Sunday, December 25, 2011

Best albums of 2011

1 Mogwai – Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
In the past, when people have asked me who my favourite band is they would get a long and quite possibly boring disquisition covering a number of candidates for this honour, but also the difficulties of making a definitive judgement due to variations dependant on mood, selection criteria and associated weighting and how much I am trying to impress the person who asked the question.

But from now on I am just going to say Mogwai.

I can still clearly remember my first encounter with their singular genius in the Virgin Megastore on Oxford Street. They had Ten Rapid on a listening post on the first floor and something about the striking cover design featuring a small square photo of a freeway bridge with railway lines underneath and a large white m drew me to pick up the headphones. About twenty minutes later my then girlfriend eventually found me and insisted that it was time to leave. Unfortunately there was still another thirteen minutes of the album to go, so she ended up leaving on her own. I am not saying this was the main reason, but the relationship ended quite soon after.

Luckily Mogwai have been a lot more understanding and our relationship is still going strong fourteen years later.

Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will is their seventh album proper (not counting live albums, EPs and compilations) and it is, it has to be said, a triumph. For a band that deliberately limits their sonic palette they still manage to make the most bold and adventurous music.

From the opening delicate arpeggiated guitar of White Noise to the dying chords of You're Lionel Ritchie every single track is a glorious demonstration of their vision and power as a band. White Noise builds from the delicate beginnings to a swirling crescendo, underpinned by some lovely piano and Martin Bulloch's solid drumming.

Mexican Grand Prix is as close to pop as they are going to get with its hazy vocals, shimmering organ riffs and pumping beat. Back to more familiar Mogwai territory for Rano Pano and its monster distorted guitars and driving percussion.

The delicate and beautiful Letters to the Metro opens out onto the joyous and bouncy George Square Thatcher Death Party. The vocals make a reappearance here and although you can't comprehend the lyrics the sentiments are clear from the title. In my alternative world this would be the Christmas number one this year.

How to be a Werewolf takes a while to get going, but when the drums kick in and the warm tender bass line comes to the front of the mix it irresistibly draws you in and, although joined by a bit of searing guitar and crashing cymbals they remain constant under it all, to be revealed again as the rest of the instrumentation fades away at the end.

The final track, You're Lionel Ritchie, references the classic Mogwai template with almost silent quiet passages interspersed by some of the heaviest and lumbering guitar lines, before dying away in a cloud of distorted chords.

Valhalla Dancehall gave this a good run for their money, but for the sheer exuberance and enjoyment the band have for their music, the way they manage to keep refining and honing their sound to push their boundaries and for their singular vision it had to be Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will.

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