And my oh my, what a year it’s been. I got a new job in March. I got married in April. My wife got a new job in October. We flew to New York in April. We got snowed on in January (and possibly again in December, the way things are looking). Before the year’s out we’ll have redecorated a room, too. In January we get a new car, so it’s not about to stop, either. I also, sitting here in a giant jumper, want a warmer house by next winter if possible.
Writing them down, those things that have shaped this year don’t seem enormous, but added together they’re a big contributor to why this blog has sat here aimlessly, unloved, for so long. And, it’s fair to say, at least three of those happenings were really pretty big deals. The jobs, in fairness, are probably bigger deals than the wedding – we were both feeling a little trapped where we were, career-wise, and we played the wedding for simple, stress-free giggles and emotion. Having been together for nine years, we wanted the wedding to be about how our relationship actually is, not about having a big day around which the relationship fulcrums. Needless to say, there was a wicked playlist.
The music I’ve loved in 2010 would make a wicked playlist, too. A really wicked one. After the disaster that was 2008, 2009 seemed like a brilliant way to end a decade, and if anything 2010 seems to have topped it. There were signs in January, with Spoon and Four Tet and Lindstrøm and so on, that it was shaping up to be a good year, but albums I’ve fallen for have just kept coming. Maybe it’s the fault of Soul Jazz’s awesome Deutsche Elektronische Musik compilation, which did for Krautrock what their brilliant Tropicalia compilation did a few years ago for Brazilian music (i.e. gave me a genre to mine for back catalogue gems throughout the year). Maybe it’s that the branch of Fopp in Exeter is only a very short walk from my house. But when I look at the pile of new releases from 2010, that’s just as good as the pile of older stuff I’ve acquired.
Last year I bowed to peer pressure, perhaps, and wrote a list of my top 40 tracks, but really (call me a rockist) it’s albums I love over the course of a year, and while I could wheel out 13 or 26 or 41 of them that I’ve loved this year in an effort to be a bit contrary and arbitrary and kooky, really, what’s better than a good old fashioned top ten? So for 2010, I’ve decided to do one of those. Here it is. For the sake of drama, let’s put it in reverse order (although, of course, the order is arbitrary, and subject to change). (There are, of course, dozens of contenders buzzing around the periphery of this list, too – These New Puritans, Pantha Du Prince, Vampire Weekend, Luke Abbott, Warpaint, No Age, The Knife, Massive Attack, etc etc etc… but this is how it always is.)
10. Voice of the Seven Thunders – Voice of the Seven Thunders
More obviously a band than on the name-changed debut record, and much more electric too – this record spits fire through guitars and drums, a bit of folk, a bit of psyche, a bit of kraut, all pushed through some sluicing mechanism at 90mph. The guitar sound, the drum sound, are exciting; when what’s being played is too, you can’t lose.
9. Lindstrøm & Christabelle – Real Life is No Cool
Trendy, European dance music with sultry vocals. There’s a ghost of Michael Jackson running through this record, perhaps, but sexy. It’s been played a lot, in the car, on the hi-fi, on the iPod. That counts for something.
8. Steve Mason – Boys Outside
Steve Mason’s voice is the saddest, most moving voice I think I have ever heard. He makes beautiful, thoughtful, forward-thinking music to go with it.
7. Menomena – Mines
Menomena make music using a weird piece of software that one of them programmed for his degree. This little factoid might make you think that they’d be as electronic-sounding as the likes of Caribou and Four Tet, but actually their sound is far, far closer to the expansive, psychedelic rock of The Flaming Lips – enormous percussive rolls, squealing guitars, hugely excitable brass cohorts, a selection of shouting singers, and freewheeling dynamics that swing from broiling chaos to beatific passages of piano and pseudo-choral vocals. The software? It matches different pieces of recorded music by pitch, tempo, and other weirdy musicological gubbins, sticking songs together from constituent parts like a kleptomaniac architect with a giant tub of Lego. The results are frequently as exciting as all bloody hellfire. Get a load of the trumpets!
6. Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can
It’s scary that Laura Marling is not yet 21. It’s kind of sad that she’s going out with thug-folk champion Marcus Mumford, whose lads-own violins-and-shouting formula makes me want to kick puppies. What’s not sad is this beautifully recorded, amazingly written, and heart-achingly sung album of strong-yet-gossamer folk. Except that, at some points, it is sad. Almost overwhelmingly so. But that’s good.
5. Spoon – Transference
Back in January, when I made the last post on this neglected blog, I was defending this record, explaining the way I loved its repetition-is-a-form-of-change contours, its sound, its this-is-what-you-get-after-the-party atmosphere. It sat, on a shelf, pretty much unremembered, slowly getting nearer the bottom of the pile, over the summer, which I spent riding riding riding my bicycle, but when i did remember to revisit it, I savoured it. A quote which my brain attributes to Robert Louis Stevenson associates itself to this – “it’s better to travel hopefully than to arrive” – and Transference seems to me to be about traveling, and not arriving, and I wonder sometimes, quite a lot, if actually most people prefer having travelled than actually traveling. I think I do, in mentally lazy moments. But I always prefer sitting to having sat. I just bought a Spoon t-shirt online. I am 31.
4. LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening
Some might say that this is their weakest record. I don’t think so. Let’s discount the bonus disc of early singles – this is better, to my ears, than the eponymous debut. Is it better than Sound of Silver, which seemed, in 2007, to be some kind of monument for the decade to the sets of ears on my head and the heads of other people at Stylus? Maybe not, but not much could be, and there are a couple of tracks (the opener; the closer) on this record that would make Sound of Silver better. Drunk Girls sounds like Eno & Bowie mating with Parklife-era Blur.
3. Owen Pallett – Heartland
Owen occasionally exchanges mad-looking emails with me, about Arcade Fire, about audiophilia, about whatever. I love them; they’re a connection with the fact that I used to be a music writer, and I think I was pretty good at it, sometimes. His first record under his own name is also his most luscious, his most ornate, his most involved, and his most rewarding. It’s like a techno-classical soundtrack to the most amazing all-night role-playing session ever, and it’s also amazingly, beautifully listenable.
2. Caribou – Swim
We saw Caribou, finally, after about 8 bloody years, play live last week. In the bilges of a boat in Bristol (the Thekla, a wonderful venue) of all places. It was outstanding; psychedelic dance music, I guess, as played by a live band. They did exactly what I wanted them to do with this record and with Andorra and with the handful of other tracks they played from older-still records. Dan Snaith PhD is probably, alongside James Murphy, the person whose music has most soundtracked the last decade for me. I couldn’t have asked for better. The closing track on this record lasts about 3:45 – I want it to last absolutely forever.
1. Four Tet – There is Love in You
I wrote about this record back in January and my feelings still stand. I’ve played this more than any other record in 2010 (bar, possibly, Caribou), and if we’re trying to be as empirical as we can with this top ten, then that has to be the factor that determines what I’ve loved most.