Here's what's been on heavy rotation on my iPod this year:
There are only six albums which really rocked my world this year. But since I know that most of you 21st-Century iTunes-lovin' kids don't buy whole albums these days, I've tried to also identify one stand-out track from each, in case you only have 79p to spare.
Creating a worthy successor to 2004's anthemic Funeral should, by rights, have been a near impossibility, but somehow Montreal's finest have managed it, creating an opus that justly rode high in all the end-of-year polls. The sentiments expressed in Neon Bible are by turns deep, dark, desperate, moody, brooding, and achingly painful - occasionally melancholic, but never simply throwaway pop. On the face of it then, it should be a tough listen, but somehow it is impossible not to get wrapped up in their bleak vision, and rallied by the passion and triumphant orchestrations. Even merely on TV, their Glastonbury set was something to behold, and I confidently predict that this magnificent album will be leaking out of somebody's late-night headphones for many decades to come.
Stand-Out Track: Intervention (especially the crescendo between 3:24 and 3:52).
Kings Of Leon's third album echoes some of Neon Bible's feelings of melancholy, brooding, and introspection, but does so with a southern garage rock feel and a vocal buried deep in the mix in a manner reminiscent of The Joshua Tree. Play loud, preferably whilst driving a Chevy Camaro across the Mojave. Great things surely beckon.
Stand-Out Track: On Call (especially the bit at 1:46 when the music pauses and Caleb's vocal soars to the top of the mix).
It seems like every Manics LP for the last decade has been preceded by PR trying to convince us of a return to form. With Send Away The Tigers, there can be no doubt that the boys from Blackwood still have a gift for intelligent, passionate, gutsy rock songs. Yes, it may only stick around for 38 minutes and consist of a mere ten songs, but every one is a gem worthy of inclusion on Generation Terrorists, with no dead-time or filler to be found.
Stand-Out Track: Autumnsong (especially the chorus beginning at 1:57)
Did someone mention intelligent rock songs? Maximo Park's follow-up to debut A Certain Trigger has them in spades. A spiky, energetic post-punk sound collides will staggeringly erudite and literate lyrics that are (when you really get down to it and look behind the facade) love songs, lamentations of sorts, oozing with melancholy, introspection and heartbreak. It takes a special kind of genius to write something so achingly beautiful and cover it in such wiry, furious, guitar-driven melodies to which we can sweatily dance in tiny beer-drenched venues.
Twenty years since Craig and Charlie first burst into the charts with Letter From America, the twins from Auchtermuchty provided 2007 with such a consistently high-quality album that it's difficult to believe they suffered from long-term writer's block during the latter half of the 1990s. Life With You offers a fine diet of intelligent, witty lyrics blended with the folk-rock tunes we have come to expect. Moreover, the always plain-spoken twins now seem less concerned than ever about upsetting potential listeners, penning some scathing songs on such diverse subjects as the honours system, Tony Blair, the war on terror, misogynistic gangster rappers, and "new" religions. Plus, of course, the occasional heartfelt love song.
Stand-Out Track: New Religion (especially the couplet at 0:48 - "evidence of a new religion / some hippy with a gripe / strikes a blow with his census form / by summoning Star Wars tripe")
"You gotta hear this one song, it'll change your life, I swear!"
Thus spoke Natalie Portman's character in Zach Braff's 2004 movie Garden State as she set The Shins' New Slang playing. I say - right band, wrong song. Maybe Zach Braff was ahead of his time, but for me it wasn't until 2007's deliriously addictive Turn On Me that The Shins really became impossible to ignore. Taking a wider view, Wincing the Night Away offers subtlety and complexity that I have yet to fully explore - lush jangly guitars and melodies make the listening experience too easy, but I know there's more lurking under the surface if I can just take the time to listen more carefully. This beautiful album will be offering up new listening pleasures for many years.
Stand-Out Track: Turn On Me (especially the first "fond of Y-O-U" at 0:42)
And honorary mentions must go to these other fine opuses:
- Air - Pocket Symphony
- Arctic Monkeys - Favourite Worst Nightmare
- Art Brut - It's A Bit Complicated
- Bloc Party - A Weekend In The City
- Brett Anderson - Brett Anderson
- Bright Eyes - Cassadaga
- Emma Pollock - Watch The Fireworks
- Explosions In The Sky - All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone
- Hilary Duff - Dignity
- Idlewild - Make Another World
- Interpol - Our Love To Admire
- Joss Stone - Introducing Joss Stone
- Newton Faulkner - Hand Built By Robots
- Rilo Kiley - Under The Blacklight