Wednesday, 13 January 2010

The Best of the Decade: 40-31

31: Laura Marling - Alas, I Cannot Swim (EMI/2007)
At the beginning of 2007, the real answer to the “Adele or Duffy?” question that the music press were asking incessantly, was the secret third option, Laura Marling. Alas, I Cannot Swim is such a fine record, it’s practically impossible to believe its author was only in her teens. Whereas Adele and Duffy went for slick production and big vocals, Marling traded in understated windswept folk with a sweet voice that was the perfect bedfellow to her acoustic arrangements. Just because it’s folk, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have some guts - you wouldn’t want to be the ex that Marling trashes on Failure - and the whole album is clearly the work of someone who really believes in what they’re doing. In an industry where bright, young things are ten-a-penny, the smart money is on Marling to be the one who outlasts them all.

32: Nada Surf - Let Go (Heavenly/2002)
After Weezer made a promising start to the 21st Century with 2001’s self-titled “green” album, it was downhill from thereon. Thus, it was left to Nada Surf to write the power-pop album of the decade. Tracks such as The Way You Wear Your Head and Hi-Speed Soul are hook-laden sunshine pop classics, while slower numbers such as Blonde on Blonde and the epic Killian’s Red demonstrate an extra dimension that wasn’t present on previous album, The Proximity Effect. Every track on Let Go is an earworm waiting to be discovered, and once you’ve let this album into your life, you’ll be impervious to its charms and humming snatches of melody when you least expect it.

33: The Duckworth Lewis Method - The Duckworth Lewis Method (Divine Comedy/2009)
This is the best album made about cricket in the history of recorded music… but that’s not exactly strong praise. The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon and Pugwash’s Thomas Walsh teamed up in 2009 for an album that showed their affection for the game but you don’t need to be a fan of cricket to appreciate it, just a fan of good music. Taking their cue from the often-maligned 70s AOR of bands such as ELO, The Duckworth Lewis Method is a joy to behold. The production is warm and comforting, but that doesn’t mean it’s boring - one listen to fantastic lead single, The Age of Revolution, will confirm that. A synopsis of this album wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the peerless Jiggery Pokery - a music-hall romp which tells the story of Shane Warne’s famous ball in the 1993 Ashes series with a words-per-minute figure that would shame the average rap artist. Delightful, eccentric and fun; just like the album itself.

34: Mylo - Destroy Rock & Roll (Breastfed/2004)
Myles MacInnes of the Isle of Skye produced one of the dance anthems of the decade with Drop the Pressure, which was then reworked with the Miami Sound Machine to produce Dr. Pressure. What too few people discovered was the fantastic and imaginative album that the great track came from. Fusing old-school house with cutting-edge electronica and shades of chill-out ambience, Destroy Rock & Roll was that rarest of beasts: a dance album that can maintain your interest throughout its duration. Mylo used extensive sampling, but no sample proved more effective than the Church Universal and Triumphant list of “ungodly” 1980s artists for the title track, which was looped over a banging house loop. That track is demonstrative of the innovation of the man, a great producer who made an album ideal for the home or the club, and fingers crossed there’ll be a second album in the not-too-distant future.

35: Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes (Bella Union/2008)
With all the hype surrounding this record upon release, there was bound to be some sort of backlash, which there was. However, a year on, it becomes clear to see upon revisiting this record just why it caused such a stir. Fleet Foxes visit the alt-country of Crosby, Stills and Nash on their eponymous début but what really wins you over is the strength of the melodies and those irresistible three-part harmonies. Fleet Foxes seemed to be singing of a time that music forgot but somehow made you want to be there too and in He Doesn’t Know Why, created one of the most perfectly-formed songs on the decade. Only time will tell will happens for Fleet Foxes in the next decade but right now, they have the world at their feet.

36: Wilco - A Ghost is Born (Nonesuch/2004)
As this decade progressed, Wilco shed their previous alt-country image and became the music critics’ darlings. 2002’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot may have been their breakthrough, but it’s A Ghost is Born which is the true career-defining album. This album is a slow-burner which may take time to reveal its charms but when it does, it’s astonishing the breadth of styles on show. The Krautrock motorik of Spiders (Kidsmoke), the brittle At Least That’s What You Said and the rocking I’m a Wheel showcase this variety, while subtle tracks like Handshake Drugs and Theologians are somehow heartbreaking yet simultaneously uplifting. With A Ghost is Born, Wilco elevated themselves to the next level and showed that they’re anything but your run-of-the-mill guitar band.

37: Dogs Die in Hot Cars - Please Describe Yourself (V2/2004)
Saddling yourself with an awful name is a great way to limit your career trajectory and so it proved when Dogs Die in Hot Cars disbanded after just one full-length album. But what an album it was. Please Describe Yourself picked up the baton from XTC and Orange Juice and ran with it into the 21st Century. Jerkier and twitchier than a child with ADHD on Christmas Eve, Please Describe Yourself is packed with sharp, direct, punchy tunes which never outstay their welcome. In a fair world, tracks such as I Love You ‘Cause I Have To and Godhopping would have rubbed shoulders with the pop elite near the top of the charts, but DDIHC proved there was more to them than just power pop with regret-tainted ballad Somewhat Off the Way. Fellow Scots Franz Ferdinand may have taken all the plaudits for reintroducing new wave to the mainstream, but this is the album that’s stood the test of time.

38: Ryan Adams - Love Is Hell (Lost Highway/2004)
Initially released as two EPs with minimal fanfare at the insistence of his record label, public demand meant that Love Is Hell was eventually given the single disc release it deserved. Unsurprisingly, Love Is Hell is not easy listening - it principally charts the descent of one man into his own private despair brought about by the death of a loved one - but it’s horribly compelling nonetheless. Adams seems constantly on the verge of tears throughout the majority of this album, but it’s that raw emotion paired with the delicate instrumentation that make this album so essential. Ostensibly the perfect (or, depending on your disposition, worst possible) lonely, late-night record, Love Is Hell is sewn together by Adams’ unique reading of Oasis’ Wonderwall; taking a bravado anthem and reducing it to its bare bones before squeezing every last drop of longing from it. It’s albums like Love Is Hell which remind you what a special talent Ryan Adams really is.

39: She & Him - Volume One (Double Six/2008)
Ugh. Reality TV, everybody being famous for five minutes, talent shows which invite you to sneer at the deluded, actors moving into music and vice versa - all bad things, right? Well, not necessarily, as Hollywood starlet Zooey Deschanel teamed up with indie royalty M Ward in the latter part of the decade to form duo, She & Him. It may sound a badly-contrived idea and you may expect Deschanel to be something of a passenger, but it’s a joy of a record with most of the songs written by the actress in question. The songs on Volume One also have an immediacy and pop sensibility too often lacking from M Ward’s other work, whether it be the 60s backing vocals of standout track Why Do You Let Me Stay Here? or the weaving of vocals and accompaniment on I Thought I Saw Your Face Today. Far better than it has any right to be, Volume One is the best album Conor Oberst never wrote and proves that Deschanel can change disciplines with comfort and ease.

40: Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan - Ballad of the Broken Seas (V2/2006)
After being a founder member of Belle and Sebastian and having a nice line in side-project folk albums, there were more likely collaborative partners for Isobel Campbell when she went fully solo than grizzled ex-Screaming Tree, Mark Lanegan. But opposites attract, so they say, and that was definitely the case on Ballad of the Broken Seas. Against your preconceptions, Campbell’s gossamer-thin whispers and Lanegan’s nicotine-dulled growl compliment one another perfectly. Plus the lightness of the arrangements (primarily the work of Campbell herself) and abundance of strings bring out qualities in Lanegan’s voice that it’s unlikely even he knew he had. On the title track, Lanegan croons “I’ll sing you a tale of the broken seas when I’m drowning in whisky and beer” and that sums up Ballads… perfectly - an album of beautiful stories and shanties tainted by regret, sadness and the promise of something greater. Unlikely bedfellows they may be, but a second album (Sunday at Devil Dirt) and a Mercury nomination for Ballads… show that maybe they knew what they were doing all along.

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