Top Ten Albums Released...
aking an end-of-year list seems like fun, doesn’t it? I bet you make one in your head, on your blog, or with a detailed spreadsheet where you rate every album you’ve ever heard with a complicated points system that charts instant impact, cultural influence, and lasting appeal in a strange Venn diagram where the best albums are those covering the most cm2 of purple. It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.
But as soon as the emails start going out from Comrade Burns or the Idolator form turns up in my inbox, I start to feel pinpricks of icy sweat break out across my brow. It’s a hassle, a chore, a deadly task that’s going to see innumerable faceless readers pore over my choices and pick them apart like a coroner needling my entrails with a scalpel and a frown trying to determine whether the cause of death was too much cheese.
If I’m being honest, I simply don’t know what my favorite albums of any given year are until at least several months into the next. Maybe around next March that early-impact LP from October will have faded totally from my mind, while the summer jam I dismissed as trite will have found profundity under the cover of winter darkness. I just don’t know. And never mind fading affections for the albums I did choose—what about all the records I didn’t notice, forgot about, or deliberately and wilfully ignored because I’m a prissy sod?
So this list is both an apology and a celebration, for some of the records I didn’t know or wrongfully dismissed that snuck up behind me after the deadline and bit me on the bum.
1. Electrelane – The Power Out
My girlfriend laughs at me because I am faddy as hell when it comes to music—my current interest, whatever it may be, is always the BEST thing in the world EVER. These fads can last anywhere between two days and two months. Some of them are just short trends, and some of them are giant sea changes in how I listen to music. Right now Electrelane—female, foursome, Brighton, literately rocking—are my favorite band ever, and 2004’s The Power Out is the biggest lost dark/light classic of the oughts. Recorded by Steve Albini, it’s super dynamic, super intimate, and super widescreen—postrock with all the ideas, attack, and none of the wank. In a couple of months I’ll be obsessed with something else, but right now this is amazing.
2. Sonic Youth – Sonic Nurse
Last month my fad was Sonic Youth. In preparing another Top Ten a couple of months ago I investigated the Jim O’Rourke-era Sonic Youth albums, my first serious delve into their catalogue since a brief flirtation with Dirty years ago. Murray Street was good—exciting, clean, involving—but Sonic Nurse started screaming “classic” at me from the off and seemed like a glaring omission from 2004’s selection. Everyone talks about the guitars (as well they should—they’re fucking awesome!) but the songs here are great too, so much so that Sonic Nurse was my default listening for a good month during autumn. Maybe I’ll finally get round to playing Daydream Nation soon.
3. Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra – Who Is This America
Sometimes, of course, you just need to ask someone who knows (a lot) better than you. And so I said to my friend Oli back in May “recommend me something African with trumpets and drums and attitude.” And, boy, was he right when he suggested Who Is This America. This has got trumpets and drums. Vast, massed armies of them, joined together in protest at the continued mistreatment of African nations at the hands of American foreign policy. There aren’t many words to it, but the message is expressed clearly enough, especially on the vibrant, passionate “Indictment.” One of the most genuinely exciting albums I’ve heard in years.
4. Broken Social Scene – You Forgot It In People
I studiously ignored this in 2003 just because everyone else wouldn’t shut up about it. Last year though, when I found it floating around cheap in a local store, it bit me hard, particularly “Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl” (like, dur). It’s not quite as monstrously good as the buzz suggested, and it didn’t exactly need my vote in 2003 either, but the most interesting thing about my late arrival to You Forgot It In People is the question of whether or not I’d have liked it as much if I had caught on at the same time as everyone else. I honestly haven’t a clue.
5. N*E*R*D – In Search Of
Why wouldn’t you fail to notice this straight away, given what anyone could say about it? “Sort of concept album about cocaine and lapdancing and being a popstar by trendy production duo” just screams “so what?” So much so, in fact, that even the record company said, “go away and do it all over again” to them. I’d had Kelis’ debut for ages but it wasn’t until I saw “Rockstar” on MTV that I actually started caring who The Neptunes were, let alone N*E*R*D. Now, of course, I own both versions.
6. Mountain Goats – Tallahassee
I’d never even heard of Mountain Goats before I started writing for Stylus. The initial descriptions didn’t bode well—a resolutely lo-fi guy who (sometimes) releases several albums a year where it’s all about the lyrics? I’m not one for literary slants on pop, but if someone had expressed how beautiful the melody to “Peacocks” was I might have investigated this wonderful record before John Darnielle became someone to exchange quips with via the internet.
7. Six.By Seven - 04
Despite being a fan of the first two at university, I missed Six.By Seven’s third and fourth albums, and then was sent their fifth to review. They split up the day after it was released, so I went backwards and found, in 04, their hidden masterpiece, released long after anyone at NME stopped caring enough to give them even cursory coverage. In 2004 I stuck Embrace and Bark Psychosis at the top of my annual twenty favorites—04 hits the middle ground between those two albums stylistically (think noisy dronerock with lashings of big choruses), and if I were to remake that year’s list again I’m pretty sure that the likes of “(Untitled),” “Bochum,” and “Ready for You Now” would have propelled this safely into the third spot.
8. Augie March – Strange Bird
Of course sometimes it’s difficult to know when to vote for something, given that it might come out in one year in Australia and not until two or more later in the US or the UK. I’d heard of Augie March’s Strange Bird, although not quite enough to track it down online, but it really wasn’t the kind of thing you casually noticed in a record shop in deepest Devon. So it wasn’t until one too many mentions of its literate, musical charms this summer that I finally succumbed and hit the “place order now” button at an online retailer. I haven’t been disappointed.
9. Richard Hawley – Coles Corner
I thought I’d had enough Richard Hawley. I was wrong. I picked this up over the summer when it was going cheap due to the Mercury nomination, and it was every bit as meanderingly beautiful and luscious as Lowedges. After reviewing his previous record, insouciance compelled me to neglect his breakthrough while the rest of the staff all realized its quality enough to vote it 26th overall last year. If I’d been onboard too, maybe it would have burst into the top twenty.
10. Lali Puna – Faking the Books
Every Christmas I buy a last CD of the year—it can be anything, by anyone, as long as it came out that year and I haven’t heard it already. I’ve been doing this for over a decade now with mixed success—Teenage Fanclub’s Grand Prix was the 1995 choice, and is a perennial favorite now, but last year Matafix got returned ASAP. This year Lali Puna was recommended in the wake of my fetish for sound, and I picked it up about a week after submitting my list. I’ve not given it my undivided attention as of yet (I’ve been too busy obsessing over Electrelane) but brief exposure made me pretty sure I’d regret not having noticed it in time for the poll.