Monthly Archives: December 2010

Album of the Year 2010: Number 1

Joanna Newsom: Have One On Me (Drag City) [9.6]

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And here it is and here she is – a shock for a few of you I’m sure, as not only was I not expecting Newsom to be here at all, but considering my absolute distaste for her album Ys, I was fully expecting to hate this one. I tried, honestly I did, but not only could I not hate the album, I actually felt myself falling more and more in love with it, the more I heard it, and as the chart started to draw to a close, it first made it into the top 20, before the top ten, then the five, before trouncing everything to end up announced as the album of the year for 2010 at the last possible moment!

There was some justification in my views on Ys vs this, as I read an interview with Newsom, where she discussed the idea with Ys, which was a polyrhythmic experiment, inspired by her harp teacher. After Ys, she agreed that the polyrhythmic sound:

…stopped being fascinating to me and started feeling wanky

I very much agree Joanna! Smile

Have One On Me, however, is an absolute delight of an album, and is so, so wondrous that it is hard to pin down. First to excite the senses is that it’s a girl and her harp…knowing, as you do, my obsession with the harp…you don’t? Oh my…oh, well…later tale…

Added to that the monstrous three CDs, pitching in six songs each, for a total of two hours and five minutes, means you’re going to have to put some time aside to listen, and means you are as likely to find classics as not…the classics for me in the shape of ‘81, In California, Autumn, On a Good Day, amongst others, confirms this is an album to delight well into the wee hours and beyond.

True, her voice grates at times but the honesty of it reaches through and you can forgive those glitches, especially when seeing what she is capable of. She’s no Carey or Dion but I’m sure I’m not the only one that’s extremely happy about that one!

Joanna Newsom is the first solo female artist to win album of the year since Fiona Apple in 2000 and Tori Amos in 1996 (the first time I did this) and I think she’s in pretty good company there.

Have a look at her performing my favourite track from the album, ‘81:

 

A girl and her harp–man that’s some music right there!

The track just oozes quality and even if this is not your cup of tea, you’re still pretty much guaranteed to find something on there to add to a playlist, wish-list, something-or-other list…

So I give you Joanna Newsom and 2010’s album of the year! Enjoy and look out for the giveaway of the day, which is my CD of the year’s best tunes, coming your way very soon!

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Album of the Year 2010: Number 2

Eluvium: Similes (Temporary Residence) [9.6]

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Number one since May but in the end not to be. I don’t know how much exposure I’ve given this album but it’s been a lot, I don’t know how often I’ve played it (but I suppose I could check on my Last.fm stats…they have moved up to the 11th most played artist with 426 plays…that’s since I got Last.fm, not this year) and everything was pointing to a top spot.

It’s very reminiscent of 2005, when, as I sat down on New Year’s Eve to write down the top five of the year, I had Andrew Bird’s The Mysterious Production of Eggs in the pole position…the winner? Patrick Wolf and Wind in the Wires. Here the decision was made harder/easier by the fact that I HAD to make the decision today, seeing as I have promised to announce number two now.

Regardless of my own exposure, this has been the album that has been the least talked about of my top ten, and, in fact, the only one that wasn’t on any of the year’s best that I have read so far and I just don’t get it. The album is a masterpiece and draws you in immediately, with haunting melodies and a voice slightly reminiscent of Berninger’s of The National. In fact someone commented on it being a more chilled version of The National’s music.

I also found them quite hard to find on YouTube and had to go for the album cover, along with my favourite song from the album (I think), the opener, Leaves Eclipse the Light.

 

Album cover of the year, from second placed album of the year

And it’s here I can announce that I have decided on this particular album as album cover of the year, being as I think it’s as haunting and as beautiful as the tracks within. So much so that I am due to be in talks soon about the artist possibly doing a cover for a Morrigan Books’ title in the not so distant future…

Anyway, there is a lot more I want to say here about the band, the album, the cover but I’m not going to. The reason for this is that I have secured an interview with the man behind Eluvium, Matthew Cooper, and I’m adding that and a review of the band (rather than one album) in the next issue of the b0t magazine mentioned yesterday.

So for now, all I can say is I’m not surprised if you’ve missed the might of Eluvium this year but if you have, remedy it and remedy it fast!

[Around lunchtime tomorrow sees the number one album of 2010 and for at least two reading this it is going to be a shock of epic proportions, so don’t miss it!]


Album of the Year 2010: Number 3

The National: High Violet (4AD) [9.5]

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I did mention that there was another album from the excellent 4AD record label coming up, so kudos to those who remembered that and predicted this little gem in the top five…

Earlier this year I wrote for the new e-pub fanzine b0t, talking about Boxer, arguably the band’s finest album (and runner-up in 2007) all the while quietly confident that this album would be extremely lucky to finish in my top five of 2010.

When Ian Stackhouse announced this as his number four album (bought) this year (he has different requirements to my list), I was amused, as it was in exactly the same place in mine. Another twenty or so listens to this and Sufjan’s piece confirmed that this was a better album…just.

It’s consistent with their ‘melancholy spiced with optimism’, which I mentioned in my review (linked to above) and sits easily with Boxer and Alligator as a The National great.

I think where I doubted the album initially was in that the opener, Terrible Love, whilst being a decent song in itself, is not up to the high standards I expect from the band. All that changed though with the introduction of Sorrow, easily the best song on the album and later with Bloodbuzz Ohio  and England.

Even though England  and Sorrow are my absolute favourites I decided to go for Bloodbuzz Ohio, as the video choice, because it’s a cool, cool video and because it’s Ian’s favourite:

 

The National give a lesson on how to make a snazzy video!

The album is everything you want from a quality band. It has cracking lyrics, excellent music, Matt Berninger’s baritone, style and substance and you can’t get much better than them in 2010 (well of course only two have surpassed them…)

[Tune in tomorrow for the 2010 runner-up!]


Album of the Year 2010: Number 4

Sufjan Stevens: The Age of Adz (Asthmatic Kitty Records) [9.5]

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It’s with a heavy heart that I place this here, three places below where it was only a few weeks ago. It’s been a tough choice separating the conscious decision about what the best music of the year and who my favourite artist of the last few years is and coming up with a list that works…

So putting the fact that Sufjan is some sort of music god to one side and admitting that three albums this year are better (one of those keeps climbing) has been hard but necessary and so we see him here, with his third top five spot in five years (number three in 2005 with Illinoise and number one last year with The BQE).

So why has he finished up at number four and not higher this time? It’s as much to do with Sufjan’s attempt to find the perfect sound than with anything else, as in this album we get a real sense of the two sides of Sufjan: first is the Sufjan that needs no real explanation of quality, the side that marries gorgeous tunes to his presence-filled voice…

 

Sufjan is as Sufjan does

Followed by the Sufjan that infuriates, even though I understand exactly what he’s doing, that is the experimental Sufjan, playing around with styles, instruments and even his voice to see what the results are. It’s funny, as it’s rare to hear him described as experimental, mostly alternative, yet he’s one of the most experimental artists I know.

Stevens released this album and an EP this year (All Delighted People) and seeing as the EP is as long as the album, I would have loved him to have done an Eels and released two albums. If he’d done that he could have released one album of experimental tunes and one of the stuff you see above, which would have been easily my album of 2010.

Which, leads me onto an announcement now, and that is the song of 2010 and what better place to announce it, for it is…

 

Taken from All Delighted People 2010.

Album of the Year 2010: Number 5

Holy Fuck: Latin (Holy Fuck Music) [9.4]

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I’m brave enough to now admit that this is the highest placed instrumental album of 2010, meaning that there will be no repeat of 2009 and the shock of a completely instrumental album taking top spot. For this year the lyricists won out.

But the top five is no mean feat and this is one powerhouse of an album from mellow intro to powerful conclusion and I have listened to this album so, so much over the last few months, with it climbing up the chart with almost every reckoning.

The album was released with a bonus CD, titled + Ghost, which isn’t included in this verdict, being as I haven’t listened to it anywhere near as much and because, when seeing the comments and listings for the album, I only see Latin mentioned. Together they make a decent length album actually as Latin is a bit short on minutes, only racking up about 38 in total.

For lovers of the music over the lyrics there is a lot to admire here, and after my introduction to the band with their excellent 2007 album, LP, I am impressed by how ‘different’ they sound, especially in an age where everything sounds like something else. They are one of the few bands this year that I have trouble picking a band which compares when discussing them.

Have a look at the video for Red Lights, easily one of the silliest videos of the year (meaning it’s one of my favourites too):

 

Cat lovers everywhere rejoice!

An interesting side dish to this is that this is one of the bands that Maddoc has got a real kick out of when listening to over the Christmas holiday and asked the question I have dreaded him asking since I got the album earlier this year,

What’s this band called Daddy?

[Only four to go, but who’s there?]


Album of the Year 2010: Number 6

The Flaming Lips: The Flaming Lips and Stardeath and White Dwarfs with Henry Rollins and Peaches Doing The Dark Side of the Moon (Warner Bros) [9.4]

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And yes, it’s now time for my blasphemy spot on the top ten, knowing, as I do, quite a few of my friends’ aversions to the thing called the cover version…

Now knowing people have an aversion to cover versions and then hitting them with not only a song for song cover of an entire album but the said album being one of the finest albums of all time is only asking for trouble and for people to stop reading my music blog right here, right now (as Fatboy Slim might put it) or?

You know I’m more than happy to argue my corner on most things musical, making the odd exception for nostalgia music, but here I’m right up for the fight, you tell me when you want it and I’ll set the date…Winking smile

No, but seriously this is an absolute fucking pearl of an album, not in the nearest region of being able to clean Gilmour/Waters, et al’s shoes but that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because The Flaming Lips (with assorted ensemble) have managed to cover a masterpiece and make it sound rather lovely. I know the question is why? Why bother remaking that great film, the great album, that great novel? Because we do it all the time, if we don’t quote we paraphrase, I mean we constantly hear samples of other tunes in our favourite tunes, apparently everyone has been inspired  by the beatles (lower case ALWAYS intentional there) and Shakespeare’s classic tragedies are just rip-offs of great Greek tragedies (great covers mind)…

So forget it, forget it right now and have a listen, see if it is worth one or not – you might think no but then there should be other reasons for that. Argue with your beliefs, argue with your trends, constantly, cause man, it makes for better music, you hear better stuff all the time!

So what do I like about this? Do you care? Course you do…

 

It’s not Floyd you know…stop listening…

I like it because it’s energetic, because they try things and they play around with stuff. I like it because every time I hear this album it makes me want to listen to the original again, which can be a bad sign, when you feel you need to wipe the cover from your memory, but in this case it makes me realise (as if I didn’t already) just how great the whole musical arrangement of the album is and why it’s still being hailed 37 years later. Is it still the best selling LP of all time?

It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, in fact I read some abuse on the YouTube page where I got the video from, but I think it’s excellent and I’ve really enjoyed listening to it all year (it was one of the first of 2010 I got, being as it was released in December 2009).

[Remember there is a few days break now before we hit the top five on Monday 27th December – have a fantastic Christmas and see you on the other side…the light side?]


Album of the Year 2010: Number 7

Emeralds: Does it Look Like I’m Here? (Editions Mego) [9.2]

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There’s some nostalgia mixed in with this one, as it’s time for one of my embarrassing confessions here, being that I am actually a fan of the German synth band, Tangerine Dream. I still remember the day, when I was living in Copenhagen, and my flatmate came in and asked what the ‘Pac-man music’ was that I was playing…

Which goes some to explaining this particular album’s lofty position (actually less lofty than it was last week, when it was sitting in the top five and seemed to be a contender for number one), as there is a real sense of nostalgia when listening, as they seem to have taken the music of Tangerine Dream and upped the ante, to make something much more modern and accessible, whilst retaining the essence of the band of my youth.

Have a look at a section of my favourite track (and the longest) Genetic here:

 

5 minutes of the 12 minute classic on the album.

I think it’s the inclusion of the guitars that make Emeralds feel more solid/more real than a band like Tangerine Dream, as, although the purely synth music of bands like Tangerine Dream and others of their ilk has lost much of its popularity, the addition of instruments with ‘clout’ add a new dimension.

The album flows along very nicely, it shifts and sways at the right times and is further indication that you can wow me with instrumental albums (if the number one album of 2009 didn’t show that) rather than this misconception (mostly brought about by myself it has to be said) that I am lyric fixated.

And there is another completely instrumental album still to come in this chart…

[Look out tomorrow for number six before a well earned break for Christmas!]


Album of the Year 2010: Number 8

The Knife: Tomorrow, In a Year (Brille Records) [9.1]

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First up, you have to love music, I mean really love music, for this requires all the senses, all the faculties, patience, understanding and a whole host of other attributes too fearful to mention to get your head around it all otherwise.

David Sheppard, in his BBC review of the album has it spot on here when he states:

Okay, on paper it does sound a bit complicated, esoteric and, frankly, a bit bonkers: an opera, commissioned by a Danish performance art group, based on the theories of Charles Darwin, made by Swedish siblings Olof and Karin Dreijer, alias The Knife, who are better known for digital art pop and for donning spooky plague masks than for their insights into genetic mutation. Oh, and it also features three guest vocalists, including an operatic mezzo-soprano and some obscure electronic mates from mysterious Mitteleuropa and, er, Bolton.

The album is split into two CDs and while I enjoy both, I think I must have listened to the second CD around fifty times, compared to maybe ten for the first. The second is much more accessible and is a sort of pop/electronic meets classical sound, whilst the first is much more of the experimental meets classical/operatic. There is much to take in and I have very rarely listened to the two together, being as I was a little overwhelmed after the first attempt…(I warned you, it takes a lot this one!)

The BBC compare this to Björk, Crystal Castles and Fever Ray but I hasten to add that I don’t necessarily concur with that one. I would go as so far as to say that Björk’s Volta and Medulla, have enough of the ‘crazy juice’ in them to put them on a par but I’m not sure listeners of Björk will appreciate this or indeed vice versa.

If you want to get an idea of how hard work this is at times, then just have a listen to the three tracks on CD one: Intro, Minerals and Ebb Tide Explorer, then you’ve passed the test and can move to the next level…Winking smile

Today, whilst looking for something to represent the album, I found a remix of probably my favourite track on CD two: Colouring of  Pigeons, so enjoy:

 

No video (unfortunately) but pretty tunes nonetheless!

You know what they say (I love the they, conjuring up wonderful images always) that hard work pays off, and I’m pretty sure it has for me here. By persevering with this one I think I’ve uncovered one of the absolute gems of 2010. Give it a chance you might just love it (or go mad in the process)!

[Look out for number seven on the morrow!]


Album of the Year 2010: Number 9

The Orb featuring David Gilmour: Metallic Spheres (Columbia) [9.0]

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There’s just much that’s right about this collaboration that I don’t know where to start. I’ve always enjoyed The Orb’s music, right from my first encounter with them and U.F. Orb (yep, I missed the debut), which I still consider their best album.

They’ve gone up and down in my estimations over the years but have always put a lot into their music and their style is most certainly their own.

So to then bring in one of the greatest musician of our time, and not just have him featuring in an, ‘hey let’s have some Gilmour guitar playing on here’, but to actually give the man the respect he’s due by giving him a large chunk of input in the recording, planning, and producing and you’re setting yourself up for a classic.

The CD contains two tracks, Metallic Spheres/Hymns to the Sun/Black Graham/Hiding in Plain View/Classified and Es Vedra/Hymn to the Sun (Reprise)/Olympic/Chicago Dub/Bold Knife Trophy and if you’re a clever little so and so, you’ll go out and get the version with the bonus disc, containing the 3D60 Version (the same tracks but different).

This is one of the few in the ten that I loved on first listen, mainly due to the ever present sound of Gilmour, his guitar, his voice, his style and marrying it with The Orb’s ambient electronic sound just seems so effortless, so obvious that you wonder why they haven’t worked together before.

Unlike some of the other albums in the chart, this is one that can be listened to easily, in the background, yet I have enjoyed it the most in a dark room, the headphones on, resulting in 48 minutes of absolute bliss.

Here’s a taster of what you’ll get when you get around to getting the album, and as you watch this I’ll go and dig out some of my old Floyd stuff (don’t worry though I’ll be back tomorrow with number eight – which may come as a shock to a couple reading this).

The great David Gilmour works on Metallic Spheres

Album of the Year 2010: Number 10

10. Matthew Dear: Black City (Ghostly) [8.9]

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Well there was a fair bit of debating on Friday about whether this or Erland and the Carnival were going to take the number ten spot, close as they are in quality, albeit different worlds when it comes to styles.

Another album that takes time to get into, being listed as electronic, although I’d see it as more avant-garde, following on from Martin Grech a few years ago.

There’s a lot to dislike actually on the first few listens, as Dear’s voice is not the most enduring, there seems to be some rather naive melodies, interestingly silly humming (again, this resulted in the wife wondering what the hell I was listening to when I played Slowdance the other day – easily my favourite song on the album).

Yet it grows, and then it grows, and then it grows some more, and it seems my lack of knowledge of the artist has worked against me, as those familiar with Dear’s work had some idea of how to approach the album.

There’s very obvious influences from his days as a DJ, and, as the Pitchfork review states:

Dear doesn’t really do clean electro-pop; his approach is more about pushing contrasting sounds together and leaving the edges jagged. The other part is his vocals. Dear is not a classically strong singer and can often sound pretty flat; importantly he knows how to make up for it.

This is what appeals to me, the idea of a jagged electro-pop feel, rather than a clean, dancefloor friendly effect. The other positive is that Dear is also aware of his vocal limitations and what he needs to do about that.

If you want to put this on in the background and see how it sounds, you’re going to be rather disappointed. This is an album that needs time and serious listening. If both are assigned to it then I am pretty sure you’ll realise why it’s in this lofty position.

A rather interesting montage teaser for the album…

[Stay tuned tomorrow for number nine!]