2011 album of the year

An unconventional choice for this year. Not even an album.

I like the fact that this account now appears to be my compendium of albums of the year with little other content. Ah well!

Reading back over my post for last year, I’m struck by the fact that not one of what I would consider to be my favourite artists released anything of note over the past twelve months. There might have been an odd EP or something here and there - hello, Belle and Sebastian - but in the main it’s been a quiet year for Ben’s Established Acts.

Whereas before I’d have a list as long as your arm of albums that I had listened to over and over by artists whose back catalogue had already been extensively enjoyed, I find myself in the odd position this year of having listened almost exclusively to new artists or, more accurately, artists that are new to me.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’ve been happily enjoying the Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat album Everything’s Getting Older since its release at the start of the year, for example, and it’s an album that I wouldn’t have chanced were it not for the fact that I’ve had little of the mainstays to rely on. Similarly, Jack White’s increasingly eclectic series of singles by different artists has been a constant (though erratic) joy over the year, resulting in a surprising fondness for the Mos Def like Black Milk. And a dig through the oldies racks in record shops has delighted me with XTC, Hauschka, Jenny Lewis, Jonathan Richman, Son House, and many more.

So my album of the year is something by some young, thrusting, impressive artist, right?

Well, er, no.

I’m very pleased to say that my album of the year isn’t an album at all. It’s technically an EP. It is Clem Snide’s awkwardly-named album, Clem Snide’s Journey.

In many ways, it frustrates me that the album I’ve listened to, loved, and appreciated the most comes, yet again, from America rather than from Britain. It frustrates me too that this is just six tracks long, yet I’m declaring it my album of the year. And, to top things off, it frustrates me that I’m backing old, reliable Eef rather than someone I hadn’t heard before.

But it’s so difficult not to absolutely adore this release.

It could have gone so terribly wrong - a six track EP of covers of Journey songs performed by one man and his ukulele sounds dreadful, especially given the ridiculous popularity of one particular Journey song of late.

It could never have been released at all. The project came about through a Kickstarter campaign where fans had to pledge money in advance in order to get the thing recorded, mastered, and released.

Luckily, it was released. And, luckier still, it is amazing.

Eef (the man who periodically lurks behind the Clem Snide monicker) takes what were once big power ballads and presents them in such loving intimacy that it makes your heart break. Pomp and rawk turn into fragile, tender, warm moments where Eef, clearly moved by the outpouring of support from his fans to fund the record, takes lyrics that were never his and turn them into wonderful little love songs.

The six tracks are utterly beguiling. They demand the listener’s attention a way that few (if any) other releases this year do. They also demand repeat listens; many has been the time when side two has come to an end, only for me to turn the record over and start it again immediately.

This album is the purest embodiment of what it is to be a recording artist in 2011. A fan-funded release gratefully recorded by the artist, gratefully received by a select and devoted fanbase, and barely on the radar of anyone else. These songs were never really written about love in its purest, unsullied sense, but this is the best love album you’ll have a chance to hear in many years.