So I was planning to write a huge piece about Secret Cinema and the Eat Your Own Ears night with Caribou & Four Tet as well as Sleigh Bells and Arcade Fire gigs but turns out my body isn’t designed to cope with this much excitement in 4 weeks and I have basically been bed-ridden on and off since the end of November.
Needless to say all of the above exceeded expectations, particularly Caribou and Four Tet at The Coronet which is a club night I don’t will be bettered for some time (despite having Soulwaxmas this evening!). I even, whisper it, enjoyed a gig at The O2, although that might be because we were standing pretty close and Arcade Fire continue to put on the greatest live rock ‘n roll show on the planet.
Finally, life is even more hectic than ever since I am moving to WCRS in January and currently tying up 101 loose ends at VCCP.
So let’s skip to the oh-so-important end of year lists, despite the fact that they are invariably more fun for the publications/writers to put together than they are interesting for readers. I think it’s been a pretty good year for music (which is what I’m focussing on since I’ve barely read anything and not seen enough at the cinema) but I don’t think one that has produced albums of the quality seen in 2009; where is this year’s Hospice or xx?
Top 10 Albums of 2010
1. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs Yes, I’m biased/obsessed and probably gave this more of a chance than any other LP this year but it remains an astonishing achievement, a fact cemented by the joy and life that exude from the songs when played live. It’s a rich and rolling record that will be listened to in years to come and demonstrates a band not content with being pigeon-holed into a certain sound. As we listen through these days that herald ‘the end of the album’, Arcade Fire release the most ‘album’ album of this year’s crop; it’s a brave move that delivers in spades the kind of emotion and engagement that a single track can rarely achieve.
2. Caribou – Swim A blissfully dense dance record, Swim is electronic music unlike anything I’d heard before. Dan Snaith’s sounds bubble up from nowhere and wrap themselves around your brain until you are caught up in the unending ebb and flow of tracks like ‘Sun’, ‘Bowls’ and ‘Odessa’. A beautiful and unique achievement brought to life with extraordinary abandonment when played live and loud.
3. The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt I didn’t hear Kristian Mattsson’s debut LP Shallow Grave back in 2008 but having heard it since I do think his song craft has developed considerably and The Wild Hunt is a record I will play for years to come. His lyrics are oblique and sometimes seem lost in translation but his sparse melodies and passionate voice are undeniably powerful throughout.
4. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening First things first: it does not touch the greatness of Sound of Silver and in a stronger year the record might not feature on so many lists but This Is Happening is one hell of a curtain call for James Murphy’s band. Certain songs, like Dance Yrself Clean and All I Want raise the album to another level and the sound retains that unique analog charm that complements Murphy’s ramshackle delivery and lyrics perfectly.
5. Perfume Genius – Learning A painful but uplifting record, Learning walks a knife-edge between simple confessional song-writing and melodramatic posturing. In many ways it is the ‘Sufjan Stevens’ album that Stevens, in the place he is sonically right n0w, would have ruined this year. Heartbreakingly frank and simple, it contains melodies and images that you cannot shake for days.
6. James Blake – CMYK EP I’ve already written a piece about James Blake’s stellar year here and this remains my favourite of his 2010 releases. He exercises incredible restraint for someone so young and, for that reason, brings a much needed degree of warmth and subtlety to dubstep. Great things are expected in 2011 and I for one hope he’ll build on both the sound of this EP in particular and his recent Feist cover.
7. Sleigh Bells – Treats Surely the most fun to be had with your clothes on in 2010 was cranking up Treats to 11 and pogo-ing/head-banging around your flat like a loon? It’s a fantastic record and not simply an exercise in novelty – it could have been disastrous and yet it turned out glorious and, in particular, one of the greatest achievements in production this year.
8. Four Tet – There Is Love In You Apparently Kieran Hebden spent his long residency at Plastic People prior to the release of his latest LP playing testing out everything he was developing on the crowd night after night. The result is record of stone-cold ‘bangers’, but ‘bangers’ in the Four Tet mould which means throbbing, melodic tunes that burst with beauty and charm.
9. Avi Buffalo – Avi Buffalo Comparisons with The Shins aside, Avi Buffalo made one of this year’s most enjoyable albums peppered with bizarre lyrics, plenty of hooks and Zahner-Isenberg’s fantastically nuanced vocals.
10. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz A bizarre and astonishing achievement, I hated lead single ‘I Walked’ the first time I heard it but The Age of Adz does require you to tune your ear to Stevens’ new sonic landscape before you can start making sense of what he’s trying to draw you into. His voice sits, as placidly as ever, amid a storm of brass, electronics and strings which really does transport you to to somewhere quite extraordinary if you willing to go.
Honourable Mention (in the great Pitchfork tradition)
Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
MGMT – Congratulations
Gorillaz – Plastic Beach
Pantha du Prince – Black Noise
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Top 10 Tracks of 2010
And finally, my favourite individual tracks from 2010 – mostly from my chosen albums but some oddities in there as well. All available for download below but, in most cases, listen to the full LP as well if you can.
Glorious opening track from Subiza capable of transporting the gloomiest of listeners to a Balearic shore no matter what time of year it is.
Many to choose from here but this track has grown and grown on me and the band have never seemed more punk than when playing this live. The performance on Jools Holland should convince anyone of this song’s power.
‘I guess every superhero need his theme music’. The Kanye song we’ve spent the most time with this year and, aside from Niki Minaj’s verse on ‘Monster’ it’s the strongest moment on the dazzling LP. Oh, and the living painting and SNL performance are pretty mind-blowing.
Title track from his best LP, the song is the perfect evocation of Blake’s playful efficiency (if such a thing can be termed to exist) and and the sampling is stunning.
One of the year’s most manipulative tracks but one that leaves you grinning from ear to ear. Murphy’s opening vocal sounds so distant and lost that you have inevitably cranked up the volume before he hits you with the bassline of the year and lets you ride it until the song overtakes itself and, like all great things, suffers a fantastic break down.
Just set aside 25 minutes and listen to it. Never has a break-up song sounded quite so epic.
Dark and dense this is a track, much like The xx’s debut last year, that was meant for city streets and headphones. Scott-Heron’s pained drawl is beautifully weaved in and out of Jamie’s beat and judging from the latter’s radio-debuted ‘Far Nearer’ we can expect great things from him as a solo artist next year.
This band keep on giving and their new EP continues the unique sound they developed on Con Law. ‘Trust’ is simply the Generationals doing what they do best.
Britain’s big hope for 2011, The Vaccines simply make great pop songs and this is the best example so far. It’s a rollicking ride that leaves you giggling like a school-girl when Justin Young simply raises the note of the penultimate refrain. Magic.
This could have been any of their 7″ releases, or even their remixes for that matter, either way I hope 2011 belongs, in some way, to Clock Opera. ‘Once And For All’ is anthemic, poignant and catchy – what more do you need?