Wednesday, December 31, 2008

they say i'm on top of my game

Top 10 Albums of 2008

1. The Seldom Seen Kid - Elbow (Bedshaped)

There’s nothing I don’t love about this album. From the cover design, to the lyrics. From the wall of horns that signal Starlings bursting into life, to the sentimental, heart tugging song about their friend who passed away. From the wonderfully clever use of metaphors and situations that twist and turn and spin around in my head as I’m trying to paint my picture, to his soft voice that meanders and croaks and sighs like a 40 a day smoker.

A wonderful sense of togetherness fills me when I listen to this album. It sounds like an album made by a bunch of people who all get involved and absolutely love what they do. I like to imagine them all sat in a dingy room, listening to the newly completed album track by track, then when the last track fades out, someone breaks the silence by saying, “Now that is just fucking amazing”.

What we have here is a collection of songs that go beyond the typical indie/pop line. Sure, at the heart of it lies a drummer, a bass player, a guitarist, a keyboard player and a singer. But then there’s violins and cellos. Church bells and brass. Samples and all kinds of weird shit. Clunks, clicks and boinks. All melting together, wrapping themselves around the soothing voice that tells stories of town crane drivers, lost love, lost friends, childhood stories and of course their hometown. And all the time, he sounds so genuine. You just can’t help but be pulled into his stories. It’s a rare and wonderful talent.

Favourite track....Damn...Starlings....No, Some Riot....No....Damn....Ok, if I have to pick just one, then The Loneliness Of A Tower Crane Driver

1. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes (Swiss Toni)

It was always going to take a pretty special album to keep Elbow from the top slot of my end of year list, and that’s exactly what the Fleet Foxes have delivered. The debut album by this hairy five-piece from Seattle was, for me, the most rewarding album of the year. They’re from the city, but the roots of this album are about as rural as it is possible to be, opening with a song about a squirrel, and going on to conjure up images of fields and backwoods and misty mountains.

The sound is almost timeless: the band themselves describe it as “baroque pop”, and although they are clearly influenced by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and the other members of the 1960s Laurel Canyon set, they also sound oddly as though they could be minstrels who have stepped out of the middle ages, with “White Winter Hymnal” in particular sounding like a medieval madrigal and “Your Protector” featuring a distant flute and conjuring up images of knights in armour. Perhaps it’s the medieval historian in me, but I really love that about them.

It’s the vocal performances that are ultimately the biggest draw here though, with Robin Pecknold’s remarkable voice either ably supported by the layered harmonies of the other band members, best displayed in “White Winter Hymnal”, or highlighted solo in the stark, acapella “Oliver James” that closes the album. To hear Pecknold in full flow is to hear a voice of great, unspoilt beauty and understated power. There’s been nothing else this year that sounds quite like the Fleet Foxes and neither has there been anything that sounds quite as good. A cool breath of crisp, clear country air. Superb, and my album of the year.

Key Track - White Winter Hymnal

1. Count To Ten - Tina Dico (LB)

I’m always slightly suspicious of lists such as these where people’s #1 choice is something obscure or random that no-one has heard of. To me it always seems slightly that people are flexing their individual identity by doing this and choosing a bizarre, unknown chart-topper is somehow a way of telling everyone else that they know something you don’t.

Clearly, though, there are instances where you sometimes find a diamond in the rough and whilst the rest of my top Ten albums sold in their millions, my number One is quite simply the most terrific album I have heard in a long, long time by a Dane who you’ve likely never heard of.

Tina Dico isn’t particularly famous outside her home country. Other than her appearances on a couple of mildly successful Zero 7 records you are unlikely to have ever come across her, unless you’ve been to one of her many intimate gigs up and down the land. It’s difficult to say what number album this is of hers, frankly, as her releases have thus far been an odd mix of album and tour-based EPs.

Count to Ten, her most recent studio album is simply fantastic from start to finish. It’s pretty simple really – girl with guitar doing a mixture of beautifully crafted pop records and acoustic ballads – but there is just something about Dico that sets her miles apart from her contemporaries. Her lyrics are interesting and emotionally direct, her voice is beautiful but also engaging and the quality of her songwriting is second to none. I could single out highlights but it is one of those rare records where every last second of it drips with quality and even though I must have listened to Count to Ten three dozen times I have yet to tire of any of it.

Sacre Coeur is typical of Dico’s music – a paean about her personal restlessness set against the backdrop of touring in France – and is simply beautiful. The gradual four minute crescendo of title track Count to Ten, the likeable On The Run and the cleverness of Craftsmanship and Poetry (“....ask yourself how much you care, about dining chairs and Beaudelaire? No craftsmanship or poetry can keep a young girl happy forever.....”) – it is difficult to find any fault anywhere here. Everything I love about Dico is best encapsulated in the stunning Cruel To The Sensitive Kind which not only spoke to me more directly than any other song in 2008 but is also time-stoppingly beautiful.

It might look indulgent and clever for me to pick a relatively unknown artist as my favourite album of 2008 ahead of the popular and critically acclaimed works before but I simply can’t ignore the fact that this amazing record blows everything else I have heard in 2008 out of the water. Simply, simply stunning.

Favourite track - Cruel To The Sensitive Kind

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