Albums of the Year – the Top Ten!

At last... we're here, with a very varied top ten, taking in country, folk, punk, rock, indie, a bit of AOR/prog... enjoy!

10.          Kacey Musgraves –Same Trailer, Different Park

This young US singer-songwriter brought a refreshing vitality, great tunes and a brilliant turn of phrase  to the country music arena. She has the gift of saying things simply but perfectly – harder than it looks as anyone who writes will tell you. (“It is what it is, till it ain’t anymore” – just read that, and see how is scans perfectly).  Singing about love, living in a trailer park, drugs, infidelity, casual sex and other contemporary topics with a sprit and humour not often heard in the genre, this is an album non-country fans can enjoy too.

9.            The Wonder Years - The Greatest Generation

Another unexpected delight – thanks to Metacritic website for putting me onto this. Pop-punk with hardcore edges but also a softer side, and almost a concept album lyrically. Tough punk numbers mix with some beautiful slower-tempo melodic songs, all performed with passion and drive. There’s a bit of screaming and a bit of swearing, but some very moving moments too, and if you like the Clash, Springsteen, or Green Day there’s a good chance you’ll like this. If you like all three, this will be a treat.

8.            Jonathan Wilson – Fanfare

A songwriter and producer by trade, this is just the second album from the 39 year old. Harking back to both seventies British melodic prog-rock and even more so to seventies Californian country-rock (Eagles, C SN, Jackson Browne) this is an exceptional album with superb production, interesting sometimes somewhat rambling songs (the whole album is almost 80 minutes long), creating a whole mood of its own. And in Moses Pain, it has one of my 2 or 3 favourite tracks of the year.

7.            The 1975 – The 1975

As I found on Twitter, some people really don’t like the 1975! Is it that fame seemed to come very quickly – from playing to us and 120 others in Aldershot in February, to almost causing a riot at Reading in August when the Festival Republic stage was besieged by the teenage hordes? Or is it the extreme catchiness of songs like Chocolate and Sex that dominated the radio for months on end? But there is enough in the album to suggest that they won’t be one-album wonders – some interesting changes of pace and style, edginess and darker lyrics, that hopefully will presage a long career for the guys from Manchester.

6.            Tegan & Sara–  Heartthrob

Each of my top 6 were in line to be the number one at some point. This one caused some controversy when I raved about it back in February. Because it is Pop with a capital P, pure, unashamed pop. Yet Tegan & Sara – Canadian twins – have a track record of 6 credible indie albums behind them, so this was a surprising move. But that is perhaps what made this so great. They brought lyrical panache to the task, as well as killer tunes and arrangements. Almost every track sounds like a hit single, so as an example of its genre it is up there with the best of Abba, Cyndi Lauper, Britney (when she was good) and their like. And whatever your musical preferences, if you don’t love “I was a fool” you have no soul (but this track here is great and also has an excellent video..)

5.            Laura Marling  – Once I was an Eagle

Getting boring – she’s still only 23 and yet this is her 4th excellent album. The best female singer songwriter since Joni Mitchell? I think so. A more acoustic album than her last, without being gentle or soft. And my goodness, she may look sweet and delicate but you don’t want to cross Ms Marling – ‘I am the Master Hunter’ she sings, and every man listening feels a little nervous and crosses his legs... then she sings ‘Once’, and you melt at this beautiful, tender, timeless song. I still think her best is to come, and long after I’ve gone, she will be considered one of the UK’s greatest musical artists of the last century.

4.            Arctic Monkeys – AM

Just like Marling, it is getting easy to take the Arctic Monkeys for granted as this is album number five and every one has been excellent. Is this their best? Not sure, loved their last one, the most tuneful perhaps, but this has both heavier rock elements plus a modern R n ‘B feel, with varied rhythms and falsetto backing vocals. The lyrics don’t have that early real life in Sheffield feel now, understandably,  but are still worth noting, the band are more confident musically than ever, and all round it’s just a great rock album.

3.            Lanterns on the Lake - Until the Colours Run

A huge surprise and pleasure to find a band I’ve never heard of, from my part of the world (the North East of the UK) making a tremendous, timeless album. They don’t sound “Geordie”, in fact they could be from Iceland (touches of Sigur Ros), Minnesota (a little bit of low-fi  experts Low in their influences) or,  er, wherever the Sundays came from.  Songs are atmospheric, generally mid-paced , sometimes delicate but with a tough core, and vocals from Hazel Wilde are lovely.  I’m struggling actually, it is hard to define what makes this so special but after a few listens I fell in love with it, and at one point it was going to be my number one...  didn’t quite make it but well worth a listen for everyone.

2.            Peace – In Love  

But then we went to see Peace live the other week, which perhaps unfairly pushed up their placing from four or five to number two!  Another excellent debut album, and our UK album of the year. They are excellent live, they really can play and sing, a tremendous drummer and charismatic front man. This is a remarkably mature and assured album for a young band and a debut, and they have the gift of sounding like themselves at all times yet covering quite a wide range of bases here, with variation in pace and style  – not an album with lots of tracks sounding the same. You’ll hear traces of the Beatles, Stones, Oasis, Stone Roses .. pretty much the lineage of top-notch British pop-rock bands right through to their contemporary comparators like the Foals and Maccabees. Excellent stuff.

1.            Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

Look, I didn’t even buy their previous two albums. All this pseudo-African guitar stuff, Paul Simon did it years ago but better. So this took me by surprise, crept up on me after I heard Step. I have no idea what that track is all about, yet I found it brought tears to my eyes, can’t explain why (perhaps it is the use of the riff from Pachabels Canon in D, he said pretentiously). Anyway, I bought the album and slowly realised that I was in the presence of an all time classic record.

It’s got everything. Strong, memorable tunes, very different styles, energy, subtlety and depth at the same time. And whilst I’m not a lyrics junky, here they are exceptional, covering topics such as mortality, religion, ageing, ambition and disappointment... yet all done with a lightness of spirit (“baby, baby, baby, baby etc” on Diane Young shows they don’t take themselves too seriously).  Listen to the songs I’ve mentioned, Ya Hey or Unbelievers and you’ll find some of the most impressive ‘popular songs’ of the last 20 years.

But as always, some people hated it – including some who loved their first two albums. So check it out for yourself, no excuse not to with YouTube, Spotify, Soundcloud et al. And of course that goes for all our recommendations. I take no responsibility for money spent and regretted later – but hope you enjoy whatever you do listen to and / or purchase!

And I’d love to see your ‘best of’ lists. I’ve had one already which we’ll feature shortly...  Happy Christmas!

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Voices (5)

  1. Mark Kelly:

    I really was expecting to see Robbie Williams, Britney Spears and Katy Perry in your top 10 as advertised, I didn’t realise you were joking. I got the new Robbie for my wife for Christmas and I have to say I really really like it. I also note that my album of the year by Daft Punk is nowhere in your top 20. With regard to Bowie’s comeback album it was definitely overrated but I can easily think of 7 or 8 of his albums that I prefer, Hunky, Ziggy, Aladdin, the underrated pinups, Station to Station, Lodger, even Let’s Dance and the remarkable box set Sound + Vision (if that counts). Bowie’s last great album was the unreleased Toys.

    1. Peter Smith:

      Actually, I though “Roar” by Katy Perry was an excellent single, but I can’t cope with Robbie Williams’ whole swing thing… Sinatra just did it better! If you have a look at my 40 – 31 Daft Punk made it to number 35! I can see why people have put it a lot higher in lists, but I found it really inconsistent which irritated me – some of it almost unlistenable. You’re right re Bowie, that’s why I was pleased it didn’t win the Mercury prize – would have been wrong for any artist’s 8th best album to win! (I’d put Young Americans and Low ahead of it too – and agree with you re Pinups, ‘Sorrow’ is one of my Bowie top 5 tracks!) Don’t know Toys I must say…

      1. Mark Kelly:

        That Bowie album was actually called Toy and it morphed into the less impressive Heathen. You can listen to the full album on youtube here:

  2. LincolnMusicFan:

    My list of ten albums that I’ve enjoyed this year is as follows. All have been carefully selected to demonstrate my indie hipster sense of good taste:

    10. The National* – Trouble Will Find Me (+ 5 indie points; quelle surprise, “it’s a grower”)

    9. My Bloody Valentine – MBV (+10 indie points; self release for extra cred)

    8. Deerhunter – Monomania (+15 indie points; Lockett Pundt has the best track (again))

    7. Kurt Vile – Waking On A Pretty Daze (+20 indie points; nice touch calling the backing band ‘The Violators’)

    6. Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse (+25 indie points; CD courtesy of a certain Spend Matters competition win)

    5. F**k Buttons – Slow Focus (+50 indie points; release on the ATP label scores extra)

    4. Hookworms – Pearl Mystic (+299 indie points; best new band in England? Maybe)

    3. Black Hearted Brother (+645 indie points; came out of nowhere featuring members of Slowdive and Seefeel, yes please!)

    2. Tim Hecker – Virgins (+893.5 indie points; on the Kranky label and ambient-drone – it’s almost a winner).

    1. Rodan – Fifteen Quiet Years (+970 indie points; rarities collection from a long since defunct math-rock band from Louisville – indie nerd meltdown time).

    * Unfortunately, minus 20,000 indie points for me re The National. I’d confused them with The Automatic (of “Monster” fame) until this year to my eternal shame.

  3. Alphabet Bands:

    A good list Peter. Some I would expect and some I wouldn’t 🙂

    Pleased to see Lanterns on the Lake included, an album I must confess I haven’t heard as yet (I shall rectify this week) but their debut was lovely.

    Another act from oop North (Leeds) you may enjoy are Dancing Years. Their track “Here’s To My Old Friends” is wonderful.

    Merry Christmas.

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