It has been the requisite four months since 2010, and like any good writer, I like to step away from writing about the subject at hand, take some time and pause for self reflection. Either that or I recently discovered the Gilmore Girls. Whichever reality you choose to believe in is fine with me.
But whether it be fast talking positive mother-daughter role models, or the year of 2010 in music I have had a heck of a lot to keep up with.
The year passed was one of my favourite years ever in music, etching itself in the annuls of years like 1997, 1991, 1966 and 2004 and many, many new bands came to my attention with exhilarating debuts, and almost as a response, older artists proved that there time isn’t over, with many coming out with career best efforts. This was a music lover’s year to be sure, and I actually stopped myself from writing this article around New Years Eve, as not only could I not choose my favourite, but I needed some time to further explore some albums and to see if the records held up over time.
However, now without further ado I can give you my subjective list of my favourite 21 albums of 2010. Why, because its the fucking internet and you are not a cop. And if you are, then get out there and arrest the Black Eyed Peas. What they do is noise pollution, and having the gall to call it music is surely perjury or false advertising or something. And one of them is literally called ‘Apple De App’. I don’t know what legal jurisdiction it falls under, but it is fucking offensive.
21. Girl Talk – All Day
I have been an unabashed Greg Gillis fanboy ever since hearing Night Ripper, more specifically that mystical moment when Biggie raps over the top of Tiny Dancer, and you realise that what Girl Talk does isn’t just mixing two songs together; it is some kind of musical poetry.
Girl Talk released All Day last November for free as one seamless 71 minute file, with an amazing 373 samples. While some downloads had the album broken up into track form, Gillis stressed and for good reason that he created the album as an entire mix and it is best listened to as such.
Listening to the whole album is a musical journey that transcends decades, genre and musical fashions. Before the album Gillis had been criticized for losing touch with the DJ ‘crate-digging’ community, but with All Day he went the other way and blended a perfect mix of obscurity, beloved indie rock artists (Arcade Fire, Phoenix, The Rapture), the usual mix of Dance and Hip Hop music and his most mainstream samples to date (The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus to name a few).
However the albums strength is of course, is unmitigated brilliance in his ear for how two or three or four songs can cross genres and mix together and create a great, even dance-able track. Girl Talk is truly the master of his craft, and is only getting better with experience. What is even more encouraging is the fearlessness he is bringing to his craft as he matures. Ending the album with Jay-Z’s Dirt Off Your Shoulder, arguably the greatest black solo artist of all time (purely financially he is), and then capping it off with a moving mix of UKG’s One Day and the timeless Imagine by John Lennon, one of history’s greatest white solo artists, is a nice if not slightly cheesy moment. The juxtaposition shouldn’t work, but it does.
It is this ambition and of course that wonderful ear that makes All Day work as an LP, and leaves my anticipation at fever pitch for his next mix.
A full album? Haven’t you heard of Youtube?: Make Me Wanna, Triple Double, Every Day
20. Tame Impala – Innerspeaker
It took me ages to get into this album. I am not entirely sure as to why I resisted. They are obviously musically talented, can put together a solid album full of songs and I have read many interviews that make them sound like very interesting dudes.*
(This is the interviews quotes, not the spin the writers put on the interview, mind you. In almost every interview Tame Impala gave short, sharp answers and left most of the questions up to the ‘frontman’ Kevin, who would go off on weird tangents about his vision of his music. This left the writers desperate for a story to be very creative: ‘Hey, so Tame Impala sometimes never wear real shoes!!!! And they smoke drugs like a cigarette, probably, just look at their haircuts! Read on to find out about their night with Charlie Sheen, probably.’)
But alas, empty reasons and poor journalism aside, I shelved the Tame Impala album for a while. That is, until I went on a sojourn to work down Victoria’s coastline. Now I like to not think that external situations can influence music, or shouldn’t…but there was something about sitting on the beach every night listening to this album that just sounded better that putting on P.O.D. (Don’t laugh, P.O.D sounds like Pet Sounds to someone in the world.) So with that, I got into the album.
It never sounded better than on the beach watching the sunset though, and that is why it is higher up on my list than it could have been. But it is a very good album and they have a very distinct vision for their music which is fantastic. Album opener It’s Not Meant To Be sets the tone of the album very well, and Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind is a very very cool song, although not one of my three favourites. My only gripe is that the album is slightly top heavy, it gets a little to weird after Jeremy’s Storm, some of the catchy hooks and classy instrumentation that make the first half such an entire listen seem to somewhat disappear.
The aforementioned frontman, Kevin, is unbelievably talented as a guitarist and singer (I couldn’t get over how much he sounded like John Lennon in songs like Tomorrow Never Knows when I first heard the album) and am really looking forward to this bands sophomoric effort. Hopefully it gets a summer release; otherwise I may have to buy a plane ticket or something.
A full album? Haven’t you heard of Youtube?: It’s Not Meant To Be, Desire Be Desire Go, Solitude is Bliss, Alter Ego
19. The Drums – The Drums
A friend told me since that I was such a large fan of The Smiths then I would love The Drums. I told him I didn’t play musical instruments at all, and the Drums would be the last place I would start, regardless of my musical preferences. We shared a larf, he called me a card, and we retired to the speakeasy for a malt liquor and some gin rummy.
20% of that story is true. I have played Gin Rummy before. But no seriously, The Drums do sound like a band that was thrust from 1985 by Doc Brown and told to adapt to modern music stylings so they don’t arouse suspicion at the Enchantment Under The Sea Dance (I would watch that movie).
The Drums story truly began late 2009 when the sarcastic Lets Go Surfing was released and the ‘internets’ propelled it to a chart position in the U.K, before the band had even put out a release. The song is sarcastic as it was written as a retort or response to the endless minutia of beach inspired indie-pop that existed at the time, however, the song has become their most successful to date.
The album was released in June to critical acclaim. After huge anticipation, The Drums delivered with a New Order, Joy Division, Smiths inspired L.P that delivered track after track of catchy 80’s inspired pop songs. The brilliant Down By The Water was one of the musical moments of the year (it was released before the album on the E.P, but the crown for the pop moment of the year was taken by Ariel Pink… but more on that later) and the albums great strength came from how incredibly even it was from start to finish.
While some may question how The Drums will follow an album that is so directly inspired by 80’s pop music, I figure that for now they simple enjoy their first albums success, and if they can put out another album this catchy and even then I refuse to see a problem.
A full album? Haven’t you heard of Youtube?: Down By The Water, Me and The Moon, Let’s Go Surfing
18.Yeasayer – Odd Blood
There is one small problem with this album. I would bet that the three choices I put down for my ‘best songs’ Joke down the bottom would most likely be at least 80% of peoples favourite songs on the album, if not all then two of the three. While there is pleasure to be found in the album tracks (I Still Remember is a wonderful album track if you’re looking, and Mondegreen represents a brilliant moment of Sung Tongs inspired weirdness) the album has definite standouts.
This is not a bad thing however. Most albums have bad spots, and the album tracks are enjoyable enough to quantify a few full listens and the below tracks are absolute stunners that demand repeat listens with catchy choruses, hooks and enough layers to ensure that you find something new in the song every listen. (Ambling Alp and Madder Red may just be the Arrested Development of Music…but not.)
A full album? Haven’t you heard of Youtube?: Ambling Alp, One, Madder Red
17. Two Door Cinema Club – Tourist History
I stopped listening to this album quite early because I felt like I had heard the songs a hundred times. When this happens I personally like to ‘rest’ albums and come back to them, and if they still fail to grab me I move on. I realised after only a month or two however, that Two Door Cinema Club had been misrepresented by themselves.
I had not quite got over the album per se, but had been so immediately grabbed the album and new every detail of the catchy songs so implicitly that I was tricked into thinking I was over it. You see, these songs are so immediately recognisable and fun that you do not have to have heard the band or even like the music to enjoy the album or even have fun at one of their live shows. Almost all of their songs are immediately memorable and recognisable after one or two listens.
Which in essence, is the key of good pop. Dr Luke, the hit-maker behind such ear-worms as California Girls and TiK ToK, has made a career of making catchy choruses that are essentially the same fucking hook (play the songs together and see). Its all about familiarity when listening to a song the second time. If the hook sticks, you’re on a winner.
Luckily when I returned to the album not only was I familiar with the album but I was desperate to hear these songs again, and have been playing the album for a decent amount of months ever since.
The album itself, like most albums this year is very even. It has a great opening, a very entertaining middle, and one of the stronger finishes to an album this year (The only problem is Do You Want It All. That song is infantile and could have done so much more lyrically and musically with a nice hook. Boo). Literally, from the strongest single, Undercover Martyn, to the strongest track Eat Up, That’s Good For You to the great album closer You’re Not Stubborn, the album leaves you not only exhilarated, but wanting more. (for a long time I had a gripe with them not switching out the last two tracks as I felt Eat Up was a much stronger closer, due to its arena style sound and anthemic finish, but finishing with Your Not Stubborn is genius. It is a wonderful track, but leaves the listener wanting more. Like Gervais in The Office, you should always get out at the top of your game.)
A full album? Haven’t you heard of Youtube?: Eat Up That’s Good For You, Undercover Martyn, What You Know
16. Dum Dum Girls – I Will Be
Almost the reason it has taken so long for this article to get posted. When this album came to me I was right in the middle of my Ariel Pink, Beach House and Sufjan Stevens obsessed phase and it was shelved. Yet, whether it was fate or happenstance, I watched this great band cover one of my favourite songs, September Gurls by Big Star, and fell in love.
I was taken, not only by the look of the band and especially the lead singer, but the amazing sound of the band, and again the lead singer. I gave the album a chance and was immediately awestruck, and have been obsessed ever since, long into 2011.
The album has a classic retro feel, but the smartest thing the band does is never substitute melody for a place in a genre. The lead singer (whose stage name is Dee Dee) has a fantastic voice that moves seamlessly across tempo and octaves.
The songs have a simple feel, but it does not mean they lack substance. Jail La La is the soul surviving track from a concept album idea about a women’s prison, but the narrative remains in the song and is not out of place in the album.
Yet despite being a rapid fire album full of 60’s girl punk inspired songs, it is the album’s closer, a quite, reflective cover of the Sonny and Cher song Baby Don’t Go. It is a somewhat fitting album closer and truly represents the unlimited well of talent this group has.
A full album? Haven’t you heard of Youtube?: I Will Be, Baby Don’t Go, Jail La La
15. Band Of Horses – Infinite Arms
This is another album that didn’t immediately resonate with me fully, but after seeing the band live, and seeing these new tracks fit in to their old songs in what was one of the better concert sets I have seen this year, I was absolutely sold. The new songs shone amongst their old material and made for a brilliant, flawless setlist. So good in fact that I didn’t leave to use the palace theatre’s facilities till they left for encore, as I was absolutely transfixed.
The album starts out well enough; however I was never fully sold on Factory and remain sceptical of its brilliance. I think it could have been a much better song, and while I have never had a problem with Ben Bridwell’s lyrics, as often they are secondary to melody in his songs, in this song in parts the lyrics were actually quite infantile and the melody was not good enough to cover for it. The instrumentation was very nice though.
However the slight misstep on the first song was more than made up for in tracks two three and four. Compliments is a magnificent Band of Horses, and despite just transplanting the shell of the song Weed Party and changing the lyrics, Laredo is a lovely enough rockabilly romp to forget about the self-larceny.
But of course, Blue Beard, a Brian Wilson inspired ballad cuts you right to your heart on track four, and is quite clearly the album standout. There is not much to say about the track that has not already been said, so I am going to make a casual observation about how ridiculous it is that no word rhymes with synonym.
The title track is absolutely beautiful, and it has been scientifically prove impossible to listen to Dilly and not crack a smile wider than the Jokers. Older is a surprise as well, written and performed by keyboardist Ryan, it is a western inspired ‘ditty’ in every sense of the word and it is actually a very touching love song. While not typically the kind of song Band of Horses perform, it is a pleasant and welcome change and nice to see them further access their southern roots.
Overall the Band of Horses have put out another solid album of Southern tinged Indie-Pop. The album did lag towards the end, but has played on repeat very well. I love this band very much and hope they continue to make albums just like this forever. Yes that’s right; I don’t give a shit if the 2012 prophecy comes true, I want a full length to drop just as the rivers turn to blood. Get on it Bridwell.
A full album? Haven’t you heard of Youtube?: Blue Beard, Dilly, Older
14. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest
Deerhunter have been a band that have long been famous for there inaccessibility. When you name one of your albums Turn it up Faggot and deal with internal and emotional problems by turning the drone up to eleven and the melody back down to zero, it makes discovering the genius that lies within this band difficult for your typical punter.
Thankfully the stars aligned on Halcyon Digest, and this album truly is the bands magnum opus. The band shifts seamlessly from haunting slow burning songs like Helicopter and Basement Scene, to songs that are just downright chock full of melody, hooks and pop rhythm like Coronado and Memory Boy.
However while gaining some accessibility the band never lose sight of themselves, and it is this perfect balance that makes this such a great record. The album has a true voice and it does something that some albums cannot…connect with its audience.
A full album? Haven’t you heard of Youtube?: Coronado, Memory Boy, Sailing
13. Cloud Control – Bliss Release
It really was Cloud Control’s year. Not only were they nominated for a couple of ARIA awards amongst a host of others, but this very debut album took home the 6th annual $30,000 Australian Music prize. After award nominations, dozens of rollicking festival show performances and of course a brilliant debut album, it is clear they are no longer just a hype band.
Bliss Release itself is an intriguing listen from start to finish. Fine songwriting, a clear musical direction, smart instrumentation and wonderful back and forth vocal harmonizing between lead singer Alistair Wright and keyboardist and backup vocalist Heidi Lennfer make this album incredibly even from start to finish. The group has made a name for itself amongst the ‘kids’ with more up tempo tracks like The Rolling Stone, Nothing In The Water and This Is What I Said, but it is when they dial down the tempo a notch when the bands talent really comes to the fore. Hollow Drums and the astonishing album closer Beast of Love (which shows of ‘backup vocalist’ Lennfer’s outstanding vocal for the first time on the album in a non harmony capacity) show the bands true talent, and give the album some real depth and heart.
A full album? Haven’t you heard of Youtube?: Beast Of Love, Hollow Drums, Ghost Story
12. Local Natives – Gorilla Manor
From Cloud Control we go to another band that proves the age of the vocal harmony is not, and will never die. Local Natives (formerly Cavil At Rest, or ‘thank god we changed our name’) burst on to the scene early in the year with an album that was eminently listenable and immediately catchy. The songs were well written, the harmonies in each song soared and goddammit if almost ever single song wasn’t punch your fists in the air anthemic. The Local Natives formula, as described by the band, is ‘afro-pop-influenced guitars with hyperactive drumming and hooky three-part harmonies’ (or ‘get a more concise description used to be Cavil at Rest’).
Regardless of description length and names, there is simply no denying that this band is incredibly talented and has made a fantastic first album. What is so great about this album is that you can literally hear the emotion being wrought out of each song as they sing it. This music, their message, clearly means something to them and it is a large reason that their songs posses such anthemic qualities and resonate so much with the listener.
They band also works very well together, especially with their ‘hooky three part harmonies’. They are almost omni-present in almost all (or at least the best) of their songs. There are some fantastic musical moments on the album, (namely the ‘chanty’ bridge / chorus in Sun Hands, the fantastic Talking Heads cover Warning Sign, and the tension and release in Who Knows Who Cares that culminates in an Arcade Fire like Oh Oh Oh that never fails to send chills down the back of the spine) and that not only lend this album to repeated listens, but gives you enough to wet your appetite for any future Local Natives releases.
A full album? Haven’t you heard of Youtube?: Who Knows Who Cares, Sun Hands, World News
11. Girls – Broken Dreams Club E.P
I was introduced to Girls through this E.P, having never heard of them before. (I’ll hand in my hipster pass, frameless Rivers Cuomo glasses and the URL to Pitchfork at the door on my way out, sorry) It took me no time at all to respond to the genius of this small album, and then immediately got my hands on the bands 2009 debut, Album. Girls are simply an amazing band. Incredibly original, yet derivative enough to be familiar, the band has a broad range across their chosen genre and creates amazing soundscapes and songs and present deceptively simple lyrics that on closer reflection are amazingly deep and layered.
This E.P has climbed this high because of its sheer brilliance. For me, every single track knocks it out of the park. It is one of those albums that as soon as it finishes, I cannot wait to start again.
Most of that has to do with the final track. Carolina is simply one of the more intriguing and beautiful songs I have ever listened to. It begins with swirling guitars, sounding like a Southern My Bloody Valentine. But after about one minute, we begin a simple kick drum beat and a similar guitar riff. This continues for a further two minutes, until, finally the songs kicks in. After singing in a low tone for another two minutes, the song takes a turn and a beautiful melody comes out of nowhere. This continues for the rest of the song, complete with ‘do run run run‘ backing vocals (somehow it doesn’t seem out of place). The thing about the song is, however, that it just keeps going. It feels like it is going forever…and the kicker is that you want it to. Every time it ends I feel loss and sadness, like I have lost a little something in my life. Everything in this song seems perfect, and it just might well be.
Now this review may have been unfair to the other songs on the album. I wish I could have devoted as much time to Broken Dreams Club (one of the most beautiful and simple love songs I have heard this year) or Thee Oh So Protective One (a great album opener that sets the tone for the whole album) but I legitimately could have written a whole paragraph, or more, about every song, and I didn’t want to get RSI at home, because I am not covered by Work Cover. It is a testament both to my cheapness and the E.P as a complete work. Listen to it.
A full album? Haven’t you heard of Youtube?: Carolina, Broken Dreams Club, Heartbreaker
10. Foals – Total Life Forever
There has been a lot written about Foals this year, and it always follows the same trend. Blah blah blah last album math rock blah blah blah reinvention blah blah blah fantastic new album. It is typically followed by a quote from one of the English bands poncy little band members eloquently explaining how they have found their sound or how this album they got it right, and then usual finishes with the inevitable comparison to the Australian or American journalists favourite U.K band (I swear is saw Boomtown Rats once).
There has been a lot of hype about Foals this year, but usually if you follow the hype there is generally some good music at the end of it (case in point, William Hung’s sophomore album received little to no hype). Foals put out an album this year that was, for me, vastly superior to their debut. While if you look hard enough on Antidotes you can find some good songs, the band not only stepped up the consistency on Total Life Forever but also found gold on at least four songs that were daylight better that anything they had produced.
Spanish Sahara will, fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how the band feels about being rich, most probably be the song they are either remembered for or defined by for the rest of their careers. Simply because it is almost a perfect song. It really is almost perfect, encapsulating everything you want out of a song, lyrical depth, melody, momentum, emotion and tension and release and perfectly using the bands skills to commit it to tape and perform it just as ably live.
However, in saying that, it is not a one song album. The prefix to Spanish Sahara, Black Gold, is a fantastic and in some ways better song, more structured and lyrically dense, and almost as anthemic. Songs like After Glow, Blue Blood and Miami also represent the bands talent and their ability to adapt to slightly different styles. Total Life Forever is a very good album, even great but no the challenge becomes whether the band explores their talent and makes another even album or has eleven tries at another Spanish Sahara.
A full album? Haven’t you heard of Youtube?: Black Gold, Spanish Sahara, After Glow
9. Wolf Parade – Expo 86
Wolf Parade followed their seminal 2005 album Apologies To The Queen Mary with the (in my opinion) difficult At Mount Zoomer. So I approached the album with a great amount of trepidation. Messrs Krug and Boeckner had been keeping me very entertained in the long, dark Wolf Parade-less years with great albums from Sunset Rubdown and Handsome Furs respectively, so I could only hope tat the combination of the two coming together after such a long break, refreshed from their side-projects would mean a creative re-awakening, and a yearning to return to the fist-pumping, up-tempo music of Apologies To The Queen Mary, rather than the messy, confusing shit music of At Mount Zoomer.
Imagine my relief, nay exhilaration when out came Expo 86′, a thrill ride of heart-stopping up tempo songs that are lyrically, musically and emotionally dense. It was a return to the Wolf Parade of old, the Wolf Parade that sent chills down your spine, the Wolf Parade that made you want to take on the world… It was awesome.
Not only does this album have some fantastic songs, and, as aforementioned have some songs that are more anthemic than the Arcade Fire playing at the Olympic Medal Ceremony, but it also has some amazingly melodic moments, and the instrumentation has also stepped up a notch. The band has also dipped its toe further into the electronica pool, and many songs, such as In The Direction of The Moon, Ghost Pressure, hey even the album as a whole is richer for the experience.
Like all good albums, it also gets better with each song. A promising start leads to a brilliant middle, and a heart-stopping conclusion, with two of the finest songs on the album drawing it to a close, not only leaving you emotionally exhausted, but yearning for more.
A full album? Haven’t you heard of Youtube?: In The Direction Of the Moon, Yulia, Cave-O-Sapien, Pobody’s Nerfect
8. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Before Today
For so long, Ariel Pink was confined to his bedroom, his recordings only sought out by those much more knowledgeable than myself. But thankfully, somehow, his off-kilter brand of 80’s infused nightmare pop has crossed over into the relative mainstream sphere. Ariel Pink is being mentioned as an inspiration to artists all over the world, as well as selling albums and rocking festival stages. This was the year he made it.
Although whether frontman Ariel Pink gives a shit is anyone’s guess. An observer from afar can only assume that he is just as weird and twisted as some of his music. Yet there is no doubt that to put out an album like Before Today, he is incredibly talented. This album has proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt.
The album is a strange grab bag assortment of songs, that range from covers (Bright Lit Blue Skies), Atari Video Game soundtracked nightmares (Fright Night), beautiful ballads (Can’t Hear My Eyes) and songs that blur the line between decade derivative and musically unclassifiable (L’estat).
But this album has of course a crowning glory, an achievement that even if memories of the rest of the tracks fall by the wayside, will never be forgotten. The indescribable, unforgettable, unbelievable Round and Round. To put it in simple terms, it is the best pop song since Outkast’s Hey Ya! It is that good.
After starting well, the song builds to a soaring bridge that is just an entree to the main course that is that majestic chorus. The chorus is irrepressible; the song is an ear-worm and is simply unrelenting. It is one of those songs that you have to hear again and again, and it just does not have an overplay ceiling, a) because of the many intricacies that are built into the verses and around the song, and b) because of that chorus, which just seems to get better every time you listen to it.
The one problem is that Round and Round is so good that it becomes like a drug. The first half of the album is spent in fevered anticipation, enjoying yourself but still looking ahead, and the last half of the album is quite literally a comedown, with songs seeming to get worse the further you get away from Round and Round. But the high is so good that I never find myself complaining. I just put in the disc another time and eagerly await my next hit. Oh shit, I’m a junkie.
A full album? Haven’t you heard of Youtube?: Round and Round, Cant Hear My Eyes, Bright Light Blue Skies
7. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening
Like Ricky Gervais finishing The Office (my second allusion to this fact in the one article. I either need to get over Ricky Gervais or do some fucking research and find another example. Or, instead of digressing in text….do some editing for a change) at the end of Season 2, James Murphy truly followed that old show business adage that you should always leave em’ wanting more. He has left this business at the top of his game with a legacy that spans three full length albums, E.Ps, a production company and of course spawning the dance-punk movement himself, as well as making music cool again.
His final album is amazing for several reasons. One, because he is actually leaving the music business after this, one of the finest albums I have ever listened to. Two, tracing the growth and maturity of LCD Soundsystem as a musician and songwriter has truly been something to watch. From admitting that he kind of made it up as he went along at the beginning, to closing his career with one of the most lyrically self -reflective and poignant albums in the history of music, let alone his career, is a testament to the man who truly exhibited his ability to change. Three, although less of a surprise, is of course the level of musicianship on the album. The intricacies and delicate rhythms that make up each song are so typically LCD Soundsystem that we have come to expect it, but in reality it is nothing short of genius.
I do remember last year, upon hearing the album, it took me almost 24 hours to get past the first song. I physically couldn’t stop playing it. The epic opener is one of Murphy’s finer moments as a musician and despite taking vocal steroids to hit some of the high notes, it is clear that this song is one of his best. (At the time the album came out I remember going to parties, changing whatever music was playing and putting on Dance Yrself Clean. If anyone protested I begged them to tell me how music could be in any way better and to fight me for the right to change it.)
But despite their being a clear frontrunner, the amazing All I Want has hung on to claim the title of my favourite track. Brilliant in almost every way. From the shockingly open and contemplative lyrics, to the way the guitar seems to ache along with Murphy’s vocal, mirroring the song protagonists yearning for ‘pity’ and ‘bitter tears’ makes it the most complete song on the album.
We will always have LCD Soundsystem. We will always have the knowledge that when asked to create a single for radio, he created You Wanted A Hit, a song that only relents from a droning keyboard solo at the three minute mark, perfect radio single time. We will always have the image of a man slightly too old to be performing on stage, yet someone coming off as one of the coolest people of the decade. And we will always have This Is Happening, arguably his finest creation and a perfect footnote to a magnificent career.
A full album? Haven’t you heard of Youtube?: All I Want, Dance Yrself Clean, Home
6. MGMT – Congratulations
I have already professed my love for this album on my blog before…so going over new ground seems like a waste of my and your time. Read this, not only does it take at length about MGMT’s Congratulations, but Nirvana, Blur and even bike shorts!!!
A full album? Haven’t you heard of Youtube?: Someones Missing, Congratulations, Siberian Breaks
5. The Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
I have also covered this Grammy Winning album on my site as well. Check out my hilarious and thought provoking and still modest review here.
A full album? Haven’t you heard of Youtube?: Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains), Deep Blue, We Used To Wait
4. Gorillaz – Plastic Beach
It was a time in my life which changed me. I had the absolute privilege of seeing Damon Albarn and his live Gorillaz collective featuring Little Dragon, Bobby Womack, Tinie Tempah, De La Soul, the Lebanese National Orchestra and two members of The freaking Clash perform the Plastic Beach tour live.
It is not often that a concert has the ability to have such an effect on your life but this concert was something else. It was a show, an audio/visual masterpiece that was the perfect companion piece to the fantastic Plastic Beach album.
I went with limited expectations, as I had only heard the new album a couple of times and while I really liked it, I didn’t know what to expect live. I also had not delved that far into the back catalogue past the singles as well. But by the time Little Dragon joined Damon Albarn onstage, about six songs in, to sing my favourite song on the album with one of the most beautiful and delicate voices I had ever heard live, all my expectations, and my pants, were blown away. The person I went to the concert with still messages me saying that he is not ‘over it’ yet. I concur wholeheartedly.
The album is very good, and amazingly complete. Albarn not only uses his little black book to great effect, but he knows enough to leave some of the better songs to himself. Broken and On Melancholy Hill are two beautiful moments on the album, and have Albarn taking lead vocals on the album. The songs obviously mean a great deal to him as the emotion he conveys with his voice is affecting to say the least.
A full album? Haven’t you heard of Youtube?: Empire Ants (Ft Little Dragon), On Melancholy Hill, Broken
3. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz /All Delighted People
Imagine my excitement when, after waiting five long years for another Sufjan record, I was blessed with two new releases in the space of two months.
Finally we had Sufjan, a man who has so often played by his own rules, writing songs again. After five Christmas albums, an opera about an expressway, and an outtakes album we were finally given the news all Sufjan fanboys had been waiting for…a follow up to Illinoise. But before this wondrous news, another surprise! A brand new, eight track, hour long E.P to wet hour appetite before the big day.
The E.P itself is built around the title track, which is a glorious, soaring ballad that Sufjan has gotten so good at over the years. For me, it had all the hallmarks of another great Sufjan track, Majesty Snowbird, a song which never appeared on an album anywhere, which makes me rather angry.
Then we have four or five folk songs, a medium that Sufjan himself has said he is ‘no longer interested in’. This sentiment is rather heartbreaking, because he does it better than most. Enchanting Ghost is an achingly beautiful song, and From The Mouth of Gabriel recalls some of his best work on Seven Swans, although with the added bonus of a Sufjan embracing and exploring new instruments and instrumental technologies. The less said about the Classic Rock Version of All Delighted People, the better. The first half is nice enough, but the last half is basically Sufjan masturbating musically and committing it to tape.
On that note, we should mention Sufjan’s other release, the brilliant and in some ways bat-shit crazy The Age Of Adz. There is no other way to describe it than an amazing album.
But this album is also one of growth for Sufjan Stevens. He moves away from the crutch of acoustic folk songs, that, while he does it so well, he can do in his sleep. He has said that he is now interested in creating ‘soundscapes’ rather than traditional song structures and it with this mindset that he uses modern technology to create some of the most mature, self reflective (the lyrics on Vesuvius are particularly poignant) and modern Sufjan Stevens recordings that we have heard to date.
He also wants to assert that he has grown up, and is no longer the little Christian boy foolishly attempting to write an album about 50 US states. On the albums penultimate track, he consistently if not violently insists that he is ‘not fucking around’. It is a long way from the boy who just wanted ‘to be alone with you’. He handles the themes of this album, mostly attributed to Sufjan’s fascination with outsider artist Royal Robertson with grace, maturity and vision.
But perhaps most impressively he creates one of his so called ‘soundscapes’ (the 25 minute Impossible Soul) that is one of the most exhilarating pieces of music committed to tape this year (I can also assure you, after being lucky enough to see it performed at the Arts Centre earlier this year, that it is just as brilliant, if not better live). He actually managed (perhaps in art due to the practice run / false start that was Djohariah on the All Delighted People E.P) to create an epic piece of music that is every bit as enthralling from minute one to minute twenty five. Sufjan even tests the limits of the listener by injecting Auto-Tuned vocals into one of the songs acts, but it somehow works.
One can only hope it isn’t five years until we wait for the next two Sufjan Stevens releases.
A full album? Haven’t you heard of Youtube?: All Delighted People (Original), From The Mouth Of Gabriel
A full album? Haven’t you heard of Youtube?: Impossible Soul, Vesuvius, Get Real Get Right
2. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
He survived a near fatal career implosion at the 2009 VMA’s, has consistently been the victim of his own ego-centrism and self-assuredness, but after all this time the joke is on us. Kanye West really is a genius visionary, and we are the moronic naysayers for ignoring all the signs.
While it can be easy to hate Kanye West for his sins, I have always been on Team Yeezy. After all, not only did Taylor Swift not fucking deserve that award, but I have always said that he gets a lifetime pass for anything he does or especially says, because of how good he is. Now this was before MBDTF. This was on the strength of his first four albums, all of which I either adored or really liked. But this album, this masterpiece, a record for which it seems the term magnum opus was created for, now puts me in a difficult position. If he had a lifetime pass for the first four albums, then now I can conceivability see myself volunteering to be a character witness for him at his trial if he shot my own mother.
The album is pretty much flawless from start to finish. Before the album, I remember complaining about 808’s briefly, stating: “I miss the days when Kanye West used to sample, and collaborate…now all he does is use his own beats and sing over the top of them. We need less of singer Kanye and more of producer/rapper Kanye”.
I tell you what, if my prayers weren’t answered by Mr. Jesus Walks himself. Kanye got out his little black book and invited everyone from Nicki Minaj (in one of the best guest verses on an album in the history of ever) to Jay Z to Chris Rock to Elton John, all to create an amazing roll-call of industry friends helping him achieve his vision.
Most importantly, the subject matter at hand is refreshingly honest. Tracks like Runaway, Power and Gorgeous have Kanye truly telling the world how he feels. Best of all, he blends a perfect mix of honesty (“sorry for the night demons that still visit me, the plan was, to drink until the pain over, but what’s worse the pain or the hangover?”), being frank (“what’s a black beetle anyway, a fucking roach? I guess that’s why they got me sitting here in fucking coach” and being funny ‘(“have you ever had sex with a Pharaoh, put the pussy in a sarcophagus, now she saying I bruised her oesophagus”) that truly show how far he has come as a lyricist.
But the most surprising thing about this album is that there is not filler. Not a single amount of filler. While some may claim that the Chris Rock skit and the Gil Scott-Heron album closer are filler, they are wrong. For one, the skit is absolutely hilarious and while it does lose some of its lustre the more it is played, it still remains chuckle worthy, and actually becomes sick and twisted, in keeping with the albums theme, the more you listen to it. Secondly the album closer, the Kanye remix of a key passage of poet Gil Scott-Heron, is an amazingly logical and brilliant conclusion to the album, and just proves that Kanye has both the talent and the ear when it comes to creating an album.
The only problem for Yeezy is, how on Earth do you follow up an album like MBDTF? Well, thankfully, a certain individual with initials beginning in KW has consistently assured us that he is a visionary and a genius, but with an album like this in the tank, there is no reason he can’t do it again. Here is hoping.
A full album? Haven’t you heard of Youtube?: Lost in the World, Monster, Gorgeous
1. Beach House – Teen Dream
I really do have a problem with this album. I think some psychologists refer to it as an obsession. It has been over ten months since I first heard the dulcet tones of Zebra lick my ears in a Melbourne nightclub, and not only did I almost spill my drink, but I immediately cancelled my plans the next day to download whatever the hell Beach House were.
Back then, when some unknown DJ span Zebra, I had no idea the effect would have on my life. I went home, and found that I already had Devotion, Beach House’s 2008 effort on my computer…obviously an album I never got into. After my sister talked me down from the roof I began to listen to both albums. What has followed has been ten months of pure, unadulterated, unbridled obsession. I feel bad even writing a semi-review about the album, because its like a Fox News anchor being asked to give their opinion on the Republican Party. The bias I have for Beach House is undying. There is not a week that goes by where I don’t listen to this album at least four times, and I cannot see myself ever tiring of it. Put simply, it is up there with my favourite albums of all time.
Why? What is it about Beach House that has such an effect on me? Why does Silver Soul resonate with me so much? Why do I get a feeling of emotional catharsis when Victoria LeGrand pounds the keyboard at the end of Walk In The Park? And what is it about her voice, that voice, which keeps me listening to the band, again and again and finding something new each time?
Well aside from the fact that it is a wonderful album, I cannot truly explain all of these phenomenons. That is what is truly great about music, it communicates to people on a purely visceral level. And this album is an album that truly communicates to the listener. I put it to you that it is nearly impossible to listen to this album and not get an emotional response, no matter who is listening.
But now to the album. It is basically flawless. Every song is prefixed by a fantastic song and followed by another. You are never looking to skip a Teen Dream track, and the 49 minutes and 10 seconds melt away in a haze of some of the most finely crafted dream pop that has ever been created.
By finely crafted, I mean that Beach House really know how to structure a song. Especially on track two to track eight; almost every single song has three acts. The first act of the song is the build-up of tension. This is most often the first verse and may include the first chorus. The second acts continue to build tension, with a limited release. This act lets you know the song is going somewhere, taking you on a journey, and you are along for the ride. The last act is invariably the cathartic release. This is either done with subtlety or a clear an unmistakeable aim for maximum emotional release.
Finally, the album ends on two of the most beautifully crafted songs of the year. With Real Love and Take Care, we have two songs that ensnare the listener with a heart-rending melody and exquisite lyrical message. By the time the album is over you are stunned and emotionally exhausted.
Perhaps this is why I keep coming back for more. An emotional connection to music should never be discounted. And Beach House makes music that never fails to put a chill down my spine. It is without doubt the most complete album of the year, and one of the most exiting, as it is an example of a supremely talented band sure of their direction.
A full album? Haven’t you heard of Youtube?: All. If I had to pick Silver Soul or Walk in the Park
Honourable Mentions – Ratatat – LP4, the Black Keys – Brothers, The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt, The Walkmen – Lisbon, Vampire Weekend – Contra, Bo Burnham – Words Words Words