The Rainmaker’s top 5 albums of 2011
After my co-author, the Dedicated Apeman opened the blog slagging off our blog name and declaring ‘some things are just shit’, I thought I’d begin my section of the blog on a more happy note. First off the blog name is AWESOME and that’s a fact. The combined power of Tom Waits and a music related quote might just be too much for some people to take… Also I will be writing under the name The Rainmaker and its not a fusion of some kinks songs, its just one, admittedly a tad weird, song.
Anyway, seeing as it’s basically the end of the year now, here is a list of my top 5 albums of the year.
5 – Tom Waits – Bad As Me
This year saw a new release from the legendary Tom Waits, his last collection of all new songs being 2004’s Real Gone. This album, however, is as good as anything he put out back in his heyday of Small Change or Blue Valentine. In many ways this is an accessible introduction to everything he has done previously. Tracks like Face To The Highway and Back In The Crowd (*coughcough*) recall his early ballads, while the raucous album opener Chicago and the storming Hell Broke Luce are as good as any of his songs on Bone Machine or Rain Dogs. This is Tom Waits at his best and it is impossible for anyone not to like it. If it can be criticised as nothing new then that is merely testament to the inventiveness of one of the greatest songwriters of all time, that such a radical album can be called ‘normal’. Here’s the title track, and potential best song on the album.
4 – PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
PJ Harvey is a bit of a legend herself, having played gigs on the same bill as Nirvana, inspirng artists like Florence and the Machine and with a stubborn refusal to conform to any genre from grunge to americana to soft piano songs. This album is another massive change-up. Recorded in a church in Dorset, and with lyrics inspired by conficts from World War One to the Iraq war, this is an incredibly deep and yest beautiful look at issues like nationalism, identity and, mainly, war. But don’t let this scare you off. This is no prog-rock 5 hour epic. Instead the songs are perfectly formed and flow brilliantly. Yes, it may take a lot of listens before it really ‘clicks’ with you, but the end result is so unbelievably worth it that this is undeniably one of the greatest albums she’s ever released and by winning the Mercury Music Award proved that this is definitely one of the best albums of 2011. Here is the performance that turned me on to this album, on later with Jools.
3 – Cage The Elephant – Thank You Happy Birthday
Cage The Elephant followed up their awesome first album with a radical shift in direction. Where they had drawn on Led Zeppelin and Foo Fighters for that album, here they’re channeling the rawer alternative sound of The Pixies or Dinosaur Jr. It’s a rawer, angrier album than before, but not without their trademark sense of humour. Songs like Indie Kidz and Sabertooth Tiger take the piss very effectively, but this album hits greatness with the deeper and heavier songs. Who can resist the power of Aberdeen or 1st track Always Something? This is a band and an album that restores faith in the power and the quality of true rock music, and live, they certainly live up to their recordings, even bringing in Dave fucking Grohl to play drums for them when their drummer got ill. The best song on the album is undoubtedly the first single Shake Me Down, the only song I know with TWO videos that are both incredible. While I think you should also watch the first one they made, the second ‘official’ one is slightly better so here it is…
2 – tUnE-yArDs – W H O K I L L
Yes, that’s a very strangely spelt album. It has funny capitals on the band name and inexplicable spaces in the album title. Weirdly, it’s actually quite suitable. Tune-Yards ispretty much the work of one woman, Merrill Garbus, but the sound she makes is mind-blowing. It’s a fusion of African rhythms and percussion, funk basslines, outrageous brass, lilting ukelele and some of the most impressive singing you will ever hear. This would be good enough alone, but she combines this incredible music with fantastic witty, honest and cutting lyrics, riffing on patriotism, race, body image, being a ‘gangsta’ and and even rioting across the course of the record. This is the type of record that Friendly Fires would dream of being able to make. It’s diffiult to express how amazing this album really is without sounding like a massive pillock, so I’ll leave it up to the lead single off the album to try and persuade you of the awesomeness that this album contains.
I would love to leave it there but this is also an artist that needs to be seen to be believed so here’s a song performed completely live.
1 – Tom Williams and the Boat – Too Slow
And so we come to my favourite album of 2011, and I’m guessing (unless you’re one of the friends who lets me rant about music at you) you’ve never heard of the band or the album (or any of the songs for that matter). In fact, I’m fairly sure that putting an album by an unsigned band that no one has ever heard of makes me punch-in-the-face-worthy and facing severe accusations of being a hipster. But this album, man… this album…
Musically it sits somewhere between Arcade Fire and acoustic Radiohead: guitar driven but with violin woven throughout, with a rhythm section of drums, bass and piano perfectly holding it all together. But lyrically is where the album really shines, lying somewhere between Bob Dylan and Nick Cave. Tom writes with a fusion of ironic self-mockery and incredibly touching honesty and frankness that never grates. A particular favourite of mine is the song Wouldn’t Women Be Sweet that varies from obvious piss-taking (“Met you in a bar in 2003 / we started going out immediately / thought it would be fun, thought it would be easy / didn’t realise you were a maniac.”) and yet hits a surprisingly deep emotional climax (“You’ll make some other man’s life a misery / but I don’t care as long as it’s not me.”) Many of the songs are stories, from the bleak unemployed parable that is title track Too Slow to the tale of the mistaken suicide bomber in Voicemail (how many other artists have ever written about terrorists?), but no two songs run the same way.
This album can be as nasty as it can be tender from the smooth and poetic Denmark to the angry and storming See My Evil. Here are two songs from the record, that I hope can cover exactly what this band is capable of. The first is the first song of theirs I ever heard, Concentrate, that only struck me two weeks after I had last heard it on BBC 6music, and the second is the second song I heard, after I googled what little I could remember from hearing them before in an attempt to find out who it was who wrote Concentrate.