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2011: Tintin, Tallinn and a Year of Surprises | reviews, news & interviews

2011: Tintin, Tallinn and a Year of Surprises

2011: Tintin, Tallinn and a Year of Surprises

Twelve months which showed that the world is packed with unexpected treasures

'Szindbád': Zoltán Latinovits as Szindbád contemplates his life

The surprises linger longest. The things you’re not prepared for, the things of which you’ve got little foreknowledge. Lykke Li’s Wounded Rhymes was amazing, and she was equally astonishing live, too. Fleet Foxes's Helplessness Blues was more than a consolidation on their debut and The War On Drugs’s Slave Ambient was a masterpiece. But you already knew to keep an eye on these three. Things arriving by stealth had the greatest impact.

This year, music again proved it has the power to surprise. Terrific albums from unknown quantities (of varying degrees) like Rayographs, Huntsville (from Norway), Daphné (France), Mara Carlyle, Gyratory System and Jenny Hval (Norway) all confirmed it’s impossible to guess what’ll arrive next. Then again, who could have predicted that Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore would make a solo album as wonderful and idiosyncratic as the best of anything by his parent band?

Tallinn’s Health Care MuseumPlaces surprised, too. Estonia was extraordinary. Beyond the music seen in the city, Tallinn's Estonia Health Care Museum baffled and delighted with its instructive and explicit displays on disease, its effects and how it’s to be avoided at all costs (pictured right, the museum's collection of dentist's chairs). Currently closed for a refit, hopefully it’ll retain its character after it reopens. Hanging around outside the city’s former KGB headquarters, it was impossible to resist the urge to peer through the windows and wonder what had gone on in there. Tallinn’s old town might be the main attraction, but overall, the city has an atmosphere like no other. Its Russian market was – literally – on the other side of the tracks. That said, full-on fiddles in Oslo and the raven who answered back in Iceland were mind-blowers.

Closer to home, the film which came from the blue was Zoltán Huszárik's beautiful, elegiac Szindbád. Barely heard of outside Hungary until its release on DVD, it’s essential. Also on DVD, Incendies was powerful and effective. In the cinema milestones cropped up regularly: Le Quatro Volte, Melancholia, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Senna, Dreams of a Life, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Women With Cows and the ICA’s season of Finnish director Teuvo Tulio. But The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn was a bust, punctuated by mind-numbingly over-long chase sequences inserted at expense of getting under the skin of what makes Tintin Tintin.

Jenny Hval by:Larm 2011On the stage, my first-time exposure to Papercuts won't be forgotten. Jenny Hval and Susanne Sundfør, both Norwegian, each channelled something other (pictured left, Jenny Hval at by:Larm 2011, photo by Helge Brekke). Disappears, Hymns From Nineveh (from Denmark), John Grant and Gyratory System were all outstanding, but the show which was most striking, and beyond any (even reasonable) expectation, was The Monkees at The Royal Albert Hall.

Seeing the Monkees was a reminder that music from the past has the power to affect too, especially when recontextualised, allowing it to be heard afresh. Something the Mowest and Disco Gold compilations did, as did the collection of Kiki Dee’s Sixties’ recordings. Some music from the past actually was heard for first time – Iran’s Googoosh, Brazil’s Rozeblit label and the remarkable Darondo were hardly household names before they were committed to CD this year. The Beach Boys’s Smile box set loomed large over it all.

No doubt 2012 will brings even more treasures. How can it not?

2011 Highlight: Digging into the back catalogues of Jean-Pierre Ferland and Catherine Ribeiro

2011 Letdown: Although inevitable, the confirmation that the Coalition were the mendacious wreckers they were predictably going to be was still truly depressing.

2012 Recommendation: French legend Johnny Hallyday appearing at The Royal Albert Hall on 15 and 16 October.

Visit Kieron Tyler’s blog

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