Quietus Albums Of The Year So Far 2011

We're halfway through 2011 so here's a handy recap of our favourite 40 albums so far...

Listen to tracks from our Top 40 on this Spotify playlist

Usually at The Quietus, our midsummer chart listing our favourite releases of the year so far is only 30 albums long. And even then, it’s usually a state of relative consensus between co-editors John Doran and Luke Turner and staff writer Ben Hewitt. This year we had to stretch to 40 and there were still numerous albums we wanted included that didn’t make the final chart. While this undoubtedly had something to do with us not spending as much time together this year (Doran is at home tending to his new hungry lord and master, Luke is working out of the Death Factory Mark II in Tottenham and Ben is busy infiltrating the music publications of the UK), it is also a sign of how much good stuff there is out there at the moment. If you’re willing to look for it, at least.

As well as our usual remit of stern (Zwischenwelt, Sandwell District), fruity (Cold Cave), psychedelic (White Hills, Gnod, Moon Duo) and African (Tamikrest), we have Celtic black metal (Altar Of Plagues), Danish punk (Iceage), Punjabi funk (Cornershop and Bubbley Kaur), some unbeatable pop (Katy B), R&B (Frank Ocean) and rock (British Sea Power). As well as some stuff that we’re not even really sure what it is yet (Tim Hecker, John Maus, Death Grips).

And, yeah, we know we’ve forgotten or missed some things. We’re keen to know what you think we should have included. Let us know in the comment feature below.

Essential moral and technical support from Brad Sanders, a Gentleman of the Colonies

40. Moon Duo – Mazes

"Moon Duo make a little go an awfully long way. Whilst earlier releases rarely deviated from the Wooden Shjips’ formula of motorik rhythms and wind-tunnel guitars, Mazes offers a considerably wider stylistic range, from the Stooges stomp of opener ‘Seer’ to the title track’s modish Booker T-isms and ‘Run Around”s amphetamine-fuelled skiffle. The songs are cleaner, too, and more concise; no longer buried deep in the mix under layers of reverb and noise, you can actually make out Ripley [Johnson]’s lyrics, and, with most tracks clocking in at around the five minute mark, these jams never outstay their welcome." – Michael Dix

Read The Quietus review of Mazes

Click here to buy Moon Duo – Mazes from Rough Trade

39. Gnod – In Gnod We Trust

"With its oppressive array of krautrock rhythmic patterns, dub effects, electronic manipulations and bleak post-punk vibe, In Gnod We Trust is a concrete slab of quivering, disgusted urban psychedelic music, as ominous as it is compelling." – Tom Killingbeck

Read The Quietus review of In Gnod We Trust

Click here to buy Gnod – In Gnod We Trust from Rough Trade

38. Iceage – New Brigade

"This album is, basically, perfect. It sounds like a bunch of other biz, sure, but never just like it, and always managing to leech the immeasurable vitality instead of just biting a melody. The Middle Class, Teenage Jesus & The Jerks, Wire, the Screamers, Mission Of Burma, The Chinese Stars, Regulations and Bauhaus all buzzed round my brainbulb across New Brigade‘s 24 minutes: foetal hardcore, martial drumming at the top of the mix, yobbos reading yellowing paperbacks, a band playing all-metal instruments for an audience of rusty no wave robots, hysterically poetic retellings of your life’s mundanities. Buy or die. (I always wanted to write that.)" – Noel Gardner

Read our interview with Iceage

37. White Hills – H-p1

“The last thing space rock needs to be is authentic. It is a genre of taxonomical confusion because the word ‘space’ has come to represent so many things. This form of rock can be used to create audio space time, with a metronomic, motorik beat representing distance travelled, the bass uncovering depth and guitars and FX pushing width. It’s also, more than a little bit about psychedelic space – “I’m spaced out, let’s put Space Ritual on.” But also, it’s about the actual interstellar overdrive, set controls for heart of the sun, space, man. But even if it doesn’t deal in authenticity – I’d hate to hear rock music made by actual astronauts, can you imagine how boring and uptight it would be? – there is an honesty to White Hills that sets them apart from most of their contemporaries. There’s no compression or much desk tricknology on this album and most of it was recorded live in the studio, creating an audio document of a blistering voyage that also saw synth player Shazzula Nebula and Oneida drummer Kid Millions coming along for part of the ride.” – John Doran

Read our interview with White Hills

Click here to buy White Hills – H-p1 from Rough Trade

36. Zwischenwelt – Paranormale Aktivitat

"Gerald Donald fills gaseous environs with the sound of contracting metal and retro Roland effects that spit battery acid and blue sparks onto the tense, prowling beats. It gives the impression of a hissing, grinding machine, moving scorpion-like through the snowy forests of his now native Germany. Were it not for the Siren-esque vocals preserving a very frail sense of the human, its sparse ambient workings would stall in the freeze, suffocating the fascinating sci-fi story at its core: a future-occult mystery where every night a blood red sun sets on the ghosts of Russian sailors, and the glare burns cataract-riddled eyes through the interstices of venetian blinds." – John Calvert

Read The Quietus review of Paranormale Aktivitat

Click here to buy Zwischenwelt – Paranormale Aktivitat from Rough Trade

35. James Pants – James Pants

"There are many reasons why those guffaws at James Pants’ surname should remain unuttered. There’s the weird and wonderful litany of noises that punctuate open track ‘Beta’, ranging from scuzzy fuzz to sci-fi bleeps. It’s the way that his vocal rolls out across ‘Strange Girl’ like a cannonball, leaving a cavernous dent that can only be filled with thudding reverb. It’s the huge scrape of guitar and jitterbug beat that kick starts ‘Alone’ before giving way to a brilliantly honking and incongruous burst of saxophone. It’s because of the sexy, swaggering ‘Screams Of Passion’ that oozes the same licentious intent as Lou Reed at his most filthily and experimental. It’s the way that all of the static is chased away by the rudimentary pop brilliance of  ‘Clouds Over The Pacific’ or the cloud-bursting euphoria of ‘Incantation’. It’s because of the way that all the debris of the album is washed away by the babbling stream on closing track ‘Epilogue’. It’s because, in a just world, it’s James Pants – and not Tom Vek – who is the returning male solo artist who would have had everyone worked up in a lather this year." – Ben Hewitt

Click here to buy James Pants – James Pants from Rough Trade

34. Æthenor – En Form for Blå

"Phew. This cosmically inclined improv unit has finally emitted a record that adds up to more than the sum of its parts. These are some avant rock heavyweights, right here. We’re talking Stephen O’Malley, Daniel O’Sullivan and Kristoffer Rygg. Formerly a studio based project, the addition of drummer Steve Noble during live performances has immeasurably enhanced the Æthenor dynamic. This bloke has injected learned chunks of extemporized cadence into Rip Rig + Panic and Derek Bailey’s Company among others. When you combine that sort of history with the accumulated preconceptions attached to Sunn O))), Guapo and Ulver, it’s perhaps easier to understand why players of such calibre have hitherto struggled to successfully map out a refined soundworld of their own." – Daniel Baker

Read The Quietus review of En Form for Blå

33. Boris – Attention Please

"It’s a great deal of fun hearing Boris being someone else so effectively: [these] tracks are infectious and hook-driven, a far cry from much of their back catalogue. They also offer proof, if the group’s shapeshifting nature hadn’t already provided ample of it, that they’re as capable of writing fantastic slices of almost-pop as they are heaving walls of distortion." – Rory Gibb

Read The Quietus review of Attention Please

Click here to buy Boris – Attention Please from Rough Trade

32. Altar Of Plagues – Mammal

"Irish post-black metal group Altar Of Plagues aren’t the first to temper their elemental and isolationist thunder with home grown cultural reference points but the way they include Celtic elements into their overall sound is very satisfying. A clue to how well they tread the line between art and brutality can be seen from the fact that they have been tour mates of both ISIS and Mayhem. Signed to Profound Lore, this four track album is their superior statement to date." John Doran

31. The Master Musicians Of Bukkake – Totem Three

"Totem Three is the final part in a trilogy and the more traditional (and seriously beautiful) Indian vibes of ‘In The Twilight Of The Kali Yuga’ are balanced out by heavy drones, Bernard Herrmann atmospherics and the cosmic avant garde, as if SunnO))) Ra and his Arkestra had been jamming at a Buddhist temple. Turn on, tune in and double drop out." – John Doran writing in Metal Hammer magazine

Click here to buy The Master Musicians of Bukkake – Totem Three from Rough Trade

30. The Skull Defekts ft. Daniel Higgs – Peer Amid

"Joachim Nordwall and Daniel Fagerstroem’s guitars still fire out buzzsaw riffs and crunching power chords, while Henrik Rylander and Jean-Louis Huhta cast a rhythmic voodoo spell over proceedings with hard-hitting motorik drumming and trance-inducing tribal percussion. There are also subtle glimpses of the analogue synths and fizzing electronics that have flavoured some of their more avant-garde releases, occasionally shining through the barrage of noise like shards of broken glass picked up by a cyclone – small reminders that the band are as adept at experimentation as they are at the kind of primal rock that dominates the album." – Michael Dix

Read The Quietus review of Peer Amid

29. Thurston Moore – Demolished Thoughts

"Sonic Youth unplugged would be an easy narrative to slap on Demolished Thoughts but Moore ably steps beyond his familiar tricks here to create something forward thinking yet far warmer and accessible than normally expected from the noisenik don. Having toyed with the idea on ‘Honest James’ from 2007 solo outing Trees Outside the Academy, opener ‘Benediction’ surrenders itself fully to the pastoral with a bucolic wave of gentle melody and a lush array of strings. It’s an approach that wouldn’t feel out of place on Beck’s Sea Change and it’s evident that the producer’s hand has helped guide and steer Moore away from his usual indulgences while simultaneously playing to the 52-year-old’s maverick strengths." – Charles Ubaghs

Read The Quietus review of Demolished Thoughts

Click here to buy Thurston Moore – Demolished Thoughts from Rough Trade

28. Elzhi – Elmatic

"Seven years ago Matthew Gasteier writing in Prefix magazine stated, ‘Illmatic is the best hip-hop record ever made. Not because it has ten great tracks with perfect beats and flawless rhymes, but because it encompasses everything great about hip-hop that makes the genre worthy of its place in music history.’ He went on to compare Nas’ 1994 East Coast masterpiece to The Rites of Spring, A Hard Day’s Night, Innervisions and Never Mind the Bollocks, which, if you’re not a massive hip hop fan, probably makes this project sound fairly insane or at the very least slightly gauche. Elzhi is a former MC for the Detroit collective Slum Village, who has versioned the entire album to produce Elmatic. He has worked in conjunction with superb funk outfit Will Sessions and is helped by guest spots from fellow Motor City rapper Royce da 5’9” and original Illmatic beat maker Pete Rock. Lyrically, Elzhi stamps his mark all over it, giving it a contemporary, Detroit spin. Of course, when you think about it, hip hop is a less conservative art form than rock so no number of comparisons like Baroness covering Nevermind or whatever is ever going to give a clear picture of what this is, when the fluidity of hip hop culture – which it shares with other forms such as jazz and reggae – means an update, reboot, or rework of a standard does not feel like such a strange a thing at all." – John Doran

Download Elmatic for free from those lovely people at XXL by clicking here

27. Katy B – On A Mission

"It is to her credit that, on what could have been an string of perfectly competent ‘On a Mission’ replicas, her debut LP instead sees Katy B moulding her own cogent identity as a singer-songwriter whose songs just so happen to have infectious beats to power them along. Prime examples are the house and funky grooves on ‘Power on Me’ and ‘Why You Always Here’, surely destined to follow in the footsteps of ‘Lights On’ to become future floor fillers. These leftfield textures never stand as a distraction from the songs themselves, which sit perfectly happily in a mainstream pop context. No more is this more applicable than on ‘Easy Please Me’, a track that could easily stand among Ciara or Brandy’s best work." – Lev Harris

Read The Quietus review of On A Mission

Click here to buy Katy B – On A Mission from Rough Trade

26. Snowman – Absence

"It’s cathartic, soothing, seductive, and actually sort of giving. At the end of the day, we’re not fucking nihilistic anarchists. We’re not tortured souls… Absence was actually a lot more pleasurable to write and record [than previous albums]. Not to say that it wasn’t hard work and that we didn’t put as much into it, because we did. We moved here and we set up house in a shit hole but we reacted differently, I think. We wanted to create something that was healing and I think that’s the difference. Although for a lot of people it might be a bleak-sounding record, for us it’s very healing." – Joseph McKee, Snowman

Snowman – Absence by theQuietus

Read The Quietus interview with Snowman here

Click here to buy Snowman – Snowman from Rough Trade

25. Amon Tobin – ISAM

"The extent to which Tobin can now get inside the very sound and remould it, is reflected by the vocals on the album. ‘Wooden Toy’ features a breathless performance by a young woman, a creepy sounding old lady loans her voice to ‘Kitty Cat’ and what sounds like a toyshop come to life forms a choir on ‘Dropped From The Sky’. All of which are surprising fundamentally because they are all sung by Tobin himself." – John Doran

Read John Doran’s essay on Amon Tobin and Tessa Farmer

Click here to buy Amon Tobin – ISAM from Rough Trade

24. Destroyer – Kaputt

"From the glitchy, almost tactile opening bars of ‘Chinatown’, the first track from Dan Bejar’s new record Kaputt, you can sense a sea change of sorts for Destroyer. In part it is the moulding of a radiantly new soundscape that borrows from a romantic art pop palette, referencing everyone from Roxy Music (especially the faraway sounding brass sections on so many of the songs) to Morrissey and his mournfully wry lyrics, with Bejar at times almost inhabiting the ‘permanent figure of jacked up sorrow’ writing poetry for himself that he sings of in ‘Blue Eyes’." – Siobhán Kane

Read The Quietus review of Kaputt

Click here to buy Destroyer – Kaputt from Rough Trade

23. Gang Gang Dance – Eye Contact

"With their new album Eye Contact, Gang Gang Dance manage both to exemplify the magpie-like blur of information age music and to distance themselves from its downsides. The spoken word intro to opener ‘Glass Jar’, ‘I can hear everything. It’s everything-time’ could scarcely be more appropriate a mission statement." – Rory Gibb

Read The Quietus review of Eye Contact

Click here to buy Gang Gang Dance – Eye Contact from Rough Trade

22. Frank Ocean – Nostalgia, Ultra

"If you had have told me last year that I would be rinsing an R&B mix tape that featured Coldplay, The Eagles, MGMT and Mr Hudson heavily this Summer, I wouldn’t have laughed – I would have pulled your ribcage out of your chest and beat you with it until you lost the ability to pronounce the word ‘kitchen’. I don’t mind admitting that after single ‘Novacane’ however, the Coldplay track ‘Strawberry Swing’ and the ‘Hotel California’ cover ‘American Wedding’ (I could listen to the a capella conclusion to this song on repeat for the rest of the year and not get bored with it) are my favourites. It’s kind of neither here or there that Nostalgia, Ultra (set to get a physical release in July via Frank Ocean’s label Def Jam, who slept on him until OFWGKTA blew up this year) towers over the mainly disastrous Goblin. It does speak volumes however that he, managed to put something together for next to no money that reminds one of Steely Dan, Prince, The-Dream and Pharrell all at the same time. It’s no wonder that this sublime collection of smooth, funny and smart tracks has seen him go from an also-ran (as a vocalist rather than song writer) to working with Jay-Z and Kanye West." – John Doran

07 lovecrimes by Spa_Water

21. Wire – Red Barked Tree

"Sounding wholly refreshed and with big mouths intact, the trio have pulled together a freestanding, populist record with such winning flair it’s hard to imagine a young British guitar band performing with as much class, purpose, or presence. By turns brash (‘Smash’), and cutely curt (‘Two Minutes’), Red Barked Tree finds Wire liberated, fitted for their gladrags, throwing caution to the wind and almost intoxicated, at times to the point of senselessness." – John Calvert

Read The Quietus review of Red Barked Tree

Click here to buy Wire – Red Barked Tree from Rough Trade

20. Fucked Up – David Comes To Life

"As an album, David certainly works better than the last time a major punk band (we’re looking at you, Green Day) attempted to pull off the rock opera concept. Aside from its length (almost a hour and 20 minutes) there is little in the way of self-indulgence, and coming from a group that think nothing of cranking out fifteen-minute singles including flutes, whistling and lengthy drum solos the back-to-basics approach is quite refreshing. That said, FU’s idea of ‘basic’ is hardly stripped back, as evidenced by guest spots from Kurt Vile, the Vivian Girls, Jennifer Castle and Cults’ Maddy Follin, or Mike Haliechuk, Josh Zucker and Ben Cook’s symphonic three-pronged guitar attack, and it’s this ‘wall of sound’ approach that is key to the album’s success." – Michael Dix

Read The Quietus review of David Comes To Life

Click here to buy Fucked Up – David Comes to Life from Rough Trade

19. John Maus – We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves

"We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves combines a Moroder/Jarre/Vangelis synth palette and sinister, fog-veiled images straight out of the Ridley Scott playbook with a vocal style that sounds like it comes from a monk who’s spent too long in some echoey dungeon, precisely copying illuminated manuscripts. For all the talk about hauntology, retromania, and all the hand-wringing about how the current moment is a tail-eating cultural dead end, Maus’ aesthetic is much more considered, and ambitious. Maus has spent years studying towards a PhD in political philosophy, and he explains how his songwriting choices are made in protest against neoliberal ideals. He’s looking to write music that uses elements from the 80s soft-rock palette and action film scores, as well as medieval modes, to create something both of this moment and beyond. It’s not about literal copying, but choosing the right sonic responses to articulate a universal response to right now." – Emily Bick (read Emily’s full interview with John Maus here)

<a href=http://www.roughtrade.com/site/shop_detail.lasso?search_type=sku&sku=340071&affiliateid=QUI111" target="out">Click here to buy John Maus – We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves from Rough Trade

18. Mogwai – Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will

"It’s tempting to surmise that the title of Mogwai’s seventh album is a play on Tortoise’s Millions Now Living Will Never Die, yet another attempt to distance themselves from that accursed post-rock tag. For if there’s one thing that’s has characterised Mogwai in their decade and a half of racketeering, it’s this kind of mischief making." – Luke Turner

Read The Quietus review of Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will

Click here to buy Mogwai – Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will from Rough Trade

17. Liturgy – Aesthetica

"It would be fair to say that Brooklyn’s Liturgy do for black metal what Lightning Bolt do for hardcore, meaning they play a risky game in inverting most of the genre’s conventions. A game which they win. No pretentious dilettantes, they forge a unique sound that uses the form of black metal not to reflect on the cruelty and isolation of existence but to harness the elemental violence of nature. So tracks such as ‘Returner’ do not reflect the monumental but static nature of the void but instead see existence as a kinetic realm of action." – John Doran writing in Metal Hammer magazine

Click here to buy Liturgy – Aesthetica from Rough Trade

16. The Haxan Cloak – The Haxan Cloak

"I first encountered Haxan Cloak on a balmy summer’s evening in 2010, when they played the old St. Mary’s Church in Stoke Newington, a building of Elizabethan origin badly damaged during, and repaired after, the Second World War. The group’s music suited such a place, just as their album evokes it: track titles such as ‘An Archaic Device’, ‘Burning Torches Of Despair’ and ‘Parting Chant’ gather half-caught sightings from the gloaming as the music fills in what is solid: spectral electronics, wraithlike chorals, strings to guide you to your grave, recordings of creaking woods and rope, possibly from a ship. For fans of Stephen O’Malley’s KTL soundtrack work, Æthenor, or Norse black metal-forged Rune-masters Wardruna, The Haxan Cloak is a genuinely unnerving record, particularly for those conditioned by sodium glow to fear the false terrors of the wood, field, and ancient building. I, for one, would not listen to this outside the town." – Luke Turner

Click here to buy The Haxan Cloak – The Haxan Cloak from Rough Trade

15. Colin Stetson – New History Warfare Vol 2: Judges

"New History Warfare 2 is superfine, breathtaking, at once unnervingly exploratory and highly accessible, a record which leaves you grasping in vain for adequate reference points and peer comparisons (though expect me to try a few, all the same). Ironically, what sounds like studio trickery is actually sheer virtuosity on Stetson’s part. So adept is he at manipulating the keys on his instrument of choice, the bass saxophone, that he can generate multiple effects in real time, which in their grainy intimacy occupy a similar world of echo to Arthur Russell’s cello recordings. This is fake inauthenticity, man!" – David Stubbs

Read The Quietus review of New History Warfare Vol 2: Judges

Click here to buy Colin Stetson – New History Warfare Vol 2: Judges from Rough Trade

14. Sandwell District – Feed Forward

"Sandwell District’s Feed Forward is a wonderfully enigmatic record – I’m fully expecting many of you to comment below that it actually emerged in late 2010… but this was a tiny release of only 300 copies on vinyl that are now exchanging hands for prohibitive sums online, and as such is a record that, like its pervasive musical spirit, has gradually invaded the consciousness of techno heads and undercut industrialists alike over the past six months. The product of the appropriately elusive and unshowy Sandwell District label, Feed Forward is a relentless, brilliantly structured album, rather than collection of 12" cuts. Beginning with the three part ‘Immolare’, which clicks with the painful regularity of a panicked, claustrophobic heartbeat under threat, it has as it’s fulcrum the imperious rising of ‘Hunting Lodge’, and concludes with the more minimal, icy patter of ‘Svar’ and ‘Double Day’. Of all the records on this list, this is the one that most sounds like progress." – Luke Turner

13. John Foxx And The Maths – Interplay

"After a run of relatively oblique collaborations, Interplay sees John Foxx’s return to the role of pop architect, ably assisted by The Maths (aka Ben Edwards, Benge), who has graduated here with flying colours from studied technologist to certified song producer. With his memory banks reset by Edwards’ box of retro delights, Foxx has taken the opportunity to reassert the grand arches of the mind on the pop of his salad days – a formula which rapidly became intellectually superficial and increasingly less expressive in his wake." – John Calvert

Read The Quietus review of Interplay

Click here to buy John Foxx And The Maths – Interplay from Rough Trade

12. Battles – Gloss Drop

"[Tyondai] Braxton’s absence on vocals is redressed by four guests. The big name is Gary Numan, found amidst the dystopic, race-for-the-train clatter of ‘My Machines’. Kazu Makino enjoys a cute and breathy turn on the springy ‘Sweetie & Shag’, contrasting with the oddest vocal of the lot: Yamantaka Eye on closing track ‘Sundome’. Here it’s as if Battles set out to cross Leftfield’s ‘Afrika Shox’ with an ice-hockey arcade game. Gloss Drop is packed with ideas, but instead of clambering over one another the riffs, rhythms and basslines co-operate more gracefully, with a greater degree of harmony." – Kiran Acharya

Read The Quietus review of Gloss Drop

Click here to buy Battles – Gloss Drop from Rough Trade

11. British Sea Power – Valhalla Dancehall

"British Sea Power are an anomaly amongst their contemporaries. In this era of hyper-consumption of culture they appear reassuringly old-fashioned – though not in the way you perhaps might expect. They’ve been around a decade, yet appear more enthusiastic towards their work than ever; they are ambitious, but not in the way most British guitar bands are. They don’t write hit singles and they wear the same clothes for entire tours. But as their recent road-mates the Manic Street Preachers noted, they are ‘an ideas band’. They confuse, enrapture, divide and inspire in equal parts, and Lord knows we need a band like this now more than ever." – Ben Myers

Read The Quietus review of Valhalla Dancehall

Click here to buy British Sea Power – Valhalla Dancehall from Rough Trade

10. My Disco – Little Joy

"These guys certainly recognise the joy of repetition, unleashing wave after wave of percussive intensity on album highlights like ‘Young’, extended jams that build and build until the point of ecstatic release. Melbourne might be a long way from Detroit or Chicago, but Little Joy’s place in the lineage of great dance music is unquestionable." – Michael Dix

Read our interview with My Disco

Click here to buy tickets for The Quietus’ My Disco gig in September

9. Tamikrest – Toumastin

"Building riffs out of sand, Tamikrest have not waited long to follow up their debut album Adagh, a Quietus favourite of 2010. Their fully electrified African blues is of the kind we had been primed for by fellow Malian desert rockers Tinariwen, and though several bands have picked up on their leagues, it is Tamikrest who have emerged from the Sahara with the most interesting material, now explored on new album Toumastin." – Richie Troughton

Read The Quietus review of Toumastin

Click here to buy Tamikrest – Toumastin from Rough Trade

8. EMA – Past Life Martyred Saints

"It must be a common enough feeling to go through your teenage years in a small town, yearning to escape the petty-mindedness, violence and boredom, just to hit the big city in your twenties and discover that you don’t fit in there either. To discover the streets are paved with dogshit, not gold. ‘Fuck California’, sings Erika M Anderson balefully on this quietly astounding debut album, in a dedication to her adoptive West Coast home, ‘you made me boring.’ The opening track of Past Life Martyred Saints (‘California’) pinpoints what EMA – who was born and bred in South Dakota – is really brilliant at; writing songs capturing life’s big shifts, tapping all the unruly emotions dredged up for all they are worth. A realisation that comes too late in life to be of any use is twice as bittersweet – it is palpable how much EMA (or perhaps the voice she’s giving life to) is undergoing some kind of negative epiphany during this song." – John Doran

Read The Quietus review of Past Life Martyred Saints

Click here to buy EMA – Past Life Martyred Saints from Rough Trade

7. Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972

"All too often it’s easy to overlook non-musical influences when listening to an album. Given that a great deal of music (and music writing) takes quite a singular approach, avoiding multidisciplinary thought in favour of placing sounds within an established canon, it’s wonderful to occasionally come across a record that’s intensely evocative of the world beyond its self-contained universe. Demdike Stare’s recent Tryptych is a great example, its darkened samplescapes summoning a grey and drizzle-soaked – i.e. uniquely British – vision of the occult, as is the volcanic force that regularly tears through the Arctic crust of Ben Frost’s By The Throat. Tim Hecker’s Ravedeath, 1972 is another, right down to its intensely visual title and demonstrative track names (‘The Piano Drop’; ‘Hatred Of Music’)." – Rory Gibb

Read The Quietus review of Ravedeath, 1972

6. Cornershop – Cornershop And The Double ‘O’ Groove Of

"From the first break the album is audibly Cornershop, which is odd given that it doesn’t feature frontman Tjinder Singh on vocals once. Up front instead is Bubbley Kaur, an old friend of Singh’s whose lyrics are delivered entirely in Punjabi. The New Delhi-born, Preston-based housewife was introduced to the singer by a taxi driver friend. On meeting, they realised that they’d met at a party some years previously and discussed their mutual love of Punjabi folk music. Kaur, a mother and launderette operative, hadn’t heard much in the way of Western pop and rock music, let alone anything by Cornershop… something that probably made her ideal for this project. The first song from this partnership was ‘Topknot’, the sublime John Peel favourite, which, in any sane world, should have given them another globe-bestriding hit. They realised the combination was a good one, however, and have been working on Cornershop And The Double ‘O’ Groove Of pretty much since." – John Doran

Read our interview with Tjinder and Ben of Cornershop

Click here to buy Cornershop – Cornershop And The Double ‘O’ Groove Of from Rough Trade

5. Cold Cave – Cherish The Light Years

"One listen to ‘The Great Pan Is Dead’, the opening track to Cold Cave’s Cherish The Light Years confirms that Cold Cave are more than capable of proving themselves to the doubters, those who perhaps saw Wesley Eisold’s group as a quick-fix sugar rush for the sunglasses-at-night hipster crowd, and who branded him a ‘new young god of nihilism and despair’. Whereas Love Comes Close was a resolutely DIY affair, its follow-up is – in comparison – a big budget production (helmed by TV On The Radio/Beach House/Yeah Yeah Yeahs knob-twiddler Chris Coady) with an ensemble cast, and ‘Pan’ is a bona-fide ‘Born To Run’-sized anthem. Combining programmed jackhammer beats and live percussion, strafing synths, guitars and strings, it’s a 21st Century electro-punk reboot of Springsteen’s own Wall Of Sound update; a fist-pumping chant-along with a killer hook, and the most thrilling song of the year so far." – Michael Dix

Read The Quietus review of Cherish The Light Years

Click here to buy Cold Cave – Cherish the Light Years from Rough Trade

4. Death Grips – ExMilitary

"This is a funhouse, bulbous with danceable heaviosity and sick bass permutations but built from the molecular facts of post-techno. It’s a rocking firestorm forged in cold logic: procedural, binary, black and white, dense with gyrations, mutations, deferrals – a tarnation computed numerically, and chaos. There’s no plan here, so no rules; an itemised, nonsensical showreel flaunting everything the Sacramento-based egregore are capable of. Which amounts to a lurid, livid, unquantifiable mess of method, an auditory jamboree dead set on screen-crashing hip hop, contorting its myriad influences into junk art rinsers, hook-barking rabid dogs: meaningless, shameless, soulless, fearless. Who needs a central idea when you can do it all. A great album statement? No. Track-for-track the birth of a new legend? Absolutely." – John Calvert

Death Grips – ExMilitary by deathgrips

Read The Quietus review of ExMilitary

3. Wild Beasts – Smother

"The trajectory from Wild Beasts’ jittery and dramatic debut Limbo, Panto through the slinky sex grooves of Two Dancers to ultra-refined new album Smother has defied a central convention of modern pop logic: their popularity has continued to grow as their music has increasingly thrown off any regard for what the listener ought to desire. Which, when you consider that the group have become stranger and stranger over that period, is a real achievement in a world where pop choruses rely on hideously overwrought dynamics and radio-friendly production tricks. Playing all three records alongside one another reveals an ongoing process of refinement, of stripping away all excess fat and smoothing away all the edges to leave little but bone, sinew and heart. Jagged guitars had all but disappeared by the time of their last album, to be replaced with warm, undulating grooves that flowed like liquid, and now, with Smother, the value of silence as an instrument has fully informed their music. With it has come a sense of increased focus, something Two Dancers already showed no lack of." – Rory Gibb

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Click here to buy Wild Beasts – Smother from Rough Trade

2. Alexander Tucker – Dorwytch

"Kent-born multi-instrumentalist Alexander Tucker has released a monumental album in Dorwytch. Even compared to 2005’s Old Fog, this is a record that people should be talking about. Or rather, it’s a record that should be making people shut up and listen. When we first played this in the office initially it was the tunes that we loved. A week of afternoons was brightened considerably by the insistent cello-folk of ‘His Arm Has Grown Long’; the gentle fingerpicking of ‘Red String’; the chiming lullaby of ‘Matter’; the lightly sun dappled English prettiness of ‘Hose’; and so on and so forth. But it was only when I got it home to a pair of monolithic 1970s stereo speakers that it transformed into a pool of potential deep listening. A relatively still surface daring you to dive in, its sharp, cold depth containing bindweed, or maybe worse… things that threaten to drag you under, away from surface beauty into a totally different, forbidding world." – John Doran

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Click here to buy Alexander Tucker – Dorwytch from Rough Trade

1. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake

"Much has been made of how different Let England Shake is to White Chalk, her last solo album proper. Of course, musically they don’t sound anything alike, this being full of simple, organic folk melody, the former full of calcified and threatening ambience. But neither is this the return of Polly the Mercury Prize-winning rock star of Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea. Her instrument of choice here is not the relatively unfamiliar upright piano but the relatively easy-to-sling-on Autoharp and the not-taken-out-of-its-case-since-the-late-80s saxophone – two instruments she’s never recorded with before. So both albums have benefited from sonic excitement strategies that prevent the music from becoming too slick or easy to process. You’re constantly unsettled by small jagged details as PJH, her trusty band of fellow musicians (John Parish, Mick Harvey and Jean-Marc Butty) and the listener alike are left slightly uneasy, just outside their comfort zone." – John Doran

Read The Quietus review of Let England Shake

Click here to buy PJ Harvey – Let England Shake from Rough Trade

Other albums that were voted for but didn’t chart include Cultus Sabbati – Garden Of Forking Ways; Gyratory System – New Harmony; De Magia Veterum – The Divine Antithesis; Richard Skelton & Autumn Richardson – Wolf Notes; Blanck Mass – Blanck Mass; Perc – Wicker & Steel; Cat’s Eyes – Cat’s Eyes; Julianna Barwick – The Magic Place; Planningtorock – W; Atari Teenage Riot – Is This Hyperreal?; Esben and the Witch – Violet Cries; Suuns – Zeroes QC

  1. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
  1. Alexander Tucker – Dorwytch
  1. Wild Beasts – Smother
  1. Death Grips – ExMilitary
  1. Cold Cave – Cherish The Light Years
  1. Cornershop – Cornershop And The Double O Groove Of
  1. Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972
  1. EMA – Past Life Martyred Saints
  1. Tamikrest – Toumastin
  1. My Disco – Little Joy
  1. British Sea Power – Valhalla Dancehall
  1. Battles – Gloss Drop
  1. John Foxx And The Maths – Interplay
  1. Sandwell District – Feed Forward
  1. Colin Stetson – New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges
  1. The Haxan Cloak – The Haxan Cloak
  1. Liturgy – Aesthetica
  1. Mogwai – Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
  1. John Maus – We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves
  1. Fucked Up – David Comes To Life
  1. Wire – Red Barked Tree
  1. Frank Ocean – Nostalgia, Ultra
  1. Gang Gang Dance – Eye Contact
  1. Destroyer – Kaputt
  1. Amon Tobin – ISAM
  1. Snowman – Absence
  1. Katy B – On A Mission
  1. Elzhi – Elmatic
  1. Thurston Moore – Demolished Thoughts
  1. The Skull Defekts ft. Daniel Higgs – Peer Amid
  1. The Master Musicians Of Bukkake – Totem Three
  1. Altar Of Plagues – Mammal
  1. Boris – Attention Please
  1. Æthenor – En Form for Blå
  1. James Pants – James Pants
  1. Zwischenwelt – Paranormale Aktivitat
  1. White Hills – H-p1
  1. Iceage – New Brigade
  1. Gnod – In Gnod We Trust
  1. Moon Duo – Mazes

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