For the past few years, I've been sharing my top 10 albums of the year. This year I decided to do the same, but somehow ended up with a shortlist of about 65 albums. This was quite unusual, you see. Usually I'd end up with 20 or less in my shortlist.
So what's different this year then? Well, there's a few reasons that can explain that. First is Spotify.
Well, not just Spotify. The rise of free/affordable music streaming services such as Spotify, Bandcamp, Soundcloud and Grooveshark presented everyone with an opportunity to listen to almost anything for practically nothing without resorting to illegal mediafire links and torrent files. Spotify has introduced me to countless bands without having to navigate through the mess that is Myspace.
The second reason is the undeniable fact that 2010 has been a good year for music. There's been so many good debut albums this year, from the refreshing noise pop of Sleigh Bells's Treats to the relentless arty punk of Pulled Apart By Horses's self-titled stonker via the soul-crushing Hollow Realm record by post-rockers Talons. Then we've got the second albums, with bands shrugging off the pressure from having such impressive debuts to come out with their own respective leviathans of records this year. Examples of this come from the likes of Foals, Crystal Castles and Rolo Tomassi, all of whom completely ignored everyone's expectations to make more of the same. Instead they crafted subtler, more restrained albums that showcased a new-found sense of maturity and control.
Of course you've also got the 'veterans' (the term is being used loosely here), with the likes of Gorillaz, The Walkmen and Rufus Wainwright coming out with brilliant albums to show they've still got it.
But having so many great albums posed a problem for me when it came to trying to make sense of it all and establish some kind of order as to whether this album is better than that album and if that album should place higher than this other one. Even after going through several stages of painstaking shortlisting, selecting, ordering, re-ordering, and trying to convince myself that I was satisfied with the order, I have to admit that it can still feel a bit arbitrary. Even when I was writing this with the list supposedly finalised, more than once I was tempted to change the ranks.
So when you go through this list, keep this in mind: there is no way to objectively judge which album is better than the other. Even if I was in a slightly different mood/setting the whole top 5 could've been very different. This list is me trying to make sense of a year that's been amazing when it came to musical releases.
With that in mind, enjoy the list and I hope you find something new that you like!
1) Talons - Hollow Realm [SOUNDCLOUD]
This is the most recent release in the top 10 section of this list, after only coming out less than a month ago. This album will unfortunately miss many publications' top album lists simply for the fact that many publications have the worrying tendency to compile their list in November. This is a shame, because this album is devastatingly impressive.
Even if they just filled this album with the tried,tested-and-loved Talons favourites such as Arthropods and Bethlehem, it would've been more than enough to warrant it a place in the top 20. But Talons opted for the more difficult route of crafting completely new songs. This decision proved to be the right one as the whole album works beautifully as either individual songs or as a collective whole. Every song here is an epic journey on just its own, but as a whole album, it effortlessly destroys everything in its path with its apocalyptic violins and powerfull riffs.
A friend of mine described Sleigh Bells as an amalgamation of every single contemporary music genre you can think of. I think of Sleigh Bells as a more fun, raw version of M.I.A.These two descriptions are somewhat accurate, yet terribly insufficient to fully represent the craziness that is their debut album Treats.
It is a remarkably raw and visceral record that's relentless in its approach to drown you in distorted noise. Yet as the music chaotically goes at all directions at once like some kind of quantum sonic attack, Alexis Krauss's voice counters with an almost zen-like calmness. This juxtaposition results in a distortedly raw record that's also incredibly catchy and, god forbid, poppy.
3) Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles II [SPOTIFY] [GROOVESHARK]
The duo (Alice Glass, Ethan Kath) behind Crystal Castles has quite a disturbing back story, if you cared to investigate. It goes a long way to explaining why their songs are full to the brim of angsty, indiscriminate rage and constant, unrelenting darkness. Crystal Castles brings a rare emotional depth to the dance genre, then twists and distorts it to a point that's beyond any sort of recognition.
The second album, actually titled just Crystal Castles (just like the first album. Confusing, I know), showcased the band's polished restraint and subtlety while still maintaining the bleakness and the fierce nature that made their brilliant debut a one of the best albums of 2008.
4) Foals - Total Life Forever [SPOTIFY]
Another band that went for subtlety and restraint the second time around were the Mercury-nominated Foals, whose debut album Antidotes brought angular guitars and sharp rhythms to the mainstream. Their follow-up, Total Life Forever, relied instead on much of the sparseness and spaces that characterised the beauty of tracks like Spanish Sahara and Alabaster. Even the faster songs are unlike the math/disco/punk songs of Antidotes.
Foals now have a more cohesive groove while at the same time having a more expansive sound unconstrained by the math rock label they were given as a consequence of Antidotes. This is, to use a common phrase, a more mature record than their first.
This is probably the only album in this whole list that you can download legally completely free. Call it post-punk, post-rock, math, or robot rock, as they describe themselves on their Bandcamp. Whatever you like. This is - despite the lack of a price tag - a completely satisfying, fully-formed behemoth of a record.
If you were disappointed by Foals's change in direction, then you will no doubt find some consolation in Chariot. Frenetic, flurrying and flamboyant, the guitars fly and loop in all directions, the yelps are muffled to perfection and the drums just go along with all this madness with considerable grace. If you won't buy any of the albums on this list, download this one. After all, what have you got to lose? It's free.
If you're looking for a more sweaty, fun-filled affair, look no further than Leeds noise-mongerers Pulled Apart By Horses. This album is filled with crowd favourites such as 'I Punched A Lion In The Throat' and 'The Crapsons,' so for the PABH-informed who has been to any of their countless shows, this album brings very few new things to shout about.
The miracle here is how effective the record manages to capture the energy that has seen them repeatedly labeled by various publications as the best live band in Britain. As with their electrifying live shows, this album packs a punch and then some. Fun, sweaty choruses stand alongside loud guitars, drums and basslines to kneecap-shattering effect. Their uber-silly shouts of 'ultimate power!', 'I punched a lion in the throat,' and 'awesome! radical!' pave the way for an unpretentious rock record that'll be the soundtrack of your mental Saturday nights.
When Bombay Bicycle Club announced they were recording a second album, a collective shout of joy was heard. Then came the second announcement that it was going to be an acoustic album. This time around the shouts were a little mixed.
Those worries now seem silly and unnecessary, as the stripped sound of Flaws beautifully emphasizes the quavering qualities of singer Jack Steadman's voice, especially when you hear the brilliantly re-worked Dust On The Ground. The acoustic nature of the album also reveal a more folksy side of the band (especially with the folk family connections one of the band members have). Fans of the first might not be fully convinced with Flaws, but if you're patient enough to give it a go, you're in for a magnificient treat.
8) Olafur Arnalds - ...And They Have Escaped The Weight Of The Darkness [YOUTUBE] [GROOVESHARK]
Olafur Arnalds, for someone who has only recently turned 24, is quite a prolific musician. Having come out with three EPs and two albums, with one of those EPs written specifically for the ballet Dyad 1909, he's also found time to write tracks and play drums for metal bands. In April last year, he attempted to write seven songs in seven days, which resulted in the critically acclaimed Found Songs EP.
Yet it was never about quantity with Arnalds. All his songs are masterfully crafted and poignantly emotional. "...And They Have Escaped..." is no exception. You can't help but be absorbed into Arnalds's world where stories are told without the help of words, and each note is more mournful than the last. Sparse and glacial, every instance of the piano and the string quartet lingers and clings to spine-chilling perfection. One of the most underrated albums this year.
9) Two Door Cinema Club - Tourist History [SPOTIFY] [GROOVESHARK]
Here's an album that proudly and unashamedly showcases its influences. What this record lacks in originality it makes up for in superbly catchy dance tracks. Signed to the insanely hip French label Kitsune Maison, Two Door Cinema Club are masters of the sharply infectious and the fiendishly danceable.
Every song here follows the same prime directive: they're all there to make you move. There are stand-out tracks, like the enthusiastically bouncy I Can Talk and the exuberant 'What You Know,' yet there are absolutely no 'filler' songs on this album. All ten songs here succeed in that shared prime directive. A party album for the Bloc Party-obsessed.
10) 65daysofstatic - We Were Exploding Anyway [SPOTIFY] [GROOVESHARK]
65daysofstatic, as it seems, have been trying hard to shake off the simplified label of post-rock, which is evident in their attempts to incorporate electronica and break-beat into the mix. This is a band that's not afraid to shake things up, even at the risk of alienating some of their fans who have criticised their recent electronic-orientated forays.
It's their loss, as We Were Exploding Anyway is a great collective of beautifully-woven tracks with layers upon layers of guitars, synths, drums and what-have-you. Even the presence of Robert Smith in the frankly brilliant 'Come To Me' does not detract from 65daysofstatic's overall vision here. This is an album that works equally well when you're savouring each sound and when you leave it playing in the background.
11) Grown Ups - More Songs [SPOTIFY] [PUNKNEWS]14) James Yuill - Movement In A Storm [SPOTIFY] [GROOVESHARK]
15) Rolo Tomassi - Cosmology [SPOTIFY]
16) Mimas - Lifejackets [SPOTIFY]
17) Warpaint - The Fool [SPOTIFY] [GROOVESHARK]
18) Blood Red Shoes - Fire Like This [SPOTIFY] [GROOVESHARK]
19) The Attika State - Measures [SPOTIFY]
20) The Xcerts - Scatterbrain [SPOTIFY]
21) Hjaltalin - Terminal [SPOTIFY] [GROOVESHARK]
22) Gorillaz - Plastic Beach [SPOTIFY] [GROOVESHARK]
23) Holy Fuck - Latin [SPOTIFY] [GROOVESHARK]
24) Yeasayer - Odd Blood [SPOTIFY] [GROOVESHARK]
25) Everything Everything - Man Alive [SPOTIFY] [GROOVESHARK]
26) Vampire Weekend - Contra [SPOTIFY] [GROOVESHARK]
27) Emeralds - Does It Look Like I’m Here? [SPOTIFY] [GROOVESHARK]
28) Los Campesinos! - Romance Is Boring [SPOTIFY] [GROOVESHARK]
29) The National - High Violet [SPOTIFY] [GROOVESHARK]
30) Magnetic Man - Magnetic Man [SPOTIFY] [GROOVESHARK]
31) Mystery Jets - Serotonin [SPOTIFY] [GROOVESHARK]
32) Sky Larkin - Kaleide [SPOTIFY] [GROOVESHARK]
33) Deftones - Diamond Eyes [SPOTIFY] [GROOVESHARK]
34) Rufus Wainwright - All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu [SPOTIFY] [GROOVESHARK]
35) Les Savy Fav - Root For Ruin [SPOTIFY] [GROOVESHARK]
36) The Notes - Wishing Well [BANDCAMP]
37) The Walkmen - Lisbon [SPOTIFY] [GROOVESHARK]
38) Villagers - Becoming A Jackal [SPOTIFY] [GROOVESHARK]
39) The Strange Death Of Liberal England - Drown Your Heart Again [SPOTIFY]
40) Antony & The Johnsons - Swanlights [SPOTIFY] [GROOVESHARK]
41) Liars - Sisterworld [SPOTIFY] [GROOVESHARK]
42) The Drums - The Drums [SPOTIFY] [GROOVESHARK]
43) Gold Panda - Lucky Shiner [SPOTIFY] [GROOVESHARK]
44) Beach House - Teen Dream [SPOTIFY] [GROOVESHARK]
45) Glasser - Ring [SPOTIFY] [GROOVESHARK]
46) Klaxons - Surfing The Void [SPOTIFY] [GROOVESHARK]
47) Maps & Atlases - Perch Patchwork [SPOTIFY] [GROOVESHARK]
48) Jonsi - Go [SPOTIFY] [GROOVESHARK]
49) Islet - Wimmy [SPOTIFY]
50) The New Pornographers - Together [SPOTIFY] [GROOVESHARK]
So there we go. My top 50 of the year. It's been a good year. Let's look forward to 2011, shall we?
Over and out