(I’m back. Sorry about the lack of posts, but I should be back on deck from here on)
This morning I was reflecting thusly:
At the end of each year, every music blog and magazine known to man semi-sheepishly observes the phenomenon wherein every music blog and magazine publishes their very own set of year-end lists. Once they have made this observation, they proceed to do the same thing.
The problem is, it’s all getting a little boring – in part because we kind of already know what most of them are going to come out with: the primary difference is the mainstream publications will include Kings of Leon and Coldplay, while the more discerning (ooh! burn!) will not.
See, here’s the thing. We already know everybody was breathlessly awaiting the followup to Return to Cookie Mountain. We already know that Pitchfork’s hyperbolic heralding of Microcastle caused an unprecedented storm. We all knew that Portishead were going to get high rankings on everybody’s lists after the success that was Third. The Drones are getting tons of love from Aussie bloggers. Don’t get me wrong, I love all of the previously mentioned albums – but saturation and exposure of certain albums guarantees that, to lesser or greater degrees, there’s a lot in these year-end lists that gets pretty repetitious after a while.
The lists do, however, reveal further secrets buried amidst their homogeneity: by exclusion they give a hint of the albums that didn’t quite reach the audience they could have, the releases that maybe deserved just as much to be amongst the ranks of Messrs Adebimpe, Cox and Barrow but didn’t – perhaps due to marketing, lack of touring or a sound that didn’t succeed in tapping into this year’s listeners.
So herewith, I present to you my top 10 albums that I would have loved to see get more attention in the year-end lists. I hope you enjoy!
1 // Spiritualized – Songs in A&E
I’ve come to love this album immensely, largely because of the way it transparently presents emotion in a tangible, human, weary, wry and frank manner. The album plays out like short acts interspersed by a series of short pieces entitled “Harmony”, with Jason Pierce’s writing being presented as succinct yet dense, layered pieces. The arrangements feature mostly basic instrumentation, yet they reflect new textures and evoke wonderful emotions. How it’s not appearing on more lists is beyond me.
Listen: Soul on Fire (mp3)
2 // Snowman – The Horse, The Rat and The Swan
Perhaps set back by being too impersonal and terrifying for widespread appeal, Snowman’s 2008 release is nonetheless perhaps the finest Australian release that I heard this year. I’m not going to begin to hazard a guess as to what the lyrical themes are that underscore the record – that’s not my forte – but musically it’s a meticulously assembled work. The atmosphere is dissonant and tortured, yet it never turns into a gratuitous clang-fest. It’s quite a ride, and still enthralling as I listen to it now. A masterpiece – can’t wait to see what they do next.
Listen: full album streaming on last.fm (account required)
3 // Why? – Alopecia
This was one I expected to see everywhere on lists thanks to the considerable attention that “The Hollows” received at the time of release, but alas. It’s hip-hop but mixed with a a traditional approach to sound and a band dynamic – not to mention decidedly white. Yoni’s lyrical style and his delivery deserve special mention, but the album equally wows with its incredible palette of sounds thanks to innovative mixes and brilliant yet unorthodox arrangements. I’ve played this record continuously all year and it’s still only getting better. This is one that I expected to resonate with more people, but maybe it still pushed the boundaries a little beyond many people’s comfort zones.
Listen: The Hollows (mp3)
4 // Ellen Allien – SooL
Sparse, minimal and bewitching – throw this record on with the lights off and your favourite spirit served on the rocks. It doesn’t need lights to enhance a mood – it evokes worlds of colour and never fails to do so much with so little. Allien’s vocal appearances are less prominent than previous releases and her larger-than-life brand of dancefloor fillers are replaced by precarious minimal arrangements. Try this record and play it more than once – it will initially confuse and perhaps even frustrate, but will eventually reveal a world of brilliance amidst its robotic beauty.
Listen: Caress (mp3)
5 // Daedelus – Love to Make Music To
Gleeful, off-kilter and downright sexy, this album is a curious amalgamation of part old-school rave/club music and absolutely devastatingly dirty underground hip-hop/grime. Daedelus plays the part of a mad scientist, dissecting the nature of pop to its very roots before producing a sound unlike much that has preceded it. The guest vocalists are all top-notch and there more than a few tracks that could well take your summer parties to a whole ‘nother level should you choose to add them to your playlist.
Listen: Fair Weather Friends (hype machine stream)
6 // The Lucksmiths – First Frost
There’s not much more that can be said for this album except that it contains 14 close-to-perfect pop gems. It’s everything you might expect from a band like the Lucksmiths, but then so much more. By nature it’s frequently upbeat, but a moment’s reflection short of happy-go-lucky It’s a wonderful record without a dull moment that I can find – it even manages to justify a 54 minute playing time when – with a record of this nature – it could easily overstay its welcome.
Listen: California in Popular Song (hype machine stream)
7 // Flying Lotus – Los Angeles
Take the Daedelus ethic and root it in the grimy, murky surrounds of noir-ish inner-city life reminiscent of Burial’s work. Remove the joy and replace with a grim outlook, and maybe you’re getting towards where Flying Lotus is at. Often teetering within an inch of falling apart amongst the clatter of intentionally un-gridded beats, the record holds its stride and is possibly the record which most seamlessly melds from track to track in this list. I had high expectations for this album after the Reset EP and it did not disappoint in the slightest.
Listen: Parisian Goldfish (hype machine stream)
8 // Gang Gang Dance – Saint Dymphna
It’s an atmospheric, acid-tinged excursion into jam-band territory, but without the 20 minute epics or quiet/loud histrionics. It’s occasionally dance-inflected yet lush, with textures recalling Eno, Aphex, et al but with a significant world music influence and some ethereal vocals. Considering the amount of territory they cover, it’s a wonder it doesn’t fall apart somewhere along the way – yet it rocks. It seems to have also been this year’s most successful album to soothe my daughter.
Listen: House Jam (mp3)
9 // Qua – Q&A
Despite the opinion of some, this is a record that is quite unpretentious. Its characteristic, to me, is down-to-earth, scattershot and permanently exuberant. Qua’s new record sounds like a less twisted, more outgoing Black Moth Super Rainbow resplendent with anthemic qualities – frenetic drumming and excitable synths take their cue alongside vocoder lines and scattered samples. It’s a great “up” record – make sure you turn it up on a sunny day while driving on a country road.
Listen: Lapsang Souchong (mp3)
10 // The Week That Was – The Week That Was
As I indicated in my review a couple of months ago, I may be among the few that sincerely, un-ironically enjoys my fair share of prog. This albums certainly has its prog influences but at its core it’s most definitely a pop record. Throughout the twists and turns there are plenty of great hooks, lovely sounds and wonderful melodies all presented in a punchy, succinct 43 minute 8-tracker.
Listen: The Airport Line (mp3)
Phew! That was a marathon. Hope you enjoyed!