In a different corner of t'internet* I've been taking part in some weekly polls where a bunch of music
( In line with the original poll I'm going with albums released from 2010 to 2019 - I'm not really sure that's how decades work but I'll stick with it. The Number One is really obvious but after that all numbers are arbitrary and completely irrelevant anyway because it's only my opinions and who am I? )
Blackstar - David Bowie ( 2016 )
The Thin White Duke's parting gift to the world, an endlessly rewarding treasure box of mystery, melody and melancholy. Bowie's previous album, The Next Day, had been his kick-ass comeback after the quiet years when we'd all assumed he'd retired. It was by any standards a very, very good rock album and probably more than most people had expected from the former David Jones. Blackstar, on the other hand, was a masterpiece for the ages. Reconnecting with his more experimental days, Bowie hired a crack team of top New York jazz musicians and made some of the most exciting music of his career, mixing Hip Hop beats, Nadsat lyrics and call-backs to 17th century playwrites with songs that, in hindsight, anticipated his sad demise but were also bursting with life and energy. "Something happened on the day he died..."
Masseduction - St. Vincent ( 2017 )
Staying in the artier realms of pop music we have this glossy, glassy, diamond-sharp album from the wonderful Annie Clark aka St. Vincent. A burst of Glam synth-pop colour, vibrant and shiny but with a dark flipside, Masseduction is the perfect soundtrack to the rainbow-coated Dystopia of your choice. "I can't turn off what turns me on / I hold you like a weapon"
American Slang - The Gaslight Anthem ( 2010 )
After breaking big with their second album, The '59 Sound, New Jersey rockers The Gaslight Anthem refined and distilled their Springsteen-goes-Punk ethos on this cracking collection of heart-on-sleeve anthems. Blue-collar rock doesn't get more poetic yet clear-eyed than this album's The Queen Of Lower Chelsea. "American girls they want the whole world."
Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit - Courtney Barnett ( 2015 )
You know that moment when you're in a record shop and you hear a song playing and think "that's really good" and then the next song is just as good and the next is even better and you have to ask the guy behind the counter who's the artist and then you buy the record and walk out of the shop and take it home and it still sounds great? Yeah? Well, that's how I first heard the laconic, ironic garage-rock of Courtney Barnett. "Put me on a pedestal and I'll only disappoint you / Tell me I'm exceptional, I promise to exploit you"
Arc - Everything Everything ( 2013 )
It's hard to believe that Everything Everything have been chronicling the horrors of the 21st century for over a decade now. Their twisty-turny, R'n'B-flavoured math-rock sounds like no-one else - a complex but danceable sound, deftly entwining often uplifting music with grimly pessimistic lyrics. And in front-man Jonathan Higgs they have surely one of the most powerful, if underrated, singers in modern music. Arc still stands, for me anyway, as their most complete album, a laser-guided dissection of the increasingly bizarre world we happen to be living in. "And that Eureka moment hits you like a cop car / And you wake up, just head and shoulders in a glass jar."
Wrecking Ball - Bruce Springsteen ( 2012 )
"Hard times come and hard times go, yeah just to come again." Bruce Springsteen's 17th studio album is one of his angriest, a protest howl about the uncaring forces ripping out America's guts. From the Irish-folk-meets-Punk of Death To My Hometown ( a song which really kicks hard when played live ) to the Gospel revival of Land Of Hope And Dreams, these are songs of ordinary people taking on the challenges of life in the USA, whether it's institutional racism or Ivory Tower bankers destroying communities. There's very little here that's subtle but it's powerful, stirring stuff with some of the most cast-iron tunes of Bruce's recent career. On a personal note, the title track has an extra meaning for me, beyond Bruce's intentions. I was listening to this album at the end of 2012 when I'd first been diagnosed with cancer and the sentiment of taking on whatever could be thrown at you affected me deeply. I can remember driving home from work one Winter night, full of mixed feelings, wanting to talk to my parents about my illness but being unable to - my Mum had passed away only two years before and it still felt very raw. I found myself singing along to Wrecking Ball at the top of my lungs, with tears coursing down my cheeks. I wasn't going to let this collection of rogue white blood cells beat me... "Take your best shot / Bring on your wrecking ball!"
Damn. - Kendrick Lamarr ( 2017 )
I have to admit I'm not that well-versed in modern Hip Hop but Kendrick Lamarr is, for me, the finest rapper I've heard since Jay Z, and "Damn." ( full-stop intentional ) is a fantastic album. Kendrick looks back over his life, comparing his early hard years in Compton with his more recent success and, of course, comes to the conclusion that "They won't take me out my element." The album pinballs back and forth through his timeline with recurring themes, motifs and lines, until the end which instantly catapults the listener back to the start. With its winning combination of old skool / new skool Hip Hop sounds and beats, and Kendrick's seamless flow, this is an album which does indeed demand repeat listening. "What happens on Earth stays on Earth."
Skying - The Horrors ( 2011 )
The Horrors were a band I never really paid any attention to until I saw them supporting Primal Scream at the Eden Project, whilst promoting this very album. I was so impressed by their performance that I rushed out to buy Skying and was just knocked out by it. It's a hugely confident, atmospheric collection of songs - a whirlwind of Psychedelia, shoe-gaze and post-Punk influences with some huge Motorik beats underpinning it all. Still their best album. "In endless blue / Reflections look so good"
Beard, Wives, Denim - Pond ( 2012 )
More Psychedelia, this time with an Antipodean flavour. Pond, formerly Kevin "Tame Impala" Parker's backing band, first came to my attention with this, their fourth album. The song When It Explodes drew me in with its dreamy, Flaming Lips-inspired otherworldliness and then I was hooked. Pond are the kind of band that can zoom off into stratospheric improvisations and freak-outs but will always return to a blue-eyed pop sensibility. Later albums like Hobo Rocket and Man It Feels Like Space Again only underlined this relationship between tunes and trips. I saw Pond play live a few years ago and they were just incredibly loud and heavy, man. Far out! "I hope that my head is not all straight"
The Navigator - Hurray For The Riff Raff ( 2017 )
HFTRR ( as I'm sure nobody calls them ) are basically a vehicle for ferociously talented singer / songwriter Alynda Segarra. Apparently more known for a rootsy, folky style, the band here stretch out to embrace Indie, Velvet Underground-inspired sounds and - crucially - Segarra's Puerto Rican heritage in the stirring underclass anthem Pa'lante. It's a wonderful album, never going where you expect and always suffused with melody and passion. "Colonised and hypnotised, be something / Sterilised, dehumanised, be something"
Okay, that's as much as I can manage for now. The next 10 albums on my list will have to be revealed when this shitty, shitty year is over and we're on to the "sunlit uplands" of 2021.
For now ( Dear Reader ) look after yourself, stay safe, wear a mask and have a Happy New Year. I'll see you on the other side...
( By the way, if some of the lines above seem irregular and not aesthetically pleasing it just shows how useless the recent Blogger update has been. As I write and edit stuff it looks kind of alright, after some tweaking, but when I view the same stuff in "Preview" it all seems to go to hell. Blogger's overlords must have a "Brexit-style" view of things where they want to make blogging as difficult, restrictive and non-user-friendly as possible. Rant over. For now. )