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.

bowie sts
‘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.

October Reviews

Your intrepid reviewer wasn’t quite as lucky with October’s pile as he was in September, but there’s still a couple of things worth your attention here.

Oct Reviews 1

PAUL SMITH – ‘Margins’ (BILLINGHAM RECORDS)

Sometimes it’s not all that wise to strip back the layers and see what lurks behind. How many special deluxe edition bonus discs full of murky sounding demos do you actually play more than once? Certainly, Paul Smith is finding it difficult to stand tall without his fellow Maximo Park-ers providing him with some much needed oomph. Smith’s occasionally clumsy and unashamedly verbose lyrics are left exposed with undercooked musical accompaniments and vocals which at times sound rather lifeless. Album opener ‘North Atlantic Drift’ is the highlight and things tail off from there. Not a disaster but largely unremarkable. 5/10

I was really disappointed with this record. I’m quite a Park fan and have a strange soft spot for Smith’s often ludicrously pretentious lyrics but this is just so mediocre it almost evaporates before it finishes. The NME review last week was even more harsh so I’m feeling a little less bad about gently sticking the knife into someone I actually rather like. That said, it’s a vanity project that doesn’t work and a collection of songs not worth listening to in their entirety. A shame.

FRAN HEALY – ‘Wreckorder’ (WRECKORDLABEL)

Having lost momentum after the uncharacteristically awful ’12 Memories’, Fran Healy’s band Travis seemed destined to have been cast aside, despite a recent return to form. ‘Wreckorder’, his first solo outing, features Healy’s best vocals in over a decade and is a melodic tour de force. While the voice is unmistakable, this is more than just a Travis album by another name. The addition of Neko Case’s vocals to ‘Sing Me To Sleep’ and Paul McCartney’s bass to ‘As It Comes’ will grab the headlines, but it’s actually Healy’s accomplished singer-songwriter turn which deserves all the attention here. 8/10

A better frontman goes solo effort, this one. All the reviews seem to be saying this is more of the same and that it’s hard to figure why he bothered releasing this solo rather than using the songs for Travis. These people either don’t listen to much Travis or didn’t listen much to the record before writing their review because this is a mature and individual record, quite apart from anywhere Travis have been in the best part of a decade and made by a man who has lived a little. Beautiful, beautiful vocals are the key to its success but there are plenty of nifty melodies to enjoy too. If you’ve never really got Travis, I probably wouldn’t bother, but if they’re ever meant anything to you, you really should treat yourself to this one.

Oct Reviews 2

PRINCE RAMA – ‘Shadow Temple’ (PAW TRACKS)

I’m sitting here desperately trying to hum any bit of any piece on this record. And failing. Even after numerous listens, I can only conclude that ‘Shadow Temple’ is to be admired for its textures and tenacity rather than loved for its actual sound. Many of these pieces would work as atmospheric backdrops in a film but taken in one sitting it’s a little underwhelming; what sounded clever on early tracks seeming a little tired by the second half of the album. The involvement of members of Animal Collective in the production fails to invigorate these samey and unremarkable dirges. 5/10

This might just be me. Sometimes, there are albums I just don’t get. This, it must be said, is one of them. It sounds clever and it sounds like there might be something interesting going on there. I just couldn’t find it. I was tempted to go for lower than 5, but I couldn’t find it in me to actively dislike it either. I would advise a try before you buy on this one, at the very least, but if I were you, I’d save the tenner and, instead, spend it on…

THE PHANTOM BAND – ‘The Wants’ (CHEMIKAL UNDERGROUND)

Wilfully but marvellously perverse, The Phantom Band don’t really sound like anyone else you know. ‘The Wants’ builds on their debut’s grand designs and showcases a band with a clear artistic vision. Equally at home atop both jagged guitars and dilapidated drum machines, vocalist Rick Anthony is a commanding presence on this fascinating, cerebral and frankly splendid record. 8/10

Typical. A bloody marvellous record and I only get 60 words to write about it. If you enjoyed ‘Checkmate Savage’ then you should be lapping this one up. This is a record bolstered by ambition and unencumbered by commercial concerns. There is every likelihood of it being a bit of a grower too – not at all bad for something already getting 8/10. I seem to remember an early version of this review said something about Nick Cave and Tom Waits trying to carry an old Joanna up the stairs. In Scotland. If that helps. Sometimes redrafting is truly necessary.

2010 inverted