Happy new year to you all! This post may be a little belated, but I’m blaming the dreaded lurgy which has had me coughing and spluttering since the week before Christmas (and a very public bah humbug to whoever it was that gave me their nasty germs!).
Anyway, back to the music. This list is in no particular order and was compiled after a thoroughly unscientific study involving a rather enjoyable examination of which albums spent the most time glued to my CD player/laptop during 2010. I don’t care about trends or genre fashions – this is just music I’ve loved over the last twelve months.
Akala – ‘Doublethink’:
Fresh, fierce, passionate, intelligent, eclectic and with a whole lot to say, this is easily my album of the year. One of the most talented and interesting MCs I have encountered in a long while, Akala mixes his clever and politically conscious lyrics and spoken word with a fiery combination of hip hop, electro, breakbeats, grime and heavy guitar riffs to attention-grabbing effect.
Unlike some politically conscious MCs and bands, both the music and the lyrics are clearly of equal importance to Akala, and the production on Doublethink has been closely constructed with great care to meld these two factors to create a (mostly) satisfying whole. It’s clear that a lot of thought has gone into this album, but it still manages to sound fresh and raw.
In my view, not every track always entirely works, but that really doesn’t matter: this is an ambitious and engaging album with a mass of positive and important points to make. There is endless potential here (if this is what he’s doing now, I, for one, can’t wait for the next album!), and enough really, really good tracks (Yours And My Children and Find No Enemy for a start) to make me sit up and take a lot of notice.
Laura Marling – ‘I Speak Because I Can’:
Breathtakingly good, this is haunting, gorgeously elegant modern folk performed by a hugely talented young woman. This is such an accomplished and assured album that I’m still having a hard time believing that Ms.Marling is only 20 – on this album she certainly sounds much older and much more experienced in life than her tender years might suggest.
Featuring backing vocals from Marcus Mumford (of Mumford and Sons) throughout, and some beautifully simple arrangements (often little more than just Marling and her guitar) that mesh effectively with her stunning voice, I Speak Because I Can is a late-night album of thoughtful, plaintive songs about love and responsibility. For once, the industry and media hype has a firm basis in reality – Laura Marling really is that good.
Goldfrapp – ‘Head First’:
This one was, in some ways, rather unexpected. I’ve loved Alison Goldfrapp’s voice since I first heard it, winding sinuously round Orbital’s classic 1994 album Snivilisation. The kinky glam electro-pop sheen of previous Goldfrapp albums has always been appealing too – but I really hadn’t anticipated this dive into full-on 80’s synth-pop/disco on Head First.
I was, I admit, a little taken aback on first listen – but being a music-loving child of the 80s, it soon began to make a hell of a lot more sense. And this is a clever album. Alison Goldfrapp’s distinctive voice helps it walk the narrow line between possible pure cheese awfulness and possible pure pop genius with consummate ease, drawing the listener in to a collection of hook-laden songs which are actually less shiny and more intimate than you might at first imagine.
LCD Soundsystem – ‘This Is Happening’:
If this is, as has been suggested by the band themselves, LCD Soundsystem’s final album, it’s certainly a great example of the principle of quitting while you’re ahead. Easily their most mature and assured album to date, This Is Happening is also a contradictory but fabulous example of genre melding and wearing all of your musical influences very openly on your sleeve.
There are times when this album is just straight-up New York indie synth-pop with a Velvet Underground-do-electro twist, and others when it sounds more like Phil Oakey and Trent Reznor having a catfight in a funk club (and that’s no bad thing…). When it comes down to it, this is a collection of addictive and weirdly hypnotic tracks which somehow manage to sound minimalist and darkly lush all at the same time, god only knows how…
Lou Rhodes – ‘One Good Thing’:
Those of you who, like me, spent much of the late 1990s swooning over the unmistakably gorgeous sounds of Lamb, that great lost Manchester band, will definitely want to get their hands on a copy of this, vocalist Lou Rhodes’ third solo album. And if you haven’t yet discovered the haunting and memorable voice of Ms. Rhodes, then this lovely album is as good a place to start as any (although Lamb’s back catalogue comes highly recommended too).
Despite this album having a more organic sound to much of that produced by Lamb, Rhodes’ gentle, breathy voice is as beautiful as ever (she could sing the Yellow Pages and I’d still be entranced), giving this collection of acoustic, introspective folk-tinged songs the sense of a slightly vulnerable and melancholy yearning for peace and freedom.
This is emphasised by some lovely arrangements, the stately grace of which at times almost reminds me of Joe Boyd’s elegant production on Nick Drake’s first two albums – and like those, this is another beautiful late-night album from a singer who deserves much wider recognition.
Massive Attack – ‘Heligoland’:
Their first studio album in seven years, the much-delayed Heligoland could have been absolute rubbish. Fortunately, it wasn’t. And even more fortunately, it’s arguably the best thing Massive Attack have done since 1998’s darkly brooding Mezzanine – an album which is, in my view, one of their finest moments to date.
Opening with the twitchy stoner groove of Pray For Rain (a real stand-out track, featuring a gorgeous vocal from TV On The Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe), the rest of Heligoland features a galaxy of other guest singers (including Martina Topley-Bird, Elbow’s Guy Garvey, Damon Albarn, Hope Sandoval and – of course – Horace Andy), but never lets that get in the way of the sheer quality of the music and production.
This is definitely not trip hop. Massive Attack have moved a long, long way from that genre pigeonhole. This is dark, organic, glitchy electronic music which manages to be both anxiously edgy and heartbreakingly beautiful at the same time. And this is a real return to form from one of the most original and important British bands of the last twenty years.
Vampire Weekend – ‘Contra’:
Vampire Weekend’s 2007 self-titled debut album is still a huge favourite here at Another Kind Of Mind, so I greeted the release of Contra with a mixture of delight and dread – after all, how many of your new favourite bands have blown it at the ‘difficult second album’ stage in the past?
I needn’t have worried. Contra turned out to be a delicious bundle of more of the same: more of that intelligent, bouncy, melodic, African-tinged angular pop that made the band’s first album such a delight, but with an added sophistication and depth to the production which makes this both an endearing and satisfying listen (and it makes me want to dance, which can only be a good thing. Possibly…).
Robert Plant – ‘Band Of Joy’:
Bliss. Robert Plant’s awe-inspiring and distinctive voice may not be the rock powerhouse it was back in Led Zep’s 1970s heyday, but that really doesn’t matter – not when he’s doing fantastic stripped-down folky country-blues stuff like this.
Many of his generation of rock musicians have found their greatest days are now long behind them, but not Plant. His solo material (always of an extremely high quality anyway) has got better and better with every passing year, and this album is absolutely no exception.
An absorbing and rewarding collection of originals, covers (including an unexpected and rather eerie version of Low’s Monkey) and American traditional songs, Band Of Joy is possibly even better than the glorious Raising Sand (Plant’s critically-acclaimed 2007 collaboration with Alison Krauss), and shows us, yet again, what a damn fine singer Robert Plant still is…
So there you have it. Do you agree with any, all, or none of my choices? What were your albums of 2010? Any predictions for 2011?