December 17, 2010

Top 50 Albums of 2010: 1-10

Pantha du Prince
"Black Noise" (Rough Trade)

Black Noise is Hendrik Weber’s third album as Pantha du Prince and his first for indie label Rough Trade. Expanding upon his ‘Minimal Techno with dark bells’ sound with guest spots from bassist Tyler Pope (!!!/LCD) and vocals from Animal Collective’s Panda Bear. A superb album and one that is finally getting Pantha the attention he deserves.

Morgan Packard
"Moment Again Elsewhere" (Anticipate)

Packard's latest full-length is his most self-assured release to date. His unique brand of jazz-influenced glitch moves effortlessly through ambient to IDM and deep house. Piano, accordion, and saxophone intertwine with electronics creating brittle layers of analogue warmth. An intimate and compelling headphone experience.

Mountain Man
"Made The Harbor" (Partisan)

Mountain Man is three girls from Vermont who sing gorgeously sparse, mostly a cappella, indie-folk with a strong Appalachian bent. What strikes you most is the purity of the sound, the raw sweetness of just voice. Sounding like something from a bygone era, a Lomax archive perhaps, it is refreshingly un-hip and timeless.

John Roberts
"Glass Eights" (Dial)

Roberts, a deep house producer from Ohio, is the first American signed to Hamburg's Dial label. With his lean, reverb-laden production, static-laced samples and percussiveness, it fits in with Dial's sound. Equal parts Berlin and Chicago, off-key and sometimes dark, the end result is uplifting, whether on the headphones or in the club.

LCD Soundsystem
"This Is Happening" (DFA)

LCD’s James Murphy has said that this, the third album by LCD Soundsystem, will be their last and it is a great high to go out on. LCD wear their influences on their sleeve - take disco, add some post-punk basslines, some Bowie-esque guitar riffs and synth and Murphy’s inimitable nasally vocals. A simple yet brilliant recipe.

The Knife (w/ Mt. Sims & Planningtorock)
"Tomorrow, In A Year" (Rabid)

The brother/sister team, known for their atmospheric and eccentric electro-pop songs, eschews the pop entirely for a ninety-minute electronic opera and concept album based on Charles Darwin’s "On the Origin of Species". The Knife is clearly passionate about the evolution of its music: Tomorrow, In A Year is stunning, terrifying and unique.

Kanye West
"My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" (Roc-A-Fella)

Despite loving a few of his tracks (“Flashing Lights” comes to mind) I’ve never enjoyed a Kanye album all the way through - my teeth grate at the sound of auto-tune so 808s and Heartbreaks is off limits - but this album blows my mind. Epic, vulnerable, uplifting and impossible to not play on repeat.

The Books
"The Way Out" (Temporary Residence Ltd)

Like Negativland before them, The Books base their music on samples of everyday American culture – TV evangelists, self-help gurus, cartoons  – and place them out of context, twisting them to subversively comedic effect. Skilled musicians, they place highly rhythmic live instrumentation atop the samples, creating a truly individual sound.

Ólafur Arnalds
"...And They Have Escaped the Weight of Darkness" (Erased Tapes)

Starting out as a drummer in various Hardcore bands in his native Iceland, multi-instrumentalist Ólafur Arnalds makes Modern Classical. This is his second album and a masterpiece. Similar in feel to Balmorhea or the arrangements in Sigur Rós, who Arnalds toured with, it is an achingly melancholic tapestry of strings and piano.

It Kills
"It Kills" (It Kills)

The eponymous debut by Nova Scotians It Kills is one of most under-appreciated albums of the year. Sounding a lot like other orchestral Post-Rockers such as Explosions In The Sky, what sets them apart is their airy, soaring vocals. A fluid and accomplished debut that should for sure make it to the next Polaris long-list.

December 16, 2010

Top 50 Albums of 2010: 11-20

The Budos Band
"The Budos Band III" (Daptone)

What sets Budos apart from other Afro-influenced acts is in the heaviness of their groove; no wonder that the Staten Island Soul band claim to be inspired by heavy metal as well as soul and Ethio-jazz. Solid as ever, the New York ten-piece yet again claims the title of heavyweight champion in the world of Afro-soul.

These New Puritans
"Hidden" (Domino)

Hidden, the sophomore album from the rag-tag UK 4-piece, incorporates Foley samples, taiko drums and choral singing into their unique brand of experimental post-punk. Fusing the angular guitar of Gang of Four with the urban dance of MIA and a healthy dose of Björk and Scott Walker, the result is cerebral, percussive and powerful.

Beach House
"Teen Dream" (Sub Pop)

Beach House is so subtle that you can almost be forgiven for not being immediately enthralled but once the melodies work their way into your skin you’ll be irreversibly hooked. The husky, sensual voice of Victoria Legrand and the minimal guitar hooks of Alex Scally are more potent than ever on Teen Dream, their third album release.

The Roots
"How I Got Over (Def Jam)

Since signing to Def Jam, The Roots have been pretty disappointing but How I Got Over is a return to form for the Philly Hip Hop crew. Featuring familiar collaborators Dice Raw and John Legend as well as surprising use of a Joanna Newsom sample, this is The Roots doing exactly what they do best.

"Church With No Magic" (Warp)

Church With No Magic is the third album by Aussie Synth-Rockers PVT (formerly Pivot) and their second for Warp Records. Despite the surprising addition of vocals, it retains the heavy drums and dirty synth sound that made their last album so infectious. Do not miss the chance to see these songs performed in a live setting.

"Swim" (Merge)

On Swim, Polaris Prize-winning Dan Snaith traded a lot of the Beach Boys influence, lo-fi drums and Psych Rock for a more electronic disco sound, summoning the spirit of Arthur Russell. From "Odessa", the blissed-out summery opener, onwards this is not only his most club-friendly record but also his strongest release to date.

Sufjan Stevens
"The Age Of Adz" (Asthmatic Kitty)

One of the most inventive and ambitious musicians around, Sufjan is best known for two indie-folk masterpieces from his aborted ‘50 states’ project but also an electronic album based on the Chinese zodiac, amongst others. The Age of Adz brings these disparate styles together in an epic concept album about outsider artist Royal Robertson.

Arcade Fire
"The Suburbs" (Merge)

With The Suburbs Arcade Fire merge the Springsteen-fest of Neon Bible with that melancholic yet deliriously optimistic bent that made their debut album so good, shooting the Montréallers into the international arena. This is Arcade Fire back on form but just a few songs too long to be the perfect album.

"Constellations" (Western Vinyl)

Balmorhea (pronounced Bal-moor-ay), an ensemble from Austin, Texas, takes influence from sources ranging from Debussy to Max Richter and Arvo Pärt. Constellations is their fourth full-length release and it is a masterpiece. Emotive and melancholic Modern Classical with a twinge of country, it will appeal to fans of Pullman and Rachel’s.

Matthew Dear
"Black City" (Ghostly)

Matthew Dear makes a truly unique brand of music - a fusion of Minimal Techno, House, Synthpop, experimental sounds and singer-songwriter indie. The live instrumentation is more to the fore than on his three previous full-lengths and the end result is a highly accessible album that is also maybe his best.

December 15, 2010

Top 50 Albums of 2010: 21-30

Gold Panda
"Lucky Shiner" (Ghostly)

I can’t think of an album that has been more divisive in the electronic scene this year than this Ghostly newcomer. With a sound like a lighter fusion of Fourtet and Apparat, British producer Gold Panda seems to have pushed everybody’s buttons one way or the other. Both warm and immediate, it is one of the most blissful electronic albums of the year.

"Does It Look Like I'm Here?" (Editions Mego)

Emeralds are a trio from Cleveland, Ohio who, for the past half-decade has been blending dark ambient, kosmische and improvisation. They successfully fuse minimal guitar melodies with swirling synths and washes of ambient noise. Does it Look Like I’m Here? is their fourth official release and their best to date.

Woima Collective
"Tezeta" (Kindred Spirits)

Woima Collective is a heavily Ethio-inspired Afro-Jazz band led by Poets Of Rhythm saxophonist Johannes Schleiermacher, who became inspired by African rhythms after visiting Morocco and meeting Ethiopian jazz legend Mulatu Astatke. Tezeta features heavy, tight, funky grooves that will appeal to Budos and Ethiopiques aficionados.

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
"I Learned The Hard Way" (Daptone)

Sharon Jones worked as a corrections officer and a security guard before being discovered by Gabriel Roth and becoming the first artist released on Daptone. This marks her fourth full-length release with The Dap-Kings and is yet another slice of gorgeous soul revivalism of the quality you'd expect from Jones and the Daptone label.

Mice Parade
"What It Means To Be Left-Handed" (FatCat)

Mice Parade is the project (and anagram of) Adam Pierce, a New Yorker now based in Portugal. Releasing a bunch of highly underrated albums for over a decade now, What It Means To Be Left-Handed is among his best. Drum-heavy and optimistic, Mice Parade blends African music, indie-folk and post-rock creating a seamless, unique sound.

"Public Strain" (Jagjaguwar)

There’s a rumour circulating that Calgary’s Women recently split up. Unfortunate that a band this good only reached the two album mark. Blending krautrock rhythm with bittersweet melody and angular Polvo-esue guitar riffs, they remind me of another underrated band who have been ominously quiet of late, New Zealand’s Shocking Pinks.

Bassekou Kouyaté & Ngoni Ba
"I Speak Fula" (Sub Pop)

For a country of 14 million, Mali produces more than its fair share of fantastic music. Kouyaté, a veteran player in Toumani Diabaté’s orchestra takes the stage with his sophomore solo release. I Speak Fula is dominated by the sound of the ngoni, the African ancestor of the American banjo, and heart-stopping vocal harmonies.

Holy Fuck
"Latin" (Young Turks)

Toronto’s Holy Fuck makes a mockery of the ‘difficult third album’ syndrome, releasing their strongest and most coherent work to date. Their distinctive style and energy that have always made them so appealing, especially live, are ever-present but Latin is less improvisational than their previous releases and is all the stronger for it.

Roots Manuva Meets Wrong Tom
"Duppy Writer" (Big Dada)

London-based DJ/producer Wrong Tom selects tracks spanning Roots Manuva’s career so far and gives them new life as dance-able summer dubs. Making inventive use of Smith’s vocal tracks, Tom builds brand new tracks around the Stockwell rapper’s best rhymes, while lightening the mood considerably to create an immensely fun album that goes far beyond the remix.

Nina Nastasia
"Outlaster" (FatCat)

Sometimes you want artists to mix things up and push in a new direction on every release, other times their formula is so compelling that you just don’t want new tricks. Nastasia has, with Tortoise's Jeff Parker on guitar and Steve Albini in the sound booth, created another gorgeous collection of her intense brand of indie-folk, this time leaning slightly more to the gypsy side.

December 14, 2010

Top 50 Albums of 2010: 31-40

Cursor Miner
"Requires Attention" (Uncharted Audio)

Sometimes it takes artists a while to hone their craft. Other times an artist is just too ahead of the game. Cursor Miner is probably both, but he is finally getting the attention he deserves with this latest album. Elements of Synthpop, IDM and Dubstep converge to form his most accomplished release.

Drum Eyes
"Gira Gira" (Upset! The Rhythm)

Drum Eyes is Shige Ishihara (AKA DJ Scotch Egg), E-Da (ex-Boredoms drummer), and K-Power and is yet another hard to categorise album. Clocking in at just 36 minutes, it's short but far from sweet. Drone rock, Japanoise, space-age synth, Fuck Buttons-eqsue digital noise and Krautrock rhythms meld together in one furious blast.

"Halcyon Digest" (4AD)

I have never understood the hype around Deerhunter. Having been unimpressed by previous albums, and their live show, I wasn't expecting to love this release but it is a huge step forward. By far their best album, it builds upon their sound with far stronger songwriting - no doubt partly a result of Bradford Cox’s tireless work as Atlas Sound.

Black Angels
"Phosphene Dream" (Blue Horizon)

Like Tame Impala, The Black Angels’ antennas are tuned back to 60s and 70s psychedelia, in this case to the fuzz-laden garage-pop of 13th Floor Elevators and Silver Apples as much as Barrett-era Floyd. Darker and more authentic than other sonic revivalists around today, Phosphene Dream feels more akin to time travel than pastiche.

Broken Bells
"Broken Bells" (Columbia)

You couldn’t go anywhere this summer without hearing “The High Road”, the blissful opener from Broken Bells’ debut album of luscious indie-pop. James Mercer (lead singer of The Shins) and Brian Burton (AKA Danger Mouse) initially conceived this collaboration as a one-off but there is now thankfully talk of a second release.

Four Tet
"There Is Love In You" (Domino)

There Is Love In You constitutes Kieran Hebden’s fifth album proper as Four Tet and his strongest since 2003’s Rounds. On this release, Hebden solidifies his gradual move away from his noodly headphone roots and towards tasteful dance club beats without sacrificing the distinctive sound that made him so popular in the first place.

Brian McBride
"The Effective Disconnect" (Kranky)

Another soundtrack that works superbly as a standalone album is The Effective Disconnect. Composed for “Vanishing of the Bees”, an ecologically conscious documentary about the importance of bees to the ecosystem, it is a sumptuous, ethereal album of modern classical from Stars of the Lid member Brian McBride.

Thomas Fehlmann
"Gute Luft" (Kompakt)

There were a lot of strong soundtrack releases in 2010 and Fehlmann’s, released on Köln's famed Kompakt label, is one of the most compelling. Composed by the Swiss dub techno legend and ex-member of The Orb, Gute Luft was originally scored for the TV documentary "24H Berlin" yet works equally well as a standalone album.

Flying Lotus
"Cosmogramma" (Warp)

Less cohesive than Los Angeles or his excellent Pattern+Grid World EP, also of this year, the success of this album is a sign of the massive respect Flying Lotus commands as well as maybe a sign of where music is headed. Cosmogramma is an album for the ADHD generation – unapologetically frantic and eclectic.

"Go" (XL Recordings)

This year the Sigur Rós front-man released his first solo album and despite its beauty, it falls foul of the common criticism of not sounding different enough from the band he's known for being in. That aside, Go is full of positivity, energy and those gorgeous baroque strings you come to expect from Iceland's second most famous musician. 

December 12, 2010

Top 50 Albums of 2010: 41-50

Alasdair Roberts & Friends
"Too Long In This Condition" (Drag City)

Alasdair Roberts’s raison d'être is to revive traditional Scottish folk music but to make it relevant, not to put it behind a glass case as a musical archivist might. A big improvement on last year’s rather disappointing Spoils album, it comes much closer to the giddy heights of his first four solo releases.

The Chap
"Well Done Europe" (Lo Recordings)

The Chap is a bunch of weirdoes from London who make music that escapes any serious attempt at categorisation. This is their first release since their acclaimed Mega Breakfast, which put them on the map and on the road. Manic and odd, they manage to make the least accessible pop imaginable.

To Rococo Rot
"Speculation" (Domino)

Berlin-based trio To Rococo Rot situates themselves comfortably in the nexus of electronica and post-rock. Delicacy and groove sit side by side in their softly spoken yet powerful Krautrock-influenced sound. Their first album proper since Hotel Morgen in 2004, it is a rewarding listen, even if it doesn’t live up to their City Slang days.

Konono Nº1
"Assume Crash Position" (Crammed Discs)

Konono Nº1’s sophomore album on the Crammed Discs label fails to match the immediacy of 2004’s Congotronics but despite some iffy vocals on the opening track it is a solid album and a real grower to boot. As ever their sound is based heavily on the use of likembé (thumb piano) and strikingly energetic percussion.

"Oversteps" (Warp)

Autechre albums are highly anticipated events. Prior to this release, a band that deserves to remain unnamed ‘accidentally’ mis-tagged their album as Oversteps. Disappointing as an Autechre release it did strike listeners as a welcome departure, highlighting the quality yet predictability of the Warp mainstay's sound.

Max Richter
"Infra" (FatCat)

As well as contributing tracks to Shutter Island, Max Richter has released three full soundtracks this year, including Infra, originally composed as a score for the ballet of same name in November 2008. A subtle, emotive album of ambient and modern classical interwoven with the haunting static buzz of radios.

Tame Impala
"Innerspeaker" (Modular Recordings)

Tame Impala’s Beatles-laden psychedelic stoner-pop isn’t breaking new ground but it is an unashamedly fun summer album. A well-executed debut that evokes John Lennon, early Pink Floyd, Cream and The Shins, these Aussie newcomers will no doubt be festival favourites next summer, if luck is on their side.

"Retold" (Serein)

Nest is the collaborative project of Otto Totland, one half of the excellent Deaf Center, on Type Records, and Huw Roberts. Retold is a re-release of their excellent eponymous EP in 2007, extended to full-length. Electronics, minimal percussion, strings and piano converge to create a haunting experience.

Frank Bretschneider
"EXP" (Raster-Noton)

German electronic artist and founder of the acclaimed Raster-Noton label, Bretschneider makes minimal glitch music out of white noise and sine waves. The achievement of EXP, seems somewhat diminished compared with his previous, and spectacular, full length Rhythm. Still, the spacious static-laden sound creates plenty of intrigue.

Lower Dens
"Twin Hand Movement" (Gnomonsong)

In an Indie scene dominated in part by understated, dreamlike acts like The XX and Beach House it’s no surprise that there would be interest for Lower Dens. They contain elements in common with the aforementioned bands yet trashier and more urgent. An engaging and atmospheric debut suggesting even greater things to come!