Top 10 Albums of 2010

I feel I should start this post by listing the 10 albums I chose as my top records for 2009.  I did not actually place these in a specific order, but they were:

Withered Hand – Good News
J Tillman – A Year In The Kingdom
Fieldhead – They Shook Hands For Hours
The Antlers – Hospice
My Latest Novel – Deaths and Entrances
Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson – Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson
The Builders and The Butchers – Salvation Is A Deep Dark Well
Sufjan Stevens – The BQE
Wilco – The Album
Peter Broderick – Music For Falling From Trees

Quite an interesting mix I think and incidentally, this post has gone online EXACTLY a year to the day of my 2009 list.  Not that that’s important, just that it made me smile for some reason.

I have now seen quite a few top 50 lists in music mags for 2010 – Uncut, The Sunday Times and The Skinny to name a few, and it’s fair to say that my top ten for 2010 doesn’t really compare to those magazines.  I did find it interesting to see who made these lists and the Sunday Times, for me, is the most honest of the lot.  It covers a wider spectrum of music and was not afraid to admit that they think Take That’s record should be in the top 20 albums released in 2010.  I like that.  There’s an honesty in saying “actually, this is pop and perhaps not my cup of tea, but what a great piece of music this is.”  I admire that as it’s music journalism as it should be.  No prejudices based on who the music is by, just simply assessing whether the music is good or not.  Interestingly, topping some of the polls is Joanna Newsom’s triple album ‘Have One On Me’.  For me, and I own the record, that album is just too much.  It’s such hard work.  It challenges more than is necessary and it’s just all a little bit over the top.  I can see why people love it, but I also think there’s a danger of choosing it because of it’s ambition rather than it’s overall quality. I think she’s an essential artist and I do like the record, but it doesn’t blow me away like it seems to have others.  But that’s just me.  I’ve not managed to fall for it as yet I guess.  Maybe I just need more time with it.

Anyways, without further delay, here are my top 10 records of 2010:

1. Jóhann Jóhannsson – And In The Endless Pause There Came The Sound of Bees.

Jóhann Jóhannsson has, with this album, produced my album of 2010 by a small country mile.  Stunning as a piece of music in it’s own right, I am lead to believe it is equally as impressive as the soundtrack to the award winning film ‘Varmints’, for which it was originally intended.  To therefore stand out as such an impressive record in its own right is an incredible achievement in music making. The juxtaposition of beauty and darkness on this record is simply breath taking.  Lush, dense strings and choral offerings are combined with fragile piano motifs as this record ebbs and flows dramatically.  At times it’s a monster of a record.  At times a tiny mouse.  Yet it retains impact throughout and stands alone as my favourite record of the year. A musician who never fails to impress with his creative ideas and collaborations, if you do not know the work of Jóhann Jóhannsson then make a point of searching out his work now.  You can find it here.

2. Goldmund – Famous Places

This is Keith Kennif at his very, very best.  Simple, stunning piano pieces, complimented by some field recordings and minimal ambient soundscapes.  For the most part though, this is just one man and his piano connecting so perfectly to create an absolutely gorgeous work.  Kennif’s creative output under both his Goldmund and Helios guises is incredible.  Whilst Helios does cater for the more electornic side of things, this album is simplicity at its best.  The man can make the piano sing and on this record he has created his best work to date, in my opinion.  Although I’ve not had the chance to listen to it in full yet, if you like what you hear by Goldmund then you should also check out his latest work entitled ‘The Last Survivor,’ a soundtrack to a documentary.  From what I’ve heard it is equally as beautiful.  However, having heard only snippets of it, it feels too late to include it in this list.  In the meantime, you can check Goldmund out here.

3. Nils Frahm & Anne Müller – 7Fingers

On this record Nils Frahm, one of the best piano players I’ve ever witnessed, puts his piano firmly to one side to create a masterpiece in electronic ambience, with the help of Anne Müller.  For those expecting more of ‘The Bells’ this record will come as a shock, but it should not be underestimated as it is quite simply a wonderful collaboration and showcases Frahm’s talent as a composer and arranger.  One criticism would be the final song,vocals added feel like an after thought and do not sit well with the overall composition of the record.  It’s a minor blip though on an otherwise gorgeous record.  Nils Frahm is a genius and this record is well worth the money.  Try and ignore the last song, like I have, and this record will captivate you for sure.  Check this out here.

4. Micah P Hinson and the Pioneer Saboteurs

Micah P Hinson is one of my favourite artists.  Ever since I first saw him live at the Bongo Club in Edinburgh, his music has been essential buying for me.   This record once again showcases his ability as a song writer, vocalist and musician.  Always familiar but never the same, there always feels like a progression in sound with each release and on this record he takes things to a new place yet again.  Covering old ground with new ideas is always risky yet fascinating.  I certainly love this record and this artist.  I am always sure he won’t let me down.  You can and should check out his music and his art work to.  Do so here.

5.  The National – High Violet

The National, like Micah P Hinson, are a band who don’t do too much differently from album to album.  There is always a variation or a progression though, and once again High Violet is a step forward from the album before.  I guess the difference this time around was that previous album ‘Boxer’ propelled the band forward in terms of commercial value to their label so a lot more time and investment appears to have been put into this record from the label, or so it seems.  Certainly felt like this record became a 4AD priority and one they realised could be a winner for them.  Rightly so if you ask me.  It’s a brilliant record and I even like the sound of opening ‘demo’ ‘Terrible Love’, which many hate.  I will never tire of that voice and as songwriters they just seem to get better and better.  I missed their live show in Glasgow in November for personal reasons but I was informed that it was the best gig ever by a number of people.  I don’t doubt that.  If you haven’t, and where have you been if this is the case, then check The National out here.

6. Damien Jurado – Saint Bartlett

A criminally overlooked artist.  That’s how I would describe Damien Jurado.  This record sees him change direction and pace without ever losing his identity.  It’s interesting that for somebody who has quite clearly influenced a number of more “hip” artists, Damien Jurado has never seemed to manage to capture the attention and praise that his music truly deserves.  This record is a brilliant follow on from ‘Caught In The Trees’.  It’s another attempt to challenge his established sound and it is one that works so well.  A beautiful record, perfect for this time of year.  You should check out his music here.

7. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz.

What a brilliant record this is.  Sufjan Stevens constantly evolves.  He constantly challenges himself, and indeed his fanbase, with his changes in direction and pace and style.  I’m not sure there’s all that much different about this record in the sense that it is still undoubtedly the work of Sufjan Stevens.  However, he takes the whole thing in a different direction by experimenting in electronics.  This is nothing new if you know his back catalogue because following Michigan, Illinoise, The Avalanche and The BQE it’s another fine sharp turn which leaves me excited to hear where he will go next.  You are always guaranteed something different with this man.  Super record.  The BQE you’ll note was on my list from last year, which surprised many.  I really don’t think anyone could be surprised by the inclusion of this fantastically creative and intelligent record.  Check out Sufjan Stevens here.

8. Clem Leek – Holly Lane

Clem Leek is an odd one.  This is a stunning record.  Fact.  However, it’s quite amazing that prior to this debut he’d only released a handful of EPs and all within quite a short time period.  To come up with such a beautiful piece of music for your debut record and at such a young age, is quite simply brilliant.  My hat is off to this young Londoner who is setting the world of ambient, minimalism a light at the moment.  Not dissimilar in tone and style to the work of Jóhann Jóhannsson, Holly Lanes is packed with atmosphere punctuated by strings, piano and all sorts of clicks and hiss.  A truly great debut from an exciting young musician.  Check out Clem Leek here

9. The Phantom Band – The Wants

I just cannot get bored of The Phantom Band.  Is this the best record by a Scottish band this year?  Yes is the answer, without a shadow of a doubt.  ‘The Wants’ sees them tread a similar path to debut ‘Checkmate Savage’ but the development since the debut is clear and there is a maturity to the songwriting which brings a more cohesive record to the table, in my opinion.  It’s dark and brooding but has some stunning moments of gentle beauty and, once again, highlights The Phantom Band as being at the forefront of Scottish music.   If there is any justice in the world, these guys will start to gain a much wider audience in 2011 off the back of this record.  Touring the States at the moment with Frabbit will certainly not do any harm.  Check out The Phantom Band here.

10.Deertick – The Black Dirt Sessions

This is a late entry to my list for the simple reason that it’s a stand out record for a band on the up and up.  ‘Born On Flag Day’, the previous album by this band is a good record, without ever making you stop and go “oh wow”.  It’s fun.  It’s rock n’roll.  It does exactly what it sets out to do.  This record though is an all together different beast.  It stops you in your tracks.  It makes you pay attention.  It sucks you in and it spits you out and at the end of it all you know you’ve listened to an intense, dark and beautiful record.  It really does push Deertick to the front of the cue in the world of alt country and it will be very interesting to keep an eye on these guys.  On the basis of this album, the world is their oyster.  You can check out Deertick here.