Thursday 31 December 2020

Albums Of The Decade ( Part One )

 In a different corner of t'internet* I've been taking part in some weekly polls where a bunch of music nutters  fans discuss their favourite albums of particular years or decades. This has led to the inevitable question of which were the best albums of the last decade. While obviously a very difficult choice for anyone who doesn't think that "music has been rubbish since the '80s / '90s / delete as applicable", I've managed to get my choices down to a workable list of 20 and I thought I'd inflict it on you, Dear Reader...

( 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? )

*( Twitter) 

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. )                                                                 


Steve W. said...

Hi, Simon. I can't say anything much about the best albums of the last ten years, as I tend to only listen to individual tracks these days, rather than full albums. The internet has clearly destroyed my attention span. Of the albums I have heard, I would say my favourites have been Paul McCartney's New and the Kills' Blood Pressures.

I agree about Blogger's recent, "improvements." My own beloved site keeps randomly alternating between single-spacing and double-spacing while I'm trying to type and also insists on changing font from Aerial to Times New Roman. It's a living nightmare.

PS. A happy New Year to you and to all that visit this lovely site. :)

Steve W. said...

PPS. Lady Gaga's Chromatica was good too.

Simon B said...

Hi Steve. I have to admit I still consume music in an old-fashioned way. I even still buy CDs! I know... what an old git! Sadly I haven't heard any of the albums you mentioned, although I've heard good things about Macca's latest - there's life in the old dog yet! I sort of lost track of Gaga after she went all Country a while back, so I should probably check out her new stuff.

Happy New Year Steve! Hope you have a happy and healthy 2021.

McSCOTTY said...

Hi Simon etc al hope you all had a great holiday period and are getting ready for 2021 and the end of COVID (we live in hope).

Not really my decade to be honest although I still listen to new music (and got to gigs) I don’t buy a lot of new albums and listen to the singles first and then check others tracks on Spotify, but long gone (for the most part) are the days I drooled of every track on an album line by line looking for hidden meanings. Anyhoo some favourites from the 2010-2019 period

Blackstar – Bowie
Ok I’m a massive Bowie fan so it was bound to be my number one but it is truly a work of art, a work of self-reflection if every there was one and all the more poignant when we found out Bowie was dying. Difficult to listen to when you know the story at times but VERY rewarding.

The Old Magic - Nick Lowe
On the other side of arty we have a poppy crooner and a heck of a song writer. Lowes last 3 or 4 LPs are just wonderful stuff that hit a chord to those of us getting older. Great we pop songs about life and love like Sensitive man and many others with hidden meaning.

AM - Arctic Monkeys
Just brilliant rock music best band in years (imho)

The Suburbs - Arcade Fire
Just put it on an listen to it a mix of rock, ambient and almost classical music

What Did You Expect From The Vaccines - The Vaccines
3 cord indie loveliness

Plastic Beach – Gorillaz
Not sure why I like the Gorillaz so much at times I think its mostly due to Jamie Hewlett’s art but then again there is just something so cool about their toons (tunes)

Post Pop Depression - Iggy Pop
68 year old and still able to make an outrageous punky sexy album – one of his best up there with the Stoogies..

Holy Fire – The Foals
Dancy pop with a hint of ambient - possible becoming a bit to arty at times but I like this one.

There are others but I haven’t sat down and listened to any of their albums more just select songs but some gem from artists like Daft Punk, Lorde, St Vincient, Queens of the Stone age, Lana Del Ray etc

McSCOTTY said...

Update, Iggy is 73 not 68 was looking at the year the album came out against his date of birth. Wow 73 and producing hard core rock/punk

Simon B said...

Hi Paul. That's a great list! There's a lot of wonderful music being made today - it's just a case of searching it out, beyond the confines of the more-superficial-than-ever pop charts. ( Ha ha, I'm such an old git! ) And, yeah, Iggy is amazing, isn't he?

We had a good Christmas thanks ( although obviously a strange one ), hope you did too. All best wishes for 2021 mate.

Simon B said...

Hey, I've just realised that you've started blogging, Paul! Great stuff! Instant "Follow" :-)

McSCOTTY said...

Hi Simon, Apologies for the delay in replying its been a hectic few weeks. Yeah trying to get a wee blog up and running but its not as easy as it seems when you and others do it but enjoying getting my wee stories of my favourite comics out there (though need t add a bit on music) - saying that Bloggers a bit of a pain at times re formatting pictures etc.

Simon B said...

Hi Paul. Blogging used to be a lot easier but Blogger's recent "upgrade" has only served to make it more clunky and user-unfriendly. I hope you can persevere with it... and hopefully post more stuff than I manage to these days:-)
( BTW I can't seem to "follow" blogs as cerebus660 any more, don't know why, so I'm following you under my alias of "Simon Barton". I know - who'd believe that name? )


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