source material. there’s plenty to enjoy throughout, including ‘killa hill’s mesh of ‘r.e.c. room’ with ‘suggestion’ (one of fugazi’s finest moments), the fearsome ‘slow like that’, and the gloriously messed-up version of ol’ dirty bastard’s ‘shimmy shimmy ya’ on ‘‘forensic shimmy’. 13 chambers is pretty reliant on fugazi’s later, lesser material, and i personally would have preferred more from their blistering early albums, but that’s a minor criticism; wugazi is a mash-up masterclass. plus you can get it here, for free: http://wugazi.com. you’re welcome.

4) siamese dream (deluxe edition)smashing pumpkins

“i’m all by myself / as i’ve always felt.”

like nevermind, siamese dream soundtracked my late teens, and songs like ‘soma’ still spin me dizzy, sentimental bugger that i am. but whereas nirvana’s stock has risen over the years, the pumpkins are rarely spoken of in reverential tones. i’m not surprised, really; after 1993’s siamese dream, billy corgan’s band never again captured such a sublime sound, opting instead for whiny, bloated epics that i, for one, could live without. but this, their second album, is a double corker. teeming with grunge monsters like ‘cherub rock’ and ‘geek usa’ , as well as atmospheric anthems such as ‘today’ and ‘disarm’, siamese dream is a near-faultless classic of its time. this recently rereleased deluxe version (like their debut gish) is crammed with lovely extras – demos, session mixes, as well as guitar-strangling tracks such as ‘pissant’ and the berserker ‘hello kitty kat’ which prove that, for a while – when my hair was as long and ill-fitting as my t-shirts – smashing pumpkins made a magnificent noise.

5) psychocandy the jesus and mary chain

“i’m in love with myself / there’s nothing else but me.”

like a velvet underground for the mid-80s, the jesus and mary chain swung violently between sugar-sprinkled pop beauties and feedback-frenzied punk blasts to create their iconic debut. though later albums stripped back some of the volume, psychocandy revels in white noise and aggression, especially throughout the nihilistic rushes of  ‘the living end’‘taste the floor’, ‘inside me’, and the downright messed-up ‘in a hole’ (“god spits / on my soul”). elsewhere, singles ‘just like honey’ and ‘never understand’ prove that the reid brothers could handle a tune when they chose to. this re-issue adds an army of noisy b-sides, debut single / call-to-arms ‘upside down’, as well as a stack of peel sessions which outdo many of the original versions by piling on yet more sheets of william reid’s wickedly distorted white noise. furthermore, my old copy of psychocandy always sounded too quiet, so this re-issue is especially satisfying: many of jamc’s songs need to be blasted loudand now they can be.

happy new year. now, turn that racket up.

bubbling under:

the marshall suite – the fall

some girlsthe rolling stones

before the fall – various artists

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5 Responses to “top noises of 2011”

  1. MarcNash (@21stCscribe) 30/12/2011 at 20:02 #

    “Don’t play no game”… by the Beastie’s is an awesome track and have you seen the hilarious video for it? The Beastie’s are top boys no doubt.

    You ommitted the Liars double CD “Sisterworld” where they do their usual art noise tracks and then do the whole thing again with different versions. Far better when you remix your own stuff, with different instruments rather than bits of digitised tape…

    I’ll give the deus a go, not familiar with his ouevre…

    Cheers

    Marc

    • Dan Lewis 31/12/2011 at 11:30 #

      great track and video, the beastie’s were on a roll in 2011.
      i really liked that liars album too, though i didn’t give the remixes much time. i’m going to be a pedantic bell-end and say that it came out in 2010, though…
      if you go deus crazy, leave the newer stuff and go for ‘the ideal crash’ or first 2 albums. nice and beefhearty.
      happy new year!

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