Published on December 15th, 2010 | by Éilish Burke4
Culch.ie’s Albums of 2010
Every newspaper, magazine and website worth its weight in salt is currently counting down their top picks of 2010. And the music writers here at Culch.ie have decided to hop on this list-making bandwagon; sure if it’s good enough for Santy, it’s good enough for us. Forthwith, each writer gives us their top three choices of the year:
1 – Been Listening – Johnny Flynn
Yeah, like you’re surprised. Mr. Flynn’s second album, Been Listening is a triumph from start (the breezily addictive Kentucky Pill) to gentle crescendo (touching yarn The Prizefighter And The Heiress). Reconquering ground covered by debut A Larum, there’s nothing pretentiously risky in Been Listening; it’s the sound of an artist who’s confident about where he is, and good God, is this ever “nu-folk” at its best. Mournful without being mawkish, charming without being twee, it’s earthy and evocative and rousing, all melodies your father would get misty-eyed over during a lock-in; Lost and Found and The Water are bound to get Irish blood pumping, while Barnacled Warship is the kind of succinct anthem we could all use right now. Johnny Flynn is an old head on young shoulders – old like a warrior bard, something not quite of his time, something very special indeed.
Recommended track – Howl. Stunningly raspy blues from the blondest boy of the year.
2 – The Family Jewels – Marina & The Diamonds.
I’m often accused of being snobbish about pop music, probably because I’m convinced that the majority of the stuff pushed into the spotlight (poplight?) is unadulterated rubbish. This, though? This is proper pop; catchy, clever, heartbreakingly honest, all wrapped in sweetness and light but weighing an absolute tonne. I am in awe of Marina Diamandis. I am thrilled by her audacity and candour and savvy and thrilled that she can translate all of that into something as delicious as this album. In Hollywood she sings about growing grey on lost dreams. In Numb, about sacrificing depth of feeling for ambition. In Obsessions, about … er, pinning too much meaning onto grocery shopping. You listen to The Family Jewels, and you feel like you know Marina, and she knows you, and that doubt and worry and anger and fear are communal and bearable and quite beautiful, sometimes.
Recommended track – Hermit The Frog is as glorious as pop music gets.
3 – The Winter Of Mixed Drinks – Frightened Rabbit
I agonised over my third choice, because I wondered whether everyone had already heard TWOMD and whether it was too obvious a choice (er … like my top two spots). But really, I couldn’t in all good faith nominate anything else. This record is another triumph for the thinking man’s Mumford & Sons – Frightened Rabbit, who, like Ms. Marina, are capable of creating heart-swelling beauty from crude, universal truths. Triumphant, yes; triumphant is definitely the word. This is an air-punching, chin-jutting, victorious album, with metaphor and deep thought and big ideas just underneath, there for when you get past the air-punching and start wondering what you’re punching air about. Living In Colour is perhaps the most gorgeously hopeful song I’ve heard all year. And Swim Until You Can’t See Land was influenced by Ben Kingsley’s halfarsed grand gesture in The Wackness, so major points scored there.
Recommended track – The Wrestle. All hyperbole aside and all, right, coz it’s epic.
The Happiest Lamb – Audra Mae Life Is Sweet! Pleased To Meet You – Lightspeed Champion Tourist History – Two Door Cinema Club The Boxer – Kele Beachcomber’s Windowsill – Stornoway We Were Exploding Anyway – 65daysofstatic
(3) Foals – Total Life Forever
If, at the start of the year, I was told that I would be putting Foals in my top albums of the year I’d have laughed. Such derision would have stemmed from the band’s debut, Antidotes, which resembled an instant sugar-hit; great in short stints but likely to give you a toothache if you consumed too much, too soon. However, with the follow up Total Life Forever, it’s clear that Foals are working from a completely different canvas altogether. Gone are the snappy, jittery bursts of indie-pop, and in their place comes a sprawling, multi-layered landscape, dressed with sumptuous licks and brooding, lush vocals. From the desolate melancholy of Spanish Sahara to the tripped out bliss of After Glow, Foals have raised their game entirely and whereas Antidotes rewarded repeated listens with the ‘EJECT’ button, Total Life Forever evolves beautifully with it. If this is their rate of development, you can expect Foals’ third album to be better than Pet Sounds…maybe.<>br/> Recommended tracks: Spanish Sahara, Blue Blood, After Glow
(2) Villagers – Becoming A Jackal
When The Immediate disbanded in 2006 many lamented that we had witnessed the demise of one of the most exciting Irish bands in years. From such ashes however, former member Conor O’Brien has rebounded spectacularly to deliver a debut album characterised by a consistent beauty and an expert level of craftsmanship. From the sombre piano-led opening of I Saw The Dead to the jangly positivism of Pact (I’ll Be Your Fever) this is an album which is equally charming and beguiling throughout. Both lyrically and musically O’Brien holds that enviable penchant of weaving both the minimal and the majestic together in harmony. Be it the spine tingling simplicity of Pieces or the rousing chorus of the title track, each song is expertly moulded and sublimely delivered, creating an album of tales; each one as absorbing and necessary as the other. Becoming a Jackal has propelled Villagers from virtual unknowns to the top of the Irish musical hierarchy and it has marked O’Brien out as one of the nation’s most prodigious troubadours.
Recommended Tracks: Send Away The Tigers, I Saw The Dead, Twenty-Seven Strangers
(1) The National – High Violet
With Alligator and Boxer already vying for the title of ‘Best National Album’, High Violet’s arrival ensures the battle will now be fought three ways. Matt Berninger’s infamous growl is again backed by simple, understated riffs and gun-shot percussion, and from the off it’s clear the four-piece haven’t veered too far from the recipe which has granted them success thus far. Instead, High Violet registers as a natural progression, with an added atmospheric dash complimenting the same core structure to deliver an understated yet incredibly captivating piece of work. Less immediate than its predecessors, flash listens here and there will not suffice; rather this is a sumptuous body of work that must be delved into. Such attention is rewarded with an evocative atmosphere and intricate melodic layers, all of which is underpinned by Berninger’s cathartic self-deprecating lyrics which again dominate proceedings in brilliant fashion. Essential and memorable across every pore, High Violet confirms The National consistency, as well as their status as not just a cult band, but as one of the best bands in the world today.
Recommended Tracks: Anyone’s Ghost, Afraid of Everyone, Conversation 16
Caribou – Swim; Cast of Cheers – Chariot; Twin Sister – Color Your Life; Best Coast – Crazy For You; The Drums – The Drums; Patrick Kelleher -You look Colder; Gorillaz – Plastic Beach; O Emperor – Hither Tither; Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest; Everything Everything – Man Alive
Jonsi – Go
In the interests of honesty I have to say straight out that this is my favourite album this year. To anyone who knows me this will come as a surprise as I’ve never given Sigur Ros(Jonsi’s day job) the time they deserve and most of the music that I rave about comes wrapped in a beard and a flannel shirt.
In truth I can’t even remember why I listened to it in the first place, probably because of a recommendation or a good review. Whatever the reason I’m thankful. From the opening beeps of Go Do, through the heart swelling Tornado to final track Hengilas this album is an absolute joy, bursting with passion and stuffed with more invention and ideas than most bands manage in their whole career. At times it feels both grandiose to intimate, the soaring and swirling yet still anchored in reality. Then there’s the voice. No description I give here could do justice to that voice so all I can do is implore you to hear it for yourself.
In the end not everyone is going to like this album, some people will probably hate it, some people will think it’s only okay but everyone should hear it and everyone should give it a chance.
Recommended Tracks: Tornadoes, Animal Arithmitic, Go Do.
Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
The first time I listened to “The Suburbs” I didn’t think it was great. The second time it didn’t fare much better. It took four or five listens for me to start to like it. After five to ten listens I really liked it and after ten to twenty listens I loved it.
It’s as if Arcade Fire have used each of their three albums to address a particular period of their lives, centering the album on the associated memories and emotions . “Funeral” was the teenage years, full of excitement, hope and enthusiasm. “Neon Bible” was the twenties, a more mature and ultimately more assured affair and now we have “The Suburbs,” their take on the thirties. It’s an album of memories, of coming to terms with the person you are, wondering how you got there, what comes next, what you can do to change and whether you really want to.
If you haven’t heard this album yet or if you’ve heard it and weren’t convinced give it time, let it grow on you. It’s worth the effort.
Recommended Tracks: The Suburbs, Ready to Start, Modern Man.
The Black Keys – Brothers
Ohio natives The Black Keys returned this year with their sixth and arguably finest album to date.
Brothers takes the finely honed blues-rock the duo have perfected over their previous albums and expands the formula to produce their most varied and memorable work yet. While Dan Auerbach’s guitar and Patrick Carney’s drums remain at the core of their sound they are now augmented by keyboards, bass and even a horn section. These extra elements help to stave off the repetitiveness that has hindered previous efforts, allowing the duo to takes songs in directions that were previously off-limits to their purist approach.
Add to all this a contender for gig of the year at Tripod in October and you have a band who have been given both the time and space to develop naturally and are finally showing their true potential, long may it continue.
Recommended Tracks: Tighten Up, Howlin’ For You, She’s Long Gone.
Agnes Obel – Philharmonics; Avi Buffalo – Avi Buffalo; Best Coast – Crazy for You; Broken Bells – Broken Bells; Band of Horse – Infinite Arms; Ele “Paperboy” Reed – Come and Get It; Frightened Rabbit – The Winter of Mixed Drinks; Surfer Blood – Astro Coast; The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt; War Paint – The Fool; The National – High Violet
Cathy Davey – The Nameless
The Namelessis undeniably Cathy Davey’s finest album to date – no small accomplishment when the incredibly high standard of its two predecessors is taken into consideration. Finally commercial success has caught up to her widespread critical acclaim, with The Nameless going straight to the top of the Irish charts upon its release in May. What Cathy Davey has achieved with this album is remarkable. Calling it ‘eclectic’ just doesn’t go far enough – across thirteen tracks she portrays an astounding diversity, all the while maintaining her own trademark sound as the common thread. ‘Little Red’ has become a firm fixture on the Irish airwaves, and is sure to feature heavily in Songs of 2010 lists across the board. But beyond the all-conquering lead single is a veritable selection-box of musical delights – from eerie epic title track ‘The Nameless’ to the militant brilliance of ‘Army of Tears’, the beautifully crafted ‘Bad Weather’ to the dreamy refrains of ‘Universe Tipping’ to the stunning ‘Lay Your Hand’. Musically, vocally, and lyrically The Nameless is near flawless. 55 minutes of pure unadulterated Cathy Davey goodness.
Recommended Track: Do I HAVE to pick just three?! Fine. ‘Army of Tears’, ‘Universe Tipping’, ‘Wild Rum’
Villagers – Becoming A Jackal
Sold-out tours, a seal of approval from a certain Mr. Holland, and a chart-topping and widely acclaimed album in the form of Mercury Music Prize nominated Becoming a Jackal – to say that 2010 has been quite the year for Conor O’Brien is an understatement. One of the most eagerly anticipated debut albums of recent years, Becoming A Jackal not only justifies the hype which surrounded its release, but makes you feel guilty for ever doubting it, even if it was only for a split second. It is quite simply a stunning album, which captivates from beginning to end. From haunting opener ‘I Saw The Dead’ to the masterfully crafted ‘Ship of Promises’ and the heart-wrenching sentiments of ‘The Meaning of the Ritual’ – O’Brien showcases himself as both a dynamically innovative musician and an outstanding songwriter throughout. Becoming A Jackal is somewhat a masterpiece. Conor O’Brien may have set the bar incredibly high with this debut album – but he has also instilled confidence that this is but the beginning of something truly special.
Recommended Track: ‘I Saw The Dead’, ‘Home’, ‘The Meaning of the Ritual’
Fight Like Apes – The Body of Christ and the Legs of Tina Turner
With The Body of Christ and the Legs of Tina Turner, Fight Like Apes have well and truly shattered the notion of the ‘difficult second album’. The Body of Christ… exudes all of the quirky charm which led us to fall for FLApes’ debut offering – but this time around, everything is that bit more polished. Interestingly, the album is not instantly loveable – it’s a grower, and definitely takes a few listens… But then the breakthrough happens; the realisation of its brilliance. The advances that the band have made lyrically are astounding – cryptic they may be, but this is Fight Like Apes: Now With Added Feelings – and it works. MayKay’s vocals are sublime throughout – but ‘Thank God You Weren’t Thirsty (Lightbulb)’ is a defining moment, as she switches from tender lament to venomous tirade with unwavering conviction. Pockets’ vocal coup on ‘Waking Up With Robocop’ is a revelation – where has that voice been hiding all this time?! ‘Ice Cream Apple F**k’, ‘Come On Let’s Talk About Our Feelings’, and the epic ‘Poached Eggs’ are practically made for the live stage, and will certainly become fast fan favourites as the band take the album on tour. A coming-of-age album from Fight Like Apes, and one which affirms them as a force to be reckoned with in Irish music.
Recommended Tracks: ‘Thank God You Weren’t Thirsty (Lightbulb)’, ‘Poached Eggs’, ‘Pull Off Your Arms and Let’s Play In Your Blood’
Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy; Warpaint – The Fool; The National – High Violet; Ham Sandwich – White Fox; Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can; Adebisi Shank – This is theSecond Album of a Band Called Adebisi Shank; Ellie Goulding – Lights
Halves, It Goes It Goes (Forever & Ever)
2010 provided an embarrassment of great Irish albums and though it was hard to exclude the genius of Jedward’s Planet Jedward from my list it was pipped to the post by this lovely, lovely album by Dubliners Halves. It Goes It Goes envelops you in its lush universe and you’ll find it’s a place you’ll never want to leave. I know I’d willingly get lost inside songs like Darling You’ll Meet Your Maker for quite a while without complaint. Definitely my Irish album of the year. (Read Culch’s interview with Halves here.)
Recommended track: Darling You’ll Meet Your Maker
LCD Soundsystem, This is Happening
James Murphy at his genius best, This is Happening is dance music for grown ups. Inventive beats, banging chorus lines and brilliant lyrics make this an album which keeps on giving. I Can Change is a serious contender for song of the year and the groups performance of the song on Jools Holland is one of my music highlights of 2010 – Murphy’s voice has never sounded better.
Recommended track: I Can Change
The National, High Violet
Expectations were high for this album. Having delivered two of the decades best works in Boxer and Alligator, the question was, could the Americans continue to produce the kind of quality which had won them the devotion of millions across the globe? Yes, yes they could. High Violet is a brilliant collection of beautiful songs. Mat Berninger voices (deeply) tales of heartache, love and tragedy in life in the end of the noughties. It’s an album of its time, but at the same time, timeless. All together now… “ ‘Cause I’mmm Evvillll”.
Recommended track: Conversation 16
Beach House, Teen Dream; Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Before Today: Yeasayer; Odd Blood; Vampire Weekend: Contra; Villagers, Becoming a Jackal; ; Two Door Cinema Club, Tourist History; Laura Marling, I Speak Because I Am; Massive Attack, Heligoland.
The Black Keys – Brothers:
It’s like The White Stripes but with a good drummer. Honestly couldn’t believe these guys have been around 9 years along with Brothers being their 6th Studio LP. Its refreshing, and almost uplifting, that the blues-rock fusion is still alive and kicking the shit out of Lady Gaga. Raw rhythm. Full guitar distortion. Duurty. I love it. Also, definitely some Curtis Mayfield-esque inspiration present here. Recommended to anyone who loves old school R&B and psychedelic rock.
Standout track: ‘Ten Cent Pistol’; ‘Howlin’ For You’.
The Arcade Fire – The Suburbs:
Now I will honestly admit I haven’t ever delved into an Arcade Fire album before The Suburbs. But after seeing them twice over the summer I, like many before me, couldn’t get enough of them. Again, another excellent band I was missing out on. I digress. The album is truly a masterful piece of music. And I can’t even really put a label or genre to them either because, to me, seemingly, they have taken inspiration from both ends of the spectrum. Its pop. Its indie rock. Its folk. And, and… There is sufficient material for some fairly epic slow-motion running background music – albeit, miniscule. Otherwise, quite an amazing effort from that lovely gang of Canadians I must say. (Yes I googled it… *Shame*)
Standout track: ‘The Suburbs’
Vampire Weekend – Contra:
Honestly hated this album the first time I heard it. But it grew on me. Alarmingly quickly. I don’t know whether it’s the awkward song structure or the instruments or the vocals…. But there is just something. You know that little something that sets something apart from everything else but it makes the world of difference? Yeah…. That’s what I feel about this album. Its totally unique and nothing like anything released in 2010. I get the impression that Vampire Weekend have no idea how to write a standard song. Which is a good thing. I think they just throw a load of little pieces together and it seemingly always works. If anything, today’s music needs Vampire Weekend. And you need Contra if you haven’t already.
Standout tracks: All of them. If I were to pick one, albeit, extremely difficult to do, then ‘California English’.
Eminem – Recovery