As much as we wish it did, Wears The Trousers doesn’t pay the bills. We all have ‘real’ jobs to help make ends meet, which take up far more time than we’d like. While we try to cover as much as we can, often with a sleepless night or two, it’s not always humanly possible to review each and every one of the scores of albums sent to us on a weekly basis.
That does not mean that we don’t listen to, fall in love with, and generally want to share with the world how much we adore some of these records, so with that in mind we have compiled this list of twenty of the best records of the year so far that we didn’t get around to posting a review for. It includes great repeat efforts from Wears The Trousers staples such as Vivian Girls and Alela Diane, awesome debuts from the likes of Chelsea Wolfe and Little Scream, and long-overdue returns from lesser known acts such as sanso-xtro and Sarabeth Tucek.
Hopefully you’ll discover some stuff you may have missed out on and, as always, if you think there’s a classic-in-the-making that we’ve missed out on, please leave a comment and let us know.
Here are the first ten. You can find the others here.
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[Pendu Sound; December 28, 2010]
Technically speaking, this album came out in the dying days of 2010, but for an album this good we’re willing to let that slide. Chelsea Wolfe is a California native who constructs darkly experimental songs, or “spiritual realm funeral songs” as she herself describes them. The Grime & The Glow is an expansive and varied opus, traversing industrial rock, folk, drone and noise over the course of eleven songs. Equally arresting is Wolfe’s voice, a harrowing wail imbibed with anguish and passion, and impossible to ignore. If you like what you hear then you’re in luck, because a new album – the forebodingly-titled Ἀποκάλυψις (‘Apocalypsis’) – is due next month.
[Friends; February 7, 2011]
Although released on a song-by-song basis throughout the second half of 2010, it wasn’t until the beginning of this year that Hello Paradise, the third record from psychedelic rockers Celebration, was available in its entirety. Inspired by tarot cards, the record is awash with mystical synths and world music influences – arguably some of the finest instrumentation of the year – which swirl around Katrina Ford’s stunning, rapturous voice.
[Hubro; February 14, 2011]
On her debut solo full-length Jessica Sligter, or Jæ, fuses traditional folk and orchestral pop to great effect. The whimsically-titled Balls & Kittens, Draught & Strangling Rain is made up of deceptively complex lyrics and off-kilter melodies, steered by Sligter’s endearing voice and forged by an impressive array of instruments, including musical saw, mandolin and harmonium alongside the more traditional, drums, guitar piano and bass. Highlights are dotted liberally throughout this record but opening track ‘Adam’s Place’ and ‘Reverse’ are particularly strong, and emphasise Jæ’s knack for merging the conventional with something a little more left-of-centre.
[Asthmatic Kitty; February 21, 2011]
On The Magic Place, Julianna Barwick further developed the fascinating vocal techniques employed on previous releases Sanguine and the Florine EP, with breathtaking results. Although there are practically no conventional lyrics on the record, a sense of joy and beauty shines through as Barwick creates an organic, ambient symphony, reminiscent of some otherworldly choir, with little other than her tender voice and a looping pedal.
[Not Not Fun; February 21, 2011]
Wisconsin duo Peaking Lights make tranced post-reggae hypno-pop, which is a description you don’t get to use everyday. On their second album, 936, the wife–husband duo of Indra Kunis and Aaron Coynes effortlessly combine dub, psychedelia and dream-pop, resulting in a crucible of primal, playful experiments that brought a sense of summer to those dark winter months. Kunis deploys her voice only periodically, but always thoughtfully, for the most part allowing the thumping beats and acid-indebted grooves to do the talking.
[Digitalis; March 1, 2011]
Fountain Fountain Joyous Mountain is the second album from Adelaide-born Melissa Agate, a drummer who makes plinky-plonky, floating electronica as sanso-xtro. The record was a long time coming, with Agate’s debut full-length Sentimentalist now six years old, but given the calibre of this comeback this was clearly time well spent. Ostensibly a story of “finding something amazing through the light and the dark”, the songs are coloured with a mixture of joy (as seen in the felicific, dreamy twinkling of ‘Origin Of Birds’) and sorrow (found in the despondent, sparse guitar sounds of ‘Wood Owl Wings A Rush, Rush’). A quietly stunning record of experimentation and emotion.
[Secretly Canadian; March 8, 2011]
On her debut album The Golden Record, Laurel Sprengelmeyer exhibits a musicality and songwriting skill that most artists can only ever dream of reaching. Orchestral flourishes, snatches of reverb and feedback and thoughtful passages of synthesisers come and go over the course of a record which counts members of Stars, Arcade Fire, The National and Thee Silver Mount Zion as guest musicians. As impressive as this collaborative roll call is, Sprengelmeyer is always in command, intricately weaving lovely images with her brilliant lyrics.
[RabbleRouser/EMI; March 14, 2011]
Tom Waits covers sitting side-by-side with traditional English ballads – it could only be The Unthanks. Last, the band’s fourth album, and their second since changing their name from Rachel Unthank & The Winterset, sees the Northumbrians continue their minimalist, reserved take on the classic sounds of British folk. Lush string arrangements add texture to the spare beauty of this collection of melancholy-laden songs which charm the ears but chill the soul.
[Co-operative; March 21, 2011]
French electro-pop trio Yelle’s second full-length Safari Disco Club picks up precisely where their 2007 debut Pop Up left off. Their sound is still centred on their eponymous frontwoman’s half-sung, half-rapped lyrics, which remain an idiosyncratic blend of abstract imagery, pop culture references and the minutiae of relationships – frequently over the course of a single song. Even if you don’t speak French (we’re not exactly whizzes ourselves), it’s still easy to appreciate the infectious enthusiasm of her delivery and the cheesy brilliance of the synth-pop backing tracks, which are crammed with enough fun touches to warm even the chilliest Francophobic heart.
[Rinse/Columbia; March 28, 2011]
Jessie J may have made the bigger commercial breakthrough but there’s little doubt where the real talent lies in the battle of the surname-as-initial ladies that the press has latched on to. While the ‘Do It Like A Dude’ singer’s debut was a laughable hodgepodge of American R&B and ‘urban’ music, Katy B’s On A Mission is a genuinely brilliant album which draws from the best of UK dubstep, grime and soul and infuses them with a modern pop sensibility. Lyrically, Brien (that’s what the B’s for) addresses fairly standard subjects – relationships, partying, etc. – but has a knack for laconically cutting to the heart of these issues with greater alacrity than any of her peers. Couple this with the fact that she also has a great voice and we’re on to a winner.