Friends of DOA – Best of 2011

The Beach Boys - The SMiLE Sessions

The Beach Boys - The SMiLE Sessions

Damon Krukowski (Damon & Naomi):

The Beach Boys – The SMiLE Sessions

My favorite release of 2011 was meant to have been released in 1967.  The Beach Boys’ SMiLE is completely mad, and a delight to listen to in this new semi-coherent form. I didn’t spring for the monster box set, with the 3D artwork and all the additional outtakes (which I’m sure are interesting), but really it’s that dense original album itself that fascinates me, with its strange set of associations (Plymouth Rock/the worms underneath it), and melodies that veer from polished pop (“Surf’s Up”) to lysergic incoherence (“Love To Say Dada”).  I have to admit that some of the lyrics, which were never clear enough to make out on my old bootleg copy, are now all too audible – Van Dyke Parks must really have been as pretentious then as Mike Love thought – but in combination with Brian Wilson’s sandbox approach to production, it makes for a kind of Californian Os Mutantes: our own Tropicalia.

The Beach Boys – “Heroes And Villains”

Mist - House

Mist - House

Dom Martin (The Great Pop Supplement label):

Mist – House

One of the trickiest things to keep up with this past year has been the sheer deluge of releases from the extended Emeralds family; cassettes, CDRs, solo projects galore – 2 or 3 of which make their way pretty easily into my own top 5 for the year. While one of these – Get Lost by Mark McGuire – deserves an honourable mention, it’s one of his bandmate John Elliott’s several side projects, Mist, which gets my vote. An incredible, no, epic double LP of kraut-tinged, cosmic electronica. It’s certainly the album I’ve found myself returning to most frequently this year… killer stuff.

Mist – “Twin Lanes”

http://editionsmego.com/media/spectrum_spools_track/36/1/01_Twin_Lanes-original.mp3

Eleanor Friedberger - Last Summer

Eleanor Friedberger - Last Summer

Ben Ayres (Cornershop / Rough Trade Records):

Eleanor FriedbergerLast Summer

My album of the year is Eleanor Friedberger’s first solo album Last Summer. It’s a really solid, interesting, ambitious, melodic and imaginative album from start to finish. I’ve always loved all of her The Fiery Furnaces’ output; Eleanor alongside brother Matt have recorded a body of work that I believe to be light years ahead and beyond many contemporaries as well as artists that have been around much longer.  I think they are criminally underrated. Blueberry Boat alone is a modern masterpiece and every extra track and b-side is interesting and pushing boundaries. But back to Eleanor’s album, it effortlessly stands up well alongside The Furnaces impressive collection of work. I saw her perform many of the songs acoustically (as well as a handful of newer songs) in Rough Trade West on Talbot Road earlier this autumn and it was magical.

Eleanor Friedberger – “My Mistakes”

http://www.magnetmagazine.com/audio/MyMistakes.mp3

Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring For My Halo

Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring For My Halo

Xavier Watkins (Fuzzy Lights):

Kurt VileSmoke Ring For My Halo

It’s always a little tricky to decide which album is your ‘favourite,’ and even more so when trying to decide for a defined period of time. So many criteria can make an album stand out; from emotional impact to innovation, from production to cohesion, or just sometimes something you can’t quite put your finger on.

If I’m honest, and this is probably a choice which is going to come at the top of quite a few lists this year, the album which has rotated the most on our turntable is Kurt Vile’s Smoke Ring for My Halo. This one falls in that latter category. There is an inherent familiarity in this record, a warmth that instantly makes you feel like you’re having a pint with a mate down the pub, and having a chat about day to day life, how difficult or beautiful it can be. There is also a ragged beauty in these songs, a bit like Quasimodo singing his love to Esmeralda from the top of Notre Dame (not the Disney remake though), and it’s probably that touching fragility combined with catchy melodies and playful production that make this album so great – actually scrap that, it’s just bloody good songs.

Also, who would have thought using effect pedals on an acoustic guitar could sound so good? If I’ve learnt one thing listening to this record, it’s that something, however cheesy it can be in people’s minds, will sound amazing if it’s used in the right way.

Kurt Vile – “Jesus Fever”

http://www.magnetmagazine.com/audio/JesusFever.mp3

North Sea Radio Orchestra - I A Moon

North Sea Radio Orchestra - I A Moon

Michael Doward (Samson & Delilah):

North Sea Radio Orchestra I A Moon

I hadn’t realised what a long time it had been since a group had made me so excited about their music that I had to immediately find everything they had done and listen to it obsessively. But that’s what North Sea Radio Orchestra did when I heard “Morpheus Miracle Maker” the lead track from their third album I A Moon on Stuart Maconie.  I had to wait four excruciating weeks before the album was released and I got it on the day (another, now rare, occurrence). A perfect blend of beautiful arrangements, eclectic instrumentation and the most pure and heart-felt vocals I’ve ever heard. Who would think chamber pop could be so unpretentious and rewarding? Most definitely album of the year and a contender for best album ever.