So here they are, my albums of the year. A few words before commencing though. I still approach those end of year polls in magazines and newspapers with caution as I always find myself agreeing with some and vehemently disagreeing with others. Below is a personal take on the albums that have meant the most to me throughout the year and I hope there will be at least some common ground found.
As you will see, I’ve put in some further links to the output of the artists featured which I hope will be of interest, they include live performances, acoustic versions and interviews. The list is in no particular order but before we start I would like to mention some other artists whose albums I have greatly admired this year but in the interests of keeping things fairly concise haven’t gone in to detail about. So, honourable mentions go to the following – Jenny and Johnny’s I’m Having Fun Now, Teenage Fanclub’s Shadows, Charlotte Gainsbourg’s IRM, Yeasayer’s Odd Blood, The Phantom Band’s The Wants, Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs, School Of Seven Bells’s Disconnect From Desire, Kid Canaveral’s Shouting At Wildlife, Deer Tick’s The Black Dirt Sessions and The Rolling Stones’s Exile On Main Street re-release. I’m sure there are others but that will do for the moment. Here then are my final dozen.
1. Darker My Love – Alive As You Are
This is the band whom I recommend to those I feel will be appreciative and is nearly always met the response “I’ve never heard of them” although I’m not sure how much longer this will be the case. Their previous album to this, 2, is well worth the purchase but Alive As You Are is a slightly more polished affair with a hint of country rock running through it. There is superb songwriting craft manifested at every turn in tunes such as New America, June Bloom and Maple Day Getaway. The exquisite melodies and clever song dynamics have led it to being one of my most played albums of the year. The use of a pedal steel at one point also pleased me immensely. I missed them supporting Band Of Horses at the Roundhouse in Camden earlier this year due to being in a heated music debate in the pub across the street but hopefully they’ll return to the UK in 2011.
Click here to see the band perform Backseat live at Dangerbird Studios
Click here to see a live acoustic version of Split Minute
2. Steve Mason – Boys Outside
Anyone who knows me is aware of my love of The Beta Band and indeed Steve Mason’s solo projects from Black Affair to King Biscuit Time. In fact, the KBT b-sides Tears Dry and People Happy are up there with anything he’s ever done in my opinion. The first tune I heard from Boys Outside was the free download All Come Down and it remains my favourite track from an album that’s been critically lauded by many. Hopefully this will transfer to enough sales to keep him making music without the financial concerns which contributed to the demise of The Beta Band. The fact that he’s making a dub version of the album is further proof of the confidence and ambition he has at the moment and long may that continue. I had the pleasure of seeing him perform the album live when I was in Edinburgh in August and it was quite a euphoric night as not only was it viewed as a celebratory homecoming gig but the lager on tap was Staropramen, enough even to blast the head of the big robot in The Day The Earth Stood Still off and in to the stratosphere. The night was worth the hangover, the album was certainly worth the purchase.
Click here to see Steve perform an acoustic version of All Come Down
Click here to see the official video for Lost And Found
Click here to see a live performance of Stress Position from Summer Sundae in Leicester
Click here to watch an interview with Steve from the 2010 Montreux Jazz Festival
3. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest
I was first put on to Deerhunter by a friend who included Nothing Ever Happened on a compilation he sent me and soon after I got hold of the album Microcastle from which it came. On hearing the very first track on Halcyon Digest, Earthquake, I swear I could detect a slight nod to Campfire Headphase era Boards Of Canada, surprising but welcome. Like many, I would have to pinpoint Desire Lines as the albums high point with a guitar hook that seems as effortless as it is mesmeric. I was surprised when I lent this album to a friend whom I thought would appreciate it but then got a rather tepid response to it back. I don’t think it’s a difficult album to get in to in any way and certainly not too esoteric but we all have our different tastes I suppose. It does strike me that more thought and effort went in to its creation compared to some other releases this year and that simply serves to make me appreciate it more.
Click here to see the band perform Helicopter live
Click here for the album version of Desire Lines with that guitar hook
Click here for a live version of Revival in Chicago
4. Avi Buffalo – Avi Buffalo
Like many who have subsequently bought this album, the first track I had heard from it was What’s In It for?, a song with such beautiful melody that I was immediately wanting to hear more. The album didn’t disappoint and it’s clear that Avi Zahner-Isenberg is a prodigious talent. I’ve read a few interviews with him where he’s expressed an urge to venture down new musical avenues and expand the horizons of his future musical output which I’m sure will make for an interesting listen. I hope he doesn’t deviate from the type of songwriting on this debut just yet though, one album of the stuff would be too little for a keepsake.
Click here to see a short in the studio documentary of the band
Click here to see a live performance of Truth Sets In Carrboro NC
Click here to see Five Little Sluts performed live in Manchester
5. Belle & Sebastian – Write About Love
I’m bound to be a little biased on this one having worked with them on the tv show/film Belle & Sebastian Write About Love but the album lives up to my expectations as I’m sure it does for many other fans. It gets better on every listen and I would defy anyone to play the opening track I Didn’t See It Coming and not feel uplifted whilst having at least an urge to shuffle their feet in a sign of surrender to the medium of dance. This has already worked with a friend of mine who was previously fairly ambivalent to their music but is now a convert. I have yet to invoice the band for doing this and prefer to look at it as a form of public service.
Click here to watch the TV show Belle & Sebastian Write About Love
Click here to see Norah Jones talking about her collaborating on the track Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John
Click here to watch I’m Not Living In The Real World live at The Hollywood Palladium
6. Nick Garrie – The Nightmare Of J.B. Stanislas
Re-released in 2010, this album came out of the blue for me as I wasn’t aware of its initial release in 1969. My friend and chief BMX Bandit Duglas T Stewart had produced some tracks for Nick’s album 49 Arlington Gardens which came out in 2009 and sent me some of them. He also sent me a couple of tracks from The Nightmare of J B Stanislas which just blew me away. The baroque pop movement of the late 60’s may not have lasted as long as others but nevertheless, this really is a work of sublime songwriting and musical arrangement. From the gentle pining of Can I Stay With You to the whimsy of The Wanderer, the whole album is a wonder to behold.
Click here to listen to the album version of Can I Stay With You
Click here to see Nick perform The Wanderer live in Madrid in 2009
Click here to listen to the albums title track The Nightmare Of J.B. Stanislas
7. John Grant – Queen Of Denmark
This solo album from the former Czars singer has made quite a splash in other end of year polls and with good reason. The quality of the writing, complimented by a great vocal range make this a work of captivating beauty. The fact that much of it deals with the trials of Grant’s personal life is in contrast to his shy public demeanor and just makes for a more intriguing listen. The musicianship and arrangements aided by Midlake also deserve high praise on what is to many, a simply astounding piece of work.
Click here to watch Marz live on Later With Jools Holland
Click here for the album version of It’s Easier
Click here to see Caramel live in Glasgow
8. Eels – Tomorrow Morning
I wrote a little eulogy about Mark Everett earlier this year but this was before the latest Eels album was released. Mercifully, it was up to scratch as was the bonus EP which came with it featuring the cracking Let’s Ruin Julie’s Birthday. It’s a sign of a man comfortable in his own musical skin when the opening two tracks are as downbeat and sparse as the ones found on Tomorrow Morning with many of the more upbeat tracks found later on. It’s a gratifying listen from start to finish and certainly benefits from repeat plays. I don’t think it’s quite up there with 2005’s double album Blinking Lights And Other Revelations but still a great addition to E’s musical output.
Click here to watch Oh So Lovely performed live in London
Click here to see a stripped down version of Spectacular Girl for MTV Home
Click here to listen to the album version of The Man
Click here to read the Mark Everett eulogy
9. Broken Bells – Broken Bells
This is one of those albums with a real immediacy about it. On first hearing The High Road I knew I would probably like the whole record and that certainly proved to be the case. The string break on Your Head Is On Fire gets me every time. It’s not too surprising that this is such an accomplished piece of work as it obviously combines the talents of James Mercer and Danger Mouse but it’s worth mentioning that there have been many instances over the years when musicians from different bands have collaborated with far less pleasing results. There are also those shocking times when three musicians get together when really they should all have stayed at home, anyone remember All For Love by Adams, Stewart and Sting?
Click here to watch The High Road live on Letterman
Click here to watch The Ghost Inside performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live
Click here to watch an interview with Danger Mouse and James Mercer on Q TV
10. The Vaselines – Sex With An X
I wasn’t bothered that it had taken The Vaselines over 20 years to release a second album, I just wanted it to be good. It wasn’t, it was magnificent. On hearing the lead off single Sex With An X it was obvious that Eugene Kelly had lost none of his pop sensibilities but it was great to once again hear Francis McKee alongside him. The partnership is probably best exemplified on the track Turning It On with vocal lines being tossed back and forth from one another. Other stand outs include The Devil’s Inside Me and Mouth To Mouth but to be honest there really isn’t a dud on there. Worth mentioning that Stevie Jackson and Bob Kildea of Belle and Sebastian also lend their expert musicianship to proceedings.
Click here to watch the official Sex With An X video
Click here to see The Devil’s Inside Me live in Boston –
Click here for an interview with Eugene and Francis in New York
11. The School – Loveless Unbeliever
I first heard The School when their song All I Wanna Do was included on Rough Trade’s Counter Culture 2008 compilation. It’s somewhat surprising that it took until 2010 for the album to be released but there you go. It’s poppy, concise and at times slightly melancholic and if you can combine those three aspects to as good effect as The School have done then the proverbial cap is doffed. I do own a cap and if I was wearing it in the bands presence then I wouldn’t hesitate to doff literally as well.
Click here for the official video for Is He Really Coming Home
Click here for the official video for All I Wanna Do
Click here for the official video of Let It Slip
12. Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan – Hawk
Their third album together and probably my favourite to date. Nice to see a couple of Townes Van Zandt covers in there but it’s the songs written by Isobel Campbell which shine through the most such as the riff laden You Won’t Let Me Down Again, the heart rending Time Of The Season and To Hell And Back Again which appears to give a sly nod to the melody of Neil Young’s Only Love Can Break Your Heart.
Click here to watch Time Of The Season live at The Barbican, London
Click here for the official video for You Won’t Let Me Down Again