The most interesting things will end up being those that have a certain duality, a certain internal argument going on within them which is certainly what’s happening with Bon Iver, with Florence and the Machine and with The Black Keys.'
From the emergence of Foster the People to the departure of REM, from 'Fallen Empires' to 'England Shakes', the past 12 months have seen some remarkable new bands take the stage and some striking releases from established acts.
As the year turned Bono and Edge called in to U2.com to reflect on some of the music they've loved in the past twelve months... and wonder at what the next year holds.
(In the comments below, tell us which of the bands they mention you're already into... or which other acts made it a great year in music for you).
What acts or albums left their mark in the past 12 months ?
EDGE: I think the Bon Iver record will be remembered for a while, with it's combination of the new folk thing and a level of experimental production that sets it apart. Very compelling and powerful but also very innovative. The Florence and the Machine record, Ceremonial, is also in that category.
There’s a Scandinavian band called I Break Horses and I really like their record ‘Hearts’. It has hints of Cocteau Twins and of Sigur Ros but while it’s cinematic and organic it also has an electronica feeling… quite fresh.
Then, for great writing, there’s Foster The People. Compositionally this is so powerful, and thematically strong, with hooks and ideas which are clear and to the point. I’m enjoying that new record (‘El Camino’) just out from The Black Keys and another band, Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros, have an album called Up From Below, which is a sort of mad circus of a record, full of life, vitality and fun. It’s like you’re entering a carnival, the smells and tastes and sounds that are wrapped up in that record.
Sounds like you feel it was a good year for music?
EDGE: A great year. Things are moving in several different directions at the same time. There’s no unified cultural movement that everything refers to but several different trains of thought which are all very interesting. The most interesting things will end up being those that have a certain duality, a certain internal argument going on within them which is certainly what’s happening with Bon Iver, with Florence and the Machine and with The Black Keys.
BONO:… yes, The Black Keys, much more interesting than The White Keys.
EDGE:… stay with The Black Keys and you can’t go wrong. As any piano player will tell you, it’s almost impossible to play a bum note if you’re on the black keys.
BONO… and the same for the band.
EDGE: There’s also another Irish singer I’ve been getting into lately, James Vincent McMorrow...
BONO: Oh yes, ‘If I had a Boat’, what a song…
EDGE: His version of Stevie Winwood’s ‘Higher Love’ is really beautiful and he might even be from Malahide…
BONO:.. sure nothing good comes out of Malahide…
EDGE:… as I was about to say!
BONO: Actually, I think Edge is also big on M83
BONO: ‘Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming’ was an important album but the one before that I loved too, ‘Saturdays = Youth’, that one really got to me.
I have to say, not just sticking with an Irish theme, but I think ‘Fallen Empires’ by Snow Patrol is an extraordinary album and for very subtle reasons. It’s a strange concoction of club culture and ecstatic rock. I find it very funny with some great lyrics and then it has all this organic, almost folksy energy but at a frenetic, speedy level… that’s been blowing my mind. Then the Coldplay album ‘Mylo Xyloto’ is great, they keep getting better.
For me Gavin Friday’s ‘Catholic’ is an amazing record, one of the albums of the year, and his song ‘Lord I’m Coming’ is my song of the year. It opens and closes the film ‘This Must Be The Place’ which premiered at Cannes and stars Sean Penn, Frances McDormand and Eve Hewson.
Of the acts that are less well known I think that Burst Apart by The Antlers is astonishing and Edge has already mentioned Ed Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros – ‘Desert Song’ is ridiculously good. Bloodless Coup by Bell X 1 is fantastic and, of course, Foster The People – ‘Torches’ - joy as an act of defiance. It’s kind of psychedelic pop music but in the face of the times we’re living in, I find the bouncy, big grooves just a real tonic.
A host of wonderful female singer-songwriters were getting recognition this year, from Adele and PJ Harvey to Laura Marling and, sadly, the late Amy Winehouse.
BONO: When we were making No Line On The Horizon I met up with Polly Harvey and we were talking about poetry written by soldiers and people experiencing wartime and we were reading the same books. Her album ‘England Shakes’ is a very powerful piece of work and she has some very interesting people coming up behind here too like Lana Del Ray. Adele, of course, is stunning but the loss of Amy Winehouse is tragic, that could really make you depressed about the future if you think about it too much.
When Florence and the Machine took the U2360 stage, she used it like no-one else, what a performer. She was running around the circumference of it and just owning it, a remarkable creature and a very challenging album. Another one I’ve been appreciating which really sustains is ‘50 Words For Snow’ by Kate Bush.
EDGE: And we shouldn’t forget that Lisa Hannigan album (‘Passenger’), which is also pretty special.
Do you see particular themes emerging in music at the moment?
BONO: Something really exciting is that finally the rock band is melting into clubland and experimenting with sounds that are not normally deemed authentic for the rock band - synthesizers, experimental sounds - which you can hear in an album like that by The Temper Trap. That’s exciting, a new hybrid. But it remains ridiculous that black music and white music are still in separate genres - let’s hope in 2012 that kind of false division falls away.
Talking of which, what about Watch The Throne?
BONO: We should have mentioned that because when Jay-Z was on the road with us in Australia, Kanye was with him, working on that album. I remember they were high as kites on their music and words and Jay-Z was so confident they were doing something that was very special. That turned out to be right.
Like the PJ Harvey record, but in a completely different way, it was a record that captured the zeitgeist.
BONO: Yes, one in the UK, one in the US, and I wonder what will come out of this depression, recession, economic horror show we’re going through, I wonder how artists will respond to that. In the ‘70’s the recession gave us punk rock and The Clash and The Sex Pistols: bleak years of high oil prices, recession and unemployment, then you had this angry music which also had such a life-force and that life-force kick started our band
Sometimes forces outside the arts and culture, like an economic crisis, can ignite great music.
EDGE: I think they can, they can fill the vaccum and it’ll be interesting to see if the new folk will become more mainstream. For example, look at the big albums in the UK over the last year and the beautifully crafted, golden talent of Adele is there but standing aside from this is this other movement - this intimate music, hand-made in real-time - like Mumford And Sons, Noah and the Whale, Laura Marling and Bon Iver. It’ll be interesting to see if that starts to seep into the mainstream because in the face of this upheaval, where people feel disenfranchised, as if they’re not able to control their own destiny, things that are more homespun, tangible and sound more real can be more reassuring.
BONO: You might be right on that Edge, that perhaps in a noisy, driven, neon-lit media world this intimacy is where the conversation is, which would be quite radical.
You mentioned the Lisa Hannigan record and I’ve heard her play a couple of times this year, and it’s been amazing. On Christmas Eve, I was with Glen Hansard and a bunch of Irish bards and minstrels performing on Grafton Street in Dublin, singing for the homeless of our city. Afterwards we went back to this room and there was an extraordinary session where I heard rawness of talent that I haven’t heard for a while: Damien Rice singing from a special and sacred place, and Mundy and Glen Hansard and Liam O'Maonlai, singing in Irish, and Declan O’Rourke with a remarkable song called Galileo. It was just the passing of the guitar from one to another, ten minstrels in the room. I wasn’t sure if I fitted in that club but I liked being there.
I played a couple of songs acoustically but earlier in the year both Edge and I played at the memorial to Steve Jobs and also at the Hollywood Bowl for the Bill Clinton Foundation. It’s quite something hearing our own songs, like Sunday Bloody Sunday or A Man and Woman, so stripped down and I think it showed us some clues for the future.
We’re working on three albums at the moment and we haven’t decided what order we’re going to put them out but ‘The Songs of Ascent’ have the kind of beautiful intimacy that we’re speaking of now. They fit into this moment, the mode of some of these artists that I was hanging out with on Christmas Eve.
We shouldn’t leave music in 2011 without mention of the end of REM, your fellow travellers for more than thirty years…
EDGE: That really came out of the blue. We were with Michael a week before and he wasn’t giving any hints, which is great because he wanted their fans to hear it first, but I’m still thinking to myself that maybe in a few years time they’ll do some stuff together! What’s the point in breaking up except to be back together again! I’m being selfish I suppose, I would love to see them doing some more work together.
BONO: Those three new songs of theirs are part of the great soundtrack of 2011. One of them, ‘Hallelujah’, is just breathtaking and then there is ‘We All Go Back To Where We Belong’, which for me, again, is one of the great songs of the year…