Music

Top 100 albums of the 2010s: statporn preview

We all love some statporn, right? So here’s a preview of my top 100 albums of the decade in stats, that won’t really tell you anything about what’s on the list.

The albums come from the different years of the decade in the following numbers:
2010: 12
2011: 13
2012: 11
2013: 12
2014: 9
2015: 5
2016: 10
2017: 9
2018: 15
2019: 6.

Number of albums by artist country of origin:
England: 48
Scotland: 7
Wales: 3
USA: 29
Canada: 8
Other (or combinations of nations): 7.

Debut albums: 25.

Albums by artists who also featured on my 2000s list: 23. (A further 5 are by artists whose former bands appeared on that list, and one artist who appears here in their own right featured on the 2000s list in collaboration with another artist.)

Self-titled albums: 15.

Albums by artists who have played the Indietracks festival (at any time since it started in 2007): 41.

Albums by artists I have seen perform live: 81 (77 of them this decade; I’ve seen a further 3 perform live with previous bands, but not in the form featured on this list).

Albums by artists whose Wikipedia entries are currently illustrated with photos taken by me: 6.

Albums released on Fortuna Pop! Records: 10.

Videos that might make you cry: 3.

Number of albums on list: 102.

Top 100 albums of the 2010s: introduction

When I compiled my favourite hundred albums of the 2000s, I was wondering if it would even be possible to do the same for the coming decade, or whether the album as a format might die a death. In the event, the album has continued to be in rude health, so I am able once again to compile a list of my favourite albums of the decade – but much around it has changed. Now, in 2019, it looks as though CDs are on the way out, with some records on this decade’s list never being made available on that format, and many people no longer owning CD or DVD drives or players of any sort. Instead, streaming and a curious revival of vinyl (20 quid minimum for something bulky and inconvenient! Perfect!) seem to be the formats that are in the ascendancy. Still, at least the ridiculous mid-decade fad for cassettes seems to be dying off a bit.

Streaming was just starting in 2009, and has been transformative: it’s easy to forget just how much of a difference it makes that you now don’t have to pay up-front for an album (mostly) before listening to it. I might be unusual in still liking albums end-to-end; certainly I’m unusual in still wanting to buy them – preferably on CD direct from the artist or label at gigs, or on download from Bandcamp. I suspect many music lovers might come to regret, in 20 years’ time, not owning the music they care about, if streaming services prove not to be sustainable over the long term for whatever reason.

For me personally, this has been overall a better and happier ten years than the previous ten – as it should be really, as the journey from 27 to 37 isn’t the same change as from 17 to 27. But it’s been a troubled decade for the country I live in, increasingly so as it wore on; I count myself fortunate to have avoided (so far) the serious consequences that so many other people have experienced. In fact it was a decade of two halves, almost exactly: I moved out of London to Bedford in October 2014, and after that returned to presenting music-based radio shows, albeit intermittently. Wherever one draws the line, the 2000s and 2010s were the decades when I was, broadly speaking, young; the 2020s and 2030s will be the decades when I am middle aged…

As for the list, obviously it’s my personal top 100: I’m not claiming it’s in any way some sort of authoritative list of the ‘best’ records of the last ten years. Indeed, it feels like a bit of a fraud putting them in order, really – is it meaningful? Still, it’s a convention, so let’s roll with it. Certainly I’ve listened to more and better music this decade than last, and it’s a stronger top 100 than the list from the 2000s. Partly this is thanks to streaming making so much music so readily available for investigation, but possibly also some of the structures around how DIY music can be made and distributed to a high standard have meant that more artists are able to get their visions out there than ten or twenty years ago. And in a way, obviously this is a piece of autobiography – yes it’s self-indulgent, so if you’ve got a problem with that you can sling your hook now.

Plus, there’s no getting away from it: my decade’s listening has been to a large extent framed by the Indietracks festival. I first went in 2010, and have attended all bar two events since. It undoubtedly gave focus to the type of indie music I documented in the previous decade, which was in particularly rude health in the first part of the decade, and has developed in interesting ways since.

I wouldn’t do the same top 100 albums of the noughties now as then, so this is how I feel at the end of 2019 – it’s a snapshot, and I’m sure my views on some of these records will continue to develop. There are bound to be some records that would have been sure-fire entries on the list if only I’d heard them in time. I’m sure I’ll mop some of those up over the next few years. Similarly, I’m assessing records from earlier in the decade with the benefit of a greater measure of hindsight; some have grown in stature to me, while others don’t impress me anything like as much as they did at the time. Evaluating more recent records is more difficult – maybe in the mid-2020s I’ll wonder how I came to make some of these choices.

Finally for this post, the general rules I set myself in compiling the list. It only contains albums, not EPs; records that might arguably be mini-albums are given the benefit of the doubt where merited. There is only one album per artist; where there is such a massive contrast as to justify it, or some other clear reason, I’ve combined two albums in a joint single entry. There have been some interesting upshots of this: some bands who have had excellent decades are represented by one album but could just as easily have been represented by another. Some other bands have been live favourites over many years and released a lot of good songs, but not an album that was strong enough, end-to-end (to my ears), to make the cut. And inevitably, a few records were on the list until I finalised the ranking and found out that 100 isn’t such a big number after all.

Tomorrow there will be a preview post by way of some statporn, and the albums will be counted down, ten at a time, over the last eleven days of the year and decade (with a break on Christmas day). There will be a Youtube playlist for each ten-album segment, so fire up your Chromecast…

2018 – albums at half-way

It feels like this year has been very strong for new music, so here’s a set of videos from probably my 15 favourite albums in the first half of the year – though I could have listed as many more again that I’d recommend. The full playlist is here on YouTube, or click on the individual videos below. They’re presented in release date order, and the title given is the album, not necessarily the song.

1. The Go! Team – Semicircle

2. Kyle Craft – Full Circle Nightmare

3. Shannon and The Clams – Onion

4. The Lovely Eggs – This Is Eggland

5. Gwenno – Le Kov

6. John Prine – The Tree of Forgiveness

7. Tigercats – Pig City

8. Traveller – Western Movies

9. Charles Watson – Now That I’m A River

10. Half Man Half Biscuit – No-one Cares About Your Creative Hub So Get Your Fuckin’ Hedge Cut

11. Jennifer Castle – Angels of Death

12. Polychrome – Polychrome

13. Red Red Eyes – Horology

14. Tracyanne and Danny – Tracyanne and Danny

15. Holy Now – Think I Need the Light

2016 albums

Back in July I compiled a list of my favourite dozen albums from the year so far.

A quick survey of the records I’ve enjoyed since them – some released before July, but unheard by me at the time – produced 15 favourites. Giving a rather unwieldy top 27 for the year. So I added another three to make it a round 30.

My main reflection from this is that it’s been a particularly good year for Americana, but there’s all sorts of other things in there too. The full Youtube playlist is here if you just want that (and the Jan-Jun one is here).

1. Kristin Kontrol – X-Communicate

The most polished pop record I’ve enjoyed in 2016.

2. Laura Gibson – Empire Builder

Idiosyncratic American folk that I found only revealed itself after quite a lot of listens – it was worth sticking with.

3. Karl Blau – Introducing Karl Blau

This is the first of two Tucker Martine-produced records in a row – Blau presents a collection of 60s and 70s country tunes here, with a great deal of charm.

4. case/lang/veirs – case/lang/veirs

Pretty much what you’d expect, and no less welcome for that.

5. Let’s Eat Grandma – I, Gemini

I don’t think I’ve heard a record quite like this before. I like both the way the songs are allowed to run to their own (often languid) pace, and the name being based on a grammar lesson.

6. Sara Watkins – Young In All The Wrong Ways

Lyrically quite raw, but musically mostly pretty refined, this is a great record.

7. MJ Hibbett and the Validators – Still Valid

I said In July I expected this would be GRATE. It is. Genius video for this song too.

8. Haley Bonar – Impossible Dream

This is a listenable, absorbing record.

9. Lydia Loveless – Real

Lydia’s set another new direction here, heading towards pop or at least indie rock. My first impressions were muted, but I found listening to the album on shuffle that the songs individually stand up better than I first thought, so maybe there’s something about the running order that didn’t click for me. Lydia consistently refuses to make the same record twice and seems to be on a journey with her sound – I’m looking forward to seeing where it takes her next.

10. Bloom – What Is Life

Formerly The Beautiful Word, Brighton’s Bloom have swapped one slightly rubbish name for another, but produced an absolutely belting record. I was very pleased to support the crowdfunder for this – it’s ace.

11. Angel Olson – My Woman

This seems to have got to the upper reaches of a lot of end-of-year charts, and I can see why. I particularly like the fact that they made a video for this eight-minute-plus song, which has a stunning outro (admittedly accounting for most of the eight minutes).

12. King Creosote – Astronaut Meets Appleman

This was the year, long overdue, when I started paying proper attention to King Creosote.

13. The Tuts – Update Your Brain

It was great to see The Tuts finally get an album out, and doubly so that it delivered on the sass, snarl and sometimes chaos they offer when playing live.

14. Amanda Shires – My Piece of Land

This was one of several recommendations by Laura Cantrell in an online end-of-year article, and wasn’t the one that grabbed me most on first listen – but having got to know it, I’d now say it’s probably my favourite of those records. Really lovely.

15. Pixies – Head Carrier

It seems bizarre that it’s getting easy to take a new Pixies album for granted. Let’s not do that.

16. The Hidden Cameras – Home on Native Land

An unexpected foray into country and soul for Joel Gibb – the covers are nice enough, but the original songs are the real attraction here.

17. Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions – Until the Hunter

You know what you’re getting with Hope Sandoval, and it’s good.

18. Maggie8 – LO

There’s no online video for this album that does it justice – it’s mostly much more dramatic and energetic than this suggests. The meld of styles to produce ‘Hindi indie’ is what mostly gets written about where Maggie8 are concerned, but there’s a sense of Northern melodrama about some of these songs that reminds me of early Smiths, even though sonically there’s hardly any resemblance at all.

To save you the clicking, here are the dozen albums I particularly enjoyed in the first half of the year.
1. Emma Pollock – In Search of Harperfield
2. Nervous Twitch – Don’t Take My TV
3. Basia Bulat – Good Advice
4. Steven James Adams – Old Magick
5. Emmy the Great – Second Love
6. TeenCanteen – Say It All With A Kiss
7. Kate Jackson – British Road Movies
8. Laura Cantrell at the BBC
9. Evans the Death – Vanilla
10. Garbage – Strange Little Birds
11. Robert Ellis – Robert Ellis
12. Chris T-T – 9 Green Songs

2016 – albums so far

We’re half-way through the year, so here’s a quick run-down of my favourite albums so far (with a couple of EPs and other honourable mentions at the end). Here’s the full playlist, if you just want to watch that.

Emma Pollock – In Search of Harperfield

The first record I really enjoyed this year, and a really accomplished album.

Nervous Twitch – Don’t Take My TV

Yes the vocals are flat, but who cares? This record is enormous fun, and rewards a lot of listens – it’s much more smartly put together than the indie presentation suggests.

Basia Bulat – Good Advice

Produced by Jim James of My Morning Jacket, who found a distinctive and unusual way of showcasing these excellent songs that still sounds quite full and lush – this live rendition is a bit more orthodox than what you’ll find on the record, but still very recognisable.

Steven James Adams – Old Magick

Adams’ most considered, thoroughly produced record, and a consistently powerful and compelling listen all the way through.

Emmy the Great – Second Love

Superb tunes on this – lush-but-sparse seems to be the production mode du jour, and it’s used to great effect here.

TeenCanteen – Sister

This came out via PledgeMusic, and has a much more varied and polished sound than you’d expect if you were simply told TeenCanteen are a Scottish indie band. Belting.

Kate Jackson – British Road Movies

What a welcome return this is. There’s the odd place where I’m not sure the production serves the songs on this record, but mostly it’s a poised album that puts its songs across every bit as artfully as you’d expect.

Laura Cantrell at the BBC

A collection every bit as lovely ask you’d expect, though with two tracks sourced from off-air recordings because the BBC’s masters were ‘unavailable’ – I wonder why? (And no, the video’s not a track from the album, but it’s roughly contemporary with the version of the song on the record, I think).

Evans the Death – Vanilla

Full of angst and also a horn section. No prisoners taken on the mostly recorded-as-live album, that takes Evans the Death still darker and still heavier. (No official videos from this – the clip’s just audio.)

Garbage – Strange Little Birds

Garbage always mine the same seam, and they’ve done so successfully again here – it sounds like a Garbage album, and not just that, but one of the best Garbage albums.

Robert Ellis – Robert Ellis

I’m all in favour of indie country singers getting more adventurous with their production, but it sometimes goes awry and obscures the songs. Not so here – this is polished, pin-sharp and showcases the songs brilliantly. They range from charming to touching to emotionally devastating, and are top notch thoughout. A real achievement of an album.

Chris T-T – 9 Green Songs

A follow-up of sorts to 2005’s 9 Red Songs, although with a much more full band sound. It’s a shame the referendum has made this seem like it’s from another age, as it skewers Cameron-era politics incisively, but always tunefully.

GUMS! / The Just Joans / The Hector Collectors – Just Lovely EP 


Long-awaited Scottish indie heroes split release, and every song is great. This track has more cult TV references than even I can keep up with.

Colour Me Wednesday – Anyone and Everyone EP

Yet another canny release from Colour Me Wednesday – this video doesn’t showcase it, but I love the crunchy guitar sound they always manage on record, which lots of bands seem to struggle to achieve without it sounding weedy.

Special shout-outs:
MJ Hibbett and the Validators – Still Valid: the long-awaited new (non-dinosaur) Vlads album technically comes out in July (and more pertinently, the promo video isn’t online yet), but it’s GRATE!
Case / Lang / Veirs – Case / Lang / Veirs: I fully expect this is brilliant, I just haven’t listened to it properly yet! What I’ve heard has sounded grand, though.

2015 music – 8tracks mix

Here’s a mix of my favourite music from 2015. I haven’t tried to come up with any rankings or employ any particular nuance – these are just 23 tracks mostly from my favourite albums, with an EP and a single thrown in, presented in (I think) chronological order. Full tracklisting below the picture (sadly, 8tracks’ code for embeding widgets on WordPress isn’t working any more, so you’ll have to click through – much as I like 8tracks, I suspect it will go the same way as This Is My Jam and that this might be my last mix on it). Enjoy!

20151231 8tracks

1.Sleater-Kinney – No Anthems (No Cities to Love)
2.Desperate Journalist – Cristiana (Desperate Journalist)
3.Rae Morris – Under the Shadows (Unguarded)
4.Tigercats – Wheezer (Mysteries)
5.The Wave Pictures – We Fell Asleep in the Blue Tent (Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon)
6.Laura Groves – Dream Story (Committed Language EP)
7.Evans the Death – Expect Delays (Expect Delays)
8.Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield – Fond Farewell (Sing Elliott Smith)
9.Jane Weaver – The Electric Mountain (The Amber Light / The Silver Globe deluxe edition)
10.Alabama Shakes – Gimme All You Love (Sound and Color)
11.The Lovely Eggs – I Nearly Saw A Stabbing Last Night (This Is Our Nowhere)
12.Eccentronic Research Council – You Ruined My Chippy Thursday (Johnny Rocket, Narcissist & Music Machine… I’m Your Biggest Fan)
13.The Catenary Wires – Things I Love (Red Red Skies)
14.Piney Gir – Keep It Together (Mr Hyde’s Wild Ride)
15.Mammoth Penguins – Propped Up (Hide and Seek)
16.Simon Love feat. Stewart Lee – The Meaning of Love (It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time)
17.Beach House – Beyond Love (Depression Cherry)
18.The School – He’s Gonna Break Your Heart One Day (Wasting Away and Wandering)
19.Martha Ffion – So Long (single)
20.Jeffrey Lewis and Los Bolts – Sad Screaming Old Man (Manhattan)
21.Frankie Machine – How Great Thou Art (Frankie Machine Has Been Shipwrecked on a Desert Island)
22.The Drink – Roller (Capital)
23.Johnny Marr – There is a Light that Never Goes Out (Adrenalin Baby)

John Kell Vs Santa – December 22nd 2014

I’m not doing any radio shows over this holiday period, but here’s my Christmas special from last year. As my show was always called John Kell Vs Satan, the Christmas edition was inevitably John Kell Vs Santa. This is the only one of the shows from 12 months ago that I’ve put on Mixcloud so far. The others might follow, but I’m particularly fond of this one, and especially the second hour – I don’t think you’ll quite hear this mix of Christmas music on any other show, and I was also really pleased with the jingles (on their own underneath the Mixcloud widgets – for bonus points, name the sitcoms!).



Full tracklisting
Hour 1
Severe – Stop the Cavalry
Cornshed Sisters – Have A Good Christmas
The Singing Loins – Ding Dong Merrily On High
The  Gresham Flyers – Perfect Christmas Snow
Paper Tongues – Carol of the Bells
MJ Hibbett and the Validators – Easy Christmas
Plans and Apologies – Pandaz Xmas
Geoffrey and the Livingstones – Communist Christmas
Mitch Benn – Broke the Bank This Christmas
Fever Fever – Hallelujah Carol
The Fall – No Xmas for John Quays (Since You’ve Been John)
Balor Knights – Gaudete
Tralala – Christmas Never Comes When You’re Alone
Belle and Sebastian – O Come O Come Emmanuel
Mary Epworth – The Wolf and the Woods
Hour 2
Cuckooland – Silver Bells
The Long Blondes – Christmas is Cancelled
TV Smith – Xmas Bloody Xmas
The Low Countries – Carry on Christmas
Piney Gir – Christmas Time / Snow, Snow, Beautiful Snow
Radio Orwell –  Last Christmas
Magnuson – God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
The Just Joans –  Card from a Multipack
Seymour Swine – Blue Christmas
Slow Club – Christmas Baby Please Come Home
Frankie Machine – I’m Going To Kill Myself for Christmas
Christa Rebecca – You Still Come Home For Christmas
Bill Botting – Acting Without Acting
HT and the OJs – Just Say No To Christmas
Church Library –  Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

TV Times – omnibus edition

This is a compilation of all the editions of one of my favourite features from my radio shows over the summer – my TV Times, which was basically a showcase for lots of great TV theme tunes, with some blather about them afterwards from me. It wasn’t deliberate, but with hindsight I was almost certainly taking inspiration from TV Cream’s long-running theme tunes vote-off, and the inimitable Dream Themes.

All the editions were put together by category, some looser than others. Here’s a run-down of all the themes featured (for proper credits, see the Mixcloud listing).

June 29th – all the Bs
Bergerac
Blockbusters
Bugs

July 13th – children’s shows
Round the Twist
The Wind in the Willows
Dark Season
The Secret Service

July 27th – railway-related shows (Indietracks special)
The 8:15 From Manchester
The Train Now Departing
6:05 Special

August 10th – sitcoms
The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin
Shelley
The Two Of Us
Dream Stuffing
Reggie Perrin

August 24th – 90s US drama
Due South
The X-Files
Buffy the Vampire Slayer

September 7th – gameshows
Interceptor
Mastermind
Gladiators
The Krypton Factor
Treasure Hunt

September 21st (1) – 90s UK drama
Jeeves and Wooster
Class Act
Hamish Macbeth
This Life
Neverwhere

September 21st (2) – anything goes!
The Man from UNCLE
UFO
Hi-De-Hi
Howards’ Way
Agatha Christie’s Poirot
Miss Marple

John Kell Vs Satan – September 21s 2015

As a special treat for the final show of the series, I’ve uploaded it as recorded off FM, with thanks to my brother, complete with authentic hiss. This was a rare show where I thought the first hour was better – the second hour was a bit dominated by that extra edition of the TV Times, with a few too many themes crammed into it. There’s a preview track from the forthcoming album by MJ Hibbett and the Validators in the first hour too.


Actually there was a reason why I chose that last song, I just forgot! “Don’t paint the Devil on the wall,” indeed. To make up for the crashed vocal, I’ve blended the full length of the song into the end, beyond the fade out at 10pm as broadcast.