Music of 2011, part four

12th February 2012 – 3.41 pm

Not quite before the end of the first month of 2012, I present my last collection of music from 2011. There is plenty to like here but I am sure I put off writing these reviews because of not wanting to revisit one album in particular. Had I done this earlier I could have chucked it away and had a much nicer playlist to listen through. Either way, now I can look forwards to the new music of 2012.

Echoey percussion opens album Geidi Primes by Grimes, before whispy vocals punctuate each bar. It's delightfully quirky, more so when the vocals become off-set by half-a-bar later in the song. Second track Sardaukar Levenbrech continues along the same trend but on an amazing tangent that takes the music and vocals on an oriental tour. And so goes the album. Catchy but somewhat incorporeal beats and vocals not so much thumping along but merrily taking a stroll down a canal path. A slight sense of urgency emerges with Avi but is dispelled again by the time Gambang appears, with its stilted loop. Geidi Primes is a wonderful collection of interesting and atmospheric songs.

I picked up The Devil's Walk in Sister Ray in London and, boy, do I regret it. I thought I recognised Apparat as a name I was looking out for. Or maybe it was the album art. I don't know. And as I was looking to buy some new music and the in-shop blurb was positive I decided to take the chance. I've tried to like the music but it is tedious monotony, either up-beat using the same tick-tock rhythm or a drearily slow snooze-fest topped with unremarkable vocals. Each track takes too long to start and too long to stop, not really knowing what they want to achieve, making it feel like an album of final songs, each one trying to be more inflated and full of faux-meaning than the last. I must remember that in-shop blurb is written to make you buy what it's selling, and that I need to be more discerning in the future. And now I can delete this crap from my iPod.

New punk band from Denmark Iceage are causing quite a stir at the moment, and they are definitely a band I recognise when I pick up their debut album New Brigade in Sister Ray. The album begins quite unassumingly, with just a sampled noise being played back a few times, but kicks off properly with White Rune. The music is pretty much what you'd expect from a good punk band, being noisy guitars and fast drumming. The vocals are suitably lo-fi and, although a little deeper than I would perhaps normally be comfortable listening to, work well for the overall sound. Iceage pound their way through twelve tracks of high-intensity music that doesn't quite tip the 25-minute mark, and it's gorgeous.

Not an album but an EP, but this release from Slowdance is worth including. Bright and poppy, we get four tracks of really catchy music on Light and Color, in both English and French. The EP starts with the fabulous Cake, where perhaps my attraction to the French language biases me somewhat, but the tune bops along beautifully with intermittent rumbles from the drums. And to prove it's not just the French singing that appeals to me, Sweetness and Spell keep the allure going, before climaxing in French with Les Reines. The singing is great, the music is nicely measured, and, perhaps best of all, the EP is available for whatever you want to pay for it, including nothing. Light and Color is definitely worth a look, and I'm going to be watching out for more from Slowdance.

I have to admit that I never really got in to Sleater-Kinney, which potentially makes the supergroup element of Wild Flag less important to me than simply being the next project of Mary Timony. And when the writing duties seem to be split between the different members of the band there definitely seems to be Sleater-Kinney music and Mary Timony music. This provides both the high and low point of the album for me, as Glass Tambourine is unfortunately Mary Timony at her most mechanical. Even though the introduction and bridge are energetic and interesting the song slows down to a snail's pace and doesn't really go anywhere. But contrast it against Something Came Over Me and you find the brilliance that Timony is capable of. Superficially similar in style to Glass Tambourine, also giving it the Timony hallmarks, the song is full of passion and honesty that comes across very clearly and, for me, makes getting this debut album worth it just for this song. There is much more to like, though. Opening track Romance is a great way to start the album and hooks me in to Carrie Brownstein's vocals, carried on through the exciting Short Version, and as each track swaps between the two vocalists there is a neat texture across the album. Wild Flag pretty much pulls together the best parts of Sleater-Kinney and Mary Timony in to a neat bundle, and I hope they continue to stimulate each other like this.

Eponymous debut album from SBTRKT starts off sounding a little like Apparat, but thankfully not much and not for long. I saw SBTRKT support Holy Fuck and although the performance of one man in an Aztec mask standing behind some samplers wasn't up to much I found the music to be interesting. With some buzz surrounding this album I thought I'd pick it up and see if I would remember much of the gig. Not really, no. There are guest vocalists aplenty on the album, the first one introduced in second track Hold On, which isn't really a problem but vocals tend to push the music in to the background, particularly in this genre. As I was initially attracted to the music I was hoping to hear more of that instead of some generic R&B warbling. It's fourth track Sanctuary where the music first really comes to the foreground, and it's a great track. It's a shame that there then are four more tracks where vocals grab all the emphasis, until Ready Set Loop, although that's more to do with my expectations than a problem with the album itself. Overall, it's a good album and worth listening to, but I was hoping for more music and less vocals, which ironically is opposite to what I wanted to see live.

Searching for some new music to end the year on brings up Unknown Mortal Orchestra and their eponymous album. A sampler song that gave me a taste of the album turns out to be first track FFunny FFrends and is so catchy and different from what can normally be heard that I buy the album on the strength of that alone. The perky drum beat and simple guitar riff play behind some wonderfully distorted vocals, making me bop along to the song. I don't think the rest of the album quite lives up to my expectations, but all the songs are along the same lines and are certainly good to listen to, just not quite as immediate as the first track. There are still some jolly good songs to enjoy, such as Thought Ballune, making the album a good listen from start to end, if not quite at the level I was expecting.

I have no idea how to pronounce The Dø which probably makes it just as well that I can order on-line. I do no research for this album beyond reading a review in the NME, but I think I'm okay at reading between the lines of their reviews these days. And Both Ways Open Jaws is a rather splendid find. The album really gets going with second track Gonna Be Sick, before stepping up a gear with the super-poppy Too Insistent, only to be surpassed immediately in poppiness by the wonderful Bohemian Dances. But trying to find the poppiest song on the album is a futile endeavour, as one song after another brings girlish glee to my grin with bright music and beautifully melodic vocals brought together. The Dø have produced a fabulous second offering, enough to make me think about getting their debut too.

My last dip in to new music for 2011 is second album Days by Real Estate. I find a track on-line that sounds pleasant enough and suggests I'm not about to make a mistake, so pick up the album and put it on rotation. And it is pleasant enough, with jangly guitars creating some straightforward songs that flow nicely and are relaxing to listen to. It all sounds rather similar after a while, to the point where I keep feeling convinced that at least one song is reprised later in the album, but it never gets repetitive in a bad way. I suppose all the songs end up feeling anonymous because none really stand out, but neither do any of them become a drag. Even if it isn't particularly outstanding, Days is a positive addition to my catalogue.

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