It’s that time of year where newspapers, magazines and blogs release their top “insert number here” albums and songs of the year, and you realize how many critically acclaimed albums you are yet to hear. I imagine Rapidshare and Mediafire are going into overload right now whilst everyone tries to desperately download and listen to certain albums before the year is over. I thought I would lend my hand to the ‘albums and songs of the year’ trade with my very own list. I have taken extra-special care not to pick albums because other certain websites and blogs love them; I have picked what I have enjoyed the most, not anyone else. Enjoy!
1. Everything Everything – Man Alive
This is my album of the year. Released on August 30th, I don’t think a day has passed since then when I haven’t listened to at least one song off of this album. When I asked TIm Jonze on Twitter why this album didn’t feature in anyone’s top ten albums on The Guardian’s critics Top Ten Albums lists, he replied ‘bit strange that I guess – reckon a lot of people just bored with all-male indie bands, I certainly am’. It’s a fair point, the Maccabees are lucky to still have such a large fan-base in my opinion, but I don’t think I would ever categorize Everything Everything as ‘indie’. This album has more influences than you can shake a drum-stick at.
The four-piece are all huge R’n’B fans; when asked who they would most like to duet with, front-man Jonathan promptly answered ‘Beyonce’. And you can hear it in the music. ‘Schoolin‘ has a particularly off-kilter drum beat and a superb funky bass-line that could match any Destiny’s Child song. ‘Two For Nero‘ consists of just vocals and a simple harpsichord riff for half of the song, yet it is as captivating as the rest of the album, filled with intelligent and unpredictable harmonies and the hypnotic repeat of “make a child, a child, a forest” as the song is brought down to a close. The incredibly clever musical features of this album are what makes this my record of the year. The way the vocals match the snare and the bass matches the kick drum on ‘Weights‘, the sheer brilliance of the drum production on ‘NASA Is On Your Side‘, the vocal harmonies throughout the whole album but particularly on ‘Suffragette Suffragette‘, and Jonathan’s ambiguous and ridiculous lyrics throughout.
Frankly, Everything Everything have set themselves a stupendously high mark for which they must surpass in their second album, but I have absolutely no doubts that they will. This album is nothing like any other you own. It is refreshing, extremely intelligent, invigorating and will always be a favourite in my personal record collection.
2. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
A conceptual work of art. ‘The Suburbs’ is the 3rd album from a band that have thrown away what ‘Neon Bible’ stood for. The general emotion emitted from their 2nd album was one of impending doom, being content with the mundane, yet hoping that one day it might all get better. “Lord, can you send me a sign, ’cause I just gotta know if I’m wasting my time“, Win Butler pleads in ‘(Antichrist Television Blues)‘. Lord must have listened to his cry for help, as ‘The Suburbs’ is an uplifting piece of work, a million miles from the first two albums. “We used to wait for it, now we’re singing scream the chorus again!“, Win sings at the end of ‘We Used To Wait‘.
I couldn’t begin to tell you exactly what the album stands for, the songs are lyrically metaphorical and cryptic, allowing each listener to dissect them in different ways. The opening song, also entitled ‘The Suburbs’ is a jangly nostalgia fest, musically reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen, with the line “…But by the time the first bombs fell we were already bored“, bearing similarity to the line “…I was bored before I even began“, from The Smiths song ‘Shoplifters of The World Unite‘. ‘Month of May‘ is a fast-paced, reckless, rollicking bulldozer, that doesn’t hold back and shows their versatility as a group. ‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)‘ is essentially an 80’s disco, Blondie-esque song that shouldn’t fit in with the rest of the album, but it kind of just about does. On the other hand, ‘Sprawl I (Flatland)‘ is extremely haunting and sad, stopping you in your tracks and demanding you to think about everything you have just listened to, like a primary school teacher who makes you stand in the corner bellowing “think about what you’ve done!”.
There are plenty of singles on here, but this is one of those albums that was recorded to be listened to purely as an album. The singles work, as ‘We Used to Wait’ and ‘Ready To Start‘ have proved, but listening to the album from start to finish is a terrific experience that not once bores, lacks in interest or deteriorates.
3. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
When this first came out I thought it was the best thing I had ever heard in years and thought it would be my #1 album without a doubt, but after putting things in perspective and weighing up each album individually, it sits quite happily in bronze position. That is not to say it is particularly lesser to the other two albums, this record is something extremely special. Combine the whole of ‘College Dropout’ the best parts of ‘808’s and Heartbreaks’ and a whole throng of guests and you have ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’. This is Kanye balancing on the thin line between sanity and insanity. Kanye relied strongly on Twitter as a tool for media hype around this album, and many times claimed he was losing his ego completely, but it wouldn’t be a Kanye record without a ginormous ego sitting on top. “I guess every super-hero need his theme music” he drawls on ‘Power‘, a song essentially about how great he is. But the problem is that you can’t deny it; he is undoubtedly the best at what he does. He does take the time to convey his flawed self though, ‘Runaway‘ is the musical equivalent of Mr West sitting in a church confession booth complaining about how much of a ‘douchebag’ he is/was.
From his weekly ‘Good Friday‘ releases on his website to his self-confessions on Twitter, the man is articulate, extremely intelligent and knows exactly what he wants, inside out and outside in. There isn’t one fraction of this album that hasn’t been meticulously thought over and perfected in Mr West’s precarious mind. Highlights for me include the star-studded ‘Monster’ (apologies, I can’t find a version on Youtube that isn’t pitch-shifted), Kanye pouring his heart out in ‘Runaway’ and the explosive ‘All Of The Lights‘. Buy it, cherish it, love it.
4. The Roots – How I Got Over
Congratulations to ?uestlove and the crew for getting to #4 in my chart! This my second favourite hip-hop album of this year followed in 3rd place by Drake’s ‘Thank Me Later‘, which I only started listening to recently but I absolutely love. For anyone not aware, The Roots are a live hip-hop band, with drummer ?uestlove (Questlove) leading the troupe. Their unique blend of jazz, funk, lounge, rock and old-school rap is infectious and makes you wonder why there isn’t more hip-hop music nowadays that isn’t afraid to lean outside of it’s comfort zone and try something new. Title track ‘How I Got Over‘ portrays everything you can expect to hear within the album, rawness, energy, rhythm and great rhymes. ‘Dear God 2.0‘ uses the Monsters of Folk song ‘Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F)‘ as it’s backbone and switches the whole thing around to create something that is arguably better than the original, “…why is the world ugly when you made it in your image?“. ‘The Fire‘ featuring John Legend may well just be the terrific climactic point of the album and ‘Doin’ It Again‘ (this particular version is AMAZING) has me air-drumming along every single time. Another feature of this album which I absolutely adore is the way none of it seems to have been recorded with the use of a click track, giving a natural feel to a music genre which is normally artificially modified beyond recognition.
The album itself isn’t particularly ground-breaking – The Roots have been honing their live hip-hop niché for years now – but I believe this is album marks the point at which they perfected that niché.
5. Hot Chip – One Life Stand
The problem with Album of The Year charts is that a lot of people seem to disregard a lot of albums released within the first half of the year – I must admit I had to create a smart playlist on my iTunes for all albums released in 2010 – but this album never once left my mind and proudly sits at #5 of my chart. Since they released ‘Coming on Strong‘ in 2004, Hot Chip and more specifically frontman Alexis Taylor have found it a slow process coming into their own and dealing with the widespread attention they have received, but ‘One Life Stand‘ is an album made by a band completely confident in what they are doing yet unafraid to try new and exciting things. Even huge hits such as ‘Ready For The Floor‘ from 2008’s ‘Made In The Dark‘ has that underlying feeling of Alexis looking down at his feet whilst bashfully kicking the air.
As much as I love the schizophrenic complexity of ‘The Warning‘, ‘One Life Stand’ has its feet firmly on the ground. This album is warm, soulful and exotic, thanks to the extensive use of steel pans and modal scales. If I may get down to the nitty gritty musical features for a brief moment, I love how the steel pans provide the attack of the notes whilst the synthesizers provide the sustain, it’s a deadly combination. ‘Brothers‘ is a touching anthem of companionship, ‘Alley Cats‘ is a floaty, airy number very similar to one of the quieter tracks off ‘The Warning’ and ‘I Feel Better‘ wins the award for Most Ridiculous Video of the Year, directed by Peter Serafinowicz.
In a way, this album is similar to ‘The Suburbs’, it is the point in both bands lives that sees them absolutely content with both the status and musical sound they have achieved, and it isn’t often you hear such joy, confidence and meaning in a collection of songs.
So there we have it. My top 5 albums. Agree or disagree? Do you think ‘One Life Stand’ is actually a load of meaningless rubbish, or do you think ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ should be #1? Let me know what you think and let us get some healthy debate flying around. My top 5 songs will be up in the next few days.