MY Best Of 2011

OK, so I happen to be a person who goes for lists. In fact, my life is pretty much ruled by lists. So why not a list of my fave music to come out in 2011? Here we go, in no particular order of significance:

  • David Sylvian - Died In The Wool. Only someone like Sylvian could redo their preceding album, Manifon, by stripping off the vocals and having new string arrangements, of completely different music, written by Dai Fujikura. The result is extremely haunting & beautiful. There's also some new tracks and a bonus cut. Kudos also to Samadhisound for the gorgeous packaging (this is what you miss with downloads…).
  • Kate Bush - The Director's Cut & 50 Words For Snow. After 5/6 years of waiting, since her Arial album, we got not 1, but 2 Kate Bush albums in 2011! The Director's Cut is a reworking of songs from her Sensual World & Red Shoes albums. Approached with a sense of maturity, the arrangements were stripped down, revealing the songs contained within. Bush's voice has mellowed, with a hint of smokiness, and plenty of emotion. Many who love the originals will not like the new versions, but given a chance, they stand on their own and form a complete new album.  50 Words For Snow is all new music loosely based around the theme of, well, snow. The music is beautiful, graceful, playful, and sometimes forceful. Her duet with Sir Elton John, Snowed in At Wheel Street, is as powerful a performance as you'll find from both singers.  She also enlists her son, Bertie, to sing on both albums, and the similarities are startling at times, with Bertie's higher range sounding like a young Kate at times.
  • Tori Amos - Night Of Hunters. In many ways, this is the 3rd Kate Bush album of the year, as there are so many similarities to Bush's works. Amos uses classical music & themes as her starting point, weaving her tales & piano around the orchestrations, much like Bush often does. Amos' daughter, Natashia, also sings, sounding much like her mother. The Bush comparisons aside, Amos stands on her own and delivers an exceptional album that finds her reaching for new ground. While hardcore fans may be put off at first, multiple plays will reveal great depth and beauty that few will be able to resist.
  • YES - Fly From Here. Perhaps the strangest recording of the year. Just when you think YES has seen their day, they release their best, most consistent, and most powerful album in ages. Reuniting with former singer & producer Trevor Horn was a master stroke. They also brought keyboardist Geoff Downes back to complete the circle. The crazy thing is that the 20+ minute title track is an old Horn/Downes Buggles tune that YES had played a short part of back on their DRAMA tour in 1980! As much as this is a YES album, it is also the great, lost Buggles 3rd album! New singer, Benoit David, does his best to channel Buggles era Trevor Horn, while Horn brings his usual production perfection to the proceedings. The results is one of the best YES albums ever!
  • Queensrÿche - Dedicated To Chaos. Oh how the hardcore fans hate this album! They want the Rÿche to keep on making Rage For Order & Operation Mindcrime clone albums forever. Well, times change and the once twenty-something musicians are now fifty-something musicians with grown up kids & grandkids. That old twenty-something angst just doesn't fit anymore. That said, the music is diverse, rocking, and mature. These guys keep getting better, and this is their best work in ages. I was knocked out from the first listen.
  • Bjork - Crystalline. Bjork is not one to stand still. Not content with making just an album, each track also comes with its own Apple app, so listeners can interact with the music. Some reviewers have complained that the music doesn't jump out at you like Volta did, but they are missing the point. This is a subtler, more introspective Bjork. As a listener, you really need to enter her world to appreciate the music. Here's hoping Bjork never stands still and repeats herself.
  • Heart - Red Velvet Car. Back to their roots, rocking hard here, singing sweet there. Is there a better voice on the planet that Ann Wilson's? Producer Ben Mink helped her harness her power, leading to some very emotional performances. Sister Nancy Wilson fills things up with all manner of guitars & strings. They've recaptured that 1970's vibe, but in a very 2011 way. 
  • Within Temptation - The Unforgiving. Longtime fans complained that the Dutch symphonic metal band went soft on this album. Well, gone are the distracting grunts & growls, and the edge has softened a bit, becoming more hard rock than metal, but Sharon Den Adel's vocals are given precedence and the guitars are used to frame, not overshadow them. The album itself is a concept that is a collaboration with a comic book series! 
  • Percussion Group Cincinnati - John Cage-The Works For Percussion. AMAZING! A full album of Cage's percussion masterpieces, with multiple versions of some, recorded by a group who actually worked with Cage and knows his music intimately. There are both CD & DVD versions, but buy the DVD version. It's worth it for the history lessons and demonstrations of Cage's approaches, and the works contained here in. You also get high quality stereo & surround mixes. Mode Records continues to release extraordinary recordings. My thanks to them.
  • Stephen Schick/ Red Fish Blue Fish — Roger Reynolds-Sanctuary. Another excellent Mode release, this time a DVD only of Reynolds eclectic percussion piece. We get not one, but two complete versions—in the studio, and live at the National Gallery of Art, along with excerpts from a third performance outdoors in Califonia. The multiple takes really give a perspective on how percussion is as much its environment as anything. Same music, different experiences.
  • Giacinto Scelsi - Volume 9: The Works for Viola - Vincent Royer, viola & voice. Exquisite performances of Scelsi's works. Another Mode release—need I say more?
~ MB


  1. Great list Michael. I'll have to revisit the re-working of Sylvian's Manifon. I couldn't get into Manifon (and I really tried) but the description of Died in the Wool sounds very interesting.

    I'll definitely check out the Cage works and Sanctuary DVD.

    Bill Smith

  2. Yes, Manifon was a very difficult album in many ways, but repeated listenings do reveal much grace & beauty. Died In The Wool is a revelation of sorts, disclosing how an artist can take different paths with the same material, yielding contrasting results.


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