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Best of 2010: Albums

December 24, 2010

For the second instalment of my hugely important end of year opinion lists I’m going to run-down my favourite albums of the year. I’ve decided not to include videos or tracks, instead going for a celebration of great album art and a one sentence review, because the majority of the individual songs I’m including in my next list are derived from these albums.

Before we get into the list, it’s always worth having a look for trends (or maybe that’s just me having worked in finance too long). One that becomes increasingly apparent is that the list appears to favour bands that successfully bridge the gap between indie and electronica, the excellent live acts !!!, Caribou and LCD Soundsystem are all good examples, joined by Trentemoller and Groove Armada which both made good use of guitars this year.

Four Tet rightly deserves the top spot for spearheading the best of that minimal, dub-steppy sound that has borne so much fruit this year. Also on that tip, but not on the list, I throughly enjoyed Joy Orbison’s ‘The Shrew Would Have Cushioned The Blow’, Bath’s ‘Cerulean’, Darkstar’s ‘North’, Pariah’s ‘Safehouses’, Mount Kimbie’s ‘Crooks and Lovers’ and work by Julio Bashmore, Ramadanman and James Blake.

Hip hop and rock’n’roll haven’t enjoyed a vintage year in my opinion, only RJD2 and Flying Lotus making it on to the list, while honourable mentions go to The Gaslamp Killer, The Roots, Das Racist and J Dilla’s Pet Sounds mash-up. And as for rock music I can’t think of much past The Black Keys, The Dead Weather, The Sunshine UndergroundFoals and maybe The Arcade Fire this year. As for the poppy stuff inbetween shouts have to go out for the likes of TV on the Radio‘s Dave Sitek for the admirable ‘Maximum Balloon’ and Dangermouse and Sparklehorse‘s ‘Dark Night of the Soul’, while Mark Ronson and the Gorillaz can bask in their inclusion in my chart.

And finally, house music has also had something of a mixed year for me, rolling over from 2009 has been the wealth of deep and disco-influenced fare which has kept most of my attention – Shit Robot, Wolf+Lamb, Recloose –  while the more techy/minimal side hasn’t impressed me half as much as in previous years; only Booka Shade really making an impact LP-wise.

Anyway, enough waffle, first up are the best artist albums of 2010:

1              Four Tet / There is Love In You / Domino

Using his residency at Plastic People to test a more electronic, dancefloor-friendly sound, this album has so many great moments and works perfectly in almost any situation.

2              Chemical Brothers / Further / Astralwerks

I suppose things could only get better from the last effort, and thankfully they did, as this is the sound of Tom+Ed going back underground and returning to form in the process.

3              !!! (Chk Chk Chk) / Strange Weather Isn’t It? / Warp

This album should be the catalyst for a surge in popularity, as the record is far more accessible and catchy than previous work, but in a way I’m quite pleased I can keep them as my favourite cool-cat live act for a little bit longer.

4              Caribou / Swim / City Slang

Looking around the blogosphere (I still shudder a little when writing that) it would appear this a widespread favourite, and rightly so as Dan Snaith’s most dance-y record yet is perfect for the home or the club.

5              Trentemoller / Into the Great Wide Yonder / In My Room

Following the sublime Last Resort was always going to be difficult, but Anders has tackled the tricky second album admirably, producing a bigger, ballsier sound that has also translated into a brilliant live act.

6              Booka Shade / More! / Get Physical

Whilst it’s essentially more of the same from the German duo, every track has something special on this album – not something that can often be said for house producer’s albums.

7              Gorillaz / Plastic Beach / EMI

I gave this album 8 out of 10 in March and every time I come back to it I find something new, so while the whole premise is getting a bit tired and we could do without the Times tie in, the musical output is still wholly intriguing.

8              Groove Armada / Black Light / Cooking Vinyl

To be honest I had pretty much given up on Groove Armada a few years back, so when I had a listen to this I was pleasantly surprised. It may pillage the past unashamedly, but when the results are this good, who am I to argue?

9              Mark Ronson and the Business International / Record Collection / Columbia

I desperately wanted to write this album off, but after Bang Bang Bang got stuck in my head for several months (it even has its own dance in our household) I had to give the album a shot, and irritatingly it’s full of similarly catchy songs.

10           RJD2 / The Colossus / RJs Electrical Connections

This is possibly a bit high up the list, but I can’t be bothered changing it now – it’s a lot better than the last one but nowhere near the first two albums – still, nobody does what he does better, possibly until DJ Shadow returns.

11           LCD Soundsystem / This is Happening  / DFA

Again, I probably liked albums further down this list more, but purely for the brilliance of their live act and the fact that it’s their last album, This Is Happening deserves a mention. It’s no Sound of Silver, but there’s still a lot to like.

12           Royksopp / Senior / Wall of Sound

It didn’t have the happy hits of the suitably lively Junior, but Senior’s darker, deeper sound worked far better as a whole, with tracks like The Fear providing the perfect companion for the winter months.

13           Chilly Gonzales / Ivory Tower / Gentle Threat

It may be advert music, but then that doesn’t make it bad (Moby’s Play was a great album before ad-men made it unlistenable) music, and support from Erol’s Phantasy certainly helped it regain some cool.

14           Shit Robot / From the Cradle to the Rave / DFA

It’s about time DFA’s back-up man brought out and album, and this collection solidified his reputation; no one track really sticks out, it’s just a perfect distillation of all the best bits of the disco fun-time we’ve been having recently.

15           The Sunshine Underground / Nobody’s Coming To Save You / City Rockers

It’s a crying shame that these lads aren’t bigger by now, they needed a solid follow-up to Raise the Alarm and that’s exactly what this is, so combined with their energetic live show this should have been the year they kicked-on into the big leagues, but for some reason we’re still listening to Kings of Leon.

16           The Black Keys / Brothers / Nonesuch

A recommendation from my mate Barry proved to be as prophetic as ever, as this album ticked all the bluesy, ballsy boxes I’m looking for from a band.

17           Flying Lotus / Cosmogramma / Warp

Another widely anticipated sophomore effort here, and one which exceeded most expectations, taking the Lose Angeles template and going cosmic-psychedelic crazy; challenging in parts but full of great ideas.

18           Gold Panda / Lucky Shiner / Ghostly International

A late entry picked up from a few of my favourite blogs, this is a good cross-section of dance music in 2010 – utterly schizophrenic but all the better for it – this is emblematic of several great albums that didn’t make it on the list.

19           Wolf + Lamb / Love Someone / Wolf + Lamb

More of an EP really, but worthy of inclusion as a representative of this kind of laid-back deep house that has shone though this year, how I’d love to have heard a few of these tracks on the sun-drenched roof of the Marcy Hotel.

20           Recloose / Early Works / Rush Hour

And rounding out the top 20 is another artist found in the flurry of action undertaken whilst checking everyone else’s ‘best of’ lists. Generally my fine taste wins out, but I’m glad the talent of this Kiwi house stalwart has been brought to my attention, as his ‘best of’ is good enough to beat off several worthy albums from my chart.

As for mixes and compilations there were some fine pieces of work this year, driven by lots of my favourite artists and DJs utilising Mixcloud and Soundcloud, so here’s a few of my favourites, along with links to listen or buy:

1              Tom Morgan / Podcast Series

2              Aeroplane / Monthly Soundcloud Mixes

3              Optimo Epascio / Fabric 52

4              Funk D’Void / King of the Strings

5              Ivan Smagghe / Resident Advisor

6              Evil Nine / For Lovers

7              Friendly Fires / Bugged Out! Suck My Deck

8              Adam Freeland  / A Message from Eyjafjallajökull or Late Night Deepness

9              Surgeon / Fabric 53

10           Apparat / DJ Kicks

11           Simian Mobile Disco / Is Fixed

12           Gui Boratto / Renaissance: The Mix Collection

13           DJ History / Secret Weapons

14           Tensnake / In The House

15          Four Tet / Essential Mix

16           Damian Lazarus / Fabric 54

17           Ninja Tune / XX

18           DJ Shadow / Remix Project

19           El-P / Weareallgoingtoburninhellmegamixxx3

20          Timo Maas / Balance 17

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