I promised, swore to, myself that I’d not bother with this in 2010.
For over twenty years I’ve either provided or simply published a best of the year list. In the late 1980s and into the early 1990s, when I contributed a dancefloor column to Rip It Up magazine, I was tasked by Murray Cammick with the best dance and hip hop records list each year. I was also, most years, asked to give other mags a best of the year list, mostly a top five.
When I did bFm, between 1989 and 2002, our ten best records of the year was an annual feature, and indeed, twice we were actually offered a one off spot outside the ghetto that the station gave electronic and hip hop back in those days, to broadcast the chart to a daytime audience.
On George FM I compiled and broadcast the best of the year in 2003, 2004 and 2005.
Since then the list has been blogged only and, to be honest, I only did it last year out of habit.
However, here I am this year again writing a list. I’m doing this not so much in the belief that what I list here really matters (although I was chuffed at having my list last year picked up by at least three US compilers of the year’s charts) but as a way of documenting to myself what I really enjoyed this year.
And with that, it’s not a best of in any sense – in 2010 with the massive amount of music now released each year (yep – music is dying folks) such would not only be impossible but something that reeks of ego. The other barrier I now have is that I’m older. I may love and be enthralled by all sorts of music, but I know there is much that I don’t quite get in the same way a 19 year old would. I guess I have to accept that. That said, I get to have a history that a 19 year old doesn’t have and hence I’m able, with some comfort to toss in a couple of records by old folks. It’s a bonus I enjoy.
So, yes, not a best of 2010 – I have no idea what that would look like – but instead a list of the records I’ve thrilled to this year.
house music all night long…
Teengirl Fantasy – 7AM
Have you heard Cheaters? Of course you have – everyone has. Or at least it’s one of those songs that drills itself into your head and you assume everyone thinks it’s an anthem for the ages – like Joe Smooth’s Promised Land, Ten City’s Right Back To You, or Sterling Void’s It’s Alright. Cheaters is one of those. Big, Big, Big and soaring. I love it even if it sounds like it was made some 25 years ago. The album though is absolutely nothing like it. Yes it has another ‘song’ – Dancing In Slow Motion – which is lovely rather than huge and perfectly placed two thirds of the way through an album that, as much as you would expect, from Cheaters, would explore the roots of house, does quite the opposite and takes you on a trip through a post minimal dub infused vista. If that sounds silly and pretentious, it is and that, I think, is the point of placing Cheaters at the end – it washes that all away and you are, or at least I am, back on the floor of a big early 1990s dancehall again at 5am.
Altered Natives – Tenement Yard Vol 1
If the last album promised to look backwards and yet didn’t, Altered Natives, really one guy, Danny Yorke’s, first album of 2010 (he did two) did quite the opposite. Reading the reviews I don’t think everyone quite got the references in this album which pointed back, perhaps unintentionally but I doubt it, to so many classic house records so faithfully. It works because that’s all it does – in a warm affectionate way it references rather than parrots or relies on those roots, and then strips those references into a record that sounds surprisingly contemporary. From Todd Terry on Body Gal and Oh My Zipper, The Burrell Brothers on Afterlife Riddum to tracks which echo Larry Heard, Wayne Gardiner, Tenaglia and mid 1980s Chi Jacking loops, you get the starting point almost immediately but then have to go where Yorke takes you with that. Killer track: I’m Just A Crush, all banging keys and 808s on a record that sounds like it should have an early Strictly Rhythm catalogue number. Blissful but noisy.
DJ Nate – Da Trak Genious
DJ Roc – The Crack Capone
Whilst the commercial centre was going all gaga over Kanye’s album (which I quite liked even if it was far less adventurous than oft claimed to my 30 year jaded hip-hop ears) out on the edge the Chicago cut’n’pasters in the briefly hip as hell Footwork / Juke scene were turning out discs that made that album sound as radical as a German schlager collection from the late 1960s. The first of these two albums was a compilation of independent singles from the still-in-his-teens Nate, going back over the two or three years, whilst the second is an album in its own right. Both however were simply astounding. The drama, raw bravado, sheer audio inventiveness and the gall made me smile repeatedly. The disrespect shown for just about everything that passed in front of the sampler and the fusion of hip hop, bootie house, rave and the whole damn kitchen sink of sounds available to anyone with a computer shows there is life in this creaky old thing called house still. The sort of records that Iggy Pop or George Clinton would be making if they were 18.
Paul Randolph – Echoes (of Lonely Eden)
I reviewed / plugged this a few months back. I had a lovely message from Paul Randoph as a result. I’ve found no reason to make any changes to the words in that post.
the smoke machine…
Jimmy Edgar – XXX
This was fun. It gets the most fun award and also the best album Prince Should Be Recording of the year award. I’ll toss in the the best butt wagging basslines of the year too, not that I do huge amounts of that – so lets make it the best chair wobbling basslines award.
Mount Kimbie – Crooks and Lovers
I watched a BBC documentary on Krautrock last night and felt an urge to play this godchild of that movement (or series of movements) immediately afterwards, which I did. House music and techno, during their first creative surge in the 1980s and 1990s produced so few worthy long players so it comes as a surprise that the dub infused heirs of those years are now, year in, year out, producing so many. I’m guessing that’s because the disco roots are now almost subsumed by things like Neu! and Can via Brian Eno and the dub that has been part of the urban European aural landscape since the 1980s. Whatever analytical cast you put on it, this is a pretty astonishing album which, as the cliché goes, takes you on some journey.
Pariah – Safehouses EP
Prism, a lovely song which wrapped an ethereal diva-ish vocal around a flitting acid bassline was the key track on this but the balance of it was rather glorious, and yet another pointer that the divisions between house, techno of old and dubsteppy type things are now irrevocably blurred. Vaguely epic stuff.
Ikonika – Contact, Love, Want, Have
I keep on coming back to Cybotron when I listen to this, perhaps because, by nature I have trouble leaving so many records I grew with behind as we all do. However despite the contemporary smart-kids nature of this album the ghost (or aurra – he is, after all, still with us) of Juan Atkins looms large, and also, despite the words that surrounded its release, this is hardly the first record to use old game noises to make music. But it made me smile a lot and six months on it still does. I do dig the way the very best electronic records draw in so many disparate threads and then, unlike traditional rock’n’roll when it does the same, irreverently reinvents rather than just restating as guitar-bass-drums inevitably does. Sara Abdel-Hamid does that by stripping back the Kraftwerkian elements and adding a lightness that Magic Juan missed. Or maybe I’m reading too much into it all. I do that. I love this record.
James Blake – CMYK EP
James Blake – Klavierwerke EP
I guess these should really be in the pop part of this, below, but they found themselves moved up the page for two reasons – firstly because they appear on the justifiably famous (revived) Belgian techno label R&S – and secondly, because the second EP is a jump back to a sound that fits that classic label’s tradition rather the appealing almost crossover pop-esque of the title track of the first. Regardless, both EPs were big stuff and the guy is going to find fame and fortune in 2011.
the pop machine turns you on…
Phoenix Foundation – Buffalo
Ok – best album I’ve heard from New Zealand in years. Seriously. I fell in love with Buffalo in a way I haven’t with a New Zealand release for many a year. I like many NZ records on their own merits (although I’m aware there are some I give extra leeway to simply because of where they come from) and every now and then one plonks itself in front of me and I play and like it a lot. Given its relatively low international profile I have to work really hard to find New Zealand music. However few have had the impact this has had on me – I’d happily list it in my five greatest New Zealand long players ever. It’s a Mental Notes of its time and, for me at least, that praise doesn’t come higher. I absolutely dug the way it seemed to reference back to our psychedelic past and perfectly built on that – listen to The Fourmyula’s UK version of Home then this album’s Golden Ship and tell me they don’t share blood even if the latter is somewhat more epic in design. I’d not played the album for a month or two and went back to it when I was writing this. It has grown in stature. Faultless.
I swoon to this record.
It’s the record that everybody seemed to talk about for a month of two and if I’m being honest I’m thoroughly sick to death of it at the time of writing- or at least I thought I was until played it again just now and understood yet again why Kali and Sun are two of the most affecting and timeless pop records I’ve heard this year. I liked the live album too and liked just as much how it confused US reviewers who’s first exposure to Sun Ra was the PR sheet that came with it.
Wow this is an odd, wonderful record. A pop record drenched in (lots of) soul, dub, electronica (Pitchfork called it ritualistic avant-pop which works for me although I’m still not sure quite what that exactly means, but then I’m often not sure what this long player exactly means) and the kitchen sink. There are times I think I’m listening to a record Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis made at the tail end of a bender in the early 1980s – the next moment I’ve got Arthur Lee banging into Sylvester Stewart and yet none of this could really have existed even a couple of years ago. A gamer changer? Sure, but there is a lot of that going on right now.
Darkstar – North
Pop, pop, pop – and from a much hyped underground label (Hyperdub). However pop it is and as that it is quite something. I’ve played and played this and still do, but was forever bemused by the endless reviews telling me that the album was drawing heavily on the prototype electronica records of the early 1980s. Really, it has a Human League cover but that’s about it. Nothing here sounds like the League’s albums, or others by Numan, OMD, BEF, Foxx or any other act from the era I can think of. I guess one writer tags it thus and the sheep follow. Ten perfectly formed airy songs that if anything owe a slight debt to the fragility of soundtracks by the great Roy Budd, although they’re more concise than Hudd’s grim Northern landscapes were ever allowed to be. They have words too.
Forest Swords – Dagger Paths
An odd and eccentric release that I’m still coming to terms with (it came to me late in the year) but strikes me as the confused sibling of the aforementioned Darkstar. Wow – there are some fabulous sound explorations underway as we head into the second decade of the century. The removal of the distractions of record label pressure by the imploding industry has just, as I hoped, loosened the ties in the same way arrival of labels like Rough Trade and Small Wonder did 30 plus years back. Like the Autre Ne Veut above (with which it shares an indie imprint, NYC’s Olde English Spelling Bee) I really don’t feel ever feel totally comfortable with or understand exactly what this is but it intrigues every time I play it. And I really love the way albums have become concise again. It is quite brilliant. I think.
Guido – Anidea
When put next to many of my favourite records in 2010 this is a very easy record to like or even love. Bristol’s Guy Middleton has gathered twelve heavily melodic compositions which, often obviously but never overwhelmingly so, blends modern r’n’b, the more spacious jazz of the seventies, the deep moodiness of the likes of Fingers Inc, and best of all refers strongly to his city’s native traditions most especially one of my favourite bands ever, Smith & Mighty (this is on the same label, Punch Drunk, as that duo’s Rob Smith). And the gorgeous Beautiful Complication should make a hell of a radio single. But of course it won’t.
Tame Impala – Innerspeaker
My rock’n’roll album of the year. As I touched on above, I think rock’n’roll in its traditional forms has long since stopped reinventing. Instead it restates now and has done for twenty plus years. But, hell, this is fun and as much as it adds nothing new to an oft restated idiom which seems to go in circles, it’s a great record with huge slabs of just about every late 60s UK psychedelic band you can name mixed in there – as The Guardian said it’s as if no new music has reached Western Australia since 1969. I doubt this will be a record for the ages, or even 2011, but I liked it in 2010.
slow and low…
Aloe Blacc – Good Things
Aloe Blacc fills the same hole that Mayer Hawthorne did a year earlier which, given that they are on the same label, is hardly surprising. There isn’t a radical nor a revolutionary moment on this record, but that’s the point and it’s all the better for it.
José James – Black Magic
James’ name appeared on two albums in 2010, this very contemporary reworking of the idiom he’s working in, bringing in the likes of Flying Lotus and Moodymann, and covering (with added vocals) Benga; and the much slighter (and later) For All We Know with pianist Jef Neve, which revisited American standards with less success than the venerable Brian Wilson (below). You have to hope that that second album wasn’t the beginning of a retreat back to the safety (and, I guess, bucks) of the Norah Jones market, but it’s concerning. I don’t begrudge the guy the dollars but one can but sense that the lush modern sound he was finding on the two Brownsville albums (this and the 2009 album, The Dreamer) offered a career path that would not only have more longevity but would arguably be more rewarding not just for the listener (meaning me) but Jones. I get the feeling I’m assuming too much.
Walter Gibbons – Jungle Music
You’ve not a heard a disco record until you’ve heard Gibbons mindblowing 12” mix of the first record ever to appear commercially in that format, Double Exposure’s Ten Percent on Salsoul. Lush, swirling percussive sex on vinyl that nags at you and tosses you around for the best part three minutes before dropping into a chorus and then drawing you back away from that. There are times when I think it is the finest record ever made, although other times I conclude that the balance of this compilation is even better.
Monster selection. I guess I could live without yet another copy of Fonda Rae’s Fat Rat, and the Gladys Knight is also on the Gibbons comp (albeit in a longer mix) but the Sun Ra, Lydia Lunch, Aural Exciters (early August Darnell) and James Blood Ulmer tracks are worth the price of admission to this killer comp documenting a small part of the extensive catalogue of productions by this hugely important but mostly unhailed NY producer/engineer. And if those tracks aren’t enough, the compiler has been clever and used the B side mix of the much compiled Wax The Van by Lola. Originally on Jump St in 1986, every other comp this appears on uses the A which is fine, but any DJ who’s ever filled a floor with it knows the wigged out Jon’s Dub is the killer. It’s here.
Gil Scott Heron – I’m New Here
Why is this so short? 28 minutes and you are left wondering where the rest is. The master, who few would have believed would last this far into the next century, returned with an album that may have been slender time wise but was massive any other way you measured it and is, to my ears at least, his best since the mid 1970s. Wrapped in contemporary urban flavours, the UK sort, track by track – this has to be played as a single work like the Wilson below – it’s an album that almost a year after it’s release, I still find myself finding new things in everytime I play it, despite its length – and I play it almost every day. Given his personal past and recorded history, you’d forgive the guy for simply walking through this. I guess he doesn’t know how to do that.
Elvis Costello – National Ransom
Every year I list an Elvis Costello album and every year I realise that I’ve not played last year’s one for a year. That said I like a habit and I have a habit of not wanting to break it. An album that rewards in places. The best bits are, with one exception, the slow tracks but perhaps that’s just me – I’ve not ever really enjoyed a hoedown but I’ve always melted at the Macmanus balladry that used to fill his B sides in the early days but slipped onto the albums themselves as time passed. That’s Not The part of Him I’m Leaving is maudlin, depressing and all the better for it. Five Small Words, the only up track I like, shimmers like The Byrds do Merseybeat. You Hung the Moon is the song your grandmother listened to on the Sunday afternoon request session, and quite lovely for it. Bullets For The Newborn King, just bass, voice and guitar, is an heir to those early 7” flipsides, that made those singles so desirable. Best of all is the devastatingly beautiful All These Strangers . Its initial slightness belies the fact that it’s the key track on an album, once I’ve programmed out a couple of those less attractive stompers and rockers, I’ve played and loved a lot this year.
Brian Wilson – Reimagines Gershwin
This shouldn’t work. It sounds horrific on paper and I’ve had to put the thing on again to reassure myself that I’m not making a fool of myself by touting it. It works. It’s charming, it’s lovely, the two new songs, co-writes from half finished Gershwin works, are gorgeous and are the best thing Wilson has done since the early 1970s (allowing for the fact that 2004’s Smile was a recording of an earlier suite), the voice which has been a weakness in recent years is just fine and he brings new life to songs you thought you’d likely never want to hear again, simply by opening up and accentuating with a very soft touch their native melodies. Not once does he overplay and yes well… a simply wonderful album which demands that it’s played in one sitting from beginning to end. Who would’ve thought…