Records of the year (by the people who should know)
Friday 19 December 2008
Santogold [aka the American singer Santi White] is a real icon; amazing songs, fantastic style and she's innovative too. I'm really envious of her writing; especially stuff like "L.E.S. Artistes", which she wrote about all the posers in the Lower East Side of New York. The production on her [self-titled] album is brilliant and she's a great live performer. Talk about the whole package!
Joan Wasser - (Joan as Police Woman)
Made in the Dark by Hot Chip has everything I need: crazy-catchy songs that make me dance like a freaky freak; unique sounds that are cared for; lyrics that are beautifully sung, emotional and direct. When I saw Hot Chip perform at Electric Picnic this summer, I literally ran to their show the moment after we'd finished ours. Hot Chip's music is unafraid. It is art for art's sake and because of this I consider it humanitarian. I also have crushes on Joe and Felix. You just can't help it.
Duff McKagan - Velvet Revolver
The moment I heard Saturnalia by The Gutter Twins I knew it was a classic. Master songwriters Mark Lanegan and Greg Dulli have been moulding their band for a few years now and have at last produced something as cool as one might hope for. I got to see them live this past September at a festival in Spain and it was nothing short of a religious experience. There have been bigger hard-rock releases in 2008, but for sheer substance you can't fault The Gutter Twins.
Will Gregory - Goldfrapp
Fleet Foxes' self-titled debut was refreshing. It sounds like a performance they really enjoyed, like they sang their way through the dark months around a fire made from some old church pews. I haven't heard that much reverb on a record since Simon & Garfunkel's "The Boxer"! Fleet Foxes was one of Alison's favourites, too. We felt solidarity as we'd also made an album that was folky without being too earnest.
Grasshopper - Mercury Rev
Black Mountain's In the Future delivers heavy-yet-trippy sagas about angels and witches and bright lights and barbed wire. Songs such as "Stormy High" and "Wild Wind" take me on a journey that makes for a disconcerting, hallucinogenic and filmic experience of the best psychedelic/cathartic kind.
My respect for One Republic's lead singer Ryan Tedder grew when I found out that he also penned Leona Lewis's "Bleeding Love". His own band's album Dreaming Out Loud showcases beautiful singing and seriously strong songwriting. Unlike most contemporary guitar bands, they produce their vocals in a way that is usually associated with R&B or soul. It makes them stand out from the crowd.
Nicola Roberts - Girls Aloud
Beyoncé's demure attitude and "Sasha Fierce" persona make her a well-rounded artist; her I Am... Sasha Fierce album gives the best of both worlds. On disc one, her lyrics emphasise how a woman's mind works, and I love that. "If I Were a Boy" is the biggest female empowerment song I've heard in years. Disc two? Wowzer! That Sasha Fierce is all diva. Here, Beyoncé teaches girls to have a little bit of attitude – and why not? Every woman on earth should learn from what Beyoncé is saying. She's an inspiration to me. Go girl!
Lisa Pyk Wirstrom - Those Dancing Days
I was in the grey zone of boring music, and then – boom! – I heard MGMT and became best friends with Oracular Spectacular. All those weird sound-effects and jungle rhythms – it's a record that makes me leave the earth and live in the fantasyland of MGMT. Right now, my favourite tracks are "Of Moons, Birds & Monsters", "The Handshake" and "Future Reflections". The album has inspired me a lot in my life, not just in making music.
Nick Hodgson - Kaiser Chiefs
Like Is This It by The Strokes or Definitely Maybe by Oasis, Vampire Weekend's self-titled debut album is something I'm going to play and play. That sense of making a major discovery gets more rare as I get older, so to find something brand new that made me feel that way was fantastic. It's not down to one or two tracks, either – the whole album's great.
Lupe Fiasco's The Cool skilfully touches on social issues rarely tackled by today's more commercial rappers. War, child labour, celebrity culture and Aids – the way Lupe (left) explores these subjects without depressing or turning off the casual hip-hop fan is an inspiration. Lighter tracks such as "Paris, Tokyo" and "Go Baby" serve as clever breaks from Lupe's compelling political wordplay. A true superstar.
My pick is Dirt Farmer by Levon Helm. The Band are one of the most influential groups and Levon is one of my favourite singers and drummers. He has a groove unlike anybody else. When he got throat cancer we were afraid that we'd lose him, but he came roaring back, voice intact. He gives concerts in a barn on his property in Woodstock, and he gets different people to sit in with him. This album is a triumph of spirit and his miraculous recovery.
Jim Kerr - Simple Minds
A few months ago, I turned on Later... with Jools Holland and was mesmerised by Grace Jones performing "Williams Blood". It was wonderful to see a bona-fide star go about her duties, slipping her dress up over her panty crotch as she performed this year's finest song. Grace's Hurricane was a phenomenal return to form that no one really anticipated. Twenty-six years ago, a couple of tokes on some strong California grass meant I had to retire to my room, forgoing the chance to meet the great woman. Had I done so I would have undoubtedly asked her to marry me.
John Dieterich - Deerhoof
When I played a non-band set in Oakland, California, opening for the Italian band Father Murphy, they completely floored me. I had never heard of them until then, but their album And He Told Us Not To Turn to the Sun packs some of the most original, beautiful music I'd heard in a long time – think eerily spacious songs with strange yet perfect arrangements. And such nice people! I'm a huge fan.
Mike Scott - The Waterboys
For melody and boldness, it has to be The Last Shadow Puppets' The Age of the Understatement. I loved the album's cocktail of bombast and spunk and their consummate reclaiming of a movement's worth of sonic debris from some lost early-Sixties hinterland. Wonderful string arrangements and killer vocals; a brilliant confection all round. Also terrific: their "B-side" cover of Bowie's "In the Heat of the Morning".
Nina Persson - The Cardigans/A Camp
Wild Birds & Peacedrums are a new-ish Swedish duo who are unlike anything I've heard before. I found their album The Snake when we were rediscovering the magic of double drum kits à la Adam and The Ants. The whole record is just drums and gorgeous female vocals from a husband and wife duo, which I'm biased towards since I play in a band with my hubby. You do the dishes after dinner, then you do some overdubs. Later on, lying in bed, you can roll over and whisper: "Was that French horn out of tune?"
Viva La Vida by Coldplay. Lyrically it's very deep and the musicianship throughout the record is great. It's a progression, but it's not a complete departure from their previous albums. I love that line in "Lost" that goes: "Just because I'm losing/Doesn't mean I'm lost." Coldplay working with Brian Eno was always going to make for a fabulous record.
Scott Hutchison - Frightened Rabbit
Lykke Li's album Youth Novels had a huge impact on me. I saw her perform live before I heard the album and I was completely captivated by her unique, ethereal voice. The album is simple, spare dance music with a lot of depth lyrically. She sings about chance encounters and failed relationships, but the music is quite quirky and upbeat. On record, she sounds quite fragile, but live she's very powerful. There's a song on the album called "Tonight" – it's luscious.
Ronan Keating - Boyzone
If you're looking for a timeless pop record, The Killers delivered again. Day & Age is full of feel-good electronic moments, but it also has a sense of melancholy. It's not what you'd expect from a "rock" band, but I like that. Lead singer Brandon Flowers is the perfect front man, making great performances sound incredibly simple.
The Pigeon Detectives
We got hold of The Virgins' self-titled album when we were looking for supports for our winter tour. It's one of those classics where every tune sounds like a single. You can hear influences from The Clash to the Stones to The Strokes, but ultimately it has its own style. Hopefully, 2009 will bring The Virgins success in the UK. "Private Affair" and "One Week of Danger" are massive tunes.
James Walsh - Starsailor
Panic at the Disco's Pretty. Odd. I couldn't get their absurd single "Nine in the Afternoon" out of my head. It took a leap of faith for a 28-year-old to go in and buy the album, but I'm glad I did. I saw PATD at The Astoria, and a mass of teenagers worshipped singer Brendan's every word. In an era when music is fashion it's great that four geeky lads from across the pond have come through.
I bumped into the Scottish folk musician James Yorkston on a train. We were both nursing hangovers. His When the Haar Rolls In is tender, peaceful and raw; it puts lovely pictures in my head. I also liked [Mercury Prize winner] The Seldom Seen Kid by Elbow.
Amadou - Amadou & Mariam
We listen to the radio a lot when we tour, and the album we love is Freedom by Akon. The way he sings sometimes reminds me of Bob Marley. We spent time together in Berlin during the World Cup in 2006 and he remixed our song "Coulibaly" for us. It would be nice to work together again.
I'm a big fan of Ray LaMontagne's Gossip in the Grain. He's got a distinctive voice and he's a great songwriter; emotional, poetic, enigmatic. The album is slow and soothing and it draws you in. I like "Meg White", a loving song for the White Stripes drummer.
Ladyhawke by Ladyhawke is a beautifully crafted piece of plagiarism referencing every good song from the late Seventies/early Eighties. Ladyhawke have great ideas and a terrific lack of irony/self-awareness not heard since Now That's What I Call Music Vol 2. Parts of the album helped me glimpse the winter mornings of my schooldays, me with cold toast and syrup, back burning against a radiator, while Pat Benatar's Tropico drilled a hole in my youth. For fans of Stevie Nicks, Buggles and the Yamaha DX7.
Life was strange in 2008. Things went wrong towards the end. In such times, I'm drawn towards pop delirium and instant, life-affirming hits. The Ting Tings did it for me big time, but MGMT win out because their melodic majesty makes everything seem better. Oracular Spectacular pushes all the right retro buttons. It ain't hard; it just makes you want to dance away the blues. The Soulwax remix of "Kids" blew my brains out. And MGMT are hot!
Bon Iver's For Emma Forever Ago is such a genuine-sounding album; not necessarily original, but every note has a purpose. The fact he [Justin Vernon, aka Bon Iver] recorded it in the middle of nowhere seemed to focus him; it'll be hard to follow up. Despite it being a warm, kind record it's got real drive; listen in the car and you start accelerating.
James Allan - Glasvegas
I liked the Thomas Tantrum album Rage Against the Tantrum. Rhythmically they're a bit like Television and their singer Megan Thomas has that Kate Bush eccentricity. Chop-LP by Dennis Hopper Choppers is great as well. It's got this creepy rockabilly sound and the songs are fantastic.
As a proverbial grumpy old man who's fairly oblivious to new music, I chanced upon Aidan Smith's "Drapes of Black" on the radio. I immediately downloaded his album Allotments and was delighted. Normally I don't like anything recorded after 1969, but this was a breath of fresh air and unlike anything else in my collection. It reminds me of my childhood in the North: brass bands, ukuleles and pub singsongs. Allotments is a gem.
I'm biased, but I love what The Gutter Twins do together. My favourite Saturnalia track is "Bete Noire" – it's groovy and dark, with Mark Lanegan singing "a long dead animal is on your trail". I also dug Provisions by Giant Sand and Dig, Lazaru, Dig! by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. The Bonnie Prince Billy album Lie Down in the Light is also pretty great, as he so often is.
Tim Burgess - The Charlatans
Ladyhawke's self-titled record blurs genres and eras brilliantly, yet still sounds contemporary. A girl who came to our show at The Astoria gave it to me on vinyl, and I quickly fell in love with it. "My Delirium" has an amazing vibe, and the video for "Dusk Till Dawn" is really inventive.
David Harrington - The Kronos Quartet
Black Mirror: Reflections in Global Musics [1918-1954] is an incredible album. Track 15 "Smyrneiko Minore", sung by Marika Papagika, has the most amazing note I've ever heard on a recording. As a "maker of notes" I try to be alert to those who create indelible moments of musical elucidation, and Marika's note now resides within me as a complex point of ultimate resolve tempered with despair. It gives a new voice to a teeming world of music that could have been lost for ever.
I love the sound of the self-titled debut album by my fellow Glaswegians Glasvegas. It's a very open and expansive record; the melodies, the big reverb, the sentiment – it's all great. The lyrics are very modern and hard-hitting, yet they've set them against an upbeat, Phil Spector-style wall of sound. Glasvegas have come out of nowhere with a special debut.
Craig Finn - The Hold Steady
Black Mountain's In the Future inspired me. I've been a fan of theirs from the first record, but I got my mind blown at ATP vs Pitchfork, where they dominated the line-up of the whole festival. I honestly think Black Mountain's next record could be as big as a Radiohead or My Morning Jacket record in terms of its scope, grandeur and hugeness. I look forward to what happens next.
I'm going to go for Randy Newman and Harps & Angels. Maybe it's not his greatest record, but it's close. He's still better than anyone else at writing those witty, conversational songs that make you nod and laugh out loud when you listen. The arrangements are so beautiful that you can forgive the odd schmaltzy moment; Newman is a real composer and the inventiveness that goes into every song puts us "pop" musicians to shame. An old-fashioned big production.
Kelly Jones - Stereophonics
We had the Oasis record Dig Out Your Soul, Kings of Leon's Only By the Night, Elbow and so on on the tour bus, but MGMT's Oracular Spectacular stood out from the rest. I saw them play at the Oxegen festival and they delivered great tunes in a new way, dressed like some gang from [the 1979 film] The Warriors. I heard that MGMT disbanded before they even started, then someone found their demo and convinced them to get back together. I guess it was meant to be.
For me, it was a close race between Coldplay's Viva La Vida and Noah and the Whale's self-titled album. Coldplay seem to be bursting with fantastic songs. My favourite track is "Reign of Love"; Chris Martin's voice is emotive and strong, but also gentle and comforting. It makes me feel like everything's going be OK, and sometimes that's just what you need. Noah and the Whale, by contrast, is such a cute album. I adore all the little beeps and clangs and the other noises it has. It's happy, summer music.
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