Its been a great year for music whether it be electronic, hip hop, guitar or singer songwriter. Here are my favourites below complete with videos for you to have a look and listen - I've also linked to my original full reviews where appropriate. Disagree with my choices? Leave yours at the end of the article!
The top 10 albums
10. Skit I Allt – Dungen
Anyone for some Swedish prog folk? What I love about this record is its complete disregard for the mainstream. Like the early krautrock releases they want to take the listener on a sonic journey but they also achieve great subtlety and beauty. This is a record that most obviously (to these ears) recalls Super Furry Animals but also has hints of early Kraftwerk, Thin Lizzy and psychedelic folk.
9. There is Love in You – Four Tet
This isn’t a great album – it’s patchy and it also has a bizarre final track where Mr Hebdon sings to us over acoustic guitar (stick to the day job!). Having said that, it contains three tracks which stand up against anything else released this year. The first two tracks on first listen created an expectation that this would be the record of the year but only Plastic People matched these dizzy heights. Four Tet is still one of (if not) the most relevant musician in Britain today.
8. Queen of Denmark – John Grant
A genre I don’t particularly go for is gay torch songs – Rufus Wainwright leaves me cold. This really caught my ear though – the darkness and bitterness of the lyrics draw you in even though the songs themselves are often candy coated. Midlake guest and their ability to recall American album rock (Chicago, Supertramp, Heart) situates this record in a place that makes it a real guilty pleasure. I was a bit disappointed when Mojo made this their album of the year as I thought this was my discovery (although to be fair to them I got it off the back of their original review!).
7. I’m new here – Gil Scott Heron
Who would have expected a sixty plus year old drug addled soul singer would make one of the most forward thinking and emotional albums of the year? Making use of modern beats to underpin Heron’s tales of childhood abandonment was a masterstroke. He is a true one off...
6. Crooks and Lovers – Mount Kimbie
For all that I love dubstep there are few albums from the genre that I would actually want to listen to from start to finish. Mount Kimbie, like James Blake and Darkstar, recognise the limitations of the genre and so fuse it with other more abstract electronic sounds to create a sloppy-slippy sound that moves things forward again (Slopstep?) Hints of two-step, techno and broken beat keep things interesting while the use of human sounds (vocals, handclaps) creates a connection that few electronic acts achieve. The sound of young London. Love the artwork as well.
5. Archandriod – Janelle Monae
I was expecting neo soul. Instead I got one of the most inventive female fronted albums of recent years. Janelle brought to mind the afro-exentricity of Parliament, Prince and Outkast but also Karen Carpenter and Debbie Harry. This was a proper album starting with a classical suite and packed with highlights throughout - wildly ambitious for a debut. Expect her to be huge.
4. Hidden – These New Puritans
I spent most of the year bemoaning the lack of decent guitar music and then heard this via Paul Morley and a friend. To call it a guitar album is a bit unfair as there is little guitar on it but its undoubtedly an ‘indie’ album bringing to mind Radiohead in particular. Like Radiohead though they realise the limitations of the guitar and focus as much on samurai drums, brass bands, children’s choirs and synths while never forgetting the value of a good hook. Best post modern, art-rock, concept album of the year.
3. A Sufi and a Killer – Gonjasufi
Like Flying Lotus, a true one off. Gonjasufi takes acid rock as his template rather than futuristic beats (although they are there in the mix on some songs) and somehow manages to tell the whole story of modern music over his debut album without ever sounding retro. This record calls to mind the Stooges, Turkish psych, Issac Hayes and Monster Magnet and many many more. An excellent remix package (The Caliph’s Tea Party) was released off the back of it. For those who just want to hear something, well, different.
2. Swim - Caribou
The most blatantly enjoyable album of the year (the record I actually enjoy listening to most often comes second in these polls while I reserve first place for the one I consider the most ‘important’!). This record sounded good whenever I played it – on the train on Ipod, on a barge radio travelling through Holland, eating dinner in an Italian villa, live in Rough Trade records in East London... At least three euphoric singles (Odyssey, Sun, Bowls) but dig beneath and there is great experimentation here – Arthur Russell is an obvious reference point as is Four tet but Dan Snaith is continuing to plough his own furrow.
1. Cosmogramma – Flying Lotus
I suspect I might get some flak for picking this as my album of the year. It’s a muso’s album – deliberately difficult and ‘clever’ and it barely contains anything you might regard as a song. This though is a record that is all about texture and mood. Closer to 70’s free jazz than the post dubstep sound it is often associated with, Ellison is able to create a connection with his listener through snatches of harp, piano and vocal. The beats are sparse and harsh but from within them comes great beauty. It’s a record that is quite unique and I can envisage listening to it in ten years time by which time the rest of the pretenders might just have caught up (by which time Fly Lo will have moved on!).. I fully accept that this choice says more about where I am on my own musical journey than what might be regarded as the popular choice of a defining record but I was amazed at how little this was picked upon in the end of year magazine and web polls which shows that I’m not entirely in thrall to the critics!
The top 3 singles
3. Katie’s on a mission – Katie B
This category should contain at least one out and out pop single. This really caught my ear when I saw Katie supporting Magnetic Men. A great hook but rooted in credibility – like a modern Nenah Cherry singing along to Benga perhaps (he did produce it after all). Simple fun.
2. CMYK – James Blake
A sound of where British music goes next. Using cut up R&B vocals over modern electronic sounds from the London underground – rolling back and forth with shifting tempos to create a slightly disorientating experience. Expecting a great debut from this man in 2011.
1. Exhibit A/C – Jay Electronica
As one gets older it becomes so much harder for music to really blow you away – think about the first time you heard Public Enemy, Guns N Roses or the Arctic Monkeys...I had the same feeling when I heard Exhibit A which namechecks Barack Obama, Etta James and Kurt Voneggut (this was actually released in 2009 so I've chosen Exhibit C which is a little more soulful and equally as good). So far ahead of the rest of the hip hop field it’s scary. Calling to mind J Dilla, Wu and Nas with futuristic production and a voice to kill for – hip hop is back big style with Jay Electronica. All together now 'As we proceed....with what you need.....'
Merry Christmas and happy new year everyone - see you in 2011!