It may not have been a vintage year, but there was enough intrigue and ambitionÂ in this year's new records to keep us interested.
Bombay Bicycle Club – A Different Kind of Fix
A third album and a second change of direction.Â HavingÂ traded off-the-shelf indie-pop for folk on 2010's Flaws, Bombay Bicycle Club progressed to . . . well, to all sorts, actually.Â There was the loose, almost baggy groove of 'How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep', the jaunty jazz-funk of 'Lights Out, Words Gone' and the tentative beauty of 'Fracture'.Â There were loops and layers everywhere, doubtless the influence of producer (and Animal Collective collaborator) Ben Allen.Â This was most notable on the wonky, insanely catchy piano sample of 'Shuffle' – probably the year's best single.Â Yes, Lana Del Rey, you heard that correctly.
The Horrors – Skying
Building on 2009's terrific Primary Colours, The Horrors completed their metamorphosis from goth-tinged schlock rockers to genuine contenders with a sweeping, cinematic third album.Â Their influences may still have been apparent, but they were chosen more carefully, be it dance-influenced indie ('Changing the Rain'), the heavier side of shoegazing ('Endless Blue') or stadium-sized synth pop ('Still Life').Â In the year when the industry cut its cloth on the lean side, Skying's scale and ambition stood out a mile.
Bon Iver – Bon Iver
So it wasn't quite as affecting as For Emma, Forever Ago, but, frankly, what is?Â The heartbreak and the austerity of the log cabin were things of the past, the arrangements broader and more dreamy.Â All the songs were named after people or places (both real and imagined) and featured some remarkable vocal performances from Justin Vernon, particularly on 'Perth' and 'Holocene'.Â The unironic homage to AOR that was album closer 'Beth/Rest' was 2011's most divisive song – from wintry woodsman to Bruce Hornsby in two easy steps.
The Vaccines – What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?
Swagger was the word most closely associated with The Vaccines in 2011, closely followed by cocksure.Â Borrowing the best bits of The Strokes and The Killers, here was a debut album full of rat-a-tat guitars and massive choruses, with very little in the way of circumspection in its 30-odd minutes.Â Repeating the trick will be a different proposition but, judging by the recent Albert Hammond Jnr-produced new material, the signs are encouraging.
Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo
The wonder of Smoke Ring . . . was that it was simultaneously intimate and vast.Â Lyrically, it sounded like Vile was mumbling to himself in the corner of an emptying room, but musically it spanned horizons.Â Wry and melancholic, Vile's fuzzy take on acoustic Americana had as much in common with J Mascis or even Kevin Shields as it did with the Reeds and the Youngs to whom he is most often compared.Â Closing track 'Ghost Town' encapsulated the feel of a record that was equal parts demanding and rewarding.
WU LYF – Go Tell Fire To The Mountain
Their managed anonymity and songs that seemed to be written in a new language led to speculation that WU LYF were anything from an industry in-joke to alien invaders, but they turned out to be four lads from Rusholme.Â Any anti-climactic feelings were extinguished by a debut album charged with life affirming songs ('LYF' and 'Concrete Gold' in particular), ethereal guitar (think Nick McCabe on Verve's first record, pre-definitive article) and some epic drumming.Â Their honesty and anti-hype manifesto was summed up in signature tune 'We Bros',Â a euphoric call-to-arms that proved that they, a lot like fellow Mancs The Happy Mondays, were a gang – in the very best sense of that term.