Just realised that in doing a top 35 (which isn’t exactly 35 anyway), splitting it into chunks of ten will eventually offend some law of mathematics or other. Whoops.
Undeterred by this, the last five(ish!) will be individually added daily next week from Monday – although as I’m attempting a jaunt off down to the South Coast on Wednesday for three days this might get delayed a bit depending on internet connection and whether or not I stuff the car into a snowdrift on the way down there. Will be brilliant when/if I arrive (not least because of a gig I’ve been looking forward to for months), must admit to being a bit twitchy about the journey although I’m sure it’s nothing that a shovel, spare socks and a flask of Bovril can’t sort out… Will certainly be finished by next Sunday anyway, as I’m getting to the point where I just want it done and out of the bloody way!
15. Various Artists – Be Yourself (A Tribute to Graham Nash’s Songs For Beginners)
Makes for a nigh-on perfect compilation album as it works in every direction: for fans of any of the various contributing artists, it’s a great introduction to Graham Nash’s wonderful and bittersweet solo debut, and for fans of Songs for Beginners it’s a highly respectful take on a classic album as well as a window on some great bands and artists that you may not have previously heard. For me, it was both of these things – I’d bought it for Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold and Vetiver, and from this I was hooked on the songs to seek out (and love) the original, as well as cementing the notion that I really had to check out Sleepy Sun properly, after also hearing them on UNKLE’s Where Did the Night Fall.
14. Moulettes – S/T
Certainly the most Piratey album in my 2010 collection, this is a great coming-together of nautical-edged bawdy folk and modern sensibilities. There’s certainly more of a swing to the vocals than usual with music of this nature, and a baroque chamber pop tinge of the sort purveyed so well by The Miserable Rich so this debut has plenty of jumping-off points for future endeavours to be exploring.
It’s certainly one of the most fun albums of the year, and I hope to be hearing much more from them soon.
13. Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse – Dark Night of the Soul
A bit of a cheat, this – as I had this as one of my favourite albums of 2009 as well. Then again, that this album looked at one point to remain unreleased so had to obtain it by means other than fair last year, it was more of a cheat then than it is now that I’ve forked out for a proper edition.
What was already a melancholy-tinged dream of an album has been made all the more saddening by the loss of contributor Vic Chesnutt and chief collaborator Mark Linkous, both by suicide. While this record stands proud as a fitting tribute to both artists, there should be people sat in record company legal departments somewhere utterly ashamed of themselves for preventing the release of this record while Mark and Vic were still with us. It may not have made any difference to the outcome of their lives, but at least they would have seen people enjoying what they made.
12.I Am Kloot – Sky at Night
Heartstring-tugging sweeping melodic goings-on, the likes of which Manchester has been very good at producing over the years. Their fifth album, and after spending a decade of making the sort of music that should have propelled them to greatness, it seems as though their star might well be shining for them at last.
And it’s thoroughly deserved, with each song providing a great slice of down-to-earth emotional wonder. Parallels can certainly be drawn with fellow “been around for ages with great songs but made good at last at the nth attempt” Mancunians Elbow (Guy Garvey and Craig Potter wearing the Production hats here also), and there is also a similarity in the outlook portrayed by the two bands. Sky At Night is very much I Am Kloots’ own album however, and a brilliant one at that.
11. Blitzen Trapper – Destroyer of the Void
There’s certainly been a welcome 1970s flavour to a lot of the music that I’ve really liked this year, and this is no exception. This reminds me in spirit of a childhood where I’d occasionally be allowed to stay up late and watch The Old Grey Whistle Test with my brother, and witness these strange American rock bands who were so different to what I’d usually see on Top of the Pops and other early-evening music-based shows. Musically, Blitzen Trapper fit this era perfectly while lyrically, they delve further back into their continent’s history, with tales sounding as if they’d been passed down from the original Settlers, or at least those among the original Settlers who were doing time for murder such is the Trappers’ fondness for these stories.
Even without this rich evocation to draw upon, Destroyer of the Void makes for a great listen and should further cement their position as one of the most interesting bands in today’s market.
10. Wolf People – Steeple
Quite possibly the biggest surprise of the year for me was this blind buy. Steeple follows in the tradition of some fine British psych-rock of the past, mostly by nicking from it liberally and lovingly, stopping off in the late 1980s to add a slight Madchesteresque swagger to their overall makeup. It’s vaguely evocative of an era when Hammer Films were running around the grounds of Downs Place making busty mock-tudor horror films, or when John Paul Jones was riding about on a horse outside his house during The Song Remains the Same – it’s an almost fantasy pastoral sound from a time that never really existed, but Wolf People capture this spirit excellently.
9. Matthew Ryan – Dear Lover (The Acoustic Version)
What was one of my very favourite records of last year is now also one of my very favourite records of this year, thanks to this new distilling of last year’s already ultra-personal project. This acoustic version does exactly what it says on the cover, being his Dear Lover album entirely re-recorded (with an added track Beauty Has a Name as an added bonus), with just Matthew and his guitar, with occasional and subtle cello interludes where necessary. Where its predecessor was cinematic and quite expansive in its end-of-the-affair outlook, this strips each song right down to the barest essence, making songs already painful in their spirit almost unbearable to listen to at times, thanks to Matthew’s powerful and heartfelt whispered delivery that, despite its fragility, manages to effortlessly fill whole rooms.
It’s a stunningly beautiful album, and a more than worthy accompaniment to its sister edition.
8. Mark Lanegan – Various Live CDs Sold During Various Tours
More cheating here, as not only are these not actually commercially-available in the conventional sense, but there’s four of the buggers. Soundboard recordings of three of his solo outings with Dave Rosser and one of his current employer Isobel Campbell, these are great documents of a brilliant voice at work, especially as mementoes of shows I had the privilege of witnessing first-hand. The performances alone are enough to warrant this high-placing in my list, but what’s more important to me is that as these obviously weren’t available until subsequent shows (sometimes in different countries), two of these were acquired by way of the generosity of friendship, and that’s brilliant to me.
7. Jeff Klein – Death of the Fox
As with other entries in this list, this one came as a bit of a surprise. An EP that pretty much appeared overnight with no prior warning and a ‘pay what you want’ tag, it was snapped up without hesitation – with Jeff Klein, part of the joy in listening to new stuff from him is that you have absolutely no idea what’s going to appear next; a string-laden, broken-hearted I Just Want My Fucking Life Back sits along the almost Twilight Singersesque groove-laden easy drawl of Give Up, which is in turn superceded by the Stoogey and bouncy Let’s Be Enemies. the only downer to this is that it’s a mere six tracks and it’s over before the listener has a chance to take everything in. That said, there’s more invention, emotion and confession in this too-short offering than in most 60-minute albums.
Death of the Fox is an utterly essential EP, and a great introduction to this criminally-underrated talent.
6. Sleepy Sun – Fever
Not so much the soundtrack to a Summer, but one to a single day – a drive up to huge Radio Telescope thingy Jodrell Bank on a blazing hot day turned into a bit of an extended jaunt thanks to road closures, so I got to listen to this for the first time in its entirety on my way, and yet again on the way home (just in time to watch Portugal put seven past the North Koreans if I remember right). It’s a record that takes in lots of Californian influences by way of geography and chronology, and the resulting mix is a hypnotically huge sound that, even during its quieter, folk-tinged moments, sounds as if it’s coming from a mid-desert ampitheatre at sunrise.