The Ragged 100: Albums Of 2010
The Ragged 100: Albums Of 2010
While 2009's end-of-year shenanigans ended with a predictable street fight between Grizzly Bear and Animal Collective, 2010 is proving much more difficult to call, with other year-end lists already having thrown up plenty of surprises elsewhere. Our contributors put forward an impressively wide array of albums for nomination, with a total of 20 RW staffers demanding that close to 250 different albums released over the last twelve months be included for consideration. As a result, we've decided to count them down from 100 this year, rather than our traditional top 50. Without further ado, then, we present this year's Ragged 100 - our rundown of the best full-length releases from 2010. Think we've left something out? Aggrieved to find one of your own favourites languishing in mid-table? Or even aghast at one of our top-ten selections? Then let us know in the comments section below!
This ninth studio outing from Philly’s finest sees them continue on their innovative quest to remake and remodel contemporary hip-hop. High-points include ‘Dear God 2.0’ – which sees the group borrowing a pastoral Jim James vocal track from the recent Monsters Of Folk LP – and the inspired Joanna Newsom-sampling centrepiece, ‘Right On’. In a genre that largely continues to lurk in the darkness, we can only hope that The Roots’ contemporaries might take How I Got Over’s artwork as a call-to-arms and start seeking the light themselves.
Anyone put off by Bang Goes The Knighthood’s cringingly poor lead single ‘At The Indie Disco’ could do worse than using this season of goodwill to afford Neil Hannon a second chance. The Derryman marked his twentieth year of recording with his best Divine Comedy album in over a decade. While this tenth full-length might not quite recapture the sheer brilliance of the bard’s third (1994’s Promenade) and fourth (‘97’s Casanova), it does boast at least half-a-dozen songs (‘Down In The Street Below’ and the very timely ‘The Complete Banker’ in particular) that merit immediate inclusion in any list of the group’s Greatest Hits. (Review) (Interview)
We’ll be honest: we’re not really huge ballet fans here at RW. It was lucky for us, then, that FatCat’s instrumental arm, 130701 Records, saw fit to release Max Richter’s Royal Ballet-commissioned Infra score earlier this year. Expanded from the original piece that surfaced a couple of years ago, Infra contains some of the German-born composer’s most delicate and beautiful work to date. One of 2010’s most effective close-your-eyes-and-enjoy antidote to any shitty day.
An album that deservedly earned Jogging comparisons to post-hardcore gods At The Drive-In, Minutes is a mightily impressive and assured debut. Born from the ashes of Dublin band The Coldspoon Conspiracy, Darren Craig, Ronan Jackson and Peter Lee decided to turn their amps way up for their latest incarnation. The likes of ‘Threadbare’ ‘Shattered Knees’ and ‘Shape Up Shakedown’ announced the arrival of a trio capable of standing up against anyone else who attempted to shatter your eardrums this year. (Review) (Track-by-track guide)
Voices Of Dust is actually the third part in a trilogy of albums released by Demdike Stare this year. Dark and haunted-sounding, its mixture of scratchy ambient hum, found sound, and cavernous low-end led to it being labelled ‘dubdrone’. This is music that’s certainly imbued with a strong sense of foreboding – the low frequencies of Shackleton or the bone-rattling basslines of The Bug are perhaps reference-points. Ultimately, though, Voices Of Dust has its own unique and unsettling sound, one that proved far more sinister than anything the ‘witch house’ brigade came up with in 2010.
Hailing from Glasgow (via Chicago), Sparrow and The Workshop are what you might call a ‘real’ band. Granted, that might be the kind of dog-eared cliché your father was wont to overuse about his favourite bands back when you were a kid, but in this case the claim is entirely merited. SATW write songs that tell beautiful stories – dark, twisted and unhappy stories for sure, but Crystals Fall still manages to retain a sense of hope amid the gloom. It’s an unapologetically old-fashioned album to cherish and tell all your friends about. And besides, your dad will absolutely love it. (Review)
Menomena's sprawling, rhythmic take on indie pop was presented in a more melodic light than ever on Mines. Although the group’s D.I.Y. production days are seemingly now behind them, none of the trademark crackle and snap of their music has been sacrificed in the process. With the one-two of ‘Queen Black’ and ‘TAOS’ they delivered one of the strongest openings to any record released in 2010. The rumbling grooves of ‘TAOS’, in particular, should have earned the Portlanders a breakthrough, but they somehow remain a criminally underrated band.
Never exactly the type to put his feet up in-between albums, Mark Oliver Everett’s prolificacy knew no bounds in 2010, with two Eels albums having emerged before the leaves had even started to fall off the trees. Indeed, Tomorrow Morning became E’s third full-length offering in the space of eighteen months, and closed that trilogy of records on an uncharacteristically optimistic note. “Feeling like the sunrise after long dark night of the soul”, Everett’s ninth Eels record is arguably his warmest to date; no doubt he’ll have entered double figures before the new year has gathered much pace. (Review)
One of Ragged Words’ undoubted thrills of 2010 was getting the chance to chat to one Antwan Andre Patton. We didn’t call Big Boi just to discuss his former glories, however; with Sir Lucious Left Foot..., the veteran rapper managed to overcome months of label strife to remain a step ahead of most of his peers. Boasting rhymes and beats that are just as mad-as-a-bag-of-badgers as the album’s title, this is every bit as eclectic, brave and boundary-pushing as we’ve come to expect from the OutKast man. Another idiosyncratic triumph from one of hip-hop’s elder statesmen. (Interview)
Dylan Baldi may well have made one of the best albums of 2011 this year. Yes, you read correctly: 2011. You see, while Turning On was turning heads – first as a rough-and-ready CD-R, followed by a limited vinyl release earlier this year – the Cleveland teenager was busy recording Cloud Nothings debut album ‘proper’. Due out in January, that self-titled disc sounds seriously impressive after only a couple of spins; now expanded as part of a wider compilation of Baldi’s early work, Turning On still sounds great after plenty more. (Interview)
Very few albums in 2010 divided opinion as severely as Midlake’s follow-up to the more or less universally-loved The Trials of Van Occupanther. From five stars in The Times to a lowly 3.6 rating from Pitchfork, the Texans’ decision to swap Fleetwood Mac for Fairport Convention became a bit of an “Oasis or Blur?” talking-point among bearded fanboys as the year wore on. Luckily for them, just about enough Ragged Worders were of the opinion that this represents “a breathtaking transformation” for the band to see The Courage of Others sneak into our top 100.
Die Stadt Muzikanten saw Woodpigeon return with another album that should appeal to anyone left dismayed by Sufjan Steven’s abandonment of his fifty-states project. The Canadian collective’s elegantly simple approach manages to tug at the heartstrings without leaving an overly-saccharine aftertaste. Unfortunately, the quality on show suffers due to the album’s overall length (some sixteen tracks); a little more restraint would surely have seen Die Stadt… place higher.
It would hardly be, well, a calendar year if Neil Young didn’t release a record. Thankfully quality has not lost out to quantity this time out, and the result is that Le Noise must rank as the most rewarding of the eight studio albums the sixty-four year-old has put out over the last ten years. Recorded with über-producer Daniel Lanois in tow, the sparse touches applied by Young’s fellow Canadian allow these songs to breathe more freely; Le Noise puts a satisfying lid on what’s been a decade of mediocre output by the great man’s traditionally lofty standards.
The follow-up to 2004’s I Am Brazil saw The Rednecks put pen to paper with the ever-expanding Richter Collective and set about proving they’d lost none of their touch or flair. Excellent lead track ‘Black Apple’ sets the standard from the off, and it’s one that the band manage to live up to across ten labyrinthine tracks. Renowned for exhibiting an almost ADD-like approach to their craft, The Rednecks here mix irresistible bass- and guitar-led grooves with furious riffing, ambient textures and some notable electronic flourishes. It’s quite the achievement to craft complex, intricate music that still courses with as much vitality as Friendship does.
Between guitar music’s worsening creative drought and the continued arrival of wave after wave of forward-thinking electronic acts, you’d be forgiven for jumping ship altogether on the traditional ‘band’ format and moving on. Shield Your Eyes’ third LP, Theme From Kindness, thankfully goes some way towards redressing this imbalance: angular without sounding pretentious, emotional without being soppy, this progressive blues trio – led by the three-string guitar-wielding Stef Ketteringham – here restore some much-needed faith across what’s become an increasingly stagnant genre.
A definite candidate for most overlooked album of 2010, Grasscut’s 1 Inch / ½ Mile found a very suitable home on Ninja Tune, where it comfortably measures up alongside some of the best work from likeminded labelmates Daedelus and Coldcut. It also boasts one of the best opening tracks of the year, with the hauntingly brilliant ‘High Down’ setting up an equal-parts glitch and dreamlike electronic record that’s well worth (re)investigating.
While Gold Panda and James Blake between them might have accounted for the lion’s share of column inches devoted to fresh UK electronic music in 2010, another rising star has emerged in that pair’s slipstream – though by no means in their shadow. Holkham Drones, Luke Abbott’s “darker and moodier” contribution to the genre’s burgeoning golden era, makes for essential listening; hugely accomplished and – at seventy minutes long – ambitious to boot, there would have been few complaints from us had the Norwich producer made an album twice that length. (Review) (Interview)
What a trip. Cameron Stallone’s double-LP stretches out with engrossing, dubbed-out jams, every bit as hypnotic as they are hazy. Languid guitar riffs merge with conga-led percussion, chanted incantations and sun-baked organ to create a swampy, compelling sound. ‘Deep Cover’’s siren-like main hook and lurching, dizzy arrangement is a particular highlight, while ‘High Slide’ provides a brief moment of contemplative clarity.
Clinic no doubt hate hearing this, but they really are an impressively consistent band. Bubblegum - the Liverpudlians’ sixth album - is, well, another solid addition to a - yep, you guessed it - solid catalogue of work. Notably softer-sounding than some of their previous efforts (perhaps due to the presence of Bill Callahan/Micah P. Hinson collaborator John Congleton behind the production desk), Bubblegum is unlikely to see Clinic being promoted from music’s hidden gems category any time soon, but it sure is comforting to know that they’re there.
Joining a list that includes Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond and (ahem) The Dixie Chicks, Seth and Scott Avett became the latest country-folksters to be granted the Rick Rubin treatment on I and Love and You. The sibling pair’s big Stateside crossover success from last year was re-released on this side of The Atlantic in 2010; and it’s a collaboration that’s yielded some quite beautiful results, not least on the stirring title track. If you know anyone thinking of joining the queue in TESCO to buy Mumford and Sons, save them the trouble and buy them this much more authentic roots record instead.
Anyone who refuses to join in the fun and swap lists of their favourite albums of the year runs the risk of missing out on a record like Arkhaiomelisidonophunikheratos. It’s a name that few of us Ragged Worders were familiar with before Tim Ferguson introduced us all to Osaka’s Satanicpornocultshop. With the kind of work-rate that would make Thomas Edison blush, the inventive experimental hip-hop quartet treated 2010 to three other releases besides this, but Arkhaiome… is the pick of them for sure. Check out ‘(R.I.P.) Tide’ – the band’s staggering take on Missy Elliott’s ‘Get Ur Freak On’ – for starters, and we promise you’ll be hooked.
The third album from LA duo No Age featured blistering, heads-down punk thrashers (‘Fever Dreaming’, ‘Depletion’, ‘Shred and Transcend’), hazy shoegaze textures and ambient noise (‘Dusted’, ‘Positive Amputation’), as well as some of their catchiest off-kilter pop moments yet (‘Glitter’, ‘Chem Trails’). They may have moved on from their lo-fi roots, but Everything In Between is still a noise-drenched head-rush. (Review)
What’s with all of these West Coast youngsters (see also no.67) making some of the year’s most sophisticated music?!? In twenty-one year-old L.A. resident Will Wiesenfeld’s case, it’s music of an electronic nature – but with a decidedly beating heart. And if that description sounds a bit soft, then don’t worry: Wiesenfeld displays some serious chops here with his first record as Baths. The astonishing ‘Maximalist’ and ‘Hall’ are a match for anything that’s so far emerged from the Californian beathead scene, but it’s those deeply affecting moments like ‘Heart’ and ‘Rain Smell’ that will keep you coming back to Cerulean again and again. (Review) (Interview)
While Laura Veirs’ fourth album Carbon Glacier established her as a singer songwriter of no mean ability back in 2004, she got a little overproduced on follow-up Year of Meteors a year later. Two albums on, July Flame marks a pleasing return to form. And even with Jim James providing terrific backing vocals, this is Veirs’ show. Her own vocals may still be a touch polite, but when she is as good as on ‘Silo Song’ or ‘Wide Eyed, Legless’, she is a talent up there with Neko Case and Gillian Welch. A pastoral delight. (Review)
The scurge of record store employees everywhere (Are they rock? Dance? Prog-electro?!?), pun-obsessed Scots Errors were responsible for one of 2010's most enigmatically satisfying long-players. While perhaps slightly front-loaded, Come Down With Me still birthed songs of the shimmering calibre of 'A Rumour In Africa', while the burrowing hop-scotch beat of 'Jolomo' does for Mogwai's Rock Action Records what Australians PVT have been doing of late for Warp.
There’s usually one EP released each year that you want to break the rules for and include in lists like this, but can’t. That is, of course, unless the author re-releases an expanded edition, tagging on a similarly-brilliant 7”, a deleted EP and a mixtape featuring unreleased material alongside These New Puritans and Wild Beasts reworks! The dense, serious tone of Liverpudlian producer Matthew Barnes’ work will tell you he certainly didn’t put out Dagger Paths again just to get mentioned on end-of-year-lists. On this evidence, though, he may have to get used to Forest Swords appearing on many more.
Post-dubstep has become a convenient – albeit relatively meaningless – byword for the many (mostly British) breakaway factions currently to be found tugging at the seams of what your dad would call ‘dance music’. Darren Cunningham certainly belongs in this bracket, although his second LP under the Actress moniker arguably has more in common with techno, Krautrock and even electroclash than with any current trends. Kraftwerk-on-downers centrepiece ‘Maze’ and the dancefloor-ready ‘Purrple Splazsh’ are definite highlights, but there’s enough restless energy here to suggest that Cunningham is still only getting warmed-up.
Portland supergroup Quasi – the band members, including founding former-couple Sam Coomes and Janet Weiss, are drawn from the likes of Heatmiser, Sleater-Kinney and Stephen Malkmus’ Jicks – have been rather left in the shade of late by the current crop of noise pop upstarts. Not so on album number eight, the band’s first as a trio and, well, ‘least Quasi-sounding’ record to date. With Jicks bassist Joanne Bolme giving the band an added edge, particularly on the likes of ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’, American Gong may just be their finest hour yet. Watch and learn, no.79!
There’s prolific. And then there’s John Dwyer. The American underground hero has cracked out albums since the late 90’s at the kind of rate Gene Simmons bedded groupies a decade or two earlier. On top of his work since with around a dozen bands including Pink And Brown, Coachwhips and The Hospitals, Warm Slime is his 11th full-length album under the banner of Thee Oh Sees. We’d say it could be his best but you know as well as we do, that that particular catalogue has yet to be fully worked through. One thing’s for certain though, in the album’s title track, Dwyer produced THE finest 13-minute jam of the year.
Maybe it’s that there are just too many great Swedish acts. Musical highlights from that part of the world have been many and varied in recent years - and yet The Radio Dept. inexplicably remain, for the most part, an under-appreciated cult entity. Album number three sees the band refine their once shoegaze-heavy sound without losing much of their frosty glaze. As usual, a sophisticated pop nous - most notably on the New Order-esque 'The Video Dept.' and the piano-led 'Heaven's On Fire' - just about manages to keep things the right side of fey throughout. No doubt only about twenty people actually bought it all the same. (Review)
On his band’s self-titled debut from last year, Here We Go Magic’s Luke Temple showed that recording straight to a four-track need not curb one’s ambitions all that much. Unless, that is, you happen to be as wildly ambitious as Brooklyn resident Temple, who decided to draft in some assistance for album number two. Pigeons sees him fleshing out his sound and beginning to fully realize that ambition. Dazzling opening single ‘Collector’ steals the show here, but there’s plenty more besides that to convince us that Temple’s likely to be around for the long haul. (Interview)
Sun Kil Moon’s fourth offering allowed Mark Kozelek to take a well-earned rest from his heavier and less focussed past, pick up a nylon string classical guitar and create some of the most beautiful songs of 2010. With an intimacy demonstrating Kozelek’s innate ability to conjure an atmosphere from nothing, Admiral Fell Promises invites the listener to draw the curtains, close their eyes and just listen. And for those previously challenged by the intimidating nature of Sun Kil Moon’s earlier work, there is swift reward to be had here. It may not be Jose Gonzales-Tesco friendly stuff, but these long, intricate and intense songs are truly extraordinary.
From the discordant, disorientating strains of opening track ‘Can’t You See’ to the beguiling closer ‘Eyesore’, Women crafted a record that was murky, distorted and abrasive in the best possible sense. Tracks like ‘Untogether’ and ‘Drag Open’ channelled the spirit of SST-era Sonic Youth, ‘Heat Distraction’ referenced the wiry guitar-pop of Television, while standout ‘China Steps’ laid down an anxious, insistent groove. The forbidding sound of the album seemed strangely prescient when intra-band tensions caused Women to cancel their European tour. (Review)
One of our annual tips for greatness this time last year, we might initially have been guilty of slight bias in wishing for Avi Buffalo to deliver on the promise shown by a batch of early demos. Luckily, we needn’t have worried: the SoCal teen trio – led by the possibly-nineteeen-by-now Avi Zahner-Isenberg – came good on a sparkling self-titled debut a few months later. Combining innocence and skill waaaaaay beyond their years to craft effortless West Coast pop, this opening salvo had many twice their age asking them how it’s done. (Review)
In which LA-based singer/rapper/yoga teacher Sumach Ecks teams up with the ridiculously prolific Flying Lotus (responsible for at least one of 2010's other highlights) to produce one of the most distinctive records of the year – a woozy, psychedelic trip through hip-hop and broken-down folk that’s held together largely by Ecks' croaky, Beefheart-esque vocals. Sure, it's all over the place, and many of the tracks seem sketchy and less than fully-formed, but somehow this only adds to the narcotic sense of dislocation that makes A Sufi and a Killer so compelling.
Innerspeaker‘s cover artwork depicts a kaleidoscopic landscape of rolling hills and leafy glens; most Tame Impala press shots, meanwhile, have tended to show the band relaxing outdoors, usually in a forest or sunlit meadow. It’s little surprise, then, that there’s an expansive, sprawling feel to much of the Perth group’s debut. Sure, Kevin Parker’s nasal delivery and the band’s widescreen psychedelic leanings were always bound to invite Beatles comparisons, but there’s plenty to explore here – most notably a focus on drum beat variations that recalls similarly acid-fried Swedes Dungen. “Lucidity, come back to me...” might also just be the chorus of the year.
Given that Kieran Hebden clearly likes to keep his finger on the pulse (many pulses in fact), Ragged Words would be surprised if Spirituals hasn’t found its way onto the Four Tet man’s radar at some point over the last twelve months. The man behind that record, Tyler Tadlock, is clearly a keen disciple of Hebden and his old pal Dan ‘Caribou’ Snaith - chopping up bits of free jazz, while subtly layering the mix with manifold beats to build up a record that’s deeply engaging. Not many can live with the masters of this particular craft.
While Ragged Words was left a little underwhelmed when happening upon Jana Hunter in a lonely support slot a few years back, the Baltimore songwriter’s new project has grabbed our attention with far more authority. Putting meat on Hunter’s slowcore solo bones, Lower Dens introduces a more dramatic, Low-like hypnotism to her songs. Drafting in Chris ‘Teen Dream’ Coady on mixing duties can’t have hurt either, but regardless of who kicked things into gear, ‘Tea Lights’ and ‘I Get Nervous’, in particular, stand out as two of the most delicately brilliant songs of the year.
A career high for Matthew Dear, the New York-based Texan struck a queasy gold with Black City. This was pure sleaze, but underpinned by a deep sadness - like an aural equivalent of the second half of Boogie Nights. ‘I Can’t Feel' is glitchy disco, nine-miunute epic ‘Little People’ sounded like Cut Copy; but it’s the aching ‘Slowdance’ and the closing ‘Gem’ that give this record real heart. And Dear’s treated vocals reminded us that just because something is familiar, it doesn’t make it any less weird. (Review)
Cleveland-based ambient/drone/kosmische trio Emeralds altered their approach somewhat on Does It Look Like I’m Here?: the swirling, cosmic synths and hypnotic arpeggios were still present and correct, but they were utilised within shorter, more compact song structures. The impressive results included hypnotic, layered tracks like ‘Candy Shoppe’ and ‘The Cycle Of Abuse’, but Emeralds still stretched out elsewhere on sprawling, relentless pieces like ‘Genetic’ and the title track. ‘Access Granted’, the quietly entrancing closing track, was also arguably the finest.
After a four-year hiatus (even if it didn’t feel that long) Belle and Sebastian picked up exactly where they’d left off with …Write About Love, the band’s latest masterclass in quality pop tunesmithery. This time the songwriting burden was shared – a cause for concern in the past among fans – but the standard remained high across the board. Any remnants of twee amateurism have long since been discarded, and the Glaswegians’ sound carries a real punch these days. When their stars align – as they do on the brilliant title track here – it should be abundantly clear to anyone just why they are considered a national treasure. (Review)
Steve Mason’s years in the doldrums have never been that well documented, mostly because there’s not really a lot to say. Blighted by depression, the disintegration of both his (Beta) band and long-term relationship found the Scot contemplating suicide and largely unable to function. Boys Outside documents Mason’s journey back from the brink in vivid, unflinching detail: ten electro-soul numbers of powerful honesty, all kept afloat by understatedly fluid production from Richard X. “Something sad has happened here…” sings Mason on ‘The Letter’, as though stepping out from the shadow of his past and into a new dawn. An astonishingly brave comeback.
Tamaryn’s debut LP drew more and more followers to its flame as the year went on, which is hardly surprising when you hear the likes of ‘Dawning’ and ‘Love Fade’ – songs of shimmering, scorched beauty that elevate the L.A. duo above any number of lesser shoegaze revivalists. That The Waves was recorded in a makeshift basement studio proves you don’t have to get Kevin Shields on the phone to conjure ebbing oceans of guitar: witness closer ‘Mild Confusion’’s restrained climb into FX-laden bliss. We’ll be first in line if this pair announce a European Tour in the new year. (Review)
The Toronto collective returned this year with another messy, long, baffling album that, like much of their earlier work, is so overwhelming it actually works. Each listen peels away another layer to reveal the melodies within; Feist, Emily Haines and Andrew Whiteman stop by for the customary guest spots, and Haines’ contribution on ‘Sentimental X’ is a real highlight. With a bit more focus, BSS could arguably reach Arcade Fire levels of popularity, such is their talent for crafting epic singalong anthems; you get the feeling neither the band nor their fans would really want that, however. They seem to have found their own perfect niche – and if it ain’t broke, then why fix it? (Review)
As Michael James Hall observed after witnessing the Gorillaz live circus at London’s O2 last month, they just don’t make ‘em like Damon Albarn any more. Once again leaving very few pages in his contacts book untouched, the one-time indie messiah got his virtual gang together again this year and made an album that’s more than capable of withstanding inevitable comparisons to 2005’s sublime Demon Days. As daring and innovative as you might expect, Plastic Beach is also, well, a bit of a blast. We’d wager that even Mark E. Smith must have had a good time helping out!
I See The Sign can rightly be taken as a comprehensive ‘how to’ guide in getting the most out of the most traditional-sounding of folk songs. While Sam Amidon’s membership of the venerable Bedroom Community posse – Valgeir Sigurðsson and Nico Mulhy are again pulling the, errr, strings here – certainly helps in this regard, the twenty-nine year-old has really come into his own on this, his fourth full-length solo outing. He can hold his own next to Beth Orton too, and the pair’s ‘You Better Mind’ is one of the classiest duets our collective ears have heard in ages.
Helmed by TV On The Radio/Maximum Balloon producer David Sitek, The Magician’s Private Library saw Holly Miranda’s effortless falsetto intricately conjoined with pulsing electronics, horns and strings to create a hypnotising debut. Ragged Words was so blown away by a live airing of the album back in the summer that, upon returning to the record itself, we were left slightly underwhelmed. It still comfortably merits inclusion here, but a word of advice to Sitek: next time try not to reduce the urgency and energy that Miranda clearly has in spades.
Without completely abandoning the 8-bit electronica template of their raucous debut, Torontonians Ethan Kath and Alice Glass expanded their horizons, resulting in a much deeper, more diverse sound on this second confusingly self-titled album. The brilliant early run of ‘Celestica’, ‘Doe Deer’ and ‘Baptism’ alone signalled a sizeable leap forward for the duo – one that’s seen Crystal Castles easily avoid the trapdoor through which many blog-buzzed bands have fallen second time around. (Review)
Witch house, screwgaze, crunkwave... call it what you will – there can be no denying that SALEM's “dark,engrossing vortex” of a debut album sent a chill up the spine of anyone who chanced upon it in 2010. Ignore the haters, look beyond the band’s possibly fabricated back story, and you’re left with one of the most unique-sounding releases of recent years. From the ghostly hangman’s choir on ‘Sick’ to ‘Trapdoor’’s disorientingly slurred rap, the overall effect is both profoundly unsettling and darkly alluring. Just be sure to keep the light on. (Review)
For anyone who caught one of Matt Houck’s slightly underwhelming support slots for The National recently, thoughts of seeking out the latest Phosphorescent album may not be all that high on the agenda. Which is a damn shame, because Here’s To Taking It Easy is every bit as assured as those performances were ramshackle. Jettisoning the Bon Iver-isms of previous outings, Houck here opts for a more laidback country-soul sound that recalls Nixon-era Lambchop: pedal-steel guitars and horn sections driving the songs forward as that voice soars away into the distance. ‘Mermaid Parade’ is proof that he can pen an incredible stand-alone track too when he wants to. (Review)
Having finally been granted an official European release months after it came out Stateside, The Morning Benders’ second album is a stunning collection of summery guitar pop that more than justifies the Shins/Flaming Lips/Super Furry Animals comparisons that came the band’s way in its aftermath. What’s perhaps most impressive is that, although Big Echo sounds like a fully-formed, precisely thought-out record, you still get the feeling that the best is yet to come from the Californian foursome. (Review)
A little like the slightly noisier lot at no.73, Damien Jurado appears to be entering a purple patch just as his release catalogue nears the double-digit mark. The Seattle songwriter comes across more confidently than ever on album number nine – perhaps it’s his buddy Richard Swift’s presence in the production chair that partly accounts for the greater level of variety this time. Saint Bartlett still has room for some straight-up pretty folk songs, though, and if there are two more beautiful side-by-side tracks than ‘Rachel & Cali’ and ‘Throwing Your Voice’ on any other 2010 release, then we’ve yet to hear them.
This century’s Loretta Lynn? If Own Side Now is to be taken as a sign of things to come, then Ragged Words certainly thinks so. Boasting a prodigious command of the killer country hook, not to mention a voice so tender it makes you yearn to be a protagonist in one of her bittersweet song-stories, Caitlin Rose’s debut is solid proof that you don’t necessarily need an ‘Alt.’ in front of the word Country to make it palatable. A special record by a special new talent! (Review)
Exploring the notion that there are natural sounds that, while inaudible to human ears, affect our environment (it’s all explained in the sleeve booklet!!!), Hamburg-based electronic producer Hendrik Weber branched out a little on Black Noise, his third album as Pantha du Prince. With 2007’s fine This Bliss having attracted the attentions of indie heavyweight Rough Trade, Weber was able to invite the likes of Noah Lennox (on the sublime ‘Stick To My Side’) to assist this time out; old-school PdP purists needn’t have worried too much, though, as the German’s signature minimalist mood has remained very much intact.
Alright, so you may have heard Dark Night… online in 2009, but it wasn’t until early this year that this amazingly eclectic collaboration finally got the official release it deserved. From The Shins' James Mercer to Gruff Rhys, Frank Black to Iggy Pop, this is a star-studded piece of musical collage that suits both the beautiful artwork of David Lynch and the keen overseeing eye of Dangermouse. The most touching contributions come, rather fittingly, from the now sadly-deceased Mark Linkous and Vic Chesnutt. Their cracked, imperfect voices add another level to this strange, disturbing record.
After a nine-year wait, we finally got a new record from Merge Records founders Superchunk in 2010 – and what a thing of beauty it is. Crashing guitars, skyscraping melodies and fierce pop tunes collide with plaintive lyrics and a welcome drizzle of '90s nostalgia. It's one of those records that everyone seems to be intending to listen to, but many have not yet gotten around to doing so as the year draws to a close; anyone who loves great rock music should certainly take the time to seek Majesty Shredding out. (Review)
It's hard to know how exactly to categorise what The Books do. Ambient nerdcore? Folky geektronica? It hardly matters – the point is that Nick Zammuto and Paul de Jong have delivered another wonderful, genre-bending album stitched together from samples, found sounds and live recordings. It's all held in place by the duo's defiantly leftfield sensibilities and odd sense of humour, and as a result The Way Out somehow manages to settle in a hitherto-unknown sweet spot between sound art, pop and meditation.
We weren’t the only ones to think “this year’s Wild Beasts” back in October, when like the Kendal lots brill Two Dancers from 2009, The Phantom Band released a second album that's brilliance was just as unclassifiable. Reigning in the eclecticism of last year’s fine Checkmate Savage debut, the Glaswegians returned with a commanding album of equal ambition; Wants is the kind of listen that makes a convincing argument for this being one of the decade ahead’s most promising bands.
- A hotly anticipated album ‘round Ragged Words Towers, Crooks & Lovers very much divided opinion upon its release in July; indeed, one (published) man’s “desperately disappointing” debut has proven to be among many others’ highlights of the year. Any arguments concerning Crooks & Lovers’ ease (or otherwise) of flow aside, we can all at least agree that Mount Kimbie treated 2010 to some of its finest set-pieces: the beautifully soulful 'Before I Move Off' and pulsing, bass-driven 'Blind Night Errand' are two you ought to become better acquainted with for starters. (Review)
After years in the musical wilderness, the former Czars frontman returned – with a little help from long-time cohorts Midlake – earlier this year with one of the most surprising comebacks of 2010. Some beautiful seventies rock balladry and dark, sardonic lyrics meant Grant’s songs were capable of both moving the listener to tears and tickling their funny-bone in equal measure; in the title track alone he had one of the great, life-affirming album-closers of the year. (Review)
The last few years have treated Kristian Matsson rather well. The critical acclaim that was afforded his second album of pastoral, sweetly-played folk has been mirrored by increased sales and shows at larger and often sold-out venues. A more enveloping, engaging record it was hard to find this year - the transportive, humorous wiles of centrepiece 'King of Spain' neatly sum up Matsson's key virtues: naivety with a knowing wink, lyricism with a stoic stance and properly romantic, well-crafted balladeering. (Review)
Mountain Man’s show at Dublin’s Crawdaddy was one of the highlights of the year, and their debut album was no less special. These college friends’ three-part harmonies are a thing of rare beauty, and were here afforded all the space in the world to resonate, accompanied only by an occasional guitar – and often by nothing at all. ‘How’m I Doin’’ was like a more playful modern-day Nina Simone, but it was the hot-and-steamy likes of ‘Soft Skin’ which elevated the record into a rarefied space. (Review)
Foals mastered the art of quashing hype the moment they showed the balls to leave their best singles off what became one of 2008’s most hotly-anticipated debuts; these guys were never really likely to suffer a bout of ‘difficult second album’ syndrome. Total Life Forever nevertheless surprised many in demonstrating just how mature a step forward the Oxford five-piece had taken. The title track alone, along with ‘Miami’ and the quite stunning ‘Spanish Sahara’, are marks of real progress. Fine work, gents.
Scott Hutchison told Ragged Words back in January that he “chucked the kitchen sink in” on album number three; given that his band are now, almost twelve months later, playing to much bigger audiences, it would appear the Frightened Rabbit frontman’s strategy has paid dividends. While not quite scaling the heights of 2008’s Midnight Organ Fight, this follow-up still managed to take the Scots perilously close to the big time, without forcing them to lose any or their passion and supreme songcraft along the way.
Promo copies of Flying Lotus’ Cosmogramma presented the L.A. producer’s latest as one near-forty-five-minute track, forcing reviewers to sit down and work through the album in all its intricate, challenging detail. To be honest, though, Ragged Words wouldn’t want to listen to Steven Ellison’s finest record to date any other way, because this is an album in the truest sense of the word. Splicing jazz, hip-hop, electronica and whatever-you’re-having-yourself together, Cosmogramma is a record that looks set to go on revealing itself long after 2010 is out.
Labelmate Wild Nothing may have received the lion’s share of the lo-fi guitar pop kudos in 2010, but Brooklyn’s Beach Fossils – whose self-titled debut LP made up one half of a drool-inducing Captured Tracks double-vinyl bundle alongside Wild Nothing’s Gemini – emerged as just as exciting a prospect. Beach Fossils is simplicity personified: warm, tightly-written songs that make up in infectiousness what they thankfully lack in showiness. More of the same please. (Review) (Interview)
2010's most welcome comeback, by a long shot. The stark, deeply confessional I'm New Here was born when Richard Russell, the owner of XL Records, visited the troubled poet and singer in jail and offered to produce an album for him. It's safe to say the gamble paid off, as Russell's raw, minimal production complements Scott-Heron's inimitable, weathered voice to stunning effect. Like Rick Rubin and Johnny Cash's co-productions, the album relies heavily on cover versions – of Robert Johnson, Bobby Bland, and Smog – safe in the knowledge the sheer force of its performer's personality will still shine brightest.
The Smell Club scene may be best-known for nurturing grimy L.A. punk, but Best Coast became its most accessible discovery yet. Lead ‘Coaster Bethany Cosentino’s lyrics retain the innocence of the finest ‘50’s girl-group pop, while the songs themselves are as much flighty fun as a summer romance. Crazy For You is steadfastly retro no question, but the likes of ‘Summer Mood’ and ‘Boyfriend’ boast enough hooks and charm to win over even the most devout futurist. (Review)
With The Shins on hiatus for the foreseeable future, frontman James Mercer teamed up with Gorillaz/Beck/Gnarls Barkley producer Danger Mouse to put together this collection of mid-tempo, blissed-out pop songs. The lyrics were somber and the mood undeniably dark, but as usual Mercer’s incredible voice managed to elevate songs like ‘The Ghost Inside’ and lead single ‘The High Road’ to something close to uplifting. Add to this Danger Mouse’s patented knack for daubing his songs with dashes of bright colour, and you’re left with one of the freshest listening experiences of the year. (Review)
Having spent some (successful) time (somewhat) apart under the guises of The Week That Was and School Of Language, Peter and David Brewis were only ever going to resume working under the Field Music name on their own terms. Typically, those terms were based around a twenty-track double-LP of songs that sounded like little else being made today. A real grower, (Measure) also saw the band outgrow the golfish-bowl constraints of their devoutly Mojo-reading fanbase, a step forward that they richly deserved.
For someone who had professed to not being much bothered with the traditional long-playing format – instead choosing to release a succession of superb EPs – Gold Panda sure knew how to stitch an album together when it came time to do so. Panda’s glitchy beats met melody head-on in the form of Lucky Shiner, and it was the listener who won every time. Previously unheard tracks ‘Vanilla Minus’ and ‘Snow & Taxis’ managed to stand out ever so slightly from the other nine tracks on offer, joining ‘You’ and ‘Quitters Raga’ as cornerstone entries in the new golden age of British electronic music. (Review) (Interview)
It’s fair to say Ragged Words now slightly regrets choosing to overlook Perfume Genius when the time came last winter to nominate our prospective stars for 2010. But then, the punch-in-the-gut effect that Mike Hadreas’ piano-led songs deliver so thoroughly are best served in long-playing-form and on Learning, they come together devastatingly well. We may be a year late in saying so but Perfume Genius isn’t just going to be a star, he’s pretty much already there.
Owen Pallet’s talent as a string arranger has been harnessed by the great and the good (and Mika), but Heartland saw the in-demand Canadian once more stepping out on his own. The result is one of the maddest-sounding records of the year, a gloriously unhinged concept album about a farmer prone to ultraviolence. Pallett saw no need to rein in even his more ridiculous ideas (he makes the Hidden Cameras sound butch), but the more out-there he went, the better he seemingly got. Without doubt the best gay church-folk concept album of the year – and one of the best from any genre. (Review)
Florida’s Surfer Blood must be onto something if, some eleven months on from the release of their debut album, songs like ‘Harmonix’, ‘Anchorage’ and ‘Twin Peaks’ still sound fresh as the proverbial daisy. Armed to the teeth with killer hooks and quiet/loud slacker choruses, Astro Coast is also surprisingly heavy on feeling: genuinely sad feeling in the case of ‘Anchorage’ – frontman John Paul Pitts still struggling with post-breakup denial as he sings “And it seemed like we were alright…” – while closer ‘Catholic Pagans’ is a surprisingly frank account of a life being rebuilt from scratch. Buzz band my arse! (Review) (Interview)
If the screaming teenagers eventually quieten down, and the mobile phone advert royalties ever dry up, Two Door Cinema Club could probably fall back on a long and successful career writing pristine pop songs for acts in need – a sort of drums-and-indie-guitars version of Stock Aitken Waterman. That won’t happen any time soon of course: 60,000 UK sales and counting of the brilliantly catchy Tourist History have all but put paid to thoughts of anything less than global chart domination. And quite frankly we can’t wait to see just how huge the Bangor boys can become. A band to renew your faith in the currency of pop. (Review) (Interview)
Crossover success of the year? That was the thought that certainly struck Ragged Words a few months back, when we had to practically sneak past the bouncers to gain access to one of Yeasayer’s many sold-out 1,000-plus capacity 2010 shows. The Brooklyn lads’ increased popularity is easy to understand when you consider how much they upped the pop factor for second album Odd Blood – most notably on standouts ‘O.N.E.’ and ‘Madder Red’. And when a band can manage to draw such large crowds while still making songs as wildly original as ‘Ambling Alp’, then something must be going right with music in 2010.
A left-turn for Sufjan Stevens, The Age of Adz sees him abandon his history lecturer shtick and deliver something more personal. The result is a sprawling, challenging record, with a decidedly electronic feel, that constantly threatens to collapse in on itself, but somehow still holds up to the finish. By the time twenty-five-minute closer ‘Impossible Souls’ reaches its finale, you’ll be thoroughly exhausted – but all the better for it. Sufjan may have made more accessible records than this, but here he finally shows us his heart, and the end product is typically unforgettable.
An album of serious scope and ambition – a staggering amount actually, when you consider its authors were just two unknown Wicklowmen this time last year – Solar Bears deservedly got the blogs a-chattering in 2010, first by putting pen to paper with Planet Mu and later with the release of the auspiciously great Inner Sunshine EP. She Was Coloured In more than built upon this early promise: overflowing with seductive electronic textures while remaining brilliantly succinct, such a level of expertise is a precious rarity on debuts, regardless of genre. Rather excitingly, it’s a commodity Solar Bears appear to have in spades. (Review) (Track by Track) (...
The Walkmen’s reputation as a great singles band is no more: following on from 2008’s wonderful You & Me, Lisbon has firmly established them as a great band full-stop. Is there a better rhythm section in indie rock today? A single listen to ‘Angela Surf City’ should convince you that there isn’t. Hamilton Leithauser and co. are equally compelling when in big-Richard-Hawley-ballad mode (see the ballroom-friendly ‘Torch Song’), and when they unleash the mariachi horns on ‘Stranded’, the listener can’t help but swoon. (Review) (Interview)
Like the kid at school who wisely just ignores the playground bullies, Vampire Weekend don’t really care whether you like them or think they’re a bunch of spoilt Manhattan rich kids. Ezra Koenig and his band are far too busy penning fresh-faced, literate pop songs; Contra might have initially required more work on the part of the listener than the band’s wryly disaffected debut, but once knockout tunes like ‘Holiday’ and ‘Giving Up The Gun’ had bounced their way into your brain there was no letting go. ‘Run’ and ‘Diplomat’s Son’, meanwhile, hint at a less guitar-cenric future direction – one we’re looking forward to seeing the New Yorkers pursue in 2011. (Review)
Laura Marling’s debut, 2008’s Alas, I Cannot Swim (written when she was just sixteen), hinted at a greatness to come. That potential was duly realised on I Speak Because I Can, even surpassing expectations. Still just twenty-one, Marling is already a devastating songwriter and lyricist, unafraid to show her darker side. On ‘Goodbye England (Covered In Snow)’ she describes a walk up a mountain with her father on a winter morning in her youth. The effect is wondrous, and the song has never sounded better than during this freezing winter. (Review)
Mood is important. Get it just right on your debut album and people are bound to take notice. The xx nailed this feat on the sleeper success of 2009, and L.A.’s Warpaint have come pretty close to doing likewise on their long-awaited debut: nine songs that flit liberally from one sound to the next – often within the same track – but together create a smoky, slow-mo feel that’s darkly hypnotic. The subtly brilliant ‘Undertow’ ‘Shadows’’ whirlpool vocals are both highlights, serving up a sonic brew that’s entirely the band’s own. It doesn’t all hit the mark – ‘Majesty’ and ‘Composure’ are over-long and overly aloof for starters – but when it does, The Fool marks these four ladies out as something very special.
While other New Jersey bar bands keep talking about the big night out, Titus Andronicus are more concerned with the realities of the morning-after's hangover. They expressed this heartbreakingly well this year on a Civil War-themed album that sounded more like it was about the war going on inside singer Patrick Stickles' soul. From the triumphant battle cry of opener 'A More Perfect Union' through to the epic closer 'The Battle of Hampton Roads', this was an enormously powerful record that imbibed folk and punk as swiftly as it did whiskey and Guinness. Why this didn't 'cross over' in the style of Arcade Fire et al. remains a complete mystery, but there are signs here that suggest TA may be capable of even greater things in the future.
Before signing to 4AD late last year, Ariel Pink was mostly renowned for being a very strange man making – let’s face it – some pretty terrible music for. But, having seen Neon Indian and Girls borrow his better ideas to achieve widespread acclaim, he has now belatedly got his act together. This is a deeply weird update on 1980s soft rock: what initially sounds like MOR reveals itself to be something very different altogether, as unexpected left-turns, interludes of bizarre screeching and strange lyrical narratives mount up. It can be a puzzling listening experience, but it ultimately delivers - when Pink can turn in a chorus as beautiful as ‘Round and Round’, his genius is undeniable. (Review)
Spoon opted to self-produce Transference, and the result was a strangely loose record by the band’s usual standards. Opener ‘Before Destruction’ sounded more like a demo or rough sketch than a final cut, while several other songs finish abruptly. But these guys are not top of the Metacritic charts for nothing, and when they hit their stride on ‘Written In Reverse’ and the hypnotic ‘Mystery Zone’, it quickly becomes apparent that, even when not quite firing on all cylinders, Spoon are one of the best and most reliable bands around. Truly, they are masters of the distilled groove. (Review)
If, like us, you’ve always wondered what might have happened had Robert Smith been kidnapped by The Smiths in the mid-eighties, then Gemini will have come as one of this year’s surprise delights. Jack Tatum is far too young to recall some of the bittersweet memories he evokes on a batch of songs that will swim around your head as much as you let them. Tatum is not without his peers – the future-past sensibilities of The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, A Sunny Day In Glasgow and his Captured Tracks labelmates Beach Fossils are not a million miles removed from Wild Nothing’s sound. But heady nostalgia puddles like ‘Bored Games’, ‘Pessimist’ and ‘The Witching Hour’ confirm the Virginian as a master craftsman. (Interview)
Ok, so noise pop has been around forever at this stage, but there weren’t too many records released this year on which the noise was this noisy and the pop this poppy. ‘Straight A’s’ sounds like it was recorded with the Brooklyn pair’s amps turned up to the “Are you crazy?” level from that Michael Jackson video with Macauley Culkin. But, for all that noise, it was actually the quietest song, ‘Rill Rill’, that proved the highlight. Freakishly catchy, it was the tune that had this listener hitting the repeat button more than any other this year. (Review)
Paul Harrington might have only awarded This Is Happening a modest 6 out of 10, but while it perhaps isn’t quite as consistent as 2007’s Sound Of Silver, it still delivers peaks to match any of James Murphy’s previous output. ‘All I Want’ is the finest Brian Eno song of the year – MGMT’s ode to the great man notwithstanding – while ‘I Can Change’ sees Murphy at his doubt-ridden best. As ‘Home’ rounds the album off in beautifully understated style, it dawns on the listener that this might be the last recording from one of the decade’s best bands. What’s that they say about leaving them wanting more?... (Review)
While Fever Ray producers Van Rivers & The Subliminal Kid’s icy magic failed to inspire Blonde Redhead to greatness on this year’s only so-so Penny Sparkle, the pair delivered more impressive results with their contribution to Glasser’s debut Ring. The production team is worth mentioning here because Glasser – otherwise known as L.A.-based vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Cameron Mesirow – comes off every bit as alluringly enigmatic as Karin Dreijer Andersson on this most wide-eyed and ambitious of records.
Everything about Janelle Monae is stunning. Whether you’re one of the relatively few who fell under her spell on 2007’s Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase), or the many who have done so with this, her dizzying full debut, there aren’t many other ways to react to the Kansas diva’s breathless inventiveness other than being completely bowled over. “If you thought OutKast’s kaleidoscopic sound was as out-there and playful as modern hip-hop can get, then prepare to have your mind sent into space,” was Ronan Tiernan’s concise verdict back in July. Six months on from The ArchAndroid’s sudden landing, we’re still blissfully in orbit. (Review)
The eighteen songs that traverse Have One On Me's three LPs variously touch upon Joanna Newsom's many loves, cares and disappointments. So it goes that, as with all good records, if you sit with it long enough, you'll reap the rewards – be it in the form of a warm handshake (‘Good Intentions Paving Co.) or wet-faced embrace (‘‘81’). The vinyl box set has the feel of a treasure chest. This is a coming-of-age record, with Newsom's sexual frankness firmly established on opener ‘Easy’ (“My man and me…”); and if in the past her suppleness could have been mistaken for fairy dust, the cold truths that resonate at the heart of songs like ‘Jackrabbits’, ‘Baby Birch’ and closer ‘Does Not Suffice’ confirm the songstress as another artist entirely. (Review...
If you google ‘Twin Shadow chillwave’, there seems to be quite a debate raging across the internets as to whether Twin Shadow belong in that classification or not. So, do they? Well... Oh, who gives a monkey’s? Forget is simply a brilliant debut, regardless of genre. Knowing nods aplenty to a range of ‘80s sounds underpin a record that’s driven by surging melodies as opposed to hazy atmospherics. The ‘singing basslines’ of Young Marble Giants (that so inspired The xx on their own debut from last year) are a key influence, informing many of the highlights here. Leave the blog geeks to their micro-genre pigeonholing and luxuriate in these brilliant songs.
With certain trigger-happy publications starting to compile end-of-year lists before November was out, Ragged Words’ procrastination was fuelled in no small part by the late release of this most recent chapter in the life and times of Kanye West Esq. And boy are we glad we waited. Kanye and guests (for there are many here) have answered the legions of haters with a bombastic tour de force that’s so high on concept and ambition, we’re still struggling to take it all in a month after our first listen. Self-aware, self-deluded (“If God had an iPod, I’d be on his playlist…”) and self-deprecating – and that’s just on ‘So Appalled’ – this is the sound of a fearless artist (in the all-inclusive sense of that word) knocking it out of the ballpark. There’s even a rhyme about fishsticks! Truly stunning...
In a bid to try something different following the mixed bag of 2006’s Everything Ecstatic, Kieran Hebden spent much of the following three years working with the late, great jazz drummer Steve Reid. Hebden returned to the day job this year to deliver what might just be a career-high in There Is Love In You – a record that successfully marries the quick, pulsating rhythms gleaned from that time spent with Reid to Hebden’s own renewed love for DJing. This fifth Four Tet LP is his most clubbed-up yet as a result, and in ‘Love Cry’ and ‘Sing’ the former Fridge man has crafted a pair of what can only be termed bangers. It’s a mark of Hebden’s prowess that There Is Love In You succeeds just as readily on noise-cancelling headphones as it does when blasting out of a basement club’s PA. (Review)...
Even now, four albums into their career, there remains much that’s confusing and hard to pin down about Deerhunter. The Atlanta group’s songs are full of blurry contradictions: between youth and adulthood; old and new; reality and fevered, dreamlike states. Theirs is a sound, though, that’s undeniably rooted in heavy sadness: frontman Bradford Cox explained how he wanted this latest record to explore “the way that we rewrite and edit our memories to be a digest version of what we want to remember, and how that's kind of sad.” Cox himself delivers one of the saddest lines of 2010 on the album-closing ‘He Would Have Laughed’, his “Where did my friends go?...” lament summing up so much, and yet so little, about this curious, strange band.
The elder statesmen of electronic music really did show the young pretenders how it should be done in 2010. Just like his old pal a couple of places below, Caribou’s Dan Snaith returned from a prolonged sabbatical to reach a career high-watermark earlier this year; indeed, Swim succeeds on broadly similar terms to Four Tet’s There Is Love In You, Snaith applying some harder and more hurried beats this time around. Moving away from the mellow melodies and psychedelic pop samples that adorned 2007’s Polaris Prize-winning Andorra, the Canadian here conjured a far more claustrophobic din, as foreshadowed on early singles ‘Odessa’ and the album’s title track. He took the masses with him in the process, selling out shows from Brazil to Bristol in what became an unexpectedly triumphant year. (Review) (...
For those of us who had been sitting waiting patiently for a full-length release ever since ex-Immediate man Conor O’Brien introduced Villagers to Dublin audiences in late-2008, Becoming A Jackal offered rich reward. Delivering on every ounce of potential flaunted by O’Brien during those ludicrously impressive early gigs, this debut skilfully stitched together songs of rich lyrical detail and breathless scope. It also brought Villagers’ existential folk hymns to a far wider audience, culminating in a thoroughly deserved Mercury Prize nomination. The young Dubliner is only going to get better too. (Review) (Interview)
After a decade of hard-working slow-build, The National now find themselves in the position where their name has become a byword for quality; much like R.E.M. in the ‘80s and early-‘90s, the new Yorkers are putting out one brilliant record after another these days to an incrementally growing fanbase. High Violet continues that searingly hot run: it constitutes a fourth truly great record of literate, elegant music in a row. Matt Berninger’s lyrics describe inconsequential middle-class lives in poignant detail, and the album unfolds like a series of short stories. A stunning offering from a superlative band. (Review)
They say you can't keep a good thing down. Bands that aim as big as Arcade Fire do will always invite their fair share of detractors, and the mixed reception given to 2007's Neon Bible fanned the flames of a blacklash in certain quarters. The Suburbs unequivocally lays all of that to rest with over an hour of defiant, world-weary, movingly human music that in parts feels more like a mission statement than an album. It would be churlish to go picking out highlights - as we said ourselves upon its release, this is "serious music made without pretension... a record that will make a beeline for your heart. (Review)
The Baltimore band’s dreamy, minimal sound had been slowly winning audiences over since 2006’s self-titled debut, gaining steady momentum when the more full-bodied Devotion followed two years later. January’s Teen Dream broadened that growing fanbase significantly, and with good reason: the album’s ten songs fleshed out further still the duo’s brilliantly hypnotic signature tones. Alex Scally’s hooks were more gorgeous than ever, but it was Victoria Legrand’s hearty swoon that stole the show. Songs like ‘Norway’ and ‘Take Care’ should easily cement her place as one of this era’s great vocalists. Still sounding better with each listen – almost a year on from its initial release – Teen Dream has surely confirmed Beach House as one of its best bands too. (Review) (...