Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Best Albums of 2010 (IMHO)

 My submission to The Hype Machine's call for 2010 Best Album lists:

No.1 Shearwater – The Golden Archipelago (Feb 2010)

Shearwater doesn’t get anything like the attention it deserves. This is my (admittedly meagre) contribution to righting that heinous wrong. For Shearwater make positively regal music – majestic, epic, breathtaking. They couldn’t be more aptly named, for their sound succeeds in its intent to be 'environmental'. This is music with weather, with physical geography: hail, ice, steely skies, cold caves, dark oceans. There are layers enough in these songs to equal the Earth’s. Shearwater is a tribe, with a Viking-like percussionist who provides the gripping and relentless driving force behind the urgent, controlled frenzies of tracks such as Black Eyes and Corridors. And is the source of the restrained, yet no less insistent, heartbeat to quieter songs, like Hidden Lakes and Missing Islands. It would seem Shearwater isn’t a band that is easy to give as a gift; they have to be discovered; and they are my top discovery of 2010.

Highlights: at a push, Hidden Lakes and An Insular Life, but they’re all fantabulous.

No.2 John Grant – Queen of Denmark (April 2010)

What can I say that hasn’t already been said? John Grant is brilliant. Delivered all the way through with blistering directness, Queen of Denmark is sometimes mournful, sometimes acerbically funny, immeasurably inventive musically, and always deeply moving. Yet with so much (well deserved) praise being heaped upon Grant from so many directions, he risks losing his grip on the underdog position he has re-appropriated and eventually learnt finally to harness to his advantage. It is an identity that lies at the throbbing heart of his song-writing. I don’t know how he would manage without it, and so I’ve sought to do my part to alleviate this danger and secure his bridesmaid position by denying him the top-spot and placing him second. I think this is what he would want!

Highlights: Marz, Queen of Denmark
No.3 Jesca Hoop – Hunting My Dress (Feb 2010)

No one makes folk look or sound cooler than Jesca Hoop. Some of the tropes might be familiar: wounded kings, November moons, canyons, mountains and setting suns. But the roles of angels and warriors, pitted against caged birds and mothers are no facile perpetuation of tired devices. Hoop’s lyrics empower under-served characters of folk tradition. Indeed the last thing Hunting My Dress can be described as is ‘tired’. The energy throughout is exhilarating, expressed particularly in the electro-folk rhythms that positively pulse through tracks like Tulip. The entire album is infused with an edgy, off-kilter, yet spellbinding tribal intensity that continually mesmerises. Hunting My Dress is either pure class or pure voodoo.

Highlights: The Kingdom, Tulip

Jesca Hoop "The Kingdom" from Vanguard Records on Vimeo.

No.4 The Wraiths – Welcome, Stranger, To This Place (March 2010)

I thought I hated poetry. I was sure of it. But that was before I heard The Wraiths. John Keats and Emily Dickinson especially, among other historic poets – particularly the Romantics – owe The Wraiths a debt of gratitude. These dead poets are not merely resuscitated in 'Welcome, Stranger,' they are wrenched into life: toppling the headstone, grabbing your shirt collar with earth-soiled insistent fingers, throwing you into a chair and demanding your attention with a fist slammed on the table. The poems have been infused with an electrifying light that creates such sparkling luminosity, every song glows in the dark.

NB. This band is so lacking in exposure - I know about them because they are Bristol-based, and so local to me that I’ve seen Mog, the main vocalist, working shifts at the gift-shop down the road.

Highlights: I Know A Meadow, Bright Star

   Bright Star by jenglo

No.5 Midlake – The Courage of Others (Feb 2010)

They’ll never be exactly ‘cool’, but I don’t give two Midlake-esque owl hoots. They make music that melts my brain into a sort of woody tree-sap and causes my heart to beat like the wings of fruit bats. Well, that’s my experience anyway. Such is the power of musical association – whether created by the choice of instruments, or particular chord structures, or the vocals that have more quivers than a company of archers, or simply by the lyrics – that it’s impossible to listen to Midlake without imagining log cabins and deer hidden in thickets. Their music is truly organic, not in the dull yoghurt sense, but in the way that it ‘grows’ on you: a first listen plants seeds that then expand into denser forests with every listen.

Highlights: Acts of Man, Children of the Grounds

No.6 Anas Mitchell – Hadestown (April 2010)

I appreciate musicians who take risks and refuse to dumb down their artistic ambitions for fear of being labelled ‘pretentious’. Like Janelle Monàle, each layer providing a platform for circus spectacles and Vaudevillian freak-shows. The descent to the underworld gets gradually headier, woozier, more claustrophobic, as if the songs themselves are drunk. All the while, the siren-like voices draw the listener into watery worlds where the dead dance and sing in a place so dark the safety of the surface is no longer in sight.

Highlights: Why We Build The Wall, Doubt Comes In

No.7 Janelle Mone – The ArchAndroid (July 2010)

Rather like John Grant, MonMon


No.8 Revere – Hey! Selim (Sept 2010)

Revere do melodrama; whether through the medium of indie-rock, gypsy folk, piano pop, or electric prog, they are the prophets of tragedies to come, storytellers for the end of days. They are the eight horses of the apocalypse. Apparently four wasn’t enough for them. This is music for hand-wringers and carpet-pacers; in other words, me. In 'Hey! Selim', Revere has created a soundtrack for the headspace of worriers’: urgent, over-wrought, searing vocals drill out tensely elegant melodies to highly-strung lyrics. Perhaps I won't mind The End of Everything if this is how beautiful it will sound.

Highlights: We Won’t Be Here Tomorrow, The Escape Artist


No.9 The Rumour Said Fire – The Arrogant (possibly Oct 2010)

Like a gift from the Nordic gods, this album just sort of arrived in my itunes at the beginning of the week. I had been struggling to commit to a 9th album. It was a tussle between Sufjan Stevens, First Aid Kit and Stornoway, but none of them seemed keen enough for the title, and then suddenly, like a shimmering shower of Northern Lights, I stumbled across this gorgeous choral creature. I can’t honestly remember how it came to be with me. It’s so new I’m struggling to find out anything about the band. What with them being from Denmark, and my Danish being limited to the word for ‘squirrel’ (it’s ejern, incidentally), I’ve not got very far. And since I’ve only played the album a handful of times, I’m not even sure what to say about it yet. It might be argued this is a somewhat impertinent inclusion, but all I can say is that its warm, irresistible gorgeousness won me over immediately – its acceptance into my heart was instant and rare –and I had no choice but to overlook its somewhat uncooperative elusiveness and tardy, impromptu arrival.

Highlights: not sure yet.

No.10 – and this year’s guilty pleasure – Marina & The Diamonds – The Family Jewels (Feb 2010)

I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Surely I’m not supposed to like this as much as I do. I've fallen victim to another musician with infectious energy. Added to that is clever, astute, tongue-in-cheek honesty and analysis directed both inwards at herself, as well as outwards at the culture and industry Marina Diamandis steamrollered her way into, driven by a compulsion for fame she thematically dissects in many of her songs, ridiculing and celebrating in turn. This is a dangerous strategy, since it toys with her audience and one false step could lead to derision, but through an underlying shrewdness and partly thanks, I’d imagine, to that aforementioned charisma, Diamandis pulls it off with slick aplomb. This is smart, crafted pop, delivered with a hint of punk and as much attitude as can be crammed into an apparently inexhaustible supply of outrageous shoulder pads. Marina Diamandis is who Lily Allen wishes she was, but most definitely isn’t.

Highlights: Mowgli’s Road, Oh No!

Marina And The Diamonds - Shampain por T_Thunder no


Anonymous said...

If you like Jesca Hoop check out Nicole Atkins!

She just released a new single called "Vultures." I have the 7inch that includes a really cool B-side. I have the habit of listening to 7inches once and putting them away forever but "Vultures" has been sitting on my table since I got it! So check it out!

Make sure you catch Nicole on the road too. I had the o...pportunity to catch a very intimate acoustic set of hers amazing!

Nicole's newest album Mondo Amore streets on 1/25.

Here's a free download of "Vultures" on her Facebook page.

Jenglo said...

Good call cos I'm already familiar with Nicole Atkins. I didn't realise she had new stuff out so I'll check it out. Thanks for commenting.