albums, music

Albums of 2010

Last year’s top five albums held up surprisingly well in my memory: if I’ve returned to Midnight At The Movies or California as much as I have to Merriweather Post Pavilion, it is for simpler pleasures than the sometimes demanding latter can offer. To this end, I’m brutally omitting great albums from 2010 from this year’s list, such as Riverboat Soul, Beachcomber’s Windowsill, or, most painfully, the inventive but at times cold Antifogmatic. Great melodies are essential, but the defining albums of a year need to offer a coherent, compelling something on top, right?

5. John Grant – Queen of Denmark

It’s difficult to ignore a record which adds honest-to-goodness pop hooks to lyrics such as, “Jesus / He hates homos son / We told you that when you were young.” Lest we forget, Grant had practically given up on the music business; what he achieved in 2010, at the urging of Midlake, was a shimmering pop record of at times uncomfortable depth. Once heard, Queen of Denmark lingers in your ears, and your head, and demands relistens even when at first you may fail to love it. It is a troubled, triumphant LP – and it worries away at its listener. Shyly remarkable.

4. Roky Erickson – True Love Cast Out All Evil

Not so very different from Queen of Denmark in many respects, True Love Cast Out All Evil has the sweet surface, the demons beneath, and the redeemed singer at its centre. Both its genre and its tenor, however, are quite different: produced by Will Sheff of Okkervil River, Roky Erickson here inhabits a grimy, garage Americana, plucked acoustics giving way to distorted soundscapes before falling back to earth again. Throughout, Erickson’s winsome lyrics are rescued from naivety by their sense of earned weight. This is a life-affirming record not because it pretends everything is OK, but because it knows things aren’t. Despite all the ugliness in Erickson’s life, which is often much in evidence here, this record is quite beautiful. Everyone should own it.

3. Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can

Simply chock-full of consistently good songcraft. A quintessential coming-of-age album, I Speak Because I Can finds Marling a far more disciplined, and more creative, songwriter than she was on her patchy debut. Her voice, her lyrics, and her way with an arrangement have all matured, meaning that this record represents what is now a sadly rare thing: a release from a proper singer-songwriter which is truly essential. Crucially, it develops Marling’s sound whilst also hanging together as a collection: where another singer-songwriter might have settled into a single mode of expression, or crafted a series of songs without much in the way of a single identity, Marling has achieved both variety and coherence. A delight all year.

2. Villagers – Becoming A Jackal

Villagers take their place in a long line of solo artists (Mr E, Damon Gough) who prefer to hide behind what sounds like the name of a band. Bands are, of course, usually cooler and more popular than solo artists, who tend to strike a lonesome pose on stage and warble sadly about it. In defense of Conor O’Brien, Villagers has a bona fide line-up, but one imagines that all except him are expendable – not least as a result of his mesmerising solo performance at this year’s Mercury Music Prize, which exploded outwards that stereotype of the solitary songwriter on stage with an intensity unmatched by all the other nominees, up to and including the eventual winner, the xx. Becoming A Jackal reflects that forcefulness, couching spectral melodies in haunting musical contexts. It is in many ways very nearly a perfect record.

1. Have One On Me – Joanna Newsom

I suggested shortly after the release of this three disc monster that it would be difficult to displace as the year’s best record, and it is therefore with a certain inevitably that it earns its place here. Difficult to like, even harder truly to know, Have One On Me is nevertheless an ambitious, sonically inventive, deftly delivered, and fiercely unapologetic, record. It refuses any single statement you might make about it, including as it does pop songs and prog epics, love songs and fabulist fancies. It is infuriating, but almost addictively so. In a year which saw many more albums get greater splurges of attention, Have One On Me simmered constantly, endlessly rewarding. Bravo.

Bubbling under these top five are albums from Band of Horses, Arcade Fire, Of Montreal, Sufjan Stevens and The National. Of all those, The National are most cruelly served: that quintet, either over-long (The Suburbs) or over-cooked (False Priest) have their issues of consistency or flow; High Violet, however, has simply failed to register beyond an initial impression that it was quite good. It may also be excellent and over-looked; but to this listener at least, it has not been wholly memorable.


9 thoughts on “Albums of 2010

  1. andy who yet again cant be bothered to log in says:

    Interesting to see your picks as always sir, though I’ve only heard one of your five! I haven’t actually listened to Have One On Me (it being the one I’ve heard) in quite a while, but I find myself thinking about it a lot – surely the mark of something pretty great?

    I must however protest at the idea of False Priest being ‘overcooked’! It’s easily my pick for album of 2010, and sometimes I think it’s my favourite of Barnes’ records. But I guess one mans ‘bursting with creativity’ IS another man’s ‘verging on overdone’ 😉

  2. danhartland says:

    You’ve got me: I might be being too harsh on False Priest. As we discussed at the time, I’m certainly not one of those who thinks it’s rubbish. By the same token, though, I do wonder if it isn’t one particular type of a little too rich a little too much of the time.

  3. danhartland says:

    QJ, I’ll bow to no one in my love of Riverboat Soul. But I suppose in this particular top five I was looking for records which – as well as being excellent examples of their form – also innovated within that form in some way.

    I know, I’m unbelievable.

  4. Hey there Dan,

    I think you have a pretty good list there. Our list’s even share a few artists…

    The marling album was brilliant. I feel sort of guilty about not giving her a fairer chance when she first came out. Like you, it’s an album that still visits my cd player now.

    Villagers I wasn’t sure about. When I finally heard the album I was a little more convinced. He still reminds me very much of bright eyes’s earlier stuff- only a little better.

    This was the year I really got into Newsom. I was shocked by how overlooked the Album seems to have been in the end of year lists of most critics! I went out and bought Y’s and fell in love with that, too! Didn’t enjoy the milk eyed mender as much but still liked it. Great, great songwriter.

  5. danhartland says:

    Mr C, glad we agree on some of these: I think you’re harsh on Villagers, since I know what you mean about Bright Eyes but can’t help but think that musically he’s much subtler; but couldn’t agree more on Newsom and Marling. Good list over at yours, by the way…

    • Yeah, don’t get me wrong, I like villagers. As I said, I think Conor (villagers) is better than Conor (bright eyes). Still, I didn’t take the album into my heart as much as others.

      There were a lot of good releases last year (I did almost include arcade fire on my list but I think that albums had all the promotion it needs by now). However, if you’re looking toward 2011, I would recomend you chack out a bristol based band called ‘Pepino’ who’s self relesed dubut drops in may. I caught them live last year and thought they had something… Look up a song of theirs called ‘Clutter’ (I think you’ll have to look on youtube).

  6. Pingback: “The Wild Hunt” « @Number 71

  7. Pingback: Albums of 2011 « @Number 71

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