Ruth's Manuvas

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My musical ramblings – gig and album reviews, music news and views

Ruthsmanuvas: albums for 2011 vs 2010

Just over one week into the New Year and 2010 seems like ages ago. The thing is I’m still so attached to some of last year’s albums that the class of 2011 is going to have to produce some pretty special stuff to make the products of its musical blood, sweat and tears a permanent headphones fixture.

There were a few albums that got shoehorned into my top five list come December 31, niftily sidestepping competition from Frightened Rabbit’s Winter of Mixed Drinks, Errors’ Come Down With Me and Hot Chip’s One Life Stand.

5. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

This 16-song epic flew onto my iPod in August, finally hitting that sweet spot with songs full of charm and honesty that packed euphoric whirlwind violins and piano chords.

It was a watershed of sorts for many people’s love of the American seven piece who, in the past, had struggled to straddle the line between the thrill of the orchestral Funeral, and the seriousness and lyrical craft of Neon Bible.

4. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening

With an egocentric title of which you’d expect nothing less, LCD Soundsystem proclaimed this album in May as their self-indulgent last.

It’s not as instantly gratifying as Sound of Silver, but here, James Murphy and co definitely achieved their holy grail of balance between pretentiousness and perfectionism to create musical chemistry. From the stark opener, Dance Yrself Clean, that drops listeners off a spine-tingling bass cliff after three minutes, to the Bowie-esque All I Want and the sentimentality of Home that gives the band a softer edge, it’s a sublime album.

3. Caribou – Swim

Dan Snaith’s collection of intricately placed beats and stark lyrical proclamations made this record an unmissable, refreshing collection of dance tunes that completely challenged those flailing in its wake.

It’s almost obsessive compulsive in sound, and a total u-turn from the folky Andorra. It packs everything; from Odessa’s insistent beat that sounds as if it’s being played through a crackly stylus, Sun’s mesmerising repetitions and Mr Scruff jazz rhythms, to Bowls’ Tibetan percussion and mathematically timed chimes. Then there is Jamelia’s soulful loop and questions of ‘Am I good enough?’ that wrap this up into an album full of elegant musical nuances.

2. The National – High Violet

This one felt like a slow burner – so much so that it smouldered away in my music collection for a while before finally exploding into the consciousness in November.

Perhaps this, their fifth long-play album, mirrors the fact the band have been far from an overnight success. The truth is, High Violet is a masterful collection of melancholic writing. oozing with sorrow and beauty that sits just perfectly with Matt Berninger’s absolutely apt baritone singing voice. And in Bloodbuzz Ohio there might just be the lyric of the year with, “I still owe money, to the money, to the money I owe.” Just perfect.

1. Foals – Total Life Forever

The award for surprise of the year went to Foals in May, with a bolt out of the blue that delivered a mature, sensitive, yet wholly signature-sounding record.

It achieved the holy grail of completely bettering a debut whose math-rock rhythms and carnival quality felt so good it could’ve easily forced them to peak too soon. Some would argue TLF is a departure from the enigmatic, tautly plucked brilliance of Antidotes. In truth, they’ve still retained the percussion led breaks that burst midway tracks like sunlight through opening curtains, not to mention the rhythmic lyrics that double up as instruments in themselves. It’s just that this album also injects soaring, aching guitar riffs and pigeon-toed bashfulness that makes the listener feel they now begin to understand this Oxford quintet.

This all makes last year a tough act to follow – 2011 doesn’t whiff of box office big hitters. But over the next 12 months there are some albums I’ll be on the edge of my seat waiting to hear:

1. Cut Copy – Zonoscope

The long-awaited follow up to In Ghost Colours, Zonoscope is the Melbourne-based trio’s third album that’ll undoubtedly bless us with more sunshine-soaked disco electro pop.

It’s taken three years for this to drop, but if Take Me Over is anything to go by, we can expect healthy dollops of catchy synths, positivity-injected lyrics and more of the same ingredients that put the previous album near the top of record of the year lists last time.

2. Metronomy – The English Riviera

With an album title that either holds a slice of Devonshire coastline in basked glory or gentle mockery, this is another record that’s been a long time coming.

Nights Out was a further favourite offering from 2008 – it had charming dischords, 8-bit beats and riffs, and film set sound effects shoehorned into the fabric of its tracks. The album also boasted the instantly likeable Heartbeat and On Dancefloors that both felt like the soundtrack to a bad night out – or a broken heart. Oh how we wept and danced along with them.

3. The Avalanches – TBC

This album has been a year-on-year promise from a band that brought us Since I Left You over 10 years ago. But if the more convincing- of late – rumours are true, it makes them impossible to miss.

From an album that brought us that flute-led loop on Since I Met You, to the funk-beats of Radio – the band mixed sheer madness with sultry French Moulin Rouge, soul, jazz rhythms and more samples than you could shake a fist at. That is, all played through this scratchy filter that felt like you were sitting in a flat listening to the most brilliant house party though the walls.

4. The Joy Formidable – The Big Roar

Thankfully, there are now only a couple of weeks to go before the release of this album that A Balloon Called Moaning EP has whetted the appetite for.

With an epic maelstrom of indie rock and pint-sized Ritzy Bryan’s breathy and robust vocals, Wales and London-based trio, The Joy Formidable’s debut should match the swathe of expectation that has gathered around their music over the last 18 months. With tracks like Austere, Cradle, Whirring and The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade, their blistering paced drums and delicious wall of sound is unlikely to pass without impact.

5. Battles – TBC

Even the first listen to Battles’ Mirrored – the band’s first album proper – spoke of the madness within.

With an album cover comprising of instruments caged behind a glass box; it conjured images that this supergroup of four might just need to be reined in to maintain sanity. The tracks echoed that. It was post-punk, glam-rock, sci-fi computational circuit-boards, dance – and more that you can’t even describe because it’s simply in a category of its own. And that’s why I want more this year of whatever Battles were on in 2007…

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