With next year setting up to be a vintage one for film, it looks like we’re in a purple patch for all things cinematic. It was a tightly contested poll, but here is your top ten films of 2011…
THE TREE OF LIFE
HARRY POTTER & THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2
TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY
X-MEN: FIRST CLASS
A mix of the big and small, the blockbuster and the arthouse, you lot’ve got good taste. Peter Mullan’s NEDS told the story of growing up in 70s Scotland, and wasn’t the cheeriest of flicks, but was a brilliant, bleak and hard-hitting movie. Joining it is the similarly small budget The Guard, starring Brendan Gleeson in fine comedic vein as a politically incorrect police guard. See it once and you’ll be quoting it for months.
You’ve also chosen two Oscar winners in the form of Black Swan and The Fighter; which provided wins for Natalie Portman and Christian Bale respectively. Darren Aronofsky reinvented Suspiria and gave teenage boys a lesbian sex scene to drool over for years with his balletic psychodrama, whilst Bale and Mark Wahlberg provided pugilistic drama that rose far far above the average sports flick. The Deathly Hallows Part 2 saw the end of one major franchise, rounding off eight films and a decade’s worth of wizardry. It’s good that Harry & co went out on a high, but it’s sad to think there’ll never be another instalment. Whilst that franchise was laid to rest, another was resurrected. The superb X-Men: First Class took us back to the beginnings of the story and reinvigorated the franchise; blockbusters don’t always have to be awful.
Despite being rather confusing (to put it lightly), The Tree Of Life made it all the way to Number Two in the poll. Stunning cinematography and design made sure it was one of the most visually interesting films of the year, even if you weren’t sure what was going on. Tinker Tailor Solider Spy brought together one of the best casts of the year for a classic slice of espionage and a near-nailed on Oscar nomination for Gary Oldman. But really, Drive is the worthy winner of your Film Of 2011. An iconic turn from Ryan Gosling as the nameless driver, sleek 1980s vibe, wonderful supporting cast and superb soundtrack combined for what will no doubt become a landmark film of the next decade.
Justin Vernon’s cult phenomenon are only on their second album but probably on about three million bored hipsters’ lists of favourite bands. Not to say that Bon Iver are boring – so far from it. In fact, that the act’s tour sold out in a crazy amount of time (I’m still mad about that). The group’s debut album For Emma, Forever Ago was one of the best records of recent years and it seemed so impossible to follow up that people doubted that there would even be a second Bon Iver album. The release of Blood Bank EP a few years back was a taste of things to come but couldn’t really ever forewarn us to the sound of this sophomore release.
The band released “Calgary” a few weeks before the record itself, and fans were astonished at how totally different the song sounded. People wanted more “Skinny Love”, more beardy bloke with a guitar, not a bloody 80s tribute act, complete with requisite cheesy synths. We all warmed to “Calgary” however, and when the full album was released, it was instantly acclaimed. Instantly! Every track on this album is emotional, adventurous and interesting, even closer "Beth/Rest", who’s soft rock sound is more divisive than the Berlin Wall; the stripped back piano-only version revealing a truly beautiful ballad under those saxophone solo. Bon Iver reminds us with every listen that music is an art form, as much as it is an expression of self, and the synergy between the two can be so fluid that you begin to wonder where the feeling stops and where the making begins.
If The Horrors’ career path teaches us anything, it’s that first impressions and first albums are too important. Written off as po-faced comedy goths on their first record Strange House, the Southend quintet became critical darlings with the radical departure on Primary colours; out went Cramps-aping garage rock, in came a swirling blend of krautrock and shoegaze. Two years later and they’ve pulled it off again.
Skying is a dense, groove based album and the fact that it was made on a fair amount of drugs shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The psychedelic opener “Changing The Rain” sets the tone with its chunky bass and hazy, baggy beat, which sounds like nothing else around at the moment. “Moving Further Away” and “Oceans Burning” tread a similar path to “Sea Within A Sea”, experimenting with what the band can achieve sonically, but buried in between such tracks are the straight ahead pop tracks you’d never thought would come from The Horrors. “Still Life” has finally given the band a big, singalong anthem, whilst “I Can See Through You” is a concise gem of 60s pop.
They may always have their detractors, but with the trajectory they’re on, The Horrors are likely to become one of those special groups in the lineage of classic British bands.
In a nod to the good old Top 40 of the pop charts, here’s what you, the loyal Hitsville faithful, voted as your tracks of 2011…
- Tyler, The Creator - Yonkers
- Bombaby Bicycle Club - Shuffle
- Nicola Roberts - Beat Of My Drum
- Los Campesinos! - By Your Hand
- White Lies - Bigger Than Us
- The Horrors - Still Life
- Childish Gambino - Freaks & Geeks
- Elbow - Open Arms
- Arctic Monkeys - The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala
- Jay-Z & Kanye West - Otis
- Rihanna - We Found Love (ft. Calving Harris)
- The Vaccines - Wreckin Bar (Ra Ra Ra)
- Metronomy - The Bay
- Warpaint - Billie Holiday
- Beyonce Countdown
- Childish Gambino - Bonfire
- Bon Iver - Perth
- Patrick Wolf - The City
- Nicola Roberts - Lucky Day
- The National - Exile Vilify
- Florence + The Machine - Shake It Out
- The Joy Formidable - Whirring
- Youth Lagoon - Montana
- Yuck - Get Away
- M83 - Midnight City
- Nicki Minaj - Super Bass
- Death Grips - Spread Eagle Across The Block
- Beyonce - Run The World (Girls)
- Dananananaykroyd - Muscle Memory
- College - A Real Hero
- SBTRKT - Never Never
- Wugazi - Sleep Rules Everything Around Me
- Low - Try To Sleep
- Lady Gaga - Judas
- Rizzle Kicks - Down With The Trumpets
- Friendly Fires - Hawaiian Air
- The Chapman Family - Kids
- Mellowhype - 64
- Jamie xx - Far Nearer
- Noel Gallagher - The Death Of You And Me
Just missing out on the Top 40 were the likes of Radiohead’s “Lotus Flower”, Lana Del Rey’s “Video Games”, “Trembling Hands” by Explosions In The Sky and, erm, “What Makes You Beautiful” by One Direction… not sure how to explain that one.
You can listen to the list in full on Spotify (minus one or two tracks that aren’t available). Enjoy!
Thanks to the advent of social networking, mystery in music is all but gone. Albums get month long promo campaigns, artists tweet every time they blink, every tiny snippet of news is tweeted and blogged (we’re a bit guilty of that, sorry); the age of secrecy with bands is all but extinct… apart from Wu Lyf. The Mancunian four piece remained in the shadows of their hometown’s music scene for what seemed like forever, with an immeasurable amount of songs and demos floating about the interwebs. But as 2011 wore on, the quartet slowly but surely crept into the limelight, revealing themselves, doing press interview and the like.
For all the intrigue and suspense, Wu Lyf’s sound is fairly conventional; the skyscraping guitars of the current crop of stadium bands and the afrobeat rhythms of every band inspired by Foals or Vampire Weekend. But the liberal use of organs, reverb and frontman Ellery Roberts gravel-gargling voice makes for something that sounds out like a sore thumb in the current musical climate. Roberts singing (if it can be called that) is like listening to a broken Tom Waits vinyl, making the lyrics near impossible to decipher. But such a technique only helps to add to the intrigue of the band.
The way Wu Lyf present themselves enhances the appeal of the band. The social outcasts, the rapscallions terrorising the streets of Mancunia speaking in some garbled yoof speak, the Lucifer Youth Foundation. It’s inevitable they’ll acquire a cultish following with such a gimmick; in fact, they probably already have, which is why you’ve voted them to Number Five in our poll.
The big album of the year, bar none. It’s hard to remember any album in recent memory that had such a build-up and so much expectations placed on it, although it didn’t quite start that way. Originally planned as a five-track EP, Watch The Throne fast evolved into a full album. The first anyone heard from the tag team of Jay-Z & Kanye West was the rather sloppy "H.A.M.", which dampened many people’s hopes for the collaboration (fortunately the track was relegated to the deluxe version’s extra disc). Could these two icons of hip-hop produced an expensive gold-plated flop? Well, in short, no.
Watch The Throne is unashamedly brash and flash; it flaunts its cost like an expensive piece of jewellery. Kanye’s influence is clear to see. The more experimental of the pair, he takes over with the overall sound of the record. There are still the big crossover pop moments, but there’s also unorthodox samples from two soul legends (Otis Redding on "Otis", Nina Simone on "New Day"), dubstep, Will Ferrell dialogue, a bizzare bluesy motif that appears at the end of several tracks and the epic shapeshifting "Murder To Excellence". It’s a bit removed from “Empire State Of Mind” to say the least…
Whilst the record in grandiose and materialistic, there’s also a clear social conscience running through its core. Countless references to the struggles of African-Americans in the US, black-on-black murder, the two stars’ worries over fatherhood, religion, politics and much more shoot down the idea that this is basically two rappers dicking around in the studio, talking about their clothes and women. Watch The Throne is a landmark.
As astonishing a debut as anything that’s come along in the last five years, SBTRKT's first LP is the high watermark of this post-dubstep music world we inhabit. Rarely has electronic music sound so warm and soulful whilst remaining forward-thinking and innovative. SBTRKT has established himself as an alternative to both the braindead bro-step of Skrillex et al and the paper thin dub of James Blake. Without any massive buildup of hype from the press, SBTRKT has risen to become most switched-on people's producer of choice, as proven by his position as your NUmber Seven album of 2011. Most, if not all of the tracks on SBTRKT are equally at home on dancefloors as they are on iPod headphones. The production and beats are superlative, without getting too technical or intricate. Of course, a lot of the album's success hs to do with the guest vocalists. Yukumi Nagano and Rose Gabor lend their talents to a handfuk of tracks, but the majority of vocal duty is handled by the fantstic Sampha, who provides the album with enough heart and hooks to make it a true classic.
Going soft-rock might not be a common or cool musical direction, but it’s the path that Metronomy strolled down with aplomb on their third album. Taking their idiosyncratic indie disco formula and streamlining it with influences like Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles worked wonders for the Devon four piece, earning them plaudits across the board, including your votes to make The English Riviera your Number Eight album of 2011.
A love letter to its geographical namesake, The English Riviera is the sound of British pop music right now; smooth, sharp, funky and packed full of hooks. From “Corinne” to “Everything Goes My Way”, this is the sound of a band hitting its stride, full of confidence. They’ve also produced a classic British pop song in the form of “The Bay” with its slowly building bass ‘n’ synth intro that culminates in groovy dancefloor euphoria. It’s no wonder band leader Joe Mount was drafted in to work on Nicola Roberts’ poptastic solo debut. With albums like this, expect Metronomy to become one of the big bands on the scene over the next few years.
The further Wild Beasts get in their career the more of a misnomer their name becomes. The Lake District quartet began racous and rowdy but still refined, but from second album Two Dancers to Smother, they’ve most definitely decided less is more. Their sound is now more mature and layered, smooth and sultry; as tender and refined as The Smiths, but with a perpetual undercurrent of sexuality lingering (for example “Plaything”, a stripped back ode to stripping off). It’s not all hanky panky though; Albatross is a haunting ballad whilst “Reach A Bit Further” features the amazing interplay between co-vocalists Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming.
The true standout is the epic closer “End Come Too Soon”. The most ambitious track the quartet have attempted and possibly the best thing they’ve ever recorded, it glides along on a subtle groove and dreamlike guitars. With Smother, Wild Beasts continue to be the most astonishingly unique band in the country and are most certainly one of those rare once-in-a-generation groups.
Well this is a surprise. The pre-release hype to Tyler, The Creator's second album was huge, something you only see for a true phenomenon, which is what the LA rapper is, make no mistake. "Yonkers", or more specifically, the video for the track, introduced him to a much wider audience and set the ball rolling for Goblin’s hype. Since then, Tyler’s won an MTV VMA award (for the “Yonkers” promo), provided a voice for cartoon The Regular Show, become the most wanted collaborator for anyone in need of some credibility and found himself at the centre of many heated discussions on homophobia and sexism. All because of one album.
Personally, I didn’t think Goblin was up to much. It contains a handful of great songs, a lot of filler and a lot of half-arsed song sketches. But clearly, you lot disagree. The likes of “Yonkers”, "Sandwitches", "She" and "Radicals" are all fantastic tracks worthy of the buzz, but stuff like "Bitch Suck Dick", “Transylvania” and ”Fish” are piss-poor. However, Tyler and Goblin have both become iconic, just through the power of promotion and the millions who have converted to the Odd Future cause. OFWGKTA and by extension Tyler have transformed into something of a youth movement. Their ‘fuck everything’ stance on, well, everything was always going to be popular amongst bored and disenfranchised kids, of which there are plenty around at the moment. Tyler’s next album is scheduled for 2012, and hopefully he can capitalise on his early potential.