The Wednesday Countdown: 2010 Update

A nice relaxed return to my Wednesday Countdowns, this is my favourite twenty songs from albums released in 2010. As I’m sure you’re aware, this is a very important and noble endeavour. No limitations on number of tracks per artist/album, so expect a tad of High Violet appearing around the nether regions of this list (or, y’know, the top 12 tracks being High Violet. Whatever).

Tracks of 2010 (as of June):

20. LCD Soundsystem – Dance Yrself Clean

19. Joanna Newsom – Easy

18. The Tallest Man On Earth – Love Is All

17. Beach House – Zebra

16. The National – Bloodbuzz Ohio

15. Owen Pallett – Midnight Directives

14. Frightened Rabbit – The Loneliness And The Scream

13. Yeasayer – Ambling Alp

12. Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can

11. Broken Social Scene – Forced To Love

10. The Tallest Man On Earth – King Of Spain

9. Broken Bells – October

8. The National – Afraid Of Everyone

7. Beach House – Silver Soul

6. Laura Marling – Goodbye England

5. Owen Pallett – Lewis Takes Off His Shirt

4. Massive Attack – Atlas Air

3. LCD Soundsystem – All I Want

2. The National – Runaway

1. Joanna Newsom – Good Intentions Paving Co.

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2010: A Year In Music Awesomeness: Update 2

There have been a number of events that have prevented me from posting recently. On top of the work leading to more work leading to exams, there’s been a number of personal troubles put to rest, and events attended. It’s important to note that this blog occurs because I want to be productive in times when I have nothing else to do. The lack of writing in the past 4 months is simply a sign that I have forced myself into doing more with my life, both social and educational, which has led to large cuts in my available time for musical writing. This is a good thing. Now that the academic year is over, however, I can turn my attentions to some of the things I enjoy doing in my spare time, and writing about music is one of them.

I’ve missed out something important. There’s another, more relevant, reason why I have not been writing about music recently. It’s because I’ve been too busy listening to the stuff. My God, this year has been good. In early February I was already pretty impressed with the year’s output, but since then it’s just kept coming. The volume of excellent albums grows by the week, both by established artists like The National and Joanna Newsom but also left-field, unanticipated acts such as The Tallest Man On Earth and Broken Bells. As with previous 2010 updates, I’ll try to keep this to a simple list of albums that have come out, with short reviews of each, followed by news on future album releases.

The National – High Violet

I would never be able to overstate my expectations for this album. Coming off the back of “Alligator” and “Boxer”, and with the likes of a QTV performance of “Runaway” and a Jimmy Fallon appearance (where they played opening track “Terrible Love”) to whet the appetite, it seemed The National could not fail.

And, of course, they didn’t. Another solemn set of indie-rock gems, Matt Berninger’s obliquely mesmerizing lyrics, (who else could mumble “I had a hole in the middle where the lightning went through, I told my friends not to worry” with such purpose?) and the reassuring pace provided by Bryan Devendorf’s drums are more than enough to carry this album into best of the year territory.

High Violet contains enough variety to keep interest throughout, unlike, some may argue, its predecessor Boxer, and it is also more consistent than Alligator, despite a noticeably weaker opening third. Where the album really hits its stride is in a run of songs from “Terrible Love” to the aforementioned “Runaway”, where The National open themselves up, delicately showcasing the emotions that connect them to their fanatic audience. Paranoia blending into fright as financial doom approaches (“I still owe money to the money to the money I owe”) almost as often as romantic troubles. Although don’t for a second think that Berninger has forgotten about the so-called Dirty Lovers, self-loathing was never expressed quite so effectively as on “Conversation 16”, again, you begin to wonder who else could get away with lines such as “I was afraid I’d eat your brains, because I’m evil”?

In all, a worthy addition to The National’s back catalogue, consistently powerful rock with overflowing with smarts. Essentially, everything you want from a new record by The National.

The Tallest Man On Earth – The Wild Hunt

News that Justin Vernon will probably step out of the solo game and return to playing as part of a proper band mean that a solo guitarist with harsh tales of love and mournfully unique vocals need to take his place in the hearts of nu-folksters. Kristian Matsson, who goes under the name “The Tallest Man On Earth” despite being of merely average height, stakes a claim to be that person on this, his second album.

A fantastically consistent folk album, almost solely Matsson and his guitar, The Wild Hunt has a feel of classic Dylan, but also bares comparison to contemporaries such as Sam Beam and Devendra Banhart. There is a definite vigour to his strumming, he attacks the chords and the words he cries equally, and it’s hard not to align with his passion. Especially on the fearsome “King of Spain” and “Love is All”, which features lovelorn wails that not many folk singers would dare to put to record.

Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can

On first listen, I was worried that 20 year old folk singer/songwriter Laura Marling had become too hung up on all the allusions made to her age after the success of her debut release. It seemed that the result of that was an album desperately trying to sound mature, lost in a middle-aged malaise that did not fit well with a voice as youthful as this. No doubt the songs are good, the title track, which also closed the album, features a vicious self-assessment (“never rode my bike down to the sea, never figured out what I believed”) and a haunting piano to accompany the normal guitar, whist Hope In The Air is another bleak piece of cleverly-worded down-tempo folk. However it seemed that the enjoyment was missing, an attempt at maturity had sacrificed some of the charm and informality of Marling’s first record.

Luckily, repeat listens revealed that it was still there, downplayed but nevertheless available on tracks such as the catchy Darkness Descends. It’s a consistent album, that offers a new side to the singer, which is welcome, but I still prefer Alas I Cannot Swim, a record which offered a better balance between playful and ennui.

Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me

It’s hard to write a mini-review about Have One On Me. It’s hard to do a mini-anything on this 3 disc, 120 minute goliath. Despite the length, it is less dense than previous Joanna Newsom work, and it is even possible to dip into single tracks, a thing that would have you accused of blasphemy and burned at the stake were you to try it with Ys.

The best way to summarise this album would be to say it contains a number of pop/folk songs, except seven minutes long, containing no discernible verses or choruses, and with harp being prominent. And with a skilled yet unique classical vocalist. So nothing like pop/folk, really.

Maybe the most important thing to take from this is that this album contains one of most unique love songs of recent years in Good Intentions Paving Company, and has been helpfully split into three separate discs that will not have to be listened to all in one go to be enjoyed. Other than that, all that can be said is listen to the damn thing. Only then will you understand why it’s so difficult to talk about.

Massive Attack – Heligoland

It’s tempting on parts of Massive Attack’s new album to ignore the music and play a game of “Which Special Guest Vocalist Is This?” This is as much a testament to the quality of vocalists on board for this album, Guy Garvey, Damon Albarn and Tunde Adebimpe, as well as repeat-offender Martina Topley-Bird, as it is to the music, which is something of an archetype of Massive Attack. What do you think of when you think of this band? More likely than not, what you have just thought is almost exactly what Heligoland sounds like. Not a bad thing, of course, but it does feel like the band are in third gear, churning out good songs that fit in with what is expected of them but without offering anything special to put this record in the leagues of Blue Lines and Mezzanine.

The only real exceptions are the Egyptian-mythology inspired “Psyche”, Martina Topley-Bird lullabying tales of an “old teal sea” as “the sun set a bigger me, and I was set to fall in” amongst competing guitars, and the closer “Atlas Air”, which is a conundrum, as it represents everything right and wrong about this album. Wrong in the sense that it is nothing we have not heard before from Massive Attack, all deep vocals and bass-heavy attack, but right in the sense that it is just so good.

I must reiterate at this point that there have been simply too many albums released to be contained in a single blog. I just wanted to make this note of all my favourite albums thus far (taking out Owen Pallett’s Heartland and Beach House’s Teen Dream for a second, I’d call those five albums my top five of 2010), and an Update 3 will be arriving post-haste offering my particular brand of bias on a number of other releases that did not hold my attention in quite the way that those listed above did.

News:

Arcade Fire – The Suburbs (August 2)

A couple of weeks ago, amongst much fanfare, Arcade Fire announced the follow-up to Neon Bible, entitled The Suburbs (a play on the Neighbourhood theme that adorned funeral, perhaps?). They were even so kind as to offer snippets of two tracks from it. Eight second snippets, admittedly, but eight seconds that launched a thousand internet discussions.

Thankfully, Arcade Fire have filled us in a little more on their third record since then, tracks “The Suburbs” and “Month of May” were given a vinyl release, and two further tracks entitled “Ready To Start” and “We Used To Wait” were played by Zane Lowe just a couple of days ago. They have been warmly received, showing a refreshing variety and addictiveness lacking on Neon Bible, although at the moment few are expecting a classic in the mould of Funeral.

Wolf Parade – Expo 86 (June 28)

Not long until this is released, although a couple of months ago it seemed to be hearsay that it existed at all. Mount Zoomer was a step away from the universally lauded debut Apologies To The Queen Mary, in terms of both style and critical reception, and it is hoped that Spencer Krug will keep the theatrics to one side (ie Krug’s side-project Sunset Rubdown) on Wolf Parade’s third album, and return to writing the kind of emotional indie rock that personified their first release.

So hopefully this is the start of my return to writing about music. I certainly enjoy it, and this year’s albums seem to warrant it. If I can’t enjoy music in this golden period, when can I? Anyway, expect my return to the Wednesday Countdown fold this evening, as well as a 2010 in Music third update to contemplate albums from the likes of Broken Bells, Frightened Rabbit, Johnny Flynn, LCD Soundsystem and Broken Social Scene.

The Video Bin 5

LCD Soundsystem – North American Scum

James Murphy seems to be a fan of this sort of stomping rock, which subtly sets about infecting you with its dance vibes even as you keep repeating “No way, man, this is a rock track”. After this and “Daft Punk Is Playing In My House”, I’m hoping that the third, and rumoured last, LCD Soundsystem album will feature a few more of Murphy’s epic blends of guitar and electro when it is released later this year.

~

Massive Attack – Inertia Creeps

Listen to Heligoland. OK, it’s not up with their best, but it has been over a decade since their best. So just enjoy the good album instead of pointing out where they’ve “gone wrong”.

~

The Good, The Bad And The Queen – Kingdom Of Doom

Oh, Damon Albarn what projects won’t you join?

~

Arcade Fire & David Bowie – Wake Up

Sure, this collaboration has been around for ages. Doesn’t make it any less perfect. Anyone who has seen Where The Wild Things Are (or at least seen its trailer) is going to have the song stuck in their heart for a while, unless they dont have one of course. And throwing David Bowie into the mix, well, it just convinces everyone that an indie covers album a la Peter Gabriel’s Scratch My Back must be round the corner soon.

~

Beach House – Silver Soul

The essence of Teen Dream is very well represnted by the video, while the band themself just go about crafting their moodiest, most addictive and just downright most awesome track ever. Victoria Legrend’s forlornly wails “it is happening again” amidst a strangely calming storm.

2010: A Year In Music Awesomeness

I’m going to admit it straight away, I’ve spent a lot of time looking back at the decade that has just passed. I’ve pulled up lists of my favourite songs and albums of the decade, and hunted through the indie scenes’ most loved bands of the 00s for my inspiration. I think I may be beginning to feel the effects of noughties-overdose so, as a remedy to this malignant condition, I bring you a look into the future. Some of the following albums are confirmed, others merely rumoured, but if they do all pop up during the earliest 10% of the brave new decade we are about to encounter, then be thankful. Because it will mean 2010 will surely be an awesome time for good music.

Release Date Confirmed:

Vampire Weekend – Contra (January 12)

The self-titled debut goes down as a guilty pleasure for me. I had a bit of a garage-rock phase, Kings Of Leon and The Strokes and The White Stripes, which I like to think I have sort of got over. The elitist in me scoffs at my youthful folly, but I can’t help but enjoy Vampire Weekend’s energy and hooks, which makes their second album of particular interest to me. By the sounds of the first couple of released tracks, “Horchata” and “Cousins”, Contra will be more of the same, slight but memorable guitar-rock, but whether it will contain a hit the size of “A-Punk” is another matter.

Anticipation Factor: 7/10

Yeasayer – Odd Blood (February 9)

Though I wasn’t the biggest fan of Yeasayer’s debut, All Hour Cymbals, there were one or two tracks that successfully combined the catchiness of pop with eccentric instruments and surreal moods. It is with a mixture of hope and trepidation that I listened to their new offering, Ambling Alp, and it seems that the signs are good for the new album. Provided that Odd Blood shows some consistency, this second record could show Yeasayer step up a league in quality.

Anticipation Factor: 6/10

Massive Attack – Heligoland (February 9)

I should try and stop my brain from considering this to be Massive Attack’s Third. There are similarities, the long gap between albums, the cinematic side-projects, but unlike Portishead, Massive Attack have not had a particularly good pre-release build-up. Splitting The Atom EP was lethargic and mediocre, but the fact is it’s an EP and the material on it was clearly not considered good enough for the album. The odds are high that Massive Attack have a large amount of material stashed away, some of it is bound to be quality. And the cameo list alone (Damon Albarn, Tunde Adebimpe, Martina Topley-Bird, Guy Garvey) is worthy of note.

Anticipation Factor: 7/10

Frightened Rabbit – The Winter Of Mixed Drinks (March 1)

The step up from Sing The Greys to The Midnight Organ Fight was notable, if they could pull off another such leap this could be one of the biggest albums of the year. I’m expecting something on a par with Organ Fight myself, a few more basic bittersweet odes which seem to be their comfort zone. It is interesting to note that the band have hired a fifth member, whose purpose is to provide “various instruments”, which hints at a fuller, more layered sound. This is also backed up by a single, “Swim until You Can’t See Land”, which is a soft, slightly ethereal affair, driven by the sly couplet “are you a man or are you a bag of sand?”

Anticipation Factor: 8/10

Release Date TBA:

The National – Untitled

In an interview with Pitchfork, Bryce Dessner stated that “The album will definitely come out in 2010. It could be early. It’ll be some time between January and May, I think”. If they stick to that then we’re a maximum six months away from a new album by The National. Now I prefer Alligator to Boxer, so in terms of career trajectory they’re actually on a downward slope at the moment in my mind (only by a miniscule amount, of course), but still, if this is on a par with their back catalogue thus far, I would still happily shell out a stupid amount of money to get it the first day. A couple of videos of new tracks being played have surfaced around YouTube (search QTV Runaway for one particularly spellbinding track), and the material seems as strong as ever, although nothing that screams “first single”, which is the sort of track they need if they’re going to get the exposure they deserve. Either way, this is still the album that raises my pulse more than any other pencilled in for 2010.

Anticipation Factor: 10/10

LCD Soundsystem – Untitled

A recent release of “Bye Bye Bayou”, a cover of an Alan Vega track, did little to whet the general appetite for new LCD Soundsystem records, but leaving sensationally understated messages such as “back in nyc. in the studio. making record” on his (legitimate) Facebook page certainly did. No idea which direction it will be going in, what the tracks will sound like, or whether it’ll be more than just 50 minutes of silence. Still, there won’t be long to wait, as it is scheduled for sometime in March, but until then James Murphy will be keeping his filthy electro-rock cards close to his chest.

Anticipation factor: 9/10

Broken Social Scene – Untitled

BSS were in the studio back in May, and as a full band too, rather than the many side projects and split ends that seem to occupy most of Kevin Drew and co’s time. Even they have said it is too early to define the direction of their sound, or whether it is in fact staying in the same place, but the chance are this will be out before May. Not a lot of details on this, and not much new live material to go on, as the band members have been busy being other bands’ band members. Still, this album is worthy of note as Broken Social Scene are finally once again coming together as one entity to record.

Anticipation Factor: 8/10

Rumoured Releases:

Radiohead, Arcade Fire, My Bloody Valentine, Portishead, Wolf Parade, The Strokes

That is a hell of a list. A whole lot of music-lovers would give away prized possessions to see those bands pull out an album from the top of their creative drawers this year. Most of these bands have confirmed that they’re working on new albums, and are aiming for 2010 releases, so we could be seeing these albums popping up around a year from now.

Radiohead are, of course, a law unto themselves, so any attempt to predict their movements seems as futile as predicting the outcome of the LHC. What was “These Are My Twisted Words” anyway, a sign? A red herring? An experiment? A whole new branch of cryptography could be opened up trying to determine Thom Yorke’s methods of madness. In that particular field, I am but an amateur.

Arcade Fire have spent the time since making Neon Bible fairly wisely, writing part of the score for Richard Kelly’s “The Box”, indulging in side-projects and touring, which I hope means they will be able to pull out something less mediocre and tiresome come album three. A return to delicacy over fist-pumping politicking would be a good place to start. Nothing confirmed on album status, but rumour has it they have just spent three weeks recording in the Magic Shop studio. Which is news indeed.

Portishead have confirmed that they plan to release their new album in 2010, although this is of course open to delay, unfortunately. No new material has been released, and it is more likely that the album will not reach us until 2011, but I’d happily wait another 11 years if the end product is as good as Third. If they can build on the darkness and lush agony displayed on their last release then the new album may well be my early contender for best album of the decade 2010s, though.

News on the other three bands there seems to involve less strong words and more hushed whispers. A new My Bloody Valentine record would certainly be an event to make any critic and audiophile alike take a sharp intake of breath. A third Wolf Parade album would hopefully right the wrongs that Second Album Syndrome caused “Mount Zoomer”, and The Strokes IV (as hysterical NME kids dubbed it) would give Casablancas and co.  the opportunity to prove they can go beyond one-trick pony status.

All in all, and even ignoring the inevitable debut stunners of the ilk of Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes, 2010 will be amazing. There will be failures and successes amongst these albums, but the failures will at least be interesting ones, while we, the listeners, will watch over the evolution of some of the current decades best bands into the new decade with perhaps more anticipation than ever before.

EDIT:

How could I have missed out the new Laura Marling album? No title yet, but the new tracks are great live, she seems to have matured lyrically and the full band is being used more effectively than ever. The rumoured February release is not official, but it will surely be out in the first quarter of 2010. A lot of second albums are rushed out due to demands after successful debuts, but a bit of patience never harmed an album, so lets hope theres good reason for the extra few months wait.

Anticipation Factor: Sorry for forgetting you/10