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 1

Around November time last year I wrote up a long list of all the albums, some confirmed and some rumoured, that were scheduled for 2010 releases (which can be found here). I mentioned that I would keep up to date with how the albums were actually received upon release, and if the anticipation was deserved. Seeing as there have already been a handful of notable releases, as well as important news regarding other 2010 releases, I decided now would be a good time to offer an update on how 2010 is panning out in terms of music awesomeness.

Released Albums:

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Owen Pallett – Heartland

I’ll start things off with an album I didn’t mention in my original post, but one I’ve quickly grown to love. An 80 on Metacritic is a very positive sign from the critics (despite Q stating in their review that the record was by Final Fantasy), and Pallett is starting to step out of the shadows of the bands he has previously attached himself to, with notable success. Personally, I adore the album, its giddy introduction to string-pop is rife with clever lyrics and a capability and control over the music rarely heard from a solo artist. I hope it will inspire a few more artists to invest in violins, especially if they have the ear for pace that Pallett confidently showcases here.

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Vampire Weekend – Contra

The nature of the anger which churns between Vampire Weekend’s fans and haters meant that this would always be a big release. The sophomore record could be fuel on the fire of their negative image as creators of simple, irritating mock-rock, or it could be a musical step forward that makes the detractors sit up and take notice. In the end we got more of the same, the difference being a lack of a killer single to follow “A-Punk”. Reasonably reviewed by the critics, there is a sense that they are doing well at the moment, but some change or evolution would need to be seen come LP3 if they are going to prove themselves as a serious long-term band.

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Yeasayer – Odd Blood

Washing around the Internet for a good two or three months, Yeasayer’s second record is not actually released until tomorrow. Nevertheless, it has caused a stir in a lot of places, and there is much talk of Yeasayer taking Grizzly Bear and Animal Collective’s lead with an equivalent challenging and moody album that still breaks into the fringes of the mainstream. Whilst the singles have certainly gone some way to achieving this, and some tracks have carried on the current trend of subtly dropping pop into supposedly experimental albums, the consistency is not there.

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Beach House – Teen Dream

Beach House made a fairly good impression with their first two albums, but there was a sense of them lacking identity. They were Grizzly Bear mixed with My Brightest Diamond mixed with Portishead mixed with… well… a fair few bands. There is still that feeling surrounding Teen Dream, the difference now being that they have some monster singles to back it up, gorgeous opening track “Zebra” has graced many a late-night show, and the video for “Silver Soul” is no doubt giving them a decent amount of exposure in the right places. Beach House threaten to overtake those they once imitated with powerfully dreamy melodies and almost alien vocals provided impressively by Victoria Legrand.

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News:

As well as the handful of notable releases thus far this year (Spoon and Four Tet deserve a mention), there has been much news. In some cases there has been massive, major news. The National, who have already whetted indie appetites worldwide with the likes of “Karamazov” and “Bloodbuzz, Ohio”, have given a definite May release to their forthcoming album. Not much more details, except that there will be an accompanying tour this spring. Broken Social Scene plan on solidifying the excellence of that particular month, May 3rd specifically, which will feature usual suspects Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning along with their usual ever-shifting background of guests (Leslie Feist amongst them).

Sooner on the horizon than these two albums is a release that threatens to overshadow both of these critically, Laura Marling’s “I Speak Because I Can”, which is out 22nd March. Following “Goodbye England (Covered In Snow)” and the success of her debut, it may be that Marling will be able to break out of the limitations of the folk genre and appeal to the masses. From what I’ve heard, there’s no doubt on the quality, and together with Mumford & Sons’ surprise success, this could be a golden age for British folk.

With Blur’s reunion and superb Glastonbury show out of the way, Damon Albarn can get back to attracting famous friends with a new Gorillaz project. And this time he has outdone himself, the third album, entitled “Plastic Beach”, Mark E Smith, Lou Reed, Mos Def and Bobby Womack (the last two appearing on the impressive single “Stylo”), are just a few of the big names to listen out for.

Fans of harpists/bloody-good-folk will rejoice at the news that Joanna Newsom is to return on 23rd February with “Have One On Me”, and will then be forced to rejoice a second and third time, because Newsom will be releasing a full 3-disc set. Two songs from the 18-track, 126-minute epic, “81” and “Good Intentions Paving Company” have already been made available, giving much reason for anticipation amongst fans of “Ys”, Newsom’s previous album.

Do you need any further reason to love 2010? There are still unconfirmed reports of the likes of Foals, Wolf Parade, Fleet Foxes, of Montreal, Arcade Fire and The Strokes having new albums out this year, plus there are somewhat uncertain, but nevertheless noteworthy, rumours from Stereogum that Radiohead have in fact wrapped up their new album, with a summer release a possibility. Noteworthy indeed…

Owen Pallett – Heartland

Dropping the name “Final Fantasy” and replacing it with his own is a step in the right direction for Owen Pallett. It signifies that he is willing to step out from behind the veil and show himself and his personality off without fear. The likes of Arcade Fire, Grizzly Bear and Beirut may have been blessed by his golden strings in the past, but by releasing a record under his own name, Pallett seems finally ready to show a piece of himself.

It is odd, then, that “Heartland” sounds more complex and layered than not only Pallett’s previous work, but damn near everything else that can be heard these days. It is a shock at first to hear the skill of a single person wrought large across a cinematic landscape of luscious strings and tones. Pallett has brought his personality to bear on the music he crafts.

But what is his personality? Judging by “Heartland”, it is one with haughty aims, not just for the operatic, but also for the integration between the operatic and the joyfully addictive. Whilst the opening few tracks are something of a slog to get through, the bleakly catchy syncopation of “Keep The Dog Quiet” notwithstanding, Pallett relaxes the listener as the album progresses, and saves some of the best tracks for the back-end of the record.

Though the first half of the album has plenty of highlights, Pallett begins to unfold his music into the realms of magic from “Oh Heartland, Up Yours!” onwards. Suddenly a narrative thread is introduced, giving credence to the suggestions that this album has a Heaven/Hell style concept. The titular Heartland that at this point in the album seemed to be a wondrous place of beauty and isolation (not unlike the island Veckatimest that Grizzly Bear focused on last year) is shunned by the protagonist, Lewis. This thread runs through the rebellious “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt” and the ultimately uplifting (despite its place amongst the concept) “Tryst With Mephistopheles”.

It feels as though a monumental amount of work was put into this album, because not a single thing sounds out of place. The tempo and balance remain faultless throughout, even the off-putting rhythms of “Flare Gun”, which comes across as a demented Fantasia outtake, do not knock the listener out of stride. “Heartland” is ambitiously ornate, but accessible for the most part, creating a classical/pop crossover album that does not sound as if it is forcing itself into that category. And the moods sway from optimism to pessimism (note the contrast between the closing two tracks) cleverly enough to make it appear that the style is constantly evolving as the album progresses.

Really, Heartland is an exceptional album that stutters at the start to achieve its lofty targets, but has a breathtaking second half. Every element that makes up its composition, all the simple but necessary things, has been expertly put in place by Pallett, whose ethereal vocals and charmingly ambivalent lyricism should not be overlooked simply because the melodies create to assist it are so luscious. A true all-round victory for The Former Mr. Fantasy.

The Video Bin 4

Sunday is starting to become official Video Bin day. So maybe I should change its name to Video Bin Sunday. But then I will be obliged. And I don’t like being obliged. That damn Wednesday Countdown has already given me one weekly obligation, a second would just kill me. Because I spend so much damn time and effort on these posts, y’know.

Things I have managed to conclude this morning:

  • Everything decomposes quicker than you want it to.
  • Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe Series 2 was the best series of any TV show from the 00’s.
  • The second album by Foals is worth looking forward to.
  • The creator of the Chocolate Digestive is a God amongst mortals.
  • Fyfe Dangerfield is a lefty, which increases the amount of cool he has, which was already pretty high from having the world’s most amazing name.

Videos:

R.E.M. have been consistently amazing live for pretty much three decades. “The One I Love” has always been referred to as a high point of their career, and it comes off of my favourite R.E.M. album, “Document”, so it’s always good to see it played live when they could be playing exclusively more recent tracks from “Accelerate” etc. The new live album from Dublin may feel slightly unecessary considering it’d been less than 2 years since they last put out a live CD, but that doesn’t make it any less amazing.

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One of these years I really am gonna have to get myself down to Bonnaroo. Every year great artists bring their A Game, and I keep finding out about it on YouTube years later. Here’s one guy who’s always a laugh live, Andrew Bird, playing “Fake Palindromes” at the 2006 festival.

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Firstly, a shout-out to La Blogotheque, which have created probably my favourite YouTube channel for good music. I should’ve mentioned them earlier for giving us Grizzly Bear doing “Knife” a capella. But I didn’t. Anyway, here is Fyfe Dangerfield, showing us his solo skills. His first solo album is currently in the works, along with a third Guillemots album, which I hope will see Dangerfield morph from a guy with a couple of gems in his back catalogue to an artist of consitent brilliance.

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So yeah, Micheal Cera is in an Islands video. Yep.

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I highly recommend the new album “Heartland” by Owen Pallett (formerly known by the moniker “Final Fantasy”). You can see Pallett in action here, crafting a gorgeous cover of the Bloc Party song “This Modern Love”. Single-handedly making violins cool all over again.