Sunday, December 05, 2010

Albums of the Year

The Suburbs by Arcade Fire

I had enjoyed their previous two albums, but found there was something a little too bombastic about them. But when I saw them on TV over the summer festivals playing tracks from their 3rd album, the CD-length "The Suburbs", Arcade Fire had managed to add a new layer of depth and sophistication to their undoubted anthemic chops. The album didn't disappoint. Probably the best (only?) suburban concept album since "Quadrophenia" it bristles with intelligence, but is chock full of tunes you can whistle. Lyrically adventurous, and musically catholic, it delves in places that I didn't expect them to go (hardcore punk, songs that echo Hall & Oates, New Order and ABBA), but which make perfect sense. Like the Who or the Cure at their relative best, it leavened the seriousness with a levity, a humour and a playfulness that listeners of "My Body is a Cage" could hardly have expected.

Nerve Up by Lonelady

By some distance the best Manchester album of the year. I've known Lonelady for years, and some of the songs for nearly as long, yet the album, recorded in 4 weeks in an Ancoats warehouse, transcended this spartan process. A classic long player, with songs that echoed edgy Martin Hannett productions, but also had a wistful love of the scratchy Americana of early R.E.M. the real revelation was the Grace Jones-ish title track, a drum-machine led nimble dance number that tied together the record's other characteristics, and made sense of it all. Tight, taut, and utterly honest, this was a fantastic debut, that deserved wider acknolwedgment. In a year when the more coffee-table stylings of "The XX" won the Mercury, it is the sharper sound of "Nerve Up" that seemed more vital.

Your Future, Our Clutter by the Fall

The Fall's 21st century trajectory has been fascinating to everyone who'd written them around the turn of the century, and signed - though apparently no longer - to superindie Domino, "Your Future, Our Clutter" got rid of some of the meanderings of previous outings, and delivered a 75% hit rate, particularly on the new classic "Bury".
In a year when their Beggars back catalogue began to be reissued it was more than pleasing to know that their new material could stand side-by-side with it.

MAYA by M.I.A.

3rd album by M.I.A. and if it didn't quite get the plaudits of "Kala", it's not easy to see why not. Single "Born Free" was a fantastic piece of gothic dance, whilst the sound had hardened throughout. Perhaps the multiculturalism of the previous two albums had been absorbed a bit more, but as a state-of-the-art statement of music in 2010 it could hardly be bettered.

Congratulations by MGMT

Lukewarm initial reviews for their 2nd album were more due to its lack of a "Time to Pretend" than any real flaws in the record itself - which has a gloriously summery hippy vibe to it, without ever becoming self-indulgent. It's like the Mamas & Papas rediscovered for the 21st century avant garde. Full of arcane noises and with a folky vibe, it seems an anti-hip album, closer to Flaming Lips' "Embryonic" than the indie mainstream.

Disco 2 by Health

The year's outstanding electronic record was a remix album. Disco 2 mostly took tracks from their previous Get Colour album, but coming to it afresh without hearing the source material it had amazing coherence for a remix album. Every track is a sublime piece of contemporary electronica, but as a vocal band as well, it nods to bands like New Order and the Pet Shop Boys as much as to Orbital or Boards of Canada. A beautiful concoction, and well worth adding to any Christmas wishlist.

Small Craft on a Milk Sea by Eno

Returning to his electronic roots, rather than the song orientated material of last year's David Byrne collaboration or his previous solo album, Small Craft on a Milk Sea was a much heralded new release and didn't disappoint. The songs sounded as if they could have been written at any time since his first excursions into ambient music, but the production was fresh, subtle and contemporary, analogue washes of sound mixing with some more hardened techno beats. It almost felt like a toolkit for contemporary electronica from one of the genres acknowledged masters. Beautiful sequenced and packaged, its Eno's third winning album in a row.

Cosmogramma by Flying Lotus

If Hip Hop was anywhere in 2010 I wouldn't have expected it to be heading towards the avant garde, but Flying Lotus's latest album is a beautifully constructed bed of samples that becomes almost psychedelic in places. Listened to as a whole its a fabulous reminder of the power of hip hop beats.

Field Music (Measure) by Field Music

A double CD by a band who had previously passed me by, this was one of the year's most sophisticated releases, and had some of its best songwriting. The Sunderland band may owe something of their sound to unfashionable names like Fleetwood Mac, but they take the best bits of 70s AOR and crafted it a frankly stunning album, that has great production, brilliant arrangements and superb songwriting.

From the Cradle to the Rave by Shit Robot

DFA labelmates of LCD Soundsystem Shit Robot's "From the Cradle to the Rave" was a better record than LCD's 3rd album "This is Happening", matching it for electronic suss, but with far more of a pop/disco sensibility. The album you expected from, but never got, from Calvin Harris or Simian Mobile Disco.

Black Light by Groove Armada

A real surprise this one, as Groove Armada, ostensibly a dance band, turn up with a bit of gothic disco album. With surprise guest turns from Will Young and Bryan Ferry in the mix, the real influence is Siouxsie and the Banshees or even Yeah Yeah Yeahs. DJ music with a live feel, and some great songs - I heard Black Light round at the year's first (and probably last) barbecue and played it loads once I bought it. You feel that it is a DJ's album rather than a dance producer's album - and clearly curating their annual Lovebox festival has made them reach out not just to those unlikely collaborators, but also to whole new musical styles.

ADDENDUM (27/12/2010)

Two albums that should have made the list originally were Kelis's "Flesh Tone" full to brimming of retro disco, that sounds like it takes its cue from Italo House c. 1994, as well as being ultra modern; and the beautifully introspective "For the Ghosts Within" by the ever wonderful Robert Wyatt. A jazz album (kind of) including cover versions and collaborators its the sort of thing he's always done, but never quite so confidently.

And three albums that I've listened to after reading everyone else's reviews of the year and been mightily impressed by: "The Fool" by Warpaint; "Swim" by Caribou and "Queen of Denmark" by John Grant.

1 comment:

John said...

Great selection of albums there

JMF Disco
Wedding DJ and Mobile Disco