Part two of our tunes round-up takes in another twenty-five of the finest ear candy 2010 had to offer. Counting down from 75 to 51.
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from the He Knew EP [self-released]
If you’re a regular reader of our Free Music Friday column, you’ll know that Brooklyn duo Chalk & Numbers are a recent discovery for Wears The Trousers. Trading in refreshingly direct retro-styled indie-pop that makes no attempt to hide behind distortion, ‘He Knew’ touches on ’60s girl-group sounds, surf guitar and clean Motown-styled production. Sable Yong’s vocals are brilliantly pitched, and the whole thing adds up to a knowing, brightly irreverent antidote to the winter chill.
from the digital single ‘b’ [iamamiwhoami; March 2010]
Of all the artists working under a veil of anonymity in 2010, none provoked as much discussion as iamamiwhoami. The Knife, Christina Aguilera, Goldfrapp and Lykke Li were all suggested as culprits behind the six short teaser videos that appeared on YouTube at the start of the year, but ‘b’ – the first complete song to emerge from the campaign – was the one that ultimately pointed the finger at Swedish singer-songwriter Jonna Lee. Gone was the more electronic, heavy sound of the teaser videos; in its place was hallucinogenic, multilayered electronica that worked sublimely with the creepy accompanying clip.
from the ‘Twins’ 7″ [Crikey! Records; October 2010]
As Happy New Year, Eleanor Logan creates lo-fi noise pop, an area which has received massive attention over recent years. What sets her apart from the slew of many other artists currently operating in this niche is her dedication to combining sounds and instruments in novel ways. ‘Hotel’ is a glorious fusion of Logan’s clattering drum machine beats, the melodic clanging of church bells, and her darkly sweet voice, all covered in so much reverb you can almost feel it in the air.
from the album Secret Blood [Vicious Circle; November 2010]
A Black Flag album can be spotted slyly nested in the jumble of items on the sleeve for Shannon Wright’s latest solo release, acting in part as a disclaimer to “adjust expectations of female singer-songwriters accordingly”. Standout track ‘Fractured’ is perfectly titled, encapsulating the danger in this raw and violent song. Opening with the clattering of Wright’s percussive, nauseous electric guitar and an aggressive bass line, it picks up pace relentlessly as the ever-rising bass chases the pounding drums.
from the album Kaleide [Wichita Recordings; August 2010]
Stuffed full of the same Transatlantic influences that made their debut such a refreshing change from the pedestrian landfill indie of the late noughties, Sky Larkin’s second album was a continuation and subtle progression all in one. The chugs and bloops of standout track ‘Year Dot’ – an I-told-you-so pop song with a squeaky hook and handclaps – are teasingly suggestive of the dancefloor, but the wilful stutter of the beats doesn’t let you get too settled.
from the album Fossils & Other Phantoms [Wichita Recordings; April 2010]
With the addition of drummer Olly Joyce to the duo of Rosa Rex and Katy Klaw, the music of Peggy Sue became a whole lot more insistent. On the brilliant ‘Watchman’, Joyce’s drumming sounds almost militaristic, marching the song forward with precise intent. A relationship born of late-night desperation crumbles into vituperative angst and justified paranoia as eyes begin to wander and intentions get duplicitous. “I only came here to watch you watch me leave,” thunder the girls as a shiver runs down our spines.
from the album Own Side Now [Names; August 2010]
There is nothing remotely dated or naïve about Caitlin Rose’s country creations. A tender vulnerability may flicker beneath her tough bravado, but she always presents herself with painstaking maturity and her influences, notably the effortless talent of Linda Ronstadt, are unmistakably classic. Album standout ‘Learning To Ride’ makes superb use of slide guitar, that country music staple, to create a carefree ambience and a song that’s welcoming and warming, pointing towards to the discovery of something really rather special.
from the album The Calcination Of Scout Niblett [Drag City; January 2010]
‘Just Do It!’ has been hanging around since at least 2007, when it appeared as a B-side on Scout’s adaptation of David Shrigley’s poem ‘Dinosaur Egg’. The version that we fell in love with this year, though, is an altogether tighter proposition. Hotter, stickier and less dressed up than ever, not to mention shorn of almost two minutes, it rages with an exhilarating, slow-burning fury.
from the album I Speak Because I Can [Virgin; March 2010]
Laura Marling blew expectations for her second album out of the water with a confident display of complex, cryptic storytelling and brilliantly constructed folk instrumentals. ‘Rambling Man’ was the song that best exemplified the artistic leap from her debut, building from a gentle acoustic beginning to a glorious finale. A new obsession.
from the album Volume Two [Double Six; March 2010]
Opening with a perky piano melody and chunky, palm-muted guitar chords, ‘In The Sun’ was the perfect upbeat accompaniment to the long-awaited arrival of Spring. Zooey Deschanel’s twangy reverb-drenched voice once again proved to be a consummate fit with M Ward’s beautifully layered guitar arrangement, while guest vocals from Nebraska favourites Tilly & The Wall added to the atmosphere created by the ever increasing build of melodies, riffs and harmonies.
from the single ‘DJ, Ease My Mind’ [Moshi Moshi; August 2010]
An inspired collision of trashy Europop and indie-leaning electronica, ‘DJ, Ease My Mind’ was one of the most bizarrely brilliant pop songs of the year. Grandiose lyrics sung in a theatrical, dramatic fashion over a slow building Eurovision-esque trancey synth seems like it should be a trainwreck, yet somehow it works. Utterly bonkers.
from the album Wrong Side Of The Dream [DK; September 2010]
Dawn Kinnard’s second album hung together so perfectly that to single one track out from its formidably inspiring playlist really isn’t easy. Kinnard’s innate and unerring ability to match her emotive vocals to her poetic lyrics and staggeringly accomplished compositions defies any cynical longing to pick out the good and not-so-good tracks – every one is brilliant in its own mad, beautiful and impressive way. After some argument, this time we’ve gone for the sultry, tongue-in-cheek ‘Are You Still Crazy About Yourself?’, where Kinnard’s cracked, drawling sarcasm comes into its own.
from the ‘Outer Limits’ 7″ [Forest Family; August 2010]
Texan girl-trio Sleep ∞ Over occupy the intriguing sonic intersection between dream-pop and witch house. The flipside to their sold-out ‘Outer Limits’ 7″, ‘La Rose’ is a perfect showcase of their ethereal and sometimes eerie sound, with sweeping Liz Fraser-esque vocals piercing through the dense cloud of reverb and enveloping synth.
from the ‘To: Love.’ 12″ [One-Handed Music; September 2010]
Having established herself as a favourite among leftfield jazz and hip hop producers, young Turkish singer Ahu teamed up with London DJ Paul White for this debut solo single. Ahu’s subtle, jazzy sound and White’s beats add up to an atmospheric delight to fall head over heels for.
from the album Cry Out Loud [Self-released; May 2010]
Whereas most of Costa Rican band Las Robertas’ debut album slots neatly into the increasingly repopularised arena of riot grrl-influenced bands, making perfect sense filed alongside the likes of Vivian Girls, ‘V For You’ sounds almost like another band. Still fuzzy, still harmony-rich, but this time the two are working together. Slow, hypnotic vocals glide across the growling guitar and rise above it with delicate coos. An electric guitar sings the vocal pattern at the centre of the song, clear and as sweet as the harmony it imitates – unique to Las Robertas and really quite beautiful.
from the ‘I Hear Flies’ 7″ [Transgressive; March 2010]
Conceived as a response to the male-dominated music industry, Gaggle are no shrinking violets when it comes to expressing their deepest gut-felt emotions. A curious mix of dark industrial beats, seething synths and frenzied tribal wails, the brilliant ’I Hear Flies’ morphs from understated electro beats into an onslaught of foreboding screams and rants served up in delicious London accents. The infectious chorus with its call-and-response cries of “I’m a drunk, you’re a drunk” is every bit as intoxicating as the lyrics would have you believe.
from the album Innundir Skinni [One Little Indian; September 2010]
On this, her first English-language release, Icelandic artist Ólöf Arnalds duets with fellow Icelander Ragnar Kjartansson to create a modestly quirky, sweet little ditty that proved to be something of a live favourite at her shows. Written for and directed at an undisclosed friend (”dearest dearest”), it’s a cautionary tale of the perils of fame that peaks with the brilliant lyric, “Please be aware of the crazy car / please don’t go to America.”
from the album Kairos [Dead Oceans; March 2010]
Inexplicably passed over as a single, ‘Bow & Arrow’ is perhaps the best example of White Hinterland’s self-described ‘Art&B’ approach to creating their second album. This is stripped-back hip hop at its finest, twinning Casey Dienel’s striking underwater vocals with a pulsing beat that drops in and out like the tide.
from the album Leche [FatCat; November 2010]
On her excellent third album, Meredith Godreau experimented with composing songs on the harp. ‘Leaves’, the strongest of these tracks, sees Godreau weave an intricate interplay between simple harp chords, delicate vocal harmonies and excellent drumming, topped with sing-song repetitive lyrics characterised by her signature directness.
from the ‘Beachy Head’ 7″ [No Pain In Pop; June 2010]
The jangle riff of Veronica Falls’ second single, ‘Beachy Head’, grabs your attention from the opening second, an effect which only intensifies as the haunting choral harmonies kick in. The combination of the jaunty, summery pace of the song and the deeply unsettling lyrics about suicide via jumping off the famous South Downs cliff works brilliantly, the juxtaposition of fast and slow, light and dark making the song truly stand out.
from the album Disconnect From Desire [Full Time Hobby; July 2010]
While their second album failed to live up to the promise shown on their 2008 debut, tracks like ‘I L U’ proved that when School Of Seven Bells are on, they’re really on. Representing an evolution from their ethereal, dreamy roots, the track embraces a more conventional pop structure, with hints of ’80s new wave bubbling just below the surface. Lyrically, too, the band have never been more direct as they relay their tale of unrequited love.
from the album Maximum Balloon [DGC/Polydor; October 2010]
Out of all the wonderful guest spots on David Sitek’s solo debut (as Maximum Balloon), it was his collaboration with Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman and longtime friend Karen O that stole the show. Centering the track on an addictive disco riff, Sitek is happy to allow Orzalek’s breathy vocals take centre stage as she implores him to “Gimme that beat”, coyly at first, then with increasing desperation. Effortlessly cool.
from the ‘No Room To Live’ 7″ [self-released; October 2010]
A limited edition tour release, ‘No Room To Love’ and its 7″ flipside ‘Nite & Day’ represent the first new material from Times New Viking since last year’s Born Again Revisited, offering the first glimpses of TNV’s as yet untitled fifth album, due in 2011. If ‘No Room To Live’ is anything to go by, it could be the trio’s cleanest sounding, most direct record to date. And, perhaps, their best. You can even make out some of the words. Crikey.
from the album New AmErykah Part Two: Return Of The Ankh [Universal; March 2010]
The second installment in Erykah Badu’s New AmErykah series may have been a decidedly laidback affair, dealing in the slick grooves and prominent basslines which formed the key weapons of the ’90s neo-soul movement, but it courted controversy nonetheless. All the hoo-ha about Badu’s public display of nudity in the accompanying video threatened to overshadow what is actually a gorgeous song. With jazzy electric piano and a rich bassline, coupled with an at turns nasal and breathy vocal, ‘Window Seat’ is the album’s most accessible high point.
from the album 1,000 Years [Kill Rock Stars; October 2010]
The lead single from Corin Tucker’s debut ‘solo’ album, ‘Doubt’ is three and half-minutes of joyous abandon and the record’s only all-out rocker. Fittingly for a song about falling hard for “a good looking sinner”, it’s hard, fast and fantastic. For a few seconds the old Tucker reappears as her distinctive vibrato duels with squealing electric guitars and rock drums – it’s pretty punk for a track on what Tucker has described as her “middle-aged mom record”.
Tagged ahu, caitlin rose, chalk and numbers, dawn kinnard, erykah badu, gaggle, gregory and the hawk, happy new year, iamamiwhoami, jonna lee, karen o, las robertas, laura marling, maximum balloon, niki and the dove, ólöf arnalds, peggy sue, school of seven bells, scout niblett, shannon wright, she and him, sky larkin, the corin tucker band, times new viking, veronica falls, white hinterland, zooey deschanel