5 Best Albums of 2011.

5. Let England Shake – PJ Harvey

Justly lauded when it was released in February, Harvey’s eighth studio album landed her a second Mercury Prize after Stories from the City, Stories From The Sea in 2000. Ostensibly, Let England Shake delves into the psychic scars left in the aftermath of the First World War. But for all the heartfelt angst of her lyrics, it is as ever the bewitching drive of her music that once again proves so beguiling. There’s an eerie menace to her sound that’s pleasurably threatening and draws you inexorably in. And despite making probably her most accessible album to date, she remains gloriously unconventional.

4. Diamond Mine – King Creosote and Jon Hopkins

Occasional collaborators and fellow Scots Meursault describe the songs they produce as “epic lo-fi”. That describes perfectly the music that Kenny Anderson makes under the moniker King Creosote. And when he teamed up with indietronica producer Jon Hopkins for Diamond Mine, he was finally able to enjoy some belated recognition when they were nominated for this year’s Mercury Prize. Incredibly, this is (roughly) his fortieth album. And he’s still (apparently) the right side of forty. Just seven tracks in all, but each one is exquisitely crafted and impeccably delivered. Track 5, Bubble, has the sort of heart-breaking melody not heard in the Scottish Highlands since Belle And Sebastian’s haunting I Fought In A War.

3. The Harrow And The Harvest – Gillian Welch

Welch and her partner, guitarist David Rawlings made their debut in 1996 with Revival, produced by T-Bone Burnett. But it was when she performed with Alison Krauss and Emmylou Harris on the Burnett produced soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou that her career took off. And a year later in 2001 she and Rawlings followed that up by releasing  Time, The Revelator. This is their fifth album, and is probably their best. By some curious alchemy, the songs they produce succeed in sounding at once timeless yet powerfully contemporary. Delicate melodies cast in Appalachian granite, track 2, Dark Turn Of Mind is a worthy successor to Time’s impossibly mellifluous Dear Someone.

2. The Less You Know, The Better – DJ Shadow

Every time we greet something new with schoolgirl excitement, we have an irresistible urge to over-compensate by sneering at it ever after. Thus it is that after greeting DJ Shadow’s 1996 debut Entroducing… with unbridled enthusiasm, everyone’s gone out of their way to ignore the three he’s made subsequently. As I wrote in my earlier review here of this his fourth album, one day, a lot of people will one day feel very foolish for having missed this first time around.

1. Father, Son, Holy Ghost – Girls

Compiling these end of year lists is invariably a process of reluctant elimination. So that by the time you’ve narrowed it down to your best five albums, the five you end up with are all equally wonderful. Not so this year. This year’s best album was unusually easy to name. As I wrote in my earlier review here, the second album from Christopher Owens’ band Girls is a serious album. Monumental yet intimate, and ranging musically across three or four decades, it’s an album that’ll be celebrated and returned to for decades. Enjoy.

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