Here’s the second of my three list posts chronicling the best of this year’s albums in my own humble opinion. Just to make it clear, many of these albums won’t have been reviewed by me at the time they were released, so if you’ve never seen me mention them before, it’s just that I’ve actually got off my arse and listened to these albums for the first time in the past few weeks. Here we go!
10. The Maccabees – Wall of Arms
I was really rather excited about this album when it came out. The first album had sounded like a bunch of excited tykes whooping and jerking about in the throes of romance, all froth and fun. I wanted more. Instead what I got was a band grown up, more expansive, more serious and more melancholy. And I loved it. From album sampler ‘No Kind Words’ onwards I was hooked on this new sound. The Maccabees made an album concerned with retrospect – Orlando sings “Those killer eyes don’t look the same as they used to do/Not like the eyes that I make at you” in ‘One Hand Holding’, looking back on the perfect loves of Colour Me In and seeing them as they’ve become. Their sound too sounds like an echo of what they once were, the same tone and style, but somehow lengthened into shadows of what they produced before, overlapping and slowing down. The Maccabees have made, for me, one of the truest “evolutions” of sound from one album to another, not only developing their style, reminding us not only what they are, but what they were.
9. Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career
Camera Obscura’s unique brand of heartbreak twee had passed me by for far too long before I got ahold of this gem of an album, but I won’t let it happen again. Opening with the infectiously joyous strains of ‘French Navy’ and washing over you wonderfully from there, this is an album that flows better than most. What’s most interesting though is how such gentle, smile-inducing music can hide the sadness that seems ever-present in Tracyanne Campbell’s lyrics. Even in the most excitable moments we’re met with “I wanted to control it/But love I couldn’t hold it” – the duality of it all is just perfectly pitched so you get a sense of both sides at all times. It seems as though final track ‘Honey In The Sun’ points in a different direction though, all trumpet fanfares and quickstep drumbeats as Ms. Campbell says “I wish my heart was cold as the morning dew/But it’s as warm as saxophones and honey in the sun for you”. The real triumph here though is taking such old-fashioned styles and making them sound fresher than any new indie guitar band can manage nowadays – let’s see if that cheers them up.
8. Telekinesis – Telekinesis!
Michael Benjamin Lerner, with a little help from bandmates and Chris Walla (of Death Cab fame), has created one of the best rock records of the year out of practically nothing. He seems to have taken a few basic instruments, a love for Japan and some analog tape and, with very little effort, made eleven songs that recall the best of Weezer and that stable of American rock. The bastard. From the very beginning, this all sounds like a soundtrack for some fantastic road movie that has yet to exist, with all the required highs (‘Coast of Carolina’) and lows (‘Rust’) and a love interest thrown in for good measure (‘Awkward Kisser’). It’s ridiculously uplifting, not to mention spectacularly impressive.
7. Mos Def – The Ecstatic
I don’t pretend to know a whole heap about hip-hop. When I enjoy it I can’t look into it as closely as I can with rock, folk or alternative, the whole culture of different producers on one album, guest vocalists and sampling just passes me by most of the time, so I can’t really expect you to listen to me try to muddle my way through tne technical aspects of this album It would be embarassing for us both. What I can talk about is why I’ve enjoyed this album as much as I have. To have a hip-hop album so full of multicultural influences and mercifully free of the ganster mentality that I can’t relate to (I couldn’t sound much more white/middle class could I?) is a genuinely new pleasure for me. From ‘Supermagic’s one-two punch of Middle-Eastern guitar riff and perfectly-delivered refrain to ‘Quiet Dog Bite Hard’s sparse structure and hypnotic rhythms, part of the pleasure is Def’s willingness to let the music work for itself some of the time – the focus doesn’t need to be on him. It’s a refreshing lack of the egocentricity which has become all too common recently, as well as a trust put in the music to carry a song, which in turn makes Mos Def’s own contributions more important and interesting, we want to hear him talk to us.
6. The Horrors – Primary Colours
I have to admit, I was never a Horrors-hater. I quite enjoyed the whole gothic Vaudeville act they put on, ridiculous costumes and all. I never thought it was a particularly serious attempt to convince us that they were Victorian Undertakers making garage rock; rather that they enjoyed a sense of the absurd in their music. The audience that took to them however was unfortunate, a group who never saw the irony as anything more than a fashion to follow, which made the whole affair a little less entertaining. It seems that The Horrors themselves saw that, and their subsequent change surprised everyone from fans to the derisory of their critics. The far more measured pace and reliance on distortion as an instrument on Primary Colours remade The Horrors as enigmatic musicians rather than the exhibitionist actors they once were (hell, even the album cover is essentially a blurred, coloured version of the first Strange House‘s band shot cover). Melody overlaps with discordance throughout the album, making the opening of the upbeat ‘Three Decades’ far more spaced-out than it could have been, and obscuring the malevolence in ‘New Ice Age’ and there are far more songs now – ‘I Can’t Contol Myself’ is a laid-back, almost surf-rock ghost train, and ‘Do You Remember’ recalls some of Joy Division’s best moments, making the most important part of this album (and the most impressive) that these are songs you will remember as tunes, not performances.