Tuesday, 11 January 2011

2010: A Year In Music [Part 1 of 5]

In previous years, my end-of-year ramblings were epic affairs where I discussed my favourite albums and songs of the year, my musical discoveries of the year and a re-evaluation of the previous year.

I only purchased two albums from 2010 - Shadows by Teenage Fanclub and Teen dream by Beach House. Lists of two aren't fun for anyone, so let's cut to the chase, and where my passion for music lies these days. I'm living in the past, man. Here were my choice aural discoveries of 2010 (sorted alphabetically, because orders are so arbitrary). It will be spread over 5 posts to ensure you don't get musical indigestion.

AC/DC - Back In Black

A few people will laugh at seeing the epitome of cock-rock in my list. A former workmate asked me a few years ago whether I had any AC/DC in my collection, and I informed him that they were a band I was yet to get into. This was the first album released after the death of original frontman Bon Scott, and I'm sure this choice will annoy the purists who say that replacement Brian Johnson was no match for the late singer.

There's no doubt that this is an adrenaline charged rock album with all the power riffage, misogynist lyrics and melodies that you need to get your blood pumping. Other than the more well known songs (You shook me all night long, Back in black and Rock and roll ain't noise pollution) there are some lesser-known classics like Have a drink on me, Shake a leg and Shoot to thrill which make this an incredibly solid rock album.

Antony & The Johnsons - The Crying Light

Long time readers of this blog may or may not remember that this band's 2005 album I am a bird now was my #1 album of 2005, as well as taking pride of place in my top 5 albums the 2000s. I had since picked up their debut (self-titled) album, which was also excellent but didn't quite reach the heights of I am a bird now.

The crying light was released in early 2009, and it has been on my list for a while to get. In 2010 I finally picked it up, and I am very impressed with it. Where I am a bird now was quite a diverse album (mainly due to the presence of several guest vocalists), what The crying light lacks in diversity it makes up for in subtle and cohesive beauty. Antony's haunting vibrato is one of my favourite instruments in recent memory, and he is able to convey so much emotion with his enunciation and phrasing.

From the stunning opener Hey eyes are underneath the ground, the playful Kiss my name, the eco-epic Another world and gorgeous closer Everglade, this is an album which deserves your respect and time. Challenging, yet oddly accessible.

The Avalanches - Since I Left You

This album by the Australian electronic dance collective was only released 11 years ago but is now considered a classic Australian album. Electronica, techno and dance is not generally "my bag baby" but after this album was featured on the excellent Classic Albums Podcast, I was convinced to pick it up. After all, these were two guys who generally reviewed indie, rock and pop music, but they also referred to this album as a masterpiece.

I'm glad I picked it up, because this was a wonderful addition to my music collection. A patchwork quilt of samples, sounds, melodies, beats and atmosphere; this is an album to get lost in. The tracks segue into each other until they no longer stand out as individual moments but as chapters in a never ending party. Yes, it's an album that needs to be listened to from start to finish, but there are also some gorgeous standouts: the opening title track sets the scene (with a great Madonna sample thrown in for good measure), Frontier psychiatrist is a piece of melodic sampling genius (crazy in the coconut?) and Two hearts in 3/4 time is a mesmerising chill-out number.

Just like Kind of blue and It takes a nation of millions to hold us back did for the jazz and hip-hop genres, this is an electronic album for people who don't generally like electronic music. A stunning musical achievement: but how can they follow it up?

The Beach Boys - Today!

The Beach Boys' 1966 masterpiece Pet sounds is rightly considered to be one of the best albums ever released. They also have some other great albums released in the late 60s and early 70s which are worth exploring, like Friends and Sunflower (please check them out if you haven't yet).

Like many people, I was falsely under the impression that Pet sounds seemed to come out of nowhere and most of their pre-1966 material was the cheesy surf music which tends to dominate the radio, giving the false impression that they were a bit of a novelty band. But like their friends across the Atlantic (The Beatles), The Beach Boys demonstrated a steady artistic progression during the mid 60s which hinted the way towards their masterwork.

The Today! album was released in 1965 and demonstrated Brian Wilson making huge artistic strides in both his songwriting and production talents. The first half of the album has some great individual moments like Don't hurt my little sister, When I grow up (to be a man) and the non-single version of Help me, Ronda (note the omission of the 'h' which was added to the single version). The two "dance" songs on the first half (Do you wanna dance? and Dance, dance, dance) don't sound too different from some of their earlier material, but most of the other songs have a sense of maturity and progression.

It's the second half of the album that provides the signpost towards Pet sounds - a stunning, gorgeously melodic suite of harmony laded love ballads with tinges of sadness and longing. The harmonies are exceptional and it all adds up to a eargasmic side of music.

Jackson Browne - Running On Empty

You would probably have to be living under a rock to not know the title track from this album. Just turn your radio dial to an oldies station and you would be guaranteed to hear it within the hour.

I had one other Jackson Browne album before this one -- Late from the sky -- an album which has some beautiful moments but didn't quite gel to a complete album for me. I decided to pick up this album when I did a bit of research about it, and I found several fans and critics refer to it as a "classic road album" in the same vein as Rattle & hum and New adventures in hi-fi.

I can't think of a better phrase for describing this album than this. From the scene-setting opening title track, themes of travel and being on the road permeate every sound and lyric of this excellent record. Most of the songs were recorded in hotel rooms, backstage in concerts and live on stage; the sound, production and vibe of the album are perfectly suited to the lyrical themes of travel, groupies, drugs, roadies and being far away from home.

One of the things I love about the album is those little touches -- how The road transitions seamlessly from a lo-fi hotel recording to a live recording, those wonderful harmonies during the chorus of Shaky town (courtesy of Danny Kortchmar) and the seamless segue between the roadie tribute The load out and the closing sing-along Stay. This is an album which isn't afraid to get a bit of dirt under its fingernails.


  1. Hey Jiggy
    Good to see that the annual end of year posts are still continuing.

    Funny, I bought a few 2010 releases this year, and most were a bit disappointing for me. I did however, purchase a lot of albums in 2010, so made quite a few discoveries.

    I have none of the albums mentioned, but am probably interested in all them, except for the Anthony one. Also I note you mentioned Rattle and Hum - saw that in a shop for $5 the other day, is it work getting?

  2. Deano - Rattle and hum is a bit of a mixed bag really. There's some great songs on there (many of which you probably already have on the best of) and then some (I think) unnecessary songs, like live versions of Joshua Tree songs.

    But somehow it does work as an album, because of the "on the road" feel to it. When I bought it, I wasn't expecting much, but it was a pleasant surprise. It's certainly a lot better than the (in my opinion) uninspired "How to dismantle an atomic bomb".

  3. Great selections, but I REALLY want to give a double thumbs up to the Beach Boys album! Grew up listening to them, and can't get enough.

    Kudos also for AC/DC Back In Black. I have seen them twice in concert recently and even at their age, they are rockin the flip out! Thanks for sharing some good picks!


  4. Kim - Thanks for the comments! Glad you dig the choices.


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