Slightly behind schedule, the countdown continues. We’ll fit it all in before the year is through… (hopefully).
10. Flume – Flume
Another latecomer to the album of the year stakes here, with Flume’s self-titled debut seeing a release at the end of November. Although we’ve only been enjoying it for slightly under a month, we feel confident in declaring this one of the year’s best. Known to his parents as Harley Streten, Flume is one of those frustratingly talented wunderkinds who despite a tender age of twenty one, has produced a genre mashing album drawing influences from a wealth of electronic territory. This incorporates skittering 808 beats (‘Sintra’, ‘Change’, ‘Ezra’, ‘Warm Thoughts’), dreamy electronica minus the potential whiff of fromage that comes with such a tag (‘Sleepless’, ‘Insane’, ‘Bring You Down’), soulful bangers (‘Holdin On’, ‘Left Alone’, ‘Stay Close’) and some tracks which even veer into J Dilla-esque vibes (‘Space Cadet’, ‘On Top’). At fifteen tracks the album is possibly a little overlong, but this does allow for a full showcasing of Flume’s eclectic tastes and techniques, and also clearly illustrates how effortlessly he bridges the gap between underground electronica and pop music. An incredibly accomplished debut, and essentially, a one man mixtape.
9. Iamamiwhoami – Kin
We’ve written about Iamamiwhoami a number of times during the past two years, and it’s testament to the (occasionally trying) project that they’ve maintained our interest securely enough to warrant an end of year accolade. The superb Scandi-pop on ‘Kin’ was without doubt the best example of its kind this year (although an honorable mention to Karin Park whose LP was pretty great too). We once described Iam as “Kate Bush on ketamin”, and whilst that was referring more to the visual aesthetic, it’s also a good fit for the music which constantly swerves and surprises, yet is all held together by creative, soaring melodies. ‘Sever’, ‘Play’ and ‘Idle Talk’ are essentially lush piano ballads reimagined on pristine, glacial synths, whilst ‘Drops’, ‘Good Worker’ and ‘Kill’ combine slightly mental pop with trance in a way that could be terrible but instead feels utterly joyful. Then there’s likes of ‘Rascal’ – minimal in production but with one of the sweetest choruses on the record, the stressful and terrifying oscillating weirdness of ‘In Due Order’ and the borderline disco vibes of ‘Good Worker’. Like many albums this year, ‘Kin’ is an eclectic mix, but a mix that is firmly anchored by the distinctive vocal performance by Joanna Lee which lies at it’s heart. One of the more low profile releases in our countdown, but one that deserves many more ears – get listening.
8. Scuba – Personality
As regular readers to this blog will know one of our main focuses is 4×4 house, a genre that doesn’t traditionally throw up that many exemplary artist albums. We were lucky this year however, as former dubstep don Scuba fully embraced the housey direction he’d been heading in throughout 2011 and gifted us with ‘Personality’ – twelve tracks, almost entirely in 4×4 time, albeit with that time signature being applied to a number of different styles. The sound that really excels on this album is upbeat house with 80’s electro leanings – showcased perfectly on cosmic opener ‘Ignition Key’, in the action movie synth stabs of ‘July’, on the more understated ‘Tulips’ and on ‘NE1BUTU’ – the most balls to the walls thing on the record which also ropes in a massive breakbeat, piano house melody and a dramatic 90s rave vocal for full effect. That’s not to say Scuba doesn’t touch on darker tones too – ‘Underbelly’, slower in tempo, chugs rather than boings. ‘The Hope’ whilst still quite boingy, is actually a bit of an evil techno bastard and ‘Gekko’ utilises a distorted, crackly melody that pounds on relentlessly for six minutes. ‘Flash Addict’ is also pure Berlin techno – insistent, minimal and unforgiving. ‘Personality’ resituates Scuba in the dance landscape and it’s pretty refreshing to see someone fuck off a whole scene and continue to excel so expertly in what they’re doing. Whilst haters might get down on Scuba’s new populist stance, we think this is the most exciting he’s ever been.
7. How To Dress Well – Total Loss
There’s a lot of pseudo-psychological nonsense floating around How To Dress Well (AKA Tom Krell) which we feel has perhaps made ‘Total Loss’ a slightly opaque release – frightening off some listeners with its excessively highbrow context. But break through that wall, and what you’ll find is an accessible album that is beautiful and heartbreaking in equal measure. ‘Total Loss’ is at its core, an R&B record, with Krell’s swooning falsetto it’s primary characteristic. The hazy, atmospheric vibe that defined Krell’s debut is still very much present although production wise, things are much more varied this time round. The rolling beat on ‘Cold Nites’ could be the work of Timbaland, ‘Running Back’ is similarly urban and borrows its vocal hook from Ashanti’s ‘Foolish’. ‘Say My Name Or Say Whatever’ meanwhile pays homage to Steve Reich with it’s repeated piano refrain, before ‘& It Was U’ references Prince, also marking the moment in the record where things become more noticeably insular. We’ve already written about the beautiful string-laden ballad that is ‘Talking To You’, which is followed by the Clams Casino-esque ‘Set It Right’. Finally, ‘Ocean Floor For Everything’ leads us out in a suitably misty style, leaving us uncertain as to the direction in which album three will head but excited at its prospect. Also very much worth some of your time is Krell’s FACT mix from September – not amazingly technical, but superbly curated and one that we’ve had on repeat ever since it surfaced.
Set It Right
6. Girls Aloud – Ten
A greatest hits compilation in the best albums of the year list? A controversial decision perhaps, but in our opinion, a valid one. Girls Aloud are without question the most accomplished British pop act of the last decade and ‘Ten’ really is a testimony to their greatness. At twenty eight songs long it’s a bit of a monster, but of those twenty eight songs, very little is filler. We all know that Girls Aloud’s principal strength is on upbeat dance numbers, which come in glorious droves – ‘Sexy! No No No’, ‘Something Kinda Ooh’, ‘The Show’ and ‘Untouchable’ (which regrettably appears here in a massively cut-down, autotuned form) are all shining examples of this – with new cuts ‘Something New’ and the Benny Benassi-esque ‘On The Metro’ only adding to the canon. Then there’s their weirdly retro records – ‘Can’t Speak French’, ‘Love Machine’, ‘Graffiti My Soul’. Perhaps most commendable is how stupidly amazing the drum-and-bass-meets-surf-rock of ‘No Good Advice’ and ‘Sound Of The Underground’ still sound ten years on (for context, pop on the only slightly older ‘Pure and Simple’ by HearSay to see how dreadful that sounds now). And then there’s ‘Biology’, the song that may come to define the girls’ career. It’s three songs in one, it’s as sprawling as ‘Paranoid Android’, it’s as mental as ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, it has about eighteen choruses, only some of which are the same. It still sounds as exciting today as it did in 2005 and reminds us all that no pop act of the twenty first century has come close to their majesty. Welcome back.
On The Metro