This is one of my favourite self-appointed tasks, but this year I had a crisis of conscience. Why were nearly all the albums that I had chosen by established artists? Where is the new talent? Am I just getting old and prefer the music made by people that I have followed for years? Lord alone knows. But what I can tell you is this year some bands who have been going for 40 years or so have made records which rival those from any other part of their career, and that is no mean feat!
1 'Let England Shake' by P.J.Harvey
No surprises here: I think this has been the album of the year for every reviewer in the UK. It is a magnificent record, and gets better with every listen. Polly Harvey has matured into an extraordinary talent, and this album which explores the twin themes of War and Englishness (and usually both) is testament to that.
2 'Superheavy' by Superheavy
This is where I can feel the brickbats winging their way through cyberspace towards me. A supergroup consisting of Mick Jagger, Joss Stone, him out of The Eurythmics, Bob Marley's son, and an Indian film music composer. Horrible, right? Nope. It is a bloody good record, and despite myself I have found myself listening to it more than most new albums from 2011. It is exactly what you would expect, only it works. And unlike most superstar collaborations, everyone gives everyone else space, and behaves in a surprisingly modest manner. Well done guys!
3 'Valhalla Dancehall' by British Sea Power
I have been a fan of this lot ever since John Hare played me their first album about seven years ago. They reconstruct the indie guitar-band ethic into something new and challenging, but at the same time familiar and listenable. This album breaks no new ground for them, but the old ground still has plenty of life in it, and the melodies - indeed the whole songs - are HUGE. The drumming is particularly satisfying here, and the vocals are mildly reminiscent of Richard Hell back in the day, but that is no bad thing. As always these songs are cinematic, but this time they are on a wide screen.
4 'An appointment with Mr Yeats' by The Waterboys
An immensely satisfying album which has been twenty years in the planning stage. Mike Scott took 20 W.B.Yeats poems and set them to music. He then toured the show for a year before releasing the album which is - by the way - excellent. I have always been fond of Mike Scott; he is one of the more fortean singers/songwriters to have come out of the broad New Wave melange, with songs about Pan, Findhorn and crop circles. If you are not a devotee, this album is probably your chance to become one
5 'Fly from Here' by Yes
The first new studio album from Yes for ten years. But is it Yes without Jon Anderson's vocals and Rick Wakeman tinkling the ivories? Surprisingly it is. New vocalist Benoit David does a fine job, even Anderson said so, and keyboard player Geoff Downes (no relation) has been involved with the band on and off for thirty odd (sometimes very odd) years. This is all that you could have hoped for and more. I am itching to know what happens next.
6 'C'mon' by Low
I discovered this band by accident when they were eulogised on someone else's round up of the albums of the year. This is an elegantly fragile album which never ceases to surprise. Just when you are getting used to a tune, it veers off into an unexpected new direction, even more beautiful and/or interesting than the previous one. Check it out, you won't be disappointed.
7 'Director's Cut' by Kate Bush/'50 words for snow' by Kate Bush
I cheated here, but when you wait for years for a new Kate Bush album, and then two come along within the space of a few months what can one do? Anyway, this is my top ten, and I can do what I like with it. If I had to choose I would say that The Director's Cut is my favourite of the two if only for the way she has deconstructed and twisted familiar material into something new and beautiful. But the piano led album of new songs is very close behind in my affections. Go listen to them both, and make up your own mind.
8 'A grounding in numbers' by Van der Graaf Generator
Everything I said about the Yes album can be repeated here. This is another band that has been going since the sixties - in fact they formed in 1967, a year before their more popular peers, and although they split at the end of the 1970s they reformed in 2005. This new album is as elegantly brutal as ever. Surprisingly although founder member David Jackson's horn playing was an integral part of the band's sound, on this - the second album without him - the sound does not seem to have suffered. If anything they are even darker than they were in their proggy heyday. Well done chaps.
9 'The Most Incredible Thing' by The Pet Shop Boys
Another one of the arty side projects that the duo do in between their 'proper' albums. This music for a ballet based on a story by Hans Christian Andersen therefore is their follow-up to the 2005 soundtrack for Eisenstein's 1925 silent movie Mutiny on the Battleship Potemkin. It is gloriously lush mixing, as you would expect, electro soundscapes with neo-classical strings. I only discovered it during the last few days, and I am well-impressed.
10 'The Impossible Song and other songs' by Roddy Woomble
Woomble is the singer with a band called Idlewild and I discovered this solo album totally by accident. However it avoids the pitfalls that many side projects from rock band frontmen fall into, and is a delight to listen to. Apparently his earlier solo work was far more rooted in Scottish traditional folk, but this delightfully unpretentious album of twelve songs inspired by his move to the Isle of Mull is a real eye opener. Well done dude.
Bubbling under were remarkably groovy albums by Alison Krauss, Wire, Hawkwind, Tori Amos, and Youth Lagoon....