It’s been a bit quiet on here lately, so in an attempt to get myself back on the blog-wagon I’m going to jump on the end-of-year list compilation train and hope it carries me into a brave new world where my thoughts are no longer imprisoned in my mind.
To begin, I thought I’d talk about music I enjoyed last year. Couldn’t quite decide on the best way to do this – best albums of 2010? Best gigs of 2010? Ever on the fence, I’ve settled for a hybrid I’m calling my Top 5 Bands of 2010, assessing my experience of the year in music in a single swoop. All the bands I’ve chosen had albums released this year and toured somewhere I was able to see them.
5. Band of Horses
Despite hearing and loving Band of Horses song The Funeral in various places (maybe most notably this video of Danny MacAskill biking round Edinburgh) it was only in 2010 that I properly gave them my attention. Their album Infinite Arms was released this year – an enjoyable slice of Americana showcasing both sides of their sound from the upbeat, poppy tracks like Dilly and Factory to the more soft and sombre numbers like Evening Kitchen and For Annabel. While there’s nothing here that can quite hold a candle to tracks from their previous albums (like The Funeral, Is There A Ghost and No One’s Gonna Love You) it’s a solid album. The main reason they made this list is that I was able to see them this summer supporting Snow Patrol in a gig in my home town Bangor, the biggest gig in Northern Ireland’s history. While Band of Horses were undeniably and expectedly upstaged by the home-coming Lightbody & co, they played a sweet, albeit somewhat subdued, set. It was awesome to watch a band I really love playing on a stage above a spot in the park where I used to chuck a Frisbee around with my mates. The alliteratively named Ben Bridwell seemed to have a sweet nature that didn’t really vibe with his mountain-man beard and tattoos, but any perceived contradictions were forgiven when his band began to play.
4. Beach House
Arguably the best thing to come out of Baltimore since The Wire, Beach House are a two piece indie outfit making atmospheric pop gems. I saw them twice this year, first supporting Grizzly Bear at the Queen’s Hall Edinburgh and then again at the Primavera Sound festival in Barcelona. I hadn’t really heard of them before the Grizzly Bear gig, but by the time Primavera rolled round I was in love with their album Teen Dream. This is not to be confused with the similarly named Katy Perry album Teenage Dream – while the hooks are not quite as infectious as those of Ms. Perry, front-woman Victoria Legrand is every bit as alluring and her voice much more memorable. They seemed to rise to playing a festival crowd much better than Grizzly Bear themselves did, Legrand’s piercing vocals easily drifting across the Parc del Forum. It’s still on my to-do list to explore their back catalogue, but with tracks like Zebra, Walk In The Park and Take Care, there are plenty of reasons to keep revisiting Teen Dream.
3. LCD Soundsystem
My first trip to Glasgow’s Barrowlands was certainly a euphoric one (and it’s with some regret that my second visit, a week later, to see Pavement’s reunion tour was just ousted from this top 5). There’s something liberating about being at a dancier gig, where the crowd allow themselves to be more animated than the indie-staple foot-taps and head-nods. Hearing Tribulations, All My Friends and Someone Great live in this atmosphere was truly amazing. I’m not sure whether I expected just to see James Murphy alone on stage behind some decks, but the full-band set-up was a pleasant surprise, and the musicianship on display by Murphy and his collaborators was impressive. The man just oozes cool, and his coolness would continue to drip into my life in 2010 through album This Is Happening and his work on the soundtrack for the film Greenberg. An artist that just seems to keep getting better, I hope this is not (as had been rumoured) the last LCD Soundsystem record – you have so much more to give, James!
Narrowly winning this round in the war of the Murphy’s, Paul Murphy of Wintersleep/Postdata! Wintersleep are a Canadian band I started listening to a few years ago, but it’s fair to say my interest had waned in recent times. Then I discovered the lead singer’s side-project Postdata were supporting David Bazan on his UK tour, which I caught at the Captain’s Rest in Glasgow. This was one of my gigs of the year, mainly because of my unhealthy love for Bazan, for his rich voice and his honest musings on life and religion. Postdata sounded great as well, melancholic but with enough melody to not completely kill the mood. The album provided a sombre sound-track for my commute to work on many wintery mornings in early 2010, and inspired me to revisit Wintersleep, and pick up their latest two albums Welcome The Night Sky and New Inheritors. It was a timely move, as they returned to the Captain’s Rest in their own right in September and played one of the most enjoyable gigs I have ever seen. The sound was pitch-perfect and their songs seemed even more alive and unpredictable on stage than on CD.
1. Deerhunter/Atlas Sound
I’ve already mentioned Primavera Sound, an amazing festival I went to in May. I think my favourite performance there was, surprisingly, an artist called Atlas Sound who I’d only listened to for the first time a few weeks before the festival. I bought their 2009 album Logos to gear myself up for the festival, and songs like Walkabout and Attic Lights got me excited about seeing them live. There’s plenty of layers and sounds in their music, so I was surprised when one man with an acoustic guitar, harmonica and some pedals took the stage. Bradford Cox doesn’t exactly cut a dominating figure, but I was blown away by his set. For an idea of what it was like, this set of videos from Pitchfork’s Cemetery Gates series is probably a good place to start. It was only speaking afterwards that I realised he was also in the Deerhunter, a band I’d heard of but not listened to. I’ve just picked up their latest album Halcyon Digest and was spinning it lots in the car while I was home over Christmas – phenomenal. I love their mixture of ambient noisiness and classic pop melodies. Their upcoming gig at Oran Mor in March is probably my most-anticipated of 2011.