1. The National – High Violet – (4AD) 10/05/2010
High Violet is the fifth album for The National, and has proven to be their biggest commercial success. Afters years of touring and TV appearances the world seems to have woken up to their genius. As with previous output, this is similarly sullen territory for The National. Matt Berninger’s characteristic stone faced warblings set the mood of the album perfectly, and musically we’re pushed around by bombastic percussion behind grinding guitars. It’s a heavy album, but one that’s surprising easy to engage with. Lyrical themes are of love lost, money owed and hard times – exactly the type of drama a soundtrack like this deserves. The whole album reeks of cool.
The stand-out track is ‘Sorrow’, a beautiful downbeat love song of epic proportions; ‘Cover me in rag and bone, cause I don’t want to get over you’ croons Berninger. Each track has it’s own blend of beauty and desperation, and you can almost taste the fall from grace. It’s a record played with a straight face that demands to be believed in. ‘Little Faith’ and ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ are a little more accessible, while ‘Afraid of Everyone’ leaves a shiver that’s difficult to shake. This is a record that deserves repeat listening, as it unravels its layers slowly and cunningly. The National know their art, and by now it’s very well polished.
2. Everything Everything – Man Alive – (Geffen) 30/08/2010
I didn’t immediately fall in love with Everything Everything or ‘Man Alive’. My snobbery led me to believe their proposition was somewhere between Klaxons, Late of the Pier and <insert upstart-post-new-rave-whatever band>. In actual fact they’re very different and more serious than you would think. Their sound is confidently insane with little structure and you never know what you’re going to get. Their music is primarily electronic, with some guitar, but can literally go anywhere. None of their output is without complete conviction, which is ultimately the charm of this record. Musically, their pop sensibilities are most apparent, but over some of their tracks it’s difficult not to hear, dare I say, improv Jazz influences (‘MY KZ, UR BF’, ‘Schoolin’). There is a stop-start twitchy angle to most of the tracks. Lyrically their songs are as unsettling as their music. Wonky love song, ‘Suffragette Suffragette’ aches in chorus ‘who’s going to sit on your face when I’m gone?’. Technical vocals also feature heavily on this record, and falsetto arrangements are rife throughout. This is a record that has more ideas than most bands have in an entire career.
3. Beach House – Teen Dream – (Sub Pop) 26/01/2010
Teen Dream is the third offering from Maryland duo, Beach House – and it’s their most polished to date. Taking up where ‘Devotion’ left off, Teen Dream offers more big anthemic dreamscapes. I can’t even begin to tell you what Victoria Legrand actually sings on any of the tracks on this album as I’m usually in my happy place after the opening bars of the initial track, ‘Zebra’. Despite being arguably one of the most low key releases this year there is actually an awful lot going on musically. Each track is deeply layered with synth and drum, enough to keep you coming back. Haunting vocals signify something otherworldly and beautiful, but their meaning is only there if you want to listen. This is a truly beautiful record which I’ve returned to again and again. It might slip under the radar for many, but I think this is already a modern day classic.
4. Dum Dum Girls – I Will Be – (Sub Pop) 30/03/2010
Noise-pop newbies Dum Dum Girls worked through a number of line-ups before heading into the studio to produce ‘I Will Be’, which is largely the product of lead singer Dee Dee. The tone is lo-fi and production value is almost non-existent. The songs are trampled through amidst Ramones-like chord changes and everything is disposable. Obvious influences include Jesus and Mary Chain and Siouxsie and the Banshees. A few absolute gems lie within this record: ‘Jail La La’, ‘Bhang Bhang, I’m A Burnout’ and ‘Blank Girl’ to name a few. Behind the lack of production lies a warm singer/songwriter hell bent on making things her own way. This is a strikingly talented band cloaked in cool and with a single mindedness not usually seen. I would expect a movement of bands to encircle the Dum Dums in the not too distant future. Brave and sublime.
5. The Black Keys – Brothers – (Nonesuch Records) 08/05/2010
Following a mild backlash from stalwart fans surrounding the Black Keys’ move towards a more commercial dance sound, comes ‘Brothers’. Sounding every bit as polished and far removed from their roots as any long standing fan would hate to hear. It’s a corker. Beginning with the heavy footed ‘Everlasting Light’, to blues drenched ‘Next Girl’, blissed out ‘Black Mud’ and the soaring harmonies of ‘The Only One’. Even Danger Mouse features on production duties for ‘Tighten Up’. Here is a record which remains planted within familiar territory for the Keys, whilst providing accessibility to grooves not always exposed to for the casual listener. It’s a bold record and I suspect one which will have its fair share of imitators in years to come.
6. Broken Bells – Broken Bells – (Columbia Records) 09/03/2010
Broken Bells is a side project of Shins front-man James Mercer and multi-instrumentalist and production supremo Danger Mouse. On a first listen you could be forgiven for thinking this is a Shins album that’s been remixed by DM. On closer inspection this duo covers a very different landscape. Broken Bells offers an intentionally more psychedelic space, and tracks feel experimental, whilst remaining with enough in common to hold the album together. Stand-out tracks include guitar strumming ‘Vaporize’, falsetto vocal ‘The Ghost Inside’, and reflective ‘Mongrel Heart’. Mercer’s vocals transcend the deep [almost] orchestral arrangements found throughout the album. It’s unsuspectingly haunting, and repeat play unveils many layers which aren’t immediately apparent. Hopefully this isn’t a one off. As you would expect from Mercer and DM this is a record of extreme polish.
7. Bombay Bicycle Club – Flaws – (Island Records) 12/06/2010
Follow-up to their 2009 release, ‘I Had the Blues But I Shook Them Loose’, ‘Flaws’ features a mixture of the Crouch End four piece’s new and old tracks. The accent is on stripped down acoustic tracks and this gives them room to demonstrate their alarmingly technical arrangments. ‘Rinse Me Down’ opens the album and provides the first taste of the clean multi-layered guitars which will become the album’s theme. Jack Steadman leans over vocal duties like he’s spent a lifetime churning out heartache. ‘Ivy & Gold’ provides a more chipper mood to the record while ‘Leaving Blues’ returns to the heart felt emptiness Bombay Bicycle Club are most famed for. Guitar work thoughout is exact and immaculate. You would struggle to find a more technical band. ‘Flaws’ provides a different angle on a well loved sound, and while original material might be lacking for this instalment, hopefully we have more treats to come. As with all output from Bombay Bicycle Club this is a record of unapoloegetic quality.
8. Avi Buffalo – Avi Buffalo – (Sub Pop) 27/04/2010
Avi Buffalo just make beautiful alt-indie-folk songs full of yearning and angst. It’s difficult not to find them entirely charming. High pitched vocal warbles over gentler guitars to give a folkeque feel to the record, while being careful not to lose themselves in unfamiliar territory. This is a young band with some great tunes. If I’m being critical this record possibly received a heavier hand in production than I would have liked, although generous reverb provides Avi a fuller, more trademark sound. They would be just as good stripped down. Standout tracks include the conversational ‘Coaxed’ and folk beat ‘Summer Cum’, and boy-girl duet ‘One Last’. It’s a light record that brings summer whenever it’s played. It’s effecting and doesn’t ask too much. A great début.
9. Yeasayer – Odd Blood – (Secretly Canadian) 08/02/2010
Yeasayer are something so intensely zeitgeist it’s difficult to stomach, and I don’t use that word lightly. If East London in 2010 was a band, it would be Yeasayer. ‘Odd Blood’ is, as its name suggests, a bit of a mixed bag. As with ‘Everything Everything’ there is an inventiveness here that you don’t often find. Unapologetically ‘pop’, each track has a very different style and you can’t help but think this record almost fell together by accident. Beginning with dower TV-on-the-Radio-esque, ‘The Children’, it never looks back and the party starts from track two, ‘Ampling Alp’. The whole record reminds me of a slightly coke fuelled eighties montage. ‘I Remember’ offers a sullen love ballad that’s often difficult to take seriously, which is where this record offers most value – it knows what it is and it doesn’t care what you think. Like the eighties theme, Odd Blood’s production is similarly over the top. Snyths and drum machines are littered with no apology, and backing vocals (yes, backing vocals) are used indiscriminately. Their boldness is what’s compelling. This is a record of huge idea and invention, and probably the most interesting of this year.
10. Two Door Cinema Club – Tourist History – (Kitsuné Music) 01/03/2010
As if the world really needed another collection of twitchy punk-pop three and a half minute ditties, Two Door Cinema Club bring an essential début, brimming with energy, predictable chord change and teenage awkwardness. They start as they mean to go on with the stop-start upbeat ‘Cigarette In The Theatre’ to indie floor filler ‘Something Good Can Work’. It’s well trodden ground, but so well executed and with enough naivety, it’s difficult to resist. I’m not sure if this band have a second album in them, but for now they’ve made a record of layers and pop sensibilities that many could learn from.