Mainly Genius

The Albums of 2011: Part III

And so we countdown the final 3 of the Mainly Genius albums of 2011. There’s been laughs, there’s been tears but most of all we’ve had fun along the way. If you like to agree, disagree or put forward your own suggestions, feel free to do so in the comments section below or contact me for even more exciting ways to get in touch

This is Part III – you can see Part I HERE, and Part II HERE


3. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues (Released 3rd May)

As a band riding the crest of a folk wave back in 2008, Fleet Foxes enjoyed a popularity that perhaps wasn’t just down to their music. Along with acts such as Mumford & Sons, Laura Marling, Noah and the Whale et al, they were at the forefront of a new and more accessible style of folk, which culminated with Mercury Prize nominations for both Mumford and Marling.

So a Fleet Foxes second album then was always going come under more pressure than others – as much at risk from apathy as anything else. Thankfully though, they’ve sidestepped that with much room to spare. There are many words that come to mind when recalling the mountainous brilliance of Helplessness Blues and both mountainous and brilliant are up there.

But it’s really the effortlessness, the delicacy and the beauty with which the album is delivered. They’ve made a small enough stride satisfy there current fans but more importantly, they’ve made a big enough one to not only gain scores of new fans but to re-awaken and remind those that may have been drowned out in 2008.

Overall, Helplessness Blues is a masterpiece from start to finish and as engaging and inspiring as anything released this decade, let alone this year. Rightly nominated for a Grammy, it’s a blueprint for the perfect second album and a standout entry against some extremely tough competition. Expect stadiums within years – Mumford be afraid.

Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

Fleet Foxes – Lorelai

Fleet Foxes – The Shrine / An Arguement


2. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake (Released 11th February)

From the very first words of ­Let England Shake, it’s clear that the old, Rock FM PJ Harvey has gone. In her place is an angered, reflective, ashamed and frightened replacement, unafraid to question the West and her own country. Lyrically based around the First World War, the album draws alarming and non-accidental parallels with current world events and, in a time of the Arab Spring, London Riots and Occupy Wall Street, the album is a masterpiece.

Harvey has stated that this is a reaction to her feelings of recent current events and equally her reaction to the struggle of turning those in art. The answer came not from confessional, emotion-dumping but from research and reading first-hand accounts of the horror of war.

Whether you agree with her opinions or not (and it’s difficult not to), there’s no denying the effect the raw and sharp lyrics have, the imagery placing the listener at the centre. Damning of War, England and the backdrop it’s created, Harvey frequently tells of haunting landscapes and images such as “bitter branches spreading out” on Bitter Branches and of “stinking alleys” and “drunken beats” on The Last Living Rose.

And with a dark irony on The Words That Maketh Murder she sings “What if I take my problems to the United Nations?” or “Take me back to England! The grey, damp filthiness of ages” on The Last Living Rose, all at once marking out the bureaucracy as sad as the reality.

As a subject matter, War is a saturated market, and for PJ Harvey to have produced something that stands out so magnificently is astonishing. To tell stories of soldiers falling on the blood-stained earth without triteness is an accomplishment – to do it so well on a pop album is something else entirely.

PJ Harvey – The Glorious Land

PJ Harvey – All and Everyone

PJ Harvey – Bitter Branches


1. Bon Iver – Self-titled (Released 17th June)

As a debut album of such beauty, originality and brilliance Bon Iver’s first – entitled For Emma, Forever Ago – was always going to raise questions for the group’s longevity. The back story (girlfriend leaves boy, boy gets sad, boy writes brilliant folk album over three months in a remote cottage in Vermont) and lyrical content was so perfect and strong many wondered if this was a one-off.

But Bon Iver/Justin Vernon has responded in magnificent fashion, weaving a tapestry of folk, ambient and even hints of psychedelica that manages surpass the unsurpassable.

The seeds were sown in 2009’s Blood Bank, the first release after the huge success of the debut album – hinting at a direction less of the singer/songwriter mould and giving freedom to other aspects in the instrumentation that were reduced down, or discarded in 2008.

The self-titled album is a continuation of this trend and sees Vernon put down his guitar and make the (obviously effortless) transition into a much bigger producer role. Introducing duelling drummers, tenor sax and in album closer Beth/Rest, synths that hark back to the 80s heyday of artists such Phil Collins and Bruce Hornsby is a bold step but fits so smoothly with the slightly darker and more haunting sound that Vernon has brought to his vocals and songwriting.

Each track is a place name and whether real, imagined or a combination of both (Hinom, TX) and each presents vivid imagery – from the fields and valleys of Minnesota, WI to the Lakes and forests of standout track Perth.

Overall, the key parts are still there – Holocene has guitars and falsettos to match anything found on For Emma… and should placate those who love the folky side to Bon Iver. But the additions and expansions of the drums, horns keyboards’ and overall production has added an whole other dimension to Vernon’s sound that’s arguably more beautiful and effective than the less is more approach previously employed.

There’s so much to enjoy here and it’s a phenomenal and well deserved success story for Bon Iver. Bon Iver is rich and expansive without being the least bit grandiose or ostentatious and in the end the clear choice for the top spot.

To do it once was brilliant, to better it a second time approaches genius. Long live Bon Iver.

Bon Iver – Perth

Bon Iver – Holocene

Bon Iver – Calgary





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[…] This is Part II – you can see Part I HERE, and Part III HERE […]

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[…] This is Part I – you can see Part II HERE, and Part III HERE […]

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