2010 has been, for me at least, a bumper year for new music. I think it’s safe to say that I’ve bought more albums released this year than I have in any year for well over a decade. This is a very good thing. That a lot of them were bought direct from the artist is also a very good thing.
Here’s a list of my 20 favourites – not any preference order, that would be futile, and subject to change at a moment’s notice (they’re alphabetical by artist).
Suffice to say, I recommend all of them, with the obvious caveat that if the are from within a style that would otherwise be something you’d avoid like the plague, proceed with caution…
Bandcamp embeds provided where possible…
Steve’s Top 20 for 2010 :
Man – Bernoft
Found via a tweet, from @niclake, a dude I didn’t even follow, sending me a recommendation to watch a youtube video. Wow. Definitely one of the discoveries of the year, and one of my favourite ‘musicians that uses looping’ ever.
Each Dirty Letter – Calamateur
I don’t think Andrew Howie AKA Calamateur has ever done anything I haven’t liked. Each Dirty Letter is a grown up album, songs about things that matter. He’s a wonderful songwriter.
House Of Cards – Emily Baker
I’m not sure if this counts, as it’s not out properly yet, but it’s incredible, so I’ll include it. Remarkable largely because Emily’s one of the greatest live singer/songwriters I’ve ever seen, and she’s lost none of the magic of her songs in the recording process. That’s a massive achievement. I love this more than is quite natural. Fabulous fabulous songwriting, beautifully captured. File under ‘friend most likely to be a massive legend in 10 years time’.
Formantine – EmmaLee Crane
Another one of this year’s discoveries, Emmalee makes drone-based music, and makes is very interesting in the process. A totally uncharacteristic brevity gives her music an almost ‘pop’ sensibility, despite it being about as un-pop as music can be. She revels in sound and makes beautiful noises. Definitely not ‘new-age’ in any ‘music for a specifically mellow purpose’ kind of way. Robust ambient goodness.
April – Hope And Social
In my utopian future, all bands will have as much fun as Hope And Social and make their audience feel as special as these guys attempt to do with every gig they play. A massive inspiration in every way, not least of all their remarkable, life-affirming, rocking gorgeous music.
After – Ihsahn
This year’s favourite extreme metal album – a late entry as I only bought it last week, but am LOVING this. A remarkably brave and progressive record from one of the founding fathers of the 2nd wave of black metal. Scary, heavy, beautiful and horrific in equal measure.
Movement In A Storm – James Yuill (Spotify Link)
A favourite with every member of the Lawson household. James takes everything that was great about the 80s – tunes, ‘meaning it’, wikkid synth sounds, removes every last drop of stuff that was crap about the 80s, and makes beautifully current electro-folk. He’s a singer/songwriter that plays gigs in dance clubs. I love every single song of his I’ve ever heard, and listen to him more than pretty much anything else.
The Space Between – Janek Gwizdala
When I first heard this, I tweeted Janek to say ‘I thought you’d get to this, I just didn’t expect it for a decade’ – while that may sound like an odd thing to say, it’s actually just a reflection of what a remarkable album The Space Between Is. Janek has been an amazing bassist ever since well before I first heard him, and has a head-spinning work-ethic, putting more time and energy into his music and career than most 6 piece bands combined. What’s remarkable here is the focus of this record. Given that he could easily have been pulled in any one of a million musical directions, he seems to have found his own sound, his own space, and made a breath-takingly great record. I genuinely thought he’d do a couple more albums of more recognisably ‘fusion’-based stuff before making a record this deep. It’s intensely listenable, never willfully twiddly, and may well be one of my top 3 or 4 albums ever made by a bass player.
The Innkeeper’s Gun – John Goldsby
Talking of bass players making records, this amazing trio album from ex-pat American-in-Germany John Goldsby is a really intense jazz trio record. The sax player REALLY stretches out, going to some hard-to-reach places, and John manages to keep everything grooving, grounded and has one of my favourite double bass sounds ever. Lovely.
Watching The Well – Jon Thorne/Danny Thompson (spotify link)
Another record as unexpectedly magical as Janek’s – Jon Thorne’s long been known to many as a brilliant bassist, but I had no idea he had a work this audacious in him (that may well just be my lack of knowledge of everything else he’s involved in, as much as him taking a wild leap) – written for his (and my) bass hero, Danny Thompson, Watching The Well is an inspirational collection of modern chamber music in a vein best filed as ‘ECM-ish’, but which features enough tweaks that would probably have been filtered out by the Eicher smoothness-machine to give it a unique sound. Just brilliant.
Julie Slick – Julie Slick
Another of this year’s amazing discoveries – I’d been hearing about Julie Slick for ages – more fool me for leaving it this long to discover the work of one of the greatest young bassists I’ve ever heard. She’s hands down in my top 5 favourite rock bassists on the planet, and this album shows a maturity of writing, playing and production that players old enough to be her granddad would be proud of. Talent beyond imagining.
Raise My Voice – Kira Small
A lovely lovely soulful singer/sonwriter record. If I say that I still prefer these songs life, it’s only a testament to just how much seeing Kira live this year blew my mind, rather than in anyway a diss on this lovely record. She’s a genius, and ‘gets’ house concerts better than pretty much any musician I’ve ever seen.
Crooked – Kristin Hersh
A masterpiece in a career of masterpieces – Kristin’s made a lot of really great records, and it’s tough to make headlines with ‘genius makes yet another genius record’ – the press don’t like things like that. Fortunately she’s also been reinventing the music industry on behalf of the rest of us, so her remarkable music gets noticed for more than its awesomeness. This came out as a gorgeous hard-backed book with a download code in it. Songwriting, Guitar playing, Singing – she’s top of the shop at all three. She also wins at Twitter.
Shapeshifter Live 2010 – Matthew Garrison
Another of the amazing records by bassists this year that is making me rethink my ‘I don’t usually like records made by bass players’ maxim. Matthew is a wonder to behold. The bassness of this is incidental – it’s a genius live electronica record that has more in common with David Torn and Squarepusher than with fusion-y bass-twiddles. Great writing, awesome concept, deeply satisfying listening. I’m a fan.
Disarm – She Makes War
More singing, songwriting magicalness. Proof if it were needed that independently produced should be seen as a mark of likely quality rather than caution. To call it my favourite ‘pop’ record of the year serves to elevate pop, not diminish this great album. Hummable and inspiring. All kinds of goodness.
Mecca – SignalsUnderTests
Like the Matthew Garrison record, another record of guitar-based electronica, full of sonic surprises, twisted darkness and spiky goodness. Great work.
The Dream – Sunna Gunnlaugs
Another great record from a consistently excellent pianist. Jazz for people who would otherwise pass up jazz records as being overly meandering and directionless. Sunna is an excellent composer and concise, purposeful improvisor. I love pretty much everything I’ve ever heard by her.
Love And Its Opposite – Tracey Thorn
If you’ve arrived here from Facebook, this is probably the only record on this list by someone you’ve heard of. Tracey’s one half of Everything But The Girl, and ‘that woman who sings that Massive Attack song’. This is a brilliantly honest, grown-up record. I love hearing songwriters grow up. Paul Simon did it with remarkable dignity through his career, from idealistic youngster to wise old sage. Live And Its Opposite is a record about being a mum, being married, about normal things, about friends splitting up, about watching life, being alive, about everyday reality, but without fetishizing it. As refreshing as it is sobering.
Live At Coventry Cathedral – Travis & Fripp
A great live record by my some-time musical partner Theo Travis and guitar legend Robert Fripp. Oh that all ambient records were this full of interest and gorgeousness. There’s a remarkable synergy between the two of them, and Theo has, to my ears, inspired Robert to his best soundscapes playing ever.
Into The Trees – Zoe Keating
I’ve always enjoyed what Zoe does, since I first heard her a few years back. With Into The Trees she’s upped the ante, taking the same ‘cello x lots’ formula but the writing, playing and production are her best yet. Simply lovely music.