Albums of 2010 – short cuts and the mop-up

Some decent albums that I don’t have too much to say about, other than that they’re decent.

She and Him – Volume Two
The first volume of this unexpected collaboration was a delight, albeit one I came to late. If I made a list of things I like in a record, the top three would probably be: pop tunes, girl harmonies and twangy guitar. She and Him deliver them all by the bucketload. Somehow the second volume doesn’t manage to top the first, however, with lots of lovely songs but a few too many sweeping string arrangements that don’t add very much. Still a pretty and decent record though.

Shy Child – Liquid Love
Why do I like this record? It’s basically dance music, taking the electronic squelches and live drum clatter of the duo’s debut and augmenting it with trendy synth grooves. On paper, just the sort of thing I should dislike… Snag is, despite the dance trappings it still presents a set of pretty decent songs and the live drums stop it sounding sterile. It’s incredibly listenable.

Pull In Emergency – Pull In Emergency
A Lamacq favourite, this girl-boy combo from Brighton have put out a direct guitar-driven debut that basically sounds exactly like it should. A bit angsty and plenty scroungly, it’s an enjoyable grrl rock racket.

The Vaselines – Sex With An XI’m frankly too young to have any memories of the Vaselines first time round, and came to this album essentially fresh. It’s rather good.

Not all albums inspire me to full reviews – here are odd thoughts on the other albums I encountered in 2010…

Some artists this year produced records that will have challenged their fans. I admired MGMT in principle for not simply re-hashing their commercially successful debut, but overall I found Congratulations hard to warm to – though its slightly wonky sensibility was a welcome move from such an apparently trendy duo. Corin Tucker‘s 1,000 Years seemed worthwhile without ever managing to be compelling in the way Sleater-Kinney used to be – although of course it’s hardly fair to compare a reflective album by a mother approaching middle age to music from a feisty grrl-punk trio. Meanwhile Elvis Costello‘s National Ransom continued a slightly worrying trend from 2009’s Sacred, Profane and Sugarcane and arguably 2003’s North of making accomplished, well-considered and crafted records that are almost entirely lacking in any fun or engaging qualities. Chris T-T‘s Love Is Not Rescue traded his more hard-edged political hectoring for some direct and emotional songs, that seemed to find favour in quarters one wouldn’t normally expect – not a bad thing at all, even if those who like the shouty stuff may have felt disappointed. But when’s the piano improv album coming out? As for fans of David Byrne and Fatboy Slim, while I dare say they will mostly have enjoyed the sunny orchestrated pop of Here Lies Love, were any of them as mystified as I was at the allure of such an unappealing and grotesque figure as Imelda Markos?

Every year there are some albums that remind me of the NME’s review of Terror Twilight, which was headlined simply “Another Very Good Pavement Album”. What more is there to say of, for instance, Medicine County by Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs, or A New Athens by The Bluetones? Of the latter, enjoyable though it was, I’d say I do wish it didn’t sound quite so much like The Bluetones: I love the fact that they have stuck together and are genuine Britpop survivors (whether they’d welcome the tag or not – how many other Britpop groups have kept going consistently from then till now…?), but surely in their position now they can afford to take a few more risks and produce something a bit more unexpected? The Manics‘ Postcards From A Young Man falls into a similar camp: it’s yet another sure-footed mature rock record from the Manics – much as they would have hated the idea of becoming a mature rock band when they started out, now that they’re past the ‘first greatest hits’ stage they’ve settled down into a groove of producing dependably strong albums. Can they push the envelope again in the future without going all Know Your Enemy? Add to the list as well Laura Veirs‘s July Flame, a more lush and warm record than its (already excellent) predecessor, which perhaps didn’t get the sustained promotional push it needed because Veirs was heavily pregnant by the time it was released. Finally, add in Hot Chip to the ‘another very good album’ bracket – although their vision is so distinct that maybe it’s a bit churlish to do so.

A few records came out this year that unfortunately fell into the category of having one superb song and nothing else that matched it: Chew Lips‘s Unicorn (with the excellent single Karen), Goldfrapp‘s Head First (a man singing “Oh-oh-oh, I’ve got a rocket / oh-oh-oh, you’re going on it” would have felt very different, wouldn’t it?) and The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night (with album opener Like he Ocean, Like The Innocent) all seemed to fit that bill to me – perhaps unfairly, but that’s how it seemed to me. While I never got to grips with The Law of Large Numbers by Emma Pollock (despite really liking 2007’s Watch The Fireworks) or Gorilla Manor by Local Natives – perhaps down to a lack of persustence on my part, or perhaps down to the albums not really having the chops.

…And finally, some albums I picked up right at the end of the year and am still mulling over: the Broken Bells album (seems decent), the Drums album (seems a very slight cut above the tiresome proliferation of scratchy, 80s-ish Cure-a-likes this year… and certainly more engaging than this year’s drab Mercury winner) and Contra by Vampire Weekend (very pleasant, more so than their brittle and unappealing debut… but still a bit one-dimensional, surely? I know I’m disagreeing with Paton here, so I’ll persevere with it).



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