Ok, I know everybody does one of these, but on this occasion I am going to bow to peer pressure and just go with the flow. If you can't, just can't, be doing with the sheer tedium of another self-important, opinionated list, then kindly fuck off. For that matter, what were you even doing here in the first place? Anyway....
1. Geekk – Charlie Barnes
Let's be honest. This was his first time out to bat, and he came out with this fucking album. Jesus, if I didn't give first place to a twenty-one year old writing and recording a prog-pop album with string arrangements, I'd be told by my boss to hand in my pen and gun next time I'm down the station.
Reading that back almost suggests that its very existence merits it first place; while there's a little truth in that, don't mistake my full meaning for a second- this is a great album, full of songs in varied in mood, style and tempo as can be whilst maintaining the overall consistency that is appropriate for the album format. That's the kicker, of course: this isn't just a great collection of songs, but a great album, and Charlie has, in a perverse way, shown just how intelligent and forward-thinking his music is by working within this supposedly 'outdated' framework and still coming up with something this arresting and innovative.
2. Grappling Hooks- North Atlantic Oscillation
In terms of sheer originality, there is only one contender for the crown: NAO. They are so damn quirky and original, it still shocks me that Kscope had the balls to sign them and put out the album; not only that, but getting Zane Lowe's Radio 1 Record of the Week award fucking blows my mind. Still only a critic's favourite, that's likely to change with album two, which I am ably informed will be released on Kscope next year. Their catchy electronic hooks, which initially belie a much deeper, more progressive- or post- rock feel to the arrangements, draw the listener in, and the substance and quality of the music keeps them engaged. Just a fantastic band in every important way, and one that repays every bit of effort you put into exploring their musical world.
3. Disconnect from Desire – School of Seven Bells
Look, everybody knows School of Seven Bells are phenomenal, but this record confirmed it; a difficult second, that while lacking some of the gleeful experimentalism of Alpinisms (in lieu of greater structure and more traditional songwriting), was still a great record in its own right, and one that can leave us optimistic about album three. Oh, and the artwork was pretty damn cool, too.
4. Fever - Sleepy Sun
This record is very fucking simple. It's desert-blues, pure psych freakout nonsense; it's easy to listen to over and over, and the riffs are just as fresh the hundredth time as the first. It makes the list on the basis of a single word: quality. This is a record that oozes quality- couple that with a earnestness about the music (if not the lyrics, which are basically nonsense, as far as I can tell), and it's somehow far superior to the sum of its parts.
5. All Creatures Will Make Merry – Meursault
I was a late convert to the Meursault bandwagon, joining shortly before this record came out. It has so many different aspects to it that the mind boggles; from industrial to shoegaze, via lo-fi folk, and all the more incredible for being recorded in Mr. Toad's living room (look this up and it'll make sense, I promise). I had the good luck of catching them live at Glastonbury festival- where they played a storming set- as well as in Manchester, and the sheer intensity of their live show is such that it actually reflects back on the record on subsequent listens. Whatever genre these guys actually belong in, they should be hailed as Kings.
6. Someone Here is Missing – The Pineapple Thief
As good (in fact better) than either of the last two Porcupine Tree records, the most recent Pineapple Thief LP is everything that is great about modern progressive; splashes of electronics, distortion and delay combined with a deft grasp of songwriting that even allows for all the instruments to be cast aside in favour of sparse acoustic versions.
In the songs you'll hear echoes of early Cooper Temple Clause, Radiohead, Vex Red, Origin of Symmetry-era Muse, even hints of Mogwai. In particular, if you can get the Extended edition, the album being bookended by the acoustic version of opener 'Nothing at Best' is a delightful contrivance. Overall, it's an album as marked by its technical distinction as its songwriting pedigree; in terms of sheer originality they get beaten, sure, but in terms of the enjoyability or accessibility of this record, they are hard to beat, and I'd not be too surprised if this were my 'most played' album of 2010.
7. Self-Preserved While the Bodies Float Up - Oceansize
It's very hard for me to be objective about a 'size record, but from initially really disliking this album, I've come around to thinking that maybe it's their best since their masterwork, Everyone Into Position. 'It's My Tail And I'll Chase It If I Want To' is not only the best cut on the record, but may well be my favourite thing they've ever done- it's just fucking mad.
Back to the record though; I hate using the word 'mature', so, er, it makes them sound old. In a good way. I'm sadly beginning to think that maybe this band will end up never getting the recognition they truly 'deserve', but with Biffy Clyro now fucking massive, and the second generation of bands like In Casino Out drawing influence from them and now starting their own careers, maybe this will change. I sincerely hope it does.
8. Growing Pains – Dinosaur Pile-Up
Seriously though, the first indication that grunge is coming back, and damn am I ready, especially if it all sounds as good as this. What music writer, musician, or general layabout can't sympathise with lines like "my rock n' roll's been causing all sorts of trouble/bless my poor mother, she always knew something was going on/with her son..."?
9. The Octopus - Amplifier
This is only so low because the general release is next year (January), but I got mine now, so I slotted it in even though I've not fully marshalled my thoughts enough for a review yet. Its inclusion in this list should convince you of its quality, though.
10. 3am, the Beautiful, the Bittersweet - Fears
This is tacked on the end because I only just realised it came out this year. I've actually had some of the songs for nearly four years, so it almost skipped my mind. It's essentially a download compilation of Terry Abbott's work as Fears, and if I actually counted it as a full album, it'd be at Number One, simple. If you want to know what all the fuss is about, check out my review in the archives, or find a copy of the album and have a listen for yourself.
Pale Silver & Shiny Gold - Sad Day for Puppets
SDFP's second turns out to be just as good as their first- a storming grunge-shoegaze concoction whose best cut, 'Monster & the Beast' is up there with the best tracks released this year. Heartbreakingly good.
Small Craft on a Milk Sea – Brian Eno
How the fuck does he still stay relevant? 'Paleosonic' and 'Two Forms of Anger' prove he's still got it; not only that, but he's got more left to say.
British Brains (EP) - RIBS
Another first outing, Boston-based RIBS take that industrial-grunge template briefly championed by Vex and TCTC and shake it up with a bunch of stuff that's happened since, not to mention some shades of trip-hop. Were it not an EP, it'd be in the list above.
Brothers - The Black Keys
Speaking of bands who've 'still got it', there's this. Not as lo-fi as their previous efforts, and perhaps a little less riff-heavy than Thickfreakness, but 'Ex-Girl' is undoubtedly one of my tracks of the year, and for the sheer pop joy of 'Tighten Up' they deserve a shout.
Scratch My Back - Peter Gabriel
I know it's covers, but it's Peter fuckin' Gabriel, ok? Though there are admittedly a few weak patches (er, 'Street Spirit' what?), it deserves to be here for the covers of Magnetic Fields' 'The Book of Love' and Bowie's 'Heroes', which are so beautiful that they make me stop whatever I'm doing just to listen whenever I hear them.
Well, that's it. Hope you enjoyed it! Check back in a few days for a review of the elusive Octopus (nearly a week in the making, seriously).