Part Five - Relief Rainfall
This is the last instalment of the list I've been making of my favourite albums of 2010. Whilst the list has been in no particular order, the five featured in this post quite possibly constitute my five favourite albums of the year.
Villagers – Becoming A Jackal
For dimly lit haunted rooms encrimsoned which reek of incense and red wine – this is music which feels as though it was written to provide musical accompaniment to a séance. I was expecting folk pleasantries. The reality was much darker and much, much more satisfying. It glows and burns like untended embers.
His voice and style was compared to Bright Eyes. It reminds me more of Grizzly Bear – albeit it's steeped in ghostly Victoriana as opposed to rustic Americana. These tracks are gloomy and brooding, but there's a thrilling looseness to “Ship Of Promises” and such bright choruses and refrains in “That Day” as to have a similar effect to the sun peeking through grey clouds – momentary relief, dries the rain.
The only possible criticism that could be levied is that things sound a little too polished – this is the sort of music which would really benefit from a raw and swampy mix achieved through recording live with but one mic in the room. In this way, the album achieved a status shared with only the finest of releases: after but a few listens I was already yearning for a sequel.
Beach House – Teen Dream
Recently, whilst my brother and I were shopping, some kind of interstellar Sly & The Family Stone jam lilted its way from an instore sound system with such brash energy as to inspire unconscious head-nodding in everyone within earshot. It was followed by Beach House's chiming “Real Love” - which came across as a soft and lilting echo when compared to the freak-out which preceded.
“I love this song,” I said. Because I do.
“I prefer Sly & The Family Stone,” said my brother.
“Well, I prefer this.”
“But,” said my brother. “If you had to listen to just one band for the rest of your life, it would be Sly & The Family Stone, wouldn't it? Not Beach House.”
Well. I'll say now what I said then. Whereas the music of Sly is perhaps objectively better, if, in an unlikely hypothetical situation, I were forced to choose but one band to take with me to the grave, out of the options given I would, without hesitation, plumb for Beach House.
The reason for this is simple. Most of my time is spent sleeping, wishing I were sleeping, trying not to leave the house, drinking tea, writing, reading and sleeping. The music of Beach House, then, might not set my world alight in the way only Sly and his cohorts could, but it's so much more apt and comforting.
Lush, plaintive, melancholic, wistful, desperate, gorgeous. Songs like “Silver Soul”, “Norway” and “Take Care” are exactly the sort of intensely sad, yearning yet redemptive anthems which form my bread and butter. What I'm trying to say is: This is very much my bag, baby.
The National – High Violet
Desperate times call for desperate music – and none sound more desperate than The National. It's the musical equivalent of “just getting on with things” - and, as anybody who's ever witnessed any degree of tragedy second-hand will attest, sometimes there's nothing sadder than “just getting on with things”.
Imagine romantic, cinematic grandeur mixed with such heartfelt pathos which can only come from those who have lived through absolutely everything they so beautifully sing set to exactly the sort of exultant defiance for which Springsteen is adored – in The National we truly have a band to treasure for life. Long may be their reign.
Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me
It's the ultimate rebuttal of the tedious “album as dead artform” argument – not just a double but a triple disc set which features absolutely nothing that could be considered as “filler” or as worthy of cutting which flows so beautifully as to make gorging on all three discs in one sitting a desirable and enthralling experience as opposed to a slog or a marathon whilst simultaneously providing such wonderful, endlessly replayable passages that to simply skim the surface is also a very real possibility.
Have One On Me is a gift of a release – the best fifteen pounds one might ever spend – an artefact to be treasured with such a physical presence as to radiate warmth even on those rare occasions where you can tear yourself away for long enough to not listen.
Like the best books I've ever read, this is absorbing and transcendent – not so much heard as inhabited – and I'm at every bit of a loss when proceedings draw to a close. What I love is the way it's paced like all good trilogies. The first disc is perhaps the only one which would work as a standalone album. The second is much darker, much sadder – whilst the third, although providing much in the way of drama, comes to a warm and satisfying conclusion which serves to tie everything up perfectly.
Here you have the most marvellous, meticulous, creative and varied arrangements of the year; the most intriguing, poetic and sprawling lyrics which are all sung so beautifully. The modern world doesn't seem to allow for genius to exist; it seems intent on detecting flaws in everything. Nothing's perfect and everything is to be reduced to cold, hard, scientific logic. To have this album in my life, however, makes me feel as though the world perhaps isn't so base, so cold, so cruel.
Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
In a year in which so, so many releases have spellbound, captivated and endeared, it felt only right that my list of favourites should be in no order. Be that as it may, were I forced at rapier-point by some kind of curious lunatic to pick one album as my absolute favourite, I think I'd choose The Suburbs.
My reasoning is simple: It's yet to be proven otherwise that every single one of my friends loves this album. After their stunning live sets at the 2005 Reading and Leeds Festivals, the NME, for once, penned something so inspired as to stick with me. They said that the band's set was such a unifying experience that people weren't so much comparing their favourite bands of the weekend as their favourite songs from Arcade Fire's set.
I know that not everyone will consider this their favourite album of the year. Still, however, I feel as though it's created a rare sense of unity. That which really endears me is that everyone seems to have their favourite song. Mine's the sweetly pulsating “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”, but I've also heard variously “Ready To Start”, “Empty Room”, “City With No Children” and “We Used To Wait” identified as standouts and favourites. This is an inevitable result of an album full of sixteen unforgettable, beautifully written, beautifully sung, beautifully played and beautifully realised songs. In one way or another they speak to and for everyone. I cannot think of an album since The Strokes' Is This It which has so apparently enthralled most everyone I know.
The really exciting part is in anticipating as to where they might go from here. Arcade Fire feel like “our” band and, at the moment, they seem immortal, as though they can do no wrong. It is therefore with no hesitation that I dispel the highest plaudits I can think of: That this must be what it was like to be a Radiohead fan in 1997.
TO BE FORGOTTEN