December 31, 2010

This ain't no Friday night disco: Albums 2010

photo by Bashed

A brilliant year for me and my lover, pop music. End of.
I should note that many of these reviews were first published in 2010 in the American (print) magazine Instinct.

Album Of The Year

Goldfrapp Head First
Clever album this one. Head First works as an instantaneous pop FIX. Especially the core tracks (Rocket, Alive Again and I Wanna Life) that mine 80's pop/rock and even Billy Joel. But Goldfrapp always has a bit of subterfuge going on. In this case almost every track has an emotional hook - some line that really elevates it to something higher and deeper - the hook "my whole world in light" for instance on the title. Brief, beautiful and underrated.

Standout tracks: All were great, but I'll choose Dreaming as my favorite, followed by Alive Again, Rocket, Hunt, I Wanna Life and Head First.

...and more fantastic albums, in no order:

[ed note: forgot Scissor Sisters! Will add it soon!]

Kylie Minogue Aphrodite
The one where Kylie gives her fans everything they've wanted since Fever. A perfect collection of summer dance songs that mainline happiness right into your main vein, whichever one that might in any hot minute. For a brief time this summer, Aphrodite usurped Goldfrapp from my Album of the Year spot. Thunderous.

Standout tracks: The whole thing. Not one bad song.

Sade Soldier Of Love
In the ten years since the Sade released their last album, the world sort of fell apart. That Soldier of Love is, to some degree, “more of the same” is welcome when Sade’s music has spoken so intimately to fans for 25 years. The title track is thrillingly militant, while In Another Time and Morning Bird offer measures of comfort and melancholy. A soundtrack for nighttime, solitude and, of course, the bedroom.

Standout tracks: Soldier Of Love, In Another Time, Morning Bord, Babyfather

Cee Lo Green The Lady Killer
Fuck You may be the most memorable track, but this record is nearly flawless from start to finish. I love that Cee Lo bucks the r'n'b producer trend and collaborates with pop artists like Fraser T Smith and indie groups like Band Of Horses. All of that makes for a truly euphoric album with a wicked sense of humor.

Standout tracks: Fuck You, Wildflower, Cry Baby, I Want You

Robyn Body Talk
The only thing that keeps Body Talk from being Album Of The Year is my sense that it works best as it was released in a series of EPs. The final record, at 15 songs, is fantastic, if a bit relentless in its tempo. I've said it a billion times: Robyn is the master a the sad disco and Body Talk has that in spades, but it also boasts (literally) a hilarious duet with Snoop Doggy Dog and the sweetest ditch-your-old-lady track ever, Call Your Girlfriend. I hope Robyn continues to release music this way in 2011.

Standout Tracks: Dancing On My Own (my top song of '10), Hang With Me, Indestructible (I prefer the acoustic sting version), In My Eyes, Stars 4ever, Call Your Girlfriend, etc etc.

Bim Scatterheart
A late summer surprise, Scatterheart is London duo Bim’s debut album. Their elegant pop will appeal to fans of Frou Frou and Saint Etienne: it’s cinematic, emotional and - in a year of ballad-less albums - pushes beneath the surface. Debut single “Head Over Heels” is not a Go-Go's cover; it’s a lush up-tempo in which the duo trade off vocals as the layered, blippy track swirls to a climax. Dysfunctional relationships never sounded so beautiful. On album closer, The Magic Of Us, the group wanders into a Merchant Ivory soundtrack to gorgeous effect.

Standout tracks: Head Over Heels, The Magic Of Us, Raindrops

Hurts Happiness
I love that Hurts is a throwback to an earlier era in pop where men displayed a fuller range of moods/emotions than, you know, "Meet me in da club, poonani." Theo Hutchcraft's voice is at the heart of what makes Hurts unique. Although the album is overly grandiose at times, it really is about songs. Proper songs. Happiness is evidence of how much care went into this project. Their forebears, Pet Shop Boys, had a mantra, "Make it special," and Hurts follows that.

Standout tracks: Unspoken, The Water, Wonderful Life, Sunday, Better Than Love

Jónsi Go
Euphoric is not a word one would use to describe gangly Jónsi Birgisson’s enigmatic group, Sigur Rós. The gay, Icelandic singer made his name warbling their beautiful, nonsensical sounds. His first solo album is an entirely different beast, taking on pop song structures with a palpable sense of majesty. Composer Nico Muhly arranged triumphant strings for Go, notably on Tornado, a standout that sets Jónsi ‘s softer vocals on the verses against a sweeping, tearjerker chorus. Wow.

Standout tracks: Go, Tornado, Boy Lillikoi, Grow Till Tall

Kelis Fleshtone
In 1979, Diana Ross released her finest album, diana. The worthy follow-up to that comes 30 years later with cleverly titled Fleshtone. I really thought Kelis's career was toast before 2010 and then, this concise album of brilliance. Conceptual in the sense that it's a declaration of where she is now after a period of unhappiness and bad choices, I admire how Fleshtone straddles strength and softness. "It was a circumstance I got the power from / I was so fucked up, but now I'm super strong." Brave, yes.

Standout tracks: Brave, Home, Acapella, Song For The Baby

Delays Star Tiger Star Ariel
First, this is the best album title for 2010. More importantly, it is Delays finest album, which is no mean feat ten years into a career.

Standout tracks: Moment Gone, Unsung, Lakes Can Be Lethal, Hold Fire, Rhapsody

Gypsy & The Cat Gilgamesh
Though they are Australian and live in London, the sound is pure California, in the most chilled sense. Fleetwood Mac weighs heavily as an influence. A lush, laid back album that might be hard to get ahold of until it is release in the UK in 2011.

Standout tracks: Jona Vark, Sight Of A Tear, Gilgamesh

Ellie Goulding Bright Lights
Drew Barrymore looks and electro-pop yodeling should not obscure the dark threads in Ellie Goulding’s crisp debut single, Under The Sheets. There’s blood on the floors and this chanting chorus: “We’re under the sheets and you’re killing me.” She ain’t Taylor Swift, mmm'kay? Rechristened in November as Bright Lights (with 6 added tracks), this is a sublime first album, though it remains unreleased in America. The ethereal ballad This Love (Will Be Your Downfall) is alone worth the pennies to ship this disc across the pond.

Standout tracks: This Love (Will Be Your Downfall), Under The Sheets, Human, Animal, Wish I Stayed, Everytime You Go.

Take That: Progress
Progress was a shock. An album inspired from start to finish by the decision to bring back Robbie Williams and shake up the TT status quo (MOR) via a new sound created with producer Stuart Price. New energy and dance-ability. Tour will be massive.

Standout tracks: Kidz, Eight Little Letters, Flowerbed, Wait

Laura Marling I Speak Because I Can
How can a twenty year write an album this wise? I'm at a loss for how to describe this music. It's folk based, but more sophisticated than that implies. The melodies are strong enough to be pop, but it's not really pop. My window into this album was Goodbye England, for obvious reasons, but the album is solid from start to finish. Laura Marling is here to stay.

Standout tracks: Goodbye England, Devil's Spoke, Rambling Man

Tracey Thorn Love And Its Opposite
Tracey Thorn is one cool woman. On Twitter, that’s manifested as a spiky sense of wit. On her second solo LP, it’s in the economy of her lyrics and instrumentation: nothing overdone. Though her usual dancefloor stonkers are not here, Love is not really a folk album. Swimming is lush pop and Why Does The Wind? has a pleasing urgency. Hormones, about a mother and her tween daughter, is Thorn at her lyrical high point, dispensing equal doses of pragmatism and affection.

Standout tracks: Swimming, Why Does The Wind, Kentish Town, Hormones, Oh, The Divorces!

Other great 2010 albums:

The Hundred In The Hands' eponymous debut album
Marina & The Diamonds' debut Family Jewels
Duran Duran's online only All You Need Is Now
Fyfe Dangerfield Fly Yellow Moon
Gypsy And The Cat's mellow cool debut, Gilgamesh

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Anonymous said...

Love this list. I agree with Goldfrapp, Ellie Goulding, Jonsi Kelis,and Sade. I would probably place Robyn, Hurts and Marina a bit higher.

I agree the Goldfrapp album is underrated. I think one of the reasons might be because it is only 9 songs. But I would prefer an album that had some identity as a cohesive piece of music, rather than some of the overinflated, messy albums that have become the norm these days.
Goldfrapp is my number one album too because they always manage to do something transcendent - they make soulful pop. I don't mean that in a religious sense btw!

xolondon said...

Very true about Goldfrapp. Same with Kelis. Solid statement, cohesive.

The rest of the list is no order, so I'll make that clearer on the post!

Myfizzypop said...

I'm happy we share some albums - Goldfrapp (this was the cd that really made me love them quite a lot after years of gentle nudging from you and Dluv!!), Kylie, Scissor Sisters (you tweeted it!), Ellie (it was oddly the rerelease that won me over, normally I hate those money grabbing things) and Take That. I'm going back to CeeLo based on your review and Kelis based on quite enjoying Acapella at the bar last night :)

Unknown said...

Great choices! Agreed on all accounts. "Dreaming" is bloody gorgeous!

Miriam said...

Really great list! I agree so much on the Jonsi album and a lot of the others to! I speak because I can was a really great album : ) said...

Fabulous picks; I share many of them. I wasn't able to get into some of these last year though, but that's all on me!

Jams said...

I have eight of these albums, and have only ever listened to one


Like, WTF?

xolondon said...

Get to work, Jams

xolondon said...

Get to work, Jams