Sunday, December 26, 2010

stop this crazy talk

The Top 10 Albums of 2010

6. Plan B - The Defamation Of Strickland Banks (bedshaped)

I flippin' love this album. I really do.

I know it's not gonna be everybody's cup of tea, but this album is just packed with infectious songs that I defy any music lover not to at least tap their foot to. A difficult album to summarise, particularly because Plan B, or rather Ben Drew covers all manner of song styles. With his vocals; he shouts, he screams, he raps, he toasts, he harmonizes, he sings in falsetto, he stutters, he does the bloody lot.

And then you have the musical style and arrangements; drawing most of its influence from a motown, ska and sixties beatmix, but then touching on street rap, blues, jazz, indie....the list goes on. It's a very modern sounding album, with an obviously old-skool sound that not only pays homage to some of the all time greats, but sets the bar very high for anybody else out there who draws from a similar bow. If only it had a little more vinyl crackle sound!

Best listened to as a complete album, because of the story that unfolds (think The Streets legendary A Grand Don't Come For Free). It's an attempt at a 'concept album' telling the tale of the titular character, who appears to be a bit of a shady geezer. A little bit whoah, a little bit whehey, a little bit....erm....well, he's a bit shady, yano. That said, it can be happily picked apart at will and stands up to the most inattentive listener. In particular, tracks such as the infectious single She Said, with it's near perfect song construction, smooth jazzy guitar, rinky tink drums and complimentary brass, and the equally catchy Prayin'; a track drawing heavily on Motown of the 60's with it's single chord strumming guitar, ambitious tamborine and under-pinning brass, and Hard Times, an ultra slick soul and breezy jazzy number that would have Smokey Robinson giving up his pipe and slippers to come out of retirement. These tracks and more can hold their heads up high and do well to stand alone perfectly happily amongst anything else that's been released this year in single formats.

Elsewhere there are strings that wash in and out of tracks, emulating, but never quite successfully, Phil Spector's fabulous Wall Of Sound and all manner of brass instruments that compliment various tracks in a wonderful way, so as not to distract the listener with any kind of, "What the hell is that? Are those horns I hear?". It's no secret that I'm not a big fan of ye old brass section, but when used correctly such as on some of these tracks, well, I just can't resist. The other great thing that stands out for me on this album is the drumming. The mix has been captured just right, giving a wonderful 'live drumming' sound to the album, and not only that, but the drum patterns are inventive, infectious and contagious, to the point that I feel like picking up my sticks again!

Production here is spot on. Surely it couldn't have been any more suited to the sound and feel of the album, and I can't help feeling that when Ben and the musicians listened back to the final mix, they all must have given each other a deserved pat of the back and felt damned good about what they'd achieved.

My essential track to listen to has got to She Said. Beginning with a finger-snappy intro, leading into infectious drums, honky horns and Ben's falsetto vocals, followed by punchy guitars and those wonderful strings washing effortlessly in and out . Ben switches seamlessly into his 'daaan saaaaf' rapping, telling the story of the court case that results in the titular character being sent down. Genius!

Listen to: She Said

6. Gorillaz - Plastic Beach (Swisslet)

Their headline performance at Glastonbury this year may not have been everyone’s cup of tea, but I loved it. True, it probably helped that I knew who Mark E. Smith was and recognised Lou Reed as soon as he took to the stage for his four-minute cameo… but I thought that, for a cartoon band, Gorillaz made a surprising amount of sense as a live band. Once the ever-so-slightly tiresome pretext is dropped, Damon Albarn is freed up to really flex his musical muscles, helped by his famous collaborators, but rarely overshadowed.

Plastic Beach is a fantastic album by a band who have rarely sounded more coherent, even as the cameos become ever more diverse and more stellar. Snoop Dogg, Bobby Womack, Mos Def and… er… Mark E. Smith are all simply the icing on the cake of an engine that delivers a surprisingly coherent set of songs. Perhaps the album doesn’t have a standout single along the lines of Clint Eastwood or Feelgood Inc, but it’s their best album yet.

Listen to: Stylo (feat. Bobby Womack and Mos Def)

6. Keane - Night Train (NP)

So, it's arguably not a complete album (technically an EP and with only seven songs) but as it topped the album chart (a fourth consecutive number one album is not a bad return for a band considered by many to be in decline) I've included Night Train here.

Recorded during their 2009 world tour, Night Train is a curious mixture of songs. The publicity was generated by their two collaborations with Senegalese/Canadian rapper K'Naan but Stop For A Minute and Looking Back were hardly a left-field lurch into hip-hop (even if Radio 2 did, hilariously, cut out K'Naan's rapped middle eight as it was no doubt too racey and cutting edge for Ken Bruce's audience).

Back in Time
and Ishin Denshin - a cover of the Yellow Magic Orchestra song - carry on in the electro-80s vain where Perfect Symmetry left off, whilst the remaining three tracks are archetypal Keane. Your Love sees Tim Rice-Oxley take on lead vocals for the first time and is a brilliant song. My Shadow and Clear Skies are also two songs that would fit snugly alongside any other Keane release.

At barely half an hour long, Night Train was described by Q magazine as a "surprisingly effective between-albums stop-gap." It's a peculiar mixture of sounds and styles, but Night Train is easily as melodic and enterprising as all of Keane's other recent releases.

Listen to: Stop For A Minute

1 Discussions:

Blogger bedshaped said...

I watched Gorillaz at Glasto on the TV and thought they were good. I really like the album, but dont you think it needs to be listened to completely through to appreciate it. I've tried dipping into a few songs that caught my ear and somehow they just don't have the same effect. Or maybe that's just me.

Keane's album, while I really tried with it, was for me (as you quite correctly described) a curious mixture of songs. I tried. Maybe I should try harder.

2:04 PM  

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