A Christmas Present

When I sat down to write this instalment of Download Central, I realised that many of you may not be able to read this today for I have enough empirical reasons to believe that on the morning of December 25 many people have difficulty navigating lines of print and making coherent sense of them. I’ve also realised over the years that this morning we will all probably be better off listening to music rather than trying to read anything.

Top left: Warren Haynes’ mellow blues album, Top right; R.E.M’s last album, Collapse Into Now; Bottom (Left): Wilco’s The Whole Love, which was a refreshing change, Centre: My Morning Jacket’s latest, Circuital; Right: St Vincent’s Strange Mercy

Top left: Warren Haynes’ mellow blues album, Top right; R.E.M’s last album, Collapse Into Now; Bottom (Left): Wilco’s The Whole Love, which was a refreshing change, Centre: My Morning Jacket’s latest, Circuital; Right: St Vincent’s Strange Mercy

So, I’d like to begin by directing you to a trove of compilations that I stumbled upon late last week. It’s a 10-disc, 183-song mix and comprises songs from albums released during 2011. You’ll find a variety of genres here and songs from musicians that you’ve either heard of or know; tracks from others that you’ve perhaps never heard of; and releases from older artistes that you hadn’t had a chance to check out.

The 10-disc free download is from Fluxblog, which is among the earliest mp3 blogs (born c.2002) by Matthew Perpetua, a music blogger whom you must check out if you haven’t already. This year’s mighty compilation includes almost everyone or every band of note that released anything worthy of being mentioned. Of course, the list is sculpted by what Perpetua (who also writes for rollingstone.com) likes but if you download all of it (be sure to do it fast as Fluxblog’s download links are offered for a limited period), you’ll get a comprehensive cachet of the best music of 2011.

Just to give you an idea of the kind of range the Fluxblog mix has, here’s a selection from what I heard on just the first disc: Beyoncé’s Countdown, TV on the Radio’s Caffeinated Consciousness, Iron and Wine’s Me and Lazarus, Paul Simon’s Afterlife and Cass McCombs County Line. You couldn’t have a more eclectic mix than that. And there are 10 such albums. If I were you, I’d stop reading the rest of the rubbish that will follow and head over to download the lot.

Plug for Fluxblog and self-deprecation over, here is how 2011 has been for me musically. Early in the year, Radiohead dropped its latest, King of Limbs. Considering that it is a band that I’m completely sold on, I’d pre-booked the download, of course, and once I got it I listened to it a countless number of times. Many, many people didn’t like it (read all the rants on the net and you’ll see) but I don’t give a fig. KoL is a great album. Why, I even loved Thom Yorke’s strange spasmodic dance in the video of the song Lotus Flower.

Then, a few weeks later, I heard another of the older bands, Foo Fighters, on their new release, Wasting Light. I even bought the vinyl but I have to admit, I don’t remember giving them a second listen. Things looked up when I heard the excellent remix of Gil-Scott Heron’s I’m Not Here by British minimalist band The xx’s Jamie Smith who overlaid dubstep and indie notes into Scott-Heron’s marvellous part-spoken word, part jazz and blues 2010 album and created a great new version of it. Then, in May I heard that Scott-Heron had died.

By the time you read this, everyone who writes on music, including the big magazines, will have ritualistically put out their ‘Best of 2011’ lists, some of them sliced and diced according to genres, geographies and gender. Others would have polled listeners and fans to make popular lists for the year that will go by in a week from now. I’ll simply list five albums that made my day the moment I heard them during this past year, Warren Haynes, guitarist par excellence, came out with his solo album, Man In Motion, a most soulful and mellow blues album that makes repeated listening to it almost mandatory.

My Morning Jacket, my favourite contemporary southern rockers, rediscovered their early deliciously reverb-drenched sound in their latest release, Cicuital.

Wilco, the alt-country, folk-rockers, came out with The Whole Love, which was a refreshing change from their last two albums, Sky Blue Sky and Wilco (The Album), both of which I wished to forget.

R.E.M. came out with Collapse Into Now, which, when it came out early-ish in the year, I didn’t know would probably be the last new album from that super, super band. Many people didn’t like the album; I loved it and I’m still getting into it.

St. Vincent, who is a.k.a. Annie Clark, came out with her third album, Strange Mercy, which is even notches better than her first two, Marry Me and Actor. Her powerful yet sweet vocals and the music that is a fascinating intersection of post-punk and baroque pop, makes the album enduring. I’ll listen to it in 2012 too.

And, of course, there’ll be Fluxblog’s 183-track mega-compilation to cherry pick from.

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