Top 10 album listening during 2011 meme...

Compiled mainly from instinct as well as a detailed perusal of my iTunes stats and Spotify playlists... have stuck to albums that I listen to all the way through, as it is important to appreciate the the complete 'work' these artistes have created:
  1. Peter GabrielNew Blood.
    At the moment this is the CD I'm listening to the most and I cannot stress how much I absolutely love it! I am very much one of the compact Peter Gabriel (PG) post Genesis appreciation society that is delighted he is no longer part of his prog rock heritage. Apart from the hints in PG's evergreen 'Solsbury Hill', he very much chooses to leave the past where it belongs. Now his lyrical focus is less personal having become predominantly concerned with topics of international justice.

    This latest collection forms the 2nd part of this major orchestral project, the 1st release, 'Scratch my Back', featured covers from a variety of artistes who, in turn, would release covers of their fave PG song. New Blood is an intriguing selection right across PG's solo career, a subset of songs that were filmed in March this year (2011) for the DVD/BluRay and 3D concurrent release.

    As mentioned in my reviews, (Scratch my Back - New Blood) John Metcalfe's arrangements are seriously stunning, Tom Cawley's piano playing sublime and, along with Peter's brilliant vocals, they are the standout elements that make this such compelling listening. It is also important to note these arrangements are in a full, classical symphonic format. This is NOT Peter Gabriel's songs simply accompanied by orchestra, it is a much more significant piece of work than that. A surprising outcome is that some pieces that were favourites on his original recordings have been overtaken by some of the ones that, perhaps, were not appreciated so fully. For example, the wedding favourite 'In Your Eyes' is outshone by the more epic 'San Jacinto' and 'Digging in the Dirt', the latter my current top choice.

    Both 'Scratch my Back' and this 'New Blood' project have puzzled some of PG's ardent 'rock' fans, yet throughout the 3D filming session at the Appollo I noticed there was a more rapturous reception than at the initial outing in the 02 the previous year. Furthermore it is clear that this has gained PG a additional audience that now have now been seduced by the depth of his musical art through this adventurous and risky exploration of a radically different approach. It is a bit of an irony that such an established rock icon has found that this more orthodox classical accompaniement has enabled him to express himself with greater clarity than ever before.

    There are a number of formats to buy this fantastic release, with or without DVD, a version with instrumental only recordings on a bonus CD and a deluxe edition all packaged up together (yes, you've guessed, that's what I went for!)

  2. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs.
    This year I went to see Arcade Fire with another one of my fave bands, Mumford and Sons, perform in Hyde Park. Along with a supporting cast which included the very wonderful Beirut it was a seriously splendid eve! There is something unique about Arcade Fire's music which sets them apart from many other bands. There is a sense of 'musical' anarchy where both instrumentation and song arrangements do not, in any way, follow the usual tried and trusted paths. The overall impression one gets listening to them live is how much energy comes over from an essentially acoustic line up: great vocals, great sounds and thoughtful lyrical ideas. I have already featured an excerpt from the album here, the transcendent 'Sprawl (Flatland)'

  3. Hope & Social - April.
    I saw this band at this year's Greenbelt Festival and they completely blew me away. With many bands that can really deliver live, hearing the recorded output can be tinged with disappointment, yet Hope & Social do not suffer from this problem. The band have set up their own studio and are clearly masters at capturing the characteristics of their endearing live performances. If you see they will be playing nearby, do not miss it, they are seriously good and superb fun. Fave track currently 'A Darkness Now Is Coming'.

  4. Paul Simon - So Beautiful or So What?
    The Beeb recently ran a documentary about the album 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' that both lifted Simon and Garfunkel into the music biz stratosphere yet paradoxically became their swansong as a duo. This prompted me to re-discover their output and Paul Simon's repetoire of solo work. His new album is delightfully quirky, utilising a return to basic methods of recording which gives it a freshness that more produced work would not have. And, of course, if you want some evergreen Paul Simon, you need look no further than the influential Graceland album.

  5. Jónsi - Go.This is the solo output from the guitarist and singer of cult Icelandic megastars Sigur Rós. Do check out the videos of the stage show, an assault of jaw dropping lighting and projected imagery that becomes one with the band of multi instrumetnalist musicians. I find the music deeply moving, the kind of music that 'gets to you' despite, on the whole, being created with an array of electronic synth type gizmos.

  6. Brandon Flowers - Flamingo.
    The Killers front man has turned in a really respectable solo effort and, despite the expectation of it being a 'Killers Lite' soundalike, allows Brandon to express more of himslef than he might do otherwise. So not only is he a great front man with a wonderful voice he now shows that he is a man of considerable depth. The lyrics include many religious references which the handful of videos made to promote this release bear out, see earlier post here.

  7. Coldplay - MYLO XYLOTO.
    Yes, OK, I confess, I actually like Coldplay! Although their latest offering seems to play very much into the stadium rock genre (including songs for the acoustic section in the middle of the set!), what entices me is the optimism of their music. It is as though they are done with experimentation, they've found their sound and now they can create song after song that seems to celebrate our very existence. Even the potentially sombre 'Fix You' from the X & Y album has hope for the future and lifts the spirits, whilst MYLO XYLOTO packs a joyful, foot tapping punch all the way.

  8. Owl City - All Things Bright and Beautiful.
    Whilst many music pundits think that Adam Young's voice is yet another Autotune special the simple fact is not only can he sing but his voice actually sounds like his recordings! The Owl City concept is very much his and indicates what a prodigious young talent he is, which I discussed briefly here. I love 'Deer Caught in the Headlights' with its audio, lyrical and visual nod to the 80s, and I'm sure I recognise those synth riffs?! Check out this unplugged version, too. I love the finely crafted tracks this guy produces, not too dissimilar to the amazing Imogen Heap, another artiste for whom it will be equally intriguing to see how they develop over the next couple of decades.

  9. Arvo Pärt - Spiegel im Spiegel.
    I remember it was one of those wonderful moments making a long journey that one of the Soul Music series on BBC Radio 4 covered this piece. It was rally interesting to hear directly from violinist Tasmin Little about how she approached this minimalist music score. Of course, its simplicity masks the technique needed to allow the very beauty of its emptiness to lift the listener into the emotional heights which,ironically, reach down into your very core enabling succour to the spirit. It is, what I may venture to call, 'universal music'. By that I mean that it would be appreciated by folk from different cultures, disparate status and by every musician regardless of their chosen genre. Something to listen to either lift or soothe the spirit.

  10. Mumford and Sons - Sigh No More.
    I have to include this, despite its 2009 release date, as I still listen to it so much! It's an amazing debut album, it doesn't suffer from many band's first studio efforts when they are prone to try lots of different styles and techniques once given the freedom of the recording process. I love the depth of the lyrics, love the energy that comes over even as an acoustic band and having heard some of their new songs live in Hyde Park very much looking forward to their next release.
Over to you, look forward to reading your compilations?