Near-constant Spotify usage has meant that 2010 has, for me, been more about songs than albums. Or perhaps it’s not been much of a year for LPs? Either way: here’s the unordered list (although, for the record, my favourites are Run Overdrive, Late and Mandrill).
Run Overdrive – Civil Civic
At a bit of a stretch, I can imagine this instrumental track as the theme to a parallel-world Top of the Pops. It’s infectious, uplifting and, for those inclined, presumably quite danceable – but it’s also a little twisted, in particular the rocket-propulsion synths that remind me of Xinlisupreme’s speaker-shredding tracks.
It’s also refreshing to hear a band comfortable without a vocalist (I really hope they don’t succumb). Come to think of it, I still haven’t had the opportunity to play this track at really high volume… I bet it’s a riot live. One of my very favourite tracks of the year, for sure.
New York is Killing Me – Gil Scott Heron
Did anyone else see this coming? ‘I’m New Here’ came from nowhere for me – Gil Scott Heron sounds bruised and weary – and good grief, his voice is incredible these days. The clicking, clapping backdrop to ‘New York is Killing Me’ leaves space for Heron’s mournful complaints. The remix featuring Nas works well, but for me Nas’ contributions dilute a terrifically sparse track.
Microlite – Trophy Wife
I’m predisposed to like Microlite as they’re an Oxford-based band, and put on a good night at the newly gig-centred Modern Art Oxford. While it’s early days and they struggled to find enough material to fill their set (a limp Joanna Newsom cover almost spoiling the fun), this track, their first single, stands head and shoulders above the rest.
Late – Ergo Phizmiz
I’d previously only heard Ergo Phizmiz tracks in collaboration with People Like Us or via Ubuweb or Free Music Archive – but here it is, a genuine Phizmiz album, available in the shops. While on most of the album Ergo does a spot-on Viv Stanshall tribute, this track summons the spirit of Syd Barrett – all late-night meaderings and childish rhymes about Boris the florist.
Bright Lit Blue Skies – Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
While ‘Before Today’ doesn’t contain a perfect track like ‘Every Night I Die at Miyagi’s’ (from ‘House Arrest’), this hits all the right notes for me. Much of 2010 has felt like the past, musically speaking, and when I hear ‘Bright Lit Blue Skies’, I’m transported to family camping holidays in France, circa 1988. Although the definition of hauntology seems to shift, I understand it as music that evokes false memories – and even on first listen I could have sworn that this had been a hit in my childhood.
On top of all of that, it’s a terrific pop song.
Ancestors – Gonjasufi
I don’t know who Gonjasufi is, but I know that his voice is ace. Over a backing similar to some recent Doom tracks, Sumach Ecks’ whispers his hesitant rhymes in a style unlike any rapper I’ve heard before. Intriguingly, Wikipedia lists his occupation as ‘rapper, singer, disc jockey and yoga teacher’.
Uncertain Memory – Grass Widow
Nothing on ‘Past Time’ quite reaches the heights of Grass Widow’s self-titled debut album. But this track, with its surf guitars and Electrelane chorus, is a winner. What on earth is the time signature here? Like Deerhoof’s ‘My Heart’ remix, ‘Uncertain Memory’ is reluctant to let the vocals die away, cutting away bars in order to preserve the flow. Add in the grandeur of the strings parts in the second half, and this is a track that keeps on giving.
Peppermint – Spectrals
Another track influenced by Phil Spector, ‘Peppermint’ filters sunny 60s pop through a grimy filter (see The Drums’ ‘Summertime!’ EP).
It’s an effortlessly hummable pop tune, just brilliant.
Bellringer Blues – Grinderman
The first Grinderman album was a mixed bag, and it was hard to shake the sense of midlife crisis from Nick Cave and co. ‘Grinderman 2’ is another story. I’ve enjoyed this album more than anything from Nick Cave since ‘No More Shall We Part’ – partly due to Cave’s ballsy confidence, but largely down to the instrumental backing. The guitars crunch and stutter and, on ‘Bellringer Blues’, reverse and slow down, creating a drunken structure that the song can only just contain.
Cave described the album as “like stoner rock meets Sly Stone via Amon Düül”, and on this album returns to his fallen prophet persona. ‘Bellringer Blues’ features Gabriel and deals swiftly with the Bible: I read that book every page / And then I put it away / Said I don’t think so / It makes slaves of all of womenkind / And corpses of the men
But it’s the looping weirdness that does it for me. Welcome back, sort-of-Bad Seeds.
Hand Covers Bruise – Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
‘The Social Network’ was one of my favourite films of the year, and the classy production values were exemplified in Reznor and Ross’ soundtrack. ‘Hand Covers Bruise’ plays over the opening sequence, immediately dispelling any notion that a film about Facebook might be in any way whimsical. Sparse and haunted, ‘Hand Covers Bruise’ is a statement of intent. Surely Trent Reznor will now be the soundtrack composer of choice?
All Packed Up – Idiot Glee
Kentucky’s Idiot Glee is my pick of bands to watch. James Friley dodges Animal Collective copyism by referring directly back to Pet Sounds, but with Four Tet-like folktronica backings. Short and sweet, I’ve had ‘All Packed Up’ on more or less constant rotation for months.
Lightning Fossil – Prince Rama
This could almost be a lost Incredible String Band track. The banshee wail becomes less of an accompaniment and begins to lead the rhythm, until the point that the song threatens to become operatic prog folk. That this all happens in less than four minutes is astounding. Also, it gives me a mental image of Kate Bush singing with those head-throwing muppets from Labyrinth.
FM Tan Sexy – El Guincho
A bit of a surprise turnaround, ‘Pop Negro’ all but ditches the calypso plundering of 2008’s ‘Alegranza!’ in favour of a curious mixture of retro disco styles. I can almost imagine ‘FM Tan Sexy’ as an academic study of synthy 80s pop – as with Ariel Pink, it feels familiar on the first listen. Halting and bombastic, ‘FM Tan Sexy’ didn’t necessarily match my expectations of the return of El Guincho, but is terrific in its own right.
None an Island – Lorn
Another act that I know little to nothing about.
I can totally picture Doom rapping over this track, but there’s a certain glory in its sparse grind, carried by the tweeting high-pitched organ riff.
Tightrope – Janelle Monae feat. Big Boi
Outkast only really work for me in the context of Singstar. This track has all the same bolshy fun, but Janelle Monae’s vocals act as a convincing ‘fuck off’ to Duffy and the like. This track also features Big Boi’s Jemaine Clement-esque rhyming of ‘NASDAQ’ and ‘asscrack’.
Four – STLS
Apparently Lisa Schonberg and sts perform live facing each other, each playing a full drum kit. I have to see that. Four is buried at the end of the ‘Drumcore’ EP, but is the pick of the lot: the two drum kits intially compete, then phase together momentarily, forming one huge beat. Alternately shambolic and tight, ‘Four’ fills me with unbridled enthusiasm every time I hear it.
Hotel – Ergo Phizmiz
Another track from ‘Things to Do and Make’. Sitting somewhere between the Bonzo Dog Band and Madness, this is a track that’ll always put a smile on my face. A simple song of complaint about a seedy hotel (‘There’s spiders on the floor here’) with a refrain played on a detuned guitar, it contains some Flight of the Conchord-worthy endearing lyrics, including: And the manager is manic / And he may well be Hispanic / He’s obsessed with the Titanic / And his morals are appalling.
Midnight Boycow – The Sexual Objects
Davy Henderson has cited the Modern Lovers as a template for The Sexual Objects’ album, ‘Cucumber’, although I’d say there’s a Kinks influence in the mix too. There’s something really endearing about these slightly filthy and ramshackle pop songs, and ‘Midnight Boycow’ (closely followed by ‘Merrie England’) is my pick of the bunch.
The Young People – Belbury Poly
My favourite of Ghost Box’s ‘Study Series’ EPs, this features crude synths and that ‘Look Around You’ sense of 1980s wonder.
It really feels that Ghost Box have lived up to expectations this year. And that cover artwork – just superb.
Hey Boy – The Magic Kids
Hopelessly naive indie whimsy, with a severe Brian Wilson hangup and none of Suburban Kids With Biblical Names’ self-deprecation.
It shouldn’t work so well, but it’s just lovely.
Go Do – Jónsi
Only slightly tarnished by featuring on a Dulux advert, this is a storming track from Sigur Ros vocalist, Jón Þór Birgisson.
It’s a track that somehow, in spite of all cynicism, feels genuinely other-worldly.
Marathon – Tennis
Tennis are super-cool, is that right? I fell a bit oblivious to any hype – but this track is just beautiful, a Spector girl group turning to Jackson 5 falsetto, filtered through wobbly FM. Also, just short enough to leave you wanting, immediately ready for repeat.
The Merry Barracks – Deerhoof
I’m allowed this one, because although it’ll be on next year’s album, Deerhoof Vs Evil, the band released it as a free download this year. And on the strength of this, I’m more excited about the new album than any album for an awfully long time. The loping electronic rhythms, Satomi Matsuzaki’s absentminded childish vocals… just magic.
Let’s Go Surfing – The Drums
A borderline choice given that this first appeared on the ‘Summertime!’ EP in 2009, but given that it also appeared on The Drums’ debut album this year, I’m going to allow myself this one. I’ve written about this song before, but I still love it, not least because Rose insists that the chorus is ‘Obama, I just wanna go surfing’.
Parrot in the Pie – Ergo Phizmiz
Am I labouring the point? Ergo Phizmiz’s album ‘Things to Do and Make’ is my album of the year, and picking only four highlights from it is still doing it a disservice.
Roadtrips would be drastically improved if only I could memorise the chorus to this track.
Gold – Darkstar
I’ve had Darkstar’s ‘North’ on rotation since it was released, and while debut track ‘Aidy’s Girl is a Computer’ may still be the standout track after much reworking of the rest of the album, this cover of The Human League’s ‘You Remind Me of Gold’ is a real grower. I think I may have latched onto the album more because of the lack of new material from The Notwist: Darkstar’s skittery, spidery rhythms and two-note piano melodies scratch a similar itch – but I’m really glad that I’ve given ‘North’ the time to sink in.
Take Me Back – Aloe Blacc
Without even googling for reference, I imagine that Aloe Blacc’s similarity to Bill Withers and Al Green has been much discussed. But tracks like this are a reminder that there’s no technical reason why few artists are creating this kind of raw soul.
Too Much, Too Fast – Solex vs. Cristina Martinez & Jon Spencer
This really shouldn’t have worked. The appeal of Elisabeth Esselink’s tunes have always been the charity-shop ramshackleness, and having Jon Spencer widdling all over them ought to have been dreadful. But the album, ‘Amsterdam Throwdown, King Street Showdown!’ is just fantastic – and this track in particular is excellent fun.
Female Guitar Players Are The New Black – Marnie Stern
Marnie Stern’s awfully good at playing the guitar, isn’t she? Having said that, I’ve just looked up the lyrics to this song online, and while the track sounds like an orgiastic wrestling match, it appears to be about foxes and some wind near a bridge. So, perhaps a little disappointing, but Marnie’s ten-finger tapping and the frenetic drums still win me over, foxes or no foxes.
Sing – Four Tet
Other than his wonderful collaboration with Burial (‘Wolf Cub’ – one of my most-played tracks from last year) and the live performances with drummer Steve Reid, this is my favourite Four Tet song since ‘She Moves She’ way back in 2003. The bleeping melody gives Hebden plenty to monkey around with, and over the course of nearly seven minutes becomes hypnotic. To be frank, it could be twice as long and I it probably wouldn’t outstay its welcome.
Vietnam – Crystal Castles
Crystal Castles do not need Alice Glass, and were far better before they had a vocalist. I’m not sure if this is against the common consensus. Or do people hate Crystal Castles after the hype train for the debut album? Either way, this track reduces Glass’ contribution to a series of sampled pitches, over a ‘Downward Spiral’ synth thump. I’m a total sucker for this kind of quasi-chiptune treatment of voices.
Mount Hood – Hauschka
We saw Hauschka play in St Michael’s Church in Oxford, freezing cold sitting on the pews, even wearing our winter coats. While much of his work is composed for a 12-piece orchestra, he played solo with a grand piano prepared with card, duct tape, leather, tambourines and ping-pong balls resting on the strings. With eyes closed it was almost impossible to imagine one man making so many rattling, clattering noises all at once, with the soft piano lines interspered. The most inspiring music I’ve heard live this year.
1977 – Ana Tijoux
This track makes me question what I actually get out of hiphop – I can only understand 10% of the words, but I still get a real kick out of this.
Does anyone else out there find great pleasure listening to rap in a language you don’t understand?
My Heart (Deerhoof remix) – Wildbirds and Peacedrums
Forget my earlier comment. I’m allowing myself this one anyway.
Last.fm tells me that this is the track I’ve listened to most this year, which sounds about right as there were a few days when I listened to little else.
Silver Sands – Stereolab
Stereolab’s career distilled into just over 10 minutes.
A track of two halves, this begins with sugar-tinged Krautrock before making an about-turn into Heatwave noodling territory.
Ambre – Nils Frahm
Uncomplicated and beautiful, this track buried into my brain a long while ago.
Music like this does rather make other, fussier productions seems a bit ridiculous. ‘Props’ to Thom Yorke for recommending this via Spotify.
Mandrill – Ergo Phizmiz
This is the tune that’s been stuck in my head more than any other this year. And it features easily the best collection of words from any song this year: This mandrill / he was mauvish in the chops / and delicious / I met him down the shops one day / And he said ‘How d’you do?
When the third verse begins, Ergo’s pals pull together to make the most joyous sound I’ve heard for such a long time. Seriously, this is going to sound over-the-top, but this ‘novelty’ song makes me well up with happiness.