Wednesday, December 29, 2010

saddle up, see you on the moon

The Top 10 Albums of 2010

3. Sleigh Bells - Treats (bedshaped)

I've never heard of them before, I don't know much about them, apart from there's a guy and girl who hail from Brooklyn, and they sound so different, it's almost scary. What I also know, is that this album gave me goose-bumps from the first time I played it. Why? Because it sounds so huge, so widescreen, so immense, so intense, so fresh and so captivating compared to anything else I've heard this year. By half way through the first spin, my head was already telling me I'd found something wild and very special.

Eleven tracks; most of them running between two and three minutes gives this album a sleek feel. The short, punchy songs that fizzle, pop and bang are like the closest thing to being able to listen to musical explosions, each track effervescing and bubbling over into a huge sound, without over-stepping the mark.

Distortion, samples, slamming programmed percussion, grinding and often piercing guitars, bizarre keyboard sounds, squealing feedback and various other musical instruments beaten, stretched, banged, flipped and scratched (amongst other things) form the melodic noise. The female vocals are sampled, distorted, fed through emulators and squeezed through all manner of jigger-pokery wizardry to fine effect. What the listener is left with, is a powerful bombastic noise, that still remains melodic and catchy, with plenty of hooks and filled with engaging qualities that simply begs for replays.

Album opener, Tell 'Em blasts it's way through to the eardrums from the off. Fuzzy guitars provide the riff, machine gun percussion provides the beats, female vocals provide one of the many hooks. It's a fantastic opener and a brilliant introduction into what is about to follow. And what follows is pretty much more of the same, without sounding too 'samey'. Each track knuckles down and chews into the listeners brain. Catchy riffs and hooks bury themselves deep, rearing their heads once again, and that's a great, and rather impressive formula that shows the strength of this duo on this album.

This music hits you hard. It doesn't back down. It doesn't let up or falter. It's almost relentless, like a boxing opponent that keep pounding body blows and upper-cuts. And it leaves you pretty breathless by the time the album closes. The rare breather comes just over half way through, in the shape of Rill Rill, the albums most melodic song by a long stretch. Gorgeous and catchy vocals, acoustic guitars and chiming keys are the true beauty here and whilst I'd say there's no potential singles to be found on this album, this track would be my only slight possibility.

Will they ever follow this up with another release? Who knows. To me, it sounds the sort of strikingly different debut album that will just be left to it's own devices. Never to be followed. Never to be bettered. Certainly not everybody's cup of tea, but absolutely worth at least one listen.

Listen to : Rill Rill

3. Manic Street Preachers - Postcards From A Young Man (Swisslet)

You could probably argue that Manic Street Preachers have been two completely separate bands in their career: in the early days, they were an urgent, wordy, punk band driven on by the slogans, lyrics and restless intelligence of Richey James Edwards. After Richey’s disappearance, they became a different band: a much more anthemic band writing wistful rock songs that gained them huge commercial success. Of the two bands, I have always preferred the edgier earlier work. Everything Must Go is a fine album, but for me The Holy Bible has always been their masterpiece.

Predictably, when the band returned to Richey’s lyrics for 2009’s Journal for Plague Lovers, I was hooked, loving the densely packed, elliptic lyrics of songs like Marlon JD, where every line seemed almost like a cryptic crossword puzzle packed with references and significance. Postcards from a Young Man, by contrast, is an album by the other Manic Street Preachers, a return to the more considered, audience friendly music of all their finest work as a threepiece.

I still prefer the other Manics, but there’s much to recommend this album: the band have now got nothing to prove to anyone. They’re comfortable in their own skins, and they sound it. This is a grandiose, sweeping album, drenched in strings and big gestures. Nicky Wire said he was aiming for a sound like 'Heavy Metal Tamla Mowtown'. Well, I don’t know what that would actually sound like, but if it does sound like this album, then it sounds pretty good to me. I do wish Wire would stop taking lead vocals on songs though. We all love him to bits, of course, but he’s not half the singer that James Dean Bradfield is.

Listen to: (It’s Not War) Just The End Of Love

3. Lady Antebellum - Need You Now (NP)

Having heard and enjoyed the title track of the album (having never previously come across this band before), I thought I'd take a punt on the album. Then, on putting the CD in my computer to rip it to iTunes, I was horrified to see that the software had identified this record as 'country'.

I'm not a country music fan. Sure, I like the odd Glen Campbell record (who doesn't?) but I was suddenly bothered that I appeared to have been sucked into buying a modern country record from one pop crossover single.

I needn't have worried. Need You Now is *brilliant*.

It's hard to understand quite why this album is so good. A trio from Nashville, singing duties are shared by Charles Kelley and Hilary Scott and whilst there are country influences on the record, their style is pretty bog-standard vocal pop. A good friend of mine also admitted to me one day that he loves this record, and Need You Now is frankly not really the sort of thing that either of us would ordinarily enjoy.

Nominated for six Grammy awards, Lady Antebellum are suddenly one of America's biggest bands. The real strength of the album is in the songwriting which is of an incredibly high standard from start to finish. Ballads like If I Knew Then, Hello World and the title track Need You Now are magnificently written and performed with Kelley and Scott's harmonies sounding perfect. The trio also sound great on their uptempo numbers - the catchy Stars Tonight and Our Kind Of Love are particular highlights.

I suppose it is a country album - the band ended Rascal Flatts' six year reign as 'Best Band' at the Country Music Awards in 2010 - although don't let that deter you. Need You Now is set to scoop a handful of Grammies in 2011 and every gong they pick up will be well deserved.


Listen to: Need You Now

3 Discussions:

Blogger swisslet said...

Sleigh Bells is one of the albums that I picked up in a massive downloading session on Boxing Day (in a somewhat belated attempt to catch up on 2010, along with things like the Band of Horses album). I can only concur with what you say here about how, from the very first listen, it's startling different. A keeper, I think.

NP - what with Mt Desolation releasing a distinctly country-tinged album this year too, and now this, you seem to have developed a taste for a country twang in your music this year. Did Dolly Parton have anything out in 2010?

10:28 AM  
Anonymous NP said...

Did Dolly Parton have anything out in 2010?

Must. Resist. Urge. For. Joke.

12:17 PM  
Blogger swisslet said...

...well, apart from them. Obviously.


1:49 PM  

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