• My 2011, Part Two: The Top 50 Albums Of 2011...

    Jan 2 2012, 20h27

    First, a thank you for stopping by at but one of the exceedingly minor Top 50 Albums Of 2011 lists; but enough pleasantries, let’s get down to business…

    50. Wounded Rhymes by Lykke Li
    Metacritic Score: 83

    49. Angles by The Strokes
    Metacritic Score: 71

    48. Black Up by Shabazz Palaces
    Metacritic Score: 82

    47. Anna Calvi by Anna Calvi
    Metacritic Score: 80

    46. The Golden Record by Little Scream
    Metacritic Score: 79

    45. We're New Here by Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie xx
    Metacritic Score: 82

    44. Watch the Throne by The Throne
    Metacritic Score: 76

    43. Making Mirrors by Gotye
    Metacritic Score: NR

    42. 4 by Beyoncé
    Metacritic Score: 73

    41. Sound Kapital by Handsome Furs
    Metacritic Score: 75

    40. Watch Me Dance by Toddla T
    Metacritic Score: 67

    39. Metals by Feist
    Metacritic Score: 80

    38. Adulthood by CocknBullKid
    Metacritic Score: NR

    37. I'm Gay (I'm Happy) by Lil B
    Metacritic Score: 73

    36. Blue Songs by Hercules and Love Affair
    Metacritic Score: 68

    35. Ritual Union by Little Dragon
    Metacritic Score: 78

    34. Monkeytown by Modeselektor
    Metacritic Score: 66

    33. Make a Scene by Sophie Ellis-Bextor
    Metacritic Score: 51

    32. Purple Naked Ladies by The Internet
    Metacritic Score: 52

    31. Knee Deep by WhoMadeWho
    Metacritic Score: 75

    30. WANDER/WONDER by Balam Acab
    Metacritic Score: 76

    29. The King of Limbs by Radiohead
    Metacritic Score: 80

    28. Burst Apart by The Antlers
    Metacritic Score: 81

    27. Go Tell Fire to the Mountain by WU LYF
    Metacritic Score: 77

    26. Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam by Ghostpoet
    Metacritic Score: 78

    25. The Devil's Walk by Apparat
    Metacritic Score: 76

    24. Skying by The Horrors
    Metacritic Score: 83

    23. Oneirology by CunninLynguists
    Metacritic Score: NR

    22. Era Extraña by Neon Indian
    Metacritic Score: 76

    21. Conatus by Zola Jesus
    Metacritic Score: 79

    20. Cinderella's Eyes by Nicola Roberts
    Metacritic Score: NR

    19. On a Mission by Katy B
    Metacritic Score: 76

    18. Hearts by I Break Horses
    Metacritic Score: 69

    17. Within and Without by Washed Out
    Metacritic Score: 70

    16. Instrumentals by Clams Casino
    Metacritic Score: NR

    15. Voyage by The Sound of Arrows
    Metacritic Score: NR

    14. The Year of Hibernation by Youth Lagoon
    Metacritic Score: 79

    13. Replica by Oneohtrix Point Never
    Metacritic Score: 80

    12. Bon Iver, Bon Iver by Bon Iver
    Metacritic Score: 86

    11. Cat's Eyes by Cat's Eyes
    Metacritic Score: 79

    10. The Book Of Mormon: Original Broadway Cast Recording by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez & Matt Stone
    Metacritic Score: NR

    9. Take Care by Drake
    Metacritic Score: 80

    8. House of Balloons by The Weeknd
    Metacritic Score: 87

    7. Thursday by The Weeknd
    Metacritic Score: 80

    6. Echoes of Silence by The Weeknd
    Metacritic Score: NR

    5. The most incredible thing by Pet Shop Boys
    Metacritic Score: 66

    4. Biophilia by Björk
    Metacritic Score: 79

    3. Eye Contact by Gang Gang Dance
    Metacritic Score: 83

    2. Looping State of Mind by The Field
    Metacritic Score: 85

    And then there’s my favourite album of 2011, the second release this year from a peerless icon who has always forged ahead on her own path of sonic enlightenment. Though that first LP proved controversial, sparking its fair share of debates with regards to its qualities and merit, the promise of a second album in time for the Christmas did well to assuage any misgivings from those left unimpressed. And with its wintry fables of heartbreak and chilling beauty, featuring a snowman lothario and wayward yeti amongst its cast of characters, it helped to prove just why we fell in love with this enigmatic girl in the first place. So, at the premier point of my chart, I present…

    1. 50 Words for Snow by Kate Bush
    Metacritic Score: 85

    And just to put a geeky pin in this horrid bouquet of chart madness…

    My Top 50 Album's Average Metacritic Score: 76

    Happy New Year everyone... Hope you have a great 2012! xxxo
  • My 2011, Part One: The Vessalis Music Awards...

    Dez 29 2011, 16h02

    And here I am, ready and willing to divulge my opinions on some of the best music to have seen release over the last twelve months. It’s a time of reflection for many, and though I’d like to think there is some unintentional emotional continuity with regards to my specific choices here (be they personal, topical or fanciful), all I can honestly say is that the music featured in this article (bar one horrid exemption) is rather brilliant. But enough lollygagging, here are my annual virtual bestowments for 2011:

    Alternative Album Of The Year

    Cat's Eyes by Cat's Eyes
    Classically-trained Canadian-Italian soprano hooks up (musically and literally) with frontman of The UK's Next Genuinely Great Rock Band, only to deliver a beauteous collection of alt-surfer-rock, sad-eyed orchestral pop and ominous psychedelic bombast. Endorsed by the Vatican and snubbed of a Mercury Prize nomination (now how many times can you write that about an album?), its charms are as plaintively soothing as they are deliciously disturbing.

    Dance Album Of The Year

    Knee Deep by WhoMadeWho
    Their first release under the über-cool Kompakt banner, the Danish disco triumvirate delivered a mini-marvel of glitchily-tripped-out Eurodance after coasting around with previously agreeable-yet-unremarkable results, almost sounding like they believe they can be genuinely great. A shame then that it remains otherwise undiscovered by most, as beat pummeling this pleasantly, unadulteratedly euphoric is something to be celebrated.

    Electronic Album Of The Year

    Replica by Oneohtrix Point Never
    New York-based alternative electronica musician's sixth solo album in four years, using old-school synthesizers and otherworldly samples to create a perfect would-be score to the best existential, martial arts-heavy, sci-fi anime epic that Stanley Kubrick didn't get round to making. A sublime enmeshing of ambient electronica and tsunamic drone, it's a fine evocation of what both sub-genres have still got to offer to the pantheon of electronic music.

    Folk Album Of The Year

    Bon Iver, Bon Iver by Bon Iver
    Cumbersome title aside, singer-songwriter-producer Justin Vernon opens up the emotional sonic realms found on his icily-remote debut solo release from 2008 with inspirational results, creating an album that traverses an immense emotional spectrum as well as a sumptuously-varied palette of genres without raising itself higher than that of a wizened, noble whisper. Fragile-yet-strong, intimate-yet-soul-stirringly epic, its amazing that the Grammys even noticed it, but thankfully they did.

    Hip Hop/Rap Album Of The Year

    Take Care by Drake
    Rap music's most endearingly-reluctant superstar (not in a pretentious way obviously, he just happens to be that sexily charismatic) fully delivers after the minor disappointment of his debut LP last year with a mighty-fine album of soul-hop-pop trading in self-effacing rhymes, admirably emotional contemplation and production/arrangement wares from the recent spate of introspective R&B/pop upstarts (alongside main producer Noah "40" Shebib, you have fluorishes from the likes of Jamie xx and The Weeknd too). It'd all be for nought though if it weren't for the mercurial wordsmith at its centre.

    Pop Album Of The Year

    Voyage by The Sound of Arrows
    Swedish synthpop duo earmarked as the natural successors to Pet Shop Boys make a debut album of utmostly joyous self-discovery and it goes largely ignored by the general public. Whilst everyone somewhat-justly fell in love with M83's double-album opus this year, Messrs Gullstrand and Storm created an album that similarly evoked wide-eyed wonder and giddy awe, but let you rather unreservedly dance to it like an album about such things undoubtedly should.

    R&B Album Of The Year

    Thursday by The Weeknd
    Though the first installment of this prodigious talent's 2011 mixtape trilogy is the most critically revered (and also because I hadn't actually listened to the third effort Echoes of Silence until after I first announced my nominations), I reserve my right to laud this second album-because-come-on-that's-what-it-really-is on the grounds of its being more sprawling, uncompromising and violently traumatic than its predecessor. We're so very lucky to have three of these to savour anyhoo, right?

    Rock Album Of The Year

    skying by The Horrors
    And we're back to The UK's Next Genuinely Great Rock Band with their third album, which presents an even more psychedlic evolution of the 80s-style alt-rock of their second game-changer album Primary Colours. Nimbly traversing the fine line between honourable homage and timeless rock-pop grandeur whilst still sounding gorgeously fresh, this is their "We Have Arrived" moment of artistic revelation, following through on the promises made earlier and triumphantly surging ahead.

    Single Of The Year

    Video Games by Lana Del Rey
    Lana Del Rey or Lizzie Grant? Faded-glamourous alt-pop mastermind or cynically-minded cash-in musician? Without sounding too much like a fence-sitting shill, what does it matter? Much like the aforementioned Cat's Eyes' work, it's a modern throwback to the gorgeous Hollywood torch anthems that its worldliest dames were singing of decades ago, an anthem of all-consuming, passive-aggressive love that renders any and every listener starstruck in their tracks.

    Video Of The Year

    Song of Los by Apparat / Directed by Saman Keshavarz
    There are videos that turn shit songs into great ones and rather good ones into excellent ones, but rarely does it occur when a video enhances a song already so excellently fraught with emotion and resonance. But director Keshavarz does that rather amazingly here, using Apparat's hyper-electro-ballad as a soundtrack to a short life that takes in all of the joy and horror that existence can give any single person. On top of all that, it contains the most heartbreaking use of emoticons this side of Moon.

    Collaboration Of The Year

    My Cloud by Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie xx
    I can be called up on this being considered a genuine collaboration on account of it, along with the entirety of its parent album We're New Here, being a remix from The xx's frontman with minimal involvement from its key progenitor, though he contractually takes a co-headline credit. That being said, it was more-than canny of Scott-Heron to tap Jamie Smith in the first place, turning this b-side from the Godfather Of Rap's last album of his lifetime into a prettily-percolating, soulful triumph. R.I.P. Gil. :,(

    Best Bit-In-A-Song Of The Year

    The "You Wan' A Key-Change? I'll Give Your Four!!" finale on Love on Top by Beyoncé
    Despite, Knowles' LP not catching the world on fire quite like it should have done, this proteanly-giddy midtempo ballad has finally been dragging some attention back towards it. An infectiously joyous R&B pop ballad reminiscent of the early Mariah Carey years, its reputation as a future-wedding-reception-floor-filler is cemented by the almost-demented vocal powerhouse finale; there's been no other more impressive moment for a pop singer this year as when Knowles ascends those octaves in effortless bounds, trust.

    Best Live Act Of The Year
    Anna Calvi

    Diminutive in stature and music-press profile she may have been at the start of 2011, but Ms Calvi rode the enormous hype propagated by her epmonymous debut album incredibly well, thanks in no small part to bewitching performances that constituted a lengthy European tour. I was able to catch her third of four London dates at Bush Hall and can honestly say that you haven't heard this girl do herself justice unless she's strumming that guitar and wailing like a lovelorn banshee right in front of you.

    "Where Have You Been All My Life" Award
    The Weeknd
    To think, this time last year most people didn't even know who or what Abel Tesfaye's alt-R&B project was; twelve months later (alongside established production hands Doc McKinney and Illangelo), he's delivered three whole albums for our delectation. His beautifully frank odes to debauched nights out of drinking, taking drugs, screwing strippers and cataclismyc heartbreak became an essential part of any wannabe-cool-dude's Best Of 2011 playlist. To quote Kanye West himself: Could he get much higher?

    Producer Of The Year
    Justin Vernon
    Whether the songs therein are beautiful or not, the main reason for Bon Iver, Bon Iver's success this year was down to the hard work done by its progenitor on the album's production. Working with more foreign elements and players than his previous tome, Vernon's smarts as a producer brought all the disparate elements (acoustic folk, sunset-coated Americana, glitchy electronica, electro-pop synths) together to create a beautifully yearning whole.

    "Get On With It Already!" Award
    Though post-dubstep pioneer Will Bevan did well to actually release some new material via his Street Halo EP earlier this year, given that it's been four years since his last album, the blisteringly wonderful breakout success Untrue, it's a case of too-little-too-late. And seeing as he's been plying his dusty wares on various other projects of late in collaboration with the likes of Four Tet, Thom Yorke, Breakage, Jamie Woon and Massive Attack, there really isn't even a smidgeon of an excuse against it.

    Villain Of The Year
    Jessie J
    It's not that I don't like pop stars who clearly think they are at the centre of everything that we know to be absolutely magnificent in our world; it's that I don't wish to be reminded of it every five seconds with a melismic klaxon of a human voice that trades in ear-splitting volume and snotty brattishness for earnest emotion and profound experience whilst singing ballads filled with enough platitudes to make even the least-sincere self-help guru cringe. How the rest of the world has fallen for it is genuinely beyond me!

    Heroes Of The Year
    Foo Fighters
    America's leading rock 'n' roll band became champions to their gay fans earlier this year when they responded to a picket of their arena concert in Kansas City by the batshit-crazy Christian sect Westboro Baptist Church by performing a song concerning the joys of gay sex entitled Man Muffins at the pious morons as they drove past on an eighteen-wheeler. An impromptu gesture for tolerance, it had more power and resonance then at least one so-called empowerment anthem released in 2011.

    Debut Album Of The Year

    House of Balloons by The Weeknd
    Seeing as he's given us three albums this year, it only seems fair I acknowledge Tesfaye three(?) times in my end-of-year blog, but what else is there left to say? Well, with regards to House, the album that single-handedly put him on the musicworld map, there is the fact that for a debut album, its statement of intent with regards to its creator's sound is so sublime, vicious and ultimately beautiful, that it'll stay with you for months to come after your first listen.

    Group Album Of The Year

    Eye Contact by Gang Gang Dance
    There are so many intoxicating facets to Gang Gang Dance's sound that one has trouble trying to come up with what to label them as, other than the ever-sheltering, pigeonholing umbrella of "Electronic" music. Do they make dance music, synth-driven drone, alt-electronic world pop, swoonsome avant-R&B or indie-electro gone pulsatingly, gorgeously mad? Or do they synthesize all of this into a wonderful concoction? Ahh bollocks, let's just call them Fucking Awesome, and have done with it.

    Solo Male Album Of The Year

    Looping State of Mind by The Field
    It's more-than-something of an immeasurably sweet irony that Swedish DJ Axel Willner has been able to create some of the very, very best dance music of recent years purely via the old adage of looping, especially seeing as his brand of finite twiddling is so peerlessly excellent, he feels no need to deviate too much away from with it. Taking isolated moments of pop excellence and spinning them into sonic opuses all of his own is his gift to the world. I wonder if he takes requests?

    Solo Female Album Of The Year

    Biophilia by Björk
    Björk's latest LP prompted as many genuinely intrigued reactions as she did typical eye-rolling from those too stuck in the mud to want to bite. And though the iPad-app-based multimedia aspect provided a fascinating enough PR launch for this particular work (which ironically enough knotted its lyrical themes more than ever to her love of nature), the spine-tingling mix of cutting-edge electronica, robust melodies and especially that iconic voice of hers remains just as beguiling as it always has.

    And then there was The Album Of The Year

    Which will be revealed in a short while along with my Top 50 Albums Of 2011… You didn’t think I’d give everything away now, did you?


    Until then… xxxo
  • Vessalis Music Award Nominations 2011...

    Nov 30 2011, 18h32

    What with the Grammy nominations due to be released in a few hours, I thought it customary to get my two cents in before the announcement in an effort to get my word out on a few of the finer examples of new music to come our way over the past year, rather than get into the typically blog-centric spirit of things with lengthy Top 50 charts and such. Alas, there will be no live telecast or glamorous awards ceremony at the end of the year in which these awards will be bestowed upon their oblivious recipients, but I've always had a thing about the pat-on-the-back pageantry since I was a young boy who used to stay up late and watch the Oscars live early on the last Monday morning of February, and until I marry wealthy enough to make such things a reality, the web will have to do for such inconsequential piffle. But enough already, may I present to you the nominees for the Vessalis Music Awards 2011:


    Album Of The Year

    Solo Female Album Of The Year
    Anna Calvi by Anna Calvi
    Biophilia by Björk
    Conatus by Zola Jesus
    Metals by Feist
    On a Mission by Katy B

    Solo Male Album Of The Year
    Bon Iver, Bon Iver by Bon Iver
    Looping State of Mind by The Field
    Replica by Oneohtrix Point Never
    Take Care by Drake
    Thursday by The Weeknd

    Group Album Of The Year
    Cat's Eyes by Cat's Eyes
    Eye Contact by Gang Gang Dance
    Oneirology by CunninLynguists
    The most incredible thing by Pet Shop Boys (or Tennant/Lowe... as some fans have rather facetiously claimed)
    Voyage by The Sound of Arrows

    Debut Album Of The Year
    Cat's Eyes by Cat's Eyes
    House of Balloons by The Weeknd
    Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam by Ghostpoet
    Voyage by The Sound Of Arrows
    Within and Without by Washed Out

    Single Of The Year
    Lights On by Katy B featuring Ms. Dynamite
    Still Life by The Horrors
    The Heron And The Fox by Little Scream
    Traktor by Wretch 32 featuring L
    Video Games by Lana Del Rey

    Video Of The Year
    Big Bad Wolf by Duck Sauce - Director: Keith Schofield

    M.A.G.I.C. by The Sound Of Arrows - Director: Oskar Gullstrand and Andreas Öhman

    Song of Los by Apparat - Director: Saman Keshavarz

    Survive It by Ghostpoet - Director: UNKNOWN

    We Found Love by Rihanna featuring Calvin Harris - Director: Melina Matsoukas

    Live Act Of The Year
    Anna Calvi - Bush Hall, London, 27th April
    Beth Ditto - Lovebox Festival, London, 17th June
    Björk - Manchester International Festival, Manchester, 10th July
    Katy B - Lovebox Festival, London, 16th June
    The Naked and Famous - Wireless Festival, London, 3rd July

    Alternative Album Of The Year
    Biophilia by Björk
    Cat's Eyes by Cat's Eyes
    Go Tell Fire to the Mountain by WU LYF
    Hearts by I Break Horses
    The Year of Hibernation by Youth Lagoon

    Dance Album Of The Year
    Blue Songs by Hercules and Love Affair
    Knee Deep by WhoMadeWho
    Looping State Of Mind by The Field
    Monkeytown by Modeselektor
    Watch Me Dance by Toddla T

    Electronic Album Of The Year
    Era Extraña by Neon Indian
    Eye Contact by Gang Gang Dance
    Replica by Oneohtrix Point Never
    The Devil's Walk by Apparat
    Within And Without by Washed Out

    Folk Album Of The Year
    Bon Iver, Bon Iver by Bon Iver
    Boots Met My Face by Admiral Fallow
    Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes
    Metals by Feist
    No Color by The Dodos

    Hip Hop/Rap Album Of The Year
    I'm Gay (I'm Happy) by Lil B
    Oneirology by CunninLynguists
    Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam by Ghostpoet
    Take Care by Drake
    Watch the Throne by The Throne (Kanye West, Jay-Z... They did say that The Throne was what the name of their work as a duo was, didn't they!?!)

    Pop Album Of The Year
    Adulthood by CocknBullKid
    Cinderella's Eyes by Nicola Roberts
    Make a Scene by Sophie Ellis-Bextor
    Making Mirrors by Gotye
    Voyage by The Sound Of Arrows

    R&B Album Of The Year
    1977 by Terius Nash (or The-Dream... I mean honestly)
    House Of Balloons by The Weeknd
    On A Mission by Katy B
    Ritual Union by Little Dragon
    Thursday by The Weeknd

    Rock Album Of The Year
    Anna Calvi by Anna Calvi
    David Comes To Life by Fucked Up
    Skying by The Horrors
    Sound Kapital by Handsome Furs
    The King of Limbs by Radiohead

    Producer Of The Year
    Doc McKinney and Illangelo
    Justin Vernon
    Richard X

    "Where Have You Been All My Life?" Award
    Anna Calvi
    Balam Acab
    Lana Del Rey
    The Weeknd
    Youth Lagoon

    Collaboration Of The Year
    Ego by Burial + Four Tet + Thom Yorke
    Like Smoke by Amy Winehouse featuring Nas
    My Cloud by Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie xx
    Raindrops by Basement Jaxx Vs. Metropole Orkest
    The score for The Book Of Mormon by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone

    Best Bit In A Song Of The Year
    Stevie Wonder's harmonica solo - Doing It Wrong by Drake
    The best chorus in a pop song this year - Beat of My Drum by Nicola Roberts
    The drillcore breakdown finale - Crystalline by Björk
    The most heartbreaking lyric/bassline combo of the year - Holocene by Bon Iver
    The "You Wan' A Key-Change? I'll Give Your Four!!" finale - Love on Top by Beyoncé

    "Get On With It Already!" Award

    Villain Of The Year
    Jessie J

    Hero Of The Year
    Foo Fighters


    And there you have it; R&B superstar-in-waiting The Weeknd leads the haul with six nominations (not including the production nomination for both of his albums for Doc McKinney and Illangelo), with multiple nods also going to baroque troubadour Anna Calvi, pioneering alt-electro goddess Björk, Kanye West's new best friend Bon Iver, misunderstood cuddly lothario Drake, R&B/dance upstart Katy B, swoonsome pop duo The Sounds Of Arrows, gothic retro-pop outfit Cat's Eyes and hip hop music's very own Eeyore Ghostpoet.

    Winners, as well as a breakdown of the awards already announced, will be announced before the year is out. Until then... xxxo.
  • 2011: Part Four...

    Nov 29 2011, 14h46

    The end is in sight, my dears!! And in preparation for a busy month ahead, have put together one last quarterly playlist to share with you all. Excuse the bluntness with which I proceed, but I promised myself I'd just get straight to it this time. But don't worry, there's more from me to come in December. Until then though...

    1) Snowed in at Wheeler Street by Kate Bush

    Starting off the soundtrack to the winter months absolutely fittingly is the inimitable Kate Bush with a cut from her tenth studio album 50 Words for Snow, an LP that has every right to become the go-to alternative Yuletide album for those who aren't so easily subsumed by the crudely commercial holiday cheer of your typically superficial Christmas. Playing more like an audio compendium of wintry fables, each of them concerning the awe-striking majesty and destructiveness of one of nature's most powerful forces whilst marrying these with magically bittersweet affairs of the human heart, one of the most startlingly emotional examples is this hauntingly spectral duet with Elton John that sees himself and Bush as star-crossed lovers traversing the world and time itself only to fall in love and lose one another again. It's stirringly beautiful stuff that not only brings out John's most powerful vocal performance in years, but single-handedly wipes away all doubt that Bush may have left when she came out with the Director's Cut collection earlier this year.

    2) Anti-Pioneer by Feist

    Easing us back in from the cold now is some slow-burning folk-rock from Leslie Feist, she of the international breakthrough via iPod Nano advert back in 2007. As evidenced by this emotional piece through, gone is the cutesy guitar pop that warranted a still-charming appearance on Sesame Street and in its place is a more muscular, angular norm, her new album Metals featuring work from established cohorts Gonzales and Mocky as well as newfound compatriot Valgier Sigurðsson. Though many have welcomed the rustic, rough-hewn "chaos" that pervades the album's earlier moments, like that of lead single How Come You Never Go There, it's in the album's quieter pieces where Feist's lyrical authority and songwriting talents genuinely shine bright. Not to mention that crystal clear voice of hers, which hasn't sounded so rapt and true with emotion as it does on this particular track, negotiating the spare opening of snare and bass before the track ascends into a plaintive clash of guitars and strings only to travel back down to its humble sonic origins with typically assured grace.

    3) Somebody That I Used to Know (feat. Kimbra) by Gotye

    Whilst the rest of the world fell in love with Adele's gracious-yet-sad (and very possibly questionably-sane) paean to lost love in her over-played wrought-fest Someone Like You, Australia's biggest unlikely hit of the year was a tale of heartache encased in vitriol and bitterness that saw its protagonist confusedly yelling at the object of his frustrated affections with the kind of toxic pallor that is as immediately relatable as it is affronting. Responsible for this icepick of a lovesong is Wally "Gotye" De Backer, an Australian-Belgian alt-pop musician who's been coasting breakout success for a good few years now (you may know his last hit Learnalilgivinanlovin from its prominent use in movies starring Drew Barrymore), but with this breakout second single from parent album Making Mirrors, he appears to have finally scored, and richly deserved it is too. A natural successor to Peter Gabriel's brand of pop that manages to cross folk, rock and soul together into an intoxicating whole (well, when he used to be good anyway), Gotye's success appeared to catch everyone in Australia by surprise; let's hope that 2012 has him branch out of his homeland with similar results.

    4) Virus by Björk
    Continuing the present theme about the nature of love and its adverse affects on humanity is a cut from perhaps the most polarizing release by a single popstar so far this year in Björk's Biophilia, though if an album from this particular chanteuse were to elicit anything less than such a reaction, it would roundly be considered by all to be something of a failure. Though much has been made of the LP's sonic construction as well as its interactive multimedia applications that allow the more adventurous listeners to isolate, manipulate or explode specific elements from each of its ten songs via touch-screen technology on their iPhones/iPads (which also happens to serve as confirmation that even boundary-pushing artists can't seem to innovate without Apple's influence), there's still more than enough of Björk's proven mettle as a songwriter of intellectual and emotional velocity for the more Luddite-hearted fan to console themselves with. Virus is one of the album's particular highlights; evoking love's indefatigable thrall on the human heart by comparing it to a rogue germ's attack on the human nervous system, it's a knowingly quixotic metaphor rendered lovingly, bravely and typically true of its maverick progenitor.

    5) Video Games (Omid 16B Remix) by Lana Del Rey

    Lana Del Rey has been something of an enigma for the music press to categorize since her video for Video Games infiltrated the blogosphere with a truly bombastic response of adulation. There are those that flocked to see her on her first European tour last month (which completely sold out... on the back of a mere two songs) and heralded her as 2012'a Princess Of Pop In Waiting, and there are those who have claimed to cracked through her label's elaborate efforts to package her as an indie starlet in the "brokedown Hollywood" vein, seeing nothing more than a prettily-singing shill out to gain instant notoriety and plumbing extremely cynical depths to do so. Well, after seeing her live in London, I can confirm a few things; she may not yet be the Princess that those who caved in to the hype thought she'd be, but she's still a mighty fine vocalist with an arresting ear and delivery for heartbroken love ballads, and given the right songs, there's no stopping her. Plus, Video Games is definitely the best song of the year, so the haters can just shut the fuck up.

    6) Vessel by Zola Jesus

    So how awesome is Zola Jesus? Well, if the above video hasn't confirmed anything for you yet, how's about comparing her work to that of what Lady Gaga, Florence + the Machine and The Knife would sound like after being thrown into a sonic blender, and you're about a third of the way there. After courting "Next Big Thing" notices last year for her well received Stridulum - EP and album, as well as taking in a handful of well-received festival appearances and support slots with Ms. The Knife herself, Fever Ray, Nika Roza Danilova's solo project retreated back to the studio almost immediately to craft her third LP. Despite not catching fire quite as brightly as the tastemakers predicted last year, Conatus is a more strident, confident album from the 22-year-old(!!) singer-songwriter, reinstating the industrial goth-pop that beguiled everyone last time whilst exhibiting a more mature clarity and authority, effortlessly balancing light and dark to create an at-times marvelous listen that doesn't alienate either the hardcore or the passing listeners of her sublime vein of electro balladry. Admit it, the song above is truly awesome, right?

    7) July by Youth Lagoon

    One newbie who stands one hell of a chance to inherit Zola's crown of Songwriter Whom Blogs Will Be Forever In Love With Until Someone Newer Comes Along for 2011 is Trevor Powers, whose debut LP The Year of Hibernation has managed to catch the wind and spread its audio spoils like wildfire amongst music blogs all over the world (two of his keener champions being Pitchfork and Disco Naivete). And I could be snarky about how vociferous the praise surrounding this young lad (another 22-year-old!) has been if it weren't for the fact that he has managed to craft an album that is as dense and melancholy as it is bright and hopeful, as much prone to chirpy whistles and effusive guitar lines as it is to laboured moans and discontented malaise. One of the album's most sterling examples is this track; a song that starts as mournful as they come before ascending a crescendo of gorgeous lo-fi-ness with such beatific simplicity that it warmly blind-sides you with its newfound sense of worldly loveliness, the homemade production (it was recorded in his garage) imbuing the song with an almost alarming intimacy.

    8) Explain by Oneohtrix Point Never

    *Skip to 16:13 for the specific track*
    Coming to noted prominence last year with his fifth solo album (in three years) Returnal, one-man-band Daniel Lopatin's music is credited by many as representing a significant contribution to the ambient drone sub-genre of electronica. His second album to see release this year (the other a collaboration with Tigercity's Joel Ford, Channel Pressure), Replica's ominously soothing symphonies can best be described as the lost soundtrack created for an existentialist urban anime sci-fi noir helmed by Stanley Kubrick, what with the sounds emanating from each of these pieces being so otherworldly, cold, arresting and yet oddly calming and bewitching at the same time. It takes a while to get used to, but the second half of the album in particular is something bewilderingly fascinating, not least this transcendent finale. Admittedly, it is one of the more purely clandestine and easily accessible songs of the collection (reminiscent of a drugged-up, neon-lit version of 1/2 from Brian Eno's Ambient 1: Music for Airports), but no less spellbinding for it.

    9) Marvins Room by Drake

    Despite the commercial success of his debut album Thank Me Later last year (propagated probably more by the revolving door of collaborations on other artists songs such as Kanye West, Nicki Minaj and especially Rihanna than any work on his solo endeavour), Aubrey Graham has gone on record saying that his premier LP of self-effacing rhymes concerning newfound fame and complicated booty business wasn't one that he was entirely happy with. However, on sophomore effort Take Care, Drake not only fulfils the promise made on his 2009 mixtape So Far Gone but goes so far as to deliver one of the most breathtakingly sincere, gorgeous and soulful hip hop albums of the past few years. Much hoo-ha was made in the press on the announcement of Jamie xx and The Weeknd's contributions to the album (and both turn in fine work too, particular the former on the title track that samples his work from the Gil Scott-Heron project We're New Here), but this is Drake's show. His mixture of the candid and the tender has never been bettered as it has here, a woozily atmospheric VIP-room ballad that goes beyond sexy into something mournful and profoundly moving.

    10) Watch Me Dance by Toddla T featuring Roots Manuva

    And just before you can try to judge me for being a soporific sod music-wise, busting raucously out of leftfield we have British producer Thomas Bell's title track from his second album, Watch Me Dance. Hailing from the Yorkshire city of Sheffield, Bell's DJ moniker was bestowed upon him by his fellow local disc-spinners with regards to the prodigious upstart's youth, manning the decks at clubs and glam parties by the time was just 16-years-old. Since then, not only did he hook up with BBC Radio 1's Annie Mac to form one of the cuter couples in dance music, but he has also forged an impressive oeuvre as a producer for some of the UK's most successful urban dance acts, some of whom return the favour on his sophomore LP to form a valuable cadre of collaborators from which Bell is inspired to craft some of the best feelgood dance music you'll hear this year. One such co-conspirator is the one and only Rodney Smith, featured here in fine fetter amidst a rabble-rousing chorus of guitars and whoops that provides an saucily warm invitation to the rest of the album's head-noddingly fine mix of hip hop, R&B and dancehall.

    11) German Clap by Modeselektor

    And now we follow through with something a little grimier and dirtier, courtesy of the German DJ duo who continue to defy easy genre-pigeonholing more than ever with their third LP, Monkeytown. After a justly-celebrated collaboration with one my last playlist's featured guests, electronic solo artist Apparat, yielded one of the finest dances of 2009, Messrs Bornsert and Szary have been hard at work on album three, which shares the name of their own fledgling label as well as constitutes as the outfit's most variedly head-turning collection of dance tunes they've yet released, mixing in typically tweaked-out IDM, minimal techno and urban dancehall whilst taking in vocals turns from returning collaborators Apparat and Thom Yorke (an early champion of the duo who has stayed remarkably loyal since) as well as perfs from urban artists such as Busdriver and Miss Platnum. One of the better cuts though is this lyric-less, surging rush of synths complemented by possibly the finest flurry of beat signatures that 2011 has seen fit to listen to; though some of the album sees the talented beatsmiths have a little more irreverant fun, it's heartening to hear them hit straight through with something galvanizingly awesome when they put their demented heads together.

    12) We Can Make The World Stop by The Glitch Mob

    And the third successive track from a DJ outfit on this list actually comes from a trio (am I channeling Feist with this sequencing??), them being Los Angeles-based party-starters The Glitch Mob, whom after enjoying an incredible 2010 that saw the release of their rather-amazing debut album Drink the Sea have been hard at work slaying crowds on tour as well as working diligently on new material for the follow-up album. Releasing a clutch of new songs earlier this year on their We Can Make The World Stop - EP, the most well-received of the troika of tunes was this title track, which as you can surely attest, is just as good as the better moments from the debut LP. We await the second album with baited breath, lads...

    13) Repatriated by Handsome Furs

    And as we hit the home-stretch, there's still a little more time to dance around, courtesy of electro-rock-punk husband-and-wife duo Handsome Furs and this cut from their third studio album, Sound Kapitol. Written entirely on keyboards both to necessitate tour-bound songwriting sessions that in turn allowed a more instantaneous sense of inspiration from the world around them as well as pushing their prior guitar-driven sound into something a little more vital and eclectic (no worries though, as their customarily crunchy riffs can still be found in generous supply throughout the LP), Kapitol sees the band embrace electronic music far more than they have done previously, but still retains the fierce energy of their previous work, making for engaging results for those willing to take the plunge. Repatriated is one the album's more emotional moments, stopping and starting with its shuddering bears whilst the synths soar overhead and singer Dan Boeckner's dulcet intonations keep the whole shebang in order.

    14) There Is Still Hope by The Sound of Arrows

    And despite my miserable protestations, even I couldn't end this 2011 series on such a downer, so to cap it all off we have this gorgeous epic ballad from The Sound Of Arrows, a duo from Sweden who specialize in wondrous, wide-eyed synth-pop that is so unabashedly bursting with ethereal goodness that even when the children's choirs come crashing in key moments, you can't help but grin ear to ear as if you're the Cheshire Cat's extremely giddy younger sibling. An enchanting cross between Pet Shop Boys and M83, thematically Arrow's debut album Voyage has a lot in common with the latter group's latest album, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, in its sublime journey through its progenitors' beauteous soundscapes, but steadfastly attaches itself to the dreamy delights of Europop to enhance its nostalgic loveliness rather than hide behind more indie-credible electro leanings. For the record, the M83 album is still fantastic (and is responsible for one of the year's best singles) but Voyage is an album that manages to explore the same territory with less filler and a more direct emotional appeal. And you can dance to it a lot easier than the other, it ought to be said...

    And there you have it! My 2011, is officially over... Or is it!?!? Check back in a couple of days when the End Of Year madness really begins!

    Until then... xxxo
  • 2011: Part Three...

    Out 12 2011, 12h04

    Alas, the summer is officially over. And in spite of my wanting to spend it in as foul a mood as possible, it actually turned into something rather wonderful. Amongst the most purely amazing was Björk herself singing Jóga directly at me when I went to see her with my good friend Omissi0n at one of her sold-out shows in Manchester as part of a two-week residency to promote her new album Biophilia (of which I’m sure I’ll be writing about in my next installment). Amongst the most slap-the-forehead horrible was that no matter how often I bleached my hair, I came to realize that I’ll never look as cute as Simon Pegg did in Spaced, never mind Bruce Willis in The Fifth Element. Then there was the horrid realization upon tearing up my living room carpet of just how much my dog had marked his territory since we first welcomed him into our family four years ago… you’d think after searing my nasal passages with the stench of hair-burning peroxide for six months I’d be used to such trenchant ammonia-based smells, but no.

    However, the most sublimely bittersweet was bearing witness to my mother’s reaction on the day that the world lost Amy Winehouse. Instantly upon hearing of Winehouse’s passing, my mother ended up calling everyone that she knew, imparting the news to all who would listen with the kind of wounded reverance one would normally reserve for close friends and dear family. Such was the power of Winehouse’s music, she was able to inspire such resolute feeling and heartbroken loyalty in a random person whom she would never even meet. So, despite the tragedy of her death, I can’t help but be heartened by such emotional spontaneity, however minute or inconsequential it may seem to the world at large. I’m sure Winehouse herself would be honoured (or perhaps more likely a little embarrassed) that her songs have provided such a sterling example of the power of music and that it could still herald such a poignant outburst of emotion. Much better than that shockingly bad tribute to her at the MTV Video Music Awards by freakish manchild Bruno Mars, anyway.

    Also, I can’t go on without honouring the passing of both Gil Scott-Heron and DJ Mehdi too. So sad.

    But in any event, the summer did well to throw some more good new music our way too, of which I have dutifully compiled my third year-quarterly playlist of the best of the best. So here goes:

    1) Still Life by The Horrors

    By way of some sonic verisimilitude after his latest side-project Cat's Eyes closed things up rather ominously on my last playlist, first up we have Faris Badwan returning to the fray with a cut from The Horrors’ latest opus, Skying, an album that pretty much confirms the young five-piece band as one of the UK’s most genuinely accomplished acts of their generation. Tipping their unruly-haired heads further towards the warm 80′s-sponsored psychedelia of previous effort Primary Colours and away from the bilious garage-punk rabble of their debut LP Strange House, Skying in its best moments delivers the kind of timeless sweetness that pervaded the best alternative rock and electronic pop music from twenty years ago. One such example is this lead single, a five minute slice of epicness that trades on benevolent euphoria, the percussion loping genially along as the reversed guitars sing in the background, making way for those strikingly lovely synths that do well to transport you back into your teenage self, redolent with frustrated wonder and anticipation. Few bands can take you back to those feelings with such authenticity, so the fact that this appears to be the only way The Horrors can create music is something to be applauded.

    2) Distractions by CocknBullKid

    Now a little late arriving to this lovely young girl’s party I may be, but I can still count myself as one of the rightly-riled music fans who can’t understand why someone responsible for bright pop music as delightful as that found on Anita Blay’s debut album has gone unnoticed by most listeners. A most disarming mix of sweetness and tartness wherein a sly wit pervades throughout, Blay’s album is a joyous throwback to 90′s indie urban pop, holding court herself with an assured voice that eschews typical octave-vaulting for something more approachable and endearing. It helps that she has a catchy ear for melody too, as evidenced on this track with its adorable synths bouncing around the tight harmonies on the chorus, featuring Blay imploring the object of her frustrated desire to “work it out” with such effortless guile as to make the listener question said subject’s apparent absentmindedness. Adulthood is the rare debut album that doesn’t rely on eye-rolling “look-at-me” moments that smack of desperation and obnoxiousness to get its heroine’s personality across; instead it is a beyond-charming portrait of a self-effacingly confident young woman that the rest of the world could do with getting to know a bit better than it currently does.

    3) Say It Out Loud by Nicola Roberts

    Sharing some of the same songwriters and production staff as Blay’s album is Cinderella's Eyes, the solo debut from Miss Roberts also fuses an arch indie wit and irresistible girliness together to create one of the best pop albums of the year. Known rather unfairly by most as the miserable-looking one from Girls Aloud, many of the band’s smarter fans earmarked Nicola as the pop behemoth’s true solo star-in-waiting, and though comparing her premier disc to those of bandmates Cheryl Cole and Nadine Coyle is doing her fabulous work here a disservice, it’s the best way to highlight just how natural a pop star she is. Whereas Cole’s music felt more like an afterthought to her celebrity profile and Coyle’s album fell flat due to it’s prominent whiff of desperation, Roberts’ LP is an enjoyably-cohesive little pop trifle that despite the multitude of know-alls behind the scenes doesn’t feel like it could possibly be carried by anyone else. Sugary sweet and at times rather silly, but still in possession of enough self-mocking awareness, intuition and heart to make it all deliciously easy to swallow, it’s an album you wish you could listen to as an eight-year-old girl just to get the absolute utmost pleasure out of it. And this anthem in particular is a succinct summation of all its charms.

    4) I Kill Your Love, Baby! by I Break Horses
    Some homemade Scandinavian alternative pop now from Swedish musicians Maria Lindén and Fredrik Balck, of whom little is still known but for the encouraging buzz emanating around their debut album, Hearts. It’s the kind of delicate wide-eyed thing that would do well to soundtrack nestling inside on a cold winter’s night with a loved one just before sunrise, abounding with expansive sonic vistas of reverb-drenched guitars, ethereal vocals and soul-searching synths. Though the public at large doesn’t know very much about the shoegaze duo yet, what with their not having even performed their pieces live for press or public (though there are videos of “bedroom sessions” on Youtube and a blurb on the website big enough to describe Lindén as “a shit-kicker in high fidelity” whilst acknowledging the group’s musical debts to the likes of My Bloody Valentine), rest assured that their sounds should be reverberating around the hippest of after-parties for the rest of the year. This track in particular showcases the duo’s command of sonic textures and arrangements, building with plenty of curiously ominous luminescence until finally rewarding the listener with a tremulous wave of audio sublimity.

    5) Escape by Apparat

    More eye-moistening electronica now, courtesy of German noisenik Sascha Ring, fresh from his stint in the excellent Moderat project with dance-duo Modeselektor. The Devil's Walk (named so after a poem written by nineteenth-century English Romantic Percy Bysshe Shelley) is his fifth album, his first to be released by English label Mute Records and quite the emotional sojourn into bubbly electro, orchestral flourishes and tear-stained balladry it is, lead single Song of Los already inspiring one the best and certainly most heartbreaking accompanying videos of the year so far. However, despite even a stirring collaboration with Soap&Skin‘s Anja Plaschg surfacing pretty early on the album (and by the way, where’s your second album, Miss?), it is with this track that the breadth of Ring’s musicality is truly revealed, at once achingly intimate and incredibly grand, offering more moments of almost-painful quietness and sweeping beauty within a single piece than most albums this year can claim to have done in their entire duration.

    6) Soft by Washed Out

    And just in time before everyone gets a little too emotional to carry on (we’re only a third of the way through here, people!), let’s hand it over to the US’ latest alternative music star, Ernest Greene, a young man who has been fanning generous plaudits from bloggers the world over for the past two years via his well-received EP’s consisting of what has been coined by whatever hipster got there first as “chillwave”. Signing with the label Sub Pop last year, 2011 saw the drop of his debut album, Within and Without, upon whom its progenitor was bestowed with even more critical garlands for its intoxicating mix of ambient chilled-out electronica, hip hop beats and trance-style signatures, with Greene’s vocals flowing over the top to provide yet another layer of soporific sultriness to the proceedings. The LP itself is probably the single most successful amalgamation of disparate genres that has created a universally-friendly whole that the world has heard this year, feeling as much at home on mainstream radio as it would in the clubs or at the hazy after-party. The best example of Greene’s work at its most mellifluously mesmerizing has to be this track; caution, it may actually make you feel a little happy inside again.

    7) Suns Irrupt by Neon Indian

    Continuing the theme of electronic one-man projects, we now have Alan Palomo and his plucky electro-bandmates with they’re sophomore LP, Era Extraña, arriving two years after their debut Psychic Chasms found favour with electro-fans the world over with its characteristic blend of arty chillwave synthpop. For his second sonic tome, Palomo holed himself up in Helsinki for four weeks, prompting a severe case of cabin fever that was punctuated by the intermittent stalking of a hobo. Not that such personal tolls on the man found their way on to his second album though, with the majority of it being as upbeat and resonant as any electro-geek would like their music to be, very much in the vein of the punchy ambience offered by Washed Out’s track earlier, but with more of a heavy lean towards 80′s electro and cacophonous arcade samples (the latter best exemplified by the closer Arcade Blues (single)). However, the standout from the album that made it on to my playlist is this slice of electro-dance, complete with mantra-style intonations and vocal layering alongside some rather appreciable toe-tapping beats.

    8) Burned Out by The Field

    One artist whose modus operandi seems to offer no end of sonic delights for his faithful listeners is that of Axel Willner, the Swedish DJ/musician who can take a single particular moment from a popular song and through his superlative brand of hypnotizing loops turn it into something head-noddingly epic (one of his better examples being this cut from his debut LP From Here We Go Sublime that doesn’t reveal its origins until the very end, prompting one of the most laugh-out-loud moments in dance music for recent years). Granted, since his universally-acclaimed first album Willner’s compositions have been getting longer and more intimidating, something that the more passing dancehead won’t necessarily be down with. Having said that, once you’re caught within Willner’s thrall of sequenced looping, even the tracks that last as long as eleven minutes still fly past, be they extended moments of chilled-out euphoria (like this one) or shape-throwing efforts of dancey propulsion. Looping Is A State Of Mind; and you’ll be lucky to find yourself enjoying the kind of pulses racing their way through Willner’s.

    9) Fragile Hope by Balam Acab

    Does anyone still remember when bloggers and musos were getting excited about that new sub-genre of electronic dance music, “witch house”? Last year, when it was gathering up some steam for its heady mix of chopped ‘n’ screwed hip hop beats, ambient industrial shoegaze and disembodied vocals, one of the artists people were getting more excited by was 20 year-old Alec Koone. After coming out with the well received Birds EP late last year, Koone released his debut LP WANDER/WONDER and though the initial critical reaction may have been cooler in accordance with the hype dying down around the whole witch-house movement, there’s no denying that there’s still plenty of head-turningly wonderful stuff to be found. What’s somewhat gratefully missing from this full-length effort though is the harsher side of this so-called genre, Koone leaving behind the grimier side of the dusted beats and processed vocals for something a lot more soothing and wistful. It might not strictly adhere to the witch-house aesthetic, but alongside the more ambient works of his peers such as How to Dress Well (a fellow labelmate with white-hot imprint tri angle) and Baths, it’s still pretty fucking gorgeous; just listen to this track and you’ll see.

    10) The Zone by The Weeknd featuring Drake

    One feels that 2011 is the year when R&B and hip hop music began to take a dramatically exciting new direction. The debut artists creating genuine heat these days seem to be informed by a disillusioned stance against the world, informed as much by the elegiac soundscapes of ambient dream-pop and reverb-soaked post rock as they are the typical genre tropes of booties, bitches, money, drugs and thuggery. Without doubt the most impressive of these new prognosticators is The Weeknd’s Abel Tesfaye, the 21 year-old musician who is only on his second mixtape but quite rightly has the Internet waiting with baited breath on his next move. His debut House of Balloons is the best-reviewed full-length release this year and his second effort, Thursday, is every bit as beautifully dystopian, emotionally haggard and sensuously sinister as its predecessor, perhaps even more so. Standout track The Zone also happens to feature fellow Canadian wordsmith Drake, who not only delivers one of his more eloquently powerful verses ever, but also excitingly helps to cement Tesfaye’s reputation as someone the music world is willing to take very seriously by his appearance here. And we’ve still got one more album to come from him before the year’s out…

    11) When I Go Out by Little Dragon

    After enjoying a steady head of hype since their eponymous debut of lo-fi soulful grooves in 2007, this five-piece electro-pop band from Sweden received some breakthrough recognition last year when they featured twice on one of 2010′s biggest releases, virtual-pop juggernauts Gorillaz’s expansively-realized Plastic Beach (on which their collaboration Empire Ants (feat. Little Dragon) repped as one of that album’s hidden treasures). Since then, not before stopping off for a couple of guest spots on both Dave Sitek‘s one-man-dance-project Maximum Balloon and London-based producer SBTRKT‘s debut from earlier this year, they’ve finally released their third album proper, Ritual Union, which sees the group embrace an even more minimalist sound than previously, marrying nu-soul R&B with the hypnotic beats and bass dominating the loftier echelons of the post-dubstep movement. This track in particular bears the finer virtues of the group’s new direction, consisting of little more than a rustling beat shuddering away as Yukimi Nagano’s vocals moan plaintively under Autotuned duress and an ominous synth continuously swoops throughout it all before delicately submitting itself into a jazzy percussion breakdown.

    12) Liiines by Ghostpoet

    Though it’s seemingly hip to belittle the UK’s Mercury Prize every year as much for the omissions as it is for the nominees and eventual winner (though it was rather nice that despite most people having their favourites, everyone who was bothered enough to keep track was happy for PJ Harvey‘s win this year), it must be said that they do well to throw the spotlight on certain acts whom the general music-buying public would otherwise ignore. 28 year-old Obaro Ejimiwe is one such musician whose debut album, Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam, near-silently crept into the world in February this year and, despite several adulatory notices, was due to be largely forgotten until it received a nomination. Granted, this didn’t necessarily translate into amazing unit shifts or anything but at least it granted some valuable media time to one of the most warmly observant, poignant and humbly impressive albums of 2011, Ejimiwe being very much a rapper of the introverted variety á la Roots Manuva. This track is the finale to the LP, as much a critique of the songwriting process as it is of the more vacuous poetry flowing through others MC rhymes these days, of which no one can accuse Ejimiwe of being so.

    13) Dreams f. Tunji & B.J. The Chicago Kid by CunninLynguists

    And the introspective hip hop continues, this time from across the Atlantic by rap collective CunninLynguists and their fifth album, Oneirology, taking its name from the scientific study of dreams. Despite making music for over a decade and all the while receiving plenty of worthy notices from publications like The Source and The Onion A.V. Club, you’d be forgiven for not knowing who this hardworking trio of Kentucky-based MCs are, which only makes the at-times amazing work on this album all the more powerful. Entirely produced by founding member KNO (and on it’s own, the production serves as a marvelous showcase for the man’s talents as a beatsmith), it’s an album that finds its progenitors and its guests navigating through the nightmares of everyday life, simply living and getting by, occasionally dreaming ahead and striving to attain something better, but never once losing their integrity and nobly resisting to glamourize the violence often portrayed. Such honourable and intelligent conviction is on ample display in the above track, if you fancy a listen.

    14) Gon Be Okay by Lil B

    And before finishing up, we’ll have just a couple of verses from Brandon McCartney, a young rapper from California who was able to collect a few death threats from homophobic hip hop enthusiasts and budding MCs when he declared that his latest album was to be titled I'm Gay (I'm Happy), even dedicating it to his fans in the LGBT community (and just for the record, he’s what The Lonely Island would call “no homo”). However, whilst Lil B does in part earn a spot on this playlist for his devil-may-care showmanship and heartening bonhomie (as well as some personal brownie points for being the first rapper to remind me of a Fry & Laurie sketch), it would only take away from album that is in of itself a strikingly personal tome of a young man trying to deal with the world and everything that it throws at him, his rhymes refreshingly shot through with surging passages of hope and optimism despite crippling moments of doubt. I had to include this track above all others though, if only for marrying Obama’s victorious election speech (given more power for sadly seeming so long ago already) with Joe Hisaishi’s enchanting score for Hayao Miyazaki’s epic Spirited Away in a stroke of emotive genius.

    15) Turn It Off by The Original Broadway Cast Of The Book Of Mormon

    And just when you thought this playlist couldn’t get any more queer, eh? Well, considering this song actually comes from a brand new musical from the creators of South Park and Avenue Q, you can rest assured that it’s place on this list is thoroughly justified. The big winner at this year’s Tony awards (the American version of the Oliviers… what do you mean you’ve never heard of them??), Messrs Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez’s satirical play concerns Mormon missionaries preaching the good word in the grim, war-torn environs of Uganda, taking potshots at the hypocrisy of organized religion and those who preach purely out of selfishness, whilst also appreciating the restorative power faith can have in peoples lives. The score itself is a mighty fine collection of pastiches from previous Broadway hots (specifically those adapted from Disney films), but they all happen to be shot through with incredibly dark, subversive humour, not least in this number wherein the missionaries thwart their own personal demons of domestic violence, cancer and homosexual desires with their artificially-programmed optimism. Hopefully all of this jet-black farce will remain intact for its inevitable West End run, but how well it’ll play outside of America will be interesting to see.

    And there you have it my patient friends! Hope you enjoyed reading that one and I’ll see you back in November for part four. Until then… xxxo
  • Best Albums Ever: This Binary Universe by BT

    Ago 4 2011, 15h02

    The Guardian website asked its readers to post reviews of their favourite "obscure" albums. So I wrote a few lovely words for BT's absolutely, epically awesome This Binary Universe. Here's what I wrote:

    "It shouldn't come as a surprise to find that some of the more prolific DJs that dance music has ever heralded are revealed to be classically trained musicians, amongst those to arrive from the UK being two-step garage's unsung hero MJ Cole, avant-garde electronic terrorist Richard D. James and Felix Buxton, one half of DJ/production outfit Basement Jaxx who recently collaborated with the Metropole Orchestra from Denmark to rework their back catalogue in the key of Night At The Proms-style pomp and grandeur. One such music school nerd turned dance luminary from the US is Brian Transeau, a.k.a. BT, who has enjoyed a solid career both composing and spinning commercial dance/trance music since the early 1990s. A Guinness world record holder for producing the song with the most vocal edits ever (that'd be his hit Somnambulist, the tally on it being 6,178), by the 2000s Transeau had begun to explore more intimate and thoughtful soundscapes than the thundering pummel of his "stutter edit" technique-proliferated earlier work, one such creative signpost being his ambient score for the Oscar-winning 2003 film Monster. No doubt inspired by the arrival of his daughter Kaia into his life as well as his own desire to push the artistry of his body of work, 2006's This Binary Universe is a sonic marvel that doesn't seem to get lauded enough anywhere except by Transeau's more ardent fans.

    As well as developing his own software to compose the unique sequences of samples that rifle themselves throughout the 74-minute running time, Transeau also incorporates elements of jazz and guitar-driven rock music that whisk each symphonic track into various wonderful directions, not to mention a monumentally massive 110-piece orchestra. The first track alone took six months to complete, Transeau writing it through the arduously taxing CSound audio compiler software, which should give you a fair idea as to the kind of work that has gone into this album; building with an ominous crescendo of glitchily discordant digital clicks and white noise before segueing into a beatific guitar line that ascends into a cloud of fairy-tale synths, it's a world away from his work with the likes of *NSYNC and Britney Spears. There isn't a single boring moment on the entire album, but if highlights have to be discerned, you've got the disarmingly jazzy piano interlude on Dynamic Symmetry, the indie-rock guitars and bass that somewhat brilliantly arrive out of nowhere on The Internal Locus and the end-of-days bombast of the orchestral backing on The Antikythera Mechanism.

    And despite all of these disparate elements fighting for space, Transeau's biggest achievement is to thread them all together with a gorgeous ambience that arrestingly evokes wide-eyed innocence and wonder, be it led by solos from Transeau's piano, harp and/or guitar, or the processed beats sampled from, amongst other things, the wind-up mechanisms from his daughter's toys. If you can imagine an IDM fan's version of the music played by the most ornately pretty music box ever assembled, you're a good way to getting to where the LP ends up. Most electronic musicians' attempts at this kind of profundity either fall flat on their faces unless they play up the cheesiness of it all or go the whole hog to create something undoubtedly amazing but is perhaps too avant garde to be recognized by the mainstream. However, Transeau's work here is just so straight-up, galvanizingly powerful, it'd take a seriously ignorant music snob to not be impressed with the wealth of emotion, ingenuity and epic scale that he has wrought (there won't be a dry eye in the house when you listen to that saxophone cry out on See You On the Other Side, trust me).

    Sure, it's a big ask of an album to sit through and is intimidatingly mounted with as much cutting edge technology as it is artistic ambition; on the back of this, Transeau started his own software company, having to create most of the programming himself as there wasn't anything available previously that was to help him compose what eventually came to bear. But for me, it puts to rest the age old argument that electronic music can't be invested with as much sublime soul and sonic depth as it can state-of-the-art gimmickry or emotionless art. And as a tribute to his daughter, it's never anything short of heartrendingly beautiful."

    And that's it... But here's the video for See You On The Other Side so I can break up the text with a lovely picture/for those too lazy to click the song link.

  • 2011: Part Two...

    Jul 5 2011, 13h27

    And here we are, halfway through the year 2011. I honestly hope it's been better for you than it has for me, but then I spend most of my days being needlessly miserable and drowning out the continuous mess of the world with any great new music I can get my ears to listen to (plus much drinking and partying, it must be said), so that shouldn't be too difficult. But rather than bore you with such regaling, let's get down to business and have a listen to some of the best music to have been released over the past three months, eh?

    1) Perfection by Oh Land

    Kicking things off is the lovely Nanna Øland Fabricius, a singer-songwriter from Denmark who had previously trained as a ballet dancer only to have it torn away from her as a result of a nasty spinal injury. Turning her hand to pop music, she received enough local acclaim for her 2008 debut Fauna for Epic to sign her up and help her release her eponymous sophomore effort, which just so happens to contain some of the most head-turningly gorgeous pop you're likely to hear this year. One highlight from the LP is this contender for Best Opening Track For An Album Of The Year, riffing on Fabricius' dance background not just through the beautiful orchestral backing and her lyrics that evoke an obsessive scrutiny of her subject (is she singing about an unrequited love, a rival or herself?), but mostly on her vocal, so nimble and graceful as it pirouettes past the drum-machines whilst still retaining a wrenching yearning for something she feels is so out of reach, the irony being, with this song at least, she can lay claim to having achieved what her song's ultimately about.

    2) Starlight by Sophie Ellis-Bextor

    Let it be known right now that Mrs Ellis-Bextor really is the present generation's unsung disco queen. Despite being a natural successor to Kylie Minogue's niche of blissful, charismatic, swathed-in-poppers dance-pop, our dear Sophie has had a tough time getting her fourth album out into the world, thanks mainly to clangers perpetrated by her prior record label that have ultimately seen her release the frankly fabulous Make a Scene independently. To be honest, Not Giving Up On Love would have been on this list if it hadn't have been ignored by everyone (including myself) on its initial release last year, but Starlight is another just-as-sterling example of Sophie's star-power, a wistful disco-ballad about love that cements its superiority through Ellis-Bextor's adorable plummy-mummy cadence , not least when she offers one of the best lyrics of the year: "'Cause tonight/We've found Heaven in the dark"... I'm pretty certain she's not singing about drunkenly staggering through Soho trying to find G-A-Y, and even if she is, it's because she loves us gays that much! The Eurovision campaign starts here!

    3) Checkers by WhoMadeWho

    But don't worry, it's not all gay-friendly music around this place, I do have time for somewhat deranged dance music too. The first example being this pummeling piece of arm-throwing decadence from a Danish triumvirate who have coasted cult success with their previous releases but now, on the back of new mini-album Knee Deep, released under über-cool electro-label Kompakt, they seem to be poised to take no prisoners with regards to anyone caught under their meditative wares of dance-rock. Coasting on danceability for the previous few years from their self-released works, Checkers is a prime example where they let rip with utter confidence, but not before illustrating some intoxicating teasing courtesy of some of the finer slow-burn builds 2011 has yet heard.

    4) Adult Goth by Gang Gang Dance

    This was the band that threatened to sue Florence + Her Machine and won before it went to court. If that doesn't make you love this band, then how about the fact that they've composed the best club-friendly indie-electronica album you are likely to hear for the rest of this year (it's called Eye Contact, and it is fucking amazing!)? Describing it would be futile, so you'd just do well to listen to it for yourself. If you're still not convinced, then there's something wrong with you... and I would apologize on your behalf, but that would just be patronizing in the extreme.

    5) NYC by Burial

    There are those who dislike Burial, if you can believe it, for the fact that he doesn't deviate enough from his signature sound of dusty jungle beats and ambient distortion punctuated by otherworldly sampled vocals. Still, you can't really take those critics seriously if the likes of Four Tet and Thom Yorke are knocking on your door for a collaboration, and though those sessions brought a couple of mighty fine tunes on their own, Burial's own Street Halo EP is where the future of electronic music can be found. The best of the recent tunes is this one, which has already got his last.fm fans excited enough in order to prepare for a state of seemingly eternal rapture (I mean "ejaculating forever"? Really??)

    6) House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls by The Weeknd

    And if he collaborated with this singer-songwriter, they could very much take over the whole of the music-geek blogosphere with their thematically-familiar wares of alienation and loneliness filtered through with their post-modern perspective on urban decadence. If Wikipedia's to be believed, this particular R&B crooner isn't even legally allowed to enter the kind of establishments that his premier mixtape, House of Balloons, describes in such dark worldly beauty, but that doesn't stop him from composing some of the most sublime prog-rock R&B that the world needs to hear right now. There's a reason why the likes of Drake and Jamie xx are collaborating with him, and this title track is a prime example of the luridly epic scope that this young man's music has to offer, especially with regards to his impressive vocal skills.

    7) Easy Please Me by Katy B

    One of the breakout stars from the dubstep scene that exploded last year was Miss Kathleen Brien, a 22-year-old London native who raised a few impressed eyebrows when her debut single, Katy on a Mission, sauntered into the UK Single Chart's Top 5 last year. Fast forward eight months later and her debut album On a Mission fulfills that single's promise tenfold, Katy emerging as a star blessed with a mercurial likeability that is amiable and easy-going enough to sate mainstream radio listeners but still possesses a gritty enough edge so as not to sell herself out and betray her musical background. The album has plenty of wonderful moments to savour (not least one heralding the long-awaited return of one Ms. Dynamite), but as a succinct summation of the witty intelligence to be found on this R&B/Dance/Pop crossover, as well as having a video keenly demonstrating Katy's immense charm, Easy Please Me is the one that finds a spot on my playlist (and for the last time, no she doesn't sing "Africans"...)

    8) Right Thing to Do by SBTRKT

    And yet there's even more lovely urban dance music to celebrate on this blog entry; I blame the hot weather we've been having, because this South London producer's debut album in particular sports a mix of club-friendly sweatiness married with moments of chilled contemplation that provides the perfect soundtrack to strolling through the city during a hot summer. Having gained attention via some well-received remixes for the likes of M.I.A. and Little Dragon (who happen to feature on lead-off single Wildfire), as well as his somewhat-secretive nature in performing whilst wearing a formidable tribal mask, Aaron Jerome's LP has confounded a few listeners with its subtle production smarts that don't crash around your ears on first listen and immediately demand you throw some shapes, which is an assured curveball from a premier disc from an electronic dance artist. Still, you can't argue with sounds that send out as good a vibes as these, one highlight being this particular tune that may have the cutest bassline of 2011.

    9) Second Song by TV on the Radio

    I can't help but be moved every time I listen to this particular song from TVOTR's fourth studio album, Nine Types of Light. Not just because of its innate awesomeness, it being a sublime mix of funk, rock and soul that has been an assured characteristic of the band's output since they first started ten years ago; but also because the band's bass player Gerard Smith passed away due to lung cancer this year. I'm not normally moved by this kind of stuff to the extent that I write about it (I mean, people die; it's sad, but that's a given) but the fact that a member of my Favourite Band In The World died on my birthday isn't something I can't not think about.

    10) Holocene by Bon Iver

    In keeping with the Let's Just Have A Big Cry motif that my playlist seems to have inexplicably taken a drastic turn towards in the space of one song, here's one of the more beautiful tear-stained moments from Justin Vernon's eponymous follow-up to 2008's For Emma, Forever Ago, which could very well turn into the biggest album of the year, given the reaction from both critics and fans. Arriving after landing the most head-scratchingly curious guest spot on last year's hugest event record (mind you, pretty much everyone else in the world ended up on that album, didn't they?), Bon Iver's return is delicate, emotional and rich with ornate beauty, the kind of wonderful album that will get played relentlessly by BBC Radio but will still retain enough gorgeousness to survive continuous airplay for the next year or so.

    11) Grown Ocean by Fleet Foxes

    And following Iver on this list we have another folk outfit from America who made a big splash in 2008 after quietly selling over a million copies of their eponymous debut LP. Their sophomore effort Helplessness Blues boasts the typical features of a band taking a bigger-budgeted and more confident stride into the world after carving their own niche of wintry acousticisms, the arrangements being just that little bit more robust to sound more accessible to the passing listener whilst keeping their fans sated with plentiful examples of the beautiful harmonies that made everyone swoon in the first place. Closing track Grown Ocean is one such moment where Foxes are at their typically wistful best but also delivering something more emotionally accessible to the previous album's heartbreak, opening with an agreeable rumble that would have had no place on their previous album before giving way to a lovely flourish of woodwinds as frontman Robin Pecknold intones a dream-based narrative wherein he seems to experience a transcendent epiphany of the world's beauty. Some times, letting the light in will make everything alright.

    12) Your Radio by Little Scream

    Of course, the ebullient light of the Foxes' latest work can't stay around for long round these parts, and to begin the crash back down to earthy reality, we have the debut album from Laurel Sprengelmeyer, a self-learned multi-instrumentalist who has finally gotten round to releasing her debut album The Golden Record after spending years performing alongside the likes of Atlas Sound and Handsome Furs. Named after the 1977 Voyager 1 Space Shuttle's audio-visual disc that cataloged various sounds and images from Earth intended to be viewed by any other sort of intelligence the universe may yet behold beyond our own, Sprengelmeyer's premier disc is a strange beast boasting a head-turning mix of alt-indie electronica and soft moments of folk-tinged melancholy. An example where this particular one-two punch works best is when the almost-illegally pretty The Heron And The Fox is followed by this track, wherein Sprengelmeyer's layered vocals extol reassuring resolve to an unnamed comrade in her apocalyptic plight as the guitars and drums grow ever-larger and finally consume them. It's sublime stuff and worthy very much of your time.

    13) Putting the Dog to Sleep by The Antlers

    Having already established their reputation as one of the leading purveyors of emotionally-harrowing indie-rock with their well-received third album Hospice in 2009 (on which frontman Peter Silberman is still more-than-reluctant to be drawn into the events that provided the LP's inspiration), it makes sense to follow Little Scream with a cut from The Antlers' latest disc, Burst Apart, eerily so considering that she is supporting these guys on their current US tour. And though Burst isn't nearly so much on the emotional offensive as Hospice was, it still has its fair share of downer-inducing wares, the most clear-cut of which is this piece that closes the album with all of the subtlety of a sledgehammer making violent contact with a sheet of sugar glass, featuring Silberman wailing after his antagonist who is very much keen to put their relationship out of its misery, punctuated by a belligerently bluesy guitar riff whilst organs moan reservedly in the background. Still, with a title as tasteless and baiting as that, you're not expecting a barrel of laughs really, are you? (And don't worry, I'm certain they didn't have to put any animal down to make this song!)

    14) We Bros by WU LYF

    World Unite! Lucifer Youth Foundation. The name alone just screams pretentiousness, and the Manchester collective have been courting plenty of hype and controversy thanks ironically enough to their cagey affections for both the music press and major record labels keen to snap them up after courting substantial cult success in the native town, eventually opting to self-release their debut album Go Tell Fire to the Mountain and thereby cementing their reputation as British Indie Rock's Next Big Genuinely Exciting Thing. And lo and behold, be damned if the album itself exhibits enough surprisingly moving barminess to warrant such attention, combining post-rock, punk and world music to create a unique texture that doesn't sound like anything else around these days, particularly via the yell-along regularly-incomprehensible vocals that give the songs an urgency as dramatic, coarse but ultimately as uplifting as being trapped in the thrall of a joyous chant in the stands of a football ground. Galvanizing stuff, the best of which the band has to offer being found on the above track.

    15) Sooner or Later by Cat's Eyes
    And we finish up on some ultra-hip fuzzy indie-pop courtesy of The Horrors' Faris Badwan and classically-trained singer and composer Rachel Zeffira, whose shared fascination with girl group pop from the 1960s, especially works produced by the legendary Phil Spector, have yielded a curiously special little album, composed and produced whilst Badwan's bandmates built their own studio to record their highly anticipated third album. Endorsed by the Vatican after performing an impromptu concert for various of its cardinals via Zeffira's classical connections, the results have yielded some of the sweetest and lovely sounds to have been released this year, amongst some of the most doom-laden and forboding, a prime example of the latter being this Badwan-led mood piece wherein his dread-filled moans are punctuated by sinister electronics and a horrifically ominous horn section that appears to be playing live from the underworld. It might not be characteristic of some of the more indelible charming moments that the album has to offer, but it's the song I can't seem to stop playing most from this rather wonderful collection Badwan and Zeffira have wrought so wonderfully.

    But I shan't end this blog entry on such a sour note, but rather ask that you follow this link, wherein you will find a free download of Will Wiesenfeld's latest EP under his Geotic band name, Bless the Self. It constitutes of fourteen minutes of the most beautiful music you will listen to all year, it's that pretty.

    Now, enough of this blog malarkey. Until next time, take care!! ;) xxxo
  • 2011: Part One...

    Abr 4 2011, 11h52

    It wasn’t until recently that I’d realized quite how much I have often emotionally invested in making playlists in my iTunes library. Be they to commemorate a special occasion, honor a friendship or foolhardedly assuage passages of time dictated by particular moods of mine (those never last as long as a first playthrough though), I still take far too much care in comprising CD-shaped compilations and, as a result, treasure them just that little bit too much. This is made immediately apparent by a few stringent disclaimers I always give myself whilst making said mini music-fests:

    1) As hinted previously, the duration must never exceed seventy-nine minutes and fifty seconds so as to be able to fit on a playable CD;

    2) The music featured needs to pleasingly tread the line between the mainstream and the obscure, specifically when being made for another person;

    3) No genre should ever be considered taboo;

    4) All songs must be at least five-star-rated.

    Please excuse the obsessive-compulsive-geekery on display here but I’m trying to make a point about how my pitiful brain works, though if you’re not offended by such meaninglessly indulgent and strict strata (you are reading a blog after all!), I commend you and shall continue… Though the nature of my seemingly endless playlist-mongering may be founded on unreliable conceits that always seem to end in disappointment, it is my philosophy that where life in all of its ravaged beauty can frequently fail you, great music never will. Sure, I’ve deleted playlists before when the motives behind their progeny have failed to yield anything healthy enough for my reminiscence to hold on to and will definitely continue to do so (this whole iTunes/selective memory metaphor was kick-started by my absconding two specific playlists for people I’d previously considered a lot better than I ultimately should have done… and yes I am still drinking), but as signifiers that shed light on how I see the rest of the world, nothing translates it all better for me than some of my favorite songs pooled together to extol their collective wisdom. So, amidst the music released thus far in 2011, what have I found ultimately exciting and sublime enough to help lay my neuroses bare for the entire Internet to see?

    1) Till the World Ends by Britney Spears

    To kick off a playlist good and proper, you can’t really go wrong with a song that so positively welcomes the end of days that at its most epic moment collapses on itself only to be brought back to life for one last surging sonic mêlée. Co-produced by pop bigwigs Dr. Luke and Max Martin, co-writer Ke$ha’s earworm-style influence is clearly felt on this one, and the lyrics evoke nothing more than a truly awesome party, but Britney’s worldly-yet-still-sweet little-robotgirl voice proves a much more appealing fit than her current rival’s, the track escalating with enough club-friendly intensity to provide her with one of the most euphoric moments in her career so far. It must also be said that its parent album, Femme Fatale, is something of a triumph too, consisting of sophisticated dance-pop cuts that slightly lack the fascinating brokedown-American-princess edge of her critical breakthrough Blackout, but still registers with enough wit, filth and massive tunes to herald the title of Best Adult Pop Album Of The Year So Far.

    2) Break the Chain (feat. Eric Turner & Sway) by Lupe Fiasco

    Quite a few of his fans didn’t quite know what to make of Mr Fiasco’s third album Lasers once it was finally released after what the rapper has described as an extremely painful birthing process, the result being an album that takes great pains to coat Lupe’s socially conscious rhymes in a mainstream sheen to appease both his peers and his commercially-incented label. However, despite his ambivalence towards the work, it still offers quite a few wonderful moments when it hits, one such instance being this ravey floorfiller that features Fiasco and an always-welcome Sway eloquently delivering victorious verses about breaking away from negativity and hardship whilst Turner delivers a soaring chorus that is purpose built to get any crowd to raise its hands in the air.

    3) VERITAS by Gilbere Forte'

    And the hip hop/rave flavour continues with this entry from one of US rap’s most promising newcomers, earning itself a place in my heart if only for superlatively sampling one of the best dance tunes from last year. However, Forte' doesn’t just earn cool points for honoring a hidden dance treasure, but also because the young man enhances it by delivering as impassioned and impressive a diatribe as the title of the song intimates, calling to question rap’s more money-motivated playas for succumbing to the game whilst still acknowledging its allure and promises of a better life. Take note, as this exciting new artist is showcased rather awesomely throughout his recent mixtape Eyes Of Veritas, so much so that I’ll even forgive him for clumsily using an apostrophe to accent his moniker.

    4) Act One: The Grind by Pet Shop Boys

    A somewhat dramatic left-hand turn into electro-pop orchestral grandeur now to off-set the gritty urbanities of the last two tracks, but then I did make my excuses earlier about this playlist possibly veering off into different directions, and once the orchestra bruisingly saunters over the opening synth pulses of this seven-minute marvel, you won’t be quibbling with such foibles at all. Taken from Messrs Tennant and Lowe’s score for Javier de Frutos’ recent ballet production of Hans Christian Andersen’s The most incredible thing, it is bold, beautiful, joyously camp and even cheekily throws in a typically blithe passage sung by Tennant halfway through to truly disarm the fans. Despite the fact that the rest of the score doesn’t feature any other vocals whatsoever, it is a perfect summation of everything Tennant and Lowe achieve with this assignment, providing proof (not that it was needed at all) that PSB’s arrangements are just as galvanizing and swoonsome as their melodies and lyrics. Note: the above video is not the actual track but a ten minute sampler from the entire score, you lucky things!

    5) Need You Now by Cut Copy

    Uplifting revisionist indie-electro now from these Australian wunderkinds, whose third album Zonoscope has seen them enjoy some of the best reviews of their career so far and one only needs to listen to this opening track on the LP to hear why. With frontman Dan Whitford’s vocals delivering lines that alternate between excitable hope and inevitable dismay to the object of his affections as the percolation of beats and keyboards travel through an epically joyous crescendo, it’s like the classily raucous us-against-the-world power ballad that New Order didn’t get around to writing. And I really don’t care how facile it is of me to compare it to anything Order, it’s only because I need to stress emphatically just how lovely this song is.

    6) Good Night Good Morning by Beth Ditto

    Having previously flirted with a dancier-sound on the last Gossip album and finally taking the plunge with some style with Simian Mobile Disco on their Temporary Pleasure LP, The Girl Whose Parents Eat Squirrels has gone and given us all a taste of what’s to come from her upcoming debut solo album with her eponymous EP, the highlight being this gorgeously sensuous late-night/morning-after flirtathon. Aided with shimmering synths and buoyant bass provided by new best mates SMD, Ditto coos tremulously with such effervescent bliss tempered with craven lust that she makes a somewhat tremendous case that her metamorphosis from rowdy indie poster girl to sexy disco glamourpuss might turn into one of 2011’s most awesome moments. On this evidence, the album should be pretty indispensible stuff.

    7) Two Kinds of Happiness by The Strokes

    When The Strokes announced their fourth album was to be released nearly ten years after making the world fall in love with indie rock again via their debut album This Is It, you could practically feel the collective breaths of excited fans emanating from the press release as they first glanced upon it. And despite taking more than four years to regroup, Angles amply showcases that the five-piece still have enough robust synergy to crank out punk pop beauties better than pretty much any other outfit nurtured as Next Big Things since their breakthrough. Happiness is a textbook example of the band playing to their strengths, the song at first timeless enough in its melody and arrangement to almost make you affectionately feel like you’ve heard it before, only to ascend into the kind of breakdown of virtuoso rabble that the lads make their duty to sound so effortless and fresh, the fraught spectrum of intense infatuation that it charts made positively overwhelming. Welcome back, guys…

    8) Yosemite Theme by The Go! Team

    I’m going to be extremely lazy and link my friend Babs’ article here with regards to this highlight from the Brighton group’s third album Rolling Blackouts, as she hits pretty much hits everything that’s absolutely brilliant about this song square on its head. My two cents: a charmingly bright and brash interlude that counters harmonicas and horn sections straight from ye olde American frontier with boundlessly effusive and intense drum signatures, resulting in unabashedly pure joy in audio form.

    9) The Fairlight Pendant by ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead
    Taking their cue from orchestral suites as well as their formidable lineage as one of the US’s most well-regarded cult art-rock outfits, Trail Of Dead stripped back their usual intensive recording strategies from previous albums to hammer out this still-epic piece of alt-rock in less than two weeks. This specific piece is the finale of Tao of the Dead’s first part, which is then followed by a final track actually comprising of five separate scores that bleed into each other over the course of sixteen amazing minutes. I couldn’t bring myself to include that in this playlist because of its length but this mini-gauntlet is still its own enthrallingly intimidating beast, following the band’s classical brief in its conjuring a sublime hard-rock symphony, the key to its success being its surging changes in tempo.

    10) Love Won't Be Leaving by Anna Calvi

    Sensual, theatrical and sinfully swathing herself in the kind of devilish guitars that could only soundtrack the most classic entrances of the most iconic of Hollywood sex bombs, what is there not to like about Anna Calvi? Rightfully earning herself a high-end spot on the BBC Sound Of 2011, Calvi’s particular blend of baroque indie often proves irresistible on her eponymous debut, not least on this stunning closer that bristles with menace and longing as she sings after a lost love to whom she’s still emotionally bound. And though Calvi’s beyond-sexy vocals effortlessly inspire all of this sultriness on their own, it’s those frankly amazing guitar riffs that steal the show on this and throughout her immensely promising premier disc.

    11) Love Out of Lust by Lykke Li

    Almost logically, Li follows Calvi on this particular playlist, what with their both happening to be almost-offensively talented young indie femmes capable of producing gorgeous lovelorn odes with an ear for arresting theatrical panache. Li’s sound though is arguably more wide-reaching in its scope, her second album Wounded Rhymes combining indie rock and grassroots soul with a subtle electronic influence, whilst the raspy thinness of her voice is able to summon up more character and empathy than most other singers her age courting greater success right now. And of course there are the lyrics; singing earnestly for carnal intimacy from her lover, she encapsulates the empty loneliness that forces people into confusing physical with emotional intercourse. It’s essentially a sympathetic torch song on behalf of affection-starved whores everywhere… You know who you are and be glad that at least one person in this world feels it with you.

    12) Separator by Radiohead

    Fewer bands have embraced the digital age quite as tenaciously as the UK’s Best Band have done, especially with regards to the twists in their distribution of their music, boldly issuing a pay-what-you-like deal on In Rainbows back in 2007 months before its physical release and, with The King of Limbs, digitally releasing the album a day earlier than the proposed release date, which had only been announced a few days beforehand, simply because “the album was ready”. Such charming directness and endearment towards their fans aside though, it would all be for naught if Radiohead didn’t deliver such beautiful music, and though Limbs is certainly not their best album, it still has moments of greatness, not least this blissful electronic meander that closes the LP. Absent of any kind of fraught drama and coasting by with soothing ambience, with Yorke’s dreamy vocals redolent of the ethereal euphoria felt after finally lifting the entire world off of his shoulders, by the end it has blind-sided you with just how subtly lovely it is.

    13) Limit to Your Love by James Blake

    Since courting plenty of white hot buzz late last year, with the release of James Blake its progenitor has become one of the more ubiquitous poster boys for a new music movement that trades in neurosis-smothered chamber soul-pop filtered through minimal electronics and processed vocals (see last year’s debut from the similarly impressive How to Dress Well for another such hero). And though plenty have balked in bemusement at the stripped-down sounds Blake has wrought on his debut LP, there can be little doubt about the man’s talent in composition and production, catching the listener’s breath just as much with the silent airs that punctuate his songs as he does with the homemade atmospherics plied by his bass and beats, successfully drawing your attention to every nuance to be heard. Limit is one of the more accessible tracks from the album (Blake’s vocals are less treated by effects here than on any other song for starters), but no less beguiling for being so, summoning more drama in a couple of piano chords than most other break-up ballads can do in their entirety these days.

    14) Space Is Only Noise If You Can See by Nicolas Jaar

    And the chin-stroking, electro-minimalist luvviness continues with the youngest artist to feature on this playlist and the title track from his debut, Space Is Only Noise. All of twenty-years old, Jaar’s reputation as one of the more exciting electronic pop music composers via a flurry of well-received remixes was given a shot in the arm with this LP, courting similarities to Blake for his lo-fi wares and seeming lack of any sort of BPM in his music whatsoever. One listen though reveals that Jaar’s work is much more fanciful and less serious in its tone, utilizing found noises, dialogue samples and often absurd lyrics written with more of an ear for syntax and rhythm than actual content, resulting in a more pleasantly enjoyable experience that is almost goofy in its charming playfulness. All of this is brought to bear on this track in particular, enhanced by a funky bass synth that sets the mood perfectly for amusedly-detached ambience, by the end assuring us that Jaar’s talent is one to watch with some attentiveness.

    15) It's Alright by Hercules and Love Affair

    And to close the set we have yet another somewhat rather-attractive electronic music producer in Andy Butler and his dance music project that first caused a stir back in 2008 with their eponymous debut album that happened to contain one of the best disco tunes ever. The follow-up Blue Songs is a more ruminative and soulful affair, finally coming to a head with this stunning closer that finds solace from the horrors of the world in music itself. Though it is a resonant song all on its own lyrically and sung with a wary wistfulness that is utterly compelling, the genius of this is in Butler’s production, incorporating distorted sirens and crashes that vividly portray the horrific world outside, whilst the piano and a particularly moving guitar line front their own offensive in creating the song’s protective shield. Tellingly though, the song itself finishes before the noises do, making it that much more powerful in its acknowledgement of our world’s own destructiveness; as state-of-the-world anthems go, this is an eloquently hopeful one that doesn’t lie to its listeners. The world is shit and will still be shit long after we go, but we can create our own sanctuary if we try hard enough…

    So what have I learned about myself via this veritable smorgasbord of sonic fracas? Well, for those who’ve skipped to the end, here’s the abridged version:

    “…wit, filth and massive tunes…

    breaking away from negativity…

    impassioned and impressive…

    bold, beautiful, joyously camp…

    excitable hope and inevitable dismay…

    effervescent bliss tempered with craven lust…

    fraught spectrum of intense infatuation…

    charmingly bright and brash…

    enthrallingly intimidating beast…

    bristles with menace and longing…

    on behalf of affection-starved whores everywhere…

    blissful electronic meander…

    neurosis-smothered chamber soul-pop…

    almost goofy in its charming playfulness…

    the world is shit and will still be shit…”

    Can’t really argue with that with regards to how these past three months have felt for me really. Well, that’s enough indulgence for quite a while now. Bye bye… I’ll try to be a little perkier next time, don’t worry! ;) xxxo
  • The Vessalis Music Awards 2010 Including My #1 Album Of The Year

    Jan 2 2011, 16h46

    OK, so at least a day late, but hey, you can't hold me to that. Been an exceptionally busy New Year's holiday for me this year, and I can be forgiven for having myself a little fun, right? ;)

    But enough lollygagging, welcome to my putting a cap on 2010 music-wise; it's been one heck of an exciting year for music in general, with every single album in my Top 100 earning at least one five-star rating for one of their songs. It has been rather emotional to let go of a few releases, to say the least, but needs be... But before I get down to revealing the Best Of The Best, just a little breakdown for my genre awards:

    Best Alternative Album Of The Year
    Penny Sparkle by Blonde Redhead

    Best Dance Album Of The Year
    This Is Happening by LCD Soundsystem

    Best Electronic Album Of The Year
    Into the Great Wide Yonder by Trentemøller

    Best Folk Album Of The Year
    Have One on Me by Joanna Newsom

    Best Hip Hop/Rap Album Of The Year
    My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West

    Best Pop Album Of The Year
    Bang Goes The Knighthood by The Divine Comedy

    Best R&B Album Of The Year
    Wake Up! by John Legend & The Roots

    Best Rock Album Of The Year
    The Suburbs by Arcade Fire

    Further transgressions now with a few words on the following choices:

    Best Single Of The Year
    Dancing on My Own by Robyn

    Even with regards to some of the biggest pop stars making and releasing music these days, Robyn Carlsson represents something truly special. She hasn't created an alter-ego with which she can use to throw her music into different varieties of sonic realms; the girl is so special all on her own that she can rap alongside Snoop Dogg with enough swagger to keep up one moment, and sing Hyperballad at a ceremony with the Swedish royal family and Björk herself in attendance without missing a single note. Straddling the divide between indie-cool and the pop-mainstream with incredible panache, Body Talk registers as her finest album of her career so far, and this lead-off single was the perfect choice to officially launch the campaign. Very much a sequel to prior track Be Mine! and following through on the tear-stained electro-balladry that launched her back into the mainstream in 2007 (her duet with Kleerup, With Every Heartbeat), it wasn't just a consolidation of everything that Robyn had done up until that point, but with its muscly bass synth rumbling underneath as it offset Robyn's sweet vocals and harmonies, not to mention one of the biggest choruses to ever grace a pop song, it was able to strike you right at the very center of your heart with all of the precision of a razor-sharp icepick and still give you enough momentum to dance through your tears. Just superb.

    Best Video Of The Year
    Born Free by M.I.A.

    One popstar that I couldn't seem to stop talking or thinking about this year was the inimitable Maya Arulpragasam, the Sri Lankan/British artist-turned-rapper, who upon the release of her much-anticipated third album proceeded to put her professional mouth in it at every opportunity she got to speak her mind or defend herself. The Lynn Hirschberg article was the kind of career-deflating stitch-up that even the most egotistical of artists couldn't pick themselves up from and reviews for MAYA weren't nearly as vociferous in their praise for the proud Tamil as her earlier work. However, M.I.A.'s motives should have been made perfectly clear to all once she released the link to the first music video for MAYA's campaign, the Romain Gavras-directed affair being swiftly taken off of Youtube and VEVO on the grounds of its violence and sexual content. In a year when the epic short film/music video was something many artists were getting excited about again, M.I.A. and Gavras came up with something that enhanced the power of the original track (which was one of the finest punk-rock tracks of the year, thanks in no small part to that Suicide sample) and was one of those rare music videos that actually tried to say something, be it about sensationalism, terrorism, screen violence or artistic presentation. In short, the single most passionate clip to be released this year.

    Best Promotional Campaign Of The Year

    Beginning life as a series of viral videos that were being circulated amongst the most reputable music blogs all over the world, much mystery still surrounds the iamamiwhoami project with regards to who or what it is about in particular. The only professional musician named amidst the throng of the six-strong team is that of lead singer Jonna Lee, by way of her appearances in all of the music videos, but even this wasn't clarified until a good way into the year, when all sorts of female popstars were being put in contention for these weird and wonderful videos (including Christina Aguilera, which got more than a few people excited). Once that had all died down, and the group started releasing singles and remixes on iTunes, the faithful remained, precisely because between the music, the accompanying clips and profound air of mystery surrounding it, nothing out there was quite like it, tallying up over four million views collectively for their virals and videos on their Youtube channel alone. It felt like the best kept secret amongst pop aficionados all over the world, culminating in a webcast made on November 16th in the dead of night of an hour-long concert video that invited a Youtube subscriber into their fold with typically beautiful/disturbing results. For true showmanship and creative panache, these guys deserve every plaudit they receive.

    Best Bit-In-A-Song Of The Year
    The middle eight in All the Lovers by Kylie Minogue

    Another lead-off single that did incredibly well to launch a much-antipicated return to pop was Kylie's All The Lovers. It ticked all of the requisite boxes regarding all things about the Australian popstar; genteel, wistful vocals complemented by top-of-the-line electro synths that sung a sweet ode to a lucky loved one, with much saintly imploring from Minogue to "dance". But it's directly after the piano-led refrain and Kylie's whispered repetition of the song's first few lines that the track finally lets loose with a middle-eight so uplifting and joyous that you almost feel like you don't know what you've done to earn the right to listen to such loveliness. Accompanied by one of the better videos of her career, its impact is undeniable. Just lovely.

    Guiltiest Pleasure Of The Year
    Here Lies Love by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim
    Runner-Up: The Glee Cast discography
    I wouldn't be being honest to myself if I didn't include either of these questionable pop fancies in my end of year tally, so here they are... ;)

    And on that note, some none-too-impressed words about a couple of releases...

    Most Disappointing Album Of The Year
    Bionic by Christina Aguilera

    I'm not going to rain on this album quite as much as others have, but I do have to make mention of the fact that this was an album that should have been spectacular but rather irredeemably wasn't. Having justifiably taken a lengthy-by-pop-music-standards time off to look after her baby son, Aguilera and her team were to assemble a cruise-liner's worth of pop's most current soundsmiths and writers to create the comeback to end all comebacks. Amongst the roster was Santigold and her co-writer/producer John Hill; indie electro-pop noiseniks Le Tigre, Peaches and Ladytron; two of rap music's most prominent female MCs, M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj; hitmakers deluxe Christopher "Tricky" Stewart, Cathy Dennis, Linda Perry... And yet, it all fell despairingly short. Many including myself were quick to blame Lady Gaga for spooking X-Tina into an embarrassingly contrived fashion-obsessed futuristic sexpot to try and stay relevant, but that isn't necessarily the case (even if these themes are responsible for the most derivative track of her career, Glam). In truth, though she's credited as a co-writer on nearly every song here, it all comes across as a little desperate on Aguilera's part, a particularly cynical case of artistic submission that doesn't convince in the slightest. She can still belt better than probably any singer in the world and there are flashes of brilliance on here (Birds of Prey is about as awesome as a Cathy Dennis/Ladytron collaboration could ever possibly sound), but this is a step back from the girl who gave two of the last decade's best pop albums.

    Worst Album Of The Year
    Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross by Christopher Lee

    Sure, I'll admit that most metal music can be pretty awesomely silly and come out the other side as undoubtedly amazing; I'll be the first to admit that Christopher Lee is without doubt one of the most brilliant actors the world has ever known; but coupled together for a concept album that, along with an 80-piece orchestra, told the story of the bloodthirsty monarch who laid all manner of hell down on his opponents in the eighth century that ultimately sounds like an extremely horrendous West End production that was pulled just before the sets were built is the stuff of pure WTF! (Don't believe me, watch this...) I almost feel bad condemning this album, because in truth it is a magnificent listen when one is in the right mood, but it is plagued by more than a few fundamentally wrong decisions. The first has to be asking Lee's daughter, Cristina, to perform narration duties, speaking in a hilariously lukewarm monotone that suggests automated destination responses on public transport (and when she's replaced by a particularly maniacal soprano, it's flat-out hysterical); the second is that following the story is a tricky endeavour even with a narrator, given the theatrical nature of the project many of the other singers are indistinguishable from each other, though admittedly Lee's voice is still surprisingly strong in the moments he does actually sing. Thirdly, it contains quite possibly the most horrible love ballad in human history, introduced particularly painfully by Ms Lee, intoning that the "end of every military campaign always brought an heir"... I implore you to listen to this album, even if it's only once.

    Nearly there now, just a few more awards to hand out:

    Best Debut Album Of The Year
    Drink the Sea by The Glitch Mob

    Best Group Album Of The Year
    Plastic Beach by Gorillaz

    Best Solo Male Album Of The Year
    The Age of Adz by Sufjan Stevens

    Best Solo Female Album Of The Year
    Harmony by Sa Dingding

    And here we are, My Album Of 2010:

    The ArchAndroid by Janelle Monáe

    Those who know me well enough (or at the very least pop over to my journals once in a while... fine, anyone I meet) will have guessed this by now, and words are very short considering I've written about this girl and her album almost continuously since her major-label debut was released in May this year. This album literally is the future, and remains a relative secret with regards to its success on both sides of the pond with her mainstream breakthrough elusive no doubt thanks to the sheer denseness in style, ambition and flair this album offers. The girl delivered on the promise of her EP and did better than good. To better elucidate my point, just take a look at the video below...

    And that was 2010 peeps! If there is a next time, see you then... If not, take care and be good! xxxooo
  • Dibder's Top 100 Albums Of 2010: Pt. 4

    Dez 31 2010, 14h18

    And here's Pt. 4 for your keen optical receptors, just in time for New Year's Eve!! YAY!!!

    25. There Is Love in You by Four Tet

    Most likely after collaborating with dubstep pioneer Burial on their well-received EP last year, Kieran Hebden deviates further away from the glitchy folktronica with which he earned his name and for his fifth album as Four Tet heads for a heady urban soundscape that is in some instances bustling with nervous electronic activity and also provides warm respite in its more meditative moments. It is a humbly precise and intricately engineered delight that provides ceaseless enjoyment on various repeated listens, if only because there's so much harmonious buzz that you'll be hard-pressed to pick it all up on simply one listen.
    The Observer: "The result is a fifth Four Tet album which has the power to delight someone who has never listened to a Kraftwerk record all the way through." Link
    Last.fm Review from Simjob: "The ability to uniquely transform all the vast array of separate parts and the shear number of ideas contained within each track into a lucid whole is something Hebden has always excelled at but has never been more evident than in There Is Love In You."
    My Favourite Track: This Unfolds

    24. Body Talk by Robyn

    Swedish popstar raises her profile even further with an exuberantly huge release that was split into three different parts in a successful effort to keep her fans sated with her customary pop excellence. And though this time quite a few producer friends old and new have joined her for the ride (amongst them Diplo, Röyksopp, Kleerup and the one and only Max Martin), this is Robyn's show, and you'd be a fool if you were to try and tell anyone else otherwise. Equal parts hard-nut robo-bitch and soft-hearted disco queen, she has single handedly captured the hearts of both pop music's biggest supporters and the fashionable indie set through sheer verve and spunk... And obviously a voluminous cache of killer tunes that no pop aficionado can do without!
    Pitchfork: "With Body Talk, Robyn ups the ante for pop stars across the radio dial and raises her own chances of appearing on yours." Link
    Last.fm Review from 30s: "Generally don't like her, find her nasal and annoying. Guess she proved me wrong."
    My Favourite Track: Dancing on My Own

    23. Expressions by Music Go Music

    Only just finding its way over the Atlantic in April of this year, the L.A. art-pop trio's debut album is an indelibly chintzy treat, a joyous throwback to the spandex-clad era of 70s disco via ABBA and early-era Blondie, but refreshingly devoid of any sort of tongue-through-cheek irony that renders the whole exercise as some cheap joke at the expense of those earlier bands. Which isn't to say that Music Go Music are simply an amazing covers band who seem to have collated lost b-sides from their idols and passed them off as their own; there are enough subversively modern delights in the programming and the song structures to suggest that they could present a way back in for the psychedelic disco-pop from decades ago into the zeitgeist, they have that much pep!
    BBC: "Everyone – ABBA fanatics, closet fans that just won’t admit how much they loved Mamma Mia!, even death metal nuts – should adore this." Link
    Last.fm Review from Babs_05: "More folky and less perfect and polished than ABBA themselves, but the energy is still there. Great fun."
    My Favourite Track: Light Of Love

    22. Stridulum II by Zola Jesus

    Industrial goth-pop showcase from white-hot member of Former Ghosts that caught everyone by surprise, despite its titular progenitor plying her wares for a few years now on relatively low-profile self-releases. Concocting a sonic world that is sublimely immersive and at times elegantly beautiful, it is Jesus' often spellbinding vocal that reels the listener in, wise beyond her years but clearly in possession of a clairvoyant talent that will do well to make sure that her star keeps rising over the next couple of years until she's ready to truly let the rest of the world know quite how amazing she can be.
    NME: "To think where she could go from here is, in every sense of the word, truly frightening." Link
    Last.fm Review from amodelofcontrol: "It's also not a million miles away from Fever Ray in it's cold, aloof feel, but without the deliberate weirdness and erasing of most human touches."
    My Favourite Track: Sea Talk

    21. Flesh Tone by Kelis

    Sure, we ought not be too surprised by Kelis' change in musical direction from the indie-flavoured R&B she had become popular with since her breakout hit Caught out There, not just because quite a few of R&B's divas of last decade are trying their hands at Eurobeat disco these days (Kelly Rowland in particular making a mighty fine stab at it), but Kelis is one of the few fearless urban artists to truly step out of her box once in a while. In a way, Flesh Tone sees Kelis embrace the world of mainstream pop more than she ever has done, with its shimmering radio-friendly disco tunes filled with empowerment and euphoria, and the singer throws herself into the club-friendly throng with ferocious abandon, delivering some of the most powerful dance songs in recent memory.
    Slant Magazine: "Kelis seems electrified by her new genre shift, and the result is an album that's one of her most consistent to date." Link
    Last.fm Review from carltinio: "A milestone album; where true dance music fuses perfectly with pop music with undertones of R&B and soul."
    My Favourite Track: Acapella

    20. Blackmagic by José James

    With a production roster that includes Flying Lotus and Benga, it is pretty clear that José James' musical vision isn't like that of your average nu-soul/R&B crooner. Rarely rising above his mellifluous baritone that glides sexily across his sophomore solo album, his singing is refreshingly absent of the typical showboating hallmarks of most male singers in his field. What he and his collaborators do deliver though is a mightily potent set of songs that has a dash of each of the above genres but also an unmistakable air of modern jazz and cutting-edge electronica to turn it into what could only be described really as futuristic soul music.
    BBC: "Draws extensively on hip hop and dance culture, but presents its fusions with a blurry, down-tempo spin that should keep all but the most staid jazz heads onside." Link
    Last.fm Review from doshite: "Blackmagic is the smoothest, sexiest release of the year. The album is made for nothing but lovemaking and seduction."
    My Favourite Track: Warrior

    19. All Day by Girl Talk

    Greg Gillis strikes again with his brand of ADHD-sponsored mash-up, providing his fans with yet another masterclass in pop music trainspotting, apparently using no less than 372 samples over twelve songs that stretch collectively to seventy-one minutes. Of course, rather than try to take note of which sample is spliced with what and where, you could always just dance to it, which is kind of what Gillis intended you to do, even if some of the mashes are as clever as they are toetappingly good, so as to almost stop you dead in your tracks to just appreciate them before hitting the replay button so you can dance to it properly.
    PopMatters: "The materials are all here, but they’re not coming together into the perfect confections Gillis has previously served up to increasingly hungry and fawning audiences." Link
    Last.fm Review from volta1995: "Basically, it’s good fun to listen to, and even better, doesn’t totally rely on novelty in order to make it enjoyable."
    My Favourite Track: Let It Out

    18. Inception by Hans Zimmer

    I'm not going to pretend that any of you haven't heard of one of the highest grossing movies of this year Inception, never mind seen it; chances are you'll have caught at least snatches of the $160 million ad campaign though, with Zimmer's frightening blasts of brass bellowing through in the background as if to say that the end of days is just a warm-up to something far worse? Well, working with Christopher Nolan appears to have helped Zimmer rediscover his compositional muse, having toiled thanklessly with the likes of Jerry Bruckheimer and DreamWorks on piffle that doesn't even register for the last few years. Inception is just as grand and enveloping as Zimmer's hugest scores in his career, but here there is also movingly resonant airs of mystery, longing and regret (thanks, Edith...)
    SoundtrackGeek.com: "It seems to have everything a true Zimmer fan requires: wonderful themes, perfectly aligned electronic sounds and a soundscape that blows your mind." Link
    Last.fm Review from rknight64_: "A great soundtrack to a great movie."
    My Favourite Track: Lost Souls

    17. Have One One Me by Joanna Newsom

    The third studio album from alt-indie-folk singer/songwriter who does well to sing these days after a nasty infection that nearly cost her that idiosyncratic voice of hers; it would appear though that remaining silent for many months did nothing to quell the young musician's creativity, this epic two-hour behemoth stretching itself over three discs as well as finding Newsom experimenting with new instruments as well as demonstrating her skills as a pianist being just as prodigal as that of a harpist. Sure, the girl can do well to perhaps edit her work just a little to make it that much more palatable for the passing listener, but given her near-career-ending misfortune prior to this album's release, we can forgive Newsom for wanting as much time as humanly possible to weave these endearing shaggy-dog stories for our delectation, can't we?
    Drowned In Sound: "It is a stunning and ambitious piece of work; one for the ages." Link
    Last.fm Review from Babs_05: "For me, this is by far her best album. Previous works left me challenged but intrigued. This left me blissed."
    My Favourite Track: Baby Birch

    16. Lucky Shiner by Gold Panda

    The finest electronic debut album of 2010 came from a budding young star hailing from East London, one who had previously been toiling away with remix assignments for like-minded alt-pop artists as well as doing his fair share of DJ-ing to fill in the gaps whilst he recorded this album. You have dusty beats, alien-esque vocal samples, ornate percussive elements from the Orient and a keen ear for slow-builds and crescendos that once they hit their tsunamic stride are the stuff of post-club dreams; this fellow is someone to watch and the worthiest entry in last year's BBC Sound Of... list by a fair distance.
    Guardian: "An album that sits on a pleasant fence between invention and homeliness." Link
    My Favourite Track: I'm With You but I'm Lonely

    15. Tomorrow, in a Year by The Knife in collaboration with Mt. Sims & Planningtorock

    Not really a concept album but an assignment given to the sibling electronica duo by the Danish performance group Hotel Pro Forma, wherein they tapped both Sims and Planningtorock to lend them some helping hands with the arrangements both electronic and orchestral, Tomorrow still represents something of a revelatory stepping stone with regards to The Knife's sonic evolution. Granted, it's not a conventional opera by anyone's standards; based on Charles Darwin's scientific-boundary-quashing tome On The Origin Of Species, the four composers get to work on making all kinds of suitably primordial noises that eventually evolve (sorry) into beauteous soundscapes, at times sinister, at others rather ornate and pretty. The second half is easier on the ears that the almost-apocalyptic first, but the artistry is undeniable.
    Slant Magazine: "With a sonic palette that is endlessly complex and varied, and a take on opera that balances respect and irreverence for expectations, Tomorrow stands as a singular accomplishment of composition and performance." Link
    My Favourite Track: Seeds

    14. Dust Lane by Yann Tiersen

    Multi-instrumentalist and composer famous for his Gallic reveries for films such as Amélie releases sixth studio album and embraces a more psychedelic, electronic atmosphere that ascends into the heavens with celestial awesomeness. However, this doesn't mean that the album is without its fair share of darkness and tormented noise; Tiersen's personal life took a major hit whilst recording this album and on specific tracks the horror within is undeniable, drawing on his film scoring influences from the greats such as Ennio Morricone on key tracks. With these shades of light and dark pervading throughout, Tiersen has delivered one heck of a trippy album to be sure, and one that despite all of the hardships, remains a thoroughly rewarding and beautiful listen.
    Spin Magazine: "His gently intoxicating sixth studio album casts throbbing anger and raging lust into a dreamlike haze of shadowy voices, acoustic guitars, and analog synths." Link
    My Favourite Track: Fuck Me

    13. The Defamation of Strickland Banks by Plan B

    Benjamin Drew seems to have fallen short of quite a few Best Of lists this year, which honestly deserves some sort of explanation. His sophomore album was one of the highest-selling homegrown hits in the UK, its singles enjoyed notable chart success and Drew performed the neat trick of tapping into a currently popular genre movement (retro-soul sponsored by Motown) with a cleverly conceived narrative, which effectively gave critics something to admire should they call him up on cynically exploiting the album-buying trends of today. Well, even with Drew himself pretty much admitting that the album was a calculated risk to earn himself some success, you still have to admire the skill and panache with which he has been able to put this album together, and he still gives his songs enough heart and soul to sell it to even the most jaded listener out there.
    Allmusic.com: "Though it's distressing to hear yet another artist hop about the retro-stylized British soul-pop bandwagon, rapper-turned-singer Ben Drew nonetheless comes up with an impressive and fairly unique album." Link
    My Favourite Track: Traded In My Cigarettes

    12. Drink the Sea by The Glitch Mob

    Frankly brilliant debut LP from a young triumvirate of Los Angeles-based DJs who finally got together to create some sounds after continuously bumping into each other at various parties around the city, and what heavy, ominous, rewarding sounds they are. Trading more on trip-hop and the dark atmospherics of industrial metal than most house music producers in the US would ever likely attempt, it strikes a keen balance between nasty glitch house and ear-pummeling bass that makes rolling your head around with your eyes close as you listen feel like the best thing in the world. The debut album of the year, for me, anyway...
    Sputnikmusic: "Drink The Sea is still a very enjoyable debut album that only suffers from some inconsistencies during its second half."
    Last.fm Review from letspullbread: "A friend of mine turned me on to this and I loved it. Excellent glitchy IDM."
    My Favourite Track: Starve the Ego, Feed the Soul

    11. Into the Great Wide Yonder by Trentemøller

    More menacingly trancey-house electronica, this time from one of Denmark's most prolific DJs and producers, who hit the dance music scene running in 2005 with a succession of remixes for some of the more legit disco-pop acts based in Europe. Continuing on an epic journey through desolate soundscapes complemented by gorgeous strings and electric guitars that are nevertheless subsumed within a huge dust devils of distorted synths and drum sequences, dear Anders goes for a more dark-ambient electronic vibe than his remix work would lead listeners to believe, what few vocalists he rallies in (amongst them Fyfe Dangerfield) there to complement moments of alt-pop balladry that are nothing short of majestic. Watch out for that Silver Surfer though... He'll knock you for six if you're not careful!
    Pitchfork: "Either it's a cold and intricate mélange of kaleidoscopic, cybernetic styles, or it's a simple hot mess." Link
    My Favourite Track: ... Even Though You're With Another Girl

    10. Wake Up! by John Legend & The Roots

    The first of two cover albums to make my Top 10 this year is a fiercely soulful affair from two of hip hop and R&B’s most respectable artists, ivory-tinkling soul crooner John Legend and conscientiously funky hip hop institution The Roots, and their homage to some of the lesser known Motown classics of the 1960s and 70s, mostly inspirational and protest songs addressing the state of the nation. Originally starting life as an EP inspired by Legend’s work on the Barack Obama election campaign, The Roots came on board along with a fair few guest stars and slowly evolved the project with Legend into an album length proposition, bringing out a career highlight for the both of them.
    PopMatters: “Spirit is, above all else, what makes Wake Up! such a success. There is no pretense that this band will equal the songs they’re reviving, though through seemingly unlimited talent they often come as close as possible.” Link
    My Favourite Song: Wake up Everybody

    9. The Suburbs by Arcade Fire

    And it’s a perfect three-out-of-three score for the Canadian art-rock outfit with regards to Top 10 placings in my yearly charts! There was some disgruntlement from fans on the release of their third long-player mind; in their embracing more elegiac passages of electronic rock-pop in place of their patented passionately surging rock anthems of present-day disaffectedness, many believed that the group’s edge had dulled. And whilst it’s true that album three represents a slight change of pace for the band, it’s ultimately not one made at the expense of their artistry; there’s still enough inspiring moments of awe to keep the rabble-rousers happy, there’s more of a world to explore in this tome dedicated to the ennui and complacency of suburban life, and most movingly, the rays of hope shine brighter here than ever in their discography.
    The Onion A.V. Club: “the group finds a sense of hope in the realization that its possible to make a home anywhere—and if not, there’s always another frontier.” Link
    Last.fm Review from SP120k: “This album is so good. The entire album through each track chases hope and narrowly escapes its own darkness.”
    My Favourite Track: Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)

    8. Interpreting the Masters Volume 1: A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates by The Bird and the Bee

    Yet more revisiting of music from past decades now, this time courtesy of Grammy-nominated producer Greg Kurstin and his singer/songwriter partner Inara George, who followed their sophomore album from last year with this small-yet-sterling tribute to fabled pop outfit, Hall & Oates. Granted, not many liberties are taken with the original recordings, Kurstin and George taking a more reverential approach than giving them a thoroughly modern pop makeover. However, not only do Kurstin’s production and George’s ever-clear vocals ensure that nothing is less than swoonsomely fabulous throughout, but it must be said that these songs are pretty indestructible with regards to pop music timelessness.
    Popjustice: “We have listened to this album approximately three times so far and are currently on the fourth lesson. It's rating quite high in the listenableometer.” Link
    Last.fm Review from rtreynor: “Seriously. A Hall & Oates tribute is among the ten best musical releases of 2010. And it was a good year for music.”
    My Favourite Song: Heard It on the Radio

    7. Harmony by Sa Dingding

    Tapping super-producer Marius de Vries to mastermind the decks on your album is an assured coup for any singer; given his body of work it’d take someone pretty special to turn his head these days. Just as well then that Sa Dingding is quite the prodigious talent in her own right, quietly breaking into the world music arena with her 2007 album Alive, which managed to infuse modern dance signatures and breakbeats with traditional Oriental music to spellbinding effect. With De Vries at the production helm on the follow-up, Harmony could have been nothing but a big-budget sequel to its predecessor, but De Vries’ superlative skills and Sa’s mercurial vocal authority turn this into a grand evolutionary moment in her discography, filled with some of the finest dance-pop moments of 2010.
    Guardian: “If only she'd calm down, and not dress up her songs with production work that is often as over-elaborate as her theatrical stage shows, Sa Dingding could well become the first Chinese superstar.” Link
    My Favourite Track: Yun Yun Nan Nan

    6. Bang Goes The Knighthood by The Divine Comedy

    Lovingly crafted chamber pop from one of the UK’s most underrated songwriters, Neil Hannon gracefully re-contextualizing current affairs of our social, political and economic climate into beautifully arranged, timeless flights of pop whimsy, all the while demonstrating a masterful balance between comedic farce and tenderly evoked balladry. That Hannon is still able to keep his creative juices flowing this mellifluously over twenty years since his debut is something to be applauded surely, as is his ability to keep his sly wit as sharp as it ever was. The biggest surprises though lie in the heartrendingly simple declarations of emotion, performing that wonderful trick of making you feel like you’ve heard and loved this song for such a long time already, even though you’re listening to it for the first time.
    Pitchfork: “His days of creating spectacular extravaganzas may be well behind him, but the more modest ambitions on display here are nearly as enjoyable to hear.” Link
    Last.fm Review from StudleyUK: “On the Divine's tenth album, he's as cutting and witty as ever, cementing his position as something of a 21st-century Noel Coward.”
    My Favourite Track: Have You Even Been In Love

    5. Here Lies Love by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim

    Though this 90-minute theatrical fiasco will do well to be included on a fair few of the ‘What Were They Thinking’ lists for 2010, it can sit quite happily in the my Top 5 for a multitude of reasons. Firstly, it’s got some of the best female vocal performances of the year courtesy of one of the most eyebrow raising guest rosters of the year (Florence – Her Machine, St. Vincent, Cyndi Lauper, Sharon Jones, Santigold, Tori Amos). Secondly, if features some of the best pop music production of the year courtesy of Mr Byrne and Mr Slim, all light, airy and complementary to their featured vocalists in the best possible way. Thirdly, just imagine the epic drag cabaret that could be performed using this as the soundtrack, featuring a cameo from Imelda Marcos herself, obviously! Now that would be something for the whole family…
    BBC: “The scale and audacity of Byrne’s ambition is hugely impressive, but as an album Here Lies Love is easier to admire than it is to enjoy.” Link
    My Favourite Track: Eleven Days (feat. Cyndi Lauper)

    4. The Age of Adz by Sufjan Stevens

    Fresh from a string of curio-releases amongst which was a tribute to one of the busiest motorways in New York City and a Christmas album, not to mention a particularly nasty bout of viral infestion, dear Sufjan decided to make one of the best albums of 2010, which happens to boast as fine an enmeshing of alternative electronica and orchestral grandeur as you’re likely to hear for the rest of the decade, never mind the past year. Whilst it is rather presumptuous of me to make such a statement, there is no denying the sheer invention, uncompromising boldness and galvanizing awesomeness that Adz has to offer. That it happens to have been embraced so much as to give Sufjan his first ever Top 10 album in the US only makes it that much sweeter.
    Guardian: “You emerge from the other side of it glad not just that Stevens continued to make music, but that he chose to follow his muse to such a radical, potentially divisive place.” Link
    Last.fm Review from ColorMeSexy: “There is so much going on. At times it seems a little too much but it comes together to be quite enjoyable.”
    My Favourite Track: Now That I’m Older

    3. This Is Happening by LCD Soundsystem

    So, after three studio albums, James Murphy's alt-dance collective lets out its last breath in its present incarnation, and whilst it's more than likely that the spirit of the Soundsystem will prevail via another project from the DFA stable, Happening is still just as fitting an earth-movingly emotional send-off a band can give to their listeners. Whilst it's true that nothing here quite matches the searing danceability of Yeah (Crass Version) or the beauteous heartbreak of Someone Great, the album as a whole consists of Soundsystem's most persistently awesome effort as an LP, chock full of more moments of sheer shape-throwing madness than most dance compilations manage over three whole CDs.
    Pitchfork: "A series of bare, lacerating manifestos about distance between people, set to the fizzing art/dance-rock greatest hits inside Murphy's skull." Link
    Last.fm Review from mandaownsyou: "Without trying, LCD Soundsystem is the definition of cool."
    My Favourite Track: One Touch

    2. Plastic Beach by Gorillaz

    Damon Albarn, Jamie Hewlett and their merry band of audio/visual collaborators strike gold yet again with the second-most creatively-dense imagining of another world to see release in 2010. In typical Gorillaz fashion, not only is there a vividly realised world of sinister-seeming paradise, but a wildly varied guest roster of hip hop stars (Mos Def, De La Soul) and alternative legends (Lou Reed, The Fall's Mark E. Smith) this time joined by various orchestras from all over the world and synthesised by Albarn into a heady, alt-hip-pop stunner of an album with a liberal dash of enchanting world music thrown in for extra deliciousness.
    Slant Magazine: "Its brilliance adopts many guises throughout its 16 tracks, taking the form of unruffled cool one minute and raucous thumpers the next, all somehow woven together seamlessly to fit this outlandish adventure." Link
    Last.fm Review from pecusita: "Sometimes cartoons have to get out of the screen to make lots of friends and release great albums."
    My Favourite Track: On Melancholy Hill

    1. ????????

    You'll have to wait until New Year's Day for my Album Of 2010 (though come on, it couldn't be more fucking obvious really, could it?), peeps, as well as all of the other awards to be handed out... Until then, be safe and Happy New Year!

    GB3/DibderBooth/CvaldaVessalis! xxxxoooo