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.
9. Arcade Fire – The 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.
8. Laura Marling – I 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.
7. Beach House – Teen 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.
6. Mountain Man – Made 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.