Saturday, January 1, 2011

ten for 2010

As another year draws to a close, so many of us in the blogosphere must hunker down and review our faves raves from the previous twelve months. Getting stuck in the great Boxing Day blizzard was the best springboard from me to begin the simultaneously arduous and thrilling task of completing my list. Thankfully, 2010 turned out to be a banner year for music. One of the best on record if I recall correctly.

But first, a look forward. Which longplayers am I anticipating in 2011? Hue And Cry, The Human League, Duran Duran, The Feeling and Penguin Prison. I know Duran just released "All You Need To Know". But the iTunes configuration isn't the whole enchilada. The full twelve track experience will be issued in physical form in February. So, I'm gonna wait to review it. It's already one of my most played elpees of this year! Sure to be a top contender in the next.

And will someone PLEASE tell me where the new albums from Blondie and Sophie Ellis-Bextor have gone? Once imminent, they've slipped off the map. Can't bode well for either of them.

Without further faffing about, here are my ten favorite albums of the year listed in alphabetical order.

Marc Almond - "Varieté"

Taking on the dual roles of showman and troubadour for "Varieté", Marc Almond showed he could deliver his own, self-penned material with as much style, quality and panache as the covers he performs so exceptionally well. All of this during his rehabilitation from a near fatal motorcycle accident a few years ago.

From the Russian strains of "Najinsky Heart" to the gypsy peasantry of "Bread And Circus", the piano torch of "Lavender", the swinging 60s London glam of the title track, the entire longplayer hangs together thematically, lyrically and musically in a way that most artists can only dream of at any point in their career.

Even the limited edition version of the album is an embarrassment of riches for Mr. Almond as he presents another half dozen or so songs which are presented in a stripped back, smoking jacket, beat club production. Every track on "Varieté" is vintage Marc Almond, one of the UK's musical treasures.

The Divine Comedy - "Bang Goes The Neighborhood"

Neil Hannon, in the guise of The Divine Comedy, returned with a... bang! Natch.

Still waving the flag for intelligently crafted songs with nods toward classic British pop of the 60s and 70s, TDC returned in grand style. Neil still kept the orchestral flourishes in tact, but delivered "Bang" with a slightly more low-fi approach. From the Blur-like "At The Indie Disco" to the Continental flavor of "Neapolitan Girl", the album fits in perfectly with previous TDC masterworks without ever sounding like a retread. One word... Bravo!

Bryan Ferry - "Olympia"

Ten years on from Bryan Ferry's last longplayer of original material, "Olympia" had a lot to live up to. Sure, it has many of the trademark soundscapes he's been known for. There are the languid electronics, the dream guitars, the slurry delivery of someone intoxicated by love and other musings. All of it is present. But there's a rugged undercarriage to the songs which seems to

"Olympia" is champagne and gelato. A swirling mixture of style with a soupcon of danger lurking around the corner. A stunningly beautiful goddess flashing a sinister, knowing smile encouraging you to succumb to the layers of sound.

Mr. Ferry has lost none of his ability to seduce and beguile. May "Olympia" be the next of many nexts.

Goldfrapp - "Head First"

Zippy synths. Breathy, insistent vocals. Pulsing beats. Goldfrapp returned from the pastoral excursion of "Seventh Tree", itself a work of beauty, with "Head First", an album that should've scaled the dizzy heights of the charts.

Urgent and sexy. The opening synth triptych - the high octane "Rocket", the slightly ethereal "Believer", and the anthemic "Alive" - set up the album nicely. All nine tracks are dotted with some unusual, early 80s influences including "Xanadu" and Kim Carnes, as well as the obvious ones like OMD and Kraftwerk, without ever sounding retro.

But it's more than a dance album. There's a lot of deep emotion running through its synthy veins which gives "Head First" a lot of heart and plenty of warmth. Plus it has a penis on the front cover. Look closely. Trying to find it is part of the fun.

"Head First" never left my playlist all year. Let's keep the fire burning for Alison and Will in the hopes they come up with the goods on their next, full length, studio effort. Perhaps it won't follow too long after their forthcoming greatest hits collection which is scheduled to drop later this spring.

Hurts - "Happiness"

Grand, eloquent, elegiac and moody . Hurts live an a sophisticated pop universe. Equal parts Depeche Mode and Pet Shop Boys, yet sounding like nothing else in the charts.

Unfortunately, Theo and Adam haven't lit the world alight with their debut longplayer. But those of us that savor their kind of magnificent melancholy and well written, melodic vignettes know they have put a lot of work into making the album special.

The album became a bit of event, which continues the DM and PSB comparisons as it has become both bands' calling card everytime they release one of their always anticipated longplayers. My only (minor) complaint is that the elpee lacks in the uptempo tune department.

"Better Than Love" is a driving, gothic number with shades of early New Order and bits of Sisters Of Mercy woven throughout. And that's the extent of anything that pushes the BPMs into the upper reaches. Strangely, they ditched the brooding, captivating title track, a and relegated it to a bonus track status on very few digital portals.

Also, the singles could have benefited from a different release sequence. Instead of launching straight out of the box with the magnificent and moving "Wonderful Life", they chose "Better Than Love" which would have performed better had it followed the clearly defined hit.

Overall, the album is lovely. Don't wait too long to follow it up with something breathtakingly beautiful, lads.

Kylie Minogue - "Aphrodite"

Everyone's favorite, Aussie pop rocket delivered another sparkling album. This time, she gave her fans what they wanted - an elpee of full on, straight ahead pop.

It's an album that burst forth with the euphoric energy that her fans loved on "Fever" and wanted her to capture again after the spiky electronics of "X". Nearly every track has a hands in the air moment whether it's the gorgeous strains of "All The Lovers", the pulsing, singleworthy "Put Your Hands Up (If You Feel Love)", the lovely Keane written "Everything Is Beautiful" or the mighty drumline excitement of the title track. Singles for days.

Unfortunately, in this era of lowest common denominator, identi-kit R&B dominating the charts, Kylie's brand of top shelf pop seems a bit out of step. Therefore, third single, "Better Than Today", fell short of the top 30 even with all the promotional stops pulled out in full force.

It clearly underscores the damage a wrong single choice can trip up an otherwise flawless pop longplayer. Surely, the rumored deluxe edition is right around the corner as Kylie ramps up for her forthcoming world tour. I'll be there. Will you?

Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark - "History Of Modern"

It is the year of the synth. And who better to make their return than OMD? Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphries reunited the original four piece and decided to embrace their origins.

After testing the waters during a reunion tour for their 30th anniversary and a celebration of their seminal longplayer, "Architecture And Morality", Paul and Andy realized there was a lot of life left in the old mare. They dug out their synths, hashed out a dozen new songs or so and set about capturing the excitement of their debut recordings. At the same time, their return made it very clear where current faves like The xx owe their debt of gratitude.

The lyrical bite of distorted opener, "New Babies: New Toys" lays out their manifesto with a succinct "fuck off" delivered to the impostors and detractors. OMD are doing what feels best.

Anthemic first and second singles, "If You Want It" and "Sister Marie Says", respectively, show their affinity for a finely tuned pop song. They revisit every aspect of their recorded work without ever sounding like they are trading on past glories. The strength is in the clean production which supports the melodic strength of every tune on this magnificent return to glory.

All the orchestral samples and choral pads are in tact from throughout their esteemed career. The synths sparkle, the effusive melodies twinkling like a million stars until they burst into a shower of fireworks across the pristine production. Lovely.

Robyn - "Body Talk"

For nearly a year, Robyn has been a whirling dervish. A Swedish dynamo!

When she revealed her plan of releasing three albums in 2010, many scoffed at the idea. How could she come up with the goods three times?

Firstly, she kept each release in the "Body Talk" trilogy trimmed down to about eight tracks with the third installment featuring the best of the first two plus five new tracks.

It may have sounded unorthodox first, but in this new frontier of wireless trading of zeros and ones, it seems to have worked. It also helped that she promoted each effort with the vitality and excitement of an artist in her prime. She embraced every opportunity to get the word out and incorporated eye popping visuals into every part of the media mix.

Standout cuts, "Dancing On My Own", "Hang With Me" and "Indestructible" are a clutch of the finest, tear stained dancefloor epics this side of the Stockholm archipelago. But Robyn proves she has a sense of humor inside her arctic heart. "Fembot", the Snoop Dogg assisted "U Should Know Better" and the expletive ridden "Don't Fucking Tell Me What To Do" are the jammy jams with a wink and smirk to let her fanbase know she can party smartly with the best of the current R&B set. And who doesn't love to initiate slut mode at least once a day?

Scissor Sisters - "Night Work"

Sleaze is the word! Jake Shears and co. whipped up a frenzy. "Night Work", their difficult third longplayer, is a deep n' greasy blowjob in an amyl nitrate filled backroom in a backstreet leather bar in Berlin.

The Trevor Horn via FGTH inspired "Invisible Light", complete with Bee Gees falsettos and thunderous percussion may have set the tone, but a few surprises like the anthemic "Fire With Fire" sounded more like The Killers. "Any Which Way" is incendiary funk with a sexy, slippery backbone and more typical of ver Scissters previous work. "Running Out" and "Night Life" sound like they bastard child of Devo and The Cult. All meant with love, of course.

"Night Work" is the sound of a group trying to break out of the corner they might have painted themselves into with their first two albums. Equal measures of frivolity and anxiety may have built them to survive or burnt them out completely. We'll know after their mammoth world tour wraps up this year. Catch them while you can!

Tracey Thorn - "Love And Its Opposite"

Tracey Thorn is one of Britain's most gifted songwriters. Every word that falls from her mouth seems to carry massive weight despite the simplicity and directness of her writing.

"Love And Its Opposite", the follow-up to 2007's more rhythmic driven "Out Of The Woods", explores mid-life in all its glory and disappointment. This is particularly apparent on poignant tracks like "Oh, The Divorces" and "Singles Bar" - two locations many are surprised to find themselves when they've crossed the great divide into the second half of their planned obsolescence.

On Twitter, Tracey has a spiky sense of wit delivered with a dash of self deprecation. Much of it is her keen attention to detail and the gift of acute observation cloaked in a laugh. And that's where much of the lyrical content of "Love And Its Opposite" resides. With every tweet, you can imagine Tracey in her kitchen chuckling to herself in deep, Mutley tones at some of her wry commentary which touches on everything from gardening to "X Factor". Essential twitteratum.

Hardly a folk album, Tracey's third solo elpee showcases her as one of Britain's quintessential singer/songwriters. Everything in the writing, arrangements and production is never pushed or rushed. Its quiet elegance, urgent beauty and balance shows Tracey at the height of her lyrical prowess. Stripped of the thump of the dancefloor, "Love And Its Opposite" is a more direct route to the head and the heart which allows for a greater impact on the listener.

Highlights include the haunting "Kentish Town", the yearning "Why Does The Wind?", the Squeeze-ly "Hormones" and the ethereal glory of "Swimming".

And that sums up my musical excursion through the previous 52 weeks. For those keeping track, you can find my ten favorite longplayers of 2009 and 2008 by clicking here. Bring on the sound of 2011!


  1. Great picks! I loved all of those apart from Ferry which I have mostly never actually heard. For some reason I never bought the Goldfrapp album and after seeing it appear in all these 2010 lists I think it'll be appearing in the G section of my CDs shortly.

  2. Hi Vinny, great to read your top ten! My mixture of favourite singles and albums of 2010 will be posted tomorrow. Bryan Ferry is in it as well and so is another Kylie album (the recent remix album, I love her output on Deconstruction Records). best wishes, melvin

  3. Great list and fantastic summing up of a VERY good year in music! I am not surprised that I agree on 80% of your list! It really is wonderful to read your blog regularly. Here's to what 2011 has to offer!

  4. @Melvin - Thanks! Your list is fantastic! What do you think about them resurrecting deConstruction? Amazing!

  5. @Echorich - Indeed! I'm looking forward to this year in music, as well. Thanks for the kind words on the blog. I really enjoy getting the info out there.