Saturday, January 14, 2012

2011 - Not feeling it

My intentions on re-starting this blog were to spend less time ranting about stuff I don't like and more time raving about stuff that I do like, so my first instinct was to bypass a 'Worst of' list altogether. But, then again, why miss such an opportunity? With that in mind, here's my list of disappointments from last year's recorded output - rather than picking stuff like Ed Sheeran that I was never going to like and ripping on it, I've stuck to records that I was at least halfway interested in hearing, only to discover that they were a bit crap. Feel free to listen to them yourself and make up your own mind, but for my money the following ten albums fall way short of the mark. Or, in modern parlance, they blow dick for skittles.

WU LYF - Go tell fire to the moutain

These guys should be renamed WTF in honour of the slew of unremarkable bollocks they threw out by way of a debut. What exactly is so great about a bunch of guys from Manchester singing about 'Bros' over a church organ and some flaccid Afrobeat riffs? Another exercise is misjudged hype for an upcoming UK act, I had high hopes for these dudes but their record was a turgid load of soundalike crap with no outstanding tunes and some of the year's most irritating vocals. For clarity's sake let me assure you that they have no connection with the Wu Tang Clan, their record is shite and any attempt to engage with their music will make your LYF miserable.

Tuneyards - Whokill

A favourite of the Guardian/Pitchfork crew, I had a sneaky suspicion that this wasn't going to be my cup of tea before I even heard it. But you have to remain open-minded about these things. Ten tracks of meandering free jazz bollocks later I wished I'd listened to my instinct and ignored the fucking thing. This is the sort of crap those irritating hippies at the Occupy protests probably cream themselves over - pretentious pseudo-African jam session wankery churned out by some bird that everyone is proclaiming as some sort of musical genius because she records drum loops live on stage and plays the fucking ukelele. And she spells her band name in a daft way too. What more do you need to know? tHiS FUcKiNg SUckS.

Morbid Angel - Illud Divinum Insanus

OK, not one that would have crossed the path of those of you uninterested in death metal but this merits a mention for the way in which Morbid Angel managed to surprise and offend huge sections of their fanbase with their first new material in eight years. David Vincent's return to the fold was widely applauded and yielded some amazing live shows but his interval years spent playing as part of Genitorturers was always going to rear its head at some point. It wasn't so much the excerpts of Skeletor techno the band tried to crowbar in, it was the weakness of their straightforward death metal material that prompted disappointment (at least when they still had Steve Tucker at the helm they could break out the humongously heavy shit). A brave move but ultimately a futile one.

Dropkick Murphys - Going out in style

When I first got into them, DKM were full-frontal punk rock, fast and aggressive in all the right places without the holier-than-thou humourless of standard hardcore. Fast forward a decade and they're throwing out increasingly toothless albums of cartoon Irish punk to audiences that look like they'd be more at home at an Avril Lavigne show. I've got nothing against bands growing up, and it's perhaps inevitable that their material was going to become more and more family friendly and consequently less potent but did they really need become so fucking domesticated? All they need now are recurring cameos on some shitty US sitcom about the average Irish-American family and we'll have a full on career prolapse on our hands.

The View - Bread and Circuses

In retrospect, The View's debut 'Hats off to the Buskers' dropped just before the door slammed shut on the British rock boom of the mid-noughties. They managed to notch up a #1 album and rack up a few hits but their fall from grace since 'Same Jeans' went top 3 in early 2007 has been tragic to behold yet somehow inevitable. Even a stonking follow-up in 2009 couldn't stop the rot - all the singles flopped and they disappeared from view completely (no pun intended). 'Bread and Circuses' will change positively nothing in all that - it's not an awful record by any length but the sheer lack of ambition of it seems doomed to keep them in indie obscurity for the near future. I still believe they could come back with something brilliant if they can stay off the drugs long enough to record it, but for now they're back in the bargain bin. Bummer.

Panda Bear - Tomboy

The Bear's previous effort 'Person Pitch' (also a highlight of 2007) was an absolute belter and proved the gateway (at least for me) to the world of Animal Collective and their oddball hypnotic charms. Thing is, the Collective have still only done one decent album for my money (2009's 'Merriweather Post Pavillion') and the rest of their stuff tends to veer towards nondescript sonic mush, nice enough if you're sat around too sedated to change it to something more interesting but ultimately not worth shelling out actual money for. 'Tomboy' unfortunately falls into this category - where 'Person Pitch' was fascinating and trance-like, this is just meandering and vaguely ethereal but won't have you rushing back for a second listen. Four years is a long time between albums too and you have to wonder if anyone's still interested.

Radiohead - The King of Limbs

Another Radiohead album. Great. Am I the only one who found 'Kid A' and 'Amnesiac' pleasing on the ear but had to practically force myself to give a shit about any of their later releases? So they bypass record companies and sell their own stuff for negociable prices? BIG DEAL. That just sounds like a gimmick to distract you from the fact that nobody apart from anally-fixated Radiohead fanatics and smarmy music journalists give a flying fuck when they put out a new record. This whole album flew by without diverting my attention once from scratching my bollocks or whatever I was doing whilst streaming it - hardly justification for the number of 'best of 2011' lists it's made its way onto. Unless you're one of their long term advocates, there are ZILLIONS of other records worth listening to right now above this.

Metallica & Lou Reed - Lulu

Do I really need to explain this one? Truth be told I gave up on Metallica a LONG time ago but even my inherent cynicism towards their new stuff couldn't have prepared me for this. The metal equivalent of that Kevin Rowland record where he started performing in drag, 'Lulu' is a masterclass in patience-testing pretentiousness that will satisfy fans of neither artist. You have to feel for 'tallica followers, they've been put through a lot over the years with shitty covers albums, classical reworkings, rehab movies and numerous money-grabbing attempts to capitalise on their 80s heyday but THIS? Look up 'I AM A TABLE' on Youtube and watch their fans quarrel over whether Hetfield and co have lost their minds, it's hilarious.

M83 - Hurry up we're dreaming

This is maybe a little harsh as I'd originally shortlisted it for the best-of selection but changed my mind as the charm wore a little thin. Basically a double album soundtrack to a brother and sister locked in 80s nostalgia dreamland, the more I listened to kids' voices wibbling about 'cupcakes', the more it reminded me why I don't like Michel Gondry films and this could be the perfect soundtrack to one of his more dorky efforts. Not ultimately an unpleasant listen, it just feels a wee bit contrived and stuck in and inwardly looking rut of cultural nostalgia. Twee, self-indulgent and overlong, it just lacks BALLS. Again not a bad record per se but doubtless one made for folks more forgiving than myself. It's just too fucking NICE for my tastes.

PJ Harvey - Let England Shake

Hahahaha! Go ahead and choke on your drink. Let me explain myself - this is actually a really good album. My logic in including it on this list is just to point out that it's not significantly better than any other PJ Harvey album out there, she's been cranking out consistently good records for two decades now and they only seem to get picked up on when the rest of the contenders for 'most awesome album of the year' are so far below par that her record rises effortlessly to the summit (see 'Stories from the city....' in 2000 for another example). Polly Jean merely acts as a barometer against which you can measure the mediocrity of the rest of the music industry - right now she's showing up how average the competition is. Don't let that put you off this record, it's great - just no better or worse than her other ones.

(Nearly) Best of 2011

Obviously there were more than ten decent records released in 2011, so here's another ten that could easily have made my list but fell just short of the final cut :

David Lynch - Crazy Clown Time

Nothing too surprising on here if you're a serious Lynchead - eerie Americana much like the incidental music from his flicks. Karen O guests on the opening track but he's resisted bringing in a bunch of hipster indie guest vocalists to rake in the cash and done most of the hard work himself. This sounds like the audio equivalent of those photo exhibitions he does with stuff like half-melted snowmen in Mid-Western back yards and bleak landscape shots. Nice stuff Dave, now quit wasting your time opening Parisian nightclubs I can't afford to go to and make another fucking film.

Wild Flag - s/t

Girl band royalty form new band (I don't like the term supergroup) and crank out bitchin' debut record! I was never that into Sleater-Kinney but when I heard that two of them had teamed up with the chick from 90s grunge starlets Helium, I was pretty keen to hear the results which turned out to be pretty damn good. Four-way girl rock in the vein of early Breeders, the pop end of L7 and the best bits of all their previous groups, this is a big colourful treat of a record. Everything on here is bright, snappy and life-affirming - they slot in perfectly with the current crop of girl groups that they influenced back in the day and keep it fresh, new and catchy. Welcome back!

Jesu - Ascension

Justin Broadrick nails it AGAIN - nobody else can do sad/heavy in quite the same way as this guy. In the post-Godflesh landscape he's started well and gotten even better - 'Ascension' matches their unfeasibly great debut from 2005 and see their sound swell and evolve to new heights of gorgeous melancholy. Jesu are like the audio equivalent of Vicks Vapo-Rub - a tonic to your ills that makes the recovery process almost worth getting sick for. Visceral yet soothing at the same time, this is a redemptive journey to the higher spheres of guitar music. Ascendant, if you will.

Cat's Eyes - s/t

Faris from The Horrors plus some chick that sounds like Nancy Sinatra go retro and pull off an unexpected blinder. I say that because side projects often suck, mainly due to the fact that they often represent vanity projects made up of material the creator's other groups rightly turned down because it wasn't any good. Fortunately, The Horrors are a group of such weirdos that any one of them could probably go away and knock together something decent that sounds nothing like their other stuff. This is half an hour of sublime 60s style girl band pop, great for playing in the club and a cracking debut, whether or not they follow it up.

Dum Dum Girls - Only in dreams

Another one that goes without saying. I'd have probably put this in my top ten had I not already done that with their debut in 2010 - this one sounds a bit more polished than their first one but they've lost none of their charm in the transition, Dee Dee's songs have just taken a step closer to becoming the massive hits they deserve to be. Every track on here is punchy, catchy and guaranteed to put a smile on your face - put all that in a live setting with four black-clad babes playing it and the smile gets even wider, at least in my case. Same time next year ladies?

Africa Hitech - 93 Million Miles

Looking back at my list it seems somewhat dominated by rock music, which is probably as good a reply as you'll need to the continued assertion in the hipster press that 'guitar music is dead'. That's not to say there wasn't any decent electronic stuff this year, but there's plenty of zeitgeist-chasing to put you off the genre. '93 million miles' fall through the cracks a bit, eschewing underground scene trends as well as anthemic commercialism to bring you an eclectic mix of noobly bleeps and ponderous techno twiddling that's ideal for a bit of public transport headphone action. Mellow but not bland, colourful but not invasive, it's one tasty electronic slurpy.

The Pains of being pure at heart - Belong

Even the NME called these guys out for being pussies when this LP landed early last year. The NME!! I felt the same way about their first record but this follow-up had enough 4AD-style indie crunch to it to make me sit up and listen. This sounds like all those jumper clad Scottish indie groups, all girl/guy vocals and lyrics about general inadequecy offset with swathes of guitar noise - anything too twee and wimpy still gets balanced out with a good chunk of robust feedback and infectious volume. Nothing too original admittedly, but 'Belong' surprised me by how much it didn't suck and stayed on my stereo for much of early 2011.

Windmills by the Ocean - II

This is probably more of an EP than a full-length, five tracks clocking in at just under half an hour - that said, the LPs from Teeth and Cat's Eyes both lasted about that long so I suppose it depends what you do with the time at hand. I know absolutely nothing about Windmills apart from that they play colossal post-rock soundscape stuff and this is presumably their second record. This reminds me of Cult of Luna when they whip up a racket that makes you feel like you're on a cliff edge watching a sonic shitstorm bearing down on you. It's pretty fucking epic. If they can figure out a way to power wind turbines with this they'll coin it in.

The Fall - Ersatz GB

Another year, another good Fall album. Mark E. Smith is a bit like Lemmy these days - gnarly old dudes stuck in their ways who having been doing this shit so long that they can knock out a good album every year or two despite touring constantly and being about 1000 years old. I saw The Fall in April 2011 and they still knock you out - Smith's gone the tried and tested route of drafting in younger musicians to keep it fresh, including a rhythm section that look like they're fresh out of the local rugby league squad and another female keyboard player he's probably shagging. We need dudes like him to keep standards high. Keep 'em coming Mark!

Suuns - Zeroes QC

Another one I know virtually nothing about - I can't put my finger on what these guys are doing, there's elements of loopy electronica on here plus weird saxophone noises and plonky keyboard stuff, but they can lean back and rock out pretty hard when they want to. Their main strength is that every track on here is almost embarassingly catchy - this shit is addictive, I can't work out what's going on but I like it a lot. Like the Witch House stuff that landed in 2010, this holds a certain fascination for me because I don't know who the fuck they're making this music for. It's all too much to deal with. I love it, I just don't know why it exists.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Best of 2011

Good evening ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to these year's countdown of the most bitchin' records in the universe. At least the ones I've taken the time to listen to - a man can only do so much. The following ten album all grabbed my attention at some point in 2011 and held on to it, so these are the ones I'd recommend to others - there's a few stock choices from the other 'Best of 2011' lists but also a couple of oddities that I chanced upon over the last 12 months, so I hope it gives you a few pointers or puts a smile on your face. Feel free to use the comments to suggest stuff I've missed - there's a list of an extra ten that nearly made it on the way plus the inevitable list of records that pissed me off too, but for the moment let's start with the good stuff.

1. The Vaccines - What did you expect from the Vaccines?

Probably a bit of an obvious choice for some, but if I had to pick one record that put a massive smile on my face last year then this is head and shoulders above the rest. I repeated the same error I've made countless times in the past by initially ignoring the latest pretty-boy indie sensation on the grounds that they were just another bunch of posh boys making shitty music that would be forgotten six months down the line - you'd think I'd have wised up seeing as I did exactly the same thing with The Drums, Bloc Party, The Strokes and various others only to adopt their cause further down the line. Anyway, once I'd pulled my head out of my arse and given their album a proper listen it turned into one of those records I played so much that I ended up having to wean myself off it so I didn't wear it out (figuratively speaking of course - I'm not sure you can wear out an MP3....).

'What did you expect....' rules precisely because it's nothing new - like most of the great indie debuts of the last two decades it's crammed full of potential singles and festival anthems, all of which are capable of prompting skinny jean stampedes towards the dancefloor. Growing up through Britpop and the noughties Strokes/Libertines fallout, I've been raised on this kind of shit so it's hard not to love it and it's probably even more endearing because nobody seems to make these kind of records any more, they're all too busy leaning over mixing consoles or growing beards and fucking off to live in the woods. The Vaccines know the value of short bursts of guitar pop, clever lyrics and massive anthemic indie choruses and they turn everything up to the max so that nothing gets stale, songs end before they get dull and singer Justin Young belts it all out at the top of his range (so much so that his vocal chords are apparently fucked already - go Justin!). 'Wreckin' Bar' sounds like the Ramones and probably sends the crowd mental, 'Norgaard' makes me smile because it's about a teenage supermodel, 'Wetsuit' gets me choked up, 'If you wanna' is on a par with 'I predict a riot' for indie omnipresence, 'and 'All in White' is probably gonna be used by the BBC sometime soon for one of their 'upcoming attractions' montages. There's no crap on here, and if guitar music hadn't totally disappeared from the singles charts then they'd probably have at least half a dozen hits at their disposal. This stuff is so catchy that the boy Sykes needs to be forcibly restrained when he hears it after a few drinks, lest his atonal singing along wake the neighbours and his poorly coordinated dancing result in him stomping on your foot and spilling your drink. The mark of a classic!

Check out : 'Norgaard', which just edges it as my favourite track. But check it all out and pick your own.

2. The Field - Looping State of Mind

It's all about the loop these days! Hypnotic repetition in 2011 was like mullets and saxophone solos in 1985 - indispensable to critical and commercial success. Which of course means that every fucker out there is trying to hop on the bandwagon and create the next 'classic', mostly to fairly tedious results. The one to break the mould and actually come out with something special turned out to be some weird Swedish guy known as The Field who totally knocked me sideways with this little gem (I normally make a point of ignoring anything Swedish and electronic on account of the long list of clever bugger hipster bullshit like The Knife that's come out over the years, although this dude gets a pass because he's ugly and his music rules). I liked the last Animal Collective record because they'd finally managed to merge the whole loop thing with tunes you could actually dance to but I still felt they didn't take it far enough - 'Looping State of Mind' does exactly that. This sounds like the stuff you'd hear emanating from the dance tent at some festival at 3am and end up wandering in only to get drawn into bopping away for hours, transfixed by the pulsating sounds that open up a private universe. Like The Orb's live record from '93, this guy establishes the arena he'll be working in upfront and then lets the hidden ingredients rise to the surface - only instead of appreciating all this whacked out on a bean bag in the chill-out room, it'll hit you when you're already out there on the floor. He's not trying to pump out anthems, he's in it for the three-hour DJ sets where the true experts can command the crowd like they're conducting an orchestra, like he knows what we want but only he has the skill to bring it out of us. Andrew Weatherall, Leftfield, Underworld.....only a chosen few can claim to do this, and I think this guy's on his way to joining them. And the coolest thing is that, as the title indicates, the whole album can be played on repeat without breaking the chain, meaning that you can loop this shit for hours until you finally get cramp and have to crawl back to your tent while everyone else is having breakfast. Maybe that's why he's called 'The Field''s already a festival classic!

Check out : Opener 'Is this power', a 9-minute orbit of this guy's planet. Stooopendous!

3=. Beady Eye - Different Gear, Still Speeding
3. = Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - s/t

I can't be arsed trying to choose between these two so I've just put both of them in to save argument. Which is perhaps ironic, seeing as Noel and Liam have spent most of their time slagging off each others' output in the press since Oasis fell apart a couple of years back. But, as is often the case when a decent band breaks up, the seperation yields better results than you'd expect. Instead of putting up with each other's shit for long enough to crank out another average Oasis record that their heart wasn't truly in, the two of them managed to go off in totally different directions and indulge themselves to come out with some cool new shit.

Both sound like they're free of the limits imposed by Oasis - Beady Eye is all about Liam pitching the tunes to his strengths as a vocalist, meaning lots of the Paul Macartney end of The Beatles in the melody department and some stonking Stones-esque rockers that the rest of the band can get their teeth into. 'Four Letter Word' boots the door wide open with some prime sonic sleaze, 'For Anyone' and 'The Beat goes on' sound tailor made for sweaty blokes in Reni hats to bellow along to at gigs and 'Bring the Light' sticks in a huge piano riff that Noel would've never allowed near an Oasis record. There's loads of retro revivalism going on here but it all sounds fresher than late period Oasis and with the band Liam's got behind him you know this stuff is going to sound great live - thumbs up to the boys!

Noel, on the other hand, gets a bit of peace and quiet for once and makes the most of it to lay down some seriously mellow stuff - whilst Liam is off perfecting his peacock strut, Noel's brought in strings and horns to augment his old-school melodic songwriting style. This is one to put on your headphones to smooth out a metro journey or a long car ride - catchy singalong tunes that showcase the dude's strengths not only as a songwriter but also as a singer (he only seemed to sing in Oasis when Liam couldn't cope with the vocal or didn't like the song - no wonder he's more chilled out now). This record's more Ray Davies than Mick Jagger, with Noel's lyrics planted in pastoral English pop - stuff happening on the village green, him living a dream in his record machine, that kind of thing. It could sound cheesy done by someone else but you know you're in good hands with Noel, just as with his political comments - he's an old-fashioned kind of guy but he's very rarely wrong.

So it's heads you win, tails you win with these two - who'd thought Oasis breaking up would turn out to be such a good thing? I'm still pissed off for these guys bailing on me at Rock en Seine a couple of years back but on this evidence I'm prepared to forgive them.

Check out : 'If I had a gun' from Noel and 'The Beat goes on' from Liam. It's a score draw.

4. The Devil's Blood - The Thousandfold Epicentre

This nearly didn't make it on account of it being devilishly difficult to track down - I acually had to buy the fucking thing on CD in the end. On CD!!!! Are we back in 1997 or something???? Fortunately, Dutch 'Horror Soul' purveyors The Devil's Blood are worth the effort - I got a tip-off from Terrorizer magazine that this was worth a pop and it turned out to be the standout heavy record of the year. Built on the same premise as Japan's Ghost who broke through to the festival circuit in 2011, these guys play heavy psychedelic rock infused with a diabolic dose of Satanic imagery and occult mysticism coupled with a live act that will make you shit your pants with either excitement or terror, depending on what floats your boat. Their enigmatic female vocalist 'The Mouth of Satan' belts out the tunes like a creepier Grace Slick and regularly douses herself in pig's blood onstage, whilst the instrumental side of things is upheld by a leather-clad frontline of three hairy guitarists and a bassist sporting a similar stage garb of beards 'n' blood. You have to see this shit to believe it - she stands motionless onstage sporting a thousand yard stare while the rest of them trade solos and straddle monitors like modern day Iron Maiden, except that these folks are deadly serious. Their songs frequently rumble off towards the 10 minute mark and bear all the hallmarks of classic heavy rock - towering riffs, wild vocals and headbanging heavy metal rhythm. This is like an evil Jefferson Airplane, trippy psychedelia channeled through decades of sinister metal folklore and classic hard rock showmanship. Like a darker cousin to fellow psychedelic revivalists Tame Impala, The Devil's Blood draw on the same influences but take you somewhere different - if new psych rock is your thing, listen to Impala's 'Innerspeaker' on your headphones on the way to work and 'Thousandfold Epicentre' on the way home in the evening (dousing yourself in pig's blood while doing so will also guarentee you a seat on the metro). I can even recommend getting the CD version for the woo-hah batshit crazy artwork included with the deluxe edition - it's worth the extra investment, although there's no Ouijaboard included unfortunately. This is one intoxicating ride to the darkside - take advantage of their relative anonymity to catch these folks while they're a well-kept secret and indulge your senses in this diabolic delight.

Check out : 'Fire Burning' is the potential hit but check out the live show for a glimpse of the real deal.

5. The Horrors - Skying

If you'd have told me back in 2007 when their atonal goth-garage debut was one of the features in my 'worst of the year' list that The Horrors would be one of my favourite bands a few years later, I'd probably have punched you and poured my drink on your shoes. Times change I guess. There is also the not inconsiderable difference that these kids learnt to play their instruments in the meantime, allowing them to move away from the clunky scenester indie that had gotten them onto the cover of the NME before they'd even released anything towards richer fields of sonic scenery. It was a pretty steep learning curve too - 2009's 'Primary Colours' was a true shock to the system, prompting comments along the lines of 'Holy Crap! This is really good' from cynics such as myself. 'Skying' continues the journey, though it covers as much new ground as its predecessor - where 'Primary Colours' took in a love of drone and shoegaze, 'Skying' goes on from there to nestle in more synthetic, bass-driven elements. Their new sound is hard to put your finger on - weirdly, it reminds me a lot of The Human League, not just because Faris' voice sounds a fair bit like Phil Oakey's but more for the the way synths are the backbone of the entire sound rather than intrusive stabs into the song structure. If you check out 'Dare' it sounds like everything on there was built on top of the synth foundation and 'Skying' works the same way, keeping the guitar sound from the previous record but letting the keys lead the charge. It works astoundingly well - once again, the production nails it and you can really lose yourself in this shit on a good pair of headphones. In fact that's what I did coming up from a heavy dose of the flu over Xmas, much in the same way that I got into Underworld's 'Beaucoup Fish' over a decade earlier which ended up becoming my favourite record of the time. Sometimes it takes stuff like that to cement an album in your memory - if so, it was worth it, 'Skying' looks set to become my quintessentially 2011 record much like 'Beaucoup Fish' was all about 1999 (and, retrospectively, 'Dare' is totally 1981). Not bad from a bunch of kids I'd originally dismissed as clueless hipsters with shitty haircuts - I can't fucking wait to hear what this lot come up with next.

Check out : 'Endless Blue' - first you're floating on a lilo in the Tropics for a couple of minutes, then you get hit by a tidal wave of fuzz pedal. Best track by a country mile.

6. Arctic Monkeys - Suck it and see

Another band that's getting better with age, the Monkeys understood some time ago that songs about wearing trainers and getting beaten up in the queue for shitty nightclubs weren't gonna pay their way forever. Their position at the top of indie's food chain could only be maintained by changing tack, thus their Yorkshire stomping ground was abandoned both lyrically and physically for them to move Stateside and get Josh Homme on the case to beef their sound back up. 'Humbug' was a decent album but on the strength of their latest offering it seems increasingly transitional - 'Suck it' is a more solid setlist, free of any form of cultural jetlag and striking the perfect balance between their Northern feistyness and the encroaching influence of meaty US blues-rock. It's a totally logical evolution when you think about it - the Monkeys started out as a pretty funky bunch in their earliest days before tightly-strung indie was in vogue, and they now sound like they're taking their time and cranking out more potent, matured slabs of indie-rock rather than three minutes smash 'n' grab affairs about losing your bus fare. Alex Turner's always been good at writing from the crotch too, although here he's actually on more of a romantic trip - the title track sees him almost Elvis it up; 'Be cruel to me, cos I'm a fool for you'. That's probably why the quiff came in. Elsewhere, they get ballsy with cuts like 'Brick by Brick' and the ridiculous yet brilliant lead-off single 'Don't sit down cos I've moved your chair'. Their sound is seductively heavy and should sound amazing live - you tend to forget how tight a band they've always been - but the cocksure charm that brought them to the fore back in the mid-noughties hasn't dissipated, instead it's given them the balls to go out into the world and soak up other thrills. They're back stronger than ever, and this latest platter is meaty enough to satisfy lovers of solid, groovy rock without alienating the British indie crowd that fell in love with their wit back in 2005. Go get yer gums around this dear reader, you'll be glad you did.

Check out : The title track. I fucking love this song.

7. Battles - Gloss Drop

Is it rock? Is it art? Is it a great big pink blobby thing? Battles' second record is a hard one to categorise - having started off as a sort of angular noise-rock project, they promptly disappeared for a few years before returning to dump this generous dollop of weirdness into your speakers. I found their debut (2007's 'Mirrored') a bit difficult to get into, it just seemed like another bunch of dudes playing sproingy instrumental stuff. However, this new one conquered me pretty much straight away, mainly due to the embarassingly catchy lead single 'Ice Cream' which landed early in 2011. Built around a warped ice cream van jingle gradually accelerating into oblivion before bursting into a jarring dancefloor smash, it was probably the year's coolest single. Buoyed by this discovery I bagged the album when it landed and, though a few listens were needed before I could claim it as a favourite, overall they've kept up the quality where it matters. I think the main difference (though I'm loath to admit it as someone who hates musos) is that these guys can really play their instruments - they're not afraid to veer off into territory that would put a smile of the faces of jazz buffs, though they fortunately stay the right side of pretentious and manage to balance the avant garde with the eminently danceable throughout. There's plenty of high-end stuff like steel drums, bells and tambourines to bring a pop feel to it all but there's nothing lightweight going on here - these guys could lock in and blow you across the room if they wanted to, but in exercising restraint with the feedback pedal they've actually come up with something way more potent. There's elements of world music, jazz, afrobeat and what sounds like kids' TV theme music in here but none of it is throwaway or token - everything these guys have mixed in has been absorbed from the beat upwards, they've spread the net wide and come through with their own multicolour end product. In an age of fake whiteboy Afro-rock, frigid electronica and plastic synth fetishism, here's a bunch of guys who figured out how to strap in and play tight, dynamic rock before getting eclectic - they came through the hard way and it's proven worthwhile. And there's even a Gary Numan cameo!

Check out : 'Ice Cream', obviously. But check out the Numanoid on 'My Machines' too.

8. Chelsea Wolfe - Apokalypsis

More spooky shit. I couldn't decide between this and the David Lynch record when I was compiling this list but Chelsea got the winning vote on the grounds that I had a pretty good idea what Lynch's 'Crazy Clown Time' was gonna sound like, whereas this was a real surprise. Female singer-songwriters are ten a penny these days, and that's totally a good thing - the wide variety of musical ladies out there means there's something for everyone, or at least there should be. The post-Winehouse nu-soul stuff like Adele isn't really my cup of tea (though I have no particular objection to it either) but towards the murkier end of the female pysche there's some dark, dazzling stuff coming to the fore. Lana Del Ray pretty much out-Lynched the Lynchster with 'Video Games' and she's odds on to drop a stonking debut LP in 2012, but the fact that the track swamped the end of year polls and even got a nod from David Cameron made me think that she's destined to become the oddity in a lot of bland music collections, the audio equivalent of guys who fast-forwarded to all the lesbian bits in 'Mulholland Drive' rather than embracing the dark heart of the film as a whole. Chelsea Wolfe is at the other end of that particular spectrum - she's like 'Wild at Heart', part Laura Dern in bright red lipstick but mixed in with a stiff dose of Willem Defoe blowing his head off with a shotgun and that guy who wants it to be Christmas all the time. There's an AAARGH factor here that will shake off part-timers (notably the feral shrieking on 30-second opener 'Primal/Carnal') built on the echoic vibe of a sultry cabaret act. 'Apokalypsis' reminds me of Jarboe, though there's moments where she gets closer to Beth Gibbons of Portishead in all her mournful and despairing glory. And she's not leaning heavily on production or A-list musical support - the backing band keep their distance throughout, leaving her voice to put in the work and dominate proceedings. The thing I like about this most is that Chelsea seems happy to play the role full time - she's not just some college girl going through a burlesque phase, this is the real deal. She even does Burzum covers when she plays live! I'll admit I have a weakness for girls like this - ones with flashing neon signs above their heads saying 'This bitch is crazy!' but who nonetheless remain fascinatingly seductive. They're always bad news bears of course, the sort that'll give you a great night but as soon as you pop out for a pint of milk they're painting your wardrobe doors in menstrual blood. Save yourself the heartache and pencil in a late night session with a pot of strong coffee, 'Apokalypsis' on your headphones and the door firmly LOCKED. Even Varg Vikernes would be hiding behind the mixing desk from imaginary Tippex-eyed sirens after such a session. Surrender to the Wolfe gentlemen, you know it makes sense.

Check out : 'Demons' is CW at her most radio-friendly, but check out 'Pale on Pale' for a swim in murkier waters.

9. Weekend - Sports

This year's obligatory shoegaze release. I set myself the challenge of buying records that didn't all sound like My Bloody Valentine early in 2011, though not before I'd bagged this little gem. Weekend have their priorities straight from the get-go, vocals low in the mix and waves of fuzz pedal and feedback upfront over relentless bass and drums that propel you forward through a veritable wind tunnel of gorgeous noise. They take the blueprint one step further than their forerunners A Place To Bury Strangers, phasing out the grandstanding and filling in any empty spaces with swathes of white noise and rumbling bass. You'd expect watching these guys live would be like drowning in sonic soup, there's no air in there anywhere and the echoic vocals sound like they've been recorded in the lowest sublevels of the shoegaze netherworld. Think the Stone Roses' 'Don't Stop' spliced with early MBV and Joy Division's rhythm section, all black and white cold case aesthetics - the singer even reminds me a bit of Ian Curtis, not a compliment you dish out very readily. 'Sports' isn't totally lost to the darkside, there's enough in the way of hooks to make this every bit as listenable as their shoegaze contempories but no extremes are tuned down on the way to making a catchy record, everything on here is heavy, heavy stuff. One for running at night, sliding into the heavy end of a red wine stupour or simply disappearing into yourself in the wee small hours, 'Sports' is 45 minutes of drowning in low-end lysergia at the end of the universe. Go get.

Check out : 'End Times' and watch the stars collapse around you.

10. Teeth - Whatever

'Y'all think we care? Cos we donnnn't....'. Cue screechy Chicks on Speed vocals and clunky synthetic bompf bompf bompf. Teeth's second record pretty much spells it out to you from the start - this is hipster London electro and they're way too postmodern and cool to give a shit if you don't like it. Thing's actually pretty good. I should stop reading NME reviews - 'Like unexpected prison sex on Christmas Day, it may provoke a mixture of conflicting emotions but none of them are likely to be boredom' wrote John Doran, a better music scribe than I'll ever be. 'Whatever' is a full-on racket, ten slabs of thumping electro-rave jammed with frantic bleeps and early 90s car alarm hardcore. None of it sounds like a labour of love, but the lack of finesse makes it all the more appealing - this is the sort of stuff music students come up with over all-night programming sessions on the wrong sort of drugs, a frantic mix of their favourite records of the previous 10 minutes all mashed into a series of bite-size chunks ready to fling out during their next DJ set hoping for the best. It probably speaks volumes that the band couldn't even be bothered to come up with a proper title or album cover for their endeavours. There's more than a passing resemblence to Crystal Castles here, though in truth Teeth probably have more in common with Atari Teenage Riot in their full-frontal delivery and reluctance to deviate from their chosen formula, eschewing Castles' more varied take on electro-rave in favour of pummelling you into submission with more of the same. It doesn't do them any harm though - 'Whatever' clocks in at just over half an hour, every second put to good use and any of the tracks on show would slot right into a hi-NRG DJ set at your local strobe temple. Deicide used to record death metal records along the same lines - keep it brief, stick to one theme (in their case, Satan rather than glowsticks), hammer your point home then get the fuck out before you start to bore people. Teeth, the electro legacy of Glen Benton is yours to treasure.

Check out : 'Flowers', three minutes inside the mind of every hyperactive child.

There you have it folks - stay tuned for the (nearly as) good, the bad and the downright ugly of last year which should be up here shortly.