I remember seeing definitive Top Ten Albums in November when there was a still a FULL MONTH of the year to go. Well I shouldn’t complain because I started thinking about this in June. So whether early or late, here is my Top Ten Albums of the Year. Despite advice to the contrary I have kept it to ten – for no other reason than it’s tradition. But that’s not to say there hasn’t been PLENTY of good music I have enjoyed.
So thanks to Times New Viking, Sonic Youth and Titus Andronicus for the art-rock noise. Old favourites – The Wave Pictures, Yo La Tengo, Loney Dear, Malcolm Middleton, Bishop Allen, The Mountain Goats, The Broken Family Band – have all delivered excellent records. I’ve enjoyed first albums from Cate le Bon, The XX, The Low Anthem and Girls; and second albums from The Young Republic, The Victorian English Gentlemens Club, Taken By Trees and Atlas Sound. There’s been great garage-rock from Kid Congo & The Monkey Birds and The Strange Boys; and this was the year when I finally GOT Andrew Bird with the sublime “Noble Beast”. Finally thanks to The Pains of Being Pure At Heart and Dent May and his Magnificent Ukulele – an unofficial 12th and 11th placing (the latter sound-tracking an over-long journey back from Green Man where Dent May’s Saturday night show was a festival highlight).
But what defines my Top Ten is these are the albums that not only I listened to the most, but they are the ones that I talked about /enthused about / made copies of /cajoled people to buy the most.
10. DEAD MAN'S BONES Dead Man's Bones [BUY] [YouTube] [last.fm]
Two actors and a children's choir make macabre cabaret music for an imagined film soundtrack about zombies and werewolves. It should not work. It does - brilliantly.
9. SWEET BABOO Hello Wave [BUY] [YouTube] [last.fm]
Achingly beautiful acoustic folk-blues with a big heart and a wry smile.
8. SLOW CLUB Yeah So [BUY] [YouTube] [last.fm]
Bruised and imperfect (like all good relationships) skiffle-pop that veers between raucous and heart-breaking.
7. CAMERA OBSCURA My Maudlin Career [BUY] [YouTube] [last.fm]
Just when you thought C.O. couldn't better 2006's "Let's Get Out Of This Country". Sublime.
6. TUNE-YARDS Bird-brains [BUY] [YouTube] [last.fm]
Lo-fi folk, nursery rhyme chants, African rhythms - all delivered in glorious home-recording fidelity. A danceable avant-pop triumph.
5. BILL CALLAHAN Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle [BUY] [YouTube] [last.fm]
Philosophic reflections on love and nature draped in gossamer-light orchestral-folk arrangements. Can I say sublime again?
4. THE PHANTOM BAND Checkmate Savage [BUY] [YouTube] [last.fm]
A thrillingly potent mix of motorik rhythms and voodoo-swamp-blues-rock - with a touch of psychedelic jamming - from Glasgow's genre-defying art-rockers. Difficult to describe - best just played loud.
3. WINDMILL Epcot Starfields [BUY] [YouTube] [last.fm]
Like sitting in a planetarium in awe at the beauty and wonder of the universe but also feeling small, insignificant and vulnerable. An astonishingly beautiful record: a 41 minute treatise on loneliness, love, death and the end of our planet. And he claims he's retiring from music?!
2. MY SAD CAPTAINS Here and Elsewhere [BUY] [YouTube] [last.fm]
Superior indie-pop with a hint of Americana, all lovingly arranged and blending bitter-sweet reflection with joy and melody. A quiet triumph that deserved more, much more, of a fanfare this year.
1. FANFARLO Resevoir [BUY] [YouTube] [last.fm]
Well it's been in pole position since early summer and although they have come close, none of the records above have dislodged it. It combines clever orch-pop (Sufjan Stevens, Andrew Bird) with swooning indie-pop (most things Swedish or on Fortuna Pop) with literate pop nous (say The Shins) with a great rock dynamic (say Arcade Fire, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! on their first album). BUT sounding completely original and not in the shadow of anyone. I've lost count of how many different editions of this album have been issued this year. But whatever edition or format, you should own this.
Spotify playlist of a selection of tracks from 8.5 of these albums is here (no Bill Callahan and only one Slow Club track from the album).
Also highly recommended:
AC Newman / Adrian Crowley / James Yorkston & The Big Eyes Family Players / The Oxygen Ponies / Jim O’Rourke / Wavves / Broken Records / Califone / The Hidden Cameras / Animal Collective / Darren Hayman & The Secondary Modern / Great Lake Swimmers / Its A Buffalo / Cymbals Eat Guitars / Lord Cut Glass / British Sea Power / The Voluntary Butler Scheme / Euros Childs / The Bookhouse Boys / Forest Fire / White Denim
Maybe I do need a Top Thirty or a Top Fifty next year?