Monday, 14 February 2011

Ian's Top 21 Albums of 2010

As Promised, my top albums for 2010. I haven't done this before, but given that music is such a big part of my consciousness and my tastes are kind of eclectic I thought you might be interested in what I think is good and interesting.

To put this stuff into context
A.    It only contains stuff I have heard and bought (and that is the real limiting factor)
B.   2010 was not a good year, in fact the mainstream had almost nothing to offer, and if we have to suffer one more talent show winner I think the day the music died might be soon
C.   I have only chosen albums released in 2010 so those released at the beginning of the year have had more time to grow on me
D.   There are no compilations, new performances of old stuff, re-releases, re-masters or re-treads (old stuff new to me) and that covers at least as much music in my collection again. Maybe I'll do "best of the rest" if I ever finish the unrest.
E.   It is very difficult to put these albums in order,  its more like a tendency than a real position. It is particularly difficult at the top where the top 5 or 6 are pretty much equal 1st.

Things I found interesting in my collecting this year: a clear move even more out of the mainstream of pop/rock with one or two exceptions. Little new Classical or Jazz excluding a modest blues collection expansion. A significant increase in Folk of which most sit in retreads  and, as usual, no Hip-Hop (when will that mostly ugly music leave us forever).

So here goes, Ian's top 21 (yeah I know 21? -- I wanted Mugstar in here):

21 - ...Sun, Broken... - Mugstar
Hawkwind, early Floyd and some heavy Can influence with a hypnotic beat. Good with Space cookies I would think ;-)

20 - Returnal  - Oneohtrix Point Never
First track (Nil Admirari) is a shocking but original noise rock classic fronting up an album of Minimalist synth rock with some strong Tangerine Dream influences. No outstanding tracks just lovely meditation music most of the time.

19 - Midlake - The Courage of Others
The folk rock sound of Texas Band Midlake takes a lot of its character from early 70s English bands like the Moody Blues & Camel with a touch of America.  Their dreamy style and unusual lyrics tend to hark towards 19th Century small village sensibilities.

18 - Amy McDonald - A Curious Thing
A little more production and more orchestration than on the excellent "This is Life" tend to push the songs on Amy's 2nd a little close to  anthemic rock but this does not detract from this young Singer-Songwriter's potential. Despite what the critic`s say, I like Amy's voice, her simple songs about life and her naive guitar work.

17 - Gaslight Anthem - American Slang
Watch out Springsteen, old style romantic anthem rock sung by guys young enough to make it work (unlike Bruce nowadays).

16 - Victoire - Cathedral City -  Most Suprising Debut of the year
Now where are we to put Victoire; Modern classical, Minimalist, Psuedo-Classic, Art Rock, Post Rock or my favourite Chamber-Rock. This is Victoire's debut album, five talented, if a little strange, women lead by composer and multi-instrumentalist Missy Mazolli and sounding like  Laurie Anderson dragged up to date and sideways. Intelligent but perfectly listenable chamber-rock.

15 - Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - Before Today
Imagine the whole of the 1970's in an alternate dimension designed by Frank Zappa transmitted through a compressed fidelity wormhole to the year 2010. Its good.....but I Hope it is NOT the future

14 - Emily Portmann - The Glamoury
A great set of traditional and self-penned English folk songs that fit together with each other perfectly, beautifully sung with spectacular  modern arrangement's that feel just right with these songs.

13 - Simon Harper
Paul Simon's son makes his debut at 40 with an Album of lightweight Americana. Sometimes sounding uncannily like his old man, but with his own style and strong songs. Shame he didn't start his career earlier.

12 - The Sadies - Darker Circles
The 9th album from the Sadies shows their mix of country and garage rock (think Garage Byrds & Flying Burrito Brothers) as strong as ever. Faultless but  not too inspired.

11 - Bellowhead - Hedonism
I discovered these guys on a brilliant Folk Christmas event on the BBC in 2009. I immediately bought their previous album, Matachin. But Hedonism is a major improvement on an already wonderful mixture of "Big Band" traditional folk tunes with a touch of trad. jazz embellishments.  For those that know what Swiss Gugga music is, Bellowhead are a bit like English Folk Gugga Music but a little more in tune).

10 - Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
I still have trouble with this band; maybe it is Win Butler´s voice that does not let them into my heart of hearts because everything else fits, and tracks where Regine Chassagne takes the lead are brilliant. This makes it difficult to place to chart this as a whole album, however even without Regine´s tracks it deserves a top 10 position.

9 - Massive Attack - Heligoland
Yet another great album from Massive Attack, these pioneers of trip-hop cannot do wrong in my book. Not my absolute favourite (that would be 100th window or Mezzanine) but close.

8 - Eliza Carthy & Norma Waterson - The Gift
Mother Norma and daughter Eliza from the great English folk family formed from the marriage of Martin Carthy and Norma (of the earlier, just as great, Watersons folk family). Bunch of great folk songs (Poor Wayfaring Stranger, Boston Burglar, Bunch of Thyme, Shallow Brown) with lead singing past back and forth between mum and daughter. Norma´s voice has the ease and warmth expected from 50 years of singing great folk tunes without losing any of it´s power ( Wayfaring Stranger is just amazing). Eliza with a mere 20 years of professional singing behind her has managed to keep her youthful touches and a husky voice to challenge Rod Stewart's but much more refined. As usual, Dad is involved and the usual bunch of friends including Danny Thompson from Martin´s early folk days.

7 - Chris De Burgh - Moonfleet
In the mid 70´s Chris De Burgh was a great Folk-Rock songwriter with classic storytelling albums like Spanish Train and songs like "A Spaceman Came Traveling" and "Don´t Pay the Ferryman". But as we edged into the doldrums of the 80´s he fell into the cheap pop trap (among many others like Billie Joel) with stuff like "Lady in Red", so I lost interest in him. Then in January I picked up a copy of the 2010 album Moonfleet and was interested in the suite of songs telling a true story of Piracy on the high seas around the turn of the 19th Century. This was De Burgh at his Crusader period best, simple but effective and passionate tunes beautifully arranged with orchestra and folk rock band  supporting a great story. Welcome back Chris, it only took 30 years.

6- Joanna Newsom - Have One on Me
This is supposed to be Joanna Newsom´s masterpiece, the triple CD garnered amazing reviews, so given that I have been a big Joanna Newsom fan since her first album what went wrong? What I liked so much about Joanna previously was how everything she did was so......quirky. Well "Have one on Me" is just not quite so quirky. Maybe she has broadened out in her performance, maybe her voice has matured, maybe the arrangements are more precise, but now I keep thinking of other artists while I am listening to her; Kate Bush one minute, Laura Nyro another, Tori Amos another and then a touch of Björk. That never happened before, and I am not sure that I like the move to Piano for so many songs.. Do not get me wrong I love this album but I kind of miss that squawky little voice accompanied by the divine harp of "The Milk Eyed Mender" and "Ys". I guess I may have to grow with Joanna, maybe this will be my No.1 for 2011.

5 - Sophie Hunger - 1983
This lady just won the Swiss awards 2011 for entertainment plus both her first album Mondays Ghost and 1983 went straight to No.1 in the Swiss album charts. So what (I hear you say), well Sophie Hunger is the best thing to come out of Swiss Music since Yello. Great songs, great voice a great talent. Try her you will like her.

4 - Robert Plant - Band of Joy
We did not get the follow up to rising sands with Alison Krause that we wanted, but we did get something at least as good. This superb album of Americana almost makes you wish that the long awaited Led Zep reunion would never happen.......almost.

3 - Olof Arnalds - Innundir Skinni
I don´t know whether you know I am sucker for Icelandic music and not just Bjork (who I happen to think is one of the best artists ever) and here is a way for you to find out why. This contemporary Icelandic folk singer and harpist (I am also a sucker for harp) managed to produce the album that Joanna Newsom should have produced for me in 2010. If only I could understand Icelandic.

2 - Burns Unit - Side Show - The debut of the year
What do you get if you mix Scotland and Canada - The burns unit
This 8 piece indy supergroup uses the talents of its members to deliver one hell of a set of songs with an amazing amount of cohesion for such diverse influences. A truly eclectic band.

"From raucous guitar rock to Jacques Brel-esque torch songs to bittersweet country, they drew on a dazzlingly wide spectrum of influences...those in their audience may have come along to see their particular heroes or heroines, but they ended up united in loud acclamation of the whole." (The Sunday Herald)

1 - I am Kloot - Sky at Night
This rather oddly named Mancunian trio have been around for 10 years but I only discovered them through this, their latest album. We have got quite used to today's English folk singers allowing their local accents come to the forefront but in this case we are not talking folk but a truly British pop-rock band who write lyrics that bring tears of elation, hope and sadness to your eyes all at the same time with their simple but eloquent tales of real life delivered on top of some mind blowing but simple tunes performed without any pretense. Some might compare them to the Beatles, but that would not do them the justice they deserve as a fine modern band making beautiful unique music.  As one reviewer put it this is Harold Pinter to everyone else's Cecil B de Mille.

I think I am Kloot too.