I dropped the ball on updating this with each 10 lol but anyway here’s the final rundown… a really great year I think, and I enjoyed listening to 90% of these a second time this year as I clarified this list order. I’ve tried to write something about each, but it’s the end of January now and I just have to post it so apologies for the gaps, maybe I’ll fill them at some point
- Varieté – Marc Almond
By far my favourite of this year, this is a real album with seriously deep and important things to say on almost every track.
- Evelyn Evelyn – Evelyn Evelyn
I think it was only last year that I finally got into the Dresden Dolls, a band I really should have been into at the time they were most active but just unfortunately passed me by completely. I’d been following Amanda Palmer via Neil Gaiman on Twitter and loved her personality, and when this ultra-high-concept project was announced, I pretty much knew it would be ranking high on my 2010 list… so no surprises here. It’s even more extraordinary than expected, such a haunting, hilarious, sad, strange story, the kind that leads me to genuinely believe it ought to be Henry Selick’s next stop-motion project (seriously, it would work; but it would not be for kids…). This one just pushed all the right buttons for me.
- Lustre – Ed Harcourt
Probably wouldn’t have listened to this were it not for having seen him at the McGarrigle/Wainwright Christmas show at the end of ’09, but this is seriously great intelligent pop, and it grew on me even more on a second listen.
- Withershins – Smoosh
The thing to write about this at the time of writing is, click on the link above and download it for free! I think they’re crazy to do this but, hey, it’s their decision I knew this would be one of my faves of the year, and I haven’t yet listened to it a second time but from the way it made me feel that first time I think it might turn out to be my favourite Smoosh album ever.
- Volume 2 – She & Him
I loved She & Him’s first album but not as much as I really wanted to. This one has the same basic thing going for it as that one did, of course – it’s Zooey Deschanel singing, what further excuse do you need? – but also strips away just about everything that made the first record even close to lacking. This one’s an absolute joy.
- Write About Love – Belle and Sebastian
I wasn’t sure the first time, but “I Didn’t See It Coming” sure wedged itself in. I’ve listened to it 3 times now, and boy is it growing on me. Will definitely be in the rotation for years to come.
- Pacific 231 – Raphael
Like Smoosh, I guess, I’m really quite the sucker for Raphael and I just knew I would not only like but love this. I say this every time but it bears repeating, Raphael is a musical god, and if you haven’t listened to me in the past, listen to me this time… you have to hear this guy’s music. You don’t need to understand French to understand how incredible this guy is at putting an album together.
- I’m the Rain – Sophie Zelmani
I knew I would love this one before I even listened to it and wasn’t let down. Zelmani is just one of those people who I will always be eager to hear from, and I recommend to anyone that you seek out her work. It’s not quite up there with her last, 2008’s “The Ocean and Me”, but it’s pretty darn close.
- Praise and Blame – Tom Jones
I haven’t listened to a lot of Tom Jones other than the obvious, the overplayed likes of It’s Not Unusual, What’s New Pussycat, Delilah, etc. It’s always been evident that he has a killer voice, that’s actually if anything improved with age, but aside from the regurgitating the old hits it never seemed anyone, least of all him, knew what to do with it. This album belongs in that special category like Neil Diamond’s 12 Songs, Johnny Cash’s American series, and to bring it closer to home I’d say Shirley Bassey’s The Performance from last year. It’s a real album, and showcases his vocals superbly.
- Dream Attic – Richard Thompson
There are albums below this right now that I’m sure in the long run I’ll listen to more and end up higher up, but I just had an immediate visceral reaction to this similar to the one I had to Tim Finn’s Imaginary World in 2006. I usually frown on “live albums” a little but this is all new work and it sounds terrific.
- Recovery – Eminem
- Sweet & Wild – Jewel
I said last year of her album Lullaby that after a series of albums that really only had one good song each, it felt like Jewel was starting over. This one continues the trend. There is one song that I loved infinitely more than the others on this, and that’s “What You Are“… but as a whole it is absolutely wonderful too.
- National Ransom – Elvis Costello
- The Family Jewels – Marina & the Diamonds
Like I said at the start, don’t get me wrong about this being down at the bottom. I actually kinda liked this one more than I expected, and for some reason I kinda like the idea of Marina & the Diamonds too. It’s incredibly samey but that’s unlikely to bother the target current mainstream audience, and I’d wish success on Marina much more readily than similar, dumber, uglier (in ideas, not appearance) outfits.
- Laws of Illusion – Sarah Mclachlan
- Christmas with the Puppini Sisters – The Puppini Sisters
- Nobody’s Daughter – Hole
I’ve been a strange fan of Courtney Love and Hole for, seems like, a while now. I remember reading her biography by Poppy Z. Brite (more for Brite’s input than anything, it must be said) and listening to the earlier Hole stuff in tandem with my first time listening to Nirvana stuff, in the late nineties when I was finally starting to listen to non-movie/musical stuff lol. And I always kinda liked her for some reason. I didn’t know what to expect from this, but it seemed to me to be all the good stuff. I feel like this is one of my “weird” statements but I’m gonna say it: I feel like Courtney has one of those voices like Bob Dylan’s, that has always been in a state of becoming what its owner wants it to be… and I think, like Dylan’s, it’s only now on her most recent record that it might finally be getting there (I didn’t like Dylan’s latest, but damn did he sound gloriously rough). Some people will hate the sound of this girl’s voice, but I somehow can’t resist the real human quality to it. That and some of the songs are pretty darn good too.
- My Best Friend is You – Kate Nash
I’ll admit, I really loved Kate Nash’s debut. To me at the time it was honestly better than what everyone was calling the all-too-similar Lily Allen’s first. Now they’ve both got their second out, I will say Lily just marginally beats Kate, but this album certainly came as a surprise. There are some really odd tracks on here, almost Yoko Ono-ish in places, and some spectacularly hilarious lyrics. I really got a kick out of it.
- All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu – Rufus Wainwright
I’ve said many times, I’m not a great Rufus Wainwright fan… I hate most of his other fans far too much. There are vast corners of the world where you can spit and hit a hundred people who have no idea who the guy is still, and that, I agree, is wrong; but when it comes to those who love him… they just tend to love him far too much for my taste. Lately he has been doing the opera thing, which hasn’t helped at all because the thing that turned me on to him is how incredible he is in the dying pop genre. This being a pure piano album, I didn’t let myself get too excited about it. All I can say is, there is a lot here that blew my mind… this guy is clearly a genius and I will listen to it more than a few more times and enjoy the shear complexity of some of his compositions. But it’s not my kind of thing at all. I really hope his next will be just some serious pop to show the Gagas, Biebers and talent show products exactly how it’s done.
- Songs from the Tainted Cherry Tree – Diana Vickers
- The Suburbs – Arcade Fire
I intend to listen to this one again after watching their live Youtube concert and this immense interactive music video because I think this album will grow on me. I felt the first time it wasn’t anywhere close to Neon Bible (but what is?) but catchier than Funeral. The more I’ve heard of it in snippets in the meantime, the more I really want to listen to the whole thing again.
- Hawk – Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan
- Fight or Flight – Emily Osment
- The Union – Elton John & Leon Russell
- Funstyle – Liz Phair
I read a lot about people’s adverse reactions to this one and it turned out to be almost exactly what I expected – Katy Rose’s “Candy Eyed” but even wilder. I’ve only listened to some of Liz Phair’s earlier work so I guess the shift wasn’t so jarring for me. I really kinda loved this one.
- Back to Scratch – Charlotte Church
- Speak Now – Taylor Swift
- Progress – Take That
- No Space for Air – Julie Atherton
- Joy to the World – Pink Martini
- Endlessly – Duffy
- Dreams – Neil Diamond
My first thought on this one was just that the idea of a covers album from Neil Diamond was disappointing. 12 Songs was such a come back for him, though he really seemed to get a huge audience again with the followup, Home Before Dark, which for me seemed just a pale clone of 12…, and the next thing we knew he was just back to performing his old hits again, and now back to singing other people’s songs? But I can’t argue with the song selections here – they’re many of them faves of mine, and his versions are very pleasant to listen to. But I would really prefer more original work.
- Hang Cool Teddy Bear – Meat Loaf
Let’s face it Bat Out of Hell III, at the very least, should not have had that title. It had some great moments on it, for sure, but was too full of songs which other artists have made their own since they were first written (even the MTV Wuthering Heights movie versions of the two that appear on that album are frankly better…). This is something else though. It’s huge, original, fun, and towards the end pretty damn emotional too. I look forward to listening to it again.
- Have One On Me – Joanna Newsom
I wasn’t keen on Newsom’s last celebrated effort “Ys” though I tried my best with it. I only really got excited to listen to this one when Peter Serafinowicz of all people tweeted that the first (of three, count ‘em) CDs sounded like early Kate Bush. He wasn’t wrong. I kind of got tired of it by the end of the exhaustive 2 and a half hours, Newsom has certainly done a Tori Amos here, dumping far too much into the package that could have been excised to make something much closer to perfection, but I know I’m fairly alone in having that sort of objection. What I liked here is great.
- Plastic Beach – Gorillaz
This is one of those albums that comes along every so often and I simply can’t not put it at the top of the list, even though I know I’m gonna need to listen to it many more times to make that powerful a judgment. I think this album may be genius… I started out almost hating it but I held out because Damon Albarn tends to know what he’s doing… somewhere something clicked, and by the end, my mind was a little blown. I can’t wait to listen to this one again and forego that initial “WTF is this?”-ness, lol. (update: OK, I don’t know how this album got all the way down here… I’m hoping I can rekindle the feeling that precedes these parentheses… but honestly, second and third listens did nowhere near as much for me… don’t know what to say…)
- Y Not – Ringo Starr
With respect to George Harrison and John Lennon, who have their reasons for not releasing music anymore, I found myself as I listened to this album thinking Ringo might just be becoming my favourite Beatle. He most emphatically does not produce songs with profound meaning and import, but he does with startlingly increased regularity, pop out these near irresistible bursts of fun. And I don’t listen to a lot of “fun” music, but for what I need, I would take Ringo’s cheese over the more popular sleaze any day. Having said that, the duet with Paul McCartney on this one is an unexpected beauty.
- American VI: Ain’t No Grave – Johnny Cash
My one problem with this one is its length: barely breaking 30 minutes, they could really have combined this with the previous volume on one CD and it’s not like the tracks weren’t there. It is great, however, to still have “new” tracks from this man, and all of these live up to the rest in the “American” series.
- Sparks Fly – Miranda Cosgrove
I love that there’s not only a new Miley album out this year but also from her Hannah Montana co-star Emily Osment, this from iCarly and, it seems even her onscreen sidekick Jennette McCurdy is getting in on the music thing too. I love the teen pop albums… when they work. And yeh, they haven’t had a great success rate in a while. Miranda’s effort is fun though, it matches her onscreen personae well with tracks like “Disgusting” (“It’s disgusting that I love you…”) … like, even though it’s the usual teenage heartache or romance stuff it has this slightly off and strange attitude that adds just a little something. Not great, but why would you expect great from the one School of Rock kid who didn’t play any music in the movie lol?
- Lights – Ellie Goulding
There’s always a couple of albums like this on my list by the end of the year which I frankly can’t think of much to say about except that I liked. I just read that Rachel Stevens has a new album due out this year, as does Sophie Ellis-Bextor, and those two are much more my kind of this kind of pop, but this was better than expected from an artist who made all those hollow “sound of 2010” lists before anybody had even heard a peep out of the new material etc. I really like Starry-Eyed.
- The Shadow of an Empire – Fionn Regan
Another I have little to say about. I bought Regan’s last after his Mercury nomination (I think I sought out all the nominees that year because I was stuck for something to listen to) and quite liked it. And I quite liked this one. Nothing to really shout about though.
- Can’t Be Tamed – Miley Cyrus
- Le Noise – Neil Young
- A Year Without Rain – Selena Gomez and The Scene
- Red Velvet Car – Heart
- Scream – Ozzy Osbourne
I kinda love Ozzy’s solo stuff, it’s as close to really loving hard rock/metal as I’ll ever get because like some of Meat Loaf’s stuff it actually retains a sense of melody and structure etc. This isn’t terrific but I liked it enough.
- Close-Up Vol. 2 – Suzanne Vega
- Close-Up Vol. 1 – Suzanne Vega
The Close-Up volumes by Suzanne Vega for me are a lot like Neil Diamond’s covers… they’re lovely, but I’d much prefer more original material. They don’t really add to the originals or do much different either, like for example Carly Simon’s “Never Been Gone” covers did last year.
- Talking to You Talking to Me – The Watson Twins
Here’s another group I’ll likely never have a bad word for, though they’re yet to create anything outside of the Jenny Lewis project “Rabbit Fur Coat” that really bears multiple listenage. I think I liked this album much more than their last, “Fire Songs”, something kinda clicks almost exactly halfway and it becomes very interesting indeed, so I’ll probably give it at least a second chance to see if I was merely warming up to them again for that first half.
- Head First – Goldfrapp
Yikes, I thought I’d written my mini-review of this one already here lol, and I really don’t remember much of it at all. As I recall, I’d been led to expect Goldfrapp’s purest pop album to date, and I wasn’t impressed. My fave of theirs so far I think (and they’re not exactly a group I follow) was Seventh Tree, and nothing on this made me as happy as, say, Happiness or anything. It didn’t piss me off or anything though, which is something.
- Swanlights – Antony and the Johnsons
All I can really say of this one is, even on a second listen Antony’s voice didn’t break my heart as it usually does. It’s still lovely to listen to, but I just couldn’t find anything to really hang on to.
- The House – Katie Melua
This was way down the bottom of the list at the last update and I said it was awful apart from “The Flood”. I’ve gotta say, a second listen really changed that opinion. This is still very noodly and forgettable but it’s definitely growing on me. I don’t think it’ll ever live up as a whole to the sheer genius of “The Flood” though.
- Almost Alice – Various Artists
I’ve still not seen the Tim Burton Alice movie, I will soon though just for completism. I really have next to no interest in his “vision”. But for some reason I convinced myself that if anything good came out of that movie, it might be this soundtrack album. Last year’s “Nightmare Revisited” – a rerecording/revisiting of songs from “The Nightmare Before Christmas” by a similarly eclectic bunch of artists – was one of my faves of the year. This one seems to start well, but pretty quickly I got tired of the same references to the text repeated over and over.
- Hannah Montana Forever – Miley Cyrus
I still haven’t watched the episodes that these songs come from but I look forward to them. There’s even less good on this than previous releases but I can listen to Hannah Montana for hours. “Wherever I Go” is certainly the highlight here, I can see myself in tears wherever they use that in the end.
- Michael – Michael Jackson
The apprenhension/excitement divide darn near tore me apart over this one. It’s almost beyond ranking really, because though none of the tracks on this really slayed me (on a second listen some came close though), I’m glad these posthumous releases are happening. I’m certain that at some point there’ll be something to really treasure comes up.
- Christmas in New York – Various Artists
Julie Atherton promoted this up the wazoo on Twitter and I really thought I’d enjoy it, being as I love her, I love Christmas, I love showtunes, and I think I love New York. I’d heard some of the songs on it before too. But of the songs I’d heard, I can certainly think of versions I dig a hundred times more, and just overall this just didn’t work for me. It’s pleasant enough though.
- Songs for the New Depression – Loudon Wainwright III
- Born Free – Kid Rock
Listened ‘cos of the song he sang at “Rally for Sanity”, “Care”, and I was disappointed to find that it’s a very different arrangement on the album. The rest is decent enough but just not for me, and not as good as I remember Rock n Roll Jesus being.
- Anthems – Kerry Ellis
A good third of this is pretty much her “Wicked in Rock” collaboration with Brian May which I think I may have shared my feelings on elsewhere (just ghastly). I was kind of okay with this as an easy listen until I heard Julie Atherton’s album (above) later in the year. The contrast speaks for itself.
- A Curious Thing – Amy MacDonald
This one had an uphill struggle with me to even hope to exceed the glory that was MacDonald’s debut and almost immediately I fell into disappointment as I listened. There are moments on this where it’s cringingly evident they are trying to recreate the flow of “This is the Life” but they fail every time. By the time it gets to her solemnly strumming Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” on the hidden track at the end I was done. She has a nice voice and energy that makes this still worth a listen over many worse things that won’t even get a look-in on this list, but I hope the next will be something actually new like the first.
- Aphrodite – Kylie Minogue
Listened to ‘cos I adored her last, X… but I kinda knew this wasn’t for me the moment she started instructing her audiences how to behave during her TV performances of “All the Lovers” etc. This is for people who value the screamy, shouty fan experience more than the music.
- Strip Me – Natasha Bedingfield
- A Christmas Cornucopia – Annie Lennox
Just hilariously earnest.
- Small Craft on a Milk Sea – Brian Eno
I’m not really sure why I decided to listen to this one… I don’t really like abstract anything. Parts of this literally sound like they were made using Eno’s iPhone app Bloom, though, which is why I place it this low. There’s barely anything there.
- Merry Christmas II You – Mariah Carey
If there are as many, I generally try to listen to at least 4 new Christmas albums each year, and this one seemed like the lesser evil over the Glee (which I hate about as equally) Christmas album as my 4th choice… I really should have reconsidered. This is the worst example of Mariahohiahiaaah’s vocal noodling ever and frequently sounds like it’s been on a shelf since the early 90s. The new version of “All I Want for Christmas” is almost passable… but really why bother? The original is the only thing of this lady’s that you need in your Christmas library.