The last twelve months have been everything I really shouldn't want from life as I approach forty; chaotic, dramatic, upsetting and sometimes really, really horrible. However, the end of the year saw things settling down a lot more, and, as I stopped being such a stupid bastard, I could begin to realise that the last 12 months have thrown up some of the best music of my life.
I'm picking ten albums here that have meant the most to me this year. They'll have had to have been released in 2011, but that's the only rule. Some, like the mighty self-titled Help Stamp Out Loneliness album I can barely listen to past track three because it evokes such self-loathing; whereas others like the Let's Whisper record bring back happier memories. Both, though, it has to be said, are amazing albums.
Here's my top ten of 2011, in chronological order.
1. Slow Down Tallahassee - Curly Cuh (Thee SPC)
A massive, big, fuck-off farewell of an album which saw me through some dark nights in January and February, and is home to 'Knees as Sweet as These' - possible the most affecting song I've heard this year. In January I said: "Some of the best days and nights of the last few years have been watching or listening to Slow Down Tallahassee. Sheffield is a poorer place without them, but with 'Curly Cuh' they've left a mighty, mighty epitaph."
2. The Andersen Tapes - As I Write 'Today' Ten Times (Fraction Discs)
A record almost too perfect thar you daren't listen to it. Back in January, I gushed: "At times this album can seem almost glossy, but you'd be fool to think so, 'cos at its heart is a beautiful mixture of all that's wonderful in indiepop today. You can hear Liechtenstein in there, parts of Crayon Fields, the odd nod towards Pocketbooks, and then you think "Oh! Maybe those bands took their inspiration from Amanda Aldervall". Only then you realise how important it is to have her back."
3. Comet Gain - Howl of the Lonely Crowd (Fortuna Pop!)
Their best album? Probably, and when Comet Gain's back catalogue includes 'Realistes', you'll understand how much this album means. In March I said: "Comet Gain offer us hope after all. These are songs about belief and hope as much as they are about the daily drudge. And that’s why this album is so special, really."
4. Let's Whisper -The Shorterst Days (WeePop!)
Just when you need a hefty dose of cheer, along come Let's Whisper with perhaps the most inventive record of 2011. "It’s easy to write off Let’s Whisper as a side-project of a band perhaps more feted by Those in the Know, but that would be to undervalue an album like this. It’s only March, but I’d bet by the end of the year I’ll come back to this and realise it has more depth, joy, happiness, and big pop moments than 99 per cent of the rest of albums released this year". In retrospect, I reckon that's right.
5. Help Stamp Out Loneliness - Help Stamp Out Loneliness (WIAIWYA/Papillon Noirs)
I think I've played this record more than any other since it landed through my door in April. It's the sound of a band sprinting at full velocity - a mesmering set of songs that I was lucky to see live four or five times over the summer and into the Autumn. I said in April: "When you get to your late thirties there aren’t many records that make you want to get up off your knees, stick some clothes on, and go out and find out what the city holds at night – but this one does."
6. Moustache of Insanity - Album of Death (Fika/Pull Yourself Together)
All good, clean, harmless fun from the indiepop superduo. As I sweated like a pig in July, I opined: "There, beneath the daft name and keraayyzee samples on this album, lies a beating pop heart - a pop heart we all need."
7. Prince Edward Island - This Day is a Good Enough Day (Crocfingers Records)
I've not really any idea how I first heard this, but I'm glad I did. Musically, it's all over the shop, but post-Indietracks it was all I was listening to. It inspired to be plumb the depths of satire, saying: "To say this album is ambitious would be like saying David Cameron is merely an annoying, shit-faced twat."
8. Pocketbooks - Carousel (Odd Box)
It seems daft to call such a fresh, vital band "veterans", but it seems Pocketbooks have been with us forever now, and thank heavens for that. This, their second album sounds almost like a soundtrack to a musical, and is the perfect accompaniment to late December nights, I've found recently. In September, I was going on about: "When Pocketbooks played some of these songs to open Indietracks it was a bit of emotional experience for some of us. That they manage to carry that feeling onto record is testament to how special they are, and this album is. Proof, if it were needed, that pop remains supreme."
9. Bart & Friends - Stories With the Endings Changed (Lost and Lonesome)
An album that seemed like a long, lost friend. Clocking in at somewhere around the twenty minute mark didn;t matter - Bart Cummings had done it again. I got all dreamy in September, saying: "Again the songs are short, but its hard to be this tender for longer than a couple of minutes without exploding with love. That's what I love most about it; the fact that Cummings packs so much feeling into a couple of minutes that you simply couldn't go on loving these songs for longer."
10. Standard Fare - Out of Sight, Out of Town (Thee SPC/Melodic)
If I'm really forced to choose, then this is my favourite album of the year, and a more whole set of songs you'd be hard pushed to hear. The memory of their perfect, joyous, sweaty performance at the Nottingham all-dayer in October will live with me forever. "I think they call that 'timeless,'" I said in October.
That's that, then. See you in the New Year.