Top 20 Albums of the Year, 2010

This year hasn’t exactly been a classic for rock music, with pop and hip hop stealing most of the limelight, but nonetheless there have been some hidden gems.  
So, for the fourth year running, here are my top picks for 2010. Don’t take my word for it, please click-through and judge for yourself, via the magic of Spotify and Myspace (or ‘My_’. Most ridiculous rebrand ever…)

1.)    65daysofstatic – We Were Exploding Anyway

This record has to take the top spot this year as it is the most inventive and exciting album released in 2010 by a mile. 65DOS take the best elements of Explosions in the Sky and Pendulum along with a guest appearance from The Cure’s Robert Smith to achieve a sound which will leave you rethinking your opinion of instrumental music.

2.)    The Automatic – Tear The Signs Down

Certainly the biggest re-invention of the year, The Automatic have completely transformed themselves since the arrival of Paul Mullen (formerly of yourcodenameis:milo). After playing a more subtle role on 2008’s This Is A Fix, the Geordie guitarist also assumes lead vocal duties on more than half of the tracks on the band’s latest album, and the result is a highly impressive alt-rock record that deserves to be judged on its own merits, not in light of what this band used to be.

3.)    Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

2010 was the year that Arcade Fire really took off, headlining Reading Festival, completing a UK arena tour and surging up the charts with their third album. The Suburbs is a vast, expansive record, which gets better with every listen, while the interactive video for We Used To Wait is one of the most creative musical projects of the year.

4.)    The Gaslight Anthem – American Slang

For summery nostalgia, you just can’t do any better than a bit of Gaslight Anthem. The New Jersey rockers earned much UK praise with their recent appearance on Jules Holland and lead singer Brian Fallon is easily living up to his reputation as the next Bruce Springsteen with his soulful vocals on The Diamond Church Street Choir and Boxer.

5.)    Jimmy Eat World – Invented

Jimmy Eat World’s seventh record is by no means their best, but still packs plenty of memorable tunes, tender moments and singalong choruses to keep old-school emo fans happy. Teaming back up with Clarity producer Mark Trombino adds a retro edge to this release, as well as the smooth backing vocals from Courtney Marie Andrews on Coffee and Cigarettes, Movielike and Heart Is Hard To Find.

6.)    Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly – Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly

Once again, Sam Duckworth has created a remarkable album of beats, samples, arpeggios and catchy choruses. Once again he has taken his live show up a level. The truly uplifting Morning Light is a career highlight, yet somehow Get Cape’s third record lacks that extra something special to make it a truly great album.

7.)    Ash – A-Z Vol. 1 & 2

If we ignore the fact that this 26-track project was split into two physical releases, then Ash’s A-Z series as a whole definitely deserves its place in the top ten. Writing and releasing songs of this quality every fortnight is a great achievement, and Russell Lissack (on loan from Bloc Party) gives the band a new edge, but with a bit more discipline, they could have whittled it all down to one of the best albums of their career.

8.)    Pulled Apart By Horses – Pulled Apart By Horses

The Leeds quartet burst onto the scene this year with a debut as mental as it is memorable. I Punched A Lion In The Throat, Back To The Fuck Yeah and High Five, Swan Dive, Nose Dive all hit the spot with remarkable ferocity. Definitely ones to watch in the future, these lads.

9.)    Jim Lockey & The Solemn Sun – Atlases

Cheltenham-based Lockey’s second album saw him recruit a backing band and take the ambition and the intensity up a notch. This release sounds much more professional and accomplished than Jim’s folsky debut, with stand-out track Waitress boasting more tempo changes than you can shake a stick at.

10.)    Weezer – Hurley

Rivers Cuomo just keeps churning out the quirky songs and catchy hooks that have got Weezer where they are. Whilst Hurley has plenty of top tunes, such as Memories and Trainwrecks, perhaps the strains of releasing a record every year have made the Weezer well of ideas run a little bit dry.

11.)    I Am Kloot – Sky At Night

12.)    Vampire Weekend – Contra

13.)    Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can

14.)    Young Guns – All Our Kings Are Dead

15.)    Taylor Hawkins & The Coattail Riders – Red Light Fever

16.)    Gogol Bordello – Trans-Continental Hustle

17.)    Canterbury – Thank You

18.)    Minus The Bear – Omni

19.)    Jil Is Lucky – Jil Is Lucky

20.)    The Coral – Butterfly House

As always, please let me know what you think, if I’ve missed anything off, or you think I’m just plain wrong. Here’s to more great music in 2011, and I leave you with what I think is the best music video of the past year:

Sorry about the advert, but it’s worth sitting through for the video.

Top 20 Albums of the Year, 2009

It’s that time of year again. In keeping with a three-year-old tradition, I present for your delectation and discussion my top 20 albums of the year. The main difference this year being that, thanks to the wonders of Spotify, you can now debate and dispute my choices at the click of a button. Anyway, this year’s list is topped by:

1.) Manchester Orchestra – Mean Everything To Nothing

Worthy of their place at the top this year if only for the fact that their keyboard player resembles the bastard lovechild of 70s soul legend Lionel Richie and Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite. Their second record sees the Georgia quintet mature into a potent force of emotional rock, blending the best bits of Brand New and Weezer into an irresistable package.

2.) Biffy Clyro – Only Revolutions

Having taken the UK by storm with their fourth album Puzzle, you would be forgiven for expecting the Biff to go mainstream and placate the American market. Not so, with the incest jibes of Born on A Horse, the jagged riffery of That Golden Rule and the pirate laden sea shanty The Captain. A real triumph.

3.) Frank Turner – Poetry of the Deed

Frank’s third record is a significant achievement, proving that he is a one-man band in name alone. Pianist Matt Nasir adds a noticeable roundedness to this record, whilst the folksy melodies of tracks such as The Fastest Way Back Home and Sunday Nights are real growers.

4.) Doves – Kingdom of Rust

Maybe it was because I wasn’t clued up enough to fully appreciate their previous LP, 2005’s Some Cities, but this album blew me away. Doves’ unique sound is finely honed on Kingdom of Rust and it is a complete travesty that they did not follow in the footsteps of Elbow and finally achieve the mainstream recognition they deserve after this barnstorming album.

5.) Placebo – Battle For The Sun

It’s amazing what a new drummer can do for a band. Steve Forrest’s arrival breathed new life into Placebo this year, who are back to their best – sounding as vibrant and edgy as ever, albeit with a subtle emotional twist.

6.) Arctic Monkeys – Humbug

The northern lads have taken a bold step on their third record; one which may yet see them earn real recognition as a sophisticated rock group, not just a bunch of oiks who use Yorkshire slang in their lyrics.

7.) Muse – The Resistance

I suppose the only thing predictable about Muse is that they will always continue to get more absurd and flamboyant as their career goes on. The impact of their style may have faded somewhat, but that doesn’t stop this from being the most ambitious album of the year, if not the most subtle.

8.) Brakes – Touchdown

This Brighton four-piece started out life as the side projected for the disaffected members of Electric Soft Parade and British Sea Power. On their third record, they have well and truly eclipsed both of their former bands to create a folksy record of indie-pop gems.

9.) Cougar – Patriot

Inventive, inspiring, instrumental joy from deepest, darkest Wisconsin. It only takes a few listens to see why Cougar are the logical inheritors of Explosions In The Sky‘s post rock crown.

10.) Fake Problems – It’s Great To Be Alive

Unashamedly erratic folk-punk from the Florida quartet who supported Frank Turner on his American tour. The least understated record of the year, riven with religious angst and gutteral singalongs.

11.) Idlewild – Post Electric Blues

12.) Conor Oberst – Outer South

13.) Baddies – Do The Job

14.) Art Brut – Art Brut vs Satan

15.) Thursday – Common Existence

16.) The Mars Volta – Octahedron

17.) Brand New – Daisy

18.) Thrice – Beggars

19.) New Found Glory – Not Without A Fight

20.) Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown

As always, I’d love to hear any recommendations of decent albums that I’ve missed off the list. This is by no means definitive and I’m always keen to hear about great new albums.

Top 20 Albums of the Year, 2008

In an attempt to branch out and diversify my blog, I thought it would be worthwhile recapping the year gone by and the best Indie/Rock albums released in my humble opinion, starting with:

1. Frank Turner – Love, Ire & Song
A mature, diverse record from the cult hero who is fast becoming the defining songwriter of our generation.
Download: Love, Ire & Song; A Love Worth Keeping and To Take You Home.
2. Fighting With Wire – Man Vs Monster
Snarling, energetic punk-rock from Northern Ireland that makes you feel 16 again – Fighting With Wire finally released the sizzling debut album they had been threatening for 3 years.
Download: The Quiet; Cut The Transmission; All For Nothing.
3. City and Colour – Bring Me Your Love
Alexisonfire guitarist, Dallas Green continues to grow in his own right with this touching acoustic album. I’m still kicking myself that I missed his show at Islington Union Chapel.
Download: As Much As I Ever Could; The Girl; Forgive Me.
4. Conor Oberst – Conor Oberst
Richly lyrical, ponderous and observational, this record is the beginning of a new era for the man formerly known as Bright Eyes.
Download: Eagle On A Pole; Souled Out!!!; Cape Canaveral.
5. Kings of Leon – Only by the Night
A cracking album, packed full of tunes, provided you love, rather than loathe, Caleb Followill’s voice.
Download: Sex On Fire; Crawl; I Want You.
6. Funeral for a Friend – Memory and Humanity
Welsh rockers return to what they do best after a year in the wilderness singing about deep sea fishing, for some reason. Expect riffery and screamage aplenty.
Download: Constant Illuminations; Rules and Games; Waterfront Dance Club
7. Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly. – Searching For the Hows and Whys
Sam Duckworth’s sophomore effort is overflowing with new ideas and orchestral flourishes, but somehow lacks the earnest charm of his debut.
Download: Moving Forward; Find The Time; Postcards From Cataluña.
8. We Are Scientists – Brain Thrust Mastery
America’s wittiest export, Keith and Chris’ latest album is instantly loveable.
Download: Lethal Enforcer; After Hours; Let’s See It.
9. Coldplay – Viva La Vida
Chris Martin’s voice and lyrics remain charming as ever, as Coldplay’s sound reaches epic proportions. (Disclaimer: may contain stolen Joe Satriani riffs…)
Download: Cemeteries Of London; Death And All His Friends; Lovers In Japan.
10. This Town Needs Guns – Animals
The most technically inspired album I’ve heard in a long time. I can only assume that the guitarist in this Oxford-based quartet has seven fingers on each hand.
Download: Pig; Baboon; Chinchilla.

11. Travis – Ode to J. Smith
12. Thrice – The Alchemy Index, Vols III & IV: Air and Earth
13. Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid
14. The Last Shadow Puppets – The Age of the Understatement
15. The Music – Strength in Numbers
16. Jim Lockey – I’ll Be Neon
17. Senses Fail – Life is not a Waiting Room
18. Weezer – Red Album
19. Bloc Party – Intimacy
20. The Mars Volta – The Bedlam in Goliath

So, it’s been a very acoustic year for me, with four of my top 20 being mostly non-electric. Kerrang! Magazine went with Metallica’s Death Magnetic as their album of the year, but what do they know?!
Now, what can we look forward to in 2009?
The elusive fifth album from Muse is in the pipeline and Idlewild have already entered the studio for a new album. Hundred Reasons are well overdue a return to form, while Biffy Clyro are recording new material. Lostprophets say they will unveil their long awaited fourth record in “April or May”, perhaps we’ll even see some new material from Rage Against The Machine? We can but dream…