The Zaw Towers Review of 2011

2011 was definitely a year of fulfilling some of my ambitions. I went to Monaco and walked the streets of the Formula 1 track (which in turn makes me want to go back there when the F1 actually is on) and on top of that continued to hold down a job when there's plenty of other people suffering a lot worse than I am, but even with the times uncertain at the moment, that was one constant I was very pleased to have. So what floated the boat for me this year and what made the year tick over very nicely? Well, here is where you find that out.

Best Single/Track of 2011 - "She's An Accountant" - The Sweet Nothings
Who said that indie pop was dead? Not me. If you want a short sharp stab at some intelligent yet oh so cute indie brilliance, then this is the song for you. It's less than ninety seconds long, but in that time it's a song of love and lust for someone good at figures who looks gorgeous in a business suit, and "she could make me column tally, I shouldn't fancy her, but actually I do" says it all really. Well worth ordering the single if you can appreciate just how much fun pop songs should be.

Also recommended:
"The View" - Lou Reed and Metallica - Although the album "Lulu" is very much in the love or hate category, the pure brutal metal sound together with Lou Reed's almost spoken word lyric shows in this single just how an unlikely alliance can work, not least when James Hetfield in the chorus sounds particularly angry as his Metallica colleagues thrash it down.
"Mother" - Blondie - Blondie ended up releasing their new album in an unusual way here in the UK - as a magazine with the disc effectively on the cover mount. This, the lead off single, proved as if it needed necessary that even with modern day electronics underpinning a track, Debbie Harry and co can still write an infectiously catchy pop song, and why the hell not?
"The Fall" - Gary Numan - The man that inspired Nine Inch Nails in turn has now been inspired by Trent Reznor and co, but in a positive way. The crunching drum lines, powerful synth and bass leads underpin this wonderfully well and Numan's vocals, even during the Reznor-esque whispered parts, never sounded better. And that opening guitar riff prevalent in the chorus really does crunch and kick backside.
"Days Are Forgotten" - Kasabian - Another massive anthemic sounding tune from Leicester's finest and one that I'm sure will be played plenty up and down many alternative nights in the future. It takes time to build up the song but by the chorus it's sweeping majestically into your brain, and only really good catchy songs have the ability to do that.

Best Album of 2011 - "Let England Shake" - PJ Harvey
I purchased the album on the day of release, as I suspected that Polly Jean's latest offering was going to be something special. And by golly it was! It dealt with a common theme of war and with plenty of feelings of desperation, exasperation and observation in equal measure, delivered with some succinct instruments and influences from all around the world, it's all fused together brilliantly. "The Words That Maketh Murder" really sums up the whole album nicely, but the off-kilter trumpet in "The Glorious Land" to really set the song off, and the Eastern influences in "Written on the Forehead" are just perfect examples of how to write an album and really stay true to your artistic integrity. It deservedly won the Mercury Prize too.

Also recommended:
"You (Understood)" - Samantha Crain - Although the album only got a UK release this year after a year of being out in the US, a support slot to The Bad Shepherds gave her and the album a deserved exposure. And when you listen to the whole sum of its parts, especially "Santa Fe" with its wistful feel and "Blueprints" with its more gentle softness but yet dark backdrop, it's the sign of a songwiter and singer who knows her craft, and performs it with suitable gusto.
"The English Riviera" - Metronomy - The moment you start listening to the album, you're taken on a real feeling of 1980s electronic pop mixed with glorious hook lines, and evocative feelings of the seaside. "The Look" just has a wonderful pop edge to it, whilst "She Wants" has a bass line that New Order would be proud of if they could still make good albums, and "The Bay" sums up the whole of Torbay in glorious pop joy: "This isn't Paris, this isn't London" said with such joie de vivre, and for that we should all be thankful. A real grower, this one.
"Collapse Into Now" - REM - If you're going to go out and retire gracefully, you may as well do it with your finest album in ages, and that's exactly what REM did. The opener "Discoverer" seemed almost autobiographical and in hindsight that was a clue to their retirement, along with the closer "Blue" with such poetic poise from Patti Smith really cutting into the song like a knife, and the more folk inspired "Überlin" to give the album some balance. A perfect way to leave and keep all that artistic integrity beautifully intact.
"What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?" - The Vaccines - As debut albums go, this was pretty impressive stuff. From the short sharp shock of "Wrecking Bar (Ra Ra Ra)" with its pop and punk sensibilities all in one, the ninety odd second blast that is "Norgaard" to the "we've all been there" moment of "Post Break-Up Sex" in its confessional lyrics, its catchy edgy melodies and three minute numbers really did make you sit up, take notice and listen intently. One band to watch.

Best Concert of 2011 - Pop Will Eat Itself, Club Academy, Manchester
Although the new Pop Will Eat Itself album wasn't fully what I expected it to be, there were some cracking tracks on there. And as a live act, even with a new Mark 2 line up, one thing that PWEI do deliver on is a live performance that gets you in a feel good mood and jumping around like a loon all over the place. Combining the best of the old with the best of the new, seeing everyone go mad to "Noisebleeder Turbo TV" and "Chaos and Mayhem" from the new album whilst still having the energy to belt out "Wise Up! Sucker" and all in unison yell out "There Is No Love Between Us Anymore" really defined the real sense of belonging you get between the band and fans when it's a live show. Small intimate venue with mass pogoing, simply ace.

Other Concerts I Enjoyed:
Throwing Muses, Picturedrome, Holmfirth
- Seeing Throwing Muses twice was very good, but in terms of atmosphere, quality of sound and crowd, the Holmfirth gig was the more enjoyable of the two. In a smaller more intimate venue, Kristin Hersh and co performed with suitable gusto and had fans both old and new just admiring everything whilst remembering the many classic songs from the Muses' back catalogue. The spine tingling moment during the encore that was "White Bikini Sand" will live long in my memory particularly but also the vibe between everyone and meeting some lovely fellow fans too.
Jools Holland's Rhythm and Blues Orchestra, Barbican, York - A surprisingly good gig in that it was much better than I imagined. In a perfect sized venue, Jools and all his band really put on a storming show of some beautiful songs, well played by everyone. Louise Marshall's gorgeous vocal on "Father Time" really did set the spines tingling, but having Sandie Shaw on there performing with the band singing her classic "Long Live Love" was like a moment come true for me as a Sandie fan to hear that, and I'm going to keep that with me for a very long time. Oh, and Shaun Ryder on saxophone. Yes indeed. And a gig that The Love In My Heart loved too.
Peter Hook and the Light, The Lowry, Salford - Hooky and his band took a massive risk performing the two Joy Division albums in full at The Lowry, especially considering that his voice isn't always the best to hear vocally. But for one night it seemed that everything just worked spot on, with Rowetta guesting on some vocals, the band playing stuff from the first EP before the first album, and at the end pulling out the big guns and having "Love Will Tear Us Apart" played properly right at the end. A really powerful performance and one that makes me proud that the history of the band has been kept intact.
Gary Numan, Academy 1, Manchester - My friend and I saw Gary Numan three times this year, but the best of them in my view was the first one we saw at the Academy 1. Some stellar playing, and a perfect mix of the old and the new coming together, so for me the likes of "Pure" together with "I Die You Die" tightly played with the sound mixing spot on really did make you want to go mental and sing along. I should add too that having the video backdrop during "Cars" was also a moment to savour as music and video segued together rather well.

Best Film of 2011 - Senna
A documentary film may seem a strange choice to some to be picked as film of the year. However what made this extraordinary was the amount of history that you could feel, the way that the footage was put together to give you a real background to the man that was Ayrton Senna, and the behind the scenes coverage of race meetings with drivers and stewards, and how the rivalry between Senna and Alain Prost intensified during their time as drivers at McLaren onwards. Beautifully made, well thought out and the sort of documentary that sets the example of how to make one.

Best TV Programme of 2011 - Mad Dogs
Take four class actors and place them all together in a tale of a Spanish island, murder and having to try and keep on the right side of the police, and you've got a recipe for a tense and action packed bit of drama that was Mad Dogs. Philip Glenister and John Simm back together for the first time since Life on Mars was a joy to behold, but also add in Marc Warren and Max Beesley to the mix as well, and you've got all the ingredients there. It really did come across to the viewer and was certainly one of the highlights that kept me going through the Winter and early Spring, seeing each part unfold more each week. A second series is possibly planned, but can they top this?

Best Sporting Moment of 2011 - Manchester City Winning The FA Cup
Okay, so I'm biased here, and England's cricket team also deserve massive praise for beating the Aussies in Australia and then thrashing India to be come the world number one test side. But for me as a long suffering City fan, to see us during the 2010-11 season go on a cup run, have an epic day out to Wembley for the semi final and see us edge past Manchester United, and then go on to win the final against Stoke was something else. It finally put an end to all the pain I've suffered being a Blue and since that cup win, City have moved up a gear and at the time of writing this are top of the Premier League having lost one league game all season. Seeing them parade the trophy around Manchester to hundreds of thousands of fans was also a memory that will stay with me for a very long time. Manchester is blue! Although the 6-1 win against United was special too, it didn't result in a trophy win (but may ultimately do in 2012, let's see)

Best male personality of 2011 - Roberto Mancini
He comes from Italy, to manage Man City, goes the chant, and in the two years that Mancini has been Manchester City manager the team have progressed under his guidance rather nicely. At first fans didn't take to him, but he realised that before you can start playing the attractive football we do now, you have to get results, build confidence and above all be disciplined. Some former players fell by the wayside because they weren't respectful, and that included Carlos Tévez, more fool him to be honest. Time will tell that Mancini was proved correct in his judgement, and winning the FA Cup was special, but added to that the football played now is something else, and a real leader on and off the field, an example to all us City fans how to conduct ourselves. Forza Mancini!

Best female personality of 2011 - PJ Harvey
Tricky one to call this, but I think that for several reasons Polly Jean got my vote. One of course is producing such excellent music such as my album of the year, and being consistently good over the years, but also as a live act, captivating the audience and drawing them in to the performance. Also, being the first ever act to win the Mercury Music Prize twice is a big thing too - and as she couldn't be there to accept the award back in 2001 because the ceremony was on September 11th meaning she was stuck in America, it was nice for her to be able to accept the award this time around. Long may she reign in inspiring others with her music and her intelligence.

Personal moments of 2011 - The FA Cup Semi Final At Wembley, And Remaining Loved Up In Monaco
Seeing Manchester City last season with my friend was always a good moment, but it looked like fate would conspire against us being there at the semi-final, but then everything fell into place - a relation offered to take him in his car, and myself and my uncle then were also going to see the Blues there. It was almost as if someone said to us "You are going to see City beat United in the FA Cup semi final" and the long journey for my uncle and I on Megabus there and back was worth it - that moment, that goal and seeing my uncle whom had endured the whole Ricky Villa goal in 1981 so happy and so delighted to see the Blue heroes perform was something else. For atmosphere, emotion and evocative memories, it had it all for me. The parade after City won the final was ace too.

And of course, no year would be complete without a very special mention to The Love In My Heart, who truly has been an inspiration to me over the last three and a half years plus now. I think we've now got a much more common understanding of each other but also allow ourselves the time and space to do things if we need them, which keeps everything healthy and the time that we do spend together all rather special. And sharing the moments together in Nice and heading to Monaco was just wonderful - walking that track with her at my side really did feel such a special thing to do. Thank you, my darling x