So, we're nearly a quarter of the way through 2011 already and there's already been some excellent music. Jamie XX has provided some great remixes (most notably of Adele's Rolling in the deep) and Kingdom's That Mystic EP on Night Slugs is also worth checking out if you like electronica. Radiohead have had too much coverage elsewhere to warrant inclusion in this list but their new long player King of Limbs is well worthy of investigation. Fujiya and Miyagi returned with Ventrilloquizing. Its probably not their best work but its still head and shoulders above most guitar pop. Here though are my favourite albums of 2011 so far...
Space is only noise - Nicolas Jaar
There won't be a more atmospheric record than this released all year. This debut from 21 year old Chilean (but now Brooklyn resident) Jaar brings to mind Massive Attack, Carl Craig, Serge Gainsbourg, Mulatu and Ray Charles without really sounding like any of them. Dubby baselines are interspersed with minimal glitchy techno beats but don't think for one minute this is a dull muso's record. Strong songwriting is evident throughout as spoken word samples and Jaar's own singing drift in and out of the mix. Its not all downbeat., Variations takes snatches of sound and weaves it into a dancefloor filler (not dissimilar to techniques used by Mount Kimbie)Is it trip hop? Minimal Techno? Lo-fi? Ambient? Nu-Soul? It's all and none of the above.
Let England Shake - PJ Harvey
Believe the hype! An extraordinary record that manages to tackle the pointlessness and misery of war without once sounding hectoring or worthy. Lyrically its spot on and its musically diverse. Polly is not afraid to use humour - sampling reggae, hunting horns and tipping a cheeky wink to Eddie Cochran's Summertime Blues. A work of maturity and a songwriter at the peak of her powers.
James Blake - James Blake
The backlash has already started in relation to James Blake. After being tipped for greatness by almost every media channel he didn't deliver the album the hipsters wanted. They're missing the point. Blake isn't the future of dance music, instead he's a major songwriting talent who's not afraid to use modern sounds to enhance his songs. Appropriate reference points are as much David Bowie and Morrissey as they are Mount Kimbie and Burial. Limit to your love is one of the most beautiful pieces of music of this century and Blake is brimming with talent. Embrace his slightly divisive voice and you'll find much to enjoy. Difficult and all the better for it.
Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam - Ghostpoet
Like Nicolas Jaar, Ghostpoet is fairly unclassifiable but his music is very different. The rapper's most obvious reference points are Bristol's Tricky or perhaps Roots Manuva. Ghostpoet has that lazy mellow drool which sounds so good over mellow beats but its the production here that is such a revelation, employing the sort of variety you might find on say a Mos Def album. Dubstep, house and even rock are employed but it all hangs together very nicely with Ghostpoet's alluring vocal taking you to the twilight hours where every sound and movement is intensified. Despite having recently signed to Gilles Peterson's Brownswood label, Poet feels little need to brag, claiming only 'got some A-levels, ain't dumb' but he hits some real high points - most notably on torch song in the making Survive it. You won't find a more original and enticing hip hop record all year - and he's British. The best thing to come out of Coventry since the Specials!
Last - The Unthanks
Northumberland's Unthanks are a rare thing indeed. A traditional folk troupe with modern taste. This might sound like a bit of a car crash but they know just how much modern sound to bring into their arrangements of traditional songs. Their Bairns album a few years ago was wonderful and rightfully earned them a Mercury Prize nomination. Their latest features covers of songs by Tom Waits and King Crimson and is an excellent entry point to thier music. Its their most expansive record to date featuring strings, brass and piano but its the voices of sisters Rachel and Becky that draw you in every time.
So there you have it - if we carry on like this 2011 will have been a great musical year indeed. Have a record you've enjoyed this year? Leave details below so that others can enjoy...