2010 was a bit of a mixed bag: it was the year that brought us musical sensations such as Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs and Kings of Leon’s Come Around Sundown, but it was also the year that Matt Cardle butchered Biffy Clyro’s ‘Many of Horror’, that Lady Gaga further descended into musical madness, and that Guns N’ Roses returned to the stage – the less said about that, the better. Nearly a month into 2011, The EDGE get all nostalgic for the last twelve months, taking a look at the best musical offerings from 2010. Enjoy!
LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening
This Is Happening marks the end of the trial, being the third and final full album released under the moniker. The record is only nine songs long, lasting well over an hour, but it doesn’t outstay its welcome. This Is Happening’s greatest triumph is probably the opening track: ‘Dance Yrself Clean’, a track containing bittersweet lyrics and one of the most heart-warming uses of a synthesizer in the history of music. Murphy even had to take steroids to whip his voice into shape in order to hit the high notes.
Most tracks on the album are as cerebral as they are danceable, yet there was a need for a single – step forward ‘Drunk Girls’. Described by its author as “dumb”, it is in fact a great example of when dance and punk collide. It’s a shame that this will be the final instalment of the LCD Soundsystem trilogy, but James Murphy has gone out in style.
Frightened Rabbit – The Winter of Mixed Drinks
Although not a record that tore up the charts, The Winter of Mixed Drinks is a subtle and beautiful third musical offering from the Scottish Indie foursome. Released early in 2010, it has a lot akin with indie-folk records from the likes of Mumford & Sons, and Stornaway, whilst still remaining completely and flagrantly unique. Stunning rippley guitars run along playfully underneath the unashamedly raw and scruffy vocals that just scream Fife, with a uplifting string arrangement weaving over the top; a combination so simple it works.
But aside from musical perfection, there are two things that make this record shine amongst the plethora of indie music that drenches the current charts, and the first is temporal relevance. It is a record that seems appropriate every time of day, in any season, equally as perfect as the dark nights of winter roll in, or in the stifling heat of a midsummer day. And finally, it stands out because of is its strong grounding. Never has an indie record had such a strong sense of place – this record belongs to Scotland as much as tartan and haggis, and that makes it a sublime piece of art that will not become lost in the saturated genre.
The Tallest Man On Earth – The Wild Hunt
The overt Dylan-esque qualities of The Wild Hunt may come under scrutiny, but it shouldn’t take away from the fact that Kristian Matsson, known to us as The Tallest Man On Earth, has crafted a style and album that’s both beautiful and delicate in it’s own right. Adding anecdotal authority to the sound first demonstrated in his debut Shallow Grave two years ago, Matsson’s sound does indeed owe a great deal to Bob Dylan, but it’s not entrenched in a time gone past. It feels fresh, vital, and so effortlessly listenable as one song rambles into the next. There’s little variation in timbre or arrangement here but Matsson’s stream of rustic metaphors enthral and hold attention track after track. Bold closing track ‘Kids on the Run’ has Matsson on piano duties and demonstrates that he’s fully capable of creating a track just as beguiling as any other without the safety net of his finger-picked guitar flurries to pick up the slack.
Rokysopp – Senior
Senior is the best electronica record I’ve heard in years. Ditching their regular vocalists, Royksopp have crafted a dark, brooding and completely instrumental album. Its brilliance is in its understatement.
Three tracks in particular really stand out. ‘The Alcoholic’ sees the album at its most optimistic. It’s a beautiful piece of music, utterly uplifting and entirely relaxing at the same time. ‘The Drug’ is surprisingly complex. It might not strike you on first listening, but it begs to be heard again and again. It has a simple yet very powerful beat, creating a strangely euphoric sensation. ‘The Fear’ sees Royksopp at their most sombre-the beats are deliberately protracted, almost suffocating towards the end of the song. It’s both melancholy and inspiring.
Senior is an experience; you need to sit down, chill out and listen all the way through the album. Electronica may not be your thing, but I urge you to give Royksopp’s latest album a listen. It is their masterpiece, and it thoroughly deserves more recognition.
Bombay Bicycle Club – Flaws
This was how Bombay Bicycle Club introduced their unexpectedly acoustic second album Flaws. After the brash indie sounds of their first album the band set our to prove that they wearn’t “Just another Indie band” and could in fact write heartfelt stripped back raw music. This is how they silenced the critics. The year started with double A-side ‘Ivy and Gold’ and title track ‘Flaws’ and it was soon evident that this improptu LP was something special.
Going back to their roots the band enlisted the help of childhood friends with Lucy Rose featuring on the album and along with Melodica, Melody and Me supporting the band’s short church tour. Bombay Bicycle Club moved a step further by shooting a video for each of the 11 tracks which again heavily features the bands friends.
Although the album peaked at just #8 it is, without a doubt, one of the years best hidden gems.
Taking Dawn – Time to Burn
Taking Dawn first came to prominence after taking Download by storm in the summer and their popularity has grown and grown. What makes Time to Burn successful is the quality of the song writing and the ability to fuse the sound of Metallica and Iron Maiden to create a great sound. Their ability really comes through on tracks such as ‘Time to Burn’, ‘So Loud’ and cover of Fleetwood Mac’s classic track ‘The Chain’. The album represents the exciting new British rock and metal bands that are coming through on the scene and not only that it is a great, uplifting album to drive to.
Caribou – Swim
A mathematician by trade, Caribou, otherwise known as Dan Snaith, is unsurprisingly meticulous. Propelled by the desire to make dance music with all the qualities of water, this may have seemed too unstructured a task for a numbers man, but there is nothing formulaic about Swim; instead it’s organic, liquid, and as viscous as Snaith could have hoped for. Metronomic clicks and pulses seem organic rather than synthetic, and perfectly at ease amongst natural horns, multilayered electronics, and blurry crescendos. Off-kilter vocals blend well with busy arrangements, so much so that Snaith’s anguished lyrics and underplayed delivery go largely unnoticed until the post-listen realisation that the most affecting part of Swim is the torment lying beneath the water’s shimmering surface.
Vampire Weekend – Contra
After the immense success of Vampire Weekend’s eponymous debut album, which received almost universal praise, the pressure was on for the New York-based four-piece to follow it up. Released in the cultural wasteland that is January, Contra managed to bring an upbeat, sunny charm to the British winter.
The magnetism of Contra lies in the fact that Vampire Weekend have managed to marry many different musical styles and varied instrumentation in order to create a highly diverse record. This imaginative use of styles has created a hugely distinctive sound – there simply isn’t a group around that sounds like Vampire Weekend.
Lead singer Ezra Koenig’s charisma is one of the great things about this album; he shows the ability to pull off staccato, screeching vocals (‘Cousins’, ‘White Sky’) and shows his soulful side (‘Diplomat’s Son’) with equal success. This allied with the sheer musicality of multi instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij (who also produced the record) and Christopher Tomson, who is one of the most original drummers in rock, makes for a staggering sophomore record.
Plan B – The Defamation of Strickland Banks
Probably the most shocking album of the year. It’s Plan B but not as we (used to) know him. After an initial, grimey rap record Who Needs Action When You Got Words, about promiscuity and 14 years old girls Plan B has moved to a new genre and suprisingly is more likely to be Britain’s answer to Marvin Gaye rathern than Britain’s answer to Eminem. The Defamation of Strickland Banks is a concept album of a rapper named Strickland Banks, which progresses through the album and tells the story of love, false imprisonment and life inside. Although 5 singles have been released the most successful were ‘Stay Too Long’ released in January a full 3 months before the full album, reaching #9 in the UK charts. ‘She Said’ was released on the 28th March and peaked at #3. the combination of both his styles adds an extra dimension to his music which makes him unique within the current music scene.
The Fall – Your Future Our Clutter
In a year that has seen the alternative rock scene dominated by atmospheric bands such as The XX, The Fall went against the grain and released Your Future Our Clutter, an unstoppably confident and powerful album.
Despite being – in many ways – a conventional rock record, it remains remarkably inventive, especially for a band on their 28th album. Despite Mark E Smith turning 53, he still has fire in his belly and has created a confrontational album, featuring anti-record label lyrics (“A new way of recording/A chain around the neck” on ‘Bury Pts. 1+3’), a frankly bizarre tape-recorded sample of Daft Punk’s ‘Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger’ (‘Cowboy George’) and ending the album with a whispered “You don’t deserve rock ’n’ roll” (‘Weather Report 2’).
Your Future Our Clutter may well be one of The Fall’s most potent and consistent records yet, and I can’t help but think that if a new band were to produce an album of this quality they would be lauded as demi-Gods.
Twin Shadow – Forget
Recent years have seen swarms of 80s revivalists try, and mostly fail, at re-imagining or repackaging the period-piece sound of new romanticism. None have done so with the sincerity of Twin Shadow. People, places, music and feelings all seem to impress heavily upon George Lewis Jr., but he seems a man most affected by memories. Recollections both good and bad manifest into a work that flits comfortably between warm nostalgic haze and frosty detached whirring, making it unclear whether Lewis seeks to recall or forget at all. But it needn’t matter; you’ll be sold on the cold melancholia, the tepid synths, the pulsing strut, the crooning swagger, and the delicacy of the handcrafted detailing that makes this release cut through as a landmark piece in revivalism.