Tag: 2010

The Best Albums of 2010: 1. Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can

1. Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can
Virgin Records

I speak because I can
To anyone I trust enough to listen
You speak because you can
To anyone who’ll hear what you say

-I Speak Because I Can

People will look back at the albums that made 2010 what they were. The albums that captured the moment – like Arcade Fire or Kanye West.

I will look back at 2010 through the lens of a little out of time album by Laura Marling.

It sounds like little else. Her wonderful first album was a folk surprise. But that album was young and romantic. Somehow, this girl of just twenty has returned sounding like she’s 80. As if she has lived a whole life and wants to tell you about it.

There are no pop songs on this record – which may be why it didn’t sell as well as one might have hoped. It’s a tough album. And her remarkable voice – it’s not exactly made for radio. Her songs – about the devil, of loveless marriages and lives wasted – are not exactly “Pokerface”.

She is also the finest female guitar player of her generation. In a Joni Mitchell sense – she plays with tunings and constantly comes up with hypnotic guitar work. Like her vocals and her songs – her guitar has found it’s voice on this album. Something distinctly Laura Marling. And that’s so fucking exciting.

So that’s one thing I want to say about this album. That it’s utterly brilliant but it takes some work. That it’s out of time, which makes it timeless. It’s as good as Joni Mitchell’s Blue, and I will be listening to this album for years.

I loved this album with all my heart. I heard the first track, Goodbye England, at the end of 2009. It was a wee Christmas single in advance of the album, and it is still my favourite track on the album.

These singer songwriter albums – every year there seems to be one great one – are such malleable polaroids. Their directness leads to opening your own heart. In the era of iPods, those musical memories have pictures.

So Goodbye England, which tells of the smart coats and scarves we were in snowy weather – it will always make me think of Hyde Park. Of friends, workmates and lovers, crossing near the pond, on our way to find a pub. Or the winter markets there, drinking mulled wine, in our jackets, scarves and coats.

And that’s what this album does for me. It puts images in my eyes, ideas in my head and feelings in my heart. The album worries – about growing old, of wasted lives, of not expressing oneself. Whether it’s the maid in Made By Maid or the wife in I Speak Because I Can, the album is full of ruminations about life. The dignity of a small one, versus the romance of a big one.

When you have no one else to talk to, sometimes you talk to your albums. I spent a lot of 2010 thinking about life, and what it means to have a good one. Whether to be successful but mute, or humble and loud. Being mute, and speaking, is a big theme of the album.

There’s a fair bit of love on this album. But not the romantic love – but something more rustic. Of living together, or making lives. And there’s plenty of God, Devils and Judgement Days. It’s old timey, in a Gillian Welch sense. These are big themes.

So more than anything else, I learnt something from this album. And it helped push my life in a new direction. To speak, because I can.

Best tracks: Goodbye England, Devil’s Spoke, I Speak Because I Can

Official site – Laura Marling

The official video for the first single – Devil’s Spoke

…and Goodbye England from Jools Holland

The Best Albums of 2010: 2. The Soft Pack – The Soft Pack

2. The Soft Pack – The Soft Pack
Heavenly Recordings

You give it a shot
Give it the time
And be surprised how far it goes.

– Answer To Yourself

2010 was a year of rock, and this little album by this little band lit that fire more than any other.

It’s an easy album to love. I have played this record to many people and from the opener C’mon, it’s all there. Four piece rock, recorded with grit, with big choruses and hooks.

In the end it’s the songs. They’ve managed to make 3 minute rock pop songs sound fresh. Understated lyrics. Light of indulgent solos. Big on Albini style sounds. It’s a little bit Stooges, GBV, the Hives and even Nada Surf (who covered one of their songs on their latest album). But way more than that.

They are a great band, and they don’t play the fashion card. They show a devotion to indie DIY aesthetic – and not in a scenester way. Nerdy, unfashionable guys rocking their hearts out.

It is, in my book, classic song after classic song. Down On Loving is about the best song I ever heard until the next one – Answer To Yourself. Move Along uses a farfisa (I think) to give it a 60s garage rock vibe. The intensity really builds up to the super aggressive Pull Out, and then rests back on the magical Mexico – the only light moment on the record.

I’m in love. The songs, the sound and lets not forget – the band. Funny and self depreciating in interviews. Could not give a fuck about trends. No big pretentious ideas. Even the album cover is great.

This record did not leave my ears this year. It came out early and I never got tired of it. I am still telling people about it.

I saw this album make a few best of lists online, but not nearly enough. This is not my number 1 album of the year, but it’s my number 1 pick for you. I really don’t know anyone that wouldn’t love it, if you’re a rock fan.

Best tracks: Answer To Yourself, Mexico, Down On Loving

Official website – The Soft Pack

Answer To Yourself – probably doesn’t get less slick than this.

Luckily there’s this awesome thing. I think it’s just a tribute by the Kick Ass guys more than an official thing. So great.

The Best Albums of 2010: 3. The Hold Steady – Heaven Is Whenever

3. The Hold Steady – Heaven Is Whenever

Heaven is whenever
We can get together
Go into your bedroom
And listen to your records.

– We Can Get Together

I believe in rock ‘n’ roll.

Ever since, just like in the Velvets song, Nirvana taught me the world from my bedroom – and saved a non-English speaking kid from dropping out of high school and being a factory worker for the rest of his life – I believe rock ‘n’ roll can save us.

And it’s rock ‘n’ roll – not music. It’s the fiery, guitar/bass/drums, a killer voice and a message. Of all the musics in the world, rock ‘n’ roll is still the best mix of a punch in the face and a light to the mind. Other music may make more physical impact. Others might be more lyrical.

But rock ‘n’ roll is still the only perfect mix of the two.

2010 was, for me, a deeply personal reclaiming of rock ‘n’ roll. Whether it was new albums Surfer Blood, Titus Andronicus, You Am I, Manics, Springsteen or whoever – it seemed to be a year of rock. Coupled with a rediscovery of many old rock records I loved in the past.

Listening to this music is always dangerous – I find myself making big life decisions a few months later. I certainly did this year.

That is a long preamble to introduce the 5th Hold Steady album – the bible to my rock ‘n’ roll religion. Not only does the band rock, they also believe that rock ‘n’ roll can save you. And they set about proving it.

They set it all up in We Can Get Together – which could well be their greatest achievement to date. They have started to really nail the slow, Stones-y ballads. And in it, singer Finn discusses Heaven – whether it’s the Pavement song Heaven Is A Truck or the UK band Heavenly.  It’s as though the first thing we rock believers think of are songs about Heaven. But the final message is heaven is listening to this music. For a band made on anthems, this could be their greatest.

Every few years a band comes along that feels like it’s just made perfectly for you. For me, the Hold Steady are one. The passion of hardcore. The rock blues licks of the Stones. The smarts of Bob Dylan. And the story of their career has been them getting more tuneful, and giving up some power for beauty.

For the first time they open with a ballad. The slide heavy Sweet Part of the City (the place with the bars and restaurants) sounds like Exile On Main Street. It is a confident move from a band trying to do something different.

But, in the end it’s the rock. Hurricane J. Rock Problems. Weekenders. And more. All come on like a rush, and lifts you from your place. It’s filled with the most powerful messages used in rock. We are damaged but not that much. Life can be better and it’s up to us. I’m having fun and I’m allowed to to have fun. I’m older but the passion is not gone. Messages we’ve all heard before, and love hearing again.

41 minutes. 10 songs. Not a wasted second. It’s a fucking stunning record. One that leaves you believe again. I bow to the Hold Steady for being around. They are the best band at brandishing that ancient fire we call rock ‘n’ roll.

Best tracks: Heaven Is Whenever, Hurricane J, Rock Problems

Official site – The Hold Steady

No clips for this album, but here’s an acoustic version of Hurricane J. It misses the rock power but still a great song.

The Best Albums of 2010: 4. Darren Hanlon – I Will Love You At All

4. Darren Hanlon – I Will Love You At All
Flippin’ Yeah Industries

We weren’t together forever
But anyway what does that mean
One person’s lifetime, the history of mankind
Or the years since I turned seventeen?

– Scenes From A Separation

12 years into his career, Darren Hanlon still manages to pack more ideas and great lyrics into one song than most artists fill in a career. As a fan, there’s always a little worry the well will run dry. If anything, the fountain flows at full strength.

Hanlon seems to have been on tour for ten years, and that sadness of leaving and things ending has become an enduring theme in his work. And while singing about love, life and loss, he never loses sight of the details. He’s a master lyricist, on the level of Elvis Costello. Heck, he’s better.

He’s moving further and further from his early, Jonathan Richman-y joke songs into something more thoughtful. Scenes From A Separation, the best song on here, is a series of vignettes about a divorce and hints at Bob Dylan’s Tangled Up In Blue. It’s a rush of images, and a overall mood of resigned regret. Powerful, smart and lets not forget tuneful.

There’s a couple of very big songs on his album. House – the story of walking by place once shared with a lover – unfolds over about 100 verses. Folk Insomnia is shorer but it’s a million words a second – a lyrical hurricane of mad images.

Those show pieces aside, some of Hanlon’s sweetest songs are on here. Opening track Butterfly Bones and the first single All These Things should be busker classics.

Production wise, it sounds a bit like everything else he’s done. Very functional arrangements, recorded in a fine manner. With his pop smarts, I wonder what he would sound like if he went for the same sound as say, Bob Evans. It’s probably not in his vision, being the simple travelling balladeer that he is. Although this is his first album on big US indie Yep Roc, so maybe that will lead to other things.

If you’ve not heard Hanlon, this place is as good a place as any to start. It really is a tremendous album, full of the charm, with and heart that fill all his albums. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll marvel at his rhymes.

I thought this album would be my number 1 album this year. The only thing keeping it at four is that this album exceeded my expectations – the next 3 smashed them to bits.

Best songs: Scenes From A Separation, Butterfly Bones, House

Official site – Darren Hanlon

The clip for the one and only single thus far All These Things

But here’s a lovely version of Scenes From A Separation made by the fine folks at Shoot the Player


Darren Hanlon: Scenes from A Separation from shoottheplayer.com on Vimeo.

The Best Albums of 2010: 5. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening

5. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening

Tell me a line
Make it easy for me
Open your arms
Dance with me until I feel all right

– I Can Change

In my own little corner of the world, there are few records that are as important to me as Sound Of Silver, LCD Soundsystem’s awesome 2007 album. So my expectations were high and the follow-up, This Is Happening, did not let me down.

I love this band. I love every time I listen to James Murphy talk about music. And the themes that run through their albums – growing old, what being cool means, listening to music – are big calling cards for me. They also blasted down my prejudice against electronica by mixing the wit of Elvis Costello with the physicality of the Ramones. Head and hips covered.

As a fan, this record came with an extra story – this is to be the last LCD Soundsystem album. Just when making it huge seemed like a possibility, Murphy will be pulling the plug on the full time LCD Soundsystem. So This Is Happening can be read as a last statement.

Not that it ever gets that heavy. No, it’s still a lot of fun. You Wanted A Hit has it’s tongue far in cheek. Pow Pow is a great bit of nonsense. Drunk Girls – derided by everyone I know – is fun but light. But it’s all designed to make you move, and the beats and rhythms hit and hit hard.

This album doesn’t reach some of the highs of Sound Of Silver, but they come close. I Can Change is the real stand out on the album. Murphy has stated this was his attempt to write an 80s synth pop song in the style of Yazoo. He nails it, with his best vocal to date.

The other songs on this album include Home and the rather large Bowie tribute of All I Want. Knowing it’s the last album makes it even more powerful.

There’s only 9 songs on this album. Maybe in retrospect, it wasn’t the grand statement we were hoping for with the follow-up of such an important album, or their last album. Which is a perfect thing for a band who put out an EP called “Confuse the Marketplace”.

What is left is a lovely goodbye. Like drinks with a friend who is moving on. Some laughs, some music, some heart, no sadness.

Goodbye LCD Soundsystem. I saw a couple of amazing gigs of yours. I loved every album. See you maybe one day.

Best tracks: I Can Change, Home, All I Want

Official site: LCD Soundsystem

There’s no proper film clip so you don’t get the fantastic studio version, but here’s I Can Change from Jools Holland.

The Best Albums of 2010: 6. Dr Dog – Shame, Shame

6. Dr Dog – Shame Shame

Or you could be twisted or you could be insane
Pushing the envelope against the grain
Just playing along

– Shadow People

What an album. I quite liked 2007’s We All Belong. I liked 2008’s Fate even more. And that’s three fantastic albums in a row with Shame Shame, their debut for Epitaph.

Maybe the big label changed them because the first three songs just scream “single”. Their country-rock-meets-Teenage-Fanclub has never had catchier bits. Stranger and Shadow People open the album with the best one-two punch this year. Huge choruses, big sing alongs, and a pretty awesome band rumbling around the back. Then comes Station, a great “ballad single”, if such things still existed.

The band still sounds like a 70s band, recorded with 50s equipment. They are stunningly out of time. They maybe could have been alt-country. They should have been lumped in with the harmony folk of Fleet Foxes. Or the retro thoughtfulness of Midlake and John Grant. But I guess they are too straight for those scenes, and too weird as people. They are probably not ambitious enough either.

There is a vintage sound that I just love. And it’s not retro in a White Stripes way. It doesn’t sound like a 70s record. The harmonies are spot on. Like Fanclub, they are blessed with a band of great singers. Enoigh studio trickery to keep it interesting too.

Back to the record. It’s number 6 on the list so you know for me there’s not a dud track on here. Plenty more blissed out country pop gems and fragile ballads. Try Mirror, Mirror or I Only Wear Blue. And it ends well too – the title track is weird, sinister and a perfect goodbye from a record that seems to come from nowhere. I really can’t say enough about the songwriting.

I just kept coming back to this album all year. I liked it a lot on first listen. Repeated listening, it holds up. On shuffle, each individual track also holds up. And I’m still listening to it. You should too.

In some years this would be a top 3, if not the number 1 album of the year for me. Nothing in the record is keeping it at 6, other than, in a miracle of music, there are 5 albums even better!

Best tracks: can’t beat the first three – Stranger, Shadow People and Station.

Official site – http://www.drdogmusic.com/

Great song. Great clip. What more can be said? Fucking love it.


The Best Albums of 2010: 7. Belle & Sebastian – Write About Love

7. Belle & Sebastian – Write About Love
Rough Trade

I know a spell
That would make you well
Write about love, it could be in any tense
But it must make sense

– Write About Love

Is it even worth trying to be critical about this band?

Is this their best album? No.

Will 2010 be remembered as the year this album changed the world? No.

Was it the soundtrack to my year? Yes. (although it came out quite late in the year)

I’m a huge Belle & Sebastian fan, and it’s been far too long between drinks (although the God Help the Girl album is a five star classic). I could not wait for this album and I’ve spent a lot of time with it. And it’s lovely.

2005’s The Life Pursuit was a pop/rock/dance extravaganza. This one dials it back a little. There’s definitely some fun and funky numbers, but nothing approaching the 70s T-Rex wannabes on their last album. In fact, we see the return of two B&S staples – the fragile acoustic songs, and the female vocals.

Although it’s simplifying it, it’s like they are torn between their two sides at the moment. The first half of the album is filled with the rockers. Seems like it could be the funnest B&S album yet. But the album trails off to a series of slow numbers at the end. A bit late era B&S, a bit early era B&S.

The dance/rockers (or potential singles) do everything they are supposed to. I Didn’t See It Coming is a hit right out of the box. Write About Love returns to a classic Stuart Murdoch theme – escape from sickness through fantasy (with actress Carey Mulligan on vocals). And without trying, they are just a little cleverer and wittier than bands trying to mine the same sounds.

As usual, the ballads are where the emotional heft of this record lays. Calculating Bimbo is an affecting a character study as anything Murdoch has ever written. Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John continues the soulful ballad that they are quickly mastering, while two friends quiet fall out with eachother. Speaking of quiet – I’m not sure any other band has the balls to be as quiet as Read The Blessed Pages’ sombre whisper.

This album, like Dear Catastrophe Waitress, has a bit of everything. It doesn’t have a solid narrative as an album – but that might be what five years off gives you. Part of me would have liked to have seen B&S turn into a blue eyed soul band, but it looks like everything is back to normal.

Which is why this album is not higher on the list – it’s exactly what I expected. No surprises. After 5 years, it’s is only just good enough.

But this band. Geez. I just love what they do. It just seems I love them more as the years pass. As all the contemporaries get deleted off my iPod, I’m tracking down B&S b-sides. I don’t find myself getting as obsessed with bands anymore, but for some reason this band remains. If you have not discovered this band, then this record is not a bad place to start (although maybe Dear Catastrophe is better…)

Every 7 years, my birthday falls on a Monday and there’s always great albums released. This year, this was one of them.

Best Tracks: Write About Love, I Want the World To Stop, Calculating Bimbo

Official site – http://www.belleandsebastian.com/

There was no clip for Write About Love, but here are the band performing it on Jimmy Fallon. Why they keep doing silly things like having kids writing in the crowd. Just makes them seem like the most shut off indie band ever. Oh well. Great glasses Stuart.


As WordPress wont embed a photobucket video, here’s a YouTube of I Didn’t See It Coming

The Best Albums of 2010: 8. Hot Chip – One Life Stand

8. Hot Chip – One Night Stand

I’ve known for a long time
You are my love life
Why can’t I be bright like my lover’s light?

– Hand Me Down Your Love

One of my problems with electronica, and dance music, for years was the bad lyrics. In the last five years, some fantastic pioneers have broken the mould, bringing fantastic lyrics, and original written voices to a genre mainly designed for the body.

I harp on this because it’s still new ground, and I am thinking this is the first really dorky lovey dovey dance album – with no irony. And it’s great.

I guess Hot Chip were always a bit bratty. Songs about wrestling and fighting, dressing up as the Joker in film clips – they were great at being the frat rock nerds of electronica. In a lot of ways, it’s quite Ben Folds Five or Beck.

And just like how all comedians can also play drama, these smartasses showed that they could put the jokes away and make something honestly affecting. And still danceable.

Just try and not get caught up in the fantastic opening track Thieves In the Night. Four on the floor rhythm and the prettiest melody you’ve ever heard – sung by Alex Taylor, who has a gift of a voice. And the hook – “happiness is what we all want”, is as direct and honest as anything ever said in pop.

Having loved this band for a while, this thematic left turn is so very, very fucking cool. It’s like you’ve been flirting and joking with a girl for ages, and then you actually find yourself alone, talking about life, the universe and everything. It’s a headspin, in the best way.

The love-in continues throughout the album. One Life Stand is, as the title suggests, a statement of commitment. Love for family and other band mates are covered in Alley Cats and Brothers. In fact, it’s quite interesting how un-sexual this album is. If they took away the beats it could almost be a Lionel Ritchie album.

More excitingly is this album had some genuine hits. It also had some great film clips, and a great live show. This band is only growing, and people love them. I’ve had dozens of great conversations with this people about this album. How we loved it. That voice. The big swooping melodies. The beats. And the love. It was their year.

Hot Chip were never going to be rock stars, in a Poison/The Strokes sense. They’re the smartass nerds. Who turned out to be hopeless romantics. And as it’s my top ten, that sentiment really hit me this year. Time to grow up, and stop pissing about. it came out at the start of the year and I feel it helped set the pace of 2010 for me.

Three albums in and these guys are better than ever. I can’t wait for number 4.

Best tracks: Thieves In the Night, One Life Stand, I Feel Better

Official site – Hot Chip

On top of everything said above – this is probably the film clip of the year

The Best Albums of 2010: 9. Phosphorescent – Here’s To Taking It Easy

9. Phosphorescent – Here’s To Taking It Easy
Dead Oceans

I wish this road we were taking wasn’t made for breaking down
I wish these nights of pleasure and these days of pain weren’t so tightly bound
And I wish I was in heaven sitting down.

– Heaven, Sittin’ Down

Phosphorescent’s main man Matthew Houck had hit a creative dead end in 2009. After a couple of acclaimed indie albums on the super cool Dead Oceans label, he couldn’t figure out what to do next. To pass the time he released “To Willie”, a collection of Willie Nelson covers. That laid back country groove would be the heart and soul of his next album, this year’s wonderful Here’s To Taking It Easy.

And laid back it is. Slide guitars, sing-alongs and a deep southern boogie infuse these tracks with sleepy feel. It’s the kind of record that sounds best when outside, with friends, with beers. It’s not mopey either. Like the title suggests, it’s a celebration of relaxation.

At nine tracks, and little variation of pace, it might seem a bit slight. But the melodies and choruses stick. I don’t know what a Mermaid Parade is, but the loping sadness of that song, and that image, hangs around. There is something going on with those two most rock ‘n’ roll of themes – girls (Tell Me Baby Have You Had Enough) and escape (Heaven, Sittin’ Down).

In the end though, it’s just a fun, laid back, country-ish album – in a year when there were very few good ones. One listen to I Don’t Care If There’s Cursing, with it’s slide guitars and relaxed drawl is enough to draw me in. It’s somewhere between the Jayhawks and Creedence, and it’s a somewhere I usually love.

The album did very well for them, and hopefully it kicks them up to the next level. And lets hope they don’t get too excited about all the attention that they forget to take it easy.

Best Tracks: The Mermaid Parade, It’s Hard To Be Humble (When You’re From Alabama), I Don’t Care If There’s Cursing

MySpace – Phosphorescent

The clip for It’s Hard To Be Humble (When You’re From Alabama)

The Best Albums of 2010: 10. The Divine Comedy – Bang Goes the Knighthood

10. The Divine Comedy – Bang Goes the Knighthood
Divine Comedy Records

Have you sung along to all the silly love-songs you hate?
And have you had to pinch yourself to make sure you’re awake?
Have you ever felt like you could float into the sky?
Like the laws of physics simply don’t apply?

– Have You Ever Been In Love?

Here’s a question – how many albums have their big single as the last track?

Not many I can think of. This is one. The song that finally saved this record from sinking without a trace is at the end of it – “I Like”, one of the loveliest of the lovely things on this record.

The Divine Comedy are still a recent discovery for me. Although in the last few years I have been hooked. Also, in Britain, Neil Hannon is everywhere – from the IT Crowd, Doctor Who, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and even the Ashes. He is the go-to guy for something British sounding. Having had several side projects, he finally made a Divine Comedy record. And it’s great.

From the first song you know it’s something special. Down In the Street Below could well be Hannon’s masterpiece. A five minute seduction that builds from surgically precise lyrics to a swooning lovely string laden chorus. Have You Ever Been In Love adds to the MGM musical feel.

Part of this album, and Hannon, for me, is the Britishness. When I first heard At the Indie Disco, I thought it was daft – a reeling off names from the indie world (Blur, Wannadies, etc). But I think of my nights at Notting Hill Arts Club, the regular seat we took and dancing our asses off. Maybe it’s a British Indie thing, those types of clubs. And Hannon nails it.

Then there’s I Like. Almost an afterthought, it was championed on radio and finally released as a single. Is it Hannon’s best song? It could be. Spritely and fun, it’s a simple love song – one that obviously connected with people. That rush of love, when you just like everything about someone, in a three minute pop song. I challenge you to hear it and not think of someone in your heart.

There’s not a bad track on here – in fact there’s not a track that is only OK either. Some of the deeply orchestral stuff has been set aside, as have some of the guitars. It’s a clear pop album. It’s been years since Hannon has communicated his world so clearly and without trappings. If people still thought of careers in terms of old models, this is a Graceland style late era revival.

Then there’s all those little things I love about albums. There’s a great end of side one/start of side two feel. The album cover is fantastic and even better on vinyl. 12 songs, 45 minutes. Just classic stuff in my world. While making my top ten list, this album just refused to budge. This album just made me so happy this year, and what the hell else should music do?

Eight (or ten, depending on how you want to count it) albums in, and amazingly, I would recommend this album as the best place to start. I’m not sure if there was a deliberate attempt to make an accessible but it’s worked. Hopefully I Like manages to sneak into radio stations and mix tapes, and the wonders of this album spreads.

And if you’ve not heard the track, you must hear I Like.

Best tracks: I Like, Down In the Street Below, At the Indie Disco

Official site – The Divine Comedy

A cheap film clip was made for I Like, to capitalise on the radio play I think. The song deserved a little better, I think!