A look at 2011...

It’s that time of year again. Springing up on music magazines’ sites across the web are the unavoidable barrage of top 10s, top 50s, and top 100 tracks of 2011. Scouring through the numerous lists, you may begin to notice the trend of large Wales-shaped holes. So has Cymru really offered so little to the musical world this year? On the contrary my dears.

2011 has seen a dip in indie and a rise in rock. The Blackout, an alternative post-hardcore rock band are fresh from supporting My Chemical Romance and are embarking on their own 15-date tour in 2012 - some dates of which have already sold out. Tiger Please, five-piece Cardiff rock band have been impressing with their emotional-charged choruses while complex band Kutosis have recently released their debut album, asking 11 filmmakers to create a video for each track. Kids In Glass Houses released their third album in August and Funeral For a Friend reappeared with a tour earlier this year. The raw hardcore of Bastions has been turning heads in 2011, not least due to singer Jamie Burne’s impressive screaming.

Opening the summer in truly great fashion, the 65th Llangollen International Eisteddfod saw over 4000 performers descend on the small Welsh town to perform, compete, and generally spread the notion of peace and love. With acts as diverse as Lulu, Russell Watson and McFly, there’s likely to be an act in the 4000 over the six busy days that you would love.

In August, Green Man festival sprang up in the Brecon Beacons, more popular than ever. With a capacity of just 300 in 2003, the festival has grown considerably since. Dubbed by some to be the Glastonbury festival that was before the fence went up, the three-day event was headlined this year by Laura Marling, Explosions in the Sky and Iron and Wine.

On a slightly smaller scale, a highlight of the Welsh music calendar comes every year in the form of four days of glorious music spread across a variety of small venues in Cardiff. Swn festival, held in October sees both local artists and those from further afield pack out venues in the Welsh capital. The Joy Formidable headlined the weekend with a hugely passionate and energetic set complete with nautical props aplenty and a humungous gong - which if JF’s gig is to go by, no set is complete without. Elsewhere across the festival, Gruff Rhys popped up, as did Charlotte Church, which was an unexpected ‘secret’ appearance from the Welsh classical-gone-pop star.

Welsh music prize
2011 saw the introduction of the Welsh Music Prize. Born from the mind of Radio 1’s Welsh music extraordinaire Huw Stephens, 12 albums were nominated before Super Furry Animals’ frontman Gruff Rhys was announced as the winner in October for his third solo album, Hotel Shampoo.

The artists that missed out on scooping the prize still got some great coverage and exposure. With such a varied and diverse range of artists and genres, the decision must have been a tough one:

Al Lewis - In the Wake - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=znH45Jpgffo
Folk and country bilingual singer-songwriter from Pwllheli whose lilting, easy vocals and chiseled jawline have been charming fans all year.

The Blackout - Hope - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3c78rnYFehM
The band’s third album, released in April was fan-funded through a Pledge scheme where fans of a band can financially contribute to the recording and production of an album.

Colorama - Box - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-daXdPE8Y8g
Sunshine folk pop group Colorama provide a psychedelic 60s hazy dreaminess to the shortlist, with a smattering of The Kinks influence thrown in for good measure.

Funeral For a Friend - Welcome Home Armageddon - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5AGTxllR0Oc
Back to the days of their post-hardcore happiness, FFaF’s fifth album marks a return to the band’s signature sound.

The Gentle Good - Tethered For the Storm - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tv2DPJNOo6Q
Bilingual folk singer Gareth Bonello plays under a name suiting his music perfectly. The album is folky with a touch of psychedelia, influenced by poetry and Gareth’s life in Cardiff.

The Joy Formidable - The Big Roar - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39afZwY6xI8
This popular Welsh trio’s debut album has been a long time in the making. The Big Roar is a rather sensibly named huge album, with powerful crescendos and driving riffs.

Lleuwen - Tân - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QosafQkW56g
Welsh-born singer Lleuwen Steffan is fluent in Welsh and Breton, choosing to sing in both languages. If you’re a fan of kitchen utensils and ukeleles, this is an album for you.

Manic Street Preachers - Postcards From a Young Man - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=988ndLhOtu4&ob=av2e
Arguably the biggest name on the list, the Manics tenth studio album comes nearly 20 years since their first. Still going strong, the band collaborate with Echo and the Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch and Guns N’ Roses Duff McKagan.

Stagga - The Warm Air Room - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qewPUz_LhWc
The debut album from dubstep and hip-hop artist, Stagga. Keeping things local, Joe Blow, Skamma and Don Leisure, some of Cardiff’s best MCs feature on The Warm Air Room.

Sweet Baboo - I’m a Dancer/Songs About Sleepin’ - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_WnvQfyioQU
Sweet Baboo’s innocent twee with typically deprecating delivery and lyrics are an odd fusion which result in a humorous and calming album.

Y Niwl - Y Niwl - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_WnvQfyioQU
You may recognise Y Niwl’s track “Undegpedwar” from Saturday afternoon’s Football Focus, a pretty big boost for the band this year. Y Niwl’s retro, instrumental surf rock is raw and authentic.

Many great Welsh artists that have emerged this year may not have topped charts, broken any records, or have become household names; many of these artists may still be relatively unknown in the grand-musical-scale of things. However, there has been an influx of talent to our green pastures. Wales may have had a lack of major releases during the year, but 2012 will hopefully see the myriad of rather exciting up-and-coming talent break through and be recognised throughout the United Kingdom, not just hiding in our little part of the world.

Words by Rachael Hogg

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