Friends of DOA – Best of 2011

Wolves in the Throne Room - Celestial Lineage

Wolves in the Throne Room - Celestial Lineage

David Armes (Last Harbour / Little Red Rabbit Records label):

Wolves In The Throne Room – Celestial Lineage

In 2011 I saw more live music than heard new albums, so that’s my compass.  From Björk at the god-awful Bestival to John Tilbury‘s Beckett piece in a freezing church to Part Chimp in an old mill to Lanterns on the Lake in Paris, I feel privileged to have seen some spectacular music happen. But nothing quite compares to Wolves in the Throne Room at Supersonic Festival in Birmingham, even if my feet were stuck to the beer-sodden floor the entire set.

I would never claim to know much about black metal but in the case of Celestial Lineage, Wolves’ fourth album and also the last part of a trilogy, the sheer scope and ambition of their music has the power to transcend mere labelling.  Art never occurs in a vacuum but one rare feat is to create an object that seems to represent only its own world.  Celestial Lineage does that.  You sink into it, are held by it, float through it. The record seems to be of one piece – the pace and fades of the transitions are perfectly judged, never breaking the listener’s concentration.  The feeling stays with you long after the record has finished.  Also, I don’t think many records rooted in black metal feature a grand harp.  Celestial Lineage does. More power to Wolves In The Throne Room.

Dirty Beaches - Badlands

Dirty Beaches - Badlands

James Nicholls (Fire Records):

Dirty Beaches – Badlands

Cutting room floor noir soundtracked by the as yet disproven collaboration between Roy Orbison and Roland S Howard or just some guy over-dubbing his vocals and overdriven axe onto his parents 1950s inspired record collection?  It’s the sound of something but I still haven’t figured that out and unlike so many records I just can’t see this out-staying its welcome.  I’ve heard people argue that what Alex Zhang Hungtai does is pretty simple to replicate but while on face value that might be true this record gives me something new every time I drop the needle and the impossibly catchy “Lord Knows Best” starts chiming out of my battered old AR18s.  “Speedway King,” like a lot of this album, reminds me of all the best bits of Aussie duo HTRK’s appropriately titled debut Nostalgia and the dense atmospheric Lynchian pulse of “Black Nylon” could be ruined into a hit record if someone got their slutty vocals all over it.  But like the last drink of the night it’s “Hotel” that really sends me into the album’s smoke filled dreamland.  Daunting yet delicate synth over a never ending sample with an appropriate dose of complimentary hiss.  Studied yet chaotic, it’s what holds this relatively short album together.  Apparently he’s been doing this for years without anyone noticing but perhaps it’s all the better for it. Badlands sounds so aged and world-weary that even the more energetic tracks like “Sweet 17” sound like this late night radio show of an album is signing off for the final time.  Dirty Beaches are no doubt here to stay but Badlands is such a beautiful way to say goodbye.

Dirty Beaches – “Lord Know Best”

The War On Drugs - Slave Ambient

The War On Drugs - Slave Ambient

Mac McCaughan (Superchunk / Portastatic / Merge Records):

Of course the records I’ve listened to most this year have been albums we put out on Merge, but I disqualify those from year-end consideration in the interest of not coming off as a shill!

A lot of what I end up listening to the most initially grabs me in a moment of “this reminds me of something from 1983/1987/1995” etc — maybe that’s a function of me just being incredibly old, or my tastes not evolving or something, but usually even when a record reminds me of something I grew up loving, it only stays in rotation if it’s bringing something of its own to the table. Four new albums I’ve enjoyed immensely this year are Yuck’s debut, Real Estate’s Days, Dum Dum Girls’ latest, and for me the most compelling of the four (perhaps because it’s the hardest to nail down) would be War On Drugs’ Slave Ambient album. These are all guitar-driven records with songs that are catchy and engaging but elusive enough to bring me back over and over. The moments that brought me in initially warmed my heart with glimmers of Dinosaur Jr, REM/Feelies, Pretenders, and Go-Betweens/Blue Aeroplanes/something?, respectively, but again if the artists in question were just throwbacks I wouldn’t still be listening to all of these.

The War On Drugs – “Baby Missiles”

Pete Astor

Pete Astor

Pete Astor (Ellis Island Sound / The Loft / solo artist):

‘Music is my first love…’ etc.

Whether we like it or not, John Miles’ anthem “Music” will – just like Spinal Tap – comes true for us all in the end (the full, heart-breaking lyric is here).

So, my favourite music of 2011; well, really do you actually want to know? The truth is, not Girls, Veronica Falls, Little Dragon or any number of fantastic new records by beautiful young people, but two things, which mean something to me.

Firstly, it’s my friend David’s compilation Private Press Porn King, where a host of terrifyingly obscure records have been compiled for the listening pleasure of the typically jaded music soul: the guy who has everything.  This, from the sleeve note, makes the point beautifully: “There comes a time when all the rabid oft pointless junkie fix record buy sprees; guilt + shame + penury – when you realise that you HAVE IT ALL – the true Goodies – the Gene Clarks/ Left Bankes/milkshakes of life’s pageantry […]… I was getting desperate man I was even considering JAZZ… but then – hola! PRIVATE PRESS: the BIZARRE + FRIGHTENING WORLD OF!”

Well, what more can I say? As you probably know private press records are those weird things that odd individuals decided that they had to press up themselves (because – of course – no one else would). So, what you get are a whole bunch of very well-wrought tracks, usually echoing rock’s golden age (‘60s/‘70s) in various stages of competence and style.

And the thing that you can’t help noticing is how, when you look at the dates of the tracks, is that they’re all great, but they’re all just a little bit late.  So, Anonymous and his Byrdsy psychedelic garage-folk in 1976?! You get the picture. But the commitment is total, and because there was absolutely no chance that anybody would ever buy it (because nobody gave a shit), it’s mad and lovely.

And the other one is my favourite Dylan album, Love and Theft. I just can’t leave it alone. I’m not going to even try and justify its aesthetic worth or anything; it’s just the one that – with the particular artistic colossus that is Bob Dylan – I’ve completely fallen for. Of course it’s not his best – that’s not the point. It’s his best for me, it’s my Dylan album.  With its ‘old-weird-America’ lyrical kaleidoscope and his shit-hot band playing the same old chords, beautifully.

Yup, we all turn into Harvey Pekar eventually; and this is my year in music.

Second Language Podcast No.12 (featuring Pete Astor discussing his recent Songbox album and more)