December 2010


Julian Casablancas – I Wish It Was Christmas Today (YSI)

In the words of Adam Buxton only minutes ago, ‘URGH, IT IS YOU IDIOT!’

Merry Christmas all. Now get off the internet and go and be sociable.

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5. Sleigh Bells Treats

Sleigh Bells make me want to believe in questionable tales. If the story that Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller were a failed girl group member and hardcore guitarist respectively isn’t true, it will still be a perfect way to explain their music. But if it is true, then that’s so much better, because it just makes the fact that this album could ever have been made that much more improbable and, thus, wonderful. I could spend time making up torturous ‘sounds like’ similes here, but nothing betters that origin story. Then again, this is my blog, so fuck you. This is the sound of a sugar-induced migraine. Ha, too easy.

Sleigh Bells – Infinity Guitars (YSI)

4. The Morning BendersBig Echo


Equally indebted to early Noughties indie and ’60s pop groups, Big Echo is an unpredictable album. Demure and harmonic at one moment, it can become familiarly punchy the next without warning. When I first listened to it, I thought it could quite easily be a “summer” album, one that never stands up against the first few blissful listens when you got it. Upon relistening, its charms are still brilliantly evident – Chris Chu’s Casablancas intonations, the willingness to slow the tempo (‘Pleasure Sighs’ is a simply incredible show of pacing and gradualised songwriting) and a propensity for simply excellent harmonies pop up throughout. Equilibrium is all here – a sense of action and restraint is ever-present, and it’s their constant struggle for dominance that makes this album such a brilliant listening experience.

The Morning Benders – Wet Cement (YSI)

3. DeerhunterHalcyon Digest


I’m almost incredulous at my previous indifference to this band now. Halcyon Digest is a tumult of experimentation, not in the noodly, self-indulgent sense, but in the sense of playing with how guitar music can be stretched and reformed into new and more interesting shapes. It never lets go of its central core – this is American indie at its heart, but Cox and co. never allow it to get stale. The underwater tones of ‘Helicopter’, ‘Sailing’s simplistic, faraway tone or ‘He Would Have Laughed’, a shambling tribute to Jay Reatard, all come from the same sensibility, but have ended up in very different musical territories. This is music that’s unafraid to take you somewhere you didn’t know you wanted to go.

Deerhunter – Helicopter (YSI)

2. HarlemHippies


This could be so easy to dismiss. It sounds like any number of other bands, it’s doing nothing new, it’s juvenile. But here’s the deciding factor. Show me another album this year that sounds like more fun than this one. Bet you can’t. Hippies is the sound of friends making music for fun and nothing more, and never suffers for that. Michael Coomer and Curtis O’Mara’s alternating, breathless deliveries seemingly never let up, the drumming’s fantastically frenetic and every song sounds like an old friend. When I’m listening to this kind of music, I ask for nothing more than this – that the songs that are short, sharp and barely professional. Harlem deliver on every front.

Harlem – Faces (YSI)


1. MeursaultAll Creatures Will Make Merry


2010 was the year that saw me properly, deeply fall in love with Meursault. Pissing On Bonfires/Kissing With Tongues hooked me good and deep. The Nothing Broke EP made me realise just how talented this band was. But it took All Creatures Will Make Merry for me to forego any kind of detached journalistic cool and throw myself wholeheartedly into unabashed fawning at their feet. No other album has made me run the gamut of emotions this one has; sheer sadness in ‘Crank Resolutions’, singalong contentment in ‘One Day This’ll All Be Fields’, sheer energy in ‘What You Don’t Have’ and barely concealed terror in ‘New Ruin’ – it has it all.

I’ve searched for a long time for how to articulate just why I think this isn’t just one of the best records I’ve heard this year, but in my life, and I think it comes down to this: There is no song on this album that feels constructed. By that I don’t mean in a songwriting sense, these are clearly meticulously designed and nurtured compositions, but in the sense that every one feels entirely natural to the band – whether it be the lyrics, the raw emotion in Neil’s vocals or the incredible interplay between electronics and more organic sound. There’s no experimentation if the feeling was there the whole time.

Meursault are not a band who are finding their sound, their niche or their fans – they are a band who seem to follow a path laid out for them alone, and the singular nature of All Creatures Will Make Merry shows that perfectly. This is the best album of the year, for me, because it sounds like no-one else, and I’m not sure anyone else could sound like this.

Basically, if you haven’t listened to this, your life isn’t as good as it could be, so, you know, get on it.

Meursault – All Creatures Will Make Merry (YSI)

Phew, what a day! So now that that’s all done, here’s the final list:

1. Meursault – All Creatures Will Make Merry
2. Harlem – Hippies
3. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest
4. The Morning Benders – Big Echo
5. Sleigh Bells – Treats
6. Mountain Man – Made The Harbor
7. Beach House – Teen Dream
8. Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can
9. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
10. Good Shoes – No Hope, No Future
11. Bombay Bicycle Club – Flaws
12. The National – High Violet
13. Spoon – Transference
14. Woodpigeon – Die Stadt Muzikanten
15. Working For A Nuclear Free City – The Jojo Burger Tempest
16. Johnny Flynn – Been Listening
17. Timber Timbre – Timber Timbre
18. The Savings and Loan – Today I Need Light
19. Vampire Weekend – Contra
20. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World – OST

Merry Christmas one and all!

10. Good Shoes No Hope, No Future


If you’ve been reading here long enough, you’ll know I have a serious soft spot for Good Shoes. Morden’s finest jangly miserablists were one of my first true musical loves, so perhaps I’m being a little biased here. Then again, I think there’s a serious case to be made for this being one of the year’s most underrated releases, perhaps because reviewers couldn’t separate the band that faced them from the image of one from the indie revival circa 2006/2007. But with a more open mind applied, No Hope, No Future is quite a different beast to its predecessor. Songs like ‘Our Loving Mother In Pink Diamond’ are far more intricate and layered than previous output while their more familiar numbers (‘Times Change’ and ‘I Know’ spring to mind here) have picked up a few new tricks in a faster pace, more willing to abandon a single, controlling melody. This is the sound of a group who have matured, but were met with a press that refused to believe that they had. I’ll be keeping the faith.

Good Shoes – City By The Sea (YSI)

9. Arcade FireThe Suburbs


Feeling for Arcade Fire is now so strong, I’m starting to wonder if they’ll ever have a release that won’t be hyped to high heaven – frankly, the sheer amount of discussion about this album before it had come out (I saw in-depth discussions about the significance of the album artwork appearing the day it was revealed) could have destroyed the band if the album wasn’t quite up to scratch. Luckily for them then that they have quite as much talent as they do, eh? Any album that starts with the understated majesty of the title track and follows it seamlessly with the stomping ‘Ready To Start’ is onto a winner and even if it’s not quite the magnum opus people are claiming it is, it’s definitely further proof that the ‘Fire are one of the most exciting prospects for continued brilliance in… well, the world right now.

Arcade Fire – Rococo (YSI)

8. Laura MarlingI Speak Because I Can


I have a feeling this is what Laura Marling always wanted – Alas, I Cannot Swim might have wowed many, but I’m not sure if she was completely happy with it. This, her second album embraced a darker, wilder feeling that always inhabited her lyrics and let it loose in places, whilst utilising her considerable skills as a truly emotive soul to spin tales of real beauty (‘Goodbye England (Covered In Snow)’ really, really works in the current British climes). There’s the creeping outside influences that Johnny Flynn succumbed to somewhat in songs like ‘Alpha Shallows’, but the difference here is that they’re wrestled into shape, slotting into the songs rather than overtaking them. What shines through is how much of Ms. Marling we see here – this is less an album of music than a document of the person she was as she recorded it. She may be telling stories, but the ‘I’ of the title really is Laura.

Laura Marling – Devil’s Spoke (YSI)

7. Beach HouseTeen Dream


Teen Dream is the moment Beach House broke out of the dream and into the pop. All the hallmarks of the band are there; laconic speeds, hazy synths and circuitous guitar lines, but in amongst it all lies a new knack for a properly catchy melody. Ask anyone who’s listened to ‘Norway’ recently, it will have been stuck in their head for days. This really helps move the album along too – as songs slip into one another the thing that breaks you out of simply letting it all wash over you is the appearance of a refrain you can really grab a hold of. A consistently beautiful, engaging listen.

Beach House – Zebra (YSI)


6. Mountain ManMade The Harbor


This group of Vermont-based ladies came out of nowhere, made me shiver in delight and seem to have disappeared again just as quickly. Luckily, I don’t think I’ll get bored of listening to this before they re-emerge. A collection of sparse, harmony-laden songs (both new and covered) with never more than a guitar and vocals to their name shouldn’t be this nice to listen to, but it is and with audible recording studio silences and stifled giggles between tracks, this could almost be a single long performance, which only adds to its intimacy. Not to blow my own bugle, but I think I said it best when I wrote that “this is heart-warming and haunting in turn [and] could soundtrack a summer day or a winter’s night”. That’s Made The Harbor’s greatest trick – making such similarly executed ideas sound so wonderfully disparate.

Mountain Man – How’m I Doin’ (YSI)

15. Working For A Nuclear Free CityJojo Burger Tempest


This album more or less blew my mind when I first heard it. Its never-ending switches of musical styles and references (see: Thom Yorke, The Beatles, The Flaming Lips, Weezer, Sebastien Tellier and some or all of the Warp artists) its insane overlength and the fact that its second disc is one long track are all things that would usually upset me about an album, but somehow seem entirely natural in the grand scheme of Jojo Burger Tempest. I could ramble on for many paragraphs, or point you to my frankly overwhelmed This Is Fake DIY review, but, in fact, the best way to describe it is perhaps visually – see that album artwork up there? That off-kilter, patchwork aesthetic is entirely informative of the sound of this album. At some point I’d like to make a little chart of how each song sounds and write them down in sequence, but for now I’ll just say this: it’s fucking nuts. Listen to it.

Working For A Nuclear Free City – Silent Tunes (YSI)

14. WoodpigeonDie Stadt Muzikanten


Perhaps less so than the last album, but still very much in the bracket of “diverse”, Mark Hamilton and co.’s third album is a wonderful exercise in how to craft an album just perfectly. Starting with pretty saloon piano pop, the album never stops moving about stylistically, but stays entirely familiar throughout. Traditional Canadian indie fare becomes Belle & Sebastian-indebted twee becomes sparse folk becomes shimmering love song and you never lose track. It might be hard to describe in a forthright, definitively descriptive way (are you getting that?), but the album itself never stops making beautiful, beautiful sense.

Woodpigeon – Empty-Hall Sing-Along (YSI)

13. SpoonTransference


The fact that this album was far less polished than their previous output was commented on endlessly at the time of its release but even now, months later, that’s still the most important facet of this album for me. The fact that many of the tracks here were just demos  means you listen far harder to what the band is doing, not what they’re trying to do. It’s a fairly nebulous distinction, but one that gains weight as you listen – every untreated aspect just plays what it’s meant to, not what production dictates it should. That’s not to say there aren’t more treated tracks, but Transference feels honest in the way it just sits there, rhythmic, throbbing, occasionally ferocious and displays all it has with no pretence (unlike this review).

Spoon – The Mystery Zone (YSI)

12. Bombay Bicycle ClubFlaws


Ridiculously youthful, musically talented and now multi-genred? Bombay Bicycle Club have always struck me as a bunch of precocious bastards, but their move into lilting folk-pop territory bloody proved it. Jack Steadman’s quavering tones sound just as at home fronting this mix of older tracks remade and newer ones purposely created in an acoustic mould and their occasionally more complex guitar arrangements sound wonderful when a banjo’s added to the mix. You just have to feel a little sorry for drummer Suren – he doesn’t get much of a look-in really.

Bombay Bicycle Club – There Are Many Ways (YSI)


11. The NationalHigh Violet


I wrote a ridiculous treatise about this album when it was released, claiming that it emulated Gustav Freytag’s Dramatic Arc, the way all traditionally told stories progress. I can’t claim that it entirely holds water as an idea, but there is certainly something enticingly dramatic about High Violet – the stories of beautifully told emotion complemented by music that could soundtrack any number of fictional scenes. I defy anyone not to feel moved by the distant shout of ‘It takes an ocean not to break‘ as ‘Terrible Love’ forces its way into a blustery climax. And that’s just the first track. But if carefully-constructed, ideas-driven rock is not your thing, fear not! At the centre of the album lies the year’s best triumvirate of songs – ‘Afraid of Everyone’, ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ and ‘Lemonworld’ are the beating heart of this work, embodying the sound and sentiments articulated throughout. It’s startlingly intimate, loud and quiet in equal measures and was just the thing to finally get me off my arse and listen to this band.

The National – England (YSI)

So we’re back here again, are we? You’re probably already tired of thousands of bloody lists, but I’m afraid you’ll have to stomach yet another if you’re staying around these particular parts of the internet for now. So here goes; my top 20 albums of the year, hastily assembled and even more hastily relistened to in order to form a vague order. Enjoy!

20. Scott Pilgrim vs. The WorldOST

Yes, I know, it doesn’t really count, but there’s enough original material on here to keep it at least vaguely valid in the grand scheme of things. You could criticise this collection for being much of a muchness, populated by hipster-friendly, retro-cool sounds, not to mention filled with throwaway Beck tracks. On the other hand, you could say that’s the whole point and, you know, Beck wrote those tracks. In my opinion, this is the most endlessly enjoyable collections of film music I’ve heard, treading a fine line between “jukebox” soundtrack and original compositions beautifully and ebbing and flowing just the way a “proper” album should, with very few low points (‘Under My Thumb’ is shit). The fact that even when I knew every track on this album and was watching the film for the third time, every track still sounded perfectly placed and never detracted from the film’s overall tone is testament to just how right Nigel Godrich and Edgar Wright got this.

Sex Bob-omb – Garbage Truck (YSI)

19. Vampire WeekendContra


This is more or less here on the strength of its singles. As an album, it lost the singular sound I came to adore from the self-titled debut, and failed to develop its own, but more than delivered on the sheer effervescent excellence of their best songwriting moments. ‘Cousins’, ‘White Sky’ and ‘Giving Up The Gun’ (and, to a lesser extent, ‘Horchata’) have been all over the place this year, and with good reason – they’re fucking amazing pop songs. I still can’t listen to the initial drumbeat of the former without smiling and jerking about like some sort of electroconvulsive arse. Maybe it’ll take more time (I didn’t give it much of a chance after its January release), but the only reason this isn’t right up there amongst the very best of the year is because nothing quite matched those incredible moments it offered only a few times throughout.

Vampire Weekend – White Sky (YSI)

18. The Savings and LoanToday I Need Light


I’m not going to lie, I’ve barely listened to this yet, but I’ve already taken to it completely. Only released this month, this duo’s much protracted debut (it’s been six years in the making) possesses the kind of melancholy only the truly Scottish can muster. Anger is completely absent as the haunting sound of Martin Donnelly’s deep voiced,  poetic lyricism spreads slowly over quiet but carefully thought-out instrumentation. There’s something of The National in here, and not just through vocal similarity; this is the sound of an ordinary man almost burdened by his own artistic nature and ability to express the feelings of  many. A soundtrack to strong drinks (courtesy of the brilliant intro to ‘Catholic Boys in the Rain’) and prematurely dark days.

The Savings and Loan – Pale Water (YSI)

17. Timber TibreTimber Timbre


Technically a re-release, but I only heard it this year so it’s going in, all right? This group of creepy, folk-based songs act just as well as mini fairytales – the kind the Grimms tried to get rid of. Taylor Kirk’s warbling vocals articulate a kind of non-specific terror that never seems to stop closing in, lending the whole affair a tone that’s adopted perfectly by the instrumentation. Distant organ, staccato, reverb-heavy guitar riffs and the briefest hints of fiddle contribute throughout, aiding every slimy little feeling Kirk wants to wrest from you. It’s a masterclass in emotional music, it might just not be the emotions you want to experience.

Timber Timbre – Lay Down In The Tall Grass (YSI)

16. Johnny FlynnBeen Listening


This wasn’t quite the follow-up I’d hoped for from London’s best Shakespearian actor/folk pin-up, but it grew on me from its release onwards. On first listen, I was pretty aggrieved at how little cohesion I thought it had. Moving towards a more eclectic sound, the album utilises upbeat trumpet, electric(!) guitar and even a bossa nova beat (on ‘Churlish May’). Sitting smugly and listening, I thought ‘Ha! He’s abandoned his folky roots, the bastard,’ but after quite a few more listens (thanks to my girlfriend’s obsessed housemates) I feel like the bastard now. While there’s definitely been an expansion in ideas, he always returns to the core of what he does best. For every bolshy ‘Kentucky Pill’, there’s a beautifully harmonised, quiet ‘Amazon Love’ to back it up. It may not flow perfectly, but it’s certainly a great set of songs.

Johnny Flynn – Howl (YSI)

Like many, many others across the internet and beyond, I bloody loved Cee Lo Green’s ‘Fuck You’. It did the best thing an out-and-out pop song can do – made the mainstream media ignore the fact that it’s clearly not suitable for daytime radio. Of course it was properly sanitised when it was played in the public domain, but you can’t ever quite stop thinking, ‘he should be saying “fuck” right now’.

Somehow though, I don’t think album track ‘Bodies’ could ever be censorially treated in quite the same way. With just faraway air raid sirens and a snare drum to its instrumental name, Cee Lo applies his fantastic vocals to a story of unmitigated creepiness; the story of seduction turned murder. It’s a wonderfully, and surprisingly, sparse entry in an album of otherwise consistently upbeat, traditional fare and although neo-soul murder ballads aren’t exactly ten a penny, but this makes a pretty strong case for that becoming a trend. However, no matter how hard they tried, I’m not sure how listening to a man whispering ‘you taste so good’ before breathing like a toll-free line pervert could ever make it onto Radio 1. Shame really.

Cee Lo Green – Bodies (YSI)

I have no idea where I got the song from, but I’m really enjoying Melbourne duo Super Wild Horses’ ‘Mess Around’ at the moment. Coming across as a nice cross between Sleigh Bells’ bratty noise-pop and the old-school garage racket of The White Stripes (easy comparisons, granted, but valid), this is loud, catchy and wonderfully simplistic from start to finish. The production starts to sound a little flat towards the end as you expect it to erupt, but it never lets up at least. This hopefully isn’t quite the finished article, or perhaps isn’t representative of their debut album, Fifteen, but it’s certainly a pleasing indication of what could be to come.

Super Wild Horses – Mess Around (YSI)

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