Graham’s soundtrack to 2010

Disc 1

1 Jonsi – Go Do
2 Delorean – Stay Close
3 Atlas Sound feat Noah Lennox – Walkabout
4 Underworld – Always Loved A Film
5 Wavves – King Of The Beach
6 The Fall – Bury (parts 2 & 4)
7 Owen Pallett – Keep The Dog Quiet
8 Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
9 Perfume Genius – Learning
10 Frightened Rabbit – Things
11 The National – Sorrow
12 Massive Attack – Girl I Love You
13 Liars – The Overachievers
14 Sleigh Bells – Rill Rill
15 Dark Dark Dark – Robert
16 Yeasayer – I Remember
17 The xx – VCR (Four Tet remix)
18 Serena Maneesh – Melody For Jaana

Disc 2

1 Sleigh Bells – Tell ‘Em
2 Underworld – Between Stars
3 LCD Soundsystem – All I Want
4 Retribution Gospel Choir – Hide It Away
5 Julian Lynch – Just Enough
6 The Hidden Cameras – Underage
7 Perfume Genius – Mr Peterson
8 Dark Dark Dark – Daydreaming
9 First Aid Kit – I Met Up With The King
10 The Fall – Funnel Of Love
11 Caribou – Kaili
12 Delorean – Real Love
13 Gold Panda – You
14 Massive Attack – Paradise Circus
15 The National – Runaway
16 Jonsi – Boy Lilikoi
17 James – Hero
18 Frightened Rabbit – Not Miserable
19 The Mountain Goats – Genesis 30:3

‘Pointless artifacts from a mediocre past / So I shed my clothes, I shed my flesh / Down to the bone and burned the rest’

2010: Year zero. It was time to start again; moving into a flat by myself in Putney and be a single person in one of the world’s greatest cities. I’m writing this blog the day after knocking off the 2009 one and I just feel an enormous release when listening to 2010 instead. It was a very good year.

The manifesto for the year is there in the opening song. No interminable fade-ins or intro songs to get you started here – the sugar-rush comes seconds in with the mad percussion of ‘Go Do’ by Sigur Ros mastermind Jonsi Birgisson. His debut album was a departure from his day job, with faster, punchier songs, though you couldn’t mistake his work for anyone else. The album Go came out the week I moved to Putney and I associate its opening song with leaving my flat each morning and revelling in my free existence and new surroundings. ‘Now we can do anything’, indeed.

And I did do anything. I’d wanted for years to go to the Primavera Sound festival, and all of a sudden I had my chance, allowing me to return to one of my favourite cities, years after my first visit. My holiday there in May was amazing, and is summed up by the next two songs – the Animal Collective-goes-Balearic rush of ‘Stay Close’ by Barcelona band Delorean, who played at Primavera but inconveniently clashed with Fuck Buttons, and ‘Walkabout’ by Bradford Cox, playing under his Atlas Sound moniker alongside Animal Collective’s Noah Lennox. ‘Walkabout’ gave me one of my favourite moments of the year, watching tourists, sellers and bar-hoppers all mingling in Placa Real on a balmy night while listening to this song all about renewal. Though Underworld didn’t release ‘Always Loved A Film’ until a couple of months after my Spanish trip, it fits in perfectly here – they’d never done something as glowsticks-in-the-air cheesy as the ‘Heaven! Can you feel it?’ chorus, but I just got the chills listening back to it just now.

A couple of narky rock songs follow. Nathan Williams may have lost a little bit of individuality when he hired a decent producer for his Wavves project, but it allows the King Of The Beach album’s title track to shine on its own merits rather than give people an excuse to focus on all the fuzz. Meanwhile, Mark E Smith, old enough to be Williams’ dad, produced one of his periodically great late-period albums in Your Future Our Clutter – and the single Bury had some unique promotion – the single’s slow-motion video was first released on Bury Council’s website.

Arcade Fire returned with The Suburbs – an album that stripped back some of its predecessor’s excesses (less Bono-isms) and replaced it with others (making it 20 minutes too long). Still, at least there are bands prepared to take the odd risk now. Its title track was the pleasantly-plodding first single, but I could have picked any one of three or four others to include. It follows the menacing ‘Keep The Car Running’ by their string arranger Owen Pallett, and leads into heartstring-tugging piano ballad ‘Learning’ by Mike Hadreas, aka Perfume Genius.

I’m an enormous sucker for arena rock if it’s done right, and Frightened Rabbit’s second album The Winter Of Mixed Drinks is enormously underrated – if fellow Scots The Twilight Sad had the ambition to be as big as U2, they might write songs as sweeping as ‘Things’ – Big Music in the best possible sense. The National had steadily cultivated a growing fanbase over the years, and I jumped fully on board a bit belatedly with their album High Violet – ‘Sorrow’ being a gorgeous minor key epic.

Massive Attack made their big comeback in 2010 with the album Heligoland – Since Mezzanine in 1998, they’d only made one album in the interim and it was pretty devoid of everything that drew me to them in the first place. Heligoland was a partial return to form. If not a front-to-back masterpiece like their initial run of albums, at least they could turn up the odd song that wouldn’t have sounded out of place amongst their early stuff. ‘Girl I Love You’ was one such track – my song of the year, it would have fitted nicely onto Mezzanine with its soft-as-snow Horace Andy vocal floating over the top of a gnarly bassline and the most menacing horn section this side of Radiohead’s ‘The National Anthem’. It also was the soundtrack to a few of my blacker moods, a reminder that not everything in 2010 was sweetness and light. It leads into Liars’ ‘The Overachievers’, a song sung with obvious contempt for its subject, comfy-living Los Angeles layabouts – I particularly that line ‘we settled down WITH CATS!’, sung with emphasis for no obvious reason.

Moving on, we have three very different ballads. Sleigh Bells had delivered their first album following the startling ‘Crown On The Ground’ single, and it delivered on every level, and ‘Rill Rill’ showed that even their ballads could be punishingly loud. In comparison, Dark Dark Dark deliver their ballads hushed. ‘Robert’ reminds me of walking alone in the vineyards near my dad’s house in France – sound and background matching perfectly. Then there’s Yeasayer’s take, ‘I Remember’, which is probably best described as an electronic power ballad – the synth glissandos and enormous piano crashes bring to mind Barcelona again, and a walk through the beautiful gardens of Parc Montjuic, as does the My Bloody Valentine homage of Serena Maneesh’s ‘Melody For Jaana’ which closes this disc.

But before ‘Melody For Jaana’ is, in my humble opinion, the greatest remix I’ve ever heard. I was never an enormous fan of The xx, having bought their album off the back of the enormous hype it was creating (something I used to do all the time back in the day) and being disappointed. Their appearance at Primavera changed my opinion a little, but it was left to Kieran Hebden – better known as Four Tet – to completely deconstruct the song, set vocal fragments of it to an impossibly funky 4/4 beat, and stretch it to nine minutes – the last two minutes of which are goosebump-inducing. It’s my ultimate Putney song – both Hebden and the xx hailing from SW15 – and again brings back some terrific memories of a fantastic year.

BOOM-BOOM-BOOM-BOOM POW POW!

I don’t ease the listener in on disc two. In fact, I’d love to imagine the effect of the opening beats from ‘Tell ‘Em’, mixed way above your usual levels, to be kind of like what happens when Marty McFly plugs in his guitar at the start of the first Back To The Future. ‘Tell ‘Em’, like any Sleigh Bells release before or since, is not subtle. It’s the perfect opener to their Treats album, and although they’ve released albums of fairly diminishing returns since, their debut remains a pure statement of everything that’s good about them. It nicely sets up the night-time pulse of Underworld’s ‘Between Stars’, which is like a more commercial, glowsticks-aloft take on some of their early brooding pieces like ‘Confusion The Waitress’.

James Murphy released his final album as LCD Soundsystem as 2010. Sadly, This Is Happening wasn’t quite the masterpiece that Sound Of Silver was, with a lot of retreads of old work and overly-long songs – traits that crept into Murphy’s work with Arcade Fire on the recent Reflektor. Though like Reflektor, that’s not to say that This Is Happening was without merit, and the “Heroes” rewrite that was ‘All I Want’ was Murphy’s standard ‘mature’ song that he seems to throw on to every album.

My favourite band of the last few years, Low, were on a hiatus in 2010, but it didn’t stop their main man Alan Sparhawk releasing some very new material. His Retribution Gospel Choir side-project, for the most part, isn’t nearly as interesting as the name suggests – a lot of RGC stuff is a homage to classic rock, one of my least favourite genres – but their single ‘Hide It Away’ is a balls-out loud rock song with the glorious chorus. You get the feeling Sparhawk needed to get this out of his system before returning to the day job.

The influence of John Peel’s radio show on my early 2000s soundtracks is something I’ve written about a lot. After his death I found it quite hard to connect to a radio show in the same way; I tried his immediate replacements for a while, then the creation of fans of his, Dandelion Radio, but it wasn’t quite the same. Then in their eternal wisdom, BBC 6 Music – a radio station whose existence was seriously under threat at the time – hired his son, Tom Ravenscroft, to do a Friday evening show. That show has been my main ‘must listen’ every week ever since, and provided a number of songs that make up the heart of this disc. Julian Lynch produces what I can only describe as drone-folk – there’s elements of all sorts of influences in there, which is probably what you’d expect from someone who studies ethnomusicology. Perfume Genius’ ‘Mr Peterson’ is a moving piano ballad about inappropriate relations with a schoolteacher – with Mike Hadreas, it’s difficult to tell whether these songs are autobiographical or not. First Aid Kit’s passionately-sung ‘I Met Up With The King’ was an instant favourite of my girlfriend Nat, who I’d started going out with towards the end of the year.

But Tom Ravenscroft championed one band above all in his opening months at 6 Music, and most particularly one song. Dark Dark Dark are a folk band from Minneapolis who hit absolute gold with their song ‘Daydreaming’, a piano ballad with yearning lyrics that was probably the most beautiful thing I heard all year, in a field of strong contenders.

After The Fall’s Wanda Jackson cover ‘Funnel Of Love’, which sounds exactly like you’d imagine a Fall cover of a Wanda Jackson song to sound like, the second half turns its focus to some of the best electronic sounds of the year. I got into the Caribou and Gold Panda quite late in the year after Rough Trade named their albums among 2010’s best. Caribou’s ‘Kaili’ was a knotty swarm of beatless electronics – a good reintroduction to Dan Snaith after he briefly crossed my radar under his old Manitoba guise. Delorean get their second song on here, ‘Real Love’, to bring back lots of lovely Barcelona memories.

Massive Attack and The National also get a second song. If disc one’s ‘Girl I Love You’ would have fitted perfectly on to Massive Attack’s classic Mezzanine album, then ‘Paradise Circus’ – a song that would later become the title music for BBC drama Luther – would slot rather nicely amongst the filmic soul surroundings of 1994’s Protection. Proof that Massive Attack, if not able to produce a perfect full-length, could at least occasionally hit the jackpot over five minutes. Meanwhile, The National’s quieter tracks make for good moments for contemplation while standing on station platforms, and ‘Runaway’ (along with ‘England’, which it narrowly beat on to here) fitted with a quiet moment myself standing at Vauxhall station.

The final run of songs begins with a dramatic flourish. ‘Boy Lilikoi’ was the first I heard from Jonsi’s solo work, a couple of months ahead of the album’s release. I think it was Pitchfork’s description of the song that particularly sold it to me before I’d heard a note: ‘You know exactly where this song should go in the Disney cartoon of your dreams. It’s a montage scene. Teacups or toucans or maybe sea urchins spontaneously line up to sing and dance as if their entire little lives were building up to this exact moment.’ Absolutely spot on. The song’s climax is almost too perfect it’s a shame that something has to follow it, and James’ ‘Hero’, a song from one of their two mini-albums they released in 2010, can’t help but suffer in comparison.

But finishing off is Frightened Rabbit, with a song that kind of summed up a brilliant 2010, the anthemic ‘Not Miserable’, and a simple piano ballad from 2009’s Mountain Goats album. This is the third time I’ve picked a Mountain Goats song as a wildcard (a track I pick from any year), but I think there’s something about John Darnielle’s songs which often don’t hit immediately at the time for me. This one clicked when walking round a deserted airport terminal in the summer, its sparseness really hitting home.

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