Thursday, December 15, 2011

Best albums of 2011: the near misses

Only ten days to Christmas and I still haven't started on the best of lists. If I've calculated correctly we can still fit the top ten album rundown in before falling asleep after Christmas lunch, but I'd better get organised ...

Just to heighten the anticipation here are three favourites that just missed out on the final ten. Looking forward to hearing all your lists and, as last year, there will be prizes for anyone that can guess the number one. No clues, but it is probably a lot easier to guess than last year's choice.

Trembling Blue Stars – Correspondence EP
It is only called an EP, but at over thirty minutes it would have been an LP in olden days. The Trembling Blue Stars were another band that I thought had probably split up ages ago and now, apparently, after this record they have. First track, The Light Outside, starts with about six minutes of swirling static and interference which almost coalesces into the sort of love-lorn, minor key track that is their stock-in-trade before dissolving into the background mist again. It is an oddly wonderful effect and every time I hear it is like overhearing a beautiful gem of an unknown song on someone else's radio that leaves you with the knowledge that you've heard something magical, but without being able to say what it was or anything about why it was so special. The rest of the songs are more traditional Trembling Blue Stars, but all demonstrate why Bobby Wratten is one of the most brilliant British song writers of the last twenty years and I still can't fathom why he is so cruelly overlooked. There is also a fantastic cover version of Wire's Kidney Bingos which on its own is worth the price of the whole album; all shimmering guitars and stunning male/female harmonies.

Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Belong
A big old blast of early 90s shoegazey indie-rock repurposed for 2011? Not everyone's cup of tea admittedly, but for someone who still listens to those old Ride records regularly this will do nicely. As far as I can tell these guys weren't even in primary school in 1990, but they have obviously been paying attention and this is a near perfect slice of noise-pop. Bet it goes down a storm at all the indie discos, if such things still exist.

R.E.M. – Collapse Into Now
They could easily have been in the top 10 (and not just because I am feeling all sentimental about them splitting up), but they had to spoil it by including a couple of howlers like Mine Smell Like Honey and Alligator Aviator Autopilot Antimatter. There are about five tracks on this album that remind you of the days when they were not only the most interesting band in the world, but also one of the most successful. Überlin and Oh My Heart are probably the two best songs they have recorded since Automatic for the People so I shouldn't complain too much, but if they had released a record with ten tracks as good, then they really could have retired as the best band in the world.

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