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Album Of The Year 2011

Okay, let’s ease into this nice and gently with your basic ‘review of the year’ post.

I reckon I’ve probably bought about a dozen albums this year (a little below par, truth be told) and that’s physically bought – on shiny silver discs – not downloaded, legally or illegally. Why I won’t buy downloads could be the topic of another post, but for the moment, let’s just assume it’s because I like owning stuff. Stuff that I can look at. Stuff that I can hold. Stuff that I can digitize, stick in the loft and then never see ever again…

Anyway; albums of 2011. There was A Map Of The Floating City by the mad scientist of pop, Thomas Dolby (his first studio album for nearly twenty years), an oddly titled and hugely disappointing concept album from Coldplay (Mylo Xyloto), a lovely collection of electro tunes from Metronomy (The English Riviera) and more wailing from Florence + The Machine with their fantastic second album Ceremonials. Polly J Harvey won her second Mercury music prize with the astounding Let England Shake and for Elbow, there was the small matter of what to do after the unparalleled success of 2008′s The Seldom Seen Kid; Build A Rocket, Boys! doesn’t quite manage it, but it’s still a mighty fine album (and Guy Garvey is the best frontsman on the live circuit today). Which brings us to the Fleet Foxes.

The follow-up to their critically acclaimed (and eponymous) debut album, Helplessness Blues sees the band being a little less weirdy beardy, and starting to rock a little. Just a little mind you; the close harmonics and acoustic instrumentation are still there, but this definitely feels like a band who have gained a little confidence in their art.

From the very first line of Montezuma to the surprising coda that is Grown Ocean (it almost feels like a bonus track after the previous track ends so wistfully), Helplessness Blues is nothing short of beautiful. The opening four tracks in particular, stand together and form a supremely strong base from which the rest of the album can grow.

And then there’s the title track itself; its opening stanza stops me in my tracks every time I hear it sung, so much so, that I feel I may have to reproduce it here in full:

“I was raised up believing I was somehow unique / Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes, unique in each way you can see / And now after some thinking, I’d say I’d rather be / A functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me / But I don’t, I don’t know what that will be / I’ll get back to you someday soon you will see”

For the first part of this, the instrumentation is barely more than a quiet strumming below Robin Pecknold’s vocals, but then it builds such that the final two lines strike with a surprising weight; this continues into what might be loosely considered the second verse, before a complete change of pace (and key) and everything suddenly gets a whole lot dreamier. It’s fantastic stuff.

After that we get a beautiful little instrumental (The Cascades, which sounds a bit like early Genesis) and then the “old news” of Lorelai and the epic The Shrine / An Argument; an incredibly dynamic track with sections of heavy strumming, gentle acoustics and the occasional discordant horn. And then there’s the not-quite-final-track, Blue Spotted Tail; quiet, dainty and (sorry, here’s that word again) utterly beautiful.

Helplessness Blues really is a wonderful album. As I’ve listened to it again this afternoon, I have absolutely no qualms recommending it and, despite the double-dip ending, am convinced I’ll be revisiting it for years to come. And that’s why it’s my Album Of The Year 2011.

Bloody awful cover art though…


Categorised as: Music

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