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!

You’d think with their particular brand of completely straightforward lo-fi garage rock, Harlem would waste most of their appeal after a couple of listens. Somehow though, their no frills approach improves every time I listen to Hippies – it’s like treating beer as if it were wine, but somehow this does get better with age. Every song attempts much the same thing, with similar lyrical content and a complete lack of professional production, but the boundless exuberance and irreverance of every single one of the sixteen tracks always draws me in. If I didn’t know better, I’d be sure this is impossible to dislike.

Harlem – Gay Human Bones (YSI)

Once you become an ‘established’ blogger (i.e. get onto Hype Machine), you inevitably start receiving emails from PR companies, filled with hyperbolic praise and often untrue assertions as to what you’ll be hearing if you give them a listen. Inevitably, a lot of the PR becomes pretentious drivel and, on some blissful occasions, completely ridiculous to the point of hilarity. I recently received a copy of Bear In Heaven’s album Beast Rest Forth Mouth to review for This Is Fake DIY – I haven’t listened to it enough yet to form a proper critical opinion (although the signs aren’t great as yet) but if there’s one thing biasing my opinion toards the negative end of the spectrum, it’s the PR.

Here are some choice cuts:

‘Bear In Heaven have trapped echoes, tremors, winds and fading light. They’ve redefined time, and folded it. They’ve unbuttoned sound, and realigned it.’

‘As a four-headed organism, Bear In Heaven has now found a sonic stride unlike any in their history.’

‘Acknowledging the importance of the number four, the album Beast Rest Forth Mouth (think “East West North South”) was a conscious product of the 4 compass points, of the 4 makers, and of the inevitable confusion that manifests from that crossroad mentality: 4 directions that could lead you anywhere and everywhere.’

WHAT THE FUCK DOES ANY OF THAT MEAN? The entire press release steadfastly refuses to tell you anything concrete about the music on this album (surely a bad sign in itself) whilst managing to simultaneously make me furious and despair at the state of humanity all at the same time. It is without doubt some of the worst advertising I’ve ever seen – I already know that they’re a Brooklyn-based psychedelic band, I don’t need to be reminded that they’re a bunch of art school pricks who think more of their music than they should do. The icing on the cake is that Pitchfork have bought into it with incredible gusto, saying that the band have ‘figured out how to render bodily sensations’. Neither the PR nor the Pitchfork review attempt to couch any of this horseshit in simile or even metaphor, it’s all said with a seemingly matter-of-fact tone. I’m starting to wonder whether it’s all a big joke that us non-New Yorkers aren’t privy to. I am aware that music reviewers, with myself most defintiely included, can become a little silly over new bands and make insane sonic comparisons, but this is just taking it way too far – to the point where I just want to punch the fucking idiocy out of the PR guy who wrote it.

To calm down, let’s all listen to some straightforward rock ‘n’ roll and remember that not everyone is a complete douche. Yet.

Harlem – Be Your Baby (YSI)

PS. I think the guy on the left of the picture wrote the article.

Wow, uni really is a distraction from blogging. Here are two tracks that couldn’t be more different, more hyped or more brilliant.

Big Boi’s second release from his upcoming solo album, ‘Shutterbugg’, has managed to blow my mind so many times I think I’ve forgotten how to hyperbolically discuss its virtues in list form. Oh wait, here we go:

1) The talkbox beat is the best use of autotuning I’ve heard, and if played on a proper soundsystem I think it might just act like the Brown Note.
2) Big Boi’s flow is so unlike any other in mainstream hip-hop that it immediately engages me every time I hear it.
3) The unwieldy mix of glittering synths and occasional strummed guitar just works, and wonderfully at that.
4) The tiny break into ‘Back To Life’ by Soul II Soul – amazing.

Big Boi – Shutterbugg (YSI)

There seems rather a lot of young, exuberant bands plying their trade in the wilfully lo-fi world of garage rock. What with The Smith Westerns already gracing these pages and those kings of the genre, Black Lips popping up every so often, you’d think I’d have little time for more of the same, but Harlem have knocked me clean off my feet. All the hallmarks of this particular murky corner of the music industry are present: high tempo, twanging guitars, muted background drumming and a complete disregard for production aesthetics. But mixed amongst all of this there lies a little something extra in this Austen three-piece. Michael Coomers’ breathless delivery reminds me of the glory days of Kings of Leon and all the teenage nostalgia that comes with that. I love them.

Harlem – Friendly Ghost (YSI)