Tuesday 21 December 2010

Quiff Pro 'Fro's Albums of the Year 2010

Here we are then – it’s the end of the year, and it turns out 2010 has been another great one. Seeing as everyone and their mum is putting together their top albums of the year, so have we at Quiff Pro ‘Fro. There’s not much point in waffling on here, so let’s skip straight the point: these are all amazing albums, and if any passed you by this year, we highly recommend you give them a spin in 2011. For us, they were the most interesting, or unexpected, or notable albums of the year, so enjoy, and do let us know in the comments if you agree, disagree and what your favourites were this year. Before we get underway, some honourable mentions for those that didn't quite make the list:

  • Pulled Apart By Horses - Pulled Apart By Horses
  • Dinosaur Pile-Up - Growing Pains
  • Frightened Rabbit - The Winter of Mixed Drinks
  • Gaslight Anthem - American Slang
  • Kate Nash - My Best Friend Is You
  • Yellow Ostrich - The Mistress
  • Weezer - Hurley

Arcade Fire - The Suburbs

Arcade Fire’s latest work rode its tidal wave of hype like a pro (unlike Neon Bible, which got sucked under by the undercurrent of first album Funeral). The album may be a scathing criticism of Arcade Fire’s own fanbase, but that doesn’t seem to have bothered anyone. It’s another step towards world domination by a band only just beginning to dry off after being drenched with hype (I promise that’s the end of the marine metaphor).

It’s difficult to identify exactly what qualities set Arcade Fire so far above their peers. Is it the strength of their songwriting? The cryptic yet evocative lyrics? Their iconic, epic sound? Régine Chassagne’s sexy French-Canadianvoice? It’s all of these things, but The Suburbs somehow becomes more than just the sum of its parts.

If any criticism could be levelled at The Suburbs, it’s that it’s just a bit too long – but with tracks like ‘Rococo’, ‘Modern Man’ and ‘Ready to Start’, each deserving of Indie Anthem status, who cares? It’s the sort of album that brings back memories of teenage years and the highs and lows of youth and growing up, all while pushing the boundaries of rock music. - Elliot

Caitlin Rose – Own Side Now

When you’re an artist who hails from Nashville, Tennessee, you’ve got a heck of a lot of musical heritage to live up to. Johnny Cash, Jimi Hendrix and, er, Shania Twain, are but a few of the legends of the city, infamous for its country music. So when you’re just 23 years old and you’re being lauded as ‘the next big thing outta Nashville’, you’d better put out a bloody impressive record.

Well, Caitlin Rose has done just that with Own Side Now. Blending folk and country influences into a sound that is at once both contemporary and heavily referential to the classics, Rose’s voice manages to be vulnerable and soft, yet at times startlingly powerful, with a breathtaking, crisp clarity. From the gorgeous balladry of ‘Own Side’, to the breezy summer melody of ‘Spare Me’, and the fantastically bluesy ‘For The Rabbits’, Own Side Now is brimming with beautiful guitars, amazing vocals and simple, honest song writing in a truly impressive debut.

Album highlight ‘Things Change’ is a heartbreaking epic with wonderfully sorrowful lyrics that more than justifies any hype laid upon the shoulders of this amazing new talent. If Caitlin’s on her Own Side Now, it’s high time for we join her. - Ben

[Caitlin Rose - Own Side Now on Spotify]

Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles (II)

It’s all too easy to be cynical about Crystal Castles. A couple of kids who dress in black, trash the stage, scream into the microphone and recycle 90s rave beats? No no no. Crystal Castles are the real deal, the mutant offspring of noise-rock and experimental electronic music; a post-apocalyptic pop music for a generation living up to the media’s stereotypes of anarchistic depravity. It’s the Thom Yorke outlook on life, with added violence issues.

It’s no surprise then that Crystal Castles are just about the only band that has escaped the nu-rave ghetto. Crystal Castles, a second self-titled album, is in many ways more of the same: distorted vocals, bizarre sounds and a dark, brooding atmosphere throughout. There’s development too, such as the acoustic guitar-based (!) ‘Teach Me How To Swallow’, or the poptastic ‘Not In Love’ (later made even more accessible by Robert Smith, of all people).

For fans of jumping around in big sweaty mosh pits, the classic Castles style can still be found in the likes of ‘Baptism’ and ‘Fainting Spells’. The album only gets really weird on the final track, ‘I Am Made Of Chalk’, which dispels with a verse/chorus structure and sounds like Alice Glass drowning herself in an acid (house) bath. Here’s hoping for yet more madness in Crystal Castles III. - Elliot

[Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles (II) on Spotify]

Everything Everything – Man Alive

Among the hundreds upon thousands of identikit “indie” bands of introspective kids with guitars, it takes something quite special to stand out - and with Man Alive, Everything Everything more than did so. Eschewing boring chord progressions and paper thin lyrics in favour of intelligence, inventiveness and ambition, Everything Everything’s debut is remarkably confident for a band so early in their career.

Chucking everything in – funky basslines, offbeat drums, expansive vocal harmonies (complete with regular falsetto contributions), ethereal synths and the like – could have gone pretty disastrously wrong. That it doesn’t it testimony to the band’s effort to make Man Alive a balanced record – for every twist that catches you off guard, there’s a soaring pop hook to bring you back in, with deceptively toe-tapping melodies lying carefully behind the gloriously orchestrated mayhem.

Although listening to Man Alive from the start can sometimes be exhausting, it is never as alienating as you expect it to be. The amount of ideas being thrown back and forth means there’s always something to grab your attention, in levels of aspiration rarely found in indie rock. Finishing with ‘Weights’, Man Alive comes to a close in one of the year’s best tracks, a perfect example of the intelligent and infectious rhythms that Everything Everything deserve to be applauded for. As an album, Man Alive is excellent. As a debut however, it’s really remarkable. - Ben

[Everything Everything - Man Alive on Spotify]

Girl Talk - All Day

There’s isn’t much more to be said about Girl Talk’s latest masterpiece All Day that I didn’t cover in my recent (and very enthusiastic) review. It could be described as a mad Frankenstein’s monster of an album - every single element cribbed from existing tracks - but the truth is that Girl Talk is so deft a surgeon that it’s easy to forget that ‘Jane Says’ isn’t supposed to have ‘Teach Me How To Dougie’ layered over it. It’s simply sixty minutes of head-bobbing, sample-spotting bliss.

Some criticism, perhaps - after listening to it too many times the ADD nature of Girl Talk’s work begins to grate. Though the standard is high overall, some of the mash-ups work far better than others and I can’t help but wish for extended mixes of (for example) that ‘Pretty Boy Swag’/‘Windowlicker’ bit.

Never mind. There are plenty of other DJs to expand on Girl Talk’s endless ideas. The important part is that All Day is a democratisation and distillation of all pop music into a very, very fun record. Picasso (or someone. I dunno, google it) once said, “Good artists copy and great artists steal.” Girl Talk is certainly good evidence of this. - Elliot

[Get Girl Talk - All Day as a free download]

Gorillaz - Plastic Beach

After the gloomy and overlong Demon Days, I honestly felt done with Damon Albarn’s cartoon band. However, their amazing Glastonbury set - essentially a live performance of all the best bits of Plastic Beach - led me crawling back for forgiveness. What was once a silly side project has become a conduit for intellectual, experimental hip-hop that never forgets that it’s still pop music.

From the opening brass section of ‘Welcome To The World Of The Plastic Beach’ (accompanied by Snoop Dogg’s flawless rapping) to the bouncy environmental chanting of ‘Pirate Jet’, Plastic Beach is a joyous experience to behold. It only hiccups a couple of times (seriously, WTF is ‘Glitter Freeze’ all about Damon?!), but the class-A singles such as ‘On Melancholy Hill’ and ‘Stylo’ more than make up for it.

What’s most weird about Plastic Beach is that, like Demon Days before it, it’s a concept album posing as a different concept album. It’s not about the story of Gorillaz’ fictional band members arriving on a mysterious island, but Damon Albarn preaching an obvious, albeit chilling, warning to us all over our rampant consumerism. Well, certainly makes a pleasant change from the soppy love songs most of the industry usually pumps out. - Elliot

[Gorillaz - Plastic Beach on Spotify]

LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening

2010 has seen the emergence of some incredible new musical talent (see others in this list, i.e. Caitlin Rose, Everything Everything and Sleigh Bells), but just as there are exciting new beginnings there are also fond but inevitable farewells. And one such farewell must be made to LCD Soundsystem. Yes, This Is Happening will be the group’s last album, but, as expected, James Murphy was never going to go out without a bang.

From the incredible softly sung opening of ‘Dance Yrself Clean’ (with surely one of the best drops of the year), through to the appropriately titled closer ‘Home’, This Is Happening is not just another amazing LCD album, but a wonderful, hilarious, often heartwarming closing chapter of the project, and you can still absolutely dance your arse off to it. The bubbling synths of ‘One Touch’, the Bowie-esque guitars in ‘All I Want’, the catty lyrics of ‘You Wanted A Hit’ and ‘I Can Change’s gorgeous pop melody are all notable highlights, but this is an album with wonderful depth, continuing to reveal itself over the year. This Is Happening is unquestionably an album of the year, and another knockout from Murphy. You and your cowbell will be missed. - Ben

[LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening on Spotify]

MGMT – Congratulations

In 2008, MGMT wowed critics and audiences with their debut Oracular Spectacular. They were the festival hit of the summer, whilst ‘Kids’ and ‘Time to Pretend’ ruled the airwaves for months. Those expecting a standard follow-up in Congratulations, however, were set for a shock. First off was the announcement that there were to be no singles on the album. Then when it was put up to stream on the band’s website many casual fans found it a jarring listen.

Yes, after Oracular Spectacular, Congratulations pretty much sticks two fingers up to commercialism. Trippy, psychedelic, with pitch-perfect production, MGMT absolutely let loose in the studio in one of the year’s most exciting albums, leaving any stragglers behind but providing everyone that followed with one heck of a ride.

A well balanced record, the pounding drums, echoing vocals and bursts of kaleidoscopic melodies of ‘It’s Working’, ‘Song For Dan Treacy’ and ‘Brian Eno’, contrast well with the chilled out surf guitars of ‘Someone’s Missing’ and ‘I Found A Whistle’ as MGMT explore all areas of the direction they’ve taken. That said, it’s a mostly upbeat listen, always throwing out exhilarating twists and turns.

Above all though, it’s nice to hear the band clearly doing what they want – ‘Kids’ and ‘Time To Pretend’ are great songs, no doubt, but stuck out even on Oracular Spectacular. The overtly passionate Congratulations however can triumphantly stand as a highly credible psych-pop album from a genuinely inventive band. - Ben

[MGMT - Congratulations on Spotify]

Sleigh Bells - Treats

What an apt name for one of the most unashamed musical pleasures of 2010. For Sleigh Bells’ debut album Treats is just that – a collection of tracks that are sometimes sugary sweet, often bitingly acidic, addictive, are known to cause extreme fits of hyperactivity, and that leave you with a banging headache. If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if you mixed huge, bouncing hip-hop beats, syrupy pop vocals, and hard rock riffs with massive amounts of attitude and sex appeal, Sleigh Bells is the answer.

From the drill-sampling riff of opener ‘Tell ‘Em’ to the final reverb and cymbal crash of the closing title track, Treats delivers an uncompromising sound pushed to its limits that appealed to many critics and listeners, including us here at Quiff Pro ‘Fro. It’s a totally thrilling listen, crammed with incredible moments that come together in a highly satisfy whole.

Treats is undoubtedly one of the best and most important albums of the year – there’s nothing else out there quite like it, nothing that delivers the same adrenaline-pumping excitement (‘Infinity Guitars’) combined with an underlying pop sensibility (‘Rill Rill’). Sure, these Treats may rot your teeth, but, damn, it’s worth it for that sugar rush. - Ben

[Sleigh Bells - Treats on Spotify]

Titus Andronicus – The Monitor

With The Monitor, Titus Andronicus not only gave us an epic punk rock’n’roll album with riffs as huge as its ambition, but also the most fun history lesson of the year.

Based upon the American Civil War, Titus Andronicus took the passion, fury and massive chanting vocals from their debut The Airing of Grievances and applied it to a relevant period of modern history to astonishing effect –what better setting for an angry rock epic than a period of major social upheaval? Featuring quotes from Abraham Lincoln and major American poet Walt Whitman (read by Craig Finn of Hold Steady fame), it’s a smart, well thought-out concept that ties into the music as much as the lyrics in the form of bagpipe solos, military drumming and anthemic guitar solos that wholly correspond to the danger, patriotism and fear of war.

Above that though, few bands rocked in 2010 like Titus Andronicus did. Yes, it’s a great concept and it’s very intelligent, but The Monitor also blows the competition away when it comes down to the sheer, pounding exhilaration of rock’n’roll. Lead singer Patrick Stickles often sounds blind drunk and furious – at times there’s only so much you can do to stop yourself from getting wasted and joining in, the amount of energy surging through this record’s veins is intoxicating. It won’t be long before The Monitor becomes recognised for the modern classic is truly is. - Ben

[Titus Andronicus - The Monitor on Spotify]

So that was our top ten – all brilliant albums which have certainly set the bar high for next year. Now, Radiohead, if you could please do us a favour and release a new album ASAP so that we have a basis for our 2011 list, we would be much obliged.

Merry Christmas everyone!

-Quiff Pro ‘Fro


  1. good list... i'd have put The National in there i think. Not a big fan of MGMT but loved the Titus album.

    good stuff chaps.

  2. Nice list, it worries me how few of these I've actually heard though. Must give Caitlin Rose a spin sometime soon...

  3. OK list but you missed:
    Beach House, L Marling, The Drums, Salem, The National


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