Albums of the year 2014

This year I’ve done things slightly differently in that I’ve not paid as much attention to how many times I’ve listened to something, but instead concentrated on how much I enjoyed it. Some records just can’t be listened to that often; they require complete attention and the kind of time commitment that I just don’t have most days, and I fear I may have left out a few such records in previous years.

I’ve gone for a top 20 this year, which are in no particular order, and also added my favourite live album (which is a live rendition of something that should have been in last year’s top 10 for the reasons mentioned above), and then added a load of other records I’ve enjoyed but can’t think of much to say about.

Everything here that is available on Spotify is in a playlist. Putting this playlist off shuffle may lead to some very odd juxtapositions though, and a lot of these records work best when listened to in the intended order.

James Vincent McMorrow – Post Tropical

I stumbled upon this in January, when I was looking for something new to listen to during my January commute to work. I had no expectations at all, and has not heard of the artist previously (although I’ve since checked out his debut album as well). James Vincent McMorrow has the sort of voice that would work very well with all sorts of different styles of music, and on first listen this reminded me a lot of How to Dress Well (not a bad thing), but what really sets this apart is the songs, which are sparse, achingly beautiful, and which flow together as a body of work. There is a sadness to this music, but also an uplifting feeling of hope and ambition, and I look forward to seeing what this artist comes up with next (which, if interviews are to be believed, will sound nothing like anything he’s done before).

I’m very surprised that this doesn’t feature in more end-of-year lists, which I suspect is down to the fact it was released right at the start of January. It’s certainly worth a listen, although if you’re anything like me then it will probably be a grower.

Sun Kil Moon – Benji

Sun Kil Moon is the current recording project of Mark Kozelek, formerly of Red House Painters. I’ve got a broad familiarity with all of Mark’s work, and two of his collaborative records were on my list last year. Red House Painters were probably my favourite band in my early 20s (which probably says a lot about my early 20s), and I find myself going back to their early records when I want to hear something that is both sad and hopeful. Benji is both of these things, but it’s also darkly humorous, and a step forward from anything else he’s released in the last 20 years.

The subject matter largely deals with death, and how it affects other people. A lot of the songs deal with true stories, and someone dies in (or before) almost every one of them. In the hands of many other singers this concept could easily degenerate into something that is very difficult to listen to. In this case it’s very much the opposite, and the combination of Mark’s vocals and guitars and the occasional bit of drumming from Steve Shelley gives the slightly morbid tales a lighter than expected backdrop that makes the whole thing a pleasure to listen to. And just when you think you’ve got a handle on this record, along comes the last song “Ben’s My Friend” which may be the best thing he’s committed to tape since the first two Red House Painters records.

This probably isn’t a record for everyone though. It’s emotionally raw, very sparse in places, and if you need more in your life than a voice and a guitar then it might leave you a little unfulfilled. But it might also give you new perspective on life, love, family, and getting to the age where the people you care about get old and die. I think it’s a record I needed this year, and is probably this year’s equivalent of Trouble Will Find Me – something I can listen to and wholeheartedly say “I can relate to that”.

Benji was released fairly early on in the year, but I’ve listened to it pretty constantly since then, and I suspect this will be one of those records I keep coming back to.

The Twilight Sad – No-One Wants To Be Here & No-One Wants To Leave

I can’t say too many good things about this band or this record. Every record they have made has been a flawless classic, and this one is no different. If anything, it sounds a little bit like the best bits of all their other records, as if they have taken the different sounds and textures they have used previously and then written new songs around them.

Personally, I always find that The Twilight Sad make more sense in the winter. They are the perfect sound track for walking to the train station on frosted mornings, and I have many fond memories of walking through the snow listening to one or other of their previous records. We have had no snow this year, but I don’t think it’s any coincidence that this was released just as the weather started to get colder.

I’m not sure why they are not bigger. Maybe it’s the fact that James Graham sings in a strong Scottish accent, but then he speaks in a strong Scottish accent so why shouldn’t he sing in the same way? Maybe it’s that they use texture and feedback to enhance the melody of each song, and that to some people that’s just noise. Beautiful noise though, and there isn’t a word or a note of this record that I would change.

The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream

None of their records have really engaged me before, but I think that Lost in the Dream is probably one of two records (the other being Future Island’s Singles) that should have been huge this year. I have no idea how many copies it sold, but I think this is a great example of what melodic and thoughtful rock music should sound like. The only negative for me is that I don’t feel I can relate particularly to the songs; they are great songs, but they don’t speak to me enough about my life in the way that (for example) Trouble Will Find Me did last year.

I think a lot of people reading this will enjoy Lost in the Dream though, and I very much look forward to what The War on Drugs come up with next.

Future Islands – Singles

The other record that should have been huge this year (and which possibly was). This is more keyboard/synth lead, and when I first heard it I thought it was a singles compilation, because every song was so strong. In fact it’s a new record that happens to be called Singles, and it is easily the best thing this band have ever done. It’s melodic, but also loud and energetic. It makes me want to stand up, move around, and perhaps even dance.

I also note they are on 4AD records. I’ve just finished reading Martin Ashton’s Facing the Other Way, which is an account of the first 20 years or so of 4AD, and it strikes me that quite a few artists on this list are either currently or formerly associated with the label. In this digital age I rarely consider record labels now, although it was something I was very conscious of when I was younger. This is the sort of record I would buy based on the fact they were on 4AD and that I liked the cover. In this case I would not have been disappointed in the slightest, as it’s a great record that I suspect I will still be listening to this time next year.

School of Language – Old Fears

School of Language is the side project of David Brewis from Field Music. I’m familiar with Field Music’s work, but wouldn’t say they were one of my favourite bands. I stumbled on this record quite by accident because I liked the look of the cover, and was surprised to find something so intimate, personal, and sounding very much like a solo record from someone trying to escape the confines of a band. It’s largely keyboard led, and has strong pop sensibilities without being in any way commercial or trite. It also contains some of the most beautiful music I’ve heard this year.

Initially I wondered how records like this got made, and I don’t see Field Music as being big earners, and it sounds like it was recorded in a decent quality studio. From reading an interview with Paul Smith of Maximo Park last week I learned that Field Music actually have their own studio, which makes a lot of sense, and also goes some way to explaining how the next record in my list came about.

Paul Smith & Peter Brewis – Frozen by Sight

Talking of Paul Smith, I suppose it’s worth writing about why the latest Maximo Park record isn’t in my top 20 when everything they have ever made has made the relevant yearly lists. It’s not that Too Much Information is a bad record, it’s just that it doesn’t add anything new, and I think this is a much more interesting and enjoyable listen.

The conception and making of this record has been well documented at http://thequietus.com/articles/16924-paul-smith-peter-brewis-interview. Paul Smith is the lead singer of Maximo Park, who I would imagine are well known to most people. Peter Brewis is from Field Music, and is the brother of David Brewis (see above). Together they have made a record that sounds a little bit like Field Music, and nothing at all like Maximo Park (unless you count Paul’s vocals, which are unmistakable). Frozen By Sight is certainly greater than the sum of its parts, and occupies a similar territory as Old Fears, although the addition of some of Paul Smith’s most interesting lyrics gives it additional definition and distinction. Each song is named after a place, and from a personal perspective it acted as a nice soundtrack to Donald Harrington’s Let Us Build A City, which I was reading at the same time, and which has chapters named after (and about) lost cities in the USA.

Frozen by Sight was released fairly late in the year, but it was one of the first records I wrote down when I was compiling this list. I’d certainly urge people to give it a few listens, because it really does start to pay dividends if you give it a bit of time.

Owen Pallett – In Conflict

One of the few records I actually bought on CD this year, which was more for the gatefold vinyl-type sleeve than for the music, although the music was very good too. I’ve followed Owen Pallett’s career from afar for a few years without really engaging too much with any of his music. This record really hit the spot for me though, and is lyrically clever, musically proficient, and a step up from anything else he’s ever done.

Mirel Wagner – When the Cellar Children See The Light of Day

An artist I’d not heard of this time last year, and a record that I found myself listening to repeatedly early in the morning, when louder or more complex music just didn’t work. The songs are purely vocal/guitar, and they don’t tread any new musical ground, whilst at the same time being a highly proficient example of the musical style they do represent. Mirel Wagner’s voice is pitch perfect, and this record could have been made in any year since the 50s, but there is something about it that sounds crisp, clear, and very much belonging to the modern age. It’s also got one of the best album titles of the year, which is initially what drew me to it.

FKA Twigs – LP1

Another artist I’d not heard of this time last year, and one that I initially stumbled on through seeing the record cover and thinking it looked interesting. I don’t normally listen to much R’n’B/dance style music, but this record takes the best bits of the genre, and reminds me a bit of Massive Attack in places (which is always a good thing). I also like how she uses some very unusual sounds and textures, and yet manages to sculpt them into something that compliments the vocals and lyrics perfectly.

The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers

My love of this group is well known, and to me they are the only band currently operating who deserve the tag “supergroup”. Brill Bruisers is very much a record of the summer, and is full of melodic energy, great pop songs, and some of the best lyrics that the various members of the band have ever written. I particularly like Dan Bejar’s contributions, and am hopeful that this time next year I’m writing about a new Destroyer record.

I recommend The New Pornographers to people a lot, because to my ears they make what I regard as pop music. I suspect that they might be a little weird for some tastes though, and that my definition of pop music is a few decades out of date.

Aphex Twin – Syro

Was anyone expecting this? I certainly wasn’t. I thought that Richard James has stopped making music years ago, so I was somewhat surprised when I saw that there was a new Aphex Twin record available. It’s probably not to everyone’s taste, but if you like electronic/synth music then it’s well worth a listen, and as with everything he’s done I think it’s the very best the genre has to offer.

Scott Walker and Sunn 0))) – Soused

Something else that I really didn’t expect. Scott Walker usually takes years to make records, but he is getting quite prolific recently, with this collaboration with Sunn 0))) being his 4th release in a decade (unheard of since the 60s). This collaboration is probably the most accessible record Scott has made in that decade (and is certainly the most accessible record Sunn 0))) have ever made). There are songs and tunes, as well as a whole lot of spine tingling vocals, obtuse lyrics, and interesting background atmospherics.

This record will not be for everyone, but it certainly makes me look at Sunn 0))) in a new light, and will hopefully gain Scott Walker a few new fans as well.

Thom Yorke – Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes

I’ve been a fan of Thom’s work (both in Radiohead and as a solo artist) since 1994, and this record nicely summarises where he’s at today. It’s electronic/synth based, but also surprisingly tuneful, and I like the way the tracks flow into one to give a definite feeling of this being a collection of songs that belong together. I also like the way it was released, as a bit torrent download, and with minimal publicity. I suspect that if I didn’t follow Thom on Twitter then I might not have found out about this record, which would have been great shame.

It’s not available on Spotify, but can be purchased from http://tomorrowsmodernboxes.com/

Mogwai – Rave Tapes

I’ve written elsewhere about how I’ve started doing certain types of work whilst listening to music, after being a staunch fan of working in silence as much as possible for many years. I still find working to lyrical music quite hard, and as a result I’ve tried hard to find music that allows me to block out the noise of the outside world whilst at the same time allowing me to concentrate on what I’m doing.

As part of this shift, I’ve listened a lot to a Spotify playlist I created called Post Rock Classics. The title is somewhat ironic, but it largely consists of music with no words, interspaced with a few things that are largely instrumental but have occasional vocals that don’t detract from the overall mood of the music. Mogwai very much epitomise this sound to me, and are probably one of the bands I’ve listened to most in 2014 as a result.

Raves Tapes does not sound like a rave tape. It sounds a bit like their last record (Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will), but also has slightly more electronic elements. It is also probably the most consistent record they have made for a good while. If you like Mogwai then you’ll like Rave Tapes, and if you’ve not heard them before then it’s not a bad place to start. What more can I say?

Manic Street Preachers – Futurology

I wrote about Rewind the Film last year, and this record was recorded around the same time. Whilst the last record was largely acoustic, this taps into their more experimental edge, and contains some of the best music they have released since The Holy Bible (which is 20 years old this year – how did that happen?). The predominant sound reminds me a bit of Berlin-era Bowie, but it is also very much a Manic Street Preachers record, and in the year that my favourite record of theirs turns 20, it is a reminder that they still have something worth saying (and that by extension people of my age in the UK still have something worth saying).

This is another record I ended up buying physically because of the packaging, and the copy I have comes in the format of a hardback book with two CDs (one of the album, one of demos and bonus tracks). In the same way that vinyl is becoming collectable again, I think that there is still a place for lavishly packaged CDs in the digital age. I’m just glad that I don’t have to buy everything I listen to physically because I think I would run out of both space and money very quickly.

Zion 80 – Adramelech : Book of Angels v.22

This is the 22nd volume of interpretations of songs from John Zorn’s Book of Angels. The basic idea behind the project was to compose short pieces of music that could be interpreted by other artists in a variety of styles, although there is a strong jazz/classical/experimental leaning as you would expect with Zorn. I’ve collected these records for a few years (along with some of Zorn’s other work), and I find them a pleasant counterpoint to the more conventional music I listen to regularly.

Zion 80 are a new name to me, and they don’t include any of the usual John Zorn collaborators. They play modern experimental jazz with a guitar edge, and do a decent job of infusing these tunes with energy and enthusiasm. As with a lot of artists who have participated in this series, I imagine I will go and check out their other work at some point, and at time of writing this is probably my favourite in the series that doesn’t involve artists I’m already familiar with (Secret Chiefs 3 and Marc Ribot spring to mind).

It’s been a good year for John Zorn records in general. As well as three strong releases in the Book of Angels series, there have also been the usual array of other records, including the truly beautiful Testament of Solomon and the last installation of the “Moonchild Trio” series, featuring Mike Patton (of Faith No More/Mr. Bungle/Fantomas/Tomahawk etc.) on vocals.

Led Bib – The People in Your Neighbourhood

And talking of jazz, something else I’ve listened to a lot this year. I’ve been a fan of this band since Sensible Shoes was nominated for the Mercury prize, and this record really didn’t disappoint. It’s probably what I would play to someone if they asked me to snapshot modern jazz music in 2014, and there isn’t a bad track on it.

Gazelle Twin – Unflesh

I stumbled on this quite late in the year, and thought it sounded like it was worth a listen. I don’t really know how to describe it other than to say it’s electronic music with female vocals, and that it is beautiful and disturbing in equal parts. I’ve found myself playing this a lot over the last month or so, and I think it’s the best example of a style of music I’ve found myself drawn to more and more this year.

These New Puritans – Expanded

I don’t normally include live records on my end of year list, but I think this one is worthy of it for two reasons. Firstly, that I really should have included Field of Reeds on my end of year top 10 in 2013, and secondly because I’ve played this to death since I got it and think it’s probably the best thing they have done.

Expanded was recorded at London’s Barbican Centre, with a full orchestra. The setting and accompaniment really fill out the already rather excellent music, and the fact that they play everything from Field of Reeds in order makes it a fitting companion to the studio album.

I think there might be a DVD version out there somewhere, which I would be very interested in seeing at some point. I am also wondering what they might do next, seeing as every studio record they have released has been in a totally different style to the one before it. They may very well be the 21st century equivalent of Talk Talk, which is an honour I do not bestow lightly.

Before I write about my last record, I just wanted to list a few other things that I’ve enjoyed a lot this year but that I don’t particularly have anything else to say about:

Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
Perfume Genius – Too Bright
The New Mendicants – Into the Lime
Marissa Nadler – July
St. Vincent – St. Vincent
Timber Timbre – Hot Dreams
EMA – The Future’s Void
Gazpacho – Demon
Swans – To be Kind
How to Dress Well – “What is this Heart?”
Morrissey – World Peace is None of Your Business
Martha – Courting Strong
Adult Jazz – Gist is
…And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead – IX
Leonard Cohen – Popular Problems
Dean Blunt – Black Metal
East India Youth – Total Strife Forever
Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire for no Witness
Ought – Today More Than Any Other Day
alt-J (∆) – This is All Yours
Metronomy – Love Letters (which I managed to miss out by forgetting it was released this year)

Which brings me on to my final choice…

Pixies – Indie Cindy

For Christmas last year I received a copy of the new Throwing Muses record. It came with a book of lyrics and other writings, and would certainly have made my list last year if I’d heard it before December 25th. I was in no way expecting such a good record, and I’d not given them too much thought since the last 80s, when they were one of two American bands recently signed to 4AD records and touring the UK on the same bill. Pixies were the other band on that bill.

Anyone who has known me for a while will know how much I like the early Pixies albums. Surfer Rosa and Doolittle are two of my favourite records ever, and I still have fond memories of doodling the lyrics to Monkey Gone to Heaven on my A Level Biology exam paper when I’d run out of questions I could answer. I’ve followed Charles Thompson’s career since (as Black Francis and Frank Black), but had not expected him to record anything else that came close to those early records.

I’m still not sure he ever will, but I think that Indie Cindy is the closest he’s come for a good while. Musically it is not dissimilar to the last two Pixies records, but the sound quality is great, and the loud/quiet dynamics work so much better. Each song is strong, and it sounds like everyone concerned really enjoyed making the record. I certainly enjoyed listening to it, and I can’t believe that in 2014 I’m talking about Pixies, Throwing Muses, Swans, Morrissey, Apex Twin, Scott Walker and some band fronted by Mark Kozelek being at the forefront of making interesting and engaging music. It almost makes me feel young again.

Albums of the year – 2013

This year, as well as a list of albums that I’ve liked and would recommend, I’m also going to try and narrow it down to 10 that are interesting, that I think people really need to hear, and that define 2013 for me.

This is going to be a challenge. And whilst the top three are definitely in an order, I really can’t differentiate between the rest.

The National – Trouble Will Find Me

This record would have been my number one any year since I started keeping detailed stats about what I listen to, and it is number one this year because I’ve listened to it the most, like it the most, and really feel that it soundtracks my year perfectly. Yes, it’s mournful and introspective in places, but it explores emotions that I’ve felt intensely this year, and as such there really isn’t another record that compares. Everyone reading this should listen to all of it, but if I have to pick songs then I’d go with Demons, Heavenfaced and This is the Last Time (as the three that mean the most to me right now). Musically, I’d say it was a grower, but if you’re a sucker for mournful alternative rock with a gorgeous baritone then you can’t go wrong with this, and I’ve generally had pretty good take up with people I’ve foisted it on already.

Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

If The National represent my introspective side, then Vampire Weekend are the other side of the coin. This is the music I play when I want to feel positive and energised, and it is the record where they take their influences (Talking Heads, Paul Simon) and forge them into something new, unique, and surprisingly modern. This is another grower, and another one where I struggle to pick a favourite song, although if you have to pick three then go for Unbelievers, Diane Young and Everlasting Arms.

Autre Ne Veut – Anxiety

And just when you thought this was going to be a list of American alternative bands, then along comes something totally different. I don’t even know what genre this is, except to say that it’s a stunning vocal performance on top of beautifully minimal instrumentation, and that I can’t listen to it without having to stop and actually listen to it. This is a recommendation from someone who knows my taste very well, and probably represents one of the biggest shifts in my musical listening habits this year. Listen to all of it, and accept that I’m terrible at recommending individual songs.

Moonface – Julia with Blue Jeans On

I wonder if anyone reading this has heard this album. It’s certainly not mainstream, and is could be considered quite musically difficult as it’s just vocal and piano. This speaks to me in much the same way Trouble Will Find Me does, but it is sparser, and more intimate. I’ve heard pretty much every note this man has recorded, and I think this is by far the best collection of songs, and the one that feels like it is telling a definite story. It sounds like there was heartache and heartbreak involved in this record, but it also sounds like the kind of catharsis that allows someone to move on. Definitely a record for 2013.

Ghostpoet – Some Say So I Say Light

I’ve listened to a lot of rap and hip hop this year. I could quite easily talk about one of the superstars like Drake or Jay-Z here, but instead I’m going to pick Ghostpoet, for making a highly accomplished record that manages to avoid sexism, racism, and the kind of lyrics that this genre really needs to move beyond. I listened to this record for the first hour of my working day for weeks, and it takes me back to a time of being very productive in the quiet hours of the morning before descending into a day of stress and chaos. It’s also really thought provoking, and would act as a good introduction to people who are not too familiar with this kind of music.

Julianna Barwick – Nepenthe

This is what I listen to if I want to become as disconnected from the real world as it’s possible to get. I’m not sure how this music is made, or what it means, but it takes wordless vocals and instrumental textures are forges them into something spellbindingly beautiful. It reminds me of a Cocteau Twins record in some ways, but also has even more spaces between the sounds, and it is the sort of record that makes me interested to meet the person who conceived it, because I think she must have seen or otherwise experienced something of otherworldly beauty. The title is also absolutely fitting.

Manic Street Preachers – Rewind the Film

This is a band I never thought would make my top 10 again. I love their earlier stuff, but have not really found a lot to inspire me in what they have released recently. This record is an exception to that, although (as with The National) I suppose they are of my generation, and they sing about things that are relevant to my life, but this time round they do it well enough to warrant a mention. I’m particularly impressed that they have made a largely acoustic record that doesn’t sound acoustic at all, and that there are new ideas here, from a band who have not had many new ideas in the best part of 20 years.

Los Campesinos! – No Blues

Putting this list together is a fairly solitary process, but I do talk to other people over the course of the year. The week before this record was released, I couldn’t find anyone who would disagree with my top 3, although we were all excited that a new Los Campesinos! record was due, as it was likely to shake things up a little. I don’t think it has, although I do like it more with every listen, and I can’t really pass over a record that I listened to pretty much constantly for days. It also makes me feel alive and energised in the same way Vampire Weekend do, but with a definite UK slant to the things they sing about. That is important, right?

Barbarossa – Bloodlines

I know even less about this one that I do about Autre Ne Veut, but it occupies a similar place in my heart. It’s soulful, tuneful, and in some ways quite commercial, but it also taps a deep emotional vein that epitomises this year. I think this is another one most people will not have heard, but it’s definitely worth a listen.

Darren Hayman and the Short Parliament – Bugbears

Another one I’m not sure if anyone will have heard, but one that nicely epitomises my love of folk music, and of songs that tell stories. And yes, it’s the same Darren Hayman who was in Hefner all those years ago, although you wouldn’t know it from this. I’d very much recommend his whole back catalogue, but this is a good enough starting point, and a record I found myself coming back to over and over again in the latter portion of this year. Which is largely why it is last on the list.

But there are plenty of other things I’ve listened to this year that have caught my ear, and the list below is just some of them.

  • Jay-Z – Magna Carta Holy Grail
  • Villagers – {Awayland}
  • Breathe Owl Breathe – Passage of Pegasus
  • Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away
  • John Zorn – The Mysteries
  • Shearwater – Fellow Travelers
  • Tomahawk – Oddfellows
  • Drake – Nothing Was the Same
  • Mark Lanegan – Imitations
  • The Fall – Re-Mit
  • Jesu – Everyday I get Closer to the Light from Which I Came
  • Midlake – Antiphon
  • Mark Kozelek & Jimmy Lavalle – Perils from the sea
  • British Sea Power – Machineries Of Joy
  • Bill Ryder-Jones – A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart
  • Ed Harcourt – Back Into The Woods
  • Julia Holter – Loud City Song
  • !!! – THR!!!ER
  • Phoenix – Bankrupt!
  • Mark Lanegan – Black Pudding
  • These New Puritans – Field of Reeds
  • Primal Scream – More Light
  • My Bloody Valentine – mbv
  • John Zorn – Dreamachines
  • Blouse – Imperium
  • Mazzy Star – Seasons of Your Day
  • Kanye West – Yeezus
  • Mark Mulcahy – Dear Mark J. Mulcahy, I Love You
  • Joseph Arthur – Redemption City
  • Daughter – If You Leave
  • Mark Kozelek & Desertshore – Mark Kozelek & Desertshore
  • Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer – Child Ballads

Albums of the first 6 months of 2013

Last.fm says these are the twenty 2013 releases I’ve listened to the most this year.

  1. The National – Trouble Will Find Me
  2. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
  3. Tomahawk – Oddfellows
  4. Joseph Arthur – Redemption City
  5. Primal Scream – More Light
  6. The Indelicates – Diseases of England
  7. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away
  8. British Sea Power – Machineries Of Joy
  9. Bill Ryder-Jones – A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart
  10. Ed Harcourt – Back Into The Woods
  11. !!! – THR!!!ER
  12. Mark Mulcahy – Dear Mark J. Mulcahy, I Love You
  13. Phoenix – Bankrupt!
  14. Dutch Uncles – Out Of Touch In The Wild
  15. These New Puritans – Field of Reeds
  16. Ghostpoet – Some Say I So I Say Light
  17. Daughter – If You Leave
  18. Steve Mason – Monkey Minds In The Devil’s Time
  19. Editors – The Weight of Your Love
  20. The Knife – Shaking the Habitual

All in all, it’s not a bad snapshot of the first 6 months of 2013.

Albums of the year – 2012

I think 30 choices is appropriate again this year. They are in vague order (certainly near the top), but I think some of them really depend so much on what sort of mood I’m in on a particular day.

  1. Shearwater – Animal Joy
  2. The Twilight Sad – No One Can Ever Know
  3. How to Dress Well – Total Loss
  4. Lana Del Rey – Born to Die
  5. Bill Fay – Life is People
  6. Scott Walker – Bish Bosch
  7. Chromatics – Kill For Love
  8. Craig Finn – Clear Heart Full Eyes
  9. Metric – Synthetica
  10. Moonface – With Siinai: Heartbreaking Bravery
  11. The North Sea Scrolls – The North Sea Scrolls
  12. Paul Heaton – Paul Heaton Presents The 8th
  13. A.C. Newman – Shut Down The Streets
  14. Stars – The North
  15. The Indelicates – Diseases Of England
  16. David Byrne & St. Vincent – Love This Giant
  17. Simon Joyner – Ghosts
  18. Swans – The Seer
  19. Paul Buchanan – Mid Air
  20. Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz – Abraxas: The Book of Angels Volume 19
  21. Pog – Between the Station and the Sea
  22. Tennis – Young & Old
  23. Lambchop – Mr. M
  24. Errors – Have Some Faith in Magic
  25. Tame Impala – Lonerism
  26. John Zorn – The Gnostic Preludes
  27. Japandroids – Celebration Rock
  28. Allo Darlin’ – Europe
  29. Yeasayer – Fragrant World
  30. Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Psychedelic Pill

Christmas projects

I have all sorts of things planned this Christmas, some of which may happen and some of which may take a little longer to reach fruition.

  • Albums of the year (which I always do), and which will be ready on or around 31st December.
  • One movie a day, where I will watch one decent movie a day, and list them all with a few notes on why I chose them and how they all fit together.
  • A writing project, which I’ve started, and which might end up being a “one poem a day” type exercise.

It is good to have some time to work on this sort of thing, and I’m hopeful it will redress the balance a little after a year of too much work, too much responsibility and not enough creativity.

Albums of the year – 2011

These are the 30 records I couldn’t live without in 2011. Some more than others, but they all deserve a mention.

  1. The Indelicates – David Koresh Superstar
  2. Destroyer – Kaputt
  3. Radiohead – The King of Limbs
  4. Elbow – Build a Rocket Boys!
  5. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
  6. Marissa Nadler – Marissa Nadler
  7. The Twilight Singers – Dynamite Steps
  8. British Sea Power – Valhalla Dancehall
  9. Luke Haines – 9 1/2 Psychedelic Meditations On British Wrestling Of The 1970s and Early 80s
  10. 8in8 – Nighty Night
  11. Frank Turner – England Keep My Bones
  12. Craft Spells – Idle Labor
  13. Veronica Falls – Veronica Falls
  14. Widowspeak – Widowspeak
  15. EMA – Past Life Martyred Saints
  16. Wilco – The Whole Love
  17. Toro Y Moi – Underneath The Pine
  18. Anna Calvi – Anna Calvi
  19. Amanda Palmer – Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under
  20. Akron/Family – S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT
  21. Timber Timbre – Creep On Creepin’ On
  22. The Horrible Crowes – Elsie
  23. Dum Dum Girls – Always in Dreams
  24. Grails – Deep Politics
  25. Mogwai – Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
  26. The Horrors – Skying
  27. Tori Amos – Night Of Hunters
  28. Soft Metals – Soft Metals
  29. Los Campesinos! – Hello Sadness
  30. The Decemberists – The King Is Dead

Albums of the year 2010

This is a list of every album I’ve encountered that was released in 2010 and that I think is worthy of praise. The top 10 are in some sort of order, the rest are just listed in the vague order of how many plays they got on last.fm, rather than in any order of how much I like them.

  1. The Indelicates – Songs for Swinging Lovers – A lot of people don’t seem to have heard of this band, which is a great shame. This record is witty, literate and seeped in irony and sarcasm. It’s also the best thing I’ve heard this year in any genre, and is still available for free (or as much as you want to pay) from the Corporate Records website.
  2. The National – High Violet – In any other year this would be my album of the year. It managed to do well critically and commercially, and is yet another big step up from their previous work. I would imagine this would appeal to pretty much anyone who likes music with vocals and guitars, and as such I’d recommend it to most people reading this.
  3. Shearwater – The Golden Archipelago – Every year there is an album that I’m underwhelmed by when it comes out, but that by the end of the year I can’t live without. This year it’s by Shearwater, who I’d not even heard of a year ago. Each song is a sweeping majestic masterpiece, and the album as a whole makes early mornings make sense in a way nothing else can.
  4. The Love Language – Libraries – Imagine Brian Wilson and Phil Spector locked inside one man’s head for 25 years. If you like how that might sound then you’ll love this record. It could have been made in any year since 1965, but has some of the most perfect songwriting and production I’ve heard this year.
  5. The Pernice Brothers – Goodbye Killer – I like everything Joe Pernice has ever released, and this album acts as a good start to what is already a huge back catalogue. Some of this is out and out classic pop music, and it’s a brighter and catchier album than I think many people were expecting.
  6. Tindersticks – Falling Down A Mountain – I loved this band 15 years ago, and had no idea they still had this sort of record in them. It’s worth playing it after “High Violet” by the National, because parts of them are tapping the same smoky late night baritone vibe.
  7. Tame Impala – Innerspeaker – This was sold to me as an Australian band who sound like Led Zeppelin for 2010. And I can totally live with that. Another record that could have been made in the late 60’s, but one that I have grown to love this year to the point where I’ve since bought everything else they have ever made.
  8. Vampire Weekend – Contra  – I still think they sound like a cross between Talking Heads and Paul Simon. This is the album where that stops being a problem and starts being something I find oddly enthralling. It will be interesting to see where they go next though.
  9. Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan – Hawk – In some ways more of the same, but this time around they have stretched the musical palate slightly, as well as producing “Lately” which is a song of pure beauty and perfection.
  10. The Hold Steady – Heaven Is Whenever – In some ways a disappointment, because it doesn’t live up to the potential I was expecting after “Stay Positive!”. However, if you simply take it on face value then it’s a perfectly good example of a bar-rock record that is trying to move from the bar to the stadium. Very much a grower, which is not what I was expecting.

And the rest…

  • The New Pornographers – Together
  • Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
  • Midlake – The Courage Of Others
  • The Divine Comedy – Bang Goes The Knighthood
  • School of Seven Bells – Disconnect From Desire
  • Wild Nothing – Gemini
  • Richard Youngs – Beyond The Valley Of Ultrahits
  • Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Before Today
  • Ted Leo & the Pharmacists – The Brutalist Bricks
  • Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra – Kollaps Tradixionales
  • Neil Young – Le Noise
  • Field Music – Field Music
  • Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz
  • Swans – My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky
  • Kele – The Boxer
  • Solex vs Cristina Martinez + Jon Spencer – Amsterdam Throwdown King Street Showdown!
  • Uniform Motion – Life
  • The Besnard Lakes – The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night
  • Allo Darlin’ – Allo Darlin’
  • Paul Smith – Margins
  • John Zorn – Ipsissimus
  • Ryan Adams & The Cardinals – III/IV
  • The Knife – Tomorrow, in a Year
  • LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening
  • Les Savy Fav – Root for Ruin
  • M.I.A. – /\/\ /\ Y /\
  • These New Puritans – Hidden
  • Janelle Monáe – The ArchAndroid
  • Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
  • Emeralds – Does it Look Like I’m Here?

Yes, that’s a lot of music. I dread to think how many hours of my life I’ve spent listening to these 40 records this year.

Albums of the Decade

I don’t really know where to start when trying to draw up a list of songs or albums that sum up the last 10 years. 2000 was a long time ago (10 years, in fact), and I’m not sure I can be truly objective when comparing things I’m listening to now and records that I remember being at least as important at various other points in the last 10 years. I love the new Flaming Lips album, but is it really better than Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots? Is In Rainbows better than Kid A, or was it just released more recently? And is it really possible to sum up a decade in a list of records?

My gut instinct is that no record released this year should make the list. Just because I’ve not had time to assess their importance. But at the same time I don’t think that’s fair to an album like The Hazards of Love, which I reckon I’ll still be listening to in 2019.

So without further ado, a first stab at a list of records from the last 10 years that I think people should own, and that in some way sum up the decade for me.

Radiohead – Kid A (2000) – To me this record redefined what a big selling record could sound like, and did a great job of sounding like everything I was currently listening to at the time (Tortoise, Jim O’Rourke, Miles Davies and a few even more esoteric things). Everything they released this decade would get into my top 100, but this is where they laid down the blueprint for what was to come. I bought this album the day I had my first interview to work at the University, and to me it perfectly sums up 2000.

Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002) – The album that introduced me to Wilco, and that marked them out as something more than just an alternative country band. It was also the first album (I think) that was streamed to listeners before it was released, and marked the first of four consecutive great albums they released between 2002-09. It was hard choosing between this, A Ghost is Born and Wilco (the album), but I think YHF just shades it, and is the one I’d recommend people start with.

The Arcade Fire – Funeral (2004) – They seemed to come out of nowhere, and to be critically acclaimed without ever being fashionable. This album was the one that really introduced me to them, and made me realise that there was something coming out of Canada that wasn’t 24 minute instrumental masterpieces or trite pop songs. I played this album to death in 2004, and still dip into it every now and again, and it is something I would recommend to anyone who likes music.

The Hold Steady – Separation Sunday (2005) – I didn’t discover this band until their 4th album (Stay Positive), but soon fell in love with their second effort from 2005. They are described as a bar band, but I see them as the 21st century version of Jack Kerouac and the best storytelling band ever. The music is loud and simple, the lyrics are narrative and hilarious, and the fact that something made in 2005 topped my listening charts for this year just goes to show it is something special.

Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid (2008) – Last year’s album of the year by a mile, and something I keep going back to when I want to be reminded of 2008 (which was generally a good year). I’ve been a fan of theirs for a while, but this is the first album where I would recommend every single song.

Albums of the year 2009

Calculated using the same algorithm as the last two years, and only including albums actually released this year.

  1. The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love
  2. Wilco – Wilco (The Album)
  3. The Horrors – Primary Colours
  4. Portugal. The Man – The Satanic Satanist
  5. Florence and The Machine – Lungs
  6. Jarvis Cocker – Further Complications
  7. The Big Pink – A Brief History of Love
  8. Califone – All My Friends Are Funeral Singers
  9. Doves – Kingdom Of Rust
  10. Maxïmo Park – Quicken The Heart
  11. And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead – The Century of Self
  12. Robyn Hitchcock – Goodnight Oslo
  13. Editors – In This Light And On This Evening
  14. Manic Street Preachers – Journal For Plague Lovers
  15. Bear in Heaven – Beast Rest Forth Mouth
  16. Julian Casablancas – Phrazes For The Young
  17. Fresh Body Shop – The Ugly Army
  18. Atlas Sound – Logos
  19. David Byrne & Brian Eno – Everything that Happens will Happen Today
  20. Monsters of Folk – Monsters of Folk

Oddly enough, three of my most played (and favourite) albums of 2009 were released prior to 2009. They slot into the top 5 as follows:

  1. The Hold Steady – Separation Sunday
  2. The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love
  3. Wilco – Wilco (The Album)
  4. British Sea Power – Do You Like Rock Music?
  5. The Hold Steady – Stay Positive

Nothing else from before 2009 got anywhere near the top 20 (American Demo by The Indelicates being the closest by some distance).

Albums of the last 3/6 months

Albums of the last 3 months (as a follow on from the first three months of the year):

1 Maxïmo Park – Quicken The Heart
2 Manic Street Preachers – Journal For Plague Lovers
3 The Horrors – Primary Colours
4 Jarvis Cocker – Further Complications
5 The Wind Whistles – Animals Are People Too
6 Super Furry Animals – Dark Days/Light Years
7 The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love
8 Bat for Lashes – Two Suns
9 Crazed Outlook – Double Talk
10 Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career

And then looking at everything from 1st Jan – 30th June:

1 The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love
2 Maxïmo Park – Quicken The Heart
3 The Hold Steady – Separation Sunday
4 Frank Turner – Love Ire & Song + The First Three Years
5 The Hold Steady – Stay Positive
6 Modern Skirts – All Of Us In Our Night
7 And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead – The Century of Self
8 British Sea Power – Do You Like Rock Music?
9 Manic Street Preachers – Journal For Plague Lovers
10 The Horrors – Primary Colours

So yes, I’ll do this again at the end of September.