Category Archives: Best of 2011

Gigs of the Year

For me, live music is so much more important than recorded music. Yes, there are many albums which I completely fall in love with. But listening to a record doesn’t compare to the feeling of seeing a band live. Music is about so much more than just a song, just a melody and just an album. Music is about bringing people together, and sharing a moment that you will never forget. This year I was lucky enough to attend 10 different festivals, and experience so many different things, many of which I will never forget. Here is a list of my 10 favourite gigs of the year. Trying to write down why I loved each experience so much is difficult as you cannot put into words some experiences, but i’ve tried anyway.

1. Coldplay- The Pyramid Stage, Glastonbury Festival

‘Thousands of People, all covered in mud, who love this place with every drop of their blood’

Glastonbury is my favourite place on the whole planet. Nothing comes close to that atmosphere, that togetherness and that feeling of being at that festival. For me, it’s the most beautiful feeling in the world. Before this performance, I was a Coldplay fan. I have always loved their first two albums and was looking forward to seeing them. However, the performance they gave was completely out of this world. They are such an incredible live band and for them to headline this festival, for the third time, is a match made in heaven. The songs are epic, sounds and suit a festival better than anywhere else. The bands love and long time association with the festival make this the perfect place to see a band like Coldplay.

The crowd also made it for me, I was surrounded by people from all over the world, all singing along to every single word, loving every minute of it, and for many, by the end of it tears were really streaming down their faces. And walking round the festival for the rest of the weekend and hearing people sing the melody from Viva La Vida, you knew that you were part of something. This was one of those moments I will never forget, and always feel honoured to be a part of. Incredible.


2. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros- The Old Vic Tunnels

A gig is best when it is more than just a gig, when it becomes a whole experience. Edward Sharpe’s debut album was one of my favourites of 2009, and after watching countless videos of them on YouTube I was beyond excited to get tickets to one of these gigs. But what I actually got when I walked in far exceeded any expectations I already had. They created a whole universe in these underground tunnels. I wrote a whole review about this gig here, so read that to find out more about it. There is lots of photos too. I think this band are one of the best around, and its a shame more people don’t know it.


3. Bon Iver- Hammersmith Apollo

This man created my album of the year, the self titled Bon Iver Bon Iver. It is a stunning record, but live it was another experience completely. He doesn’t tour the UK much and so I think for a lot of people, including me, it was the first time they had the opportunity to see him live. The first album For Emma, Forever Ago affected a lot of people in a very personal way and so it was no surprise at the amount of tears present at this gig. Afterwards I felt like I had never done before after a gig, emotionally drained, and in complete awe of what had just happened. Go and see this man, just amazing.


4. Paul McCartney- Liverpool Echo Arena

I saw Paul McCartney in 2009 at the O2 Arena. But when he announced he was playing in Liverpool, his home town, I jumped at the opportunity to see him again. He is 69 and still an incredible performer. For about 2 and a half hours he wowed the audience with songs from his back catalogue of Beatles tracks, Wings and solo stuff. This man is a true legend and it was an honor to be able to see such a special performance in Liverpool.


5. Arcade Fire- Benicassim Festival

This was the third time I have seen Arcade Fire, and by far their best performance. It was the last night of their tour and they completely gave the audience everything. I didn’t enjoy Benicassim as a festival at all, but this performance and some others made it worth while. I think Arcade Fire are one of the best bands on the planet still making music.


6. Pulp- Park Stage, Glastonbury Festival

Pulp were one of the not-so-secret Special Guests at this years Glastonbury Festival. They played the Park Stage, usually home to small folky bands. I found out about it a couple of hours before, and since their wasn’t anyone else I wanted to see on that Saturday afternoon, I went and waited at the front of the stage and so was luckily enough  to be right down the front (even if I did have to sit through the dreadful set from Tame Impala). Jarvis Cocker is quite simply a national legend. His humour between songs made it so special- and you could tell he completely understood Glastonbury as a festival. And taking a quote from the man himself ‘Glastonbury is more than just a festival, it’s a feeling’.


7. Primal Scream- Bestival

Primal Scream are an amazing live band. I first saw them at Benicassim and was amazed at how many song I knew. Bestival is an amazing festival as it is, full of character and spirit. This performance was in the Big Top tent at about 1am I think, and WOW, what a party. Amazing band.


8. Beyonce- Glastonbury Festival

I love Beyonce. I think she is a very unique kind of popstar and a inspirational woman. She completely stormed Glastonbury, and being the first female to headline is 20 years I think? When she played ‘Halo’ with videos of Glastonbury in the background, you knew she understood the festival. I also loved how grateful she seems for being given the opportunity to play- it seemed like we were all living out her dream together.


9. Joanna Newsom- End of the Road Festival

Joanna Newsom is someone I have been dying to see live for years. And when she announced she was playing End of the Road, I knew I had to go. She gave a completely flawless performance. Her voice has been altered as she’s had a lot of throat issues over the years, but I think this has actually worked a little in her favour. The unique, slightly shrill qualities of her voice are gone but what we are left with is a mellower version. She played solo, and I was completely entranced for the whole thing.


10. Willy Mason- WOOD Festival

Before this gig I didn’t really know who Willy Mason was. We were actually trying to work out if he was a young guy or an old guy with long hair (Willy Nelson). There was something very special about the atmosphere at this gig, it felt like everyone was incomplete awe of what we were experiencing. WOOD festival is a stunning place as it is, the festival feels like you are part of a great big family, I really hope it continues into 2012.

Special mention to Antony and the Johnsons at Wilderness Festival. Bring on 2012!


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Songs of the Year: Part 2

Washington – I Believe you Liar

Not that into her other stuff, but this song is stunning.

Real Estate- It’s Real

I don’t own this album, maybe I should. But I think this song is just summery goodness.

Kurt Vile- Jesus Fever

This song makes me want to buy a convertible car and drive around in the California sunshine. The best from his album, but its all very good.

Florence and the Machine- Lover to Lover

By far my favourite song from the second album, so much soul.

The Antlers- Hounds

Soo dreamy. Damn good album too.

Charles Bradley- The World (Is Going Up in Flames)

This man slipped under the radar, which is a massive shame. This song is incredible, and so is the rest of his stuff. So much soul and pain in his voice.

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Songs of the Year: Part 1

Part 1 of 2, these songs are in no particular order.

Lana Del Rey- Video Games

For me, this song is leaps and bounds above any other song on this list. Super gorgeous sultry and with a touch of old Hollywood glamour.

Cloud Control- There’s Nothing in the Water we Can’t Fight

Summer in a song. The melodies are killer.

Coldplay- Paradise

The best song they have produced since Viva La Vida. What. A. Tune.

Friends- I’m His Girl

Got high hopes for this band. This song is so good, and mixes so many genres of music together. Also really like the video.

Girls- Vomit

The soul in this song mixed with the incredible songwriting makes it very special indeed.

Daughter- Landfill

‘I want you so much, but I hate your guts’. This line is one of my favourites of the whole year. And just a stunning song.

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Albums of 2011: Final Thoughts

So there is was, my Albums of 2011. Bon Iver topped it for me, but I gotta say that 2011 has been a brilliant year for music. Click here to have a recap of the list.

I have really enjoyed reading everyones end of year lists, and have been introduced to some great music in doing so. Its also been great to see the variation in lists, and some of the similarities, and some of the weird and wonderful choices, mostly present in blogs.

There are quite a few albums which almost made the cut, and also quite a few which would have but I have only got into them over the last few weeks when I’d already started posting. Most of these albums are ones I’ve found through other peoples end of year lists. So I thought I’d make a little list of albums which were just missed off my list, for one reason or another.

Slow Club- Paradise

The Antlers- Burst Apart

Feist- Metals

Ryan Adams- Ashes and Fire

Girls- Father, Son, Holy Ghost

Sea of Bees- Songs for the Ravens (UK release was 2011, but US release was 2010)

Others… Josh T. Pearson, PJ Harvey, Noah and the Whale, Lykke Li, Other Lives, Wye Oak, Real Estate.

Coming next is my Ones to Watch for 2012 posts, followed by some most Best of 2011 posts (such as best gigs and songs) and then we’ll be back to normal for the new year!

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Albums of 2011: 1. Bon Iver – Bon Iver

When Bon Iver released For Emma, forever ago, he created a perfect record. Or as perfect as you can get. The thing that grabbed me the most about that first record, is the emotion in it. Yes, the songwriting is stunning, his voice is flawless and the instrumentation and recording process is incredibly unique. But it’s the emotion that makes so many people completely fall in love with that record. When he announced that he would be releasing a second Bon Iver album, I was a bit tentative. I saw the Bon Iver thing about being at a certain time, in that cabin in the woods, when Justin Vernon made that first record. I thought maybe it should have been left alone, left at the perfection it was.

This album isn’t as good as For Emma, it’s not even close. That emotion, that sound of loneliness ,and that simplicity of the first record has gone. But what we remains is something so special in its own right. In a video interview, Justin comments that he called this album Bon Iver because it felt like the end of something, like he was rounding that period of his life. Bon Iver, Bon Iver; Good Winter, Good Winter. Listening to this record, that makes a lot of sense. It does have elements of the first album. but it also feels like he has moved on with his life and this is the result of that.

The vacant guitar and layered vocals have been replaced with heavy wind and brass instruments, electric instruments and synths and percussion. There’s more experimentation in this second record, in one way it’s more interesting to listen to, it creates a sound world. And there is still that beauty. The first record was beautiful, beautiful in the way it flowed and beautiful in the way it affected the listener. And this record does that too.

For this whole review, I have compared Bon Iver Bon Iver to For Emma, Forever ago. But I think this is the best way to appreciate it. I wouldn’t recommend listening to this album unless you have absorbed the first record, I feel like the whole Bon Iver thing is a concept and not just a band, and you need it all to get it. Think of it like this, For Emma was part 1, the Blood Bank EP was the connection, and Bon Iver was part 2, the final part to that story. But will their be more stories? I think their needs to be.

Standout Tracks: Holocene, Calgary, Beth/Rest


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Albums of 2011: 2. Laura Marling- A Creature I Don’t Know

So in case anyone was unaware, I really love Laura Marling. I loved her first album, I loved her second album, and I also love this album. I think she speaks to women in a way that no one else does at the moment, I sort of see her as a Joni Mitchell of our time. A songwriter and singer which has an incredible amount of influence on certain people’s lives, someone a lot of us won’t forget for years to come.

This album shows a further growth in maturity in Laura’s voice and songwriting and also in the arrangements. Opening track ‘The Muse’ could almost have been taken from Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark, with its jazz sensibilities. ‘I Was Just A Card’ begins gently with the line ‘I was just a card/caught up in the stars/looking down from Mars’ before the cello and drum line kicks in and the track continues to develop with the addition of brass instruments. Don’t Ask Me Why tells tales of loneliness and the narration in Salinas opens like a Bob Dylan track.

The Beast is something none of us were expecting, a broading track at almost 6 minutes with heavy instrumentation towards the end, making for the first time, Laura’s voice not the primary thing you hear. Night After Night is the only solo track on the record, just Laura and her guitar, which is honesty where I like her music best.  Sophia, the first single from the record is a highlight with its repeating ‘I’m wounded by dust’ line. Final track ‘All My Rage’ is more bustly and more confident than anything ever produced from Ms Marling before. Her voice is louder and more shrill, and the country-like instrumentation heavier.

Throughout her voice is rich, and the songwriting full of emotion, unanswered questions and wisdom beyond her years. This album has been the highlight of a brilliant year for Laura where she won a Brit, and arguably entered the mainstream. But she manages to do it while keeping her integrity as an artist intact. At only 21 years old, she will undoubtably continue to flourish and will continue to make greater and greater albums.

Standout Tracks: Sophia, Night after Night, The Muse.

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Albums of 2011: 3. Bombay Bicycle Club- A Different Kind of Fix

Last year Bombay Bicycle Club took a turn in direction and recorded ‘Flaws’, a stripped back acoustic album with female backing vocals (from the delightful Lucy Rose), banjo’s and finger picking guitars. It was quite a contrast from their debut, ‘I Had the Blues but I Shook Them Loose’ which affirmed themselves as a new band to watch on the indie music scene.

I think the changing genres of Bombay Bicycle Club, and the fact that no album is the same, has attributed hugely to their success. It can get boring when a band releases indie record after indie record, and they’ve chosen not to do that, but from listening to the first two albums it can be difficult to see where they will go next, what is the Bombay Bicycle Club sound, or is it just constantly evolving?

Which leads me on to this album, the third release from the band entitled ‘A Different Kind of Fix’. It mixes the indie riffs of the debut, with some of the delicacy and intimacy of the second for a remarkably good result. Beginning with ‘How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep’ a woozy start with echoey vocals and a repeating guiar riff. This could almost be a track from ‘Flaws’ but then the drum kicks in and then the guitars and you realise that this is not a repeat of album No. 2. Moving on to ‘Bad Timing’, one of the rockier tracks from the album.

Some of the highlights of the album ‘Lights Out, Words Gone’ and ‘Shuffle’ still include the vocals of Lucy Rose. ‘Beggars’ is a folkier edition to the album but fits perfectly into place among the other tracks. My personal favourite is the last track on the record, ‘Still’. It’s a delicate stripped back piano ballad, unlike anything on this album or the two before but beautiful in its own right.

When I listen to this album as a whole, I am just constantly astonished by how consistently good the songwriting is, how perfect the instrumentation is and overall how good of an album as a whole it is. Jack Steadman and Bombay Bicycle Club have found their sound on ‘A Different Kind of Fix’ and it works amazingly.

Standout Tracks: Lights Out, Words Gone, How Can You Follow So Much Sleep, Still

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