Friday, 31 December 2010

Best of Music 2010

Most Interesting Change of Direction
Swim - Caribou

This album divides fans just a bit. A few people got whiplash when founder Dan Snaith switched from glitchy sunshine laptop pop to straight-up four-on-the-floor dance grooves. You can still hear the old Caribou, but it's not exactly a straight line. Even so, I really enjoy this album. You know that he knows what he's doing, and you go along for the ride.

Outstanding track: 'Bowls'. Cool harmonics from Tibetan singing bowls, plus slightly lop-sided percussion from the wooden sticks you use to play them. Trippy.

Best Scandinavian Album
Skit I Allt - Dungen

I was new to Dungen's proggy psychedelia, but this album pulls away from that formula and throws in some easy listening and something approaching pop tunes, but in a good way. The most striking element for me is the drums. They're in there, hammering away, but folded into the mix so as to take out any harshness, and make the whole thing smooth. Really easy on the ears, and musically very accomplished.

Best Local Album - Perth Division
Sail Becomes a Kite - The Bank Holidays

Their live gig was one of my favourite shows this year. I remember sitting in the audience thinking These are really good songs. Fortunately, it translates well onto disc. The Banks (or the Hols?) are more downbeat, and summer has turned to autumn (as on 'Tripping Up to Fall in Love'). But the harmonies shine through on the wonderful 'Oxford Street' and 'Her Majesty's Voice'.

The magic only fails them on the last two tracks -- 'In the Desert' is a bit less-than-inspiring, and why would a note-perfect band introduce pitch problems into 'Gravity's Playthings'? Less would have been more. But that doesn't stop this album from being one of my most-played of the year.

eMusic link here.

Best Album from a Legacy Band
Something for Everybody - Devo

When a old favourite band releases their first album in twenty years, you just hope it's not a disaster. In this case, it's far from it. Maybe it was the creative hiatus, maybe the clever and public focus-grouping, but there are a lot of strong songs on this album. It's not a new direction for Devo, as they cheerfully admit on 'What We Do' ("What we do / Is what we do / It's all the same / There's nothing new"). But what this album does well is combine the energy and sound of Devo while borrowing back the electronic dance grooves of younger bands that grew up under Devo's influence. And on songs like 'Later Is Now' or 'March On', you get a sense of that epic swoosh -- the anthemic quality that made earlier Devo albums so stirring.

Best Jazz Album
Jasmine - Keith Jarrett & Charlie Haden

Two great masters return to the standards. Who needs drums when these guys have such telepathy between them?

Best Ambient/Electronica Album
Tiger Flower Circle Sun - Christopher Willits

There were lots of good albums in the ambient category this year, especially Loscil's "Endless Falls" and Taylor Deupree's "Snow (Dusk, Dawn)". But I keep coming back to this album. Maybe it's the way the album takes the glitch concept (which was already great in the hands of Willits) and expands it beyond its traditional boundaries. What you get is a compulsively listenable rock/glitch hybrid. Very fitting, given the botanical theme of the album.

Best Album I Missed Last Year
Sapphire Stylus - Nick Duffy and the Lilac Time

Well, really I didn't 'miss' this album -- it was a December 2009 release, and I didn't get to hear it before last year's roundup. It's an amazing album, or perhaps 'sketchbook' of multi-instrumental folk. Whereas previous Nick Duffy albums have a wistful tone, this one seems more assured and confident. Happy, even. Perfect for contemplating the run of a river, or watching the sky go by. Not a bad track in the bunch.

Can't find a video. Check out samples on eMusic.

Song of the Year
Half Asleep (Lusine Remix) - School of Seven Bells
Album: Horizon Line

This is actually a SVIIB song from a couple of years ago, but Lusine's remix makes it fresh, cutting out a lot of the murk of the original, and keeping things perking along. The vocals of twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza work to great effect.

Have a listen, or even download it free if you wish. Isn't it nice when that happens?

Album of the Year
Lali Puna - Our Inventions

I never even liked Lali Puna before this, but this is my most heavily played album of the year. Once I start it playing, I soon find myself at the last track wanting to hear it again. There's something simple and effortless about it, and very downbeat. Try the title track, which combines lovely lyrics with a line from Saint-Saƫns' 'The Swan'.

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