Selecting a Top Albums Of The Year list is always tricky because it’s very easy to be swayed by seeing other lists in magazines, newspapers and websites. If they all pretty much have the same album at Number 1, who am I to disagree? But then again, this is my list on my website, so I’m afraid the wonderful P.J. Harvey will just have to settle for second place.
Taking first place in my list this year is a very different artist to last year (Kanye won it by a mile) and it was a very close-run thing. Jonathan Wilson has hardly hit the big-time in 2011, but he’s certainly gained a name for himself and made a lot of very high-profile friends in the Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter scene. Sometimes such a build-up can lead to a disappointing album when it comes out, but Gentle Spirit is stunning, with beautiful melodies, jams that never get dull and a freak-out ethos that never gets irritating (unlike the patchy Devendra Banheart, say).
So he edges out Let England Shake, which has rightly won kudos across the board, but for me it doesn’t quite match up to the stark, harrowing beauty of her last album White Chalk (a past Album Of The Year for me). Other singer-songwriters making my top 10 include the likes of Kurt Vile and Josh T. Pearson along with old favourites like Tom Waits and Ry Cooder and a resurgent and newly-focused Ryan Adams and the very welcome and overdue return of Gillian Welch.
Skying by The Horrors was an album that took me by surprise, having never investigated or heard them, the sheer weight of the buzz behind them made me check it out and I was suitably impressed. And then we have the unique talents of Bjork and Kate Bush, two singular artists unafraid of taking risks, but both delivering cohesive, accessible and often breathtaking new albums this year. My list is a bit less diverse than it has been in the past, but it’s hard to pinpoint why. What I can say is that these albums all made my 2011 that bit better, so I thank them…
1 – Jonathan Wilson – Gentle Spirit
2 – P.J. Harvey – Let England Shake
3 – Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo
4 – Gillian Welch – The Harrow and The Harvest
5 – Josh T. Pearson – Last Of The Country Gentleman
6 – The Horrors – Skying
7 – Bjork – Biophilia
8 – Tom Waits – Bad As Me
9 – Ry Cooder – Pull Up Some Dust And Sit Down
10 – Ryan Adams – Ashes & Fire
11 – Kate Bush – 50 Words For Snow
12 – M83 – Hurry Up We’re Dreaming
13 – Raphael Saadiq – Stone Rollin’
14 – Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Mirror Traffic
15 – Shawn Smith – Sunshine
16 – Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
17 – Yuck – Yuck
18 – Tedeschi Trucks Band – Revelator
19 – Wilco – The Whole Love
20 – Bon Iver – Bon Iver