Hello Bogpaper. Happy New Year! I did think about kicking off with my predictions for the year. But then I realised that this would only make you want to top yourselves (Basically: buy gold! Buy ammo! Stock up on baked beans and barbed wire!) so instead I’m going copy what our political class has been doing in the current global economic crisis – distract you with baubles instead.
Actually, I’m being harsh on myself. For some people – well over half a dozen, at least – my annual Albums of the Year column has proved, for nigh on 20 years now, the most reliable and tasteful guide to music anywhere in the print media or on the internet. This is because I do not, generally, go with the herd. And because I don’t like shit music. That Channel Orange album, for example, by that rapper Frank Ocean which is on everyone’s best of lists this year. Well it’s not on mine. Why? Because it’s boring and shite.
In the old days I used to wax lyrical and long about my album choices. This year, however, I shan’t bother. Partly this is because I’m too busy and too lazy, but mainly because of the technical development which has completely transformed the business of music criticism and rendered it all but redundant: Spotify.
Think about it. Once upon a time, it really was quite important knowing whether an album was good or not before you bought it. Not only was there a cost – but also an opportunity cost, involved: if you made the wrong choice, you might well be denying yourself the chance to own a much better record you might have really enjoyed and which – in the way music has – might even have transformed your life, making you wiser, more successful, better-paid and more attractive to women (or men). So clearly, you were highly dependent on your favourite record critic’s sound judgement.
Now though, all you need do is pay Spotify about a fiver a month and you have instant access to pretty much every new release there is, without having to go to the shops and without having to suffer the indignity of forking out for a record you hate. Where’s the need for a professional record reviewer when you can do the job yourself – with the added bonus of knowing better what sort of music you like than any other person on the planet?
Anyway, for what it’s worth, here is my top 10:
Lana Del Rey – Born To Die (Polydor)
Apparently Lana Del Rey is contrived. Fabricated, even. Well if those are deal-breakers that would also rule out Ziggy Stardust. And the Pet Shop Boys. And post-George-Martin The Beatles. Here’s the truth though: this is by far the year’s most perfect pop album – superb songwriting, great tunes, exquisitely performed, by a sultry chick with bee-stung lips who makes very cool videos.
First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar (Wichita)
This would be my other main contender for album of the year. They’re Swedish sisters (though the harmonies are so sweet and with such a country twang they could almost be Nashville) with voices so lovely it’s like having honey and ambrosia licked off your naked body by the flickering tongues of a dozen nubiles. Great folky melodies; achingly lovely arrangements. YOU TOTALLY HAVE TO GET THIS RECORD.
Grasscut – Unearth (Ninja Tune)
Listening to Grasscut is like watching an old Powell and Pressburger film on a damp Autumn Sunday afternoon: comforting, warmly nostalgic, quintessentially English, tinged with melancholy and a sense of loss. God knows how you’d actually describe the music, though: Vaughan Williams collaborates with Brian Eno, Robert Wyatt and Gavin Bryars and a breakbeat DJ on the soundtrack
Alt J – An Awesome Wave (Infectious)
“Who are this band? I love them already,” I decided within the first few bars of their debut on Later With Jools. They met at Leeds University. They sound like they could be American. It’s arty but accessible: “folk-step” or “boffin-rock”, apparently.
Django Django – Django Django (Because Music)
“The group has been lazily compared to the Beta Band” says Pitchfork. Bollocks to that “lazily”: they’re compared to the Beta Band because they do sound like the Beta Band. A lot. But also like early Eno meets surf guitar meets psychedelic rock meets Can. Spaced out bits, pastoral bits, nice tunes. Just don’t, for God’s sake, if you listen on Spotify let it go to the bit where they wank on about their album track by track or it’ll put you off completely.
Grimes – Visions (4AD)
Grimes – aka Claire Boucher – is from Canada and named after the outsider artist Ken Grimes best known for his drawings of aliens. But don’t let that put you off: this is good. Weirdy, waily, haunting baby-voice vocals on top of phat, squelchy, techno basslines. Think mid-period Kate Bush collaborating with John Carpenter and Kraftwerk.
Crystal Castles – III (Fiction)
This was NME’s numero uno album of the year which amazes me, not because I think it’s crap, but because this is the kind of dark, shimmery, portentous, epic trance topped with ethereal girlie vocals which I thought only appealed to fortysomething rave casualties like me, not groovy young kids. Anyway, NME are right: it’s bloody great. Another Canadian band. Go Canucks!
Purity Ring – Shrines (4AD)
Bloody hell, can this really be a third Canadian outfit in my top 10? It most surely can. This one sounds a bit like Bjork doing Ryuichi Sakamato’s Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence. Otherworldly with some gloriously, bowel-shakingly wobbly bass. Belispeak is the stand-out track.
The XX – Coexist (XL)
More downer music to slit your wrists to, from the sensitive, depressed South Londoners. Stripped down, minimal, bleak – but for all that very nice tunes, beautiful singing and exquisite arrangements. I particularly like the soft steel drums on Reunion.
Simian Mobile Disco – Unpatterns (Wichita)
I thought they’d split up. But here they are – producer/remix duo James Ford and James Shaw – back with possibly their best album yet. This is basically the most perfect, chin-stroking, melodic coffee-table dance music you could hope for – and is ideal for lounging around at home coming down off Es or getting stoned to. It’s like Leftfield never left us.