Tips for 2011 – One Year On (Part One)

Before I start with my end of year posts (favourite albums / songs of 2011 / tips for 2012), I thought I'd revisit  my tips for 2011... In early December 2010 I gave fifteen acts whom I tipped not for stardom (though perhaps it would have been nice in some cases) but as artists that potentially could offer some of the finest releases of the year, now almost twelve months later I’ll revisit the acts and (perhaps) see if I was right or not by form a brief (or not so in some cases) synopsis of what they've been up to. That sounds equal parts stalkerish and good fun, we’ll see how it works. Part one today and parts two and three to follow over the next 30 hours.

The original posts 'Tips for 2011' posts can be found here: 1 – 5 // 6 – 10 // 11 – 15

1. Stricken City
Hmm, well it’s fair to say I didn't get off to the best of starts here; before 2010 was even out, two weeks after I tipped them as one of my acts to follow through 2011 Stricken City announced their end, a brief statement announced a last ever show and second, final, album for February.

All was not lost though, that last show was bloody excellent and left the audience with a bittersweet taste of what could, probably should have been, in a time when mundane fills the charts here we have a band splitting up because "We never stood a chance". Rebekah is a captivating front-woman, her voice is beautiful and the bands blend of 90's brit-pop and tropical rhythm luscious... Instead we’re left waiting for what Rebekah and Iain come up with next, as yet I’ve heard diddly-squat.

The album, ‘Losing Colour’, while undoubtedly still a work in progress with a couple of tracks that probably wouldn’t have ended up on a final album if the band completed its recording, still has enough to make it a highly satisfying memoire (and for Pitchfork to give it a 7.7 - ), the highs are superb, "Animal Festival" is incredible, anybody who saw the SC live show will know what I mean when I say the infectious, energetic live performance of Raa is highlighted at it's best here, "Corridors" moody demure gradually builds up through skittish rhythms and (once again) impeccable vocals. Early single and live favourite, the revamped "Lost Art (ii)" is the perfect "should have been anthem", a propelling guitar intro and killer hooks, the highlight though is the title track, the shimmering "Losing Colour" a hypnotic, majestic and soothing number which finds the band at their beautiful best.

Stricken City might be gone, but they certainly won't be forgotten by those who were lucky enough to share at least some of the journey with them.

You can order the album for just £6 here, it comes in a delightful vinyl packaging too (as well as the equally superb debut mini-lp for just a fiver) from their shop here.

Losing Colour by {Stricken City}

Stricken City - Animal Festival from Phil Sharp on Vimeo.

2. Still Corners
The first time I saw Still Corners last August the slight nod of head approval between me and the guys I was with at the end of the show spoke volumes, it was that silent indication that "we've found one here", found one we had because in the following eighteen months the London based act have become one of my favourite acts both on record and live (although I'm still sticking to my previous comment that their live dynamic is more suited to a five piece rather than four - perhaps I'll get used to it).

2011 has seen the band play probably a handful of London shows as well as pick up high praise for their SXSW performances, their live show is (besides my minor criticism above) sensational, soaring guitars, hollow drums and twinkling keys create mystical, hazy dreamscapes rounded off by the ethereal beauty that is Tessa's vocal. As well as getting signed up by US indie giants Sub Pop and releasing the spellbinding debut 'Creatures of an Hour" in October. Shimmering single "Cuckoo" and "Endless Summer" return and are as immaculate as ever, the album as a whole, doesn't disappoint one bit.

It works because the material is so good, masterminded by Greg Hughes who wrote everything you hear 'Creatures of an Hour' exceptionally crafted film-noir aesthetic transports you through an expansive journey of kaleidoscope soundscapes that are delicate, beautiful and dreamy yet with an undeniably misty, dark undercurrent (though with titles such as "I Wrote in Blood" and "Demons" it's not that much of an undercurrent!). My favourites are probably "I Wrote in Blood" and "Submarine", though I also love the stunning bonus "Cabot Cave" that came on a free flexi-disc with pre-orders. It's a stunning debut that's been really well received critically (dis 8/10) and although it's perhaps a little too soon to judge commercial success, a sold out album lunch at Cafe Oto and its rapturous applause at the end indicates to me, at least, that this is a band that's going in the right direction.

Buy the album now from Sub Pop or Rough Trade with a bonus mix CD.

Still Corners - Cuckoo by subpop

Wish from Still Corners on Vimeo.

3. Esben and the Witch
Esben and the Witch were a surprise addition (at least to me) in the long-list of the BBC sound of 2011, less of a surprise is they didn't make the top five (especially since Jessie "never heard of PJ Harvey" J scooped first place). I doubt they were too bothered. More important than a being tipped by apparent industry know-it-alls is that their debut album 'Violet Cries' (which came out way back in January via Matador) delivered on all counts, ten tracks which combine to offer a dark, mystical fairytale of uncompromising and bold intent. Equal parts beauty and misery encompassed in atmospheric gloom combining stark beauty and intense droning guitar haze washes over electronic glitches and gothic enchantress Rachel Davies' vocal incantations. It's utterly sublime and deserving of every one of the high end of year lists placing it receives - including my own.

If that wasn't enough they followed it up with the best release of Record Store Day 2011, the 'Chorea EP' is worthy of that for "Corridors Installation" alone, an eighteen minute experimental epic that starts twinkling drones before shrouding its soundscape in typically misty ambience with unsettling chants, hollow drum beats and chilling guitars, easily one of the best things you'll hear this year.

Clearly not a band to rest on their laurels (they probably don't own any either), the six part 'Hexagons' was released as a digital EP in November. A concept EP which saw the band take over their local cinema in Brighton for a number of screenings, it's overall more sparse then the album, for example where "Argyria" used military drums and building force to sweep you away where on the whole "Hexagons" is shivering ambience of swirling keys and celestial vocals. This is a band who've created a vision and then (I'm guessing) spend endless hours meticulously planning to deliver it with stunning results.

I only managed to catch Esben live twice this year, they are to be seen to be believed, enacting a hypnotic séance of foreboding drums, guitar swirls and ethereal vocals, thrashing guitars and electronic soundscapes make it hard to believe that there are just three people making this racket. Have Esben delivered? Oh yes.

Order the album now on gorgeous gatefold vinyl (and mp3s) or bonus CD version from Rough Trade.

Esben And The Witch - Warpath

Esben and the Witch - Marching Song (Official Video) from David Procter on Vimeo.

4. Lanterns on the Lake
Another band I discovered mid way through 2010 and who've spent 18 months firmly in the category of 'favourite bands' are Lanterns on the Lake, signed up by the impeccable Bella Union at the turn of the year the sextet spend the first six months playing a few shows (included the spine-tingling shows I caught at The Great Escape and finalising their album 'Gracious Tide, Take Me Home' which was released in September.

The album fulfilled every ounce of my incredible expectation, awash with natural beauty and elegance, the purposely restrained melancholia that shrouds the eleven tracks are the very definition of sensual, dreamy bliss. The soft, delicate whisper of Hazel's voice is enough to make you fall in love alone.

It's difficult to pick highlights, the album flows so beautifully it's best to sit and listen on one luscious sitting, windswept instrumentation sweeps and swoons while heartbroken melodies tug at your heart strings, the updated version of "I Love You, Sleepyhead" the perfection summation, genuinely gorgeous. Another track revisited from the early EP's "A Kingdom" is fantastic, sweeping strings and galloping beat, Hazel's voice combines perfectly with Adam's while the graceful elegance of "Keep on Trying" provides more emotional joy.

Critical acclaim has been forthcoming and a sold out show at The Lexington in November showed the band have certainly hit the right note in the capital where a show at Cargo has been announced for January - get your ticket to that here and buy the album from Rough Trade as it comes with a bonus EP that contains much superior version to album closure "Not Going Back to the Harbour" as well as two exclusive tracks.

Keep On Trying by Lanterns on the Lake

Lanterns on the Lake - You're Almost There from Bella Union on Vimeo.

5. Veronica Falls
Just part one in this review of my tips and I feel like I've been revisiting all of this years blog favourite acts, the feeling certainly isn't leaving as I come to Veronica Falls, another band snapped up by Bella Union. The London / Glasgow quartet have been favourites since early last year and the release of their signature tune 'Found Love in a Graveyard' which some eighteen months later hasn't lost any of its immediate charm and now finds itself as the lead track on the bands self-titled debut album, any song that can sing about falling in love with a ghost in a graveyard yet sound as irresistibly catchy as a Cliff Richard Christmas song (joke!) is a winner in my book.

After spending the first six months of the year quietly beavering away behind the scenes the band exploded back onto the scene with the outstanding "Come on Over" in July, it's one of the highlights of the album and contains just about everything I love about Veronica Falls, urgent pacing where cleverly constructed male/female vocal harmonies deliciously combine whilst infectious, head-nodding melodies which embed themselves around your brain.

They followed it up with another belter, the anti-feel good "Bad Feeling" a song from the same morbid scrap book as Graveyard, as well as another of the early singles “Beachy Head” and new track “Misery”. It’s not all high energy ramshackle guitars, the slower paced “Veronica Falls” is a genuine highlight where Roxanne’s usual nonchalant delivery changes to a soft, beautiful lullaby.

New shows have hinted at a quick follow-up with the band including two exceptional new tracks in their live sets, they’ve played quite a few shows around the capital recently including a few support slots where they got as good a reaction as the headliners. Rough Trade voted the album number six in their top albums of the year, hopefully another catalyst towards worldwide domination for the band.

Order the album from Rough Trade (I’m not on commission I promise) and received a five track covers EP which includes a simply wonderful rendition of the Eurythmics' "Thorn In My Side", definitely amongst the best cover versions of the year and deserving a release of its own, don't let it hide away here unheard buy it and tell your friends to do the same!

Come On Over by Veronica Falls

Veronica Falls - Bad Feeling from Slumberland Records on Vimeo.

Part one over, I was on fire with those choices wasn't I? Two to follow.