Concluding his list of the year’s best, Luke McNaney offers his very humble opinions on the albums you should be buying in the Crimbo sales.
Whether you agreed with the first ten choices in my top twenty is down to merely good or bad taste (mwahaha) but here’s the all killer, no filler top ten for you to ponder over. Before focusing on the positive though, I feel the need to vent about two of the biggest disappointments of the year. Timbaland had always impressed with his production duties on tracks for big-name stars so it was sad that, despite its roll-call of impressive guests, only a handful of tracks on Shock Value matched his previous work in the quality control department. On the other hand, Bloc Party got the music right but ruined it all with clunky lyrics about shallow life in the capital, meaning A Weekend in the City fell short of equalling debut, Silent Alarm.
One cannot call an end-of-year list an end-of-year list without tipping one’s hat to next year’s surefire success stories. Adele has got youth, songwriting talent and what fellow London gal Nash would call a ‘propa good’ voice but I’m going to vouch for Laura Marling instead. Head on over to www.myspace.com/lauramarling to hear Night Terror and My Manic and I, two songs that suggest her debut album will be residing in my list next year. That’s enough dilly dallying; on to this year’s list…
10. Emily Haines & the Soft Skeleton – Knives Don’t Have Your Back
PJ Harvey wasn’t the only iconic female in the biz to ditch her guitar this year, with Emily Haines releasing this understated solo effort. As with White Chalk, the songs here evoked a tangible despair and loneliness (see the chilly Crowd Surf Off a Cliff) with Haines accompanied by little more than her piano and, true to form, some of the best lyrics you’ve heard in a while. Mirroring Metric’s twin concerns of sex and death, the likes of Detective Daughter and Doctor Blind are the musical equivalent of a David Lynch noir with Haines acting as femme fatale. Perhaps what makes it stand out, though, are the moments of unforced beauty; taking top honours is Reading in Bed, a heart-wrenching tribute to her father that refuses to take the easy sentimental route. By the time you get to album closer Winning, you’ll realize that, underneath all the dark theatrics, Haines is simply offering us hope as she makes the promise, ‘We’ll fix it…’
Best track – Crowd Surf Off a Cliff
9. Goose – Bring It On
Although it made a huge impression, Haines’ album wasn’t exactly choice material to stick on whilst getting ready to go out. And that’s exactly why we have bands like Goose, isn’t it? Originating from Belgium, this lot were proof that the much-maligned ‘Euro dance’ scene is a lot healthier than our own; never mind getting ready, Goose offered an album that you’d happily dance to all night. The title track, all layered vocal hooks and tremendous bass, was the one that brought them tantalizingly close to mainstream attention, making its way into festival sets from many a famous DJ all summer. The album’s refusal to churn out carbon-copy replicas is where they hit gold, though, the Rapture-does-Goldfrapp glam stomp of 3T4 vying for your attention over the equally impressive new-wave techno of Modern Vision. And lest not forget the barnstorming all-out rave monsters like Black Gloves and Everybody that may not have made it to a warehouse near you but bloody well should have.
Best track – Bring It On
8. Rufus Wainwright – Release the Stars
Apparently, his stint as Judy Garland had a long-lasting effect because, with the release of his fifth studio album, Rufus Wainwright announced himself as both a devotee to ‘classic’ songwriting and a fully-fledged starlet. The title track and Slideshow were both centred around choruses that needed BIG vocal performances to make them fly, while Rules and Regulations was pure Burt Bacharach with its intricate horn section and employment of a timeless melody. Never one to shy away from excess, even the sparser moments here were huge, Nobody’s Off the Hook and Leaving for Paris, No. 2 essentially piano ballads given a bit of a dressing up. However, nobody could prepare us for Do I Dissapoint You, the gloriously grandiose epic that suggests Wainwright may just manage to blow us all away with his forthcoming opera.
Best track – Do I Disappoint You
7. The White Stripes – Icky Thump
When Jack and Meg released their Icky Thump single in early summer, the scene was set for a sixth album that delivered the expected rollicking blues thrashers but added some obscure ingredients into the mix. Bagpipes and stylophone solos? One day, every single person on earth will revel in Jack White’s genius but, while the few remaining non-fans are being converted, embrace this challenging but, above all, playful album and never give it away – even if the duo come knocking at your door demanding your earthly possessions, as on choice track Rag and Bone.
Best track – Rag and Bone
6. Tori Amos – American Doll Posse
While her contemporaries were swapping guitars for piano-embracing self-reflection, Tori Amos did exactly the opposite. Adopting four alter-egos, not to mention her self-styled ‘M.I.L.F’ Tori persona, Amos created the ultimate girl group in her ‘doll posse’. Martini-sipping Santa did sensuous on You Can Bring Your Dog, while politically-charged Isabel sounded off about the current administration on the biting Yo George. It was angsty rock chick Pip who shook fans from their comfort zone, though; while Tori’s body of work has always been feisty, Pip’s ranting on Teenage Hustling and Fat Slut traded in ivories for feedback and big guitars. Still finding time to deliver some of her more recognisable piano ballads via the persona of Clyde, including string-soaked highlight Girl Disappearing, Amos proved why she has one of the most loyal fanbases in the world; challenging and varied, American Doll Posse was her fiercest record in a decade.
Best track – Girl Disappearing
5. Justice – Cross
Relatively new to the dance world, after their remix of Simian’s We Are Your Friends transformed them into superstar DJs overnight, French duo Justice are encouraging the impressionable youth of today to paint neon crosses on their cheeks (copies of the iconic crucifix that adorns the pair’s decks at every gig) and dance like there’s no tomorrow. Given this, it should be no surprise that D.A.N.C.E. takes the prize for being the slickest pop track of the year (and, let’s be shallow, video too!), although the Phantom suite, Genesis and Waters of Nazareth are more indicative of a live DJ set that takes its time to build its beats into something vital and exhilarating.
Best track – D.A.N.C.E.
4. M.I.A. – Kala
Taking everything that made her Mercury-nominated Arular such a fresh hit in 2005, Sri Lankan-born M.I.A. also managed to up her game, creating the most dizzyingly inventive pop album of the year. Marrying global sounds with futuristic beats, Kala revels in its eclecticism, inviting you to do the same. Bouncing effortlessly between off-the-wall collaborations (Mango Pickle Down River, Timbaland’s Come Around), party tracks with a conscience (20 Dollar, Paper Planes) and should-have-been crossover mega-hits (Boyz, Jimmy), this is a return so unexpectedly ingenious that it calls for another. Pow pow!
Best track – Paper Planes
3. Klaxons – Myths of the Near Future
Although they deserve to have the Mercury prize taken away from them, following the complete lack of modesty they showed with their acceptance speech, the judges made the right choice in honouring Klaxons’ debut. A window into a psyched-out, sci-fi alternate universe, Myths of the Near Future took indie by the glow bracelet and showed it how to be brave, colourful and brilliantly weird. The lyrics about apocalyptic horsemen and Interzone may be pretentious bollocks but they accompany the most twisted shapes of pop songs heard this year, making anything and everything acceptable – even a Grace cover.
Best track – Golden Skans
2. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
“It’s not as good as Funeral,” everyone sighed when Arcade Fire released their follow-up to that debut album in early March. The grumbles soon subsided, though, and quite rightly too. Thankfully, overcoming a suspiciously new-rave title, Neon Bible kept all the trademarks of the band’s sound and mastered them into something close to Funeral, Part 2. However, while their debut was about coming to terms with loss and grief, this return was angry about the state of the world. It’s almost as if Win Butler is delivering sermons when he sings, and when he cries ‘World War III, when you coming for me?’ on Windowsill, he is answered forebodingly by the crashing organs of Intervention and My Body is a Cage. It’s not all ominous, though, the sweeping No Cars Go and Keep the Car Running matching the euphoric heights of their first record. Needless to say, I was gritting my teeth with jealousy when watching the coverage of their set at Reading.
Best track – Ocean of Noise
1. Maximo Park – Our Earthly Pleasures
I think you’d agree that this choice is a little bit different to last year’s triumphant Joanna Newsom. I’m not filling any sort of indie-pop quota, though; rather, and simply put, this is my favourite album of the year. Despite a slew of uninspired tosh littering the charts, the so-called ‘indie’ scene has seen many a quality act (Maccabees, for one) emerge this year. Sadly, though, Paul Smith and his merry men have seemingly been overlooked in the end-of-year polls, although they’ve done what Kaiser Chiefs and numerous other mainstream indie acts failed to do: they made a second album that trounced their debut. Lead single Our Velocity announced itself with more hooks than a grappling hook, aiming to get you jumping around like a hyperactive big kid – like Paul Smith himself, in fact. There was more to love when the album was released in March, songs like Girls Who Play Guitar and A Fortnight’s Time feeling like a continuation of A Certain Trigger‘s instantly catchy hits. It was with the unexpected emotional weight of Books From Boxes, Karaoke Plays and By the Monument that Our Earthly Pleasures proved itself as no mere exercise in treading water; instead, it retained the energy and smarts they’d displayed prior, while adding a lyrical bravery that had you choking back the tears. In its own small way, this album helped me through some of the downers I had this year and, once I’d seen the light, it was still there for me afterwards down at the indie disco. Both a personal highlight of my year and a huge success in the wider sense, it is my own earthly pleasure to announce Maximo Park as 2007’s number one.