The year's top 10 Irish albums
With the end of the year approaching, it’s time for John Meagher to cast his critical eye over the best home-grown albums and tracks of the year—and there is something to suit every taste
1 Valerie Francis Slow Dynamo (VF Records)
It is such a delight to come across an album unencumbered by hype. Valerie Francis (below) is a studio engineer by trade and her debut is underscored by nuance and texture. It's a headphones album, a seductive collection that showcases a subtle, captivating voice and some otherworldly instrumentation. Like many of the best releases, its charms are not immediately apparent -- but it rewards the patient listener. For such a small release, the album had quite a reach with none other than Kanye West bigging up single Punches. Check out the video for the song, directed by Eoghan Kidney -- it is the best Irish promo since Director's Reconnect.
2 David Kitt The Night Saver (Gold Spillin Records)
For me, David Kitt is the Irish musician of the decade, the man responsible for the best Irish album of the past 10 years (see Loaded on page 23). It's a shame that this record didn't reach the wide audience his talent deserved. This, his sixth album, has shifted just 2,000 copies -- not the sort of figure to make the fiscal business of being a musician any easier. But at least he can take comfort in the fact that his mojo is as strong as ever -- he remains a fantastic songwriter, and his tunes always reveal a wide influence. The funky Beat A Retreat and the sublime Don't Wake Me Up are very different songs, but unmistakably Kitt.
3 Codes Trees Dream in Algebra (EMI Ireland)
With a handful of fine singles pointing the way, there was considerable expectation for EMI's key Irish signings. And the Darragh Anderson-led fourpiece didn't disappoint. Nonsense title aside, this is an extremely assured debut with echoes of a-ha, Keane and Delays. The songwriting is top-notch -- particularly on the abrasive, inventive Guided by Ghosts and the emotive You Are Here -- and the production, courtesy of regular Manic Street Preachers collaborator Greg Haver, pushes the songs close to stadium territory. One gets the sense this band could go far.
4 U2 No Line on the Horizon (Mercury Records)
The near ubiquity of Bono and friends plus the nagging issue of their tax affairs can obscure the fact that their latest album is a triumph. From the stadium masterclass of Magnificent to the Eno-inspired experiment of Fez -- Being Born and on to the religious overtunes of Moment of Surrender, there is no shortage of very fine moments here. Next year, the band are planning a sister release, provisionally titled Songs of Ascent, so U2 haters won't be able to escape them just yet.
5 Bell X1 Blue Lights on the Runway (Bellyup Records)
I've liked this album more and more as the year went on, mainly thanks to the fact that at least half its songs took up permanent residence in my brain. Once again, Paul Noonan, Dominic Philips and Dave Geraghty (left) ransacked some of their favourite bands for sonic inspiration. The Great Defector unashamedly rips off Talking Heads, while Light Catches Your Face is the sort of Snow Patrol-like tune it's okay to like. None of that excuses the awfulness of One-Stringed Harp, however. Sample lyric: "You're just picking the knickers from your arse/ Like you're playing a one-stringed harp."
6 Julie Feeney Pages (Mittins)
The winner of the first Choice Music Prize, Feeney took her time in releasing a follow-up album. It was time well spent -- Pages is as kooky and esoteric as her debut was and once more the Galwegian played virtually all the instrumentation herself and designed the artwork. She's a one-woman cottage industry. With no major label to kow-tow to, Feeney lets her imagination run riot -- Impossibly Beautiful is typical of the skewed pop present. She may like to throw avant garde flourishes into the mix, but Feeney has a commercial heart too. That said, she's likely to polarise opinion more than any other name on this list.
7 The Duckworth Lewis Method The Duckworth Lewis Method (Setanta)
It took two Irishmen -- Neil Hannon of Divine Comedy fame and Thomas Walsh of Pugwash (below) -- to make the definitive album on that most quintessential of English pursuits, cricket. While fans of the bat and ball game will find the songs especially engaging, even avowed sports haters are likely to be charmed by the quality of the songwriting from two of the masters of the art. The Age of Revolution is a retro-pop delight, while Jiggery Pokery is typical of the album's sense of fun.
8 Adrian Crowley Season of the Sparks (Tin Angel Records)
Galway's Adrian Crowley released the best Irish album of 2007, and while this fifth long player doesn't come close to the mastery of Long Distance Swimmer, there's plenty of evidence here to support the view that he is a national treasure. The best Irish lyricist of his generation, Crowley's talents are borne out on songs like The Wishing Seat and The Beekeeper's Wife -- works that sound like Paul Durcan poems put to music. Those who like their music understated really should investigate this man's work.
9 The Swell Season Strict Joy (Anti Records)
Glen Hansard toiled with The Frames for years and barely made an impression. With Marketa Irglova (above) and the help of the low-budget film Once, he has become a bona fide star abroad. A break-up album, this collection pulls on the heartstrings even more then the first Swell Season album did. Even those who are allergic to the Frames -- and plenty are, believe me -- could find lots to appreciate here. Hansard's songwriting is always at its best when it's subdued and introspective. For those who loved the film, this is an essential Christmas present.
10 Laura Izibor Let the Truth Be Told (Warner Bros)
The Dubliner has been around for a long time, but she's had to bide her time -- such is the lot of being signed to a major label. Let the Truth be Told is an impressive statement of intent and Izibor's powerful voice is a thing of beauty. There are fine songs here -- one of them soundtracks a ubiquitous TV advert -- and the album hangs together very well. If she can keep her eye on the ball and come up with cracking tunes, Izibor could be Ireland's biggest export in the next decade.