As the annual best album of the year comes soaring into our lives over the next two months, Bon Iver stands held and shoulders above the rest and not for the first time.
Ever since the enigmatically beautiful For Emma, Forever Ago, we wondered whether Justin Vernon could release anything as breathtaking, the answer is a resounding yes.
This year has seen emerging talents WU LYF, The Vaccines, Anna Calvi and Benjamin Francis Leftwich release outstanding debuts, as well as five star releases from Adele, Arctic Monkeys, Elbow and Radiohead.
The Return of Kasabian with Velociraptor! Is already a front-runner for 2012 Mercury Music Prize and Tom Waits’ Bad As Me may be his finest offering to date.
There’s been the battle of Noel vs. Liam, in which the elder Gallagher clearly outshone his younger sibling. While Noel stuck to a formula that is tried and trusted, Liam and his band of merry men released an album of predictable, second rate tracks.
We’ve seen the return of The Strokes with Angels, the Red Hot Chili Peppers with I’m With You, and new offerings from Mogwai and Ryan Adams.
Notable debuts were released by James Blake, Ed Sheeran and Miles Kane, whilst Fleet Foxes gave us the brilliant Helplessness Blues and Noah And The Whale released the divine Last Night On Earth.
Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder released his ukulele album and Jay-Z and Kanye West collaborated for Watch The Throne.
The recent release of Coldplay’s Mylo Xyloto confirms them as strong as they’ve ever been and with Ceremonials Florence + The Machine may have created their masterpiece.
The Weeknd should be commended for not one but two brilliant records in House of Balloons and Thursday as should Cass McCombs for Humor Risk and Wit’s End.
PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake was outstanding as was Foster The People’s Torches, Metronomy’s The English Riviera and Baxter Dury’s Happy Soup.
Notable mentions must also go to The Black Keys’ El Camino, Girls’ Father, Son, Holy Ghost, Laura Marling’s A Creature I Don’t Know and The Horrors’ Skying.
But in the race for the best album of 2011 it is Bon Iver’s self titled sophomore release that stands out as the winner, closely followed by Bombay Bicycle Club’s A Different Kind Of Fix, and Ghostpoet’s Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam.
Bombay Bicycle Club’s return after 2010s acoustic offering is triumphant, effortlessly realising all the potential shown on their first two offerings I Had The Blues But Shook Them Loose and Flaws. While Flaws was intimate, acoustic folk, A Different Kind Of Fix is a return to the guitar fused blissful pop that was evident on I Had The Blues But Shook Them Loose.
A Different Kind Of Fix is skilfully executed. Opener How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep is infectious and melodic, airy and encapsulating. Leave It is beautifully brilliant and Lights Out, Words Gone is impressively magical. A Different Kind Of Fix is Bombay Bicycle Club’s best and most coherent album to date, in all simply exhilarating.
To place Ghostpoet and Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam within one genre would be like committing high treason, he’s an artist who can only be placed within a triptych of hip-hop, trip-hop and dubstep. Lead single Cash And Carry Me Home is minimalistic with raw tenderness, whilst standout tracks Finished I Ain’t and Liines are sung in a flat, unflashy style, with a sound that is under-pinned with emotionally resonant keys. Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam is a masterful fusion of experimental and occasionally dazzling beat and vocal based music, all of which ultimately makes Ghostpoet impossibly talented.
Ever since Justin Vernon emerged heartbroken from an isolated Wisconsin cabin with For Emma, Forever Ago he has received both critical acclaim and legions of fans, most notably Kanye West. For Emma, Forever Ago opened the world’s eyes to a rare and unique talent that is Bon Iver.
His second release is a more balanced and focused effort. More confident and more vibrant, what has been created is the most remarkable album of 2011. For Emma, Forever Ago was minimalist and focused on a man revealing his broken heart whereas Bon Iver is a man reinvigorated, ten tracks of beautifully composed music, exquisitely executed.
Opener Perth flows almost spiritually, while Minnesota, WI creates the perfect fusion of indie-folk and soft-rock. Beth/Rest is 80s pop expertly crafted and smoothly executed whilst Calgary is perfectly paced for his mouthwatering falsetto. Holocene is undoubtedly the standout track of Bon Iver. Majestic vocals, anguished and haunting, it’s this album’s enigmatic highlight.
Bon Iver is more accomplished than For Emma, Forever Ago but still contains its beautiful intricate intimate moments allowing for the music to take hold. Better production and musically advanced it is what most musicians aspire to at some point in their careers. What is truly remarkable is Justin Vernon has done it not once but twice.