2010, who would have thought that Hip-Hop would deliver some of the strongest albums of the years? Who could have predicted the resurgence of the eminence grise of New York post No Wave, Swans? Let alone Superchunk blowing the winter away? As for a 29 year old harpist making a TRIPLE album that is all killer no filler. What kind of odds would you have got on that in 2009?
So here is another end of year list. Try and hear these records, buy them if you can. And if you are lucky enough to live close to anywhere they are playing, go.
I have been obsessing over this record for almost the whole year now and it still staggers me. More than two hours of music not a single hair out of place. A triple album in 2010 with no down patches. Perfectly paced, beautifully recorded and completely immaculate. Joanna Newsom now stands on the same timeline that Captain Beefheart and Tim Buckley stand on. The sound of American music exploding into something unfathomable and great. How could anybody follow this?
People said they didn't see this coming, they should have. Big Boi is, after all, one half of OutKast, who are not only one of the finest Hip-Hop groups of all time but one of the best groups, full-stop. So he unleashed his first fully solo album and left the competition standing. By the time the dust from his wheels had settled we exhausted from dancing to Shutterbug and Tangerine. The only thing missing was Andre 3000, but after this record the idea of a new OutKast album gives me goose-bumps.
After touring their last album for months on end Titus Andronicus returned, road hardened. The Monitor is a joyous celebration of young guys who just realised that they are getting really, really good at playing their instruments. They took all that confidence and new found ability and channelled it into making a rock and roll album that has it's head in the stars and it's feet on the shoulders of giants. Titus acknowledge their musical roots without shame and then start building on top of them. When front man Patrick Stickles sings "I'm destroying everything that wouldn't make me more like Bruce Springsteen" you can hear the parts locking into place.
You would have been crazy to bet against him. So the man has no filter. So he upstaged Taylor Swift. So George Bush doesn't like him. So what? Kanye West is one of the best beat makers of his generation and on this album his abilities on the mic have finally come up to par with his amazing production work and self lacerating lyrics. Jay Z is on it, so is the RZA and Bon Iver and all kinds of amazing guests but Kanye is so good now that they all stand in his shadow. This record sounds like a victory lap, as if he was able to hear it perfectly in his head and then make it sound exactly like that.
I heard it one time and immediately called my two best friends. Something about the sound of a new Superchunk album made me want to reconnect with part of my youth. Hanging out in Grey Lynn backyards on sunny Saturday afternoons with a box of Steinlager Blue listening to Fela Kuti and Superchunk. That, and I called to tell them both to get the new Superchunk album because it rules. It's like a doctor's prescription. Feeling sad? Not jumping up and down enough? Having trouble mustering a stupid grin? The Rock Doc suggests two fast doses of Majesty Shredding. It will have you bouncing on the spot smiling like a teenager in love by the time the first chorus is over.
Get in quick. The National are now so good, so moving and so downright powerful that their crossover to the big time is almost a certainty. They can't expect to write songs as massive and potent as Runaway and Terrible Love and not become hugely popular. Okay, it might not be the most cheerful music but it has a large amount of shiver up the spine moments. Involuntary responses like that is how songs become part of the fabric of our lives, underscoring even the most mundane moments and making them profound.
Enter with caution, the house of Swans is a weird and sinister place. After 30 seconds of this album you will know if it's for you. Swans have done away with the industrial guitar grind and shudder of their earlier years and replaced it with something more considered. That isn't to say that parts of My Father won't give you the screaming ab-dabs, it should and will. It's just that 2010 Swans have replaced their traditional layer of filth black tar with something slightly more transparent. Now we can make out specific bones of song structure and (heaven forbid) melody. They play Auckland in March, just thinking about it gives me tinnitus.
I guess, deep down I like guys with big beards and bad attitudes serving my plate of awesome rock music. Nick Cave is at his least literary and most Australian throughout. Warren Ellis at his most sonically extreme and the rhythm section sounds like a truck hitting running into your bedroom late at night. And it's funny to the point of being sublime. This is more than enough to be going on with between Bad Seed albums. Nick Cave is now my favourite Aussie ever.
It simply defies belief that people can do that with their voices. This seems like a match made in Indie Rock Geek paradise. The Dirty Projectors are one of the most interesting bands on the planet at the moment and Bjork is one of the most interesting figures to appear in the last couple of decades. A collaboration that could have dissolved into vocal gymnastics demonstration actually shows a gentle restraint. Bjork dials down her penchant for scathing blasts of noise and David Longstreth, principal songwriter for The Dirty Projectors, relaxes his grip enough for this music to breath. Stunning.
I really didn't want to put this record on this list. I was going to put in Waka Flocka Flame or High On Fire, something cool. But I can't deny this album, and it is an album, full and complete. I didn't like Funeral their first, or the second offering The Neon Bible, but I love The Suburbs. Seems that everybody likes this record actually, the live show is staggering, the album is fantastic, Grammys and sold out headlining gigs at Madison Square Garden. Arcade Fire the world is yours.