This month’s edition of Listening Habits collects the first batch of 2011 albums that have occupied our time in the first few months of the year plus a couple of 2010 releases that got quite a few spins recently. Add Anna Calvi’s debut to the mix (it was at the top of our previous selection) and you have our new music soundtrack for the first quarter of the year.
We have already discussed the 8th albums for both PJ Harvey and Radiohead here, so this time we’ll start our highlights commentary not with the records at the top of the list, but with the most talked about album of the moment which, of course, is none other than "Angles", the long overdue comeback of The Strokes.
The once tight New York City gang has grown apart in the five years since their last work together and now the vibe we’re getting from the interviews is more of the “stay together for the kids' sake” type. The opening synth-reggae notes of "Machu Picchu" don’t do much to raise our understandably lowered expectations, but the familiar sounding first single "Under Cover Of Darkness" that follows it, takes us back to better times for the band. "Last Nite" it ain’t, but it’s certainly a track that could claim a place in the track list of their seminal debut. The sense that the band is trying to return to its earlier sound is soon dissolved by the failed ’80s new wave-pop of "Two Kinds Of Happiness" and the surprising, first-rate manic rush of "You're So Right" that follow. After its first four tracks both the strengths and weaknesses of "Angles" are becoming apparent; the album, whether by accident (the awkward recording process) or by design, is trying to accommodate way too many disparate influences and the end result is uneven but with enough sparks of brilliance to satisfy the thirst of the devoted fan. This frustrating lack of consistency makes "Angles" The Strokes’ weakest work so far, but as the non-stop spinning of the record this week has proven, there’s still plenty of thrills to be had with our old pals even if the help of the skip button is required this time.
Among the best releases of the last couple of months we also find the fifth album by Greg Dulli’s Twilight Singers, the sophomore effort from Swedish siren Lykke Li and the twelfth studio album by art-punk veterans Wire (more about them in our recent live review).
Former Afghan Whigs’ leader Greg Dulli has struck a new creative streak in recent years and after the grunge powerhouse that was "Saturnalia", the album he made in 2008 in collaboration with Mark Lanegan as The Gutter Twins, he is back with the Twilight Singers giving us the amazing "Dynamite Steps", a record that truly lives up to its name, combining explosive rockers like "Waves" or "On The Corner" with dynamic slow-burning numbers like "Get Lucky" or "Gunshots". Guests include Mark Lanegan, Ani DiFranco, Joseph Arthur and The Verve’s guitarist Nick McCabe but make no mistake; "Dynamite Steps" is Greg Dulli’s show and he makes all the right moves to make us relive the glory days of ’90s rock.
Lykke Li’s "Wounded Rhymes" is my definition of a great pop record. In the three years since her promising debut "Youth Novels", Lykke Li has grown into a captivating performer who is able to express in a vulnerable but powerful voice the lows of heartache and unrequited love and exorcise them with magnificently dark pop music that can be at the same time both sad and uplifting. The two excellent singles "Get Some" and "I Follow Rivers" find worthy opponents in "Youth Knows No Pain", "Rich Kids Blues", "Sadness Is A Blessing" and "Jerome" in the competition for best album track in a record where weaknesses are few and far between. The only question that remains unanswered after listening to "Wounded Rhymes" is who would have the heart to turn down the affections of Lykke Li and cause all this heartbreak. Whoever is this man of stone, perhaps we should thank him for inadvertently inspiring Lykke Li to create one of the pop albums of the year!
Top 20 Albums
1. Let England Shake - P.J. HARVEY
2. The King Of Limbs - RADIOHEAD
3. Wounded Rhymes - LYKKE LI
4. Dynamite Steps - TWILIGHT SINGERS
5. Red Barked Tree - WIRE
6. Angles - THE STROKES
7. The King Is Dead - THE DECEMBERISTS
8. Kiss Each Other Clean - IRON AND WINE
9. Collapse Into Now - R.E.M.
10. Yuck - YUCK
11. Violet Cries - ESBEN AND THE WITCH
12. The People's Key - BRIGHT EYES
13. Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes - SOCIAL DISTORTION
14. The Big Roar - THE JOY FORMIDABLE
15. Rolling Blackouts - THE GO! TEAM
16. Ventriloquizzing - FUJIYA & MIYAGI
17. La Sera - LA SERA
18. Rough Trade Shops Counter Culture 10 - VARIOUS ARTISTS
19. The Inevitable Past Is The Future Forgotten - THREE MILE PILOT
20. False Priest - OF MONTREAL
Top 20 Tracks
1. The glorious land - P.J. HARVEY
2. Down by the water - THE DECEMBERISTS
3. Waves - TWILIGHT SINGERS
4. Your fake name is good enough for me - IRON AND WINE
5. Lotus flower - RADIOHEAD
6. There is a light that never goes out - DUM DUM GIRLS
7. I heard you say - VIVIAN GIRLS
8. Youth knows no pain - LYKKE LI
9. Uberlin - R.E.M.
10. Under cover of darkness - THE STROKES
11. Moreover - WIRE
12. Holing out - YUCK
13. In youth is pleasure - THE NEAT
14. Whirring - THE JOY FORMIDABLE
15. Warpath - ESBEN & THE WITCH
16. Devils hearts grow gold - LA SERA
17. Buy nothing day - THE GO! TEAM
18. Sixteen shades of black & blue - FUJIYA & MIYAGI
19. Singularity - BRIGHT EYES
20. Alone and forsaken - SOCIAL DISTORTION
PJ Harvey - The Glorious Land