Monday, 13 December 2010

H-T-A Best of 2010: Albums 10 to 1

So here we hit the real prime cuts of the year - at least in the humble opinion of the sounds that graced these pages - with the top ten picks for 2010. It's been an intriguing year for music, in my opinion, and a most welcome start to the new decade for anyone interested in digging beneath the major label whining and legacy acts. Not that some of the established acts aren't still capable of showing these stars of the digital age a thing or six....just check out numbers 1 and 4 for proof thereof.

10. Uniform Motion - Life

Life was another record that came from nowhere to perfectly accompany the first few months of my year. Taking in the soothing acoustic harmonies of this Anglo-French group brought calm to the utter insanity of days jaunting around Manhattan, then continued to relax the mind way into the wee hours. Songs like Roll Over and Back Up Your Soul stand out but do require the full album to show off their fragile beauty. 

MP3: Uniform Motion - Roll Over 
(free download at Bandcamp)

9. Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz

As with Band of Horses, it would have been a stretch to imagine including a new Sufjan album on my list as the year turned. Again, I have no real issue with the music but have rarely engaged with it in the way many seemed to. The epic electronic tapestry woven by The Age of Adz was a thoroughly convincing argument to perform a complete 180 on that though. Initially sprawling and mildly baffling, Adz reveals itself with each new listen, showing off immense talent on the part of Stevens to incorporate all the elements he does without the whole effort descending into farce. As a sheer labour of love this could top most of the albums released this year. It might not have sat well with fans of his previous work but it certainly converted this sceptic.

MP3: Sufjan Stevens - I Walked
Available also at Bandcamp

Buy it at Insound!

8. Beach House - Teen Dream

Another early release that met - and surpassed - all expectations, Teen Dream is a woozy, seamless joy to listen to. Achieving that rare quality of transcending genre boundaries and reaching other-worldly sounds, it was equally capable of accompanying the bleakest winter morning or the brightest summer's day. Still high in the passions of fans and critics alike after twelve months, Beach House have created an album that will extend long  into the future as a benchmark for the indie community as a whole. 

MP3: Beach House - Norway
via Bella Union

Buy it at Insound!

7. Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More

Initially hitting the H-T-A radar in mid 2009, as it had for much of their UK audience, Sigh No More proved more elusive in the US and only really surfaced this past spring. What this allowed was time for outstanding, emotive songs like Little Lion Man and Winter Wind to wind their way into the mind and create a burning desire to experience the album from whence they came. And, clearly, it didn't disappoint. With some of the most poignant and moving lyrics of anything released this year, not to mention an unexpectedly rousing effect for an album led by banjo and acoustic instrumentation, the songs of Mumford & Sons hit that sweet spot between individually cathartic and group sing alongs. Entirely worth the wait.

Buy it at Insound!

6. The Morning Benders - Big Echo

Big hooks and upbeat guitar rock were a prominent fixture in the better releases of this year. And bar Local Natives, no group delivered these so confidently as The Morning Benders. Big Echo is a sun-soaked, bounding joy of an album, with languid melodies and elastic guitars rebounding off one another in song after memorable song. An impulse download from Amazon MP3, this album certainly qualifies as my most serendipitous find of the year. 

Buy it at Insound!

5. Caribou - Swim

Where some albums simply had to show up to be greatly loved this year, Swim was up against the incomparable melodies of its wonderful predecessor Andorra, and so had more work to do. The beauty is that it not only that it managed this, but that it did so by taking an entirely different musical route. Packed with dance hall beats and bass-laden electronics, this album is a very different beast yet offers just as much as, if not more than prior releases. Only bolstered by one of the live sets of the year, Swim is a prime example of what happens when an artist feels no pressure to deliver what's expected and simply follows their muse to a new space. An exploratory, enveloping listen.

Buy it at Insound!

Caribou - Sun (Music Video) from Merge Records on Vimeo.

4. Isobell Campbell & Mark Lanegan - Hawk

Few singers can be better suited to each other than Isobell Campbell and Mark Lanegan. With her soft, distant lilt and his wearied, whiskey-soaked voice, the two paint moving pictures of broken romances and country hedonism in perfect unison. Shifting tempos and styles as they go, Hawk runs long but never feels like a chore due to the diversity on show. All rooted in a dusty Western atmosphere, this album shows two artists feeding off each other at their peak.

Buy it at Insound! 

Stream the album via Isobell Campbell on Facebook

3. Agalloch - Marrow of the Spirit

Released only last month and with just six tracks, it's valid to question how Marrow of the Spirit could slide in so high on any year end list. Put simply, there are very few black metal bands that could create anything of this scope and bleak beauty. H-T-A favourites Opeth are certainly one such band and their US brethren Agalloch are providing similar evidence with each new release. As often as its raging, wiry guitars whip up an intense feeling of claustrophobia, the band also allow room for the music to breathe with contemplative passages from folk to prog. Rarely should it work but Marrow flows spectacularly, with centre piece Black Lake NidstÃ¥ng alone proving its worth. Any open-minded fan of heavy music from Isis to Iron Maiden will find an album to enjoy for years to come here, making Marrow of the Spirit a natural selection for a top pick of this particular twelve months. 

Buy it at Insound!

2. Local Natives - Gorilla Manor

Quite the revelation, Local Natives were merely a pleasing diversion upon the first few listens. As the year passed, though, I found myself returning time and again to Gorilla Manor, the glowing warmth of its songs cycling increasingly through my mind even long after the album had ceased spinning. The percussion is outstanding, catching the ear in a way that it rarely does with indie-rock bands. There are glorious sing along moments, spacey jams, quiet reflection and potentially huge anthems that give one confidence the band could survive in arenas, should they need to. For now they can rest comfortably knowing that they've created one of the most enjoyable albums of 2010.

1. Deftones - Diamond Eyes 

As one of my most adored bands, being a product of the 90's, not to mention one of the few 'nu' metal bands to emerge from that era unscathed by the notoriously knuckle headed element of its closing years, Deftones have nonetheless had their troubles in the decade since their seminal White Pony was released. Only with last album Saturday Night Wrist did they begin to find their way again, then to find themselves again mired in the agonising decision over whether to continue in the absence of bassist Chi Cheng, who tragically remains in a comatose state after a car crash two years ago. All of which makes Diamond Eyes one of the most invigorating listens of this, or any year.

Amid alternately seething and shining guitars, volcanic drumming, and the resurgent, iconic vocal of Chino Moreno, the band are on possibly the best form of their career here. Distilling all that made their heaviest work Around The Fur so exhilarating, then pumping it through the reflective influence of their White Pony-era, the songs here simmer, erupt, shimmer, then fade with astonishing consistency. Believing the band to have already peaked, one waits for the tail off, the filler, but it never comes. From beginning to end, Diamond Eyes is a fantastic listen in its own right, made all the more special by the circumstances surrounding its evolution. Whatever my thoughts on the other great albums I heard this year, for me nothing comes close to what Sacramento's finest have achieved with this one. In fact, just writing this means that I must go back to listen again. I highly recommend you do too.

So that's it for another year. Your favourites? it all in the comments or over on Facebook  for some heated debate (maybe).


jc said...

sadly couldn't squeeze Gorilla Manor into my end of year list, it came out in November 2009 back here, and, as you know, roolz is roolz.

heartening to know we still have a number of crossovers - 8 to be precise (there'd have been a couple more had i gone to 30)... 6 of which fall into my top 21...

Anonymous said...

absolutely fantastic choices steve! i coudn't agree more. i'm so excited because i know some (obvi mumford and songs) and have JUST started to know others (ie: local natives, beach house) and can't wait to listen to more!

zidered said...

Cheers lad and lass! Yep, totally respect the land of release rule. Digital versus physical is another weird one, otherwise Harper Blynn would have been high up this year too...but heard that last December.

Is your full list up Mr John? Or are you posting to Facebook like an advent calendar type deal?

Mellen aka MEF aka MaryE (you should start a rap career, you know?), nice + glad you dig some of them. You doing one? Even if not, shoot me some of your faves for the year if I didn't step is banging my head at all the gems I missed ;)