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2011: Ladies With Ukuleles and Blockbusters With Bite | New music reviews, news & interviews

2011: Ladies With Ukuleles and Blockbusters With Bite

Female strummers ruled the music world, while black comedy and high-concept triumphed in TV and film

Merril Garbus of Tune-Yards with her trusty ukeJosh Sisk

2011 was an excellent year for highly original music from female musicians, two of whom brandished ukuleles yet found quite different ways of using them.

New England’s Merrel Garbus (otherwise known as Tune-Yards) put her foot down on the effects pedal and made that humble four-stringed instrument sound like a Fender Strat, while singing her Broadway meets avant-garde post-punk songs in half-a-dozen different voices on the brash and brilliant Whokill. Angry and tender, aggressive yet vulnerable, Garbus was a bolt from the blue, whereas Old England’s Mara Carlyle was more like a slowly rising sun. She gently thumbed her ukulele against lush orchestration on the sensual, subversive Floreat. But both these extraordinary talents were a reminder of a time when pop music could still surprise with the tangential moves it took.

Women also ruled in the wider world. Mali’s Fatoumata Diawara (pictured right) impressed with Fatou, a debut album that bit hard with its lyrics while caressing with the intricate weave of its music. Brazil’s Tulipa gave us unselfconsciously modern indie pop with the sonic watercolours of Efemera, and Susheela Raman seemed to discover her inner Siouxsie to make Vel, a wonderfully impolite storm of an album which unselfconsciously mixed rock with Indian/Tamil roots music.

In film, Duncan Jones’s move from art house respectability (Moon) to blockbuster credibility was made with dignity and energy on the high-concept sci-fi conundrum-meets-action-thriller Source Code. Some criticised it for plot cul-de-sacs and loopholes, but this was a movie of Twilight Zone metaphysics rather than sci-fi literalism and as such worked brilliantly. And a middle-aged white bloke’s clumsy high-five to Joe Cornish for pulling off the nigh impossible trick of making a film that was both scary and funny with Attack the Block, an alien invasion movie set on a south London housing estate.

Continuing the theme of horror and comedy, the fact that Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror has been on quite a few end-of-year lists isn't going to stop me putting it on mine. On the evidence of this trio of dramas, Brooker could well mature into a writing talent comparable to Dennis Potter at his most taboo-breaking, or Kurt Vonnegut at his most darkly visionary. Elsewhere on TV, Australian drama The Slap knocked spots off any of the home-grown competition, taking its time to explore the fallout from a spoilt child getting hit at a barbecue. It may have flirted with melodrama but its precise dissection of the minutiae of human relationships meant it kept its credibility intact right up to its tense, moving conclusion.

2011 Highlight: Mark Cousins’ The Story of Film: An Odyssey was a highly subjective - but all the more engrossing for it - 15-part epic that all lovers of cinema should see.

2011 Letdown: The BBC sci-fi series Outcasts was a complete waste of our time and their money.

2012 Recommendation: Mike Doughty, one-time lead singer with my favourite American band of the 1990s, Soul Coughing, begins the year with both his best solo album to date, Yes and Also Yes, and a thrillingly lucid and bravely honest memoir The Book of Drugs, out at the end of January. Acquire both for the fully rounded Doughty Experience.

Watch Tune-Yards video for 'Bizness'

 

Brooker could well mature into a writing talent comparable to Dennis Potter at his most taboo-breaking or Kurt Vonnegut at his most darkly visionary

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