Category — Best of 2010
It’s Christmas now, right? Yesterday, despite being victim to a mild fever, I braved the wider world to escape London by train. I sit now warm in snowy Norfolk, a Christmas tree, log fire and cat all sharing the room with me. Twenty minutes ago I was watching Honey, I Shrunk The Kids. So there’s that. It feels as Christmas should, then, and thus it seems just about right to put up WWL’s best songs of the last year. Sit back. Relax. Grab a mince pie. Mulled cider? No thanks. Oh, go on then…
50. Fears Of A Father – Ed Harcourt
49. Chicken Bones – John Grant
48. Rulers, Ruling All Things – Midlake
47. If You Can’t Sleep – She & Him
46. Woah Billy! – Lucky Soul
45. Next Girl – The Black Keys
44. Boyfriend – Best Coast
43. She Needs Me – Fyfe Dangerfield
42. Aretha – Rumer
41. Digging A Hole – Chapin Sisters
40. Shampain – Marina & The Diamonds
39. Sigourney Weaver – John Grant
38. How Are You Doing – The Living Sisters
37. Bring Down – Midlake
36. Thieves – She & Him
35. Slow – Rumer
34. I Walk Alone – Music Go Music
33. (You Don’t Know) How Glad I Am – The Living Sisters
32. I Am Christmas – Laura Hocking
31. Numb – Marina & The Diamonds
30. Zorbing – Stornoway
29. Lost In The World – Kanye West feat. Bon Iver
28. Thousand Crazy Nights – Music Go Music
27. If It’s Good For Me – Stars and Sons
26. Why We Build The Wall – Anaïs Mitchell
25. Call Me – The Pipettes
24. Goodbye Girl – Rumer
23. Wonderful Life – Hurts
22. Goodbye Everybody – Music Go Music
21. Days/This Time Tomorrow – Ray Davies with Mumford & Sons
20. A Coming Of Age – Lucky Soul
19. I Wanna Go To Marz – John Grant
18. F**k You – Cee Lo Green
17. Windstorm – School of Seven Bells
16. We Are The Battery Human – Stornoway
15. Young Hearts Run Free – The Swell Season
14. Tell ‘Em – Sleigh Bells
13. Goodbye England (Covered In Snow) – Laura Marling*
12. Baby You’re Blind – God Help The Girl
11. Ain’t No Talkin – The Pipettes
10. Learnin’ to Ride – Caitlin Rose
9. Explorers Of The Heart – Music Go Music
8. Light Of Love – Music Go Music
7. Old Fashioned – Cee Lo Green
6. Rill Rill – Sleigh Bells
5. Steve McQueen – Ramona
4. Finding My Way – The Pipettes
3. Lioness – dems
2. On A Good Day – Joanna Newsom
1. Lustre – Ed Harcourt
*Note: Every track on Marling’s perfect second record, our Album of the Year, is equal. If we had featured them all, this list would have been a Festive Forty, And Also That Laura Marling Record In Full. For this reason, only one makes the list. If you’d like to imagine 13-22 all as Marling tracks feel free to do so, but please consider the feelings of acts such as The Black Keys, Best Coast and Fyfe Dangerfield, who lose their spots if you decide to be pedantic. And on Christmas Eve, of all days! You monster. But, y’know… whatever.
December 24, 2010 No Comments
The year’s closing in on us like night on day, and the internet is breathing in music and breathing out list upon list of the best music to have emerged in the last twelve months. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we kind of like lists. They’re our currency, what we work with and what we work towards. So the end of the year is a fun time for us here at WWL. Today we launch our Albums Of The Year list, and soon enough we’ll hold both the We Write Lists Awards and throw our soothsayer’s hat into the ring with our Tips For 2011. I almost wrote ’2001′ there, so maybe we’ll throw that in too. Tips For 2001. Should be a pretty safe bet, no? (I’m hearing good things about this Nelly Furtado…)
Anyway, 2010 has been a spectacular year for music, and limiting ourselves to twenty albums has been painful – it’s meant that some of our favourite artists (Sufjan Stevens, Allison Crowe, Joanna Newsom, Belle & Sebastian…) didn’t quite make the cut. There are a couple of surprise entries here and, of course, no less than twenty phenomenal albums. You’d do well to go out and buy each and every one of them.
20. The School – Loveless Unbeliever
The debut album by Cardiff band The School is a fresh burst of the shimmering Sixties pop that Belle and Sebastian and Camera Obscura have been throwing our way for the past few years. There are certainly elements of both in Loveless Unbeliever, and the album arguably sounds more like Belle and Sebastian the band’s own 2010 effort. But there’s more to the band than an instantly recognisable sound – The School throw in a few more handclaps, an irresistable innocence and some really wonderful hooks, best demonstrated here on ‘Hoping and Praying’ and ‘I Want You Back’. Loveless Unbeliever is perhaps not the most groundbreaking album of the year, but it’s certainly one of the most fun.
19. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
As a rule, we at WWL try not to judge musicians on their personal lives. If we did, we probably wouldn’t listen to all that much music. We judge musicians, controversially, on their music. Strange, I know. And so, fresh back from all his Imma Gonna Let You Finish-ing, we approach Kanye West’s latest album with open ears. And how happy we were with the results. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a breathtaking album. Over the course of just over an hour, West rips apart the genre and stitches it right back up again in an altogether more exciting and invigorating package. West has never sounded better.
18. Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid
For all the brilliance of Kanye’s album, it should have donated its title to Monae’s The ArchAndroid. Not since Ziggy Stardust has such a beautiful, dark, twisted fantasy existed. One of two concept albums on the list this year, Monae’s record is a hugely impressive feat. Stunning and expansive, it’s the most imaginative album WWL has heard in a long time. The ArchAndroid flicks from genre to genre with an easy mixture of glee and effortlessness. On tracks like ‘Faster’ and ‘Tightrope’ Monae demonstrates her abilities not just as a singer but as a modern interpreter of the soul and R&B genres. Though The ArchAndroid deserves to be noted simply for the brilliance that lies within, it should also be given credit for bringing to light the most exciting artist of the next few years.
17. Julia Stone – The Memory Machine
A solo effort from either of the Stone siblings, best known as the duo Angus and Julia, is worth at least a listen. In the case of The Memory Machine it’s worth a fair few repeat listens, too. A slight step away from her work with Angus, the album is woozy, and beautiful, and though it offers perhaps nothing too original, what it does offer is a sterling collection of songs that will suit your ears as well for the cold winter as they will the warm summer evenings. There are echoes of Newsom at times, and Stone’s dulcet tones are key to the inherent loveliness of the record. The Memory Machine is a record with arms. And if that doesn’t quite make sense to you, buy it, and listen to it, and experience the wonder of being hugged by an album. Cosiness has never been so heartfelt.
16. Our Broken Garden – Golden Sea
From the tidal piano that opens the album to lead singer Anna Bronsted’s haunting vocals, Our Broken Garden’s debut album is bewitching. There are elements of some truly fantastic musicians here – certainly one could pick out the influences of Radiohead or Bjork from the woozy sadness of Golden Sea, but the unique qualities that make the album such a rare moment in music are all the band’s own. One of the most underrated albums of 2010, Golden Sea has found a home in the hearts of WWL, and will be soundtracking late night train journeys and walks through cold winter landscapes for years to come yet.
15. She & Him – Volume Two
Two years ago we were posting our Best Of 2008 lists over at the now defunct This Fine Social Scene, and top of the album list by some way was She & Him’s spectacular debut. As its title hints, Volume Two is the band’s second record, and though it lacks some of the sentimentality and soulful longing of Volume One the album is still a fine collection of recorded music. Opener ‘Theives’ captures singer Zooey Deschanel’s unique and bewilderingly gorgeous voice at its best, and carries it wonderfully across originals and covers alike. Listen after listen Volume Two holds up, and grows. It takes some fifteen plays for the listener to realise it, but the closing lullaby ‘If You Can’t Sleep’ deserves to be sung lovingly in children’s bedrooms up and down the country.
14. Marina & the Diamonds – The Family Jewels
A debut that has been a long-time coming, WWL has been following Marina Diamandis since first we heard ‘Obsessions’ back in late 2007. It was a slow-burning ballad to human flaws, and in many ways the theme continues throughout The Family Jewels. Usually the ‘Isn’t Fame Difficult?’ album doesn’t reveal itself until the second or third release by an artist, but Marina throws herself into the modern world of celebrity with equal parts awe and disgust. The album rockets along, with key tracks ‘Are You Satisfied’, ‘Shampain’ and breakthrough hit ‘Hollywood’ all swiping cynically at the world Diamandis is trying so desperately to be a part of. If any fresh talent deserves a moment of celebrity though, its Marina & the Diamonds, and anyone who disagrees can listen to the grandeur of ‘Numb’ and realise that we have here a talent unlike most.
13. Sleigh Bells – Treats
And with a musical explosion, and the volume way up, Treats opens. It’s reinvigorating – music on a sugar high, exciting and violent. ‘Tell ‘Em’ first caught our attention tearing through the 6 Music playlist like a shark through the ocean, blood in the water. Sleigh Bells make you want to move, but you can’t quite work out in which way. They make you want to sing, but there’s something too unpredictable about it all. They are music to soundtrack experiences beyond that which you might ever have. They are entirely uninterested in trends and charts. They are the coolest band of the year. They are the only people who I will ever let sample Funkadelic, on the euphoric ‘Rill Rill’. In a year when Bombay Bicycle Club took to reviewing their own album with its very title (Flaws), Sleigh Bells followed suit and released a much needed injection into the music world.
12. The Living Sisters – Love To Live
A world apart from the aural invasion of Sleigh Bells, The Living Sisters take inspiration for debut Love To Live from vocal harmony groups of days long past. Though their position in this chart confirms better albums have been released this year, none have been lovelier than Love To Live. There’s such a familial feel to the record – though the sisters in question aren’t actually related, the album has the consistency of an act who know and love each other as though they did share parents. As much indebted to friends of the band She & Him as they are to Les Paul, or The Andrews Sisters, Love To Live is an album to share, and an album to keep, and an album to love.
11. Ed Harcourt – Lustre
There was a time when Ed Harcourt was the critics’ darling, loved in reviews but barely acknowledged by the public. Now, unfortunately, nobody seems to pay much attention at all. It’s a devastating shame because both musically and lyrically Harcourt has never been better. We needn’t cover the title track here – we’ll get to that another time – but across the course of the album’s eleven tracks Harcourt crafts a near-perfect pop record for grown-ups. He has matured in every aspect – a fact evidenced by the wonderful final track ‘Fears of a Father’, but the album is at its best when Harcourt lets go with enthusiastic pop choruses, as with ‘Do As I Say Not What I Do’. Hopefully Lustre will be enough to make sure that his next album goes noticed, but we won’t be holding our breath.
10. Rumer – Seasons Of My Soul
As long as WWL is involved in music we will be proud to say that we had Rumer’s first ever online interview – not simply because it was a real coup, and the mark of how far our little website had come in a year, but also because we genuinely believe Rumer to be one of the most talented singers of the new millennium so far. It’s easy enough for critics to claim Rumer is little more than a Karen Carpenter impersonator, but should they ever have to provide evidence, they’ll struggle. Seasons Of My Soul demonstrates Rumer as what she really is – a magnificent singer and songwriter. A friend recently likened the album to Carole King’s Tapestry and in many ways he was right. ‘Goodbye Girl’ is a deceptively simple song that works exceptionally and, alongside ‘Slow’ and ‘Aretha’ could well be standards in the English songbook just a few short years from now. In most any other year, Seasons Of My Soul would be in the top three of this list, but all that goes to demonstrate is the quality of the albums left to go…
9. Stornoway – Beachcomber’s Windowsill
Oxford boys singing under the name of a rural town on a Scottish island were always going to be a folk band of sorts, but they certainly didn’t have to be this good. A surprise of the year, Beachcomber’s Windowsill is an absolutely exceptional record. ‘Zorbing’ is exhuberent and yet restrained, with a cheerful brass section and Vince Guaraldi’s piano flittering about occasionally. ‘We Are The Battery Human’ is possibly the most enjoyable cynical statement of the year – a call to arms against, well, sitting inside typing away on your keyboard. I feel guilty already. Too many comparisons have been made between Stornoway and Mumford & Sons, though – there is perhaps a little more sentiment in the former’s work, a little more heart. Beachcomber’s Windowsill was one of the year’s most unexpected treats, and 2010 was all the better for it.
8. School of Seven Bells – Disconnect From Desire
It’s hard to tell just who the key to School of Seven Bells is. It could be Benjamin Curtis, the guitarist formerly of Secret Machines and Tripping Daisy. Listen carefully and you can certainly pick up the influence of the latter – a band led by The Polyphonic Spree’s Tim Delaughter – on the altogether more dream pop sound of SoSB. There’s a dark sort of glee to tracks like ‘Windstorm’ and ‘I L U’. But then, perhaps the key is the set of twins at the centre of the band’s vocals – a key factor on the eerie beauty of much of the album’s content. Regardless, Disconnect From Desire is an album that takes you at once, and wraps itself around you, engulfing you in a warming arithmetic of music and vocals, sound and lyrical imagery. As with all the best aritsts, SoSB manage to elicit emotion from the listener – here it’s a heady mixture of sadness and euphoria.
7. Lucky Soul – A Coming Of Age
The year’s underrated genre has certainly been retro-pop, though perhaps this is a good thing – that description has never quite done justice to the sound of bands like The School or Lucky Soul. A Coming Of Age is Lucky Soul’s second album, and in many ways a big step up from their already great debut. Here is an album bold and brave with its hooks and themes – a record that, had it been released around the time of Duffy’s 2008 album could have been absolutely massive. ‘Love³’ is jubilant and wary, and as such entirely representative of the album as a whole – bright pop tunes underlined with much darker lyrics. There are moments of great country music (‘Upon Hilly Fields’), slow-burning big band (‘Could Be I Don’t Belong Anywhere’) and, in the utterly tremendous title track, the greatest Bond theme never to be written for a Bond film. Anyone who doesn’t think the next Bond film should be called A Coming Of Age is entirely wrong.
6. The Pipettes – Earth Vs. The Pipettes
Left-field choice alert! With their sophmore record, The Pipettes presented an almost entirely different experience to their fans – gone were polka dots, two of the three band members and Spectoresque production, in came remaining member Gwenno’s little sister, an altogether more 80s sound and songs so lively that they make the band’s debut look like a collection of b-sides by The Smiths. Cynics should never listen to Earth Vs. The Pipettes – they’d risk going extinct. Whether or not this is credible pop is up for debate (probably not) but like it or not, there isn’t a single person in England who could keep their feet still during ‘Ain’t No Talkin”, ‘Call Me’, ‘Finding My Way’, ‘History’ or… well, most of the songs present here. You remember earlier when we called The School’s album ‘one of the most fun albums of the year’? Earth Vs. The Pipettes is the sole reason we couldn’t be more definitive. A fantastic, fun and utterly irresistable record.
5. John Grant – Queen Of Denmark
It’s almost upsetting to think that for a while there John Grant wasn’t going to make more music; it took Midlake to draw him back to touring and then, fortunately for us all, to the studio. The resulting album, Queen Of Denmark, is the most gorgeous of records. Drenched in heartbreak and sadness, Grant sings with great emotion and great humour. The songs are everything a song should be – witty, dry, intelligently written and gorgeously played (by backing band Midlake). ‘I Wanna Go To Marz’ is as inspiring as it is devastating, all Exorcist piano and Twin Peaks guitars. ‘Sigourney Weaver’ is the most beautiful song ever to use an actress as a metaphor for life’s bigger issues, and ‘JC Hates Faggots’ is synth-filled, and wonderful, and wry, and angry, and at once so singular and yet so representative of everyone that is so boldly exhilarating about Queen of Denmark.
4. Anaïs Mitchell – Hadestown
Janelle Monae’s The ArchAndroid was certainly the year’s most ambitious concept album – its original story conceived through solid R&B songs, but it’s in Hadestown that we find the year’s most coherent, and best, concept album. Mitchell, previously behind three albums of enjoyable but unremarkable folk. With Hadestown she has now presented to us an elaborate opera (complete with an A-list folk cast featuring Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, a member of The Low Anthem and Ani DiFranco, amongst others) reimagining the classical tale of Orpheus and Eurydice in a prohibition-era America. It’s an odd career decision, but also the best one Mitchell is ever likely to make – the record is equal parts ethereal and raucous (the latter best demonstrated on ‘Way Down Hadestown’ and ‘Our Lady Of The Underground’. Mitchell gets the most out of her cast, most notably on album highlight ‘Why We Build The Wall’ in which Greg Brown’s gravelly voice leads a brainwashing chant unlike anything else put on record in recent years. But then, that’s what Hadestown is, through and through: a unique album, conceived and executed flawlessly.
3. Midlake – The Courage Of Others
In a sense, this is Midlake’s second appearance in the top five (if we include their pivotal role in the creation of Queen of Denmark). It’s well deserved too – not many bands could find themselves so heavily involved in two of the best albums of the year, let alone manage to record them both at the same time. But Midlake recorded Queen of Denmark with John Grant in the evenings between working on this, their third record. There’s something very dark and restrained about The Courage of Others, and it feels very much like a private work of art, something that wasn’t meant for outside consumption. This unique sound is vital to the success of the record, though, drawing the listener into a sort of darkness, a form, almost, of sensory deprivation. When one listens to The Courage Of Others one feels, albeit for just 42 minutes, as if there is nothing else beyond it. The best tracks are those that are incomparable, and almost indescribable – the title track, the opening track and ‘Rulers, Ruling All Things’. Elsewhere, though, ‘Bring Down’ is perhaps the most like mid-nineties Radiohead that folk is ever likely to get.
2. Music Go Music – Expressions
Every tube journey. Every single one. We palm the yellow pad with our oyster card, step through the barriers and place our headphones over our ears. Expressions is what we put on. Every. Single. Time. The debut album from L.A.’s Music Go Music is unlike anything else being released right now. It is, however, quite a bit like a great deal of things released thirty-five odd years ago. There’s Blondie, there’s a little ELO, there’s a heck of a lot of Abba and, in one glorious closing moment, there’s a fair bit of The Carpenters too. But there’s more to Expressions than retrospective joy. The album is an unstoppable force, musically, throwing itself from song to song with the sort of enthusiasm most bands fail to muster over the course of their entire career. Expressions is a singalong record, and a dancealong record, and a try-you-damnedest-to-not-freak-out-the-other-tube-passengers-with-your-dancing record. Take any song from this album and there’s a ready-made single; it’s a feat of horrific marketing that more people don’t own it. ‘Light Of Love’ and ‘Explorers Of The Heart’ could earn a place in any old disco fan’s heart as easily as they could in any young pop fan’s. ‘Warm In The Shadows’ is cultivated for clubs. ‘Goodbye, Everybody’ could have been Radio 2′s most popular song of the year. Buy Music Go Music. See Music Go Music. Do whatever you can to get Music Go Music into your life. They deserve it and you know what? So do you.
1. Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can
In the simplest of terms, I Speak Because I Can is one of the greatest records ever made. It would seem hyperbolic to make such a claim about any other album that had only been out for only nine months, but with Marling’s second effort it seems almost an understatement. In fact, even calling the album her ‘second effort’ seems wrong, because there isn’t a single moment on the record that seems to fit that – nothing is forced, nothing is out of place. Each note falls exactly as it should, Marling’s vocals are delivered with the conviction of a woman who believes in not only every word she sings but every in emotion she alludes to, and in every single sound that makes it onto the recording, right down to the tiny breaths she takes between lines. From the humble beginnings of Alas I Cannot Swim Marling has gone on to understand the fine art in music, the anticipation of sound that makes a record truly special. Don’t ask us to name a favourite track – we’ll just list all ten, in a different order each time. We suppose it was inevitable, inviting our favourite musicians onto the site each week to write about their six favourite albums, that eventually we’d come to consider our own. Here’s a clue, though: I Speak Because I Can has a firm place on our Six Albums list, and it’s going to take some beating to knock it off.
And with that, we round off our Best Albums of 201o list. Are we right? (Yes) Are we wrong? (No) Feel free to drop your favourite albums of the year in the comments section. And there are more lists to come! Next Wednesday we’ll announce our Songs Of The Year, and then soon after you’ll be seeing the WWL Tips For 2011.
December 8, 2010 1 Comment