Thursday, December 31, 2009

you don't even notice there's a war in my mind

Top 10 Albums Of The Decade

1. Tina Dico - Count To Ten (2008) (LB)

When I was idly compiling this top Ten in my head (well, it was more scientific than that and involved about thirty albums on a large Post-It note) it never really occurred to me that I'd choose anything other than Keane's Hopes and Fears as my number One album of the decade. It just seemed like the automatic and obvious choice.

And then I thought some more, and I found an album that I must have heard nearly a hundred times. An album that I have never grown bored of, never wanted to switch off and one without a bad note, never mind a bad song.

It's funny, really. Out of nowhere, along came Tina Dico with her eighty-odd songs - four 'proper' albums and a series of EPs - and supplanted Keane as the most important artist I have heard in the last ten years. In much the same way as bedshaped has talked about Damien Rice, Dico is in some ways the female equivalent. A singer who uses a non-same-sex vocalist to great effect, making laid-bare acoustic records which wear their heart firmly on their sleeve.

Fuel was a decent enough debut but the album's co-credit of band Sheriff made it obvious that Dico hadn't got free rein on that release. Solo EPs showed promise and the superb In The Red set the tone for what was to come. Some live performances followed and then came the release of Count To Ten in 2008.

It was my album of the year by some distance, and having thought about this at length I can't honestly name an album I have liked more in the last ten years. From the superb title track it launches straight into the great On The Run - a typical Dico number written about her uncertainty about her place in the world. The beautiful Open Wide, the stunning Sacre Coeur and the clever Craftsmanship and Poetry follow but it was on hearing the heartwrenching and emotional Cruel To The Sensitive Kind that I really, really fell for Dico.

Her An Open Ending EP and 2009's Road to Gavle have carried on where Count To Ten left off and as we enter the next decade there is no doubt in my mind that Dico will continue to produce this extra special brand of brilliance that will cement her position as my Favourite Artist Of All Time.

Listen to: Cruel To The Sensitive Kind

1. Coldplay - A Rush Of Blood To The Head (2002) (Swisslet)

I bought Parachutes and Kid A on the same day. That Radiohead album is now being hailed by many critics as the album of the decade. It’s all very good and all that, but the simple fact of the matter is that I hardly played it. Still don’t really. The Coldplay record, on the other hand, was hardly off my stereo for months and is still a firm favourite of mine. I loved the simple, plaintive quality of the songs and the abundant wide-eyed wonder of their young gangly singer, especially when he was loping after the camera along a beach in the pouring rain in the video to Yellow.

Of course, now that they’re massive, these are very much the qualities that people use to criticise Coldplay generally and Chris Martin specifically: that their songs are full of vague sentiments and a lot of abstract worrying.

They’re so big and famous now that it’s hard to think back to a time when people worried if they were big enough when they were announced as the Friday night headliners of the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival in 2002. They’re just a little indie band with one album and one famous song behind them. Is that really enough? How are they going to be able to pull it off? The band took to the stage and launched into a volcanic version of Politik. This was Coldplay as we’d never heard them before: famously described as “music for bedwetters”, this was something completely different. It was thunderously loud and the band had clearly taken a quantum leap forward. The release of A Rush of Blood to the Head was still months away, but the bar had suddenly been raised and I could hardly wait. Superstardom beckoned.

It’s an album packed with outstanding songs: In My Place, God Put a Smile on Your Face, The Scientist, Clocks, A Rush of Blood to the Head…. But the greatness of the album for me resides not just in the fact that there isn’t a weak song on the album as the fact that we can actually hear the ambition of the band, the way that they are striving for something far bigger than Parachutes.

Of course, the band’s signature foibles are there for all to see, perhaps written larger now we know them so much better since the subsequent releases of X&Y and Viva La Vida: the piano-led songs, the yearning, worrying and questioning of the lyrics; puzzles missing pieces… all the things that people pillory Coldplay (often unfairly) are all already in place. The Scientist is perhaps Coldplay in excelsis: that nagging piano motif, those yearning Chris Martin vocals with a sense of loss and worry…. It’s a song that fans will hold up as being perhaps the best example of the band’s genius, but their critics will hold up the very same things as the reasons why they hate them. There’s something about them that seems to make people want to criticise: New York Times critic Jon Pareles once said the band’s lyrics can make him wish he “didn’t understand English.” I love the band, but I sort of know what he means…. Or perhaps he’s simply looking to highlight the much-overlooked contribution of Jonny Buckland, Guy Berryman and Will Champion to the band’s sound?

There’s a tendency for people to dislike a band simply because they become big, and with this album Coldplay set out on the journey that would soon see them become the biggest band in the world. This album was a marker for things to come, but it stands in its own right as the band’s finest moment. That sheer quantum leap in ambition and in sound that meant that the step to superstardom suddenly seemed like the most natural thing in the world.

My album of the decade by the band my LastFM stats tell me are my most listened to band by miles. It’s not cool to say you like Coldplay, but I tell you what, I bloody well do.

Listen to: In My Place

1. Damien Rice - 9 (2006) (bedshaped)

Well, how the devil did that happen? The top two positions held by the same artist? Well, when I was thinking about compiling this list, I wanted to have albums that not only sat quite happily in the 'brilliant album' category, but also I wanted albums to represent me, and I guess my life over the last ten years. And then of course I also had to consider albums that were never far from the 'heavy rotation' playlist.

Out of all the albums that have caught my attention over the last ten years, Damien Rice's 9 album has been the most heavily played by far. It's also the album that I've found can be played no matter what mood I'm in. It's got me through some bad times, it's helped me ride happy waves. It's an album that has never disappointed, and somehow....even now when I play it, it just....sounds....better.

Once again, this album is driven by an acoustic and intimate feel to it. Orchestrations fold in and out, when they need to emphasize something, but in the main, this is a much more stripped down and bare album than O is. Lisa Hannigan provides more vocal delights throughout this album, and once again, I have to say that she is an essential ingredient to this album's wonderments. Without Lisa's voice, this and O wouldn't have been so....effective.

Damien's stories unfold in his brilliant lyrical style, and I find this album to have a lot more....I dunno....depth and honesty to it, as far as the lyrics are concerned. It's like....he's happy that people accepted him as he was on O, and now he wants to see how far he can push those barriers.

I had tickets to see Damien play live, promoting this album. Just two days before the gig, an announcement was posted on his website, saying that He and Lisa had 'parted company'. I can't even begin to describe how utterly pissed off I was. The gig was good, don't get me wrong. But Lisa's absence was heavily felt in that auditorium that night.

How long will it be before we get another album? Who knows? Will there even be another album? Maybe not. I hope he continues to release stuff and I'll be interested to see how he tackles having such a void to fill.

Damien. I take my hat off to you, sir! You are indeed a super talented fucker.

Favourite track : Accidental Babies. An honest and raw account of a guy's undying love for a past girlfriend who has moved on. The way he recollects things from their relationship, and then wonders if she acts the same, even though she's now with somebody else. It's just piano and Damien's voice. The 'sound' of the piano is lovely. Like an old, out of tune piano found in the basement of somebody's house. And Damien sings with such wonderful emotion, you can almost hear the frog in his throat. Just a lovely, lovely song.

Listen to: Accidental Babies

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

taxied out of a storm to watch you perform

Top 10 Albums Of The Decade

2. Damien Rice - O (2003) (bedshaped)

One thing that gets to me every time, is a singer songwriter that can pour out their feelings and emotions in a song. Not just in the way they sing it, it needs to be in the words too. The words have to give enough of the story, but leave a little to the imagination. And sandwiched in between all that has to be a voice that can deliver with conviction.

Alanis can do it. So can Tori. Tina Dico shows much promise. Ray LaMontagne is on board. Jewel used to be there. Paolo Nutini is almost there. Hell, even James Blunt has his moments.

But along came a guy from Ireland who stood out above all the others for me. His musical talents were certainly there, but his stories.... His stories are so brutal, so honest, so true, This is a guy who isn't afraid to lay his bones out for everybody to gaze upon. It's totally admirable, completely fulfilling and so totally heart-breaking, at times.

Damien Rice.

O contains song after song of pure beauty, capturing almost every possible emotion when it comes to relationships. And that's pretty much what this album is all about. Broken hearts, affairs, cheating, breaking up, love, lust, sex, falling in love, lies, truth, touching, stroking, kissing, holding, hugging, fighting, spitting....

Anybody could listen to this album and find at least one song that they can truly relate to. And that's where a lot of it's beauty lies, in the fact that anybody and everybody can find a lot in themselves contained within the stories.

Damien's voice is lovely. Raw, stripped, honest.... with just a hint of the Irish accent slipping out, and there's a wide array of instruments that kiss the ear as they play beautifully alongside each other, and then there's the jewel in the crown....Her name is Lisa Hannigan.

Lisa provides not only backing vocals, but also dual vocal duties on many of the songs here, and there's such an amazing beauty, such an amazing connection and flow between her and Damien's voice. I can't think of two more complimentary voices. Her sultry tones add a fair bit of depth to the songs, and I honestly believe that without her contributions to this album, it wouldn't have been half as good.

This album can make your feel sad, when you're happy, and happy when you're sad. It can remind you of old, lost loves....

Damien's wonderful lyrics can be fairly cryptic, leaving the listener to find their own story. But when he feels the need to spell it out, he doesn't hold back. It's very refreshing to find somebody willing to open up so much. It's raw. Half the fun in listening to this album, is trying to figure out what he meant when he wrote those lines. Was he talking about a girl or being an alcoholic? Is this an affair or rekindled romance? Has she killed herself or just left him?

Acoustic guitar dominates this album, with occasional appearances from strings, piano and wind sections, amongst other things. It's quiet, mellow and makes for perfect late night evening listening. This album is an all round winner, in my opinion. Could he ever possibly top this album?

Favourite track: I Remember. Lisa sings the first half of this song, accompanied by an acoustic guitar, picking away. Her breathy voice telling her side of the story of their relationship. Then halfway through, the guitar switches up a gear and strums as Damien begins to tell his side of the story. And this is where the song gets more passionate, Damien's voice impressing into the forefront, strings and allsorts backing him up like an army. It climaxes with an almighty mish-mash of all manner of instruments, all fighting to be heard. Just like in argument, right? Interesting, huh? And what about that solitary bassline at the very end?

Listen to: I Remember

2. Keane - Hopes and Fears (2004) (LB)

The best selling British album of 2004, the Brit award for 'best album' and rated #13 in Q Magazine's 'Best British Album Of All Time' poll. Hopes and Fears is, as far as I am concerned, pretty much the perfect record.

It's got everything that I love. I adore Tim Rice-Oxley's downbeat lyrics, his piano led melodies and the various tempos he employs on this album. From the driving anthemic piano of Somewhere Only We Know right through to the final note of live favourite Bedshaped it's a stunning record of beautifully crafted pop records.

Whilst the songs make this a brilliant record, this album would be nothing without Tom Chaplin's vocals. Whether you like him or not (and clearly he can be a bit of an idiot) he adds something magical to Rice-Oxley's compositions, particularly on ballads such as She Has No Time and the superb We Might As Well Be Strangers.

Indeed, there's not a weak point on this record. I love the lyrics and meaning behind This Is The Last Time, the perfect popness of Somewhere Only We Know and the energy of Bend and Break and Can't Stop Now. And, of course, it benefits from containing my #1 favourite song of all time - the untouchable Everybody's Changing which is the absolute perfect mixture of upbeat melody and melancholy lyrics.

Songs on subsequent releases have occasionally reached the heights of Hopes and Fears, but nothing is as consistent and more perfectly suited to my own musical taste than this great, great record.

Listen to: Everybody's Changing

2. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois (2005) (Swisslet)

Let’s be honest, Sufjan Stevens sounds like a bit of a dick. Clearly precociously talented, pretty early in his career, Stevens came out with the ridiculous assertion that he was going to record an album for each of the fifty states in the USA. Well, perhaps he was serious, perhaps he was not, but even if he never makes it any further (and he’s already done Michigan and an album dedicated to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway), then his tribute to "The Prairie State" makes the whole damn stupid idea worth the pursuit.

Illinois is stupidly ambitious: it is an absurd mish-mash of ideas and songs, 22 tracks long and with a running time stretching to well over an hour. It is richly orchestrated, but also features the humble banjo. It is all loosely themed around the State of Illinois, but with such a big topic, Stevens is at his best when he goes for the intimate: Casimir Pulaski Day is named after an Illinois public holiday, but tells the gut-wrenching story of a friend dying of bone cancer. It is delicate, and it is beautiful.

Far more bombastic is Chicago, a song name-checked by Snow Patrol on Arms Open and featuring a huge, joyful refrain about escape…. An upbeat song that somehow also manages to be sad at the same time. Perhaps most powerful of all is John Wayne Gacy Jr, the story of Illinois’ most infamous murderer. It is a song packed with detail, from the clown costumes that Gacy wore, the way he chloroformed his victims, even some details from his childhood. Most staggering of all is when Stevens sings the lines:

“And in my best behavior
I am really just like him
Look beneath the floorboards
For the secrets I have hid”

He asks us to compare him with a man who murdered over 30 young men, and the emotional impact of those lines is enormous. This album is a lasting monument to one man’s towering musical vision. The fact that he’s pulled it all off is nothing less than incredible. A brilliant album. I’ve never heard anything like it before and I can’t get it out of my head.

Listen to: Casimir Pulaski Day

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

scarves of red tied round their throats

Top 10 Albums Of The Decade

3. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes (2008) (Swisslet)

The Fleet Foxes are from modern Seattle but sound as though they have just stepped out of the Bruegel painting that graces the front of their brilliant debut album, released in June 2008. They are city boys, but their songs reference squirrels, mountains, woodland and meadowlarks. Their musical references are rooted in Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young and the other singer-songwriters of the 1960s Laurel Canyon set, and yet somehow their sound is so timeless that they could have been performing at any point in the last five hundred years.

Take White Winter Hymnal for example, still their most famous song: it sounds as much like a medieval rondel as it does a contemporary rock song, an image that intensifies when you look at the band in all their weirdy-beardy, hairy glory: medieval minstrels to a man. It's a simple song, with pure, clear vocal harmonies looping around a haunting and yet oddly sinister refrain of children playing in the snow and of blood spilled.

I can’t think of any other band that has sung this well together since the Beach Boys: the singing on the album is exquisite throughout, with the highlights for me being Ragged Wood, Your Protector, Blue Ridge Mountains and Oliver James. That last track in particular, a tale of a tragic drowning, features Robin Pecknold singing unaccompanied, and the effect is electric as his clear, pure voice rises unfettered towards the skies. I’m not sure where they can go after this, but it’s beautiful whilst it lasts.

Listen to: White Winter Hymnal

3. The Strokes - Is This It (2001) (bedshaped)

This is an amazing album. And not only that, but a fantastic debut album, taboot! Have they ever come close to bettering it? No. Nowhere near. Have they still got some miles left in them? Yes, I think so.

This is what indie is all about. Short running times, warped vocals, grinding guitar, groovy basslines and pounding drums. Catchy songs and perfect air guitar music. The sort of songs that young kids can pick up on a guitar in like....three days.

Unfortunately, I think The Strokes suffered from being in the wrong place at the wrong time, when they became the band to like, if you were in the 'in' crowd. And that unfortunate move put a little distance between the band and the majority of the music appreciating public. People wanted to like The Strokes, even love them, but the Music Snobs already loved them, so it was now quite uncool to like such a cool band. Yes, it complicated. And I think, to The Strokes detriment.

Packed with brilliant singles; Someday and Last Night being amongst the best known, I guess. But in my opinion, any track could have been released from this album and it would have gained perfect momentum.

I think I particularly like this album because it sounds like it was recorded in a garage by five friends. The production is raw, and that's a really winner with this band. Too studio loved up and you get the poor brother Room On Fire or the very sad First Impressions Of Earth, both lacking in what made The Strokes so great to listen to in the first place. That simplistic sound of raw rock and roll, delivered by a band that you and your mates could replicate in less than four weeks.

Favourite track: Soma. A genius song. Short, bittersweet and to the point. The guitars are great, the breaks are perfect. His vocal....just fit. Disjointed in places, with a brilliant pair of guitar hooks fighting over each other. Everything about this song sounds just right. And I bet they put this together in about twenty minutes, the talented fuckers!

Listen to: Soma

3. Athlete - Tourist (2005) (LB)

I'll be honest, when they first burst onto the scene in 2003 I couldn't abide Athlete. I thought their brand of daft, jaunty guitar pop was completely forced and I got the distinct impression that they were trying way to hard. Singles El Salvador and You Got The Style did nothing for me, despite their significant airplay and Mercury Music Prize nomination.

And then, in 2005 they released Tourist. I knew I'd like it after their debut single Wires made the UK top Ten. The tale of Joel Pott's premature baby being rushed to intensive care is a superb record and won the Ivor Novello for 'best contemporary song'.

I listened to Tourist again the other day and it was just as good as I always remember it. It was the first record I bought after I moved out of my marital home in early 2005 and so I vividly remember sitting on the floor of my mum's hallway (it was the only way to get online) listening to Tourist and Thirteen Senses' The Invitation over and over again.

Singles Twenty Four Hours, Half Light and Tourist are superb, but I really also like the opening track Chances which builds to a beautiful anthemic chorus. They had managed to eschew the daft London-ness of Vehicles and Animals and instead release a beautifully crafted record in the style of Coldplay and many of their peers. Many people bemoaned this move into what you'd probably call the 'mainstream' but for me it turned a silly guitar-pop band into one of my most cherished records of the decade.

Listen to: Chances

Monday, December 28, 2009

let me show you what i'm made of

Top 10 Albums Of The Decade

4. Chantal Kreviazuk - What If It All Means Something (2003) (LB)

Female singer-songwriters have always been a favourite of mine. From Julia Fordham to Alanis Morissette, Amanda Marshall to Jann Arden and Sarah MacLachlan to Tina Dico, I do love the sound of a female vocalist with an acoustic guitar or piano.

Of all the superb vocalists to have released records in the 2000s, this album remains one of my favourites. After her promising debut Under These Rocks And Stones and the brilliant 1999 album Colour Moving and Still, Kreviazuk returned in 2003 with this brilliant record. From the superb opening single In This Life, it's one of those rare albums where there isn't a bad song included. It's a strange mixture of styles from the yearning ballads of Flying Home and Morning Light to the upbeat charm of Miss April and Ready For Your Love.

Kreviazuk isn't particularly well known outside her native Canada other than for contributing the track Leaving On A Jet Plane for the soundtrack of the film Armageddon. She's also made her name as a talented songwriter having penned the great Walk Away for Kelly Clarkson and Gwen Stefani's Rich Girl.

What If It All Means Something is as brilliant and consistent an album as I have heard in the last ten years and whilst her subsequent albums have included brilliant individual highlights (All I Can Do from 2006's Ghost Stories is one of my top five records of the decade) nothing matches the overall quality of this album.

Listen to: In This Life

4. Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid (2008) (bedshaped)

When you're coming up with a favourite list of albums that spans ten years, I guess it's easy to forget some of the albums that were released at the further end of the scale, and there's a little danger that recent releases may cloud your judgment. And when it happened for me, I found myself listening to the album once more, to justify my thoughts. All of them fell into a "Well, yeah, it's a great album, but all things considered, it doesn't really rank amongst the top ten of the decade" pile....all of them, except one.

This is that album.

Released only a couple of years ago, but it feels like yesterday. Why? Because I can still listen to it, I am doing while I write this....and it sounds so....fresh, new, beautiful, original....amazing.

I got my first taste of Elbow with an ex girlfriend of mine. She kept raving about a song called Newborn. I could never decide at the time if I liked it or not. There was nothing to dislike, as it were, but again, nothing really grabbed me. Elbow and I parted company for a while until they released the Cast Of Thousands album, which completely won me over. Since then, I've stuck with them through thick and thin.

I've always loved the fact that they've remained a 'great, but not stadium filling size' band. They've had a string of successful singles, and their albums have always sold consistently well, but there's always been a lack of something. I don't even know what it is? Media support? TV spots? Eye catching videos? Something, somewhere just didn't give them enough oomph to become a household name. This album, I guess, has done all it can in respect to growing their popularity as a band. The began to sell out huge stadiums, appear on many a tv spot and even had much of their music used on tv adverts and programmes.

Their deserved Mercury Music Prize seemed to give them the recognition they had deserved for such a long time. Yes, their previous albums are brilliant. All of them! But this album....this is the album that is made with pure love and devotion to the art of making music. I have serious doubts they will ever be able to top this album, but I would love to be wrong.

There's a huge array of musical instruments on display here. The arrangements are lovely, so perfect. Guy's 'twenty a day' voice sounds as familiar as your best friend just bursting into song one night. And the stories that unfold are just genius. Each listen can twist the lyrics on their head and show a whole different meaning to the song. And it works so, so well. The music is beautiful. His voice is divine. The stories are so brilliantly told.

Amazing sound production on this album. Big enough to fill stadiums, but intimate enough to just about fill your living room. Perfect late night listening. Enough wonderfully told stories on here to make you laugh, cry and feel utter loss. It's a truly emotional journey.

Picking a favourite song is really difficult. I love all the tracks for different reasons. And it really does depend on what mood I'm in at the time, as to which single track I would choose. Grounds For's massive! just so, so beautiful! Weather To genius! Starlings is....OMFG! I could say something about them all! Except The Fix. I've never really gelled with that song. I don't know why?!

I think when I had this as my album of the year, I was torn between The Loneliness Of A Tower Crane Driver and Some Riot as my standout track. I haven't checked back to see which one I chose, but I feel like I'm torn again. I love how he sings that line, "Send up a prayer in my name". But I also love that piano sounds.


Ok, I'm going for Some Riot. I guess a tragic story about giving up, turning your head, over indulgence and ultimately....death. It's not quite as depressing as it sounds. The piano sound is incredible. And when the backing vocals come in, it's uplifting and euphoric. This is an incredible song to see them play live. The whole thing is delivered with such passion. You can't fail to pick it up. Genius!

Listen to: Some Riot

4. Elbow - Leaders Of The Free World (2006) (Swisslet)

With the release of The Seldom Seen Kid in 2008, Bury’s Elbow finally began to achieve the success that they had long deserved for their quiet understated excellence. It’s an album that seems to get better with every play, with songs like Mirrorball, Grounds for Divorce and One Day Like This….

Oh, hang on. I’ve not picked that one. I’ve picked the album before, 2006’s Leaders of the Free World. It didn’t win the Mercury Prize, and although it was well received by the critics – all Elbow albums are – it didn’t shift anywhere near as many units as the follow-up and never threatened to break the band into the arenas that are now their natural stomping ground. Elbow do platinum albums now, you know, not just gold ones.

But you know what? Leaders of the Free World is the album that made me love them. I had both their previous albums, and liked them well enough, and it looked for a while as thought this one might be going the same way: to be played every so often but generally left to gather dust on the CD shelf. And then something happened: Puncture Repair happened. It’s only 1m48s long, but it’s magical and it proved to be the key that opened up the rest of the album for me: Station Approach, Picky Bugger, Forget Myself, Mexican Standoff….

The great tracks keep on coming. Apart from Puncture Repair, there are two other songs that really lift this album up to greatness: Leaders of the Free World is a stinging attack on the Bush administrations (“passing the gun from father to feckless son”) and paints world leaders as little boys throwing stones. The Stops is the sound of a heartbroken lover letting go and wishing his erstwhile love all the best (“I’ll miss you the way you miss the sea”). It’s so beautiful and sad that it never fails to bring tears to my eyes. Damn that Guy Garvey has a way with words. The Seldom Seen Kid is a good album and has been rightly lauded, but this is the one for me.

Listen to: The Stops

Sunday, December 27, 2009

in my mind this is my free time

Top 10 Albums Of The Decade

5. Interpol - Turn On The Bright Lights (2005) (Swisslet)

Joy Division have never been so influential as they are now, with scores of bands transparently inspired by those gloomy Mancunians. Interpol, it must be said, are foremost amongst those admirers: if you couldn’t hear it in their music, then you only have to watch bassist Carlos Dengler play with his legs wide apart and his guitar almost touching the ground, to see a very obvious Peter Hook tribute at work.

Unlike, say, Editors, Interpol move comfortably beyond their most obvious influences to offer something interesting of their own. Singer Paul Banks may have a voice that makes him sound like an undertaker reading from a legal textbook, but somehow that apparent lack of expression simply serves to layer on the emotional impact of the songs. It is a dark and poetic work, with Banks throwing in (and getting away with) some apparently leftfield lyrical ideas: “You go stabbing yourself in the neck”, “The subway is a porno”, “you’re so cute when you’re sedated”… Normally that would turn me right off, but the whole tone of the album encourages the listener to see this as art rather than as literalism. Take NYC, for example:

“The subway she is a porno
The pavements they are a mess
I know you've supported me for a long time
Somehow I'm not impressed”

This is the city post-9/11 and this is a love song from the band to their hometown. It’s backhanded, but the affection is real. I don’t know how a subway can be a porno, but in the context of this song, I don’t give a damn. It sounds glacial, but there’s an almost indefinable warmth around the edges of this song. Fragile, delicate warmth, but warmth none the less.

Most of the lyrics on this album are oblique and elliptical, with the meaning obscure but the beauty often openly apparent. Take this from Say Hello to the Angels:

“I want your silent parts
The parts the birds love
I know there's such a place”

I’ve no idea what that means, but I love it, and the power of it is somehow enhanced by Paul Banks’ monotone. Interpol’s other albums are well worth a look, but for me this remains their pinnacle to date. An album of depth, darkness and rich complexity.

Listen to: Obstacle 2

5. Tiny Dancers - Free School Milk (2007) (LB)

Lots of great bands in the 2000s made just one record. Of all of them, I'm more disappointed that we'll never hear more from the Tiny Dancers than anyone else....

Formed in Sheffield in 2005, the six piece reached the lower echelons of the charts in 2007 with the brilliant singles Hannah We Know and I Will Wait For You. They toured alongside Babyshambles, the Ghosts and Bob Dylan and played two stunning sets at Glastonbury in 2007.

They really did have some potential. Singer David Kay was an odd but clearly talented character and their interesting mixture of guitar, glockenspiel and keyboards was really refreshing. Free School Milk, their debut (and only) album was produced by the Stone Roses' John Leckie and contained the two top Forty singles as well as the superb Shame, Baby Love and Sun Goes Down.

If the Tiny Dancers slipped beneath your radar in 2007 it is well, well worth seeking our Free School Milk now. It's a superb record and you'll be as rueful as I am that they never went on to bigger and better things.

Listen to: I Will Wait For You

5. Arcade Fire - Funeral (2005) (bedshaped)

Arcade Fire are a difficult band to explain. To look at them, especially when they are playing live, they look like a mish mash of untidy mature students, who still believe that one day their day will come. Because they are in fact very good. Varied, musically talented, flavours of indie, rock, folk, roots, even house and glam get a foot in the door. And it's a crowded house.

Musically, the album is filled with all manner of weird and wonderful sounds. Percussion is obviously played on strange things, squeezeboxes pulse in and out, violins rip and roll and stand out, there's a couple of guitars, bass and other things at work here, and it doesn't sound overcrowded. Just....full.

Essentially there are two singers, the guy and the girl, who I think are married. Which is uber cool, by the way. Anyway, yeah, the two singers....well, they haven't got the most amazing voices, but actually, for the mood of the music and album, they fit here just perfectly.

I don't think their follow up album was anywhere near as good as this one. The sound here is....experimental and quite raw, and sounds like the producer sat there twiddling his thumbs instead of the knobs, 'cos the band had perfected the song in the first take. I'm sure that didn't really happen, but I think that's a nice way to sum up the sound production here.

Listening to the album, it's almost got an operatic feeling to it. Like each track is progressing the story. I don't even know if that was intentional or not. I really should do some more research I guess. My bad.

Big with the indie kids and the cool kats. It's not a snobby album. It's not pretentious. It's just good old fashioned rock n roll. With knobs on. And tracks like the gorgeous ballad In The Backseat, with the beautiful string arrangements , the harp, the scratching and scraping, and the fantastic outro, don't know if they are meant to stay somber and gentle or rock the fuck out. Either way it works wonders.

Anyone who's unfamiliar with the band should listen to Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels). It's a perfect opening track and a pretty accurate example of what the rest of the album is gonna feel like. Basically, if it's just not agreeable, then don't bother with the rest of the album.

Favourite track: Rebellion (Lies). Pounding kick drum....climbing bassline....piano....a bit of guitar....senses of....Bowie, The Jam, Squeeze, The Undertones, Talking Heads. You get the picture. But they've also mixed it around, melted it in with modern feel and sound. It builds and builds into a pounding, romping songs, complete with wailing backing vocals and piano riffs that would make Ray Charles and Jools Holland proud.

They should have go on to much better things. Sadly, they didn't. Not in my eyes, anyway. There's always next time!

Listen to: Rebellion (Lies)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

nobody stands in between me and my man

Top 10 Albums Of The Decade

6. Amy Winehouse - Back To Black (2006) (bedshaped)

She may be nuts, but when she lays down tracks like these, she's fucking brilliant. A wonderfully distinctive voice and vocal style, singing stories of drugs, relationship break ups, love and failure, delivered in a fantastic 'old sound' and yet, it sounds so damned modern too. Genius production from Mark Ronson.

Pretty much everybody knows the great Rehab, You Know I'm No Good, Back To Black and of course her version of The Zutons criminally underrated original, Valerie (later added as a bonus track on a re-issue, I think?!). And even the songs you don't know, all sound so bloody good. Catchy, uptempo and just generally groovy. With a capital G.

I hate to admit it, but this album would have been higher on my list, had it not been for the fact that I think Amy has got some serious 'issues' which I hope and pray she gets help for, and until she does, she continues to act like such a fucking idiot....and that kinda means I love the album still, but just a little bit less. Damn you Amy!

Best track? Me and Mr Jones. A great old school soul number. Jingly piano riffs in the background, horns up the front, and Amy's absolutely gorgeous vocals. She sounds completely dreamy on this track. She's sassy, sexy, verging on just a little bit naughty. You can't fail to nod your head along with this track. All the tracks are brilliant on this album, so I chose this as my fave track above the others, purely 'cos she sings the great lines; "What kind of fuckery is this?" and "Nowadays you don't mean dick to me!" Genius.

Oh and shexy! *Honk*

Listen to: Me And Mr Jones

6. Johnny Cash - American III: Solitary Man (2000) (Swisslet)

Even if he’d never met Rick Rubin, you’d imagine that Johnny Cash’s musical legacy would have been secure. Yeah, so the tail end of his career might have petered off somewhat, but how could the man who recorded songs like Ring of Fire, I Walk the Line and Folsom Prison Blues is hardly going to completely disappear into obscurity, is he?

But he did meet Rick Rubin, and between 1994 and his death in 2003, Cash recorded a succession of incredible albums, the American Recordings, that featured a mixture of covers of contemporary songs and a number of Cash originals. Suddenly, after decades of seeming irrelevance, Cash, by now comfortably into his sixties, found himself cool again. Perhaps cooler than he’d ever been....not bad for a man who once hung out with Elvis.

He’s probably most famous now for his cover of Trent Reznor’s Hurt, which features on American IV. It’s perhaps the classic example of a cover version of a song that has long since outstripped the original, and that video featuring Cash facing the camera and his demons as his soon-to-be-dead wife floats around in the background is still incredibly powerful. It’s a great song and it’s taken from a good album, but of those albums that Cash recorded with Rick Rubin, this is the best.

The covers on the album are again well chosen: Tom Petty’s I Won’t Back Down, Neil Diamond’s Solitary Man, U2’s One, Nick Cave’s The Mercy Seat….but Cash makes them all his own with staggering authority. Even a song as well known as One, in Cash’s hands has new life breathed into it. Nick Cave does a pretty mean version of The Mercy Seat himself, but his tale of a killer going to his death on the electric chair has never sounded more – ahem – electrifying than when sung by Cash. It’s truly Old Testament in its ferocity, with Cash’s voice sounding like nothing less than the voice of doom. Superb. Not cheerful, perhaps, but compelling.

Listen to: The Mercy Seat

6. The Feeling - Twelve Stops And Home (2006) (LB)

It's easy to dismiss The Feeling as second rate derivative pop but their debut album Twelve Stops And Home is one of the most fun, entertaining and listenable records I have ever bought.

Dan Gillespie-Sells has an incredible knack of writing great, jaunty pop records. The singles from Twelve Stops and Home were all hits, from the slower-paced charm of Sewn to the all-out 70s inspired pop of Fill My Little World, Never Be Lonely and the majestic Love It When You Call.

Even when the band are in more reflective mood - on Rose and Blue Piccadilly - there is still a real quality to the songwriting and whilst they might derive their influences from three decades of pop - from ELO to the Darkness - this brilliant debut album showcases their upbeat, radio friendly music perfectly.

Listen to: Love It When You Call

Friday, December 25, 2009

some things you can't invent

Top 10 Albums Of The Decade

7. Coldplay - X&Y (2005)(LB)

I'll admit, I'm not sure X&Y is actually Coldplay's finest hour musically (and certainly lyrically). I could pick better individual songs off any of their other three 2000s albums and I wouldn't honestly get into a fight with you if you made a case for any of Parachutes, A Rush Of Blood... or Viva La Vida actually being a better album.

However, and notwithstanding, X&Y is my favourite overall Coldplay record. It's overblown in places, some of the lyrics are horrifically weak but when I listened to all four albums a while back it was this one that I kept coming back to. Whether it was the face that they were at the peak of their popularity when this came out, or the expectation I had was so high (and it was broadly met), I don't know. I just know that I love the singles - Speed of Sound, Fix You (I know, I know) and Talk - and even the likes of Low, The Hardest Part and Square One are brilliant songs.

It's maybe not their finest hour, but it's the album I like the best, which is what this list is all about, innit?

Listen to: Speed of Sound

7. The Killers - Hot Fuss (2006)(bedshaped)

Quite simply put, I don't think The Killers have even come close to bettering this album. Great, great indie/pop songs contained throughout this album. Ok, so the production isn't great, but it's all about the songs on this one. And boy, are they great!

Mr Brightside....I mean, come on. How can anyone possibly not recognize this as a fantastic song?!?! Somebody Told Me, another great, great indie flavoured song. Massive on the indie club circuit, and deservedly so. And then you also have the absolutely superb All These Things That I've Done....a brilliant sing-a-long track, particularly superb at their live gigs. Ok, so it has the lines; "I got soul, but I'm not a soldier.", but....but it's all about the delivery and musical styling on this album, not so much the occasional shitty lyric.

The entire album is a joy to listen to. This has been made by musicians who love what they do. Although, I'd argue the case that any subsequent releases have been delivered with the same passion. No, Sam's Town just didn't cut it for me. And I kinda hated their latest album. My bad.

Sufficient vocals, but the music is just great indie/pop music. Catchy songs, good sing-a-long chorus's and songs that sit in your head for days and days afterwards. And that's always a great sign for a classic album.

Best song for me is Glamorous Indie Rock & Roll. I just love, love, love this song. Slow build up. Cool lyrics. And when it's kicks in around three quarters of the way through, when Brandon just....kicks down a gear. This is a perfect example of what we wanted in The Killers. Unfortunately, they didn't listen. Although they still seem to be doing ok. More of this please, Mr Flowers. More indie/pop in a jolly style that sticks in your head for days afterwards. I mean, come on...."I'll take my twist with a shout"! Superb line, yes?

Listen to: Glamorous Indie Rock and Roll

7. The National - Boxer (2007) (Swisslet)

I remember reading about this album a long time before I heard it. It made lots of “end of year” type lists, and although it sounded (to paraphrase Bret and Jermaine) like just the kind of thing that I might be into it, wasn’t until 2008 that I actually got around to buying myself a copy.

Although I liked the sound of the band immediately, with Matt Berninger’s sombre baritone and the steady, almost stately progression of the band, it took repeated listens before I began to appreciate quite how good this album really is. It is, I think, the proverbial grower. The album opens up with Fake Empire and it’s a song that really sets the benchmark for the rest of the album: Berninger’s voice dominates around the often sparse backing track, and the band effortlessly seem to conjure up an atmosphere of darkness and loss together with a lingering sense of menace. It’s an atmosphere that is maintained throughout the course of the subsequent 43 minutes.

The core of the album is taken up by a run of three magnificent songs: Slow Show seems to tell the story of the very beginnings of a relationship ("You know I dreamed about you for 29 years before I saw you”); By Apartment Song, the cracks are starting to show (“Oh, we’re so disarming, darling, everything we did believe is diving, diving, diving, diving off the balcony”); and by the time we get to Start a War, we seem to be near the end (“Walk away now and you’re going to start a war”). It’s a devastating 1-2-3 punch, although the band, led by Berninger’s almost murmured, beguilingly soothing vocals, take you entirely by surprise with the emotional impact of these songs. There are no big hit singles here, but the sustained understated excellence has kept me coming back and I seem to discover more with every listen.

Listen to: Slow Show

Thursday, December 24, 2009

i'll sing it one last time for you

Top 10 Albums Of The Decade

8. Snow Patrol - Final Straw (2004)(Swisslet)

2004 was – for me at least – the year of Snow Patrol Over the course of the year, I saw the band perform live four times: first supporting Athlete at Rock City in the week that their breakthrough single Run was released, then at Oxford Brookes as they surfed the crest of the wave; at Glastonbury as they duly provided the moment of the festival when they watched, awe-struck, as the crowd sang Run back at them; and finally at the Birmingham Academy at the end of the year, when the set was starting to wear a little thin and it was clearly time for the band to take a break and write some new material.

As a band, they’d been kicking around for ages before finally hitting the big time, but when they did finally make it, they made it really big, and for a while, Final Straw was inescapable. And no wonder, from start to finish it is packed with quality songs: How to Be Dead, Spitting Games, Chocolate, Run, Ways and Means, Tiny Little Fractures. You might not know all of the titles (and the band have something of a knack for terrible song titles), but I bet you know the songs.

Gary Lightbody has become famous for both his Northern Irish accented singing voice, and for his wide-eyed ballads. Yes, he’s got a taste for the soppy, something that he’s certainly over-indulged in recent years, but here it was new and fresh and we’d not heard it all before. It’s not fashionable to like a band like Snow Patrol, and they’re often derided as being sub-Coldplay pap, but in my opinion this is one of the best albums of the decade – it’s certainly one of the ones that I’ve listened to most often.

Listen to: Run

8. Damien Rice - O (2003)(LB)

The 2000s threw up some blooming great records and so by the time I've got to this stage it's like choosing between your children (so I am told). O is probably the single most breathtaking, stop-whatever-else-you-were-doing album I have heard in this last ten years.

It has its standout songs - singles Cannonball and The Blower's Daughter to name two - but is is staggeringly beautiful from start to finish. Sad, melancholy but with the amazing vocal combination of Rice and Lisa Hannigan, O is a truly magnificent record from start to finish. his acoustic performance at Glastonbury in 2005 was also one of my all time live music highlights.

I absolutely adore O, and listening to it again recently it hasn't lost any of its stripped-down, raw emotional power.

Listen to: The Blower's Daughter

8. Coldplay - A Rush Of Blood To The Head (2002)(bedshaped)

What's there to say about Coldplay? Huge, huge, huge band now! Crazy huge!
A great debut album released to critical acclaim and by the time this album was released, I think everybody was expecting brilliant things from the band. And they didn't let anybody down.

It's taking Parachutes as the benchmark, and not only growing to the next level, but taking their sound, the lyrics and even Chris Martin's vocals to many levels higher.

Packed with well known songs; In My Place, God Put A Smile On Your Face, Clocks, and who could forget The Scientist with it's brilliant video. Any song from this album could have been released as a single. Absolutely no filler here.

I've seen them play live quite a few times. They sound great, but they're not the most exciting band to watch perform. And I hate to say it, but their live renditions are a little bit too....polished. I won't be seeing them again though. Since this album, for me, they have gone down, down, downhill. What happened Chris? What happened?!?!

Anyway....absolutely brilliant album. A great listen to from beginning to end. The title track is a really good stomper, but the jewel in the crown on this album for me is Amsterdam. And that's my favourite song from this, no question. Lovely piano intro. Chris gives his most emotional performance with his vocals on this track. And it builds. Oh yes, it builds. And "if you build it, they will come!" And I did! It's wonderful final moments come with full orchestra and lovely Hammond amongst other things. And then it falls apart again.

Beautiful song.

Listen to: Amsterdam

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

life, you know it can't be so easy

Top 10 Albums Of The Decade

9. The Doves - The Last Broadcast (2002) (bedshaped)

A sullen sounding singer and stories of depression, loss, death, fear, buildings and life. Not much positivity in the vocals here, but the stories themselves are great and the music is awesome.

The drums aren't hit, they're beaten. The basslines are delivered thick and heavy. The guitar twangs it's way through each track with great effect, leaving lots of Earworm hooks in it's path. And then you've got keys, piano, strings, brass, triangles, xylophones, bells, name it. All the instruments melt together so well.

This is a much more confident album than their debut, showing how they'd grown their sound. It's filled with haunting melodies, anthemic sounds of gigantic proportions and track after track of excellent songs. You can tell they had some decent money behind the production of this album too. It's a very lavish and warm sound. Essentially, they are a three piece, but they do a damn fine job when they play the songs live. And I think that's where a lot of the beauty for this band comes from. You can tell, they absolutely love what they do. This is an album delivered with love, passion and honesty.

It took me a long time to get into their latest album, but previous to that, each of their albums had been an instant hit with me. They are consistently great. Their debut album was great, and the album that followed this one; Some Cities was equally as good, but I think they really found their 'sound' and production on The Last Broadcast.

I hope they haven't peaked just yet. But if they have, then it's a shame they will mostly be known as the poor man's Elbow. Not that that's a particularly bad place to be, anyway.

Favourite track: Caught By The River. There Goes The Fear set the benchmark for the album, when it was released as lead off single. Gaining a huge reaction and tonnes of airplay, this pushed Doves much more into the mainstream. And deservedly so. But the best track by far is Caught By The River. Acoustic guitar intro, then add a little vocals, then some tambourine....all the time building layers into the depth of the sound. The guitar gets very interesting at times. I guess it's a pretty standard mellow indie song, but it's just so damned infectious. Very 'instant' feeling. What more can I say?

Listen To: Caught By The River

9. Queens Of The Stone Age - Songs For The Deaf (2002) (Swisslet)

I saw Queens of the Stone Age playing at Rock City in late 2002 as part of the BBC’s One Live in Nottingham event. Without a shadow of a doubt, barring perhaps only Metallica, I think that was the single best concert that I saw all decade. Why? Quite simply because they rocked like beasts.

Dave Grohl, who drummed on the album, was absent, but Josh Homme, Nick Olivieri and Mark Lanegan were all present and correct, and it was one of those old-fashioned Rock City nights where sweat dripped from the ceiling (which, since they replaced the air conditioning, you simply don’t get any more). Superb. I bought the album itself on a whim. I picked it up half thinking that it was going to be too thrashy for me, and although it certainly is thrashy in parts, with Nick Olivieri screaming his way through opening track You Think I Ain't Worth a Dollar, But I Feel Like a Millionaire, it’s far more tuneful than that.

Yes, it’s heavy throughout, but Homme and Lanegan have a sharp ear for a tune: No One Knows and Go With The Flow are both pop songs barely concealed by thundering drums and guitars. I think what makes this album stand out is the atmosphere it creates throughout: all the songs are loosely strung together by snippets of radio dialogue as an imaginary listener works his way through the dial. It’s a conceit that just about works, but it’s the music that makes the album fly: it is dark and it is atmospheric, especially on the tracks sung by gravel-voiced Mark Lanegan. Hanging Tree in particular sticks in the mind, with its image of doomed lovers Swaying in the Breeze. The best rock album of the decade bar none.

Listen to: No One Knows

9. Thirteen Senses - The Invitation (2005) (LB)

I'll be honest - it is a bit soppy and lightweight this album, and you could easily get from start to finish without ever realising it had been on at all. However, there's something really special about The Invitation that meant, after several listens recently that I had to include it in my list.

When I moved out of my home and separated from my ex-wife, there were two albums I listened to more than any other. Both were newish releases at the time, and whilst the other album is #3 on this list, Thirteen Senses provided the other.

You might remember Into The Fire or the superb Thru The Glass but I actually really love this record from start to finish. It 's an odd one, really, as there is nothing tremendously special about it, and it translated pretty appallingly when I went to see the band lie in Nottingham in 2005. It's slow and acoustic in places but is much, much better than a lot of people gave it credit for, and it is a real shame that they basically fluffed their 'comeback' with a dodgy second album.

It barely appeared on the radar, this one, but I love it nonetheless.

Listen to: Thru The Glass

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

there was a band playing my head

Top 10 Albums Of The Decade

10. k.d. Lang - Hymns Of The 49th Parallel (2004) (LB)

I managed to reach 2004 without ever having even considered buying a k.d.Lang record. I've also managed to go from 2006 (when I bought this one) without considering buying once since....

Hymns Of The 49th Parallel is an album of cover versions of songs originally performed by fellow Canadian artists. Neil Young and Joni Mitchell loom large, as does Leonard Cohen with Lang's terrific cover of Hallelujah gracing this album years before Simon Cowell got his paws on it.

I bought this album on a trip to Canada in 2006. It is, unquestionably, one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard. It's the perfect accompaniment to a late night at home - acoustic in nature with a fantastic choice of songs including the superb After The Gold Rush, Helpless and Love Is Everything the highlights.

I thought long and hard about including this here, but after deliberation and listening to it a couple of times I simply couldn't ignore it, even if it's perhaps from an unusual source.

Listen To: After The Gold Rush

10. 30 Seconds To Mars - A Beautiful Lie (2007) (bedshaped)

Every track on this album is a killer. Jared Leo's vocals are really strong on this album. And he can really holler! The guitars are medium heavy, but the drums....the drums are just outstanding on this album. If you could find true passion from playing the drums, it's here on this album.

Lots of good guitar and keyboard hooks throughout this album, not to mention some fantastic vocal talents being shown off. It's a turn it up loud and sod the neighbours kind of album. It's noisy. Noisy and thoroughly enjoyable.

Anybody who's tuned into one of the music tv channels can't fail to have seen one of their videos. Probably for From Yesterday, although I always thought the video for the title track was their best. Mind you, come to think about it, The Kill was a brilliant video too!

This album may well be their pinnacle, their previous releases are fairly mediocre. Although their latest album is sounding very good indeed. Although there's an over-use of children's choir type backing, noticed even after the first listen.

Favourite track....? The Kill. Jangly guitar and pounding drums. That's what this song is all about. Add Jared's great vocals and you have a great example of damn fine rock music. This was the song which had the video a la The Shining. A really great music video in tribute of a really great movie. I can appreciate that screaming vocals may not be everybody's cup of tea, but seriously, this is a great, great song from a terrific album.

Listen to: The Kill

10. Kings of Leon - Aha Shake Heartbreak (2004) (Swisslet)

The Kings of Leon have never been bigger: released in September 2008, Only By The Night was the biggest selling album of 2009 and the single, Sex on Fire, has been all but inescapable.

For me though, the band peaked in 2004 with the release of this, their second album. Their debut, Youth & Young Manhood was a joyous riot of southern-fried rock and roll and it launched the band, all long hair and musketeer beards, to the world. Judging by the tone of Aha Shake Heartbreak, fame and fortune does not seem to have brought the band happiness. Like many second albums, the lyrical subject matter was inspired by the band’s new life on the road: all groupies, drugs, parties and booze. Does singer Caleb Followhill sound happy about that? Does he hell. Far from it.

If Youth & Young Manhood was the party, then Aha Shake Heartbreak is the hangover. Instead of glorying in his new-found status as a rock God, we find Followhill worrying on The Bucket about his hairline, and on Soft about his inability to get it up. Pistol of Fire, meanwhile, seems to be a cautionary tale about sex with groupies (or possibly your sister). Ow indeed.

The band of three brothers and a cousin sound better here than on anything else they’ve recorded. The first album was raw, Because of the Times is dirty and full of skuzzy feedback, Only By The Night is polished and commercial – too polished, if you ask me, but here they sound just about perfect. Before they became the megastars they are today, the Kings of Leon used to be labelled as “The Southern Strokes”, but they’ve long since outstripped their New York contemporaries. There’s no front or posturing on this record, but there is plenty of heartfelt, soulful rock and roll.

Listen to: Milk

Friday, December 18, 2009

how's your view of things today?

Top 10 Albums Of 2009

1. Biffy Clyro - Only Revolutions (bedshaped)

It took me a long time to get to listen to this album all the way through. Not because I had any 'difficulty', as such, for the album, quite the opposite. As each track played, I would skip back to listen to the track again, and then again from the beginning of the album. The first six tracks I found particularly addictive and completely lovable. And it's just grown on from there, really.

There's certainly a theme that runs through this album, and that's that it's about keeping the interest. Taking the shape of many forms. Honesty in the lyrics, twisted as they are. Wailing guitars and power chords; think Led Zep, Placebo, The Strokes at times, Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Soundgarden, et al. Orchestrations at perfect moments. And beat and tempo changes, licked to death by The Devil himself. They like a tempo change, do Biffy and Co. Often the straight 8 bar gets kicked in the bollocks by some very odd, but amazingly catchy tempos switches.

Sometimes sounding like a typical Foo's song, sometimes Feeder, sometimes Bruce Hornsby and The Range, sometimes Genesis, sometimes Smashing Pumpkins, sometimes....well....insert pretty much any rock type band; not too heavy, but isn't afraid to do power chords. And yet, they still manage to retain their own originality....somehow. And some of the tracks are very original sounding. It's pushing a few boundaries, is this album.

It's fantastically enjoyable to listen to in the correct running order. The running order is just perfect for the album's feel, as a whole. I guess I'm left with a bitter-sweet but appealing sensation as I listen to it. I often wonder what other people might make of it.

Favourite track: I was gonna choose That Golden Rule purely for the last half of the song. Not only is the first half brilliant in itself, but when it changes from Foo-A-Like to some unsigned Swedish Rock band that want to represent their Country in the Eurovision Song Contest, it just switches up, like ten gears. The dramatic strings that flit in and out. The power of those dirty chords. The orchestration. And come on, who wouldn't wanna play drums on a track like that?! Surely the best outro to any song for a long, long time. Fo' Real! Snizzle.

And then I thought seriously about Cloud Of Stink, not just because it has a brilliant title, but the pace of the tempo changes....just wicked. Reminds me of Nirvana. Many Of Horror too. An outstanding track which begins in beautiful acoustic mood, the builds and builds into a wonderfully 'cinematic' sounding track. Brilliant!

I've finally settled with Bubbles, because not only is it the track that hit me the most after first listen, but the more I hear it, the more things I find buried beneath the surface. It's a great song, well structured. Kinda The Strokes at times. The guitar hook through the chorus is fantastic. The pounding drums keep driving the song and that deep repetitive bassline couldn't have been delivered any better.

I bet they're a brilliant band to see live.

Listen to: Bubbles

1. Manic Street Preachers - Journal For Plague Lovers (Swisslet)

As a band, the Manic Street Preachers have surely got nothing to prove to anyone…. Except perhaps to themselves. The success of 2007s Send Away the Tigers seemed to have finally give the band the courage to open up the cache of lyrics that Richie Edwards carefully left behind for them shortly before his disappearance in 1995.

Richie’s official status was changed from “missing’ to “presumed dead” in 2008, and this whole album is an eerie time-capsule back to the band that the Manics were around the time of the Holy Bible: even the artwork is reminiscent of an earlier time, featuring a painting by Jenny Saville, the same artist who produced the cover for that 1994 album.

Like The Holy Bible, this album also features awkward, punky, guitar-driven music (this time produced by Steve Albini), again often with clips from films inserted between tracks. The lyrics themselves are incredibly dense and are so compact, elliptical and reference-filled that it frequently feels as though it has been written in code. Like the Holy Bible too, this is not an easy listen, although the overall tone is somewhat less bleak and confrontational….if not exactly filled with the joys of spring.

What might have been ghoulish and exploitative has been handled with care and with no little dignity, and this is both a fitting epitaph to Richey and the band’s best work in decades. An absolutely superlative album, and I can pay it no higher compliment than to say that it’s right up there with the Holy Bible. It really is that good. My album of the year by a country mile.

Listen to: Marlon J.D.

1. Tina Dico - The Road To Gavle (LB)

So, here we are again. Another year, another Tina Dico album, another #1 favourite record.

The Road To Gavle wasn't quite such a shoe-in, though. Whereas I absolutely loved Count To Ten from the first moment I heard it, The Road To Gavle has a different sort of quality. It is ostensibly an album of songs that sprung from Dico being asked to write a soundtrack for the Danish film Oldboys, and so it is a curious mixture of styles and sounds, from some perfect Dico ballads to some instrumental tracks and songs which are half 'standard pop song' and half 'lush string orchestration'.

The result has taken some time for me to digest, but is no less brilliant than her previous work. The lyrics are yet again those of a singer despairing about her place in the world (the album opens with A Long Way Home in which Dico's regrets are apparent: 'it's a long way home, when you've burnt down every bridge that you've crossed'). With contributions from Helgi Jonsson (who worked with Dico on her An Open Ending EP) it's an eclectic selection - different, but great.

I wasn't sure about The Road To Gavle to start with but after repeated listens I have come to absolutely love it, and I have no hesitation about installing my current Favourite Artist Of All Time TM as my #1 in this chart for a second year running.

Listen to: Goldhawk Road