Effortlessness takes a lot of work, and there are few people who do such a smooth job of taking their technical geekery, dance obsessions and high-falutin’ lyrical inspirations 
and styling it out into some of the year’s most fetter-free and joyous pop music than our intrepid St Albans trio. Their onstage collaborations are inspiring to a new generation of bosh-heads, but ultimately, it’s all about those shining choruses, and Ed’s dancing. Always Ed’s dancing. EM

Friendly Fires' Track-By-Track Guide To 'Pala'
Video: Friendly Fires' Track-By-Track Guide To 'Pala'

29Dye It Blonde

Previous to ‘Dye It Blonde’, Smith Westerns were shouty, bratty, spotty and oiky fuckwits who didn’t actually need proper lyrics because nobody could hear what the fuck they were going on about anyway. That was fine, of course, but what a leap! In 2011 they returned obsessed with Suede, Marc Bolan and Noel Gallagher’s six-string set-up (circa 1995), churning out one of the great guitar albums of the year in the process. Is it any wonder Alex Turner and co have been banging on about it for months? MWk

28Looping State Of Mind

When attention spans are increasingly shot to pieces, 
Axel Willner makes music that circumnavigates the Tumblr-numbed brain, tuning instead into some natural, eternal rhythm. On ‘Looping...’ he perfected his style of rich techno fastidiously built from loops of sound. There’s no slow build or euphoric drop (Jesus, please), no sonic cues telling you when its OK to, y’know, feel. Instead these songs are languid plateaux of musical pleasure that, even when pushing nine minutes, feel like all-too-brief portals into the sublime. LB

27Arabia Mountain

Black Lips have said many things worth remembering this year: “Tourbuses are for bathrobe-wearing motherfuckers”; “We’re personally responsible for many people’s alcoholism”; and, most fittingly, “We don’t give a fuck!” These five words define everything they do, from their chaotic early albums to their dumbass, X-rated live shows. That’s why they demanded a producer with a Grammy for their sixth record (they got Mark Ronson). Then they nearly killed him (they fed him raw liver). That it all comes together sounding like the Ramones goofing on The Beach Boys is their enduring genius. This is their best work by a mile. MW

Black Lips - 'Family Tree' (NSFW)
Video: Black Lips - 'Family Tree' (NSFW)

26Father, Son, Holy Ghost

There’s something special about Girls going kinda overground in 2011. While 2009’s spiky debut was undoubtedly a brilliant record, the fact is no-one bought it. So to see touts scrambling to buy and sell tickets outside their tour dates here last month felt like a proper victory – that as well as being praised by every cool band on the planet, the wider world was finally starting to take notice too. This couldn’t have come at a better time, because here’s a band with gloriously immodest ambitions, yet the songwriting props to back it all up. Despite operating in the most minimal – and messed up, should you believe the recent stories of opium-inflicted woe – of circumstances, Christopher Owens and JR White have simply managed to make a record every bit as grandiose and powerful as its title demands. MWk

Girls - 'Vomit'
Video: Girls - 'Vomit'


On first glance, Janine Rostron’s Planningtorock project seemed a peculiarly art-world experiment. Even discounting her co-writing credits with The Knife on ‘Tomorrow, In A Year’, there 
was enough eerie percussion and drone at play on ‘W’ to suggest an artist who spent most of 2011 poncing around Berlin’s avant spaces. And while pretentiousness is good, pair it with a pop instinct and you isolate the strain of brilliance which made her second album so good. Cutting through disco fashioned from shifting planes of sickly synth and pizzicato strings (‘Living It Out’), medicated songspiel (‘Milky Blau’), and gender-blurred mutant-soul (‘I Am Your Man’) was that voice, pitched down, androgynous. A pop record dressed up as art piece then, and 2011 was richer for it. LB

Planningtorock - 'Living It Out'
Video: Planningtorock - 'Living It Out'

24Big Talk

Way back in February, when Killers drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr announced that he was releasing a solo album, we had a little laugh to ourselves and wondered for a minute if it’d be even half as good as the one the drummer from Slipknot put out. Ten months later and we’re still playing ‘Big Talk’ so often it’s probably quite unhealthy. But to be honest, it still feels very good indeed. Doused in whiskey and choking on fag smoke, it’s twice as fun as the last Killers album, ‘Day & Age’, and in ‘Getaways’, ‘Katzenjammer’ 
and ‘Replica’ it boasted at least three tunes that probably could have been the lead single from the next one. It was the record The Gaslight Anthem should have made if they really, really wanted to make Bruce Springsteen proud of them, and it cemented Ronald’s position in our hearts as our favourite bearded man in rock – at least until the next Les Savy Fav record. JF

Big Talk - 'Big Eye'
Video: Big Talk - 'Big Eye'


A quartet who didn’t so much take influence from the trailer trash halycon days of ’90s indie rock as dive head-first into its sharks-in-leather-jacket-infested waters and gleefully bathe in the swathes of muddied sonic H20. Sure, their debut dug deep into the combined, low-slung, tunneling DNA of messrs Mascis, Moore and Malkmus, but this wasn’t pure parody. Frontman Daniel Blumberg created a wholly believable (and transcendent) fiction that was his own. Over an Aberdeen-flavoured sky, his lyrics poked out like unhealthy diary doodles, filled with insolent pain, sweetness and an air of eternal angst. The band created a sound which was authentically brazen, naive and measured. As an album, ‘Yuck’ was such a joy because these moments of perfectly judged memorandum were laid against the likes of ‘Suck’ and ‘Stutter’, woozy, sunscaped tunes that suggested we’d just scratched the skin of what was to come. PE

NME: What are you proudest of with this album? Daniel: “I think that because it’s our first album, and the fact that we made it from nothing – I’m proud of that. I mean, I didn’t really know Marika and Johnny, and then we were in a band together. And I’m proud that we’re still friends now!”
Why do you think the album struck such a chord with people this year? “I’m not sure really. It wasn’t expected. I don’t know. It’s always so difficult to tell. Because we just started the band, it felt really fast. 
I always think of the band starting and the album as the same thing – so it was quite unexpected. It was really nice.”
What’s your own favourite album of 
the year? “I think Bill Callahan’s ‘Apocalypse’. I really like the Pure X album ‘Pleasure’, and A Grave With No Name. The Kurt Vile album too.”
Would you change anything about ‘Yuck’ now? 
“I’ve always liked the idea of doing something and then not revisiting it. Once it’s done it’s done. We did our best.”
What’s next for you? “We’ve been touring pretty much constantly. So as soon as we get back, we’ve got loads of ideas and things recorded and stuff. That’s mostly what we think about every day – making albums and making music.”

Yuck - 'Rubber' (Exclusive)
Video: Yuck - 'Rubber' (Exclusive)

22Last Night On Earth

Tom Petty. The Cars. The Psychedelic Furs. Um, The Traveling Wilburys. Such legends of ’80s US radio rock were the touchstones of Noah & The Whale’s immaculate third album, ‘Last Night On Earth’, in which Charlie Fink left the relationship turmoils documented on 2009’s ‘First Days Of Spring’ for dust and hit the 
open highway with the top down, shades on and a roadmap to nowhere in particular. The 
suave sway of ‘LIFEGOESON’ was one of the summer’s hug-yer-mates classics, ‘Tonight’s The Kind Of Night’ fizzed and bristled with unfettered adventure, and this album emerged as the unlikely feelgood hit of 2011. Sheesh, there’ll be limbo parties down Feeling Gloomy next… MB

NME: Why was ‘Last Night On Earth’ 
so popular? Charlie: “I don’t know – I suppose it’s a very melodic album, it’s got a good heart and it’s 
got a good message to it, hopefully that’s something to do with it. I’d like to think the optimism helped.”
Which direction will you take for the next album? “We’ve got six more shows left on this tour, then that’s our touring done for the year, then I’m going to go to New York for a bit over Christmas and start some writing. You start aiming at one point, and very often that becomes an incidental thing along the way. This record we’ve just made is probably our most American record so far, and I’d like the next record to be more British, more 
of an English record. I also think I want 
it to sound more like a band in a room, more like a rock record than this 
one. But those things morph so much 
over time that it might not end up sounding anything like that.”
And what’s your favourite album of 
the year? “Tom Waits’ ‘Bad As Me’ is so good, and the song ‘Satisfied’ is my favourite track of the 
year. But I really liked the Anna Calvi record, and the Arctic Monkeys record was probably my favourite of theirs.”

Noah And The Whale - 'L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N’ (NME Exclusive)
Video: Noah And The Whale - 'L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N’ (NME Exclusive)


Having proved their avant-garde credentials with ‘West Ryder...’, album four allowed Kasabian to get on with the simple business of being Britain’s most beloved band. Not that there was much ‘simple’ in ‘Velociraptor!’ and its mescaline-drenched flights of fancy into the desert and beyond; it just had the new directness and, yes, even the subtlety of a band free of any need to prove themselves. The attendant interviews came with a delightfully revisionist take on palaeontology thrown in, just in case anybody got bored. But as 
it was, nobody did. DM

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