The problem with starting this nonsense early enough to get it all finished before Santa doesn’t bring me any of the stuff I asked for yet again, is that I’m still hearing new stuff and in one particular case, being utterly blown away by it. So, what’ll probably happen is that I shall cheat even more than I already have done and include a joint “something in the top 3″, as I’m not sure exactly where it’s going to go yet. Something as good as this (which I hope to find the time to witter properly about sometime this week) can’t be left out.
Anyway, more on that when I get round to it – bit gutted that Joseph Arthur’s show in Manchester tomorrow (or, as it’s now know, today – as this took longer than I thought it would) is cancelled as I was really looking forward to that, although with any luck I’ll be off to see Sleepy Sun on Tuesday instead providing the temperature doesn’t drop any further than it already has done. Then again, they might be just the ticket to put the cold out my head for an hour or two…
25. Wovenhand – The Threshingfloor
The first time I heard this album, it was in my car on my way to revisit an old forest from my youth. And the atmosphere that creeps from this cultural mixture of hymns, portents and general spiritmongering that is both hypnotic and frightening in its execution.
The collection of influences and instrumentation makes for a record that changes geographical gears with ease, the only constant throughout being an eerie closeness that can unnerve the listener, albeit in a way that brings fascination rather than aversion. Certainly one of the most interesting albums I have heard this year.
24. Alain Johannes – Spark
Sometimes not so much an album as pure catharsis, Alain brings the pain of losing his partner and turns it into something compelling and beautiful. In turns a celebration of life and lament to mortality, it is genuinely amazing throughout and includes its audience in the experience of both emotional extremes making for a collection of songs that contain a warmth rarely found elsewhere.
23. Dana Falconberry – Halletts
The songs alone warrant inclusion on this list – Dana’s songwriting talents, musicianship and charming voice are a joy to listen to at any time. What makes this set of songs (mostly re-recorded versions from her Oh Skies of Grey album, plus a couple of newies) even more special is the brilliantly personal DIY nature of its manufacture. The packaging is handmade by Dana, down to the cutting and colouring of the paper that forms the sleeve. In these days of utter convenience and lack of interest in physical product, Halletts is an absolute treasure of an album from the outside in.
22. Fistful of Mercy – As I Call You Down
More collaborative goings-on as seems to be the – welcome – fashion nowadays. Joseph Arthur, Ben Harper and Dhani Harrison spend three days knocking together a record that most other artists would struggle to painstakingly assemble in a year. The swiftness of the recording process gives As I Call you Down a fun, almost campfire atmosphere but beneath this easygoing camaraderie lies some great songwriting and vocal harmonising that borders on the preternatural, which ultimately makes me wonder what they’d have come up with if they’d managed a whole fortnight in the studio.
21. Tame Impala – Innerspeaker
Quite possibly the only Australian Psychedelic Rock album I own, although I say this without actually checking. That bombshell aside, Innerspeaker is an album with oddly personal (almost conversational) lyrics married to an incredibly expansive sound that would be dreamily relaxing if it wasn’t for the attentions of a wonderfully manic drummer, making it work on several different levels all at once.
Everything that drives this record is memorably catchy, effortlessly realised and above all, fun.
20. UNKLE – Where Did the Night Fall
Certainly the most lavishly-packaged release of the year, this collection of excellent tunes initially seems like a nostalgic rummage through someone’s early-80s indie collection of North-Western home(and Factory)-made histrionics and Mute synth experiments, before someone decided to bring it all slap-bang up to date, giving the whole affair a broad cinematic flavour to embrace and uplift the listener. Great collaborative choices flesh out each song, and – thanks to a generally less famous but no less welcome array of talent – has introduced me to several other interesting artists, one in particular who manages to feature twice higher up this list.
19. Unbunny – Moon Food
Sounding not unlike Neil Young doing an album of Graham Nash covers, this acoustic-led and jauntily-unhappy album caught me completely by surprise, and I guess it’s this initial surprise that made Moon Food so endearing. Despite the mostly glum mood, arrangements are breezy and friendly, and the whole has a warm, redemptive feel before ending surprisingly suddenly as if it was an end-of-series cliffhanger. I for one look forward to hearing what happens next.
18. Teenage Fanclub – Shadows
More delightful Byrdie harmonic jangly pop from Scotland’s finest purveyors of this sort of thing. Fitting its May release date perfectly, it’s bright, optimistic, and all the joyous things that Spring generally is prior to a disappointing Summer capped of with a woeful World Cup – although to be fair, that’s probably just me as I’d imagine that an English tonking at the hands of Germany would have pleased this Scottish group no end. That small yet painful memory aside, this is a rare and unashamedly bright highlight.
17. Ed Harcourt – Lustre
The presentation of Lustre is that of a Harcourt Family Album; from the cover photo , extended family musical involvement and a general subject matter that is much more focused than his brilliant back-catalogue, and so it takes a couple more listens than usual to get under the surface of this. But the same charm-filled, intelligent songwriting shines forth and the heart is still the same as it always has been, despite the slightly grimly-determined features of the portraiture adorning the accompanying book. And this determination is not without reason, as the final track Fears of a Father so eloquently explains – and if this music is the result of this new chapter, then it’s a role that suits Ed just fine.
16. Midlake – The Courage of Others
This is an album that I resisted for quite some time, and for several reasons. Firstly, I had already bought a few folky albums prior to this and I didn’t fancy another one. Add to that, the praise lavished upon it unleashed that horrible inner snob that occasionally pops up much to my annoyance that lent an automatic aversion to something so universally adored by critics – an annoyance countered perfectly by the eventual realisation that they were all correct in their appraisal. Taking their cues from a generally pastoral 1970s, it’s an unhurried affair that is exquisitely put together and shares that rare gift of being melancholy and beautiful at the same time.
A real treat for the ears and the soul, and this isn’t even the best album that they were involved in this year…