George East’s Top 10 Albums of 2010

by George_East on January 1, 2011

Not a vintage year for music by any stretch of the imagination and British music in particular seems to be in a bit of a rut, but there were still plenty of fine albums released in 2010. Probably the most critically esteemed album of the year was Arcade Fire’s Suburbs – undoubtedly a good album but in my opinion over-reviewed, and certainly not a patch on their startling debut, 2004’s Funeral. It didn’t make my top 10, which are:

1. John GrantThe Queen of Denmark

If you’ve been paying attention to my posts over the last couple of days, this won’t surprise you. I read a review, bought it, played it once without really listening to it, filed it, saw him live supporting Midlake, listened to the songs for the first time, got home, dug out the CD and have been playing it pretty much continuously ever since.

The album is a raw look by Grant at his own life: addiction, rejection, self-loathing, love and sex. It is also full of black humour. From the despair of Where Dreams Go To Die through a great list song, Marz, to the witty Sigourney Weaver to the dissection of himself in the final title track. All with big swirling arrangements provided by Midlake and a voice reminiscent of the early Elton John.

To my mind the only really great album of the year.

2. MidlakeThe Courage of Others

Very much a companion piece to 2006’s great The Trials of Van Occupanther, Midlake continued to explore the bridleways of pastoral folk rock. They provide a more wintry and downbeat version of Fleet Foxes summery rural sound.

More influenced by classic British folk rock of the 1960s than Fleet Foxes and less in thrall to west coast harmonies, Midlake’s appeal is in Tim Smith’s timeless melancholic voice. The songs have a thread of environmentalism running through them. Acts of Man, Rulers Ruling All Things, Winter Dies and the title track are the stand out tracks.

3. Blitzen TrapperDestroyer of the Void

Terrible name for a band, terrible name for an album, and with a cover consisting of an animal skull – terrible artwork. Everything points to a Nowegian death metal band. Instead the album provided a fantastic mix of late Beatles inspired Americana and classic rock. They are a new discovery for me, though apparently this is the Portland, Oregon band’s 5th album – it is perhaps not surprising they have struggled to get a wider audience.

4. GorillazPlastic Beach

Damon Albarn proves once again that he is the most interesting big name music artist working at the moment this side of the Atlantic (though Paul Weller comes a close second) with the third Gorillaz album. Seemingly now moving away from the cartoon band gimmick with a band including Mick Jones and Paul Simonen of The Clash amongst others. This was the dance album of the year with a strong green politics streak running right through it.

The album also had the best ten seconds of music of the year as Mark E Smith asked ‘where’s north from ere?’ on Glitter Freeze.

5. Dylan LeBlancPauper’s Field

Back in February Bobby West gave me a year’s subscription to the Rough Trade album club. This has introduced me to a whole array of artists who otherwise might have passed me by. Two of the albums make my top 10 (see no 10)- they are very different to each other.

Dylan LeBlanc’s debut is the best country album of the year full of outlaw songs which are as much Woody Guthrie as Hank Williams.  The Alabaman singer songwriter has a wonderfully rich voice which at times has a touch of Chris Isaacs about it. Definitely one to watch.

6. Vampire WeekendContra

Yes, the knowing play on the Clash’s 1980 eclectic triple album, Sandinista is irritating – particularly as the Contras were CIA funded right wing death squads. This should not though detract from an impressive second album from the best purveyors of intelligent pop around. Once again infused throughout by African beats – possibly the best use of African music by a white artist since peak Talking Heads.

Cousins may well have been my single of the year – but in the absence of Top of The Pops and The Chart Show who is to know what tracks even are singles these days.

7. Laura MarlingI Speak Because I Can

Partly an answer to Noah and The Whale’s 2009 album, The First Days of Spring dealing with the same relationship break up. Laura Marling’s prodigious talent as a songwriter shines through on this second album. The maturity of the songs are extraordinary given she is still only 20 years old. The album also shows a growing confidence by Marling in transcending her influences (Sandy Denny, Joan Baez).

The only mystery is what she is doing with that awful Mumford bloke.

8. The Duke and The KingLong Live The Duke and The King

Since Simone Felice’s departure from the 00’s version of The Band, Felice Brothers in 2008, his new band The Duke and The King have released two albums revealing an ambitious blend of soul, classic rock and folky Americana. Last year’s Nothing Gold Can Stay suffered somewhat from tinny production, but this album suggests a band growing in maturity and ambition. Certainly a far better album than the Felice Brothers first album since Simone’s departure, 2009’s Yonder Is The Clock suggesting that he may be the most impressive of the brothers.

9. MGMTCongratulations

Brooklyn’s uber-trendy MGMT provided the sounds of the summer with this their second album. The psychedelic indie dance sounds on the album revealed a band with more ideas on some tracks than other bands (Oasis say) have in their whole careers. Messy in places as a result but you can but be impressed by their ambition.

10. Best CoastCrazy For You

Old fashioned girl group indie with buzzsaw guitars. If you think of say The Shop Assisstants or The Primitives nurtured in the Californian sun with healthy doses of The Beach Boys and the Ramones you would be in the right ballpark. Simple 2 and a half minute indie pop songs about boyfriends and romance – just as it should be.

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George_East January 1, 2011 at 6:24 pm

The Big To Do just missed my cut – along with Yeasayer’s Odd Blood and Laura Viers July Flame.


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