Editor's Pick of New Releases, January 2011
My favourite part of any month is always its end, when I can look back on the best new album releases of the past few weeks and present a selection of them here. And it's a pleasure to report that January 2011 has been another fine start to a year, following a crop of 12 months ago that included These New Puritans (NME's album of the year), Vampire Weekend, Beach House (a favourite at 6 Music), Four Tet, The Magnetic Fields and Lostprophets.
The big surprise of January 2011 has been the return of Diddy, with a concept album that's not only ambitious in design but packs enough big-name producers and guest vocalists into its credits to supply the Billboard 100 with its contents for the next four years. While they're with Puff, someone somewhere is missing out on a number one single. For instantly impressing when a too-many-cooks approach has scuppered so many other hip hop heavyweights, it's worthy of its pick of the month place. Will it be one of the defining albums of 2011, though?
Editor's Album of the Month
"A deeply ambitious journey into the mind of a hip hop titan comprising lengthy epics, a plethora of superstar guests, expensive-sounding beats from big-name producers, a fixation with the difficulty of loving someone through the prism (and prison) of a massive celebrity ego? No, it's not Kanye West's last LP, but Diddy's surprising new project. And as its final notes ring out, you feel like giving its many and varied cast a standing ovation as they take a bow."
The Best of the Rest
"Mixing the sort of luminescently sinister ballads that have stood the band in good stead throughout their career with chaotic, colourful smears of guitar rock that break with the sepia tones of 2008's Do You Like Rock Music?, this is an album that sees BSP continue their stately, unruffled progress."
"Wire's 11th studio album is 40 minutes of gorgeous nothings, full of intricate curlicues of sparkling Colin Newman guitar and synth given beef by the surging rhythms of Robert Grey aka Gotobed and Graham Lewis. They Wire alternative guitar music better than any young British band you can name."
"21 is simply stunning. After only a handful of plays, it feels like you've always known it. It will see Adele become an even greater award magnet come the end of the year, leaving her contemporaries for dust. Genuinely brilliant."
"The Big Roar is huge: a roller-coaster of an album driven on by urgent, accelerating grunge riffs and punchy pop melodies. The Joy Formidable's template is simple. They create a basic melody and build it upwards into an irresistible, molten-lava crescendo. As with Muse, it's almost unthinkable that this band only has three members."
How to Dress Well - Love Remains
(Tri-Angle, released 31 January)
Recommended by: Rob da Bank
"This is really something new - lo-fi electronic RnB, ghost-soul muzak with added murk, sung by HTDW lynchpin Tom Krell in an agonised, androgynous falsetto as though from the other side. It's like hearing R Kelly in hell, or Fleet Foxes if they'd grown up on a diet of Ralph Tresvant and Al B Sure!. Love Remains is an exquisite album-length disquisition on memory and desire, love and loss."
"The scaled-down (for them - these things are relative) arrangements ebb and flow, as Neil Young-ian harmonica and mandolin anthems and sing-along gypsy stomps are hushed by delicate, gorgeously melodic meditations with simple guitar accompaniment. It is, simply, a thing of beauty."
Fujiya & Miyagi - Ventriloquizzing
(Full Time Hobby, released 17 January)
Recommended by: 6 Music Album of the Day
"A curious hybrid of time and place, Fujiya & Miyagi's insistent grooves owe much to the pulsing motorik of 70s Germany - Can and Neu! especially - but their taut white funk and skinny beats jiggle somewhere between 80s New York clubland and early Human League. In a just world, they'd be the new lords of the dancefloor."