Monday, 23 December 2019

Albums of the Decade: 2010-2019

Why do people like to look back; over the year, or over a decade, or even their lifetime? There's some comfort to be found in 'a remembrance of things past' I guess, together with the fact that sometimes it's hard to imagine a future, or at least a future that you want to be part of. So I've jumped on the decade review bandwagon and thought about the 10 records that had the most impact on me personally. There's no scientific method to this - some are records I'm still in awe of, some changed my opinion of the artist, and some I just played the hell out of. You won't agree with all of them (maybe not any of them) but that's just the way with opinions - everybody's got one. So here's mine.

1. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

It's a masterpiece, there's no other word for it. Even if you took all of the raps off it, it would still be one of the best instrumental hip-hop albums ever made. The depth and breadth of samples used are just ridiculous, the list of credits for each track are insane. Then you add in the vocals - Kanye's are the usual mix of greatness and cheese but each of the guests really ups their game. "$50k for a verse, no album out?" spits Nikki Minaj, a moment of truthful bragging during 'Monster' on a track that also features Jay-Z, Bon Iver and Rick Ross. Yes, that's just one track. Even if you've never listened to this album you'll recognise a lot of the tracks, as their power and pomp has been used in adverts and films ever since. Kanye will never make another album like this (for a number of reasons) but that's ok - we've got this one and that's all we need.

2. David Bowie - Blackstar

The greatest artistic farewell ever made? I think so. Still pushing boundaries even as he edged closer to death, Bowie delivered a jazz-tinged album that stood in its own universe, with possibly his least obscure and most personal lyrics ever. Three days after its release he died, sealing the mythology of the album and ascending into the stratosphere of true genius musicians. Oh, and the album cover art was a masterpiece in itself and inspired my first ever tattoo, which has become a slippery slope of music-related inkings.

3. Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool

Compared to their previous few releases this is a decidedly old-fashioned and traditional record. A lot of the previous electronic leanings were ditched and instead this release reflected a band embracing their maturity. It's a calm but dense record, full of gentle moments but with an undercurrent of darkness. If it turns out to be their final record then it's a pretty good way to bow out.

4. Bon Iver - 22, A Million

By the time of his third Justin Vernon had become a bit of a celebrity collaborator, working with the likes of Kanye West and James Blake. You can't help thinking that this helped him to push his boundaries further, resulting in this album. Initially hard to penetrate, but once you can decode the obtuse titles and equally opaque musical refrains you'll find a brave and uncompromising artistic vision.

5. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City

There are a couple of reasons why I love this record. Firstly it showed that Vampire Weekend had a depth and maturity that their previous albums hadn't even hinted at, and secondly it's one of the best albums about New York ever recorded, which I played a lot on my first visit to the Big Apple.

6. John Grant - Queen of Denmark

Having never heard of The Czars, Grant's previous group, this album came out of nowhere for me and hit me hard. The self-deprecating, witty and frankly rude lyrics were juxtaposed with beautiful melodies, and bellowing the lyrics to the title track is still one of my favourite things to do at Grant's concerts.

7. James Blake - James Blake

A truly ground-breaking record, and one that showed that it was possible so imbue electronics with heart and soul. Loops, vocoders and glitches combine with stomach-rumbling bass, over which Blake’s fragile vocals threaten to break entirely and disappear into the electronic void. For me there’s a line that runs from Kanye’s ‘808s & Heartbreak’ through this and onto albums like Bon Iver’s ’22, A Million’ and both the FKA Twigs records.

8. Daft Punk - Random Access Memories

The skill and craftsmanship on this record still leaves me breathless. Unfairly maligned by some (for the inclusion of Pharrell, for being a change of direction, for just being so damn GOOD) this is a record that achieves its aims by the bucketload. From the recruitment of ‘live’ musicians – Nile Rodgers, Nathan East, Chilly Gonzales – to the use of 4 different microphones from the periods of time Giorgio Moroder describes in his monologue – this is a record that screams quality and style.

9. St. Vincent - St. Vincent

A stunning re-invention , which followed on the heels of her working with David Byrne, and which pushed St. Vincent into a whole new league. This is futuristic guitar-based pop at its very best, a million miles away from when I first saw her supporting The National with just a guitar and not much stage presence.

10. LCD Soundsystem - American Dream

An album that I was ready to hate, almost wanted to hate in fact, following the whole splitting up, saying goodbye and then reforming scenario. But what a record to come back with! Far better than its predecessor ‘This Is Happening’,  it manages to sound like LCD Soundsystem the live group, but also weaves in most of the key artists James has ever been influenced by in his songwriting. Let’s hope they don’t feel the need to break up again before they can make another record.

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