2010 – Defrosting the overflow pipe

Best of 2010Having concluded the rundown of this year’s finest albums, it seems only fair to mop up those which just missed the cut or were simply released too late to have enough of an impact. Now, if you are of a sensitive disposition or still find that mentions of Robbie Williams bring you out in a rash, I’d skip the bit about Take That if I were you. But make sure you’re still reading when I get onto Gregory & The Hawk, Edwyn Collins, The Phantom Band, Broken Records and Caribou.
But first, reissues. 2010 was a bumper year for deluxe reissues and some of the finest musical acts had their histories dusted off, turned up and even, in some cases, remastered for the better. Whether we’re talking about the simple but splendid best of from Suede or uber-deluxe box sets for which the mortgaging of your house or first-born were a requirement, there was plenty of scope for misty eyed nostalgia this year and it really sound rather good. The Orange Juice box set deserves another quick mention here because it is one of those bodies of work which you really should have nestlings on your shelf somewhere. It’s the aspect of music consumption which still requires you to keep at least one toe out of the all digital download lifestyle, as box sets are no fun without the, er, box. Collection pretty much everything they ever did and including some things which aren’t strictly necessary but nice to have anyway, ‘Coals To Newcastle’ is a lovingly curated set, with all due attention to detail awarded to these magnificent songs. Naturally, sometimes it’s a bit too unavoidably Eighties on the production side, but that is largely part of the charm of these acerbic, energetic and downright precocious tunes. If you missed the boat on requesting this for Christmas, think of it as a pre-VAT increase treat to yourself. Or something. Oh, think of your own lie then.

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‘Station To Station‘ in its jumbo box edition was the reissue of the year for me, containing as it did a frankly unnecessary number of versions of the same, admittedly magnificent, album which, to my mind, is his best ever and makes for a quite staggering listen via the DVD high resolution audio track of the original master. I’ve written a Spotlight piece on the record for Clash, which will appear in the January issue, hitting news stands any day now. I’m sure some version of it will make its way onto the site at some point. I can see how, at £80, it might not be the most appealing deluxe musical purchase open to you, but, if you’re a big fan of the album, accept the inevitable and get out the cash.

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The top 30 2010 releases was a tricky list to get finished, as at least 35 albums were intensely vying for a position from the off. These New Puritans‘Hidden’ was originally on the list but I found myself wondering exactly how many listens were for pleasure and how many were simply some form of aural challenge. There’s much to appreciate, plenty to be impressed by and, by fuck, they’re good live, but I just wasn’t sure how much I actually loved playing it. And so it just dipped out. Likewise, ‘Swim’, by Caribou, which is a delightfully engaging electronic beast, launched magnificently by the Erland Oye featuring ‘Odessa’. In the vague mental lists which preceded the final countdown, it was caught in a battle with Four Tet for the position of ‘electronic album in the 30-21 bit’ and at the last minute dropped out altogether. Well worth sampling, as I suspect even if the whole thing doesn’t grab you, certain bits will. Edwyn Collins made a heartwarming comeback, prompting good feeling from pretty much anyone who likes music, and delivered a raw, direct and potent record in ‘Losing Sleep‘. The slightly raggedy edges only added to the charm. But for the occasionally annoying multitude of guest performers, it would likely have been comfortably within the list and I still feel a little odd about leaving this one out. A late arrival in my orbit was ‘Leche’ by Gregory & The Hawk, which is actually singer-songwriter Meredith Godreau doing her quirk-pop, orchestrated-folk, endearing whimsy thing. The voice takes a few listens to learn to love, but once she’s got you, you’ll be hooked. If you like your Alessi’s Ark or early Joanna Newsom then ‘Leche’ is one for you to seek out in the early days of the new year.

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The Phantom Band continued to do their own thing, building on the majesty of ‘Checkmate Savage‘ and pursuing a more fleshed out and substantial sound with ‘The Wants‘. It’s a great album, and one which I suspect will continue grow on me as the months roll along. The other one with potential for being a sleeping giant is the second offering from Broken Records, ‘Let Me Come Home‘, which sounded a little to studied and Acarde Firey on first listen, and you’ll have noticed the incredibly high placing of ‘The Suburbs’‘ in the end of year list. That said, some cracking songs and one which I think will rise victorious out of the long wintery evenings.

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Which just leaves Take That‘s ‘Progress’ which, and I shit you not, is the finest pop album of the year, the best thing they’ve ever released and, gasp, all the better for the return of Robbie. An electronic pop album which evokes everything from the Scissor Sisters to Bowie‘s techno period, it is a fine, fine, mature record, marking the first successful foray into the notion of the ‘man band’. ‘The Flood’ is now ubiquitous, but ‘SOS’, ‘Kidz‘ and ‘Happy Now’ are all minor triumphs deserving of your attention. Seriously. The marvellously Hi-NRG way in which the chorus kicks in on that last track is a delight to behold. By all means ignore me on this, and clearly there are at least 30 albums more deserving of your attention than ‘Progress’, but if you write it off out of pop snobbery, more fool you and your empty, joyless life.

November Reviews–Suede, Orange Juice, Sufjan Stevens & Patrick Watson

I know, I know, two of those aren’t November releases but I don’t make the rules. They’re in the November issue, and that’s the way this works. Now be quiet. The quality appears to be in the old stuff this time around.

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SUEDE – Best Of’ (SUEDE LIMITED)

There’s an old saying that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. Brett Anderson realised this soon after the release of Suede’s fifth and, to date, final album, ‘A New Morning’, and thus marked the end of one of the definitive British bands of the Nineties. Shorn of the epic songs of old, not to mention the vast majority of their fanbase, the album spluttered to an inglorious demise and the band soon followed. 2003’s ‘Singles’ appeared in the lower reaches of the album chart and Suede passed into history with the minimum of fuss. Seven years later, it’s time to have another go, even if the first disc is essentially ‘Singles’ shuffled around a bit, but with three songs taken off. What matters, as ever, is that these songs – ‘Animal Nitrate’, ‘The Wild Ones’, ‘Beautiful Ones’ – still sound as vital and invigorating as the first time you heard them. The two discs serve to delineate between the Suede which went about bothering the charts and the Suede which resided only in long-player form, rewarding those who took the time to get to know them properly. Although the second disc appears to be convinced that Suede stopped recording music around 1997, it does serve to illustrate just how grandiose and absolutely fucking spectacular the Anderson/Butler partnership was capable of being. Absolutely essential. 9/10

Regular followers of the Just Played Twitter will know that this one proved to be a tricky bugger for me, what with the promo having the phrase ‘Suede – Best Of – Promo’ delivered in a monotone voice across the start of EVERY BLOODY TRACK. Odd person that I am, I confess that I actually bought a proper copy of this upon its release last week and I still find myself mentally delivering that phrase over some of the tracks. Quite what it was meant to do apart from drive me to distraction, I don’t know. I also suspected that the mastering wasn’t as spiffing on the promo as it would turn out to be in the retail version and so it appears to have proved. Some of the tracks do genuinely sound better after this polishing and the overall impression you get of the band from this compilation is ‘how they hell did they dribble away to nothing?’ Lovely to have them back – in whatever form.

ORANGE JUICE – Coals To Newcastle’ (DOMINO)

A post-punk pop band with limited chart success and a fluid personnel may not seem the obvious recipients of a definitive collection of their recorded output, but Orange Juice were always far from obvious. Shamelessly erudite and delightfully frenetic, they were never likely to win mass appeal, but lyrics like "here’s a penny for your thoughts. Incidentally, you may keep the change" deserve to be heard again. Frontman Edwyn Collins‘ remarkable musical return after suffering two cerebral haemorrhages has already ensured he is responsible for one of 2010’s essential releases and, with this box set, you can make that two. Under-appreciated gems like ‘Untitled Melody’, ‘I Can’t Help Myself’ and ‘What Presence?!‘ still dazzle while each studio album has much to enjoy. Quite how essential various 12" dub versions are is debatable, but the BBC sessions disc offers unpolished and frankly invigorating takes on tracks from across their catalogue. On this occasion, being comprehensive equates to offering more than you want but, with all of their studio releases remastered and accompanied by a beautiful booklet, you’ve got everything you need. 8/10

Funny one this, as I’d been looking forward to it for an age and then had to review it in the space of one week’s listening time. It is delightful and, as you can imagine, contains some beautiful music. It comes with a lovely little booklet too, with some nice details to enrich your enjoyment. It does feel like there is occasionally TOO much of a good thing, in terms of the multiple versions, but few box sets escape that problem. Not that I imagine you care, but this is a tricky one for me now as I have all of the content on discs and a pdf of the booklet but, together, it’s still not a box set. Doesn’t seem worth laying out all of that cash for a proper one though. Still, if Domino are reading this and wanted to show their appreciation for this positive review… No? Oh, ok then.

Nov reviews

SUFJAN STEVENS – ‘The Age Of Adz’ (ASTHMATIC KITTY)

Sometimes, it would be nice if people avoided saying a record was ‘overflowing with ideas’ and simply pointed out that, from time to time, musicians need telling to rein themselves in a bit. There’s a good album in here somewhere, along with a fairly annoying one too. Stevens has always had the hallmarks of the tag ‘acquired taste’, and this only serves to reinforce this fact. Electronic noodling and a twenty-five minute song may be big but they’re not clever. When he’s good, he’s very, very good. But to enjoy those moments, you’ll need the patience of a saint. 5/10

A very odd record to review. I suspect it might just about make sense on the fifty-third play but I didn’t have that luxury. I largely stand by what I said here and the good bits are certainly right up there, but he does make it hard work for us sometimes. There’s a cheap, HQ double vinyl out there which I’ve been lured into ordering. Hopefully, it’ll grow a little in my preferred format.

PATRICK WATSON -  ‘Just Another Ordinary Day’ (SECRET CITY RECORDS)

Remember that glacial, shimmering majesty which made Radiohead‘s ‘Nice Dream’ and ‘Let Down’ so remarkable? Lovely, wasn’t it? This previously under-the-radar debut by Patrick Watson, and his band of the same name, ploughs a similar furrow. Delicate piano and faded-photo vocals are the order of the day and, while it lacks the adventure of later offerings, there’s plenty to enjoy. 7/10

Patrick Watson is the band’s name, as well as that of the chief protagonist – honest! Big fan of this lot – their last two outing are worth hunting down (‘Wooden Arms’ and ‘Close To Paradise’) and this early offering is the gentle, less mature kid brother. Still lovely though, and once you love the other two (and you will) this’ll be a worthy addition to your record collection.

2010 inverted