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 World – OST
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.
19. Vampire Weekend – Contra
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.
18. The Savings and Loan – Today 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.
17. Timber Tibre – Timber 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.
16. Johnny Flynn – Been 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.