My albums of 2011

I didn’t think that I’d acquired many new albums in 2011, but I’ve just checked and my collection grew by 21 items (singles, EPs and albums), which was more than last year.

Here are my highlights, and unlike last year I’m starting with my favourite and working backwards.

1. Machine Head — Unto The Locust

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There have been some great metal albums released in 2011, by some major bands. But for me this has been the best: solid, tight, melodic, dynamic, perfect.

I thought their last album, The Blackening, was great—it was awarded Roadrunner Records’ “Album of the Century” after all. They seem to have either equalled or even excelled with this one. It’s a cracker of an album.

During the intro and outro of “Who We Are” on the recently finished Eighth Plague tour, Machine Head displayed fan testimonials on their projection screens that had been captured at that nights’ show.

The shots featured die hard fans that had stood in line for up to 10 hours before the doors opened, who, for their their dedication and passion, had their faces and messages shown on the three on-stage screens.

They became known as The Faces of The Eighth Plague.

Stand-out track: Who We Are

2. Mastodon — The Hunter

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My cousin Alan claims that Mastodon albums never release all their secrets on the first couple of listens. I like that quotation. There is an implication that there is a depth to Mastodon’s songs.

I’ve blogged elsewhere about this album, so I won’t repeat myself, suffice to say that even if the song Blasteroid is in the wrong place on the album this is one very solid, beautiful album.

Stand-out track: Curl of the Burl

3. Anthrax — Worship Music

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I’m going to be honest: I was sceptical about former, ‘classic’ Anthrax-frontman Joey Belladonna returning to the fold; I always preferred John Bush’s voice. But WOW! they delivered one killer album, and Belladonna’s vocals are the best they have ever been on record.

Stand-out track: In The End

4. Metallica – Beyond Magnetic EP

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The cynic might argue that Metallica only put out the Beyond Magnetic EP in light of the poor reviews and sales of their Lulu collaboration with former Velvet Underground frontman Lou Reed. The official reason was that it was to coincide with Metallica’s 30 anniversary celebrations in San Francisco.

Whatever the reason: four great songs, and I’m looking forward to whatever comes next from Metallica HQ.

Stand-out song: Hell and Back

5. Voivod — To The Death 84

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This is a demo tape that got lucky and it makes Voivod sound as new and exciting as when I first heard the opening chords of Killing Technology some time in 1987.

What makes it for me is vocalist Piggy’s spoken parts between songs: it’s up-close and personal, listening in to the Voivod rehearsal space. Great stuff!

Stand-out song: Hell Driver

6. Lou Reed & Metallica — Lulu

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Let’s make no bones about it: this is not a comfortable album to listen to. But I can’t help liking it. In many ways it reminds me of some of the twentieth century composers whose works I used to sing in the National Youth Choir of Great Britain. Those were pieces that you hated on first sing-through but became a part of you the more you got inside them.

The critics have slammed this album. The fans have decried it and despaired about what Metallica will come out with next. But they miss the point: this is not a Metallica album. It’s a collaboration. It’s a Lou Reed album with the four members of Metallica as backing band. If anything it is art.

It’s bold. It’s different. And I really like it.

Stand-out track: Dragon

7. Opeth — Heritage

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This album took a good few listens to, and a good few weeks of not listening to it in between, before I finally ‘got’ it. It’s a good album, not a great album, but I will continue to listen to it… even if I do really miss that Opeth fusion of heavy and quietly melodic.

Stand-out track: Häxprocess

8. Megadeth — Th1rt3en

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If I’m honest, I was a little disappointed with Megadeth’s thirteen studio album. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a great metal record. But for Megadeth it just feels… lazy. It doesn’t have the hunger of 2007′s United Abominations or the punch of 2009′s Endgame.

Guitarist Chris Broderick said that he could hear elements of the different eras of Megadeth in the various songs. I’m not surprised: some of these are ‘left-over’ songs from previous albums, and one (‘Millennium of the Blind’) is a re-recording.

Stand-out track: Never Dead

9. Radiohead — The King of Limbs

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This was an unexpected album for me this year but it’s a great album for listening to in a darkened room late at night. It’s like 2011′s answer to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.

Stand-out track: Lotus Flower

10. Cavalera Conspiracy — Blunt Force Trauma

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For their second album guitarist/vocalist/song-writer Max Cavalera promised a shorter, more intense, in-your-face album than their debut Inflikted, which was one of my favourite albums of 2008.

This is another album that disappointed me on first listen—perhaps my expectations were too high, perhaps I just wasn’t in the right head-space to listen to it. The album has certainly grown on me during the year.

Stand-out track: Warlord

Last fm charts

Of course, this year I’ve listened to more than just the music that has come out this year. Whenever I listen to music, and I’m connected to the internet, the tracks are recorded to my Last.fm account.

My top-ten most played:

Artists

  1. Opeth (579 tracks)
  2. Anthrax (518 tracks)
  3. Slayer (462 tracks)
  4. Mastodon (328 tracks)
  5. Queen (301 tracks)
  6. Lamb of God (301 tracks)
  7. Metallica (236 tracks)
  8. Machine Head (220 tracks)
  9. Testament (216 tracks)
  10. Big Country (201 tracks)

Albums

  1. Lamb of God — Sacrament
  2. Porcupine Tree — The Incident
  3. Opeth — Ghost Reveries
  4. Godflesh — Streetcleaner
  5. Slipknot — Slipknot
  6. A Perfect Circle — Mer De Noms
  7. Mastodon — The Hunter
  8. Anthrax — Worship Music
  9. Anthrax — We’ve Come For You All
  10. Opeth — Watershed

Tracks

  1. Pantera — Mouth For War (60 plays)
  2. Opeth — Ghost of Perdition (55 plays)
  3. Opeth — The Lotus Eater (47 plays)
  4. Opeth — The Drapery Falls (46 plays)
  5. Opeth — Blackwater Park (44 plays)
  6. A Perfect Circle — Magdalena (43 plays)
  7. Opeth — Bleak (43 plays)
  8. Metallica — Nothing Else Matters (42 plays)
  9. Opeth — Dirge For November (41 plays)
  10. Porcupine Tree — Lazarus (41 plays)

What about you?

Have you blogged about your favourite music of 2011, then add a link to the comments below. If not, what have you really enjoyed?

Radiohead – Lotus Flower

In Rainbows

When Radiohead‘s last album In Rainbows came out on 10 October 2007 I downloaded it, listened to it and…well, I really didn’t get it.

It sat in my MP3 folder for a couple of years, occasionally getting an airing, even playing it two or three times back-to-back to try to get inside it and each time putting it away again disappointed.

A couple of weeks ago Radiohead announced the immanent release of their new album  The King of Limbs. So I dutifully rolled out their back catalogue in preparation.

Suddenly In Rainbows made sense. Like a jigsaw falling into place.

What a revelation! An epiphany!

The King of Limbs

I downloaded The King of Limbs last night having listened to an interview with Andy Kershaw and Alex Poots (director of the Manchester International Festival) on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4.

The article was entitled “is Radiohead’s new album ‘a grower’?” and introduced the topic with “the band Radiohead has come under criticism after some critics claimed its eighth album, The King of Limbs, which was released this month, was ‘impenetrable’. Others have said the album needs time to grow on the listener.”

Andy Kershaw, who admitted not having listened to it, slated it; I thought unjustifiably.

On my first listen I loved it.

I find it neither impenetrable nor ‘a grower’. For me it was an immediate connection with the music. It’s not The Bends, it’s not OK Computer, it’s not Kid A but it is definitely Radiohead and I can see me listening to this album for quite some time to come.

Review from The Telegraph

I read a few reviews after I’d listened to the album a couple of times. This is my favourite paragraph from Neil McCormick’s review in The Telegraph:

It is reliably unorthodox, a new sonic adventure for the restless Oxford quintet, but, despite its boldness and weirdness, it is easy on the ear, with a mellifluous melodiousness and gentle sonic palette that doesn’t demand huge leaps of faith. Percussive, groovy, spacious, ethereal and melodic, this is late night Radiohead, a stoned, somnambulistic wander through the urban wastelands shared by such post-Dubstep adventurers as Burial and James Blake. Taking the tender intimacy of Radiohead classics like No Surprises and Fake Plastic Trees and cross fertilising them with elements of world music, jazz and ambient, the result is the kind of chill out music that keeps you awake. Highly strung and instinctively contrary, but also deeply harmonically musical, Radiohead somehow finds a space between the sinister and the beautiful, the tense and the meditative. They remain masters of musical dichotomy.