3. Caitlin Rose–Own Side Now

Best of 2010When writing about Number 30 in this list, I mentioned a hastily rearranged after on the main stage at the Green Man Festival. Sweet Baboo was one of the acts to benefit from the late arrival of Mountain Man, the other being Caitlin Rose. While I still wish I’d seen her charm the pants off the small, more intimate crowd to which she had originally been booked to perform, her sudden elevation produced one of the highlights of the weekend. Having become acquainted with the album a week or two prior to this set, I was anticipating something special and was not disappointed. Rose’s perfect, country lilt is magical on record and a force of nature live. But let’s focus on the actual album.

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I reckon you could be sold on this record by hearing only one tune, the nearest thing to a title track, ‘Own Side’. Lyrically, it aches: “Who’s gonna take me home, ‘cos I don’t want to go it alone, who’s gonna want me when I’m just somewhere you’ve been?” Musically it aches too, a testament to the quite superb band Rose has assembled around her, each and every musician becalmed and respectful towards the material, responding to each song’s specific needs like a skilled surgeon. ‘For The Rabbits’ is an excellent showcase for her compelling vocal, ideally suited to squeezing every ounce of emotion out of the numerous narratives found across this hugely impressive record. The crescendo around the four minute mark is quite beautiful and the sort of thing that causes you to interrupt the flow of the record just so you can hear it again. Not that you would want to wait too long in case you didn’t get around to the musically buoyant and metaphorically sound ‘Shanghai Cigarettes’.

Then there’s the mellifluous joys of ‘Spare Me (Fetzer’s Blues)’ which gallops along with Rose’s vocal gliding endearingly across the stop and ‘Things Change’, which is as sombre and rumbling as you might imagine based on the title. There is a delicious, sonorous malevolence running underneath at times which keeps things on edge and seems entirely in keeping with the story told in the lyrics: “I’m leaving back where I come from, it is more bitter than sweet to see you with her.” Throw in a Fleetwood Mac cover, the melancholic ‘Sinful Wishing Well’, and charmingly swaggering album closer ‘Coming Up’ and you’ve get yourself a rather impressive debut outing.

Her early EP, ‘Dead Flowers’, is well worth seeking out, capturing as it does her more stripped down, raw sound rather well. It’s a fitting side dish to accompany the main course and you’d be advised to grab it before it disappears, should ‘Own Side Now’ have the impact I imagine it will. In the final weeks of 2010, this album has made a genuine case for being even higher in this list, and its resting place of 3 marks a climb from its initial placing when I first started to arranged a Top 30. It is an irresistible collection of tunes by an artist destined for big things, which is not to say that this isn’t an impressive way to get things underway. It really, truly is.

7. Lone Wolf–The Devil And I

Best of 2010Watching Paul Marshall as he performed at the Green Man festival in August, I was struck by just how much I adored this record. I’d liked it a great deal up to that point, picking out a couple of tracks for regular plays, but as he worked his way through an all too brief set, including a superlative Scott Walker cover, the beauty of these songs seemed so startlingly obvious that I wondered why I hadn’t already been raving about it – indeed, it missed any kind of celebratory fanfare on here upon release. Clearly, it had had enough of an effect for me to ensure I was there for this performance, but as he gave us some insight into just how painful it was playing his particular guitar with no plectrum, it was quickly turning into something quite special.

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A cathartic experience which doesn’t actually force the listener to live the feelings which informed these beguiling songs, ‘The Devil And I’ is a complex collection of gritty narratives, expunging the trials and tribulations of a troubled mind. And it’s brilliant. Opener, ‘This Is War’, with such charming lyrics as “She’s facing due north when she’s facing due east, she’s got parking violations dating back to ‘63’” is a tour de force and a clear manifesto for what is to follow. Orchestrated indie isn’t quite right, nor is folk with strings. It comes as no surprise that Marshall is a Scott Walker fan, but he’s not looking to ape others here, so much as carve out his own curious path.

Keep Your Eyes On The Road’, with its elongated instrumental build and foot-stomping drums, has been a compilation perennial for me this year and it is one of the more immediate offerings to be found here, despite the self-castrating lines, “I lay staring at your innocent skin, wondering how I fucked this up.” As the momentum gathers you’ll be tapping something in time with it, I assure you. Meanwhile, ‘Buried Beneath The Tiles’ is as dramatic as you might imagine, but never overwrought.

‘15 Letters’ is comparatively slight in this company, delicately plucked guitar, simple string accompaniment and a soft, gentle vocal all serving to make this another album standout, despite telling the tale of a murder – from the victim’s viewpoint. There is a risk of this coming across as a lazy comparison – and you all know how much I hate those – but ‘The Devil And I’ is a little bit like ‘No More Shall We Part’ through folk-tinted spectacles. Tales of death, murder and heartbreak abound, soundscapes are ambitious but not unduly so and the delivery is majestic.

It’s clear that Marshall, who released an earlier album under his own name, wants the music to do the talking as he resides behind the Lone Wolf pseudonym. As he performed on that Sunday afternoon, it was clear that it didn’t take much for him to become utterly lost in the performance and, while he says in ‘This Is War’ that “I hide behind facial hair but people aren’t stupid they can see what I’m doing,” the response would suggest that plenty of people are really rather keen to see exactly what he’s doing. Join them.

11. Efterklang–Magic Chairs

Best of 2010As the Green Man festival came to a close, the rain had returned, Tindersticks had helped to erase the memory of Mumford and most people had donned their waterproofs and pitched up at the main stage for Joanna Newsom. There were still a select few of us wise enough to be tucked away in a tent, watching Efterklang provide one of the performances of the weekend. At one point, a seemingly rather well refreshed chap dressed as Batman leapt on the stage and was embraced by the band, keeping him on stage for the entire song as he whipped the crowd up into a state of rapture. It was a magical way to round out a distressingly damp weekend and, as we shuffled out through the Newsom masses, I knew ‘Magic Chairs’ was going to receive rather more attention than it had up to that point.

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Awkward, angular and euphoric, the third full-length outing by Denmark’s finest is a resounding triumph, coming close to capturing the chaotic utopia of those live performances. ‘I Was Playing Drums’ belongs on everybody’s Best of 2010 compilation for its curious combination of strident bass, twitching drumbeat and swooning vocals. It wilfully scorns most conventions of pop and yet still emerges as a delicious little earworm.

Like a sing-song in a broken lift, ‘Magic Chairs’ is both a record to revive flagging spirits and to claustrophobically fuck with your mind via a decent pair of headphones. Stuttering beats, melodious layers often bordering on drones and bold orchestration raise tracks like ‘Alive’ and ‘Scandinavian Love’ out of safe territory into somewhere altogether stranger. Having released a CD/DVD set of their last album performed with the Danish National Chamber Orchestra, ‘Magic Chairs’ is undoubtedly enriched by that experience and is their best yet. Picking up from where the rightly lauded ‘Parades’ left off, the songs here are boldly orchestrated and take some time to fully reveal themselves. It’s a courtship to cherish.