The Affs Awards 2011 – Album of the Year

Well, the year has now been and gone and it seems fitting, nay customary, to perform some sort of wrap up on the past 12 months. As one of my resolutions is to write even more this year, what better way to kick off 2012 with the first ever Affs Awards for services to popular culture?

First up is the Album of the Year Award. CD sales may be down year on year, but that hasn’t stopped some absolutely storming epics being committed to shiny disc during 2011. After all, what use is the music without the artwork, liner notes, lyrics, extra cardboard and free goblins? I’m a sucker for all that makes a first edition CD truly limited so here’s to the on-going survival of the format.

Anyway, I digress. Onto the important matter of which long players have been on repeat on the Affs death deck in 2011.

It’s been quite a surprisingly good year for tunes. I’ve heard some great new bands whilst some old favourites have churned out new crackers. Here are a few of the contenders who just missed out on the top places, starting with an intriguing album that came from none other than Mr Hugh Laurie.

I’m not usually a fan of blues, but anything that m’colleague does sparks an interest in me, so I was fascinated to hear his CD, Let Them Talk, and I wasn’t disappointed. Laurie has always been a super-talented, self-taught musician and there is obvious passion that prevails throughout his album. From soulful crooning to more up-tempo stomp-alongs, Laurie manages to get people listening to a genre when they wouldn’t normally give it the time of day and for that he should be commended.

A late entry into the Affs hit parade was the new Nightwish album. They’re a funny old band, not everyone’s cup of tea, but I’ve been into them for over a decade so I tend to buy all their output. After Tarja left the group, taking with her the more operatic vocals, I must admit that my interest in their symphonic bombast waned a little, but this year’s Imaginaerum pricked my ears up and got me all kinds of excited all over again. It’s a very textured album, featuring loads of different sounds, from the typical Euro metal of Storytime through to the husky jazz drawl of Slow, Love, Slow. It’s great to see Nightwish realising they can’t keep living on former glories and need to adapt to survive, and they’ve definitely done just that.

Another band that I tend to buy music from but fail to spend the quality time with that I should is Trivium. These young upstarts (still young despite having been around for a good while. Yes I’m jealous), were originally hailed as the new Metallica, and then the emo crowd hooked onto them, but now they’re producing an altogether more mature product. In Waves is full of crowd pleasers (and trust me, the title track and Dusk Dismantled are absolutely epic live), and throughout the pretty lengthy album I was pleasantly surprised with the catchiness and heaviness working so well together.

An honourable mention must also go to another band that I only encountered for the first time in 2011, Gentlemans Pistols. I saw the band supporting Terrorvision and was hugely happy to see Bill Steer, ex-Carcass, up on stage again, knocking out some semi-tongue-in-cheek rawk. Gentlemans Pistols combine a good time feeling with some catchy riffs and decent song writing chops and At Her Majesty’s Pleasure contains tunes that make you feel like you’ve been to bed with them previously on a debauched night involving a bottle of scotch, some dice and a unicorn. Managing to steer away from the obviousness of cheese like Steel Panther, Gentlemans Pistols transport you back to 70s/80s happy, carefree womanising metal and what’s not to like about that, eh girls?

So, we’ve got four treats left at the top of the tree to choose between, and in all honesty it’s tough to pick between the three runners up.

Terrorvision are a band I once adored. They probably even overtook Therapy? at one point in being my favourite band EVER. Their first three albums were pop rock classics but I was turned away from them with their banal crowd pleaser Tequilla. Even so, when they announced a comeback tour, I gave it a go and picked up a copy of their new album Super Delux while I was there. Holy mother of all things that are holy, what a record! The 11 tracks contained within still feature that cheeky Yorkshire wit, but you can tell the band have also grown as songwriters. New drummer Cam Greenwood has somehow replaced the irreplaceable Shutty and with catchy numbers such as Rock Radio and All The Girls Wanna Dance, the band have put Bradford on the map once more.

Rhyming some obscure words, as is standard with any Terrorvision release, the boys came back with one almighty album/tour bang and also worth checking out is the video to Pushover which is delightfully touching and brilliantly funny. I’m already hoping they tour again next year and put out some more musical gems.

Ghost, as their name suggests, were a surprise. In many, many more ways than one. I’d read a bit about them and thought they were going to be gimmicky no-hopers, but thankfully they proved me very wrong indeed with their opus, er, Opus Eponymous. Their shtick, all about being sparkly Satanic bishops and hooded monky-types shouldn’t work, but it does, and it gels brilliantly with their retro, stripped-down early Sabbath-y sound. Elizabeth is mournful but tuneful, whilst Ritual threatens to transport the the Dark Lord right into your ears with its haunting melody. The whole CD simply works in an age when it really shouldn’t and I’m just hoping that the gimmick doesn’t fade before album number two.

Turbowolf are a relatively new band, and still largely unknown, but I’ve been following their progress since last year, after I caught them supporting Dinosaur Pile Up. Their un-categorisable music (PsychedelicSpaceFunkProgMetal?) and energetic live performances saw them garner some well-deserved mainstream music press attention and when their self-titled CD landed at the end of 2011, it really didn’t disappoint one bit.

Older songs such as Seven Severed Heads and Ancient Snake burrow into your brain with their punk attitude and rock and roll swagger, whilst the singles A Rose For The Crows and Read & Write are live classics already with their jagged soundscapes and insane raw intensity.

The Turbowolf CD is very nearly my album of the year simply due to how fresh and new the whole thing feels, but the award goes to someone who I only got to see as they were headlining over the ‘Wolf in Bristol…

And it’s Black Spiders who have won the day. Their album, Sons of the North absolutely blew me away when I first gave it a spin, and it still does the same now, months on. I saw the band live a good few times this year too, and each time they rocked and rolled their way to converting more and more new fans. I was pleased to discover that I wasn’t the only one in on the Spiders phenomenon, one of my friends was already a fan and came to a show with me along with a few others, and in the majority they looked pretty damn pleased to be there too.

The sign of a classic album is that you’re not scared to recommend, and even buy the thing for people to convince them to listen. I did just that with Black Spiders. I just had to get people to listen to this CD. Sons of the North features all manner of groove-ridden gems such as St Peter and the opening Stay Down will be a show opener for years to come. Kiss Tried To Kill Me never fails to raise a smile and Blood of The Kings is simply sublime in being a track for all seasons and moods.

The band combine all of their great musical talent with a gloriously happy attitude, meeting and greeting fans, working solidly to make sure that the whole Spiders experience is a great one and this band are only going to get bigger and better in 2012.

So there you have it, Affs Album of the Year award done and deservedly won by Black Spiders. They would probably even pop over to pick up the non-existent trophy, they’re that decent a bunch of chaps. Stay tuned for more scribblings, including my Gig of the Year, Videogame of the Year, and maybe even pig by-product of the decade. Yes, it’s been one of those years!

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