top noises of 2010

3×5=2010

unlike all those charlatans who reeled out their ‘best of’ lists in early december, i’m so committed to accurately rating 2010’s best music that i’ve waited until the end of the year to total up my votes. okay, that’s not quite true. i just didn’t get a chance to do this earlier.

never mind. as 2010 ends, join me in a celebration of the finest noise this year had to offer.

my choices are biased, limited, and some artists appear more than once. so what? shouldn’t the year’s best albums also carry the finest songs?

below are the artists that made me wheel the volume on my iPod way too loud on a regular basis this year.

hope you like my choices. feel free to tell me who i’ve missed. after all, 2010’s not over yet.

oh. one more thing:

PLAY LOUD.

re-issues etc:

1) special moves – mogwai

“(quiet) / (loud) / (quiet) / (really fucking LOUD) / (quiet).”

okay, this isn’t a re-issue but, for me, this live album plays like an ear-ringing greatest hits set, and is well-deserving of its no.1 spot.

mogwai, for over a decade now, have been offering up the most atmospheric instrumentals you could ever wish to hear. delicate heartbreakers that tear grown men to tears. hard-rocking behemoths that build to vicious climaxes. their albums are all solid (especially debut young team and the hawk is howling), but – for me – special moves is now their essential purchase.

mogwai have always sounded stronger on stage than on record so, in ways, special moves (accompanied by the live film burning) is an easy win for them: they’re in their element, controlling chaos; a band mature enough to intuitively feed off each other. and then there are the songs. beautiful, blistering songs: ‘like herod’. ‘mogwai: fear satan’. ‘hunted by a freak’. the almost unbearably sad ‘i’m jim morrison, i’m dead’. and ‘scotland’s shame‘, the inspiration for my story, ‘i think the sun is shining‘, and the track i feel best conveys the band’s emotional power.

what else can i say? there’s only one better way to hear mogwai than listening to special moves: go see ’em live. your heart will thank you, if not your ears.

2) the wonderful and frightening world of… – the fall

“where’s the lay of the laaaand, my son? / what’s the lay of the laaaand, my son? / BOOM!”

between 1984-89, the fall released some of their best-loved and (by their standards) most commercially accessible albums on beggars banquet. but it’s only now that the label has started re-releasing these classics, starting with 1984’s odd and awesome the wonderful and frightening world of… – from here on in referred to as twafwo because, frankly, life’s too short.

and what a re-issue it is. it’s a well-known fact that, unless you’re a musician, music critic or professional comedian, the chances are that the fall do not rule your world. but, for those who can’t get enough of mark e. smith’s gnarl ‘n’ noise, twafwo’s re-release is an aural wet dream. if such a thing exists.

a perverted pop record, twafwo swings schizophrenically from sugar-coated melodies to belligerent rock riffs and is full of songs most bands would give their drummer’s right arm for: opener, ‘lay of the land’ is exhilarating, especially in its furious final minute. elsewhere, there’s the stooges-stealing ‘elves’, the smart and smarting ‘slang king’ and my highlight, ‘disney’s dream debased‘, which influenced a story of mine that appears in pop fiction. but, here, there’s more: the poppier contemporary singles, including ‘oh! brother’, ‘c.r.e.e.p.’ and ‘no bulbs’, an eight minute rush of joy it’s taken me until now to fully appreciate. a wealth of demos, radio sessions, live tracks – many of which threaten to eclipse their originals – and a book (not a mere booklet) that’s worth the price of the box set alone.

four cds of joy…for some. statistics released today reveal that divorce proceedings have so far been instigated by fourteen long-suffering wives of fall fans, due to the distracting nature of this box of treasures…and it was only released in october. who knows how many more fall obsessives will lose their spouses when this – the true highlight of 2011 – comes out…

3) kill city – iggy pop & james williamson

“johanna / johanna / i hate ya baby / ‘cos you’re the one i love.”

as an incurable iggy fanatic, this feels like the perfect opportunity to say: fuck those ads. so the godfather of punk traded his nihilistic ways for bloated corporate sponsorship. who cares? this is the man who had to wait over twenty years to reap the financial benefits for creating some of the most influential rock music ever. he may be a legend now, but life wasn’t always so swell for mr. james osterberg. he’s earned the right to take it easy.

and kill city is a brilliant reminder of just how dark things got for iggy in 1975. ditched after the commercial car crash that was raw power (oh! see below), skinted by disastrous sales of previous stooges albums, stuck in a mental hospital and strung out on enough wrongness to kill a rhino, let alone a lesser man, iggy teamed up with stooges guitarist james williamson…and somehow created the rock ‘n’ roll wreckage that is kill city. closer to the stones than the stooges, the album marks a transitional stage in pop’s career – away from the noise and delirium of the past, and closer to the tuneful pop ‘n’ roll of future solo outings.

kill city conveys exactly the outsider status iggy and his thuggish band-mate occupied at the time of recording; the title track and ‘beyond the law’ are desperate, dirty, yet defiant, ‘i got nothing’ is as brutal as a ballad gets and, best of all, the screaming sax-soaked ‘johanna’ serves up lust, addiction and frustration in true blues style.

but what really makes kill city stand out is that it is a true re-issue. due to the circumstances surrounding its creation, kill city never sounded much better than demo quality first time round. now, this loving overhaul ensures it hits the ears like a brand new recording. guitar lines, horns, vocals, everything is clear.

a joyful rediscovery, kill city is the sound of the underdog, still many years away from being on top of his world.

4) raw power – iggy and the stooges

“i’m a street-walking cheetah / with a heartful of napalm.”

iggy? again? damn right. 2010 was a good year for james osterberg. kill city came out without fanfare. but raw power‘s re-issue in april was seen as cause for celebration by every right-thinking rock fan because…well, because it rocks, of course. and because it chimed perfectly with iggy and his stooges’ awe-inspiring live recreation of the album in all its vicious glory on tour .

1973’s raw power was a classic, full of fierce anthems such as ‘search and destroy’, ‘gimme danger’ and the title track, and its re-release acts as a timely reminder of how influential iggy and his crew’s delirious noise really was. it’s also a curious chapter in the stooges history. in my opinion, the album doesn’t quite match up to its two peerless predecessors, the stooges and fun house; it sounds like the work of a different band because, in ways, it is. ron asheton is relegated to bass, and james williamson takes over on guitar. as a result, the stooges’ psychedelic psycho blues – all wah-wah, and freeform fuzz – now becomes a frenzied attack, with williamson’s screaming guitar egging iggy over the edge, especially on the closing ‘death trip’. this is an album with every needle in the red. it’s madly, badly produced by david bowie, but the discordant distortion works, and this remaster is a handy reminder that one of the best rock albums ever recorded was made by – and for – lunatics.

5) rated rx – queens of the stone age

“nicotine valium vicodin marijuana ecstasy and alcohol…c-c-c-c-coCAINE!”

queens 0f the stone age may have moved on to better albums, but their second album, rated r, arguably held the best tunes: ‘the lost art of keeping a secret’, ‘in the fade’ and ‘auto-pilot’ all hit the spot, whilst opener ‘feel good hit of the summer’ is perhaps the best party song ever; an almost offensively exciting rush of wrongness.

heavy but never heavy metal, rated r was, on its release ten or so years ago, a fantastic, hard-hitting monster, and qotsa – or, rather, main man josh homme – has rarely disappointed since.

this re-issue, though, is enjoyable for that rarest of reasons: the extras. yes, the album still sounds phenomenal, but it doesn’t feel like that ancient a record, and the remaster offers little to flesh out the original. rated rx, however, is still essential as it proves that there must have been something extra-special spiked into qotsa’s chemicals when they made rated r, as many of the bonus tracks here (b-sides alongside their 2000 reading show) are at least the equal of the album’s cuts: ‘ode to clarissa’ is a screaming beast of a track, ‘born to hula’ is another of the epic sprawls qotsa do so well, and – best of all – ‘never say never‘ is a glorious cover of the romeo void new-wave classic that near outdoes the original. click those links. you’ll see what i mean.

rated r. fuckin’ a.

bubbling under:

exile on main st. – the rolling stones

orange – the jon spencer blues explosion

songs:

1) ‘home’ – lcd soundsystem

“if you’re afraid of what you need / look around you / you’re surrounded / it won’t get any better.”

an amazing sucker-punch of a song from one of the best bands on the planet. i’m exaggerating? take another listen.

personally, i’ve not heard anything as emotive as ‘home’ this year. somehow euphoric and mournful at the same time, the song makes you want to dance and celebrate the future yet yearn for the past. it’s the sound of the midpoint between coming up and coming down; the realisation that it’s time to head home – as the accompanying video brilliantly suggests. james murphy – always an underrated lyricist – is in his prime here, and the tune is…well, beautiful. reminiscent of talking heads and blondie, retro yet essential. disco, but not as you know it.

it’s the last song on this is happening, and it has to be. if the rumours are to be believed, murphy’s putting the band to sleep. recent glorious gigs make me doubt this is the case but, if so, what better way to sign off than with ‘home’? the only mystery to me is that the song hasn’t garnered more attention; album reviews barely mentioned it. it deserves better.

‘home’ could be lcd’s swansong; a classic to stir the head and the heart, to inspire reflection and, perhaps, a tear or three. after all, the party has to end sometime.

2) ‘bury pts. 1 + 3’ – the fall

http://soundcloud.com/musicmule/the-fall-bury-pts-1-3

“i…said…IF / (i’m not from bury) / i’m from bury.”

one of the songs of 2010, for sheer audacity alone. mark e. smith has been bullying his musicians for years into making similar sounds to those (eventually) heard on ‘bury’, but only he would display the chutzpah and…fuck it, the genius to take something familiar and coax it into sounding new, strange, and essential.

non-fall fans will n0t be converted by this stand-out track from your future our clutter: ‘bury’ begins, seemingly, underwater. the lowest production values possible, sub-bootleg quality, near-obliterate m. e. s.’s latest rant and the bare-bones tune for almost two disorientating minutes. then, as if the master tape has been given a good clean, the song sharpens up. you realise something special is trying to break out. finally, a minute later, comes the final ‘wipe’; the tune – no longer buried – breaks out in all its glory.

and what do you get, once the dust has been wiped away? smith’s hilarious take on poor bury – here some kind of hell that can’t be avoided or denied – and a swipe at an uncut journalist. that juggernaut rhythm section. elena’s too-cool backing vocals…and riff of the year. okay, you have to wait until halfway through the song to hear it…but i’ll gladly wait three minutes for moment of the year.

3) ‘born free’ – m.i.a.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VE9rUHDXRFI

(video can’t be embedded – follow the link, it’s worth it)

“oh lord, wherever you are / come out, wherever you are / cos. i. was. borrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrn FREE!”

maya was, for me, a disappointing album, but it still boasted ‘born free’ – one of 2010’s boldest, loudest tunes. a fierce battle-cry from an artist who can afford to – and refuses to – take it easy.

the video’s extreme, and not recommended for those of a ginger disposition. it’s message is pretty obvious, so i won’t go into it here. but it’s important that the excellent visuals don’t distract from the noise m.i.a.’s making. whether heard as this extended version or as the edited single, ‘born free’ is a rush. the intro, building in intensity until m.i.a. lets it all out with a ‘WOO!’ is perfect. plus there’s great use of suicide’s ‘ghost rider‘ throughout, lending a krautrock feel that’s almost overshadowed by the distorted vocals and crashing drums. it’s a brash, brazen, brilliant song. it’s not for everyone. thank fuck.

4) ‘mickey mouse and the goodbye man’ – grinderman

“i was mickey mouse / he was the big…bad…woooooooooooooooooooooooooolf!”

grinderman 2 proved that nick cave is just as happy getting all neanderthal as he is crooning with his bad seeds, and nowhere is this clearer than on the album’s opening track. a deceptively gentle, considered opening soon makes way for appropriately grinding, brooding blues. the usual cave concerns are wittily laid out before us, but the real fun is to be heard when he and warren ellis let it all out. to use a technical term, ‘mickey mouse and the goodbye man’ rocks.

grizzly guitars up to no good, drums beaten to within an inch of their despicable lives, primal noise, comedy dark and deviant – what a juggernaut of a tune.

ah-WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

5) ‘infinity guitars’ – sleigh bells

‘dumb whores / best friends / infinity guitars / go ‘head.’

the only decent song radio 1 (somehow) playlisted this year. i should know; i have to listen to the bastard station at work, and this beautiful burst of crunchiness was the only thing that stopped me hunting down and eviscerating chris moyles…though if i did decide to do that, i think i’d choose ‘infinity guitars’ as my bloody soundtrack.

from their fun-filled album, treats, ‘infinity guitars’ is almost too exciting. reminiscent of the white stripes’ back-to-basic blues, the song is deceptively well-formed. handclaps. an addictive guitar riff. alexis krauss’s bad-ass vocals…and, then, that moment. the crunch. the explosions. what can i say? ‘infinity guitars’ – from 2:03 onwards – is exactly what i’d want to hear ringing in my ears if i was about to take down a gang boss. i’m not planning to but…ah, forget it.

disclaimer: my vote has nothing to do with the video. nothing to do with krauss’s swagger. nothing to do with those cheerleaders. nothing.

bubbling under:

‘sprawl ii’ – arcade fire

‘desire lines’ – deerhunter

‘lost my girl’ – paris suit yourself

albums:

1) your future our clutter – the fall

“you don’t deserve rock ‘n’ roll.”

the fall’s 28th studio album. frankly, mark e. smith has no right to be making music as good as this at this late stage. but he is, and that’s why your future our clutter is my album of the year.

for fall fans, xmas arrived way back in april. the album didn’t mark a ‘return to form’, as the fall – in their solid current line-up – have been on form for a good while now. but i’m not sure anyone expected anything as good as this. everyone knows m.e.s. runs the show, but rarely is his leadership as obvious – and as beneficial – as on your future our clutter.

opener ‘o.f.y.c. showcase’ kicks things off, and it really does feel like a showcase, smith driving his band on to demonstrate just how tight and ruthless they can be. the music builds and builds, and rarely flags throughout the album, as smith delivers some of his finest lyrics. betrayal, confusion, mortality are his themes, yet he genuinely sounds like he’s having fun. as if he knows how great he and his band are right now. tracks like ‘hot cake’ and ‘slippy floor’ may feel repetitive but, in true fall style, they build up serious, satisfying momentum. and, then, to end it all, there’s ‘weather report 2’. like nothing the fall have done before, it’s a real achievement; poignant, gentle, then sinister and – finally – resigned. that last intake of breath sends shivers down the spine.

we hang off his every word. and so we should.

2) this is happening – lcd soundsystem

“drunk girls / know that love is an astronaut / it comes back, but it’s never the same.”

over three albums, james murphy’s lcd soundsystem have redefined what dance music can do within a rock framework and – as a result – have become one of the essential bands of our time. their early material set out their too-cool agenda, whilst second album sound of silver confirmed them as far more than a one-dance-move pony, with heart-warming yet heart-rending beauties ‘all my friends’ and ‘new york, i love you’. and, though others may argue otherwise, i think it’s testament to this is happening’s impact that it could be their best yet.

it lacks obvious ‘hits’ / crowd-pleasers – even the raucous ‘drunk girls’ sounds unconventional, like bowie on alcopops rather than cocaine – but repeated listens pay off, and make clear that this (final?) lcd album is the one where the combination of murphy’s poignant lyrics and his band’s urgent, often uplifting, music really hits the spot.

aside from one of 2010’s best videos (above), this is happening also features intro of the year, in my humble opinion. ‘dance yrself clean‘ spends three minutes in the corner – just a quiet murphy and quieter drums – before the volume slams in, and the politely melancholy song you thought you were hearing mutates into a dance monster. ‘one touch’ and ‘all i want’ are similarly impressive, but it’s the final gorgeous flourish of ‘home’ which really cements the album’s status as a classic. hopefully we’ll hear more from lcd soundsystem. but it’s difficult to believe they’ll top this.

3) grinderman 2 – grinderman

“y’know, my baby calls me the loch ness monster / two great big humps and then i’m gone…”

ladies and gentleman, the lyric of 2010. you can try and correct me but, of course, you’ll be wrong. it seems like a throwaway line, tucked in amongst a swirl of vicious noise towards the end of ‘worm tamer’, but it sums up everything that’s great about grinderman: there’s sex. there’s humour. there’s self-deprecation. that creeping mid-life frustration which can only be assuaged by thrashing those guitars really fucking loud.

the eponymous debut featured grinderman’s filth-obsessed calling-cards – ‘get it on’ and ‘no pussy blues’ – but i’d argue that the follow-up is, as an album, more successful. it’s obvious that cave, ellis, casey and sclavunos use grinderman as an outlet for a blues more primal and desperate than they’d dare to play these days with the bad seeds…but who cares? grinderman 2 is a fantastic album simply because it’s clear how much fun they’re having being dirty old men. ‘heathen child’ is no classic, but the video‘s hilarious. ‘when my baby comes’ is seven minutes of ever-building tension then release, replete with guitar work perfect for the next apocalypse. and closer, ‘bellringer blues’, is just as awe-inspiring; all howling backflip guitars and vocals from satan’s own choir.

grinderman 2 sounds like the end of the world. what an album to hear as the lift goes down.

4) halcyon digest – deerhunter

“when you were young / and your excitement showed / but as time goes by / is it outgrown?”

i’d barely heard of deerhunter before i saw them at all tomorrow’s parties festival earlier this year. to say they made an impact would be an understatement. a band brimming with beautiful songs, the midpoint between psychedelic calm and chaos, it seems inevitable they’ll become bigger as time goes on. halcyon digest may not quite hit the heights of microcastle (check out ‘twilight at carbon lake‘ if you fancy falling in love), but it is a gorgeous album – something that critics have slowly acknowledged. ‘desire lines’ is, for me, the standout track; its first half brilliantly displays what deerhunter do best: fine melodies wrapped like cotton wool around lushly melancholic lyrics…but then it goes off elsewhere. it builds. and builds. and builds. and breaks hearts as it soars. it’s a ‘no.13 baby‘ for our times. elsewhere, ‘revival’, ‘memory boy’ and ‘coronado’ offer authentic psychedelic pop.

and then there’s ‘helicopter‘, trip-hop beats and a woozyvocal. “now they are through with me,” bradford cox sings on this stirring single, based on a real event, but you’ll have to read halcyon digest’s liner notes to understand what ‘helicopter’ is really about, to understand why those six words are the saddest to be sung this year.

5) root for ruin – les savy fav

“there’s a brass band playing while i’m / selling my soul to satan.”

okay, root for ruin doesn’t quite convey the sheer…event that is les savy fav live. but, then, what could? tim harrington may well be the best frontman since iggy; a tasmanian devil of a singer, flinging sweat and clothing around until he breaks down all barriers between the stage and the moshpit. want to see a bearded overweight man in yellow underpants being revered like jesus? course you do. see les savy fav live.

as for the album? it’s fun from start to finish; full-octane post-punk belters, with the dial almost always in the red. if anything, root for ruin is more polished than previous efforts, but suffers zero as a result. ‘dirty knails’, ‘high and unhinged’ and ‘excess energies’ all live up to their titles, ‘lips n’ stuff’ is a skewed romantic stab at unrequited love between friends, whilst closer, ‘clear spirits’, is the sound of a post-party comedown.

all hail the sweaty man in yellow y-fronts; he and his band deserve your love.

bubbling under:

‘treats’ – sleigh bells

‘the suburbs’ – arcade fire

‘crystal castles ii’ – crystal castles

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