Thursday, May 26, 2011

SWSL Albums Of 2010

(No sniggering at the back.) This must be some kind of record. Yes, I know, I know - blame it on trying (and struggling) to clear the backlog of gig reviews, amidst the myriad other things that seem to be preoccupying my attention these days...

First, in no particular order, the records that might have made an impression - and possibly even grazed the Top 10 - had I actually clapped ears on them:

AVI BUFFALO - Avi Buffalo
MAXIMUM BALLOON - Maximum Balloon
MIA - Maya
MANIC STREET PREACHERS - Postcards From A Young Man
SURFER BLOOD - Astro Coast
FRIGHTENED RABBIT - The Winter Of Mixed Drinks
INTERPOL - Interpol
CRYSTAL CASTLES - Crystal Castles
THE HOLD STEADY - Heaven Is Wherever
ERRORS - Come Down With Me
ISLET - Wimmy
LIARS - Sisterworld
THE FALL - Your Future Our Clutter
EELS - End Times
THE DRUMS - The Drums
PULLED APART BY HORSES - Pulled Apart By Horses
SWANS - My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky

Right, without further ado, on with the albums I DID hear, broken down into the same rough classifications as last year:

Exceedingly Underwhelming:

LCD SOUNDSYSTEM - This Is Happening
I have to start with this. Muppet-endorsed opener 'Dance Yrself Clean' aside, This Is Happening was a very pale shadow of LCD Soundsystem's previous two masterpieces. While all the world once again fawned at James Murphy's feet and lamented his declaration that it would be the last LCD record, I was wishing he'd called it quits after Sound Of Silver. C'mon, 'Drunk Girls' is shite, isn't it?

The Shakespearean play from which this New Jersey bunch take their name is a bloody mess, the American Civil War which inspired this album was a bloody mess, and this album - essentially the Pogues beating up a weedy punk band out of frustration at only being known for 'Fairytale Of New York' - is a bl... well, you can finish the rest.

BLACK MOUNTAIN - Wilderness Heart
A band suffering from an acute identity crisis. The prog was ponderous, the rock schlocky and the hippy-dippy folk-country too acid-fried for its own good. The fact that Amber Webber's voice was once criminally underused again can't be overlooked, either.

METRIC - Fantasies
Bought on the strength of slick single 'Sick Muse', but the rest of the album sold that title desperately short.

Decent Enough But Evoking A Measure Of Disappointment:

If This Is Not The World was the Mackems sticking a firm two fingers up at the corporate music industry that had chewed them up and spat them out, then its successor hinted that their unshakeable self-belief might not always be well-founded.

LOS CAMPESINOS! - Romance Is Boring
There was always an interesting juxtaposition between the perky sugar-rush of Los Campesinos!' music and Gareth's lyrical expressions of anxiety, disillusionment and self-disgust. But now, with them all grown up and founding members dropping like flies, the title said it all - the lustre was largely lost and a general world-weariness pervaded. Perhaps it's what happens when you let your signature song - an ode to youthful abandon - be used by a beer giant.

BLOOD RED SHOES - Fire Like This
By no means a bad record, but failed to pack the same punch as Box Of Secrets or to develop their sound much beyond a stereotypically second album Quiet Song or two.

FOALS - Total Life Forever
A more ambitious album than Antidotes, to be sure, Total Life Forever found the band opening up musically and emotionally. The deliberate dissipation of nervous tension resulted in a fatal slackening, though, and the preoccupation with clean-cut 80s funk shouldn't be condoned, even if they're Oxford royalty.

One of the year's most intriguing collisions: former pop starlet meets former hardcore guitarist to create hyper-heavy crunk under the influence of MIA. 'Infinity Guitars' was arguably the single of the year but has wound up selling mobile phones, and Treats had too many lulls and too much aching nowness.

See Metric's Fantasies above - except in this case there was more than one solitary fine single to cling to for comfort.

A Bit Of Alright:

Not quite the great post-'Lovely-Allen' leap into the big time that I'd hoped for or that they deserved, but Latin was nevertheless far more worthy of the praise blindly heaped upon This Is Happening as a forward-thinking intelligent dance album for nerdy white boys eager to get their groove on.

LES SAVY FAV - Root For Ruin
Root For Ruin picked up where what has become regarded as breakthrough album Let's Stay Friends left off - less Jesus Lizard and more bold and shameless tunefulness. Not that yeti-suited frontman Tim Harrington was showing any signs of calming down and mellowing out.

WOMEN - Public Strain
The men of Women might have ditched the 60s psych that made their debut such an unusual record, but there was still plenty to admire in the experimentalist pop, itchy post-punk and adoring homages to Sonic Youth. Talk about a regrettable choice of album name, though - the band ended the year on indefinite hiatus after an onstage scrap in their native Canada.

FIELD MUSIC - Field Music (Measure)
By contrast, 2010 saw Field Music return to the fray with a double album of weightless, timeless guitar pop. While the Futureheads' less well-known Mackem counterparts certainly aren't short of ambition, neither could they be accused of being deliberately obtuse and shirking a hook.

BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE - Forgiveness Rock Record
Despair all ye who continue to hope that Broken Social Scene will one day make a consistently good album. Even just a consistent album appears beyond them. Forgiveness Rock Record lurched schizophrenically between tragicomic missteps ('Art House Director', ode to wanking 'Me And My Hand') and some of their finest moments (opener 'World Sick', instrumental behemoth 'Meet Me In The Basement', pop pearl 'All To All').

GRINDERMAN - Grinderman 2
Seedy, libidinous and characteristically preposterous. Who else but Nick Cave could get away with declaring: "I keep hanging around your kitchenette / And I'm gonna get a pot to cook you in / I stick my fingers in your biscuit jar / And crush all your Gingerbread Men"? Grinderman's unimaginatively-titled second outing won the year's best cover image contest hands down: a wolf baring its teeth in a gaudy cream-and-marble room.

Close But No Cigar:

Pity the fool who didn't discover The Fool - or, as in my case, have it thrust into their hand by someone who usually has to put up with their hyperbolic recommendations. Much, inevitably, was made of the fact that all of the quartet possessed ladybits, but their sensuous post-punk lullabies were a slow-burning revelation meriting wider recognition regardless of gender.

MALE BONDING - Nothing Hurts
Nothing hurts? Missing out on the SWSL Top 10 might smart. And it was only the narrowest of misses for Sub Pop's crudely effective British approximation of No Age, starring Kevin Hendricks once of indie-rock scamps Seafood. Knowingly naming themselves after a very, very early incarnation of Sonic Youth didn't do their prospects any harm round these parts, either.

EFTERKLANG - Magic Chairs
This year's Veckatimest - an intricate, weightless and beautifully formed collection of songs in which each section and instrument functioned unshowily in the service of the greater good, ensuring the sum was much more than the parts.

Drum roll - it's time for the Top 10...

10. NO AGE - Everything In Between
With Male Bonding making a grab for their coat-tails, No Age released a record which hinted at loftier ambitions than being mere noiseniks. Everything In Between used a broader palette than its predecessor Nouns, though without surrendering their crown as the kings of scrappy, no-nonsense speed-punk.
Key track: 'Glitter'

9. SLEEPY SUN - Fever
Oi, Black Mountain, listen up: THIS is how to sound like a flower-garlanded Black Sabbath monged out of their minds on peyote. Fever's dusty psych-blues was good enough for song titles like 'Sandstorm Woman' to be indulged and excused. The Californians' future looks less certain, though, with Rachel Fannan likely to prove a big loss.
Key track: 'Marina'

8. TAME IMPALA - Innerspeaker
More psych, this time from western Australia via 1960s Merseyside. Innerspeaker took the listener on a magical mystery tour, at very least proving that a Beatles fixation needn't result in Brother and Beady Eye, while 'The Bold Arrow Of Time' suggested they and Sleepy Sun might actually be kindred spirits.
Key track: 'Lucidity'

7. THE NATIONAL - High Violet
The year's most memorable lyric? "I was afraid I'd eat your brain / Cos I'm evil". Hasn't everyone been tempted by a spot of cranial cannibalism at some point in their lives? No, sorry Matt - you're on your own there. High Violet was, predictably enough, a majestic slow-burner for which opener 'Terrible Love' set the tone, an album exuding warmth even in its most desolate moments.
Key track: 'Conversation 16'

6. BEACH HOUSE - Teen Dream
A gorgeously woozy reverie of an album you could sleepwalk through for days. Perfect for languid summer afternoons when the heat stills everything around, but probably not recommended for narcoleptics.
Key track: '10 Mile Stereo'

5. BEST COAST - Crazy For You
Another slice of summer, which I perversely played to death over winter. Thank goodness that the course of true love rarely runs smoothly - if it did, we wouldn't have this collection of sweetly uncomplicated and totally infectious songs of longing, loss and unrequited passion. In musical Venn diagram terms, Best Coast can be found where the circles of Wavves, Vivian Girls and Weezer intersect.
Key track: 'When I'm With You'

4. SPARROW & THE WORKSHOP - Crystals Fall
An album which never came close to getting its due, either in terms of initial critical reception, sales or end-of-year list positions. In the best traditions of folk and country, Crystals Fall drew upon the darker side of life. But it was no plaintive strumalong, Jill O'Sullivan and Gregor Donaldson's duets regularly rent asunder by hooks red in tooth and claw.
Key track: 'Into The Wild'

3. DEERHUNTER - Halcyon Digest
How on earth did this happen? I spent most of the year lamenting the fact that Halcyon Digest was closer in spirit to Logos by Bradford Cox's solo project Atlas Sound than to Deerhunter's exhilarating widescreen breakthrough of 2008, Microcastle. And yet it rarely left the stereo for long, its naive shoegaze-pop songs gently and stealthily charming their way into my heart.
Key track: 'Desire Lines'

2. ARCADE FIRE - The Suburbs
Arcade Fire's third album proper signalled a retreat from the apocalyptic grand narratives of Funeral and Neon Bible in favour of a more localised but no less devastating critique of North America, burning with anger and imagination that refuses to be imprisoned behind a white picket fence. As ever, their mission seemed to be the salvation of "the kids". It may have been the first Arcade Fire record to tail off towards the end, but it also understood that Springsteen's 'Born In The USA' is far from the patriotic fist-pump Republican gonks would have you believe.
Key track: 'Ready To Start'

1. THE BESNARD LAKES - The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night
Let's call it righting the wrongs of 2007, when The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse was cruelly pipped to the top by fellow Canadians Arcade Fire's Neon Bible. 2008 wasn't very old by the time I realised I'd made a big mistake. The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night didn't quite hit the heights of its predecessor, but it was still a sumptuous, richly enthralling record which drew on prog, shoegaze and hazy Americana and sounded unlike anyone else.
Key track: 'Albatross'

Lest we forget - the SWSL Top 10 Albums Of 2009:

10. BAT FOR LASHES - Two Suns
9. IT HUGS BACK - Inside Your Guitar
8. LIGHTNING DUST - Infinite Light
7. THE XX - XX
6. FUCK BUTTONS - Tarot Sport
5. SLEEPY SUN - Embrace
4. JAPANDROIDS - Post-Nothing
3. GRIZZLY BEAR - Veckatimest
2. ANIMAL COLLECTIVE - Merriweather Post Pavilion
1. SONIC YOUTH - The Eternal


chris said...

the besnard lakes album is indeed ace! found myself coming back again and again, finding new favourite tracks (currently 'chicago train'). think i still prefer volume 1 overall, but they almost seem like a different band now.

have enjoyed foals' cut as well.. some filler but enough really strong tracks to carry it for me.

i only just got the sleigh bells album and am loving it, especially 'crown on the ground' which would be my song of the year!

other ones from 2010 that caught my ear:
wild nothing (great 4AD-style shoegaze pop - summer holiday)
surfer blood (wasn't massively fussed with it-aside from the strong opening-for a long time but songs like anchorage and harmonix have become faves)
soft pack (great garage rock debut that suffers from some of their strongest tracks being on their previous EP - answer to yourself)
oceansize (not their strongest album, and unfortunately their last, but some great tracks there - silent transparent)
menomena (my album of the year! killemall)

Nick Ascroft said...

Nice wrap-up, however late, and happily unlike the rest. I'll check out the stuff I've not heard. For me Surfer Blood trumped Best Coast, Vampire Weekend would've made the top and I have the opposite opinion on the LCD Soundsystem album (I think 'Drunk Girls' and 'I Can Change' are their best ever songs), but there you go. I loved Belle & Sebastian's new album too and I know how you feel on that whole powderkeg. Different strokes for strifferent dokes and all that.

Ian said...

I'd rate LC!, Foals, and Vampire Weekend above 9 of your top 10 (The National being the exception), personally.

Columbine Harvester said...

There are precious few of the thirty or so albums you mention there that I got around to listening to at all, so no sniggering from me. As I have a spare moment to share, I will give my thoughts on the 2010 albums I bought and gave a proper listen to.

Mike Patton's Mondo Cane album is the one 2010 album that I listen to the most. By far my favourite italian language big band crooner album of last year. It fills me with a strong desire to sing along, which is frustrating as I don't speak italian.

Where your list overlaps with what I listened to, I think I like the latest Holy Fuck album more than you do, and the latest Les Savy Fav album less.

The genius of Latin is in its brevity. I think Holy Fuck sort of get in a certain mood for each album, and work on that without necessarily having a load of great ideas. Just when it starts to feel a bit boring, it's over, and then you miss it. The second song is brilliant.

As you menion, the new Les Savy Fav sounds less like the Jesus Lizard than their earlier stuff, which is fucking disappointing. I normally find each LSV album has 3 great songs, 5 pretty great ones, and a couple of duds, but this one is all consistently OK. I made myself put it on about 3 times because I bought it, and haven't wanted to listen to it a 4th time.

I also bought Transference by Spoon. A load of music critics creamed themselves over this, and it is a gorgeously produced album. I don't think Spoon have ever made a bad one, but this is not my favourite. A few of the songs are sort of experimental throwaway songs, and others are too close to the rock cliche. Should be listened to only on a quality sound system.

I also got Diamond Eyes by the Deftones, which is pretty good. Huge guitar sound, their new bass-player is better than Chi(insensitive?), and I was always a big fan of Abe's bouncy toms. Lyrics are still shite though.

I also got Songs About Fucking Steve Albini by Kid606, because I like the Kid606 stuff I've heard, and this album title and cover made me chuckle. However, it's a load of ambient crap. It sounds like a Geiger counter and a dot matrix printer and also those hearing tests they used to give at school when they'd play noises in one ear and then the other, and you'd have to push a button to prove you weren't deaf.

The only other 2010 album in my collection is Option Paralysis by Dillinger Escape Plan. If you like DEP, you'll like this. The box is a complete pain in the arse though. To get to the CD you have to lift up about 16 different overlapping flaps, which are then almost impossible to put back right.

That's 7 albums made in 2010 that I've properly listened to. On the one hand, I've missed out on a lot, on the other, it's more than I'd normally get around to.

Alison said...

my year runs term to term so you were actually one whole day early!
just time for a few quick comments (it's a ridiculous hour).
you know you are wrong about LCD SS! it's a fun album; drunk girls is fun, and fun is good.
i can forgive sleigh bells for the selling out (you could level that criticism at too many great tunes these days - adam says my record collection is like an E4 soundtrack) and even for the very disposable nature of the material. i'm ready to accept that some albums just sparkle for a bit. in fact i'm tired of Warpaint now, though seeing them live reignited it a bit.
loving Besnard Lakes, national, deerhunter, beach house and best coast albums. haven't quite got into sparrow & the workshop and need to spend more time with no age. and i'll definitely check out the others on the list that passed me by at the time.
BTW was intrigued by the mention of mike patton - just youtube'd mondo cane - did not expect that!!

Ben said...

Chris: Cheers for the tip-offs - I'll check them out, including Menomena! Did see Wild Nothing at Truck, mind, and while I thought it was OK I wasn't sufficiently inspired to seek out the album.

Nick: Ha, no chance of B&S getting into my list - or anywhere near my ears, for that matter. Promise I'll give Surfer Blood another try, especially given that Chris has recommended them too. (Did you see them at the Pavement ATP with me, Chris? I've forgotten. Found them a bit dull then, but it was early on the Friday evening.)

Ian: How do you rate Romance Is Boring in comparison to LC!'s earlier albums? I'm just wondering whether my distaste is down to my own jadedness rather than theirs...

Brian: I was looking forward to the Holy Fuck album so much but haven't actually listened to it that much - both probably a cause of having heard it all live before release. LP had a bigger impact on me - and on that criteria it's a better album, to me. (Yes, 'Red Lights' is brilliant - and even better live.) I like but don't love early LSF, so I'm probably more primed to like Root For Ruin than you. Must investigate Spoon, Mondo Cane and Deftones. And that's a fabulous description of Kid606 - you should get your own blog...

Alison: Glad to hear most of my recommendations have gone down well! Can't wait to see Warpaint at Glastonbury - missed them on the recent tour.

Ben said...

PS None of you are going to change my mind about This Is Happening - sorry, that ain't happening...