Ludicrously late I know ( it's an annual tradition! ) ... but here's my pick of 2011's musical delights.
Yet again, female artists have dominated the charts ( these are the UK pop charts I'm talking about here, can't really comment on anywhere else ) which is A Good Thing, especially if they can combat the germ-like spread of boybands like The Wanted, One Direction etc. Surely the world's had enough of these cloned pretty boys? I certainly have.
Probably the most ubiquitous, ever-present song of the year was Lana Del Rey's doomy, haunting Video Games. The first time I heard it I was a bit non-plussed but its retro romanticism grew on me until it became a real favourite. There's been a lot of talk recently on t'internet ( and in the "real" world ) about the lovely, permanently-pouting Ms. Del Rey's "authenticity" or lack thereof. As if that's ever mattered in pop music. What does matter is that Video Games is a great song and is seemingly resistant to the endless streams of remixes that have washed over it. It remains to be seen if the singer herself has any more tricks up her designer sleeves...
You Da One
We Found Love ( with Calvin Harris )
Take Care ( with Drake )
...dancefloor-conquering monsters all. Is there no stopping her? Let's hope not.
When it comes to Adele you have to wheel out that word "ubiquitous" again. It's been scientifically proven that, in 2011, nobody in the British Isles was more than 75 seconds away from hearing an Adele song. ( Although I may have made up that statistic it sounds about right. )
While I like Adele's amazing, earthy voice more than a lot of her songs, which are often too easy-listening for my liking, she did bring us these cracking singles:
Someone Like You
Rolling In The Deep
Set Fire To The Rain
Rumour Has It
...which was good of her...
And then there's Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta or Lady Gaga to you and me. Last year ( still can't get used to 2011 being "last year" ) saw the diminutive diva launch her second album with more huge arena shows, more outrageous costumes, more wigs, more saxophones ( RIP Clarence ), more everything. And probably more cowbell, too. And these wonderful songs:
Born This Way
The Edge Of Glory
Marry The Night
Florence and her Machine finally made a comeback with the long-awaited second album, Ceremonials. In a similar vein to Gaga, Ms. Welch confounded anyone who might have expected a more stripped-down sound this time by turning everything up to 11 and then sprinkling the results with cyber-mutant-pixie-dust. Or something. I haven't listened to the album as much as I'd like as it's permanently welded into Sarah's car stereo, but it does sound amazing, especially the head-spinning Shake It Out. Sarah, Sophie and I are going to experience the Machine age later in the year when we go and see Flo and co. play live in Cardiff. And supported by The Horrors, too! Can't wait!
Meanwhile, in the blinged-up, shot-up, spliffed-up world of Hip Hop the biggest, baddest rappers of them all, Jay-Z and Kanye West, teamed up to become a fire-breathing Raposaurus
( Rap-tor? ) that stomped over all opposition with their album Watch The Throne.
I only got round to buying the album itself last weekend, so I'm still trying to take it all in: a dark, powerful set of unconventional songs and raps, with some awesome production and the feeling that here you have two rappers still at the top of their game, still with much to give and to prove, even after all this time. Standout tracks:
Why I Love You
No Church In The Wild
N****s In Paris
Why is this man covering his ears? Perhaps he's trying to keep his brain in place after melting it with hypersonic Dubstep. This is Skrillex and he's been bringing the noise this year with:
Scary Monsters And Nice Sprites
Breakin' A Sweat
Dubstep is an almost unexplainable subgenre of Hip Hop / Grime / Drum 'n' Bass / whatever you want to call it, and can be the most exciting or most irritating sound around, with its seemingly-random bloops and bleeps and time-changes. James is just getting into Dubstep ( and music in general ) and it'll be interesting to see if he sticks with it.
Also burning up the dance-floors in 2011 were:
Hello by Martin Solveig & Dragonette
Bounce by Calvin Harris & Kelis
Louder by DJ Fresh
Good Feeling by Flo Rida
Go by Delilah
Earthquake by Labrinth ( yes, he spells it like that ) & Tinie Tempah ( can any of these guys spell? )
Youngster by Rizzle Kicks ( great Clash sample! )
Levels by Avicii
"But what of guitar bands?" I hear you say,"Where were they in 2011?"
( Actually that's just the voices in my head talking, but I'll try to answer them anyway... )
It seemed to me to be yet another dull year for guitar bands. I heard lots of bands on the radio - You Me At Six, Band Of Skulls, Bring Me The Horizon, to name a few - who sounded pretty good for the duration of a song, but who I instantly forgot once their 3 minutes were up. One exception were The Vaccines, indie's Great White Hopes of 2011. Their twangy, windswept sound reminded me of The Strokes, The Ramones and The Jesus & Mary Chain, with a dash of very English fatalism... and some cool song titles:
Post Breakup Sex
If You Wanna
Wreckin' Bar ( Ra Ra Ra )
And they had gratuitous pictures of girl drummers flashing on their album sleeve. What more could you want?
But the best band of the year for me were The Horrors, former Goth Punk revivalists turned purveyors of epic soundscapes, creators of the instant-classic album, Skying. Blending Psychedelia, Goth, '80s Indie and even the dreaded Shoegazing with their own louche attitude and intensity, Faris and the boys make it all look easy. But it isn't. It takes a band of exceptional talent and vision to produce songs like
I Can See Through You
Changing The Rain
and my favourite song of the year: Still Life
The Horrors were fantastic supporting Primal Scream at the Eden Project ( gig of the year! ) and I'm looking forward to seeing them again, supporting Florence, as mentioned above.
Before I wrap this list up with the now-traditional admission that I've probably missed out loads of good stuff, I'll just give a shout-out to a few random songs that caught my ear last year:
Rope by Foo Fighters
L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N by Noah And The Whale
Don't Sit Down 'Cos I've Moved Your Chair by Arctic Monkeys
Rewired by Kasabian
Thank you and good night...