We used a spreadsheet this year. Yes, a bloody spreadsheet.
It’s still not a perfect representation of what was an excellent year for music or, in fact, what we individually valued, but it will have to do. And at least we arrived at a top ten rather than the fudge of a top four we presented to you, adoring reader(s), this time last year.
Residing in the bubbling under category for 2010 were cracking albums by: The Hold Steady, Titus Andronicus, Holy Fuck, Wavves, Silver Mt Zion, The Divine Comedy, To Rococo Rot, Gold Panda, Thomas White, The Phantom Band, and Wooden Shjips.
Which – when we look at it – is a pretty amazing set of also-rans. It was a good year for music, like we said. Here’s a Spotify playlist of (nearly) all the artists we loved from 2010.
And the honourable reissues were:
Nosferatu D2 – We’re Gonna Walk Around This City With Our Headphones On To Block Out The Noise. If this had been released this year it would have been in our collective top 20. It’s brilliant.
The Wonder Stuff – Hup (21st Anniversary Edition). More of a remake than a reissue, but still a pile of beautiful bile and hoe-down pop silliness.
And now, in reverse order for the sheer hell of it, here’s our top ten of ’10:
10. Drum Eyes: Gira Gira
Cloaks on! Enormous squelchy head-nodding sounds from DJ Scotch Egg and team. Engaging, mesmerising, sounds ace really really loud.
9. Four Tet: There Is Love In You
Kieran Hebden – one of Putney’s finest exports – leaves the folktronica to one side and steers a rewardingly wobbly path between the tricksy and the tuneful. Consistently rewarding.
8. Mugstar: …Sun, Broken…
Space-rock for the now age. Gloriously large riffage and droned workouts that eat your ears.
7. The European: In a Very Real Sense Now
Deserves a proper review, really, and it might just get one before the end of the year. Simon Break writes tunes your postman could whistle and lyrics than are still making us laugh eight months after we first heard them. Proper pop for the not easily pleased.
6. The National: High Violet
After a good deal of excited waiting we got something like the album we were waiting for. Something of a breakthrough/crossover album, though the production arguably blunted some of the charm. When it worked – particularly on ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ – it made you think there was hope for this big indie band thing after all.
5. Fang Island: Fang Island
A refreshing lack of po-faced sincerity, this record is a joy from start to finish. If you can’t smile to and with this record there’s something wrong with you and the world.
Life Coach – Fang Island
4. Teenage Fanclub – Shadows
Baby Lee – Teenage Fanclub
3. I Like Trains – He Who Saw the Deep
Not-so-difficult second album helped out by fan pledges – definitely one of the best ways of getting round the problem of making music pay for itself. Still doing an excellent job at the point on the Venn diagram where songs and post-rock meet, with Guy Bannister’s voice more than holding up against the swelling guitars and drums. Wonderful.
Progress is a Snake – I Like Trains
2. Teeth Of The Sea – Your Mercury
An album that re-instates your faith that the musically new is possible after all. Properly disquieting, epic and expansive, TOTS push at barriers you didn’t realise existed until they’re collapsing around your head. We love ’em.
You’re Mercury – Teeth of the Sea
1. No Age – Everything In Between
Abstract interludes, all out DIY two-chorders, angsty beauty and everything in between. A truly staggering achievement of tortured guitars, noise and harmonies. We both saw them live this year and were left grinning like shit-eating tortoises. Marvellous.
Shed and Transcend – No Age
We hope you enjoyed. Merry Christmas. And see you soon.
Jkneale and angrybonbon
[All of these lovely records are available from shops – independent ones, big shiny ones, online ones, ones where there isn’t really a shop but you have to email some bloke. We like buying records – actually, we really do. And we think you should too, so if you like any of this and haven’t already bought them, go on! They’ll be cheap by now]
Partly via the power of fan’s donations He Who Saw the Deep is about to be released after cash was pledged to get it mastered, marketed and toured. Not only is this approach inventive, but it lends a greater personal attachment to the music and the band that can only fill a fan’s heart with warmth. I’m suitably heart-warmed.
For me this sense of involvement was there before I Like Trains embarked on this endeavour, as I’d begun to grow slightly concerned as to how they might progress their sound. Don’t get me wrong – another album of skin-tingling epics wouldn’t have gone amiss, but I foresaw a possible faltering interest in future releases. Fortunately there’s an overriding sense of progression on He Who Saw the Deep that allays this. And equally fortunately this is evolution without a radical and jolting sense of loss for what has gone before.
As if to echo this sense of development, lyrically the historical documents have gone. Instead there are stories of intimacy that contrast starkly with the de-personal distancing that themed the previous output. ‘A Father’s Son’ tells of paternal relationships in all their hypocritical and awkward glory – “I’ll occupy the space between what you say and what you mean” – and thus without the sugary coating that the topic usually generates. ‘Progress is a Snake’ tells of hubris and arrogance, yet is tinged with a slowly emerging and subtle sense of hope. And it seems that the band have discovered the power of a chorus, with more obvious hooks slowly but surely working themselves into your affections (although we’re still some way from pop in any taken-for-granted sense).
On the musical side of things the reverb might have been turned down a touch on the guitars, yet they still envelope, surge and sound magisterial when synergised with Simon Fogal’s always intelligent beats. And there’s a developed sense of pace and urgency about some of the tunes, especially in the upbeat (well, for I Like Trains) opener ‘When we were Kings’.
Having said all this about progression and noticeable yet restrained changes, the standout track is the 2009 single ‘Sea of Regrets’ which relies on the building epic blueprint of the past iLiKETRAiNS. Yet it’s possibly the best thing they’ve ever written – properly and truly breathtaking. Indeed it’s also standout for being the only song I’ve known a crowd demand be played twice in a row the last time I saw them at The Deaf Institute. They didn’t but I think they were tempted given the reaction it engendered. Here it is, in all its 8:05 and 320kpbs glory:
I’m only posting one track to encourage you to purchase. Please do – pre-order the album here.
Something’s happened to I Like Trains….Did you spot it? No? Look again. It’s all in the writing. A move from iLiKETRAiNS to the former, for reasons unbeknownst to me.
There’s another potentially more worrying development on The Christmas Tree Ship EP – it’s missing David Martin’s deep baritone and affecting storytelling. I do hope this is a temporary hiatus. Perhaps I’m just being lazy in having to imagine the historical subject matter – the loss of a ship in 1912 that carried Christmas trees across Lake Michigan to the residents of Chicago – rather than having the events re-told.
So in some ways the purely instrumental approach seems at first to slightly fall short of other offerings. But then you listen again and again, and waves of sound, equal parts icy and hearthside warming, breach your defences as guitars soothe, rouse, lull and tingle, leaving you full of melancholy and mournful conjecture as to what Christmas would be like without a tree. Typographical and other changes are forgiven and you’re made aware of just exactly what makes this lot so very special.
The EP only really makes sense as a whole so go buy it (if you can find it – the official website is sold out), wrap it up, put it under your tree and think of those lost as you warm your chestnuts.
Here’s a brief taster. Consider it a BBO bauble.
I probably should spend my limited energy fighting and worrying about the big injustices of the world: y’know, poverty, discrimination, inequality, environmental destruction, Boris Johnson, and the like (please note these are not necessarily commensurate). Yet of late I’ve found myself getting irate about how the fucking Kooks – the aural equivalent of an out-of-date pack of egg mayo sarnies – can get so much airplay and be so popular when the sublime beauty of iLiKETRAiNS get over-looked and barely half fill the Roadhouse in Manc a couple of weeks or so back (yep, this review is late again…blame neo-liberalism).
Let’s be honest: most people passionate about music love the exclusivity of the obscure and the little-known. However, there are times when I want to the whole god-damned world to hear music of the finest quality like iLiKETRAiNS. Yet such a desire always comes with the fear that the larger a band gets the worse they might become. Not that popularity means a loss in quality – the Arcade Fire can fill out the MEN arena so the ‘big=bad’ equation just don’t hold. But then the fucking Kooks exist and get to number 2 in the album charts so there’s an inherent tension to any discussion of good music and popularity.
Anyroadup, the Trains were on fine form again. New single ‘We go hunting’ was suitably sinister and disturbing, ‘Spencer Perceval’ was as cacophonously affecting as ever and a new song (seemingly about sea-level change from what I could gather from lyrics and visuals) bodes enormously well for the future. Plus, amongst the stories of madness, death, deception and despair the band manage to remain strangely cheery in their banter with the lucky few gathered.
They’ve also just released a DVD version of ‘Elegies to Lessons Learnt’ (teaser here). Taking the form of an animated film, the central character is dragged through history (via some sort of time travelling telegraph pole) and dropped into the various stories the songs explore. Having watched the trailers before purchase, I was concerned that the film might have the look and feel of an A-level visual art project. Yet whilst we’re not talking top-end CGI here the film only adds to the experience of the album. The closers of ‘Epiphany’ and ‘Death is the End’ contain some genuinely moving and unsettling visual moments. You’ll see what I mean when you buy it here and their music here.
Listen to these and fuck the fucking Kooks
“Are there any freshers here? Are there any history freshers here? Well consider this your first lecture”
Well, after this gig I want to be part of the University of iLiKETRAiNS. In fact, sleepless nights would be avoided if I could only go some way to inspiring, moving and enchanting students like t’trains do tonight.
iLiKETRAiNS look great. They manage to be hirsute and sartorially elegant at the same time: white shirts, black ties and armbands, and a nice range of facial hair. The projections draw you in – each song is given a geographical location and images that accord with the story recounted. One such lesson – concerning the plague in Eyam in Derbyshire -was utterly moving (Lou’s parents live nearby). Yet even if the events and historical figures remain obscure the stories move and inspire.
And then there’s the sound. The term post-rock is used as a shorthand for some great innovations, but also as a way to smuggle j*zz into my world. There’s also a lot of disappointments encompassed by this term. But t’trains truly produce soaring walls of minor chord infused noise (no, not sonic cathedrals). Throughout the night you get the feeling that you’ve heard this one before, but it really, really, doesn’t matter as you get enveloped by their sound. This lot are truly very good indeed and may well be appearing in this here blog a lot in the future (the new album is out 1st October – buy it here)
Two songs from their brilliant short album, Progress Reform.
Terra Nova – iLiKETRAiNS
A Rook House for Bobby – iLiKETRAiNS