Albums of 2011: Destroyer, Radiohead, PJ Harvey, Julianna Barwick

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Destroyer – Kaputt

Dan Bejar’s latest distinctive album at the helm of Destroyer embodies a new surface style, albeit an old one. The songs are underpinned by sounds from the 80s – gauzy, reverb-saturated horns, synths and fretless bass – and they provide a focal point as decadent as their central lyrical themes, which convey rockstar indulgence as much as the personal frailty it produces. An unusual and elusive album in terms of both its style and lyrical content, it’s a good thing Kaputt’s so persistent in its immediate appeal that it begs for repeat listens.

Radiohead – The King of Limbs

Since leaving the major label world, Radiohead have – not unhappily – slipped a little from the public eye. Reflecting Thom Yorke’s pre-Y2K obsession with Warp Records, the band’s latest leftfield shifts are informed by his recent conversion to the Hyperdub label. The King of Limbs might not have the immediacy of In Rainbows or the prima facie diversity of Hail to the Thief, but as an album, its focus, progression and pristine arrangements combine to make it Radiohead’s strongest effort since their first electronic renaissance. [Read full review.]

PJ Harvey – Let England Shake

Overwhelmingly the critics’ choice of 2011, PJ Harvey’s latest reinvention does precisely what more popular musicians must do: it responds explicitly and distinctively to important worldly events. With lyrics akin to war poetry, her anti-imperialist vision of England is shot through as consistent a series of compositions as any she’s yet released, combining fanfares and folk tunes with her first uses of saxophone and autoharp. Of all the albums released this year, Let England Shake rightly possesses the strongest claim to immortality.

Julianna Barwick – The Magic Place

Even without knowing that ‘the magic place’ was a secluded area beneath a tree on the Louisiana farmland of Barwick’s upbringing, her serene music evokes both nature and the kind of pure enchantment associated with childhood. The sparseness of the forces used – Barwick’s looped vocals, with occasional piano or ambient noise – would slip easily onto soundtracks. It would be a shame for the music only to be heard as an accompaniment, though, so broad is the freedom of interpretation and association that comes with listening to it on its own.

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