Sunday, 2 January 2011

Albums of the Year 2010

10) JIMMY EAT WORLD - Invented (DGC)

Following up one of the "Albums of the Year" is going to be problematic, unless you're Jimmy Eat World, where every album holds that particular accolade, leaving the job in hand a simple one: Make another bloody great album. Oh, and what do you know...? As usual, the Arizona songsmiths have avoided the same approach as last time round, this instance being when 2007's Chase This Light sounded like the most uplifting and carefree thing in the world. Traces of that and past vitriols still shine through their crisply-layered guitar melodies, but it's the epic introspection of the title track, Stop and the truly majestic Cut that give Invented its own identity to sit beautifully alongside past glories.

My Best Theory

9) LOSTPROPHETS - The Betrayed (Visible Noise)

Ten years ago, Lostprophets were cited as being the band to outlast their shouty nu-metal peers and manage a couple more albums. Four albums and more Top Ten appearances later, they show no signs of stopping. After a couple of albums of working on both their riffs and their pop nous under the guidance of some big-name producers, the Pontypridd lads have taken everything in stride and done it all themselves, lock stock and production. And it's no surprise that The Betrayed feels 100% like a Lostprophets album, just like the classic debut. What they have now is better choruses (Where We Belong, Dirty Little Heart) and better riffs (Dstryr/Dstryr, Next Stop,Atro City). They may well have certainly sounded arrogant back in the day, but they deserve their "told you so"s now.

Where We Belong

8) VOLBEAT - Beyond Hell, Above Heaven (Universal)

Quiffs + "ELVIS" tattoos + harmonicas = Rock 'n' Roll. It's one of the great universal equations. If there's no Quiff, it's not Rock 'n' Roll, it's that simple. Denmark's Volbeat have quiffs and "ELVIS" tattoos, strangely enough. They also have a wonderful approach to effortlessly fusing together old-fashioned Rockabilly with old-fashioned anthemic Heavy Metal on the likes of the fist-pumping Fallen, the slide-guitar tinged 7 Shots and the pure rockabilly of 16 Dollars. Yes, the subject matter can be as dark as it is light, but the spirit of the record is overwhelmingly triumphant.


7) DEVIL SOLD HIS SOUL - Blessed & Cursed (Century Media)

The key to heavy music's evolution has never been about how brutal a band can make the riffs, but in what can be added to said brutality. Devil Sold His Soul's approach is to couple and underpin their epic, richly layered wall of guitars with such serene beauty. They make the difference between solid and epic and prove that heavy music is just as much music as anything else. Strip away the loud guitars and the core melody of within Drowning/Sinking and An Ocean of Lights could sit alongside any classical opus. The fact that DSHS are still quite young is a testament to their abilities.

Callous Heart

6) SLEIGH BELLS - Treats (Mom and Pop)

It's always worth approaching with caution any new act that has almost every blogger and hip music media outlet salivating, especially when comprised of the male/female duo, a formation also guaranteed to generate lazy comparisons that won't always hold water. You see, Sleigh Bells don't sound like any other duo/band/group/combo. They do, however, sound like the High School Marching Band following a sadomasochistic orgy with the Cheerleaders in the band room, and the likes of Tell 'Em, Crown on the Ground and A/B Machines are the catchy stains that won't wash off the guitars or keyboards.

Infinity Guitars

5) FREEZEPOP - Imaginary Friends (archenemy)

Despite synthpop's firm grasp of the catchy chorus during its original early-80s heyday, it still, for the most part, retained that icy, gloomy exterior. Nowadays, it seems that every band revelling in this glorious era are focusing on the colourful optimism that could be found in a select few bands. Freezepop represent this magnificently, with their fourth album breaking off the cautious shackles of previous effort Future Future Future Perfect and just dropping hook after hook with scant regard for your earworm tolerance. Choruses? Freezepop have abducted the definition of the chorus and locked it inside their keytars. Lose That Boy, Magnetic and the title track perfectly recall an era when pop music sounded as if it was offered up by intergalactic alien cyborgs as opposed to rusty robots from the Cowell Corporation production line.


4) IRON MAIDEN - The Final Frontier (EMI)

Thirty years after their debut album, and Iron Maiden entered the UK album chart at Number One with this, their 15th effort. That in itself tells you all about this extraordinary band and their devoted fan base. It also tells that you that, unlike their peers from that era, Maiden will never stagnate, will always try something they haven't before, and will never make an album that sounds like their previous one. Oh, granted, they know what they're good at, but they'll always keep you guessing. As such, The Final Frontier moves away from the bombastic grit of A Matter of Life and Death and, like its sci-fi baiting title suggests, travels down a more space-age highway. The likes of El Dorado and the almost balladic Coming Home positively soar, but it's Isle of Avalon and Starblind that really shine. The former rides a gentle guitar line before a massive chorus takes off through an epic prog bank that Rush would be proud of, while the latter provides the almost-orchestral soundtrack to being stranded on some desolate planet in tandem with some alien riff. Proof that Iron Maiden will continue to live long and prosper.

The Final Frontier

3) THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN - Option Paralysis (Season of Mist)

Option Paralysis is a fairly inappropriate album title - there's absolutely nothing paralytic about this monster. Dillinger continue to rip through any straightjacket with violent abandon, twisting and spasming in every conceivable way possible. Blast beats stop-start with stuttering hammerhead guitars while Greg Puciato's vocals lurch from hellhound shrieking to lounging cabaret. This is no un-easy listening classic, though. DEP continue to suggest that if they were left alone to write a pop album, they bloody well could. Sure, the tuneful aspects of Farewell, Mona Lisa and Endless Endings are tempered by tracks such as Chinese Whispers, a mainstream rock song masquerading as a psychpathic loon, and Widower, which veers from a piano-led croon into a climax of epic proportions. It's also one of the best tracks you'll hear all year.

Farewell, Mona Lisa

2) KYLESA - Spiral Shadow (Season of Mist)

The key to great Metal bludgeon is not always in the actual riff itself, but what surrounds it. The bands that perfect the dynamics and diversity within their sound are those that become legends and from here on, Kylesa could well join those ranks. Their Georgia, US background explains their assured take on the Southern-flavoured doomy sludge-metal that they've made their own on the previous four releases. What Spiral Shadow does is focus on those more atmospheric and melodic moments they'd merely visited in the past, making the likes of Cheating Synergy and Forsaken such an addictive proposition. While other bands try to be too clever with their time-signatures, Kylesa recognise that it isn't always appropriate, and sometimes something as basic as speeding up or slowing down works just as well when need be. They joy of this album is highlighted by the midway-twofer of Crowded Road, wherein the dual-drumming is complimented by several monolithic hooks and a line pilfered from Egyptian Folklore, followed by Don't Look Back, which could be the most twisted accessible Pixies track ever written. If Mastodon decided to give up their crown, Kylesa would be more then deserved successors.

Tired Climb


Great art isn't about just reaching into the soul of the person experiencing it, it's about lifting it up and transporting it elsewhere, placing it firmly in another town, another world, another dimension. But the artist has to THAT good, THAT assured of their craft. Crystal Castles' self-titled debut released two years previously filtered through a glut of electronic sounds pilfered from knackered samplers and video game arcade sound-cards and proceeded to astound fans and journalists alike. What this second effort does is lose some of that carefree abandon and focuses on the atmosphere that they occasionally touched on beforehand. Celestica and Baptism may sound like standard rave fare initially, but they begin to unravel into something far more soulful than the average HedKandi number. Doe Deer collides a hardcore punk drumbeat with a demented siren call while Birds violently pulses on the back of a classic electro rhythm. Empathy and Violent Dreams lose themselves in a concentrated mass of vocoded breaths and samples. The album's highlights come in Year of Silence, which lifts a vocal off one of Sigur Ros's more jaunty numbers and morphs it into the basis of a form of dark hypnosis, while Vietnam singlehandedly combines everything that they've done so far into five minutes of glorious wonder.

Speculating over what the next album will sound like is nothing short of pointless. It wouldn't be beyond an unrealistic realm to suggest they ditch all their equipment and go down a more aggressive punk route and still sound just as otherworldly. What we do know is that Ethan and Alice are one of the world's "perfect couples" when it comes to memorable music. Here's
to another self-titled album.

Not in Love (feat. Robert Smith