Archive for December, 2010

My Top Ten Albums of 2010

December 28, 2010

One of the few regular features of this blog: a list of my favorite albums of the year! Here they are starting with the bestest of the best and working downwards.

Field Music – Measure

A few years ago the brothers Brewis decided to split up and go their separate ways. Boo!
But then they both came out with two rather different but equally brilliant albums. Yay, twice as much music!
But then they decided to get back together again as Field Music. Boo, less music!
They released Measure, a double CD, 20 track album. Yay! Everyone wins!

For those who don’t know, Field Music make a wonderful amalgam of seventies style pop with the quirkiness, complexity and inventiveness (if not the length) of prog rock. Think of Todd Rundgren at his most inventive.

Twenty tracks is a lot and there is a danger that releasing so much material might result in poor quality control, but there’s no evidence of that here. The first disk certainly contains the more traditional songs while the second disk feels more like a continuous piece. For a similar idea hear the second half of Kate Bush’s Hound’s of Love album.

My advice to newcomers is to put the first ten tracks on heavy rotation and get used to them before moving on to the next ten.

The New Pornographers – Together

Ahhh, The New Pornographers. They seem incapable of making a bad album.

One of the dangers with power pop bands is that they can settle into sameyness all too easily. And refreshingly every album has a different tone that sets it very slightly apart from the last.

On this album there is a more of a heavy orchestral sound that slightly recalls ELO. In any case everything sounds bigger.

The result is an album that maybe my favourite of theirs so far. Certainly the first three songs of this album are some of the finest they’ve recorded.

Shining – Blackjazz

In short this is the unholy love child of King Crimson and Ministry. An easy comparison to make because they’ve adeptly covered songs by both bands.

There’s a jazz influence – though you may need to listen hard to notice. There’s a prog influence that’s never far away. And finally the whole lot is dipped in industrial metal.

I find it a very seductive combination but some may balk: too heavy for proggers, too weird for metallers and too much of both for anyone else.

The Posies – Blood/Candy

And now back to another power pop album.

The Posies are an odd pair and while they always make interesting records you can never be quite sure which way they’ll go.

With this album it’s as if they decided they were going to make a straight up, honest to goodness, pop record. There’s very little here that’s as maudlin or spikey as some of their previous efforts. This record jumps styles but never looses focus.

I sincerely think this may be the best album they’ve done.

OK Go – Of the Blue Colour of the Sky

The biggest cliché you can possibly say about OK Go is: They do great videos but their songs are shit. Yuk! Yuk! Yuk! Yuk!

I think the truth behind this comment is that power pop is not widely popular with the general public and the audience for their videos has gone much wider than the tiny circle of power pop aficionados.

Weirdly I think the whole thing with the videos puts certain people off OK Go and that’s a terrible shame.

This is a bold, bright album that improves with every listen.

Wavves – King of the Beach

It was terribly sad to hear of Jay Reatard’s death at such a young age, and while no-one could ever fill his shoes, Wavves is probably as close as we could hope for this year. A big punky psychedelic mess of vibrant pop stupidity. I saw them live this year, featuring Reatard’s former band “mates” and they were fantastic.

These New Puritans – Hidden

I often find myself drawn to strange combinations and this is a weird combination that works beautifully. Dramatic strings and industrial style electronics. If your ears are jaded this might lift their spirits.

C.W. Stoneking – Jungle Blues

Clearly Stoneking doesn’t have much time for modern music. And by modern I mean anything recorded in the last sixty years. His tunes are a combination of styles that recalls Cab Colloway and old school blues and jazz. The man himself looks like a chubby white bank clerk but sounds like a 100 year old black man recalling his hallucinatory past from his porch. The danger with any project that recalls the past in this fashion is it can end up being a hollow pastiche but Stoneking brings enough charm and lopsided humour to make it all crackle like an old 78.

Hans Zimmer – Inception

I don’t often listen to soundtrack albums but Inception is an exception. A film that won over millions and annoyed a few doubters also has a soundtrack that easily holds it’s own. Johnny Marr makes an incredible contribution with his distinctive guitar sound that really lifts the whole album. It’s also nice when you get little details like this:

Peter Gabriel – Scratch My Back

Well this was an odd one. Gabriel, who produces very few records at best, decides to do a covers album. This is often a bad sign that an artist is in decline (Annie Lennox, Erasure and Duran Duran have all struggled since their cover albums). But Gabriel decided to make things hard for himself and record without drums and guitars, just piano and strings. The results were quirky in the extreme with a failure for every victory. For example, his version of Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today” is probably one of the best interpretations of a much-covered song; but then things go very wrong with a ghastly cover of Radiohead’s Street Spirit that is brave but misconceived.

I went to see this album performed live, half expecting a night of tedium, but it turned out to be a triumph and a very special night. It was a thrilling experience with both cheers from the crowd and heckles.

Is this really one of the greatest albums of the year? Perhaps not but it’s one of the bravest and most exciting. It’s incredible to see an old warhorse like Peter Gabriel challenging himself (and sometimes failing) in such a public way. You don’t see Phil Collins doing this kind of thing.

Finally

Just a few other albums I liked this year:

– Bellowhead – Hedonism

– School of Seven Bells – Disconnect From Desire

– LoneLady – Nerve Up

– Screaming Females – Castle Talk

Finally, I notice that my top ten hardly resembles anyone elses. All I can say is that I love a good pop song, I have no need to appear cool, and I don’t read the music press. Contrary to what you may assume, I have heard many of these fashionable albums (at least briefly) and they left me cold. I genuinely like the stuff I’ve listed and I hope you might check it out.

Happy new year.