My soundtrack to 2010
As the entire country knows, it's been a year of seismic shocks, simmering anger and unfettered despair. Yes, we were as stunned as the rest of you when Carlos D left Interpol. Also, the banks bled us dry, the IMF parked its tanks on the lawn and Kings of Leon released their second LP in 24 months. Truly, we are living through the End of Time.
Still, for music fans, there have been a multitude of reasons to be (mildly) cheerful. The xx deservedly bagged the Mercury. Arcade Fire put their second-album blues behind them with a quite remarkable new record. Conor O'Brien's Villagers (mostly) justified the hype. LCD Soundsystem blew us away with their mix of mid-life ennui and NYC hedonism. No Age reinvented art rock. And, visiting in October, Crystal Castles' Alice Glass reminded us what a proper frontperson looks like as she swigged a bottle of Jack Daniels while dancing on a drum-kit. In a 12-month blur of economic blight, incompetent politicians and Wagner on X Factor, such bright points glittered like a rhinestone jumpsuit on a smoggy day.
We could be predictable and tell you that LCD Soundsystem's This Is Happening was one of the great albums of 2010. Or we could jabber on about how,with The Suburbs, Arcade Fire have finally sloughed off their influences and emerged as a truly original stadium rock band. We might even have mentioned Zola Jesus' Siouxsie and the Banshee-goes-cybergoth Stridulum II, James Holden's Kraut-tastic DJ Kicks mix or the Black Keys' career-making new record. Instead, we'll take a plunge into the deep end and insist you immediately discover Salem's King Night. It's like a chill-wave Crystal Castles with Southern hip-hop undertones -- both divinely creepy and exquisitely strange. You must check them out (above) now.
Verdict: Salem, King Night
In a year in which Kings of Leon put out a new album, The Script went multi-platinum, Lil Wayne strapped on a guitar and Fight Like Apes tried to make the NME like them (again)... where to start? And we haven't even touched on Kanye's gibbering lunatic bin of a concept LP, Nadine's attempt to 'do a Cheryl' or MGMT's career-sabotaging Congratulations. And yet, for sheer, gut-quivering awfulness, it's hard to look much further than Courtney Love's lamentable stab at a comeback, Nobody's Daughter, and Richard Ashcroft's hilariously misjudged attempt to re-invent himself as a soul-man with his United Nations of Sound project.
Verdict: Richard Ashcroft and United Nations of Sound
Warpaint's Undertow was unsettling and compelling in equal measures, as was Katy Perry's California Gurls, albeit for completely different reasons. Glasser's Home struck a blow for daft synth pop, while Kele's Tenderoni was a reminder that good things can only happen when moochie indie boys exit the closet and start hanging out at the gym. Sounding like a blunt conversation between Wagner (as in the bombastic 19th-century composer) and Dizzee Rascal, Tinie Tempah's Pass Out, meanwhile, showed UK hip-hop had finally arrived as a vibrant creative force. And Magnetic Man's Perfect Stranger proved you didn't have to be a hipster in a hoodie to dig dubstep. We could go on, but...
Verdict: Crystal Castles (above), Celestica
Perhaps it was the air of presumptiveness with which Janelle Monae (below) tried to stomp her way all over the pop landscape in 2010. Or maybe it was just that stupid tuxedo. Regardless, was there three-and-a-half minutes of music more hackle-rising than Monae's Tightrope, a record that thinks it is evoking the spirit of James Browne when, in fact, it's just regurgitating a succession of tired r'n'b cliches? It's even managed to relegate Yeasayer's highly smackable Ambling Alp to second place.
Verdict: Janelle Monae, Tightrope
Surprise of the Year
Sufjan Stevens... like, what the hell dude? Five years ago, you were the darling of indie-dom, the high-brow hipster's conflicted strummer of choice. Then you lost confidence in yourself, junked your plan to record a musical tribute to each of American's 50 states and... did what exactly? Assembled a paean to mentally unwell 'naive artist' Royal Robertson, using a jumble of horns and choral vocals straight out of Disney's Fantasia. What a soggy, career-derailing mess The Age of Adz should have been. And how delightful it was to report that Stevens (left) had come back with the most intriguing release of his career.
Verdict: Sufjan Stevens, The Age of Adz
Disappointment of the Year
Being told by everyone that Adebisi Shank (below) was the future of Irish music. And then listening to their second album. So self-inflicted migraine is a fashion accessory now? Also, that Tron Legacy soundtrack. Have Daft Punk been possessed by the spirit of James Horner? And how could we omit Hurts? We were promised the Mancunian Pet Shop Boys. We got a Tears for Fears for the Twitter Generation.
Verdict: Adebisi Shank
It's hard to say whether Guns N' Roses' O2 meltdown was the best or worst live moment of 2010. In an age when musicians make the bulk of their income through touring, how thrilling to see that, in Axl Rose, we still have someone willing to throw a proper rock-star strop with absolutely no regard for the consequences. Of course, had we actually paid for a ticket, our perspective might have been different. Otherwise, LCD Soundsystem at Tripod was astonishing, as was Rufus Wainwright at Grand Canal Theatre. All comers, though, were blown out of the water by Lady Gaga (bottom), who, with her Monsters' Ball dates, showed provocative mainstream pop didn't end with Britney Spears dirty dancing with a python.
Verdict: Lady Gaga, The O2
Brandon Flowers (below) didn't want his turn at The Academy reviewed (while naturally giving British hacks free reign to pass judgement on his shows in Blighty), but we sneaked in anyway. Perhaps we should have stayed away. Like Sampson without the wavy ringlets, Brandon Flowers minus the eagle-feather dinner jacket presented a much-reduced figure. Having inflicted grievous bodily harm upon Kim Carnes' Betty Davis Eyes, he proceeded to dispense a drippy acoustic 're-imagining' of When You Were Young and lashings of forgettable hooey from his solo record. But the biggest disappointment (obviously) was the lack of comedy facial hair. Sans novelty goatee, all that odd-ball charisma evaporated.
Verdict: Brandon Flowers, The Academy
Unsung Heroes of the Year
In no particular order... Darkstar's North: a John Carpenter soundtrack refracted through a dubstep filter; Solar Bears' She Was Coloured In: peyote-flavoured chill-wave from the exotic reaches of um... rural Wicklow; The Health remix record: listening to it is like cruising down the autobahn in a turbo-boosted Hummer...
Verdict: Health for Disco 2
Over-hyped Cause Celebre Of The Year
The meandering glitch-core of LA's Flying Lotus left us cold. As did Gonjsufi's A Sufi and A Killer. Also The National sound more like an American Tindersticks with each passing album, so it has been strange to see them embraced as the saviours of grown-up arena rock. And Laura Marling (right)... really? In an economic meltdown, the first casualty, it seems, is good taste.
Verdict: Laura Marling