ELLIOTT KEENE

Albums of 2010: Top 5

Posted on: December 23, 2010

The idea of blogging is that it’s a personal reflection, and that is exactly what this list is – regardless of what’s in the charts and how commercially and receptively successful these 5 albums have been, this run down is compiled of my personal top listens that the past year offered:

5. Hurts – Happiness

Although hotly tipped in 2010 – synthpop duo Hurts didn’t strike the UK scene commercially perhaps as well as they deserved to and have found greater success across Europe. Their debut ‘Happiness‘ is everything I had expected – pure pop, with a melancholic undertone that pulls at emotions of sorrow, loss and love. With their sharp suits and slicked hair, the duo are more Vogue Hommes than Smash Hits – a welcome contrast to the happy snappy techno-coloured pop as of late.

'Happiness' album cover

Their 80’s inspired sound may at first seem all doom & gloom, with lines such as “stay with me, don’t leave me with the medicine” on ‘Evelyn‘ – but the band themselves state it’s an album about stories of hope. Far from the La Roux synthpop of today, ‘Happiness’ is a melodramatic and elegant record that captures the heavily emotional and gothic feel of the 80’s New Romantic era. Take a listen to my favourite track ‘Illuminated‘ below – a soft ballad with an epic chorus as a silver lining to their shady sound.

  • Follow Hurts on Twitter, visit their Website, or preview all tracks on the album on LastFM here.

4. Erik Hassle – Pieces

'Pieces' album cover

Swedish singer-songwriter Erik Hassle has quite simply one of the nicest acoustic voices I have ever heard. Compiled of 15-or-so love songs, his debut ‘Pieces‘ may be too ‘drippy’ for critics to acknowledge his raw talents – often being described as too polished. However, Hassle’s emotive voice radiates through the gloss in my opinion – an album stacked with well written and produced songs that you can’t help but sing along to. The insanely catchy ‘Hurtful‘ is a melodic gem and a definite stand out (listen below) whilst ‘The Thanks I Get‘ is wispy and piano led, tracks such as ‘Bump In The Road‘ are a more upbeat affair, highlighting Hassle’s atmospheric vocals and commendable songwriting talent.

3. Vampire Weekend – Contra

The classic task of following up a successful first album (in particular a Gold certified widely-praised smash) was done with brilliance by Vampire Weekend in early 2010. The follow up to their debut titled ‘Contra‘ finds new inventive ways of doing what they did before, without losing the old charms. The New York four piece have always offered a little more than your standard indie rock – who else could carry off African rhythms and wood instruments diced with dance hall beats and Californian punk, whilst still sounding utterly fresh?

'Contra' album cover

‘Contra’ is even fresher,  jubilantly wilder and certainly more experimental than its predecessor, with fewer guitars but more drum pounds and electronic percussions. The buoyant and chirpy ‘Holiday‘ and tounge twisting auto-tuned ‘California English‘ (listen below) demonstrate the wit and charm they have become known for, whilst ‘Diplomat’s Son‘ mashes up reggae with a 1980’s arcade-game styled bleeps and hypnotic samples from M.I.A’s ‘Hussle’. My personal favourite ‘Run‘ is a playful climax of wavering vocals and ceremonial clarinets, with a bouncy keyboard stummer. What may be hard to grasp at first develops over several listens – an album that manages to conjure up a pop-friendly yet high-brow and almost magical sound, fortifying VW as one of the world’s most unique bands of the moment.

2. Marina and the Diamonds – The Family Jewells

Welch singer-songwriter Marina Diamondis calls herself a ‘DIY musician’ to describe her sound as an alternative to mainstream indie-pop. The dizzy vocals and melodic confessions on her debut ‘The Family Jewels‘ create something exceptionally refreshing and fun in its wonky ways. The collection of tracks are a social commentary of a teenage/twenty-something lifestyle, with lines such as ‘Hollywood infected your brain’ and ‘girls are never meant to fight dirty or look a day past thirty’ which slate stereotypes in quite an aggressive but humourous way. Which is obviously all too much for Marina, as she tells us how much of an ‘Outsider‘ she is when she’s ‘feeling like a loser, sitting on the outside observing the fun’.

'The Family Jewels' cover

Other notable lyrics include ‘drinking champaign meant for a wedding’ from the witty chanting pop track titled ‘Shampain‘ which is reminiscent of a rebellious Debbie Harry type energy, whilst the cartoonish dramatics of ‘Oh No!’ are self reflective of her gradual rise to fame that warns ‘if you are not very careful your possessions will posses you’. The lyrical meanings mirror the entire feeling you get from this album – a young talent with a fanatical tendency to try different sounds and take a bite from each cake – from syrupy sweet with perfect pop ‘Hermit the Frog‘ to peculiar and a little bitter with the attitude of ‘Rootless‘. Marina herself sarcastically claimed that “I probably have a bit of a different sound because I don’t really know what I’m doing”.

‘The Family Jewels’ is a variety of instruments, wails, shrieks and other theatrical elements that are generally very enjoyable – but open to obvious comparisons to Kate Bush in regards to vocal ‘kookiness’. Other influences may stem from the likes of Lily Allen with her speak-singing style and casual chatter, whilst echoing the animated howls of Florench and the Machine. My favourite track Mowgli’s Road is an eccentric blend of operatic vocals and bizarre references to cutlery and goblin noises, something of the perfect soundtrack to the Mad-hatters tea party (listen below). Variety is the word here– something that is bound to split opinion, but the album is undeniably a bright sounding triumph of a debut that has cemented Marina and her diamonds as a promising act, expected to venture out into further musical madness in her follow-up album due October 2011.

1. The XX- xx

When I first heard The XX, I was a bit taken back – not knowing what to make of their utterly unmatched sound of delicate instruments and soothing voices that aren’t vocally strong my any means. With curiosity came repeated listens and then I just fell in love with the genius of this debut album, and could not agree more with the decision to award it the prestigious 2010 Mercury Prize. The London trio have created a minimalist space of relaxing melodies that sound as if they were recorded in the night – which, in fact they were, within the confines of a small garage.

'XX' album cover

XX‘ has stood up to much of it’s critical acclaim, an innovative piece of work layered with tracks that merge into one, yet with the ability to stand on their own. What I find striking is the lack of powerful vocals or variety of instruments – with just drums, bass, keys and eerie voices, The XX ooze sleek and whispery brilliance that is unique to say the least. Carefully produced tracks ‘Shelter‘ and ‘Islands‘ are aching love songs with themes of devotion and desire – formulated of effortless grooves and lyrics such as ‘I am yours now, so now I don’t ever have to leave’. This combined with gentle twangs and hip-hop beats leaves an intimately soft and smokey atmosphere between male and female vocals.

It’s a hard choice but ‘Night Time‘ (below) has to be my highlight, as it sums up the mood and emotion of ‘XX’, rolling between slow-paced simplistic verses and an up-beat chorus. This album has proved that stripped back and low-key rhythms can be done so well that it becomes rich – leaving a contrast between the dreamy sophisticated comfort and the basic melancholy comedown. My definite favourite and most recommended listen of the past 12 months.

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3 Responses to "Albums of 2010: Top 5"

I LOVE the XX too! And a bit of Marina! Would also like to compliment you on your blog layout, I really like it! Keep up your Blogging adventures, they are wonderful!

Really good reviews!
hopefully some will make it to the isle of wight this year!

Loving this blog, very professional and the range of videos, pictures and texts makes for good variety.

Very good job

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