Ah 2011. What a year. It probably won’t go down in musical history like 1977 (Sex Pistols), or 1995 (Britpop), 1963 (The Beatles) or dammit, even 2004 (X Factor), but we’ve still had a bloody good time listening to music, getting all fired up on the thrill of a good melody and a banging riff. We’ve been waxing lyrical about our rocks and sucks in the pub anyway, so thought we might as get it down to share. Here is our year in lists. And no, sorry Los Campesinos, we will never stop stealing that line.
Once you’re done, click here to see what It’s All Happening are looking forward to in 2012.
Albums we’ve loved
Veronica Falls – Veronica Falls
Almost exactly 18 months ago we interviewed a little known band called Veronica Falls in which they talk of their distaste for ‘labels’, ‘scenes’, ‘genres ‘, ‘tweeness’ and pretty much anyone or anything that tried to define or pigeon-hole them. Fair enough. They also talk about their plan for an album…and well, basically a lack of one. Fast forward 18 months and they’re headlining stages at Field Day, touring across Europe and the US and recording their debut album twice, scrapping one and re-recording the finally released version in 3 days. Who knows what that original version sounded like, but however bad they thought the original recording was, nothing can hide the sheer quality and variation in their song writing . From the perfect pop song clout of Stephen, the melodic roundabout of The Fountain, to the shadowy punch of Bad Feeling and the anthemic Come On Over, each track on this album delivers. There’s a layered craft to each and every song, from the harmonised vocals to the interweaving guitars, that makes this a truly brilliant album. Just don’t mention cardigans to them.
Elzhi – Elmatic
Here is an example of a clever concept that evolved into something far greater. A tribute to Nas’ seminal 1994 album Illmatic, Elzhi moves the scene from an oft-romanticised New York to a gritty Detroit, where shots go off at the funniest hours (Detroit State of Mind). El’s stark imagery cleverly references Nas’ phrasing but stripped of any glamorisation of project life, calling the hood a glasshouse the devil throws stones through. However, there is light amidst the shade. Memory Lane cheekily reminisces about being back in junior high ‘with your report card/Trying to make a B out of the letter F,’ and One Love is a touching tribute to ‘El’s girl who cooked me hot meals/Helped me when I got bills.’ Best of all, Will Sessions’ lush arrangements root the tracks in the rhythm and blues of Detroit’s own Funk Brothers, meaning that more than a simple tribute, Elmatic is one of the finest hip hop albums of the decade so far.
Grouplove – Never Trust A Happy Song
The sounds of a summer, toes wriggling in grass, beers bubbles cracking on the tongue, cheap wine at the side of bonfires, a moment of drunken epiphany shared with friends. The equivalent of a sherbet fountain – all fizz, fun and fiasco – but with the reality hit of liquorice that stops it all from being too saccharin and suggests these guys actually mean it. Never Trust A Happy Song They Say – with the euphoria evident in this trip of an album, this is contender for most dishonest album of the year. Love it.
Other long players that have rocked It’s All Happening’s world this year include:
Summer Camp – Welcome To Condale
Elbow – build a rocket boys!
Feist – Metals
Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
Pharoahe Monch – W.A.R. (We Are Renegades)
Radiohead – The King of Limbs
The Streets – Cyberspace and Reds
Tom Waits – Bad as Me
Big K.R.I.T. – Return of 4Eva
James Blake – James Blake
Bon Iver – Bon Iver
Kate Bush – 50 Words for Snow
Death Cab for Cutie – Codes and Keys
The Weekend – House of Balloons
Wild Beasts – Smother
Pete and the Pirates – One Thousand Pictures
Lanterns on the Lake – Gracious Tide, Take Me Home
Metronomy – The English Rivieria
Deer Tracks – The Archer
Art Brut – Brilliant Tragic
Tracks of the year
Bos Angeles – Beach Slalom
It may be all over in 2 minutes and 35 seconds, but this simple and youthful tale of a break-up stirs memories of teenage love and regret that had us hooked from the first listen. From the simple 2 note intro to the frenetic ending it encapsulates everything we love about discovering new bands. There’s nothing showy or over-thought, the recording sounds live and unpolished, and it seems to achieve everything it sets out to do with minimal fuss. The guitar part nods to Johnny Marr, the bassline’s got Peter Hook all over it and the hushed almost spoken vocals drift solemnly over proceedings, portraying a real sense of introspection and apology to what is ultimately a post-punk salvo of a track. They may never write anything as good as this again (we obviously hope they do), but Beach Slalom is as close to a genuine and honest guitar pop song as we could find in 2011 and we love it.
Evans the Death – I’m So Unclean
Favourite lyrics of the year on this thrashy and reflective tale of heartbreak… “When I’m watching the shopping channel, I will think of you; When I’m making a sandwich, I will think of you; When I’m trying to get to sleep, I will think of you”.
Big Deal – Talk
Has the anguish and torture of being unable to articulate basic words of lust and longing ever been so perfectly articulated? A seething bass line, wiltingly cutting delivery, hollow haze and the killer line dished up with such nonchalance, ‘all I wanna do is talk, but seeing you fucks me up,’
Slow Club – If We’re Still Alive
A soft drum that taps like a heartbeat in angst, the chiming organ teardrops, forlorn yearning of Rebecca’s vocal, building layers reminiscent of 50s girl groups, the killer electric riff followed by an almost calypso beat, a bridge that curls and kisses its way in, all viewed through the eyes of two hopeless romantics. Perfect.
The live stage – our favourite gigs
Pulp – Take your pick. Brixton Academy, Reading Festival, Isle of Wight. All three were very special. He writhes , he poses, he grooves, and makes us all feel us all wanna be Common People.
Pete and the Pirates at Buffalo Bar, 22 Nov – Fist time we’d seen PATP in several years, and we’d forgotten how much we love them. Intimate venue, great tunes.
We Were Promised Jetpacks at XOYO, 12 Oct – What a gig. WWPJ debut album was a job to behold, but their second album released earlier in 2011 is probably my album of the year. They did not disappoint at XOYO (personal highlight being during their biggest hit Quiet Little Voices, when lead singer Adm was hit by a bottle of beer so instead of singing ‘we’re young again’ he creatively changed the words to ‘you’re a c**t’ whilst pointing at the perpetrator. Priceless. With support coming from the wonderful cheeky chaps and chappess that are Let’s Buy Happiness, this was an all-round great gig.
2.54 at Corsica Studios, 9 Nov – The night that it felt like everything came together for 2.54.
Alphabet Backwards, The Switch and Lawrence Bray at The Kings Head, 18 June. Or so I’ve heard. Can’t remember much.
There’s nothing like a muddy field – festival highlights
Pulp (see above!). Ordinarily, I’d find it more than a little strange to watch a man in his 40s thrusting on top of an amp whilst singing ‘This is Hardcore’. However, this was the Return of Jarvis. It was one hell of a night.
The Great Escape – Hard to pick out a single moment. For me, The Great Escape signifies the start of the festival season, ice cream on the beach and discovering a pier load of new music. This year was no different. Personal highlights were Out Like a Lion, a great set and top interview from Team Me and Two Wounded Birds, who later went to play our Christmas show, and one of the most gloriously technicolour and serotonin fuelled gigs of my life with Grouplove and
Foster The People… Other top moments include an interview with the lovely Rachel Sermanni, Sarah Richardson trying to convince me she was hanging out with Snoop Dogg and meeting many fellow bloggers/ music people for the first time. It’s not only new bands though, and as always, Eddie Argos of Art Brut had The Haunt in the palm of his hand, wrapped in the cable of his microphone, sitting down on the floor at his will and up in the air when the hormonal fuelled Emily Kane, My Little Brother and Modern Art reach their climax. Brilliant.
Sissy & the Blisters at Camden Crawl, or Spector at Field Day – we couldn’t decide between these two. Both were the first time we’d seen each band, and both blew usaway.
Alphabet Backwards / Spring Offensive / Gunning for Tamar at Truck Festival – Three awesome Oxford bands at a festival in Oxfordshire. ‘nuff said. And all lovely, lovely people too.
Tribes at Reading – It’s a little scary when a band sings nostalgically about the 1990s. However, once we’d got over the realisation that we are now old, Tribes set at Reading was an enjoyable set to a buzzing crowd.