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Top 20 Albums of 2013

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Top 20 Albums of 2013

Posted on 11 December 2013 by Joe

The first half of the year was a pretty poor period for releases but we just about scrabbled together our June feature,  Top ten albums list of 2013…so far. But since then the rate of excellent releases has picked up pace and now in December we find ourselves struggling to cram them all into a Top 20.  It is therefore with a heavy heart that we chop off some superb 2013 releases by the likes of Jackson Scott, John Howard, PINS and Josh Rouse from this list. We think we’ve got a good range for you here and urge you to read our full reviews, buy their albums and go see them live. Anyway, enough of our guff, on with the list.

20. Young Knives –  Sick Octave

Young Knives

Finally, after over a decade on the sweaty coalface of jerky punk rock,  some long overdue acclaim for this industrious trio. It’s taken a series of well received EPs, extensive tour schedules and three studio albums to get them thus far,  but this fourth offering will, our reviewer John Haylock confidently predicts, cure your jaded and cynical hearts. Read our full review here.

19. Wave Pictures – City Forgiveness

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Conceived on a US tour with Allo Darlin this latest album from the perplexingly under rated Wave Pictures is heavily influenced by the American blues. Thankfully in their stellar guitarist David Tattersall they have a musician who can pay tribute to the blues and put the band’s  very English slant on the genre with aplomb. Some say it’s a little long. But we say, who cares when the bulk of it is so good. Read our full review here.

18. La Femme – Psycho Tropical Berlin

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After watching this video for Antitaxi, the opening track on the debut album from Bairritz based surf popsters La Femme, I’m fairly convinced they are just about the coolest band on the planet, well, in France at least. Blending 60s guitar pop with psychedelia and electronica this album is among the most creative and original of the year. Read our full review here.

17. Thirty Pounds of Bone – I Cannot Sing You Here, But For Songs of Where

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This third album of folk music by Thirty Pounds of Bone, aka Johny Lamb, manages to sound traditional without ever slipping into genre cliche. It is one of the best folk albums released this year and one of the best albums of 2013 full stop. Read our full review here.

16. Mogwai – Les Revenants

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Mogwai’s soundtrack for Les Revenants, the French TV series about the dead returning to haunt a small town, perfectly matches the show’s sense of foreboding. The dead in Les Revenants have feelings too and this is perfectly formed in Mogwai’s brooding mix of piano, cello and percussion and tender glockenspiel. One of the best TV soundtracks you will ever hear.

15. Just Handshakes –Say It

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This impressive debut from Yorkshire’s Just Handshakes features many a familiar C86 sound, with whirly-gig keyboards, chorus pedals and  choppy insightful melodies, all providing the perfect backdrop to the sumptuous, earthy English folk vocals of singer Clara Patrick. Indie pop with a distinct folk twist. Read our full review here.

14. Mum – Smilewound

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Icelandic foursome Mùm’s sixth album Smilewound will draw inevitable comparisons with fellow Nords Sigur Rós. Fortunately this is for all the right reasons. Our reviewer Rob Finch says this is a damn-near perfect album, punch-packed with effortless experimental Scandi dreampop and intelligent, intelligible lyrics. Read our full review here.

13. Robert Pollard – Honey Locust Honky Tonk

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This is Guided by Voices frontman Robert Pollards self-proclaimed country album, but aside from the name, cover and one song (‘I Killed a Man Who Looked Like You’) it would be hard to hear any strong country influences on this album. Our favourite of Pollard’s many solo and Guided By Voices releases this year. Read our full review here.

12. Okkervil River – Silver Gymnasium

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The band’s first on ATO Records is the most autobiographical yet of singer/songwriter Will Sheff’s tenure as Okkervil River frontman as he takes the listener into a brief period of his childhood in the small New Hampshire town of Meriden, where his parents worked in 1986 as teachers at a local boarding school. Its full of influences from the era and the band have even drafted in Cyndi Lauper’s producer to give it that 80s sheen. Read our full review here.

11. Low – The Invisible Way

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Centred around husband and wife duo Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker Low have been fine tuning their brand of so-called slow core rock across ten albums now. The Invisible Way takes the haunting, tender ethos of previous album C’mon one step further. Gone are the overt ’50s and ’60s electric guitar sounds  to be replaced with piano, acoustic guitar and an even softer Americana feel under the direction of producer, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy. Read our full review here.

10. Tullycraft – Lost in Light Rotation

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While many of their twee peers are still drinking weak lemon drink from a flask and grumbling about this and that, America’s veteran indie pop outfit Tullycraft have added a good splash of gin to this poor metaphor of a flask and are belting out optimistic happy pop as if the recession and all the other ills since their last album in 2007 had never existed. Read our full review here.

9. Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

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Arguably the longest album title of the year, but one of the most simple albums of the year. Great songs and great voice from the peerless Case. Fans will know there is a darkness to all her albums and this is a much darker beast  than the upbeat Middle Cyclone. One of the true great North American singers. Read our full review here.

8. Mark Mulcahy – Dear Mark J Mulcahy, I Love You

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Classic guitar pop from the former Miracle Legion frontman. Great vocals and some killer tunes here including ‘Poison Candy Heart’  and ‘She Makes The World Turn Backwards’, which our reviewer Dorian Rogers believes should be available in every karaoke booth round the world. Read our full review here.

7. The National   – Trouble Will Find Me

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Born out of the chaos of the hurricane that ripped New York state apart last year the Brooklyn based band have produced one of their most calming and satisfying releases yet. Read our full review here.

6. Southern Tenant Folk Union – Hello Cold Goodbye Sun

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Conflict about musical direction, song choices and album themes, can be a destructive influence for some bands. Fortunately for Southern Tenant Folk Union, the Edinburgh based collective that loosely falls under the folk/bluegrass banner, the opposite has happened and pre-production disharmony has conspired to create one of their best releases and one of the year’s most innovative albums. This is folk and bluegrass like you have never heard it before. Read our full review here.

5. Matthew E White – Big Inner

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White is part of an eclectic country, rock, soul, gospel, you name it, collective of musicians in his native Virginia who are put through their paces with on this, his first album. The end result is timeless country soul at its best and fans of Lambchop’s Nixon are going to love this. Read our full review here.

4. Phosphorescent – Muchacho

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American album of the year and our favourite so far as Phosphorescent’s Matthew Houck expertly blends country, soul, electronica and rock. Perhaps the greatest exponent of sounding epic and in need of a good night’s sleep in modern music. Marvellous stuff. Read our full review here.

3. John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts

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In Pale Green Ghosts, sweary ex-Czars man, John Grant, presents an album of wonderful contradictions. In parts almost dirge-like folk rock, this incredibly raw and openly confessional record is also awash with poppy electronica. Read our full review here.

2. Rotifer –The Cavalry Never Showed Up

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Clever political lyrics mixed with some fine guitar pop make this the best album yet by Austrian broadcaster, artist and now resident of Canterbury Robert Rotifer and his band. With the track  I Just Couldn’t Eat As Much As I’d Like To Throw Up this trio has also served up our favourite song of the year. Read our full review here.

1. Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold

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This US band emerged this year with a sound that has captivated us. Part Sonic Youth, part The Modern Lovers  and with a liberal sprinkling of  Pavement at their most Fall-obsessed this is a noisy, snotty album and the 15 songs fly by with several bum notes but no duff tracks. Read our full review here.

Thanks to all our album reviewers during 2013: Rob Finch, Patricia Turk, Conal Dougan, John Haylock, Scott Hammond, Kevin McGough and Matthew Nicholson.

List compiled by Neonfiller.com co-editors Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers.

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The National, Alexandra Palace, London (November 13, 2013)

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The National, Alexandra Palace, London (November 13, 2013)

Posted on 16 November 2013 by Dorian

It has been several years since I was first impressed by The National when they played at the Explosions In The Sky ATP Festival in 2008 and I’ve been keen to see them live again since. They don’t play lots of gigs in the UK and this event, one of two sold-out nights at Alexandra Palace, is part of a very small UK tour. I didn’t manage to grab tickets to their Roundhouse gig in June so I was pretty excited about seeing the band play some of the best music of the last decade live on stage.

The National Alexandra Palace 1

The band seem a little bit nervous, and the cavernous venue and huge crowd must be pretty overwhelming to a band who are far from a household name despite their considerable success. Singer Matt Berninger is a little difficult to watch as he paces like a caged lion between each song and there is next to no audience interaction. When the music starts it is a different story and the songs, drawing heavily from this year’s release Trouble Will Find Me, sound great.

They are a band who are impressive on record, but pretty much every element of the sound works that little bit better in the live arena. The central five-piece are augmented by their usual live band expansion adding keyboards and trombone and on lots of the songs tonight a string quartet adds an extra dimension enabling them to be closer to the album arrangements.

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As the set progresses, taking in fan favourites from Alligator, The Boxer and High Violet, the band relax and we get more chat, audience interaction and a few anecdotes from the band. They get an enthusiastic and warm response throughout the set and this clearly settles the butterflies in their stomachs as the gig goes on.

The core of this band is a near-perfect set-up. The Dessner twins holding their guitars in the air in unison, the Devendorf brothers laying down complex beat perfect rhythms and Berninger lurching between baritone croon and basnshee wail to great effect. Drummer Bryan Devendorf in particular is a revelation and the sound he produces is a hypnotic backbone to the songs. ‘Graceless’ from their recent album is one of my least favourite of their songs, not helped by the ubiquity on 6 Music, but the way the drums and bass drive it live makes me reconsider my opinion.

The song choices are not all perfect, I would have taken the incendiary ‘Abel’ over a version of their underwhelming contribution to the Hunger Games 2 soundtrack, but in the most part the song choices are just what I’d hoped before the evening began. And any set of songs that includes the brilliant ‘Mr November’ as part of the encore is a good one.

By Dorian Rogers

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The National – Roundhouse, London (June 26, 2013)

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The National – Roundhouse, London (June 26, 2013)

Posted on 27 June 2013 by Joe

Disclaimer: this is less a review, more a love letter to The National. They’re one of my most favourite bands ever. They’ve been a big part of my life these past few years, a soundtrack on repeat as I’ve travelled about London and beyond.

So I was glad to spend an hour and a half trying to get tickets when the surprise gig at Roundhouse was announced a couple of weeks ago, so I could see them live for the first time.

Such a cliché, but it was everything I hoped it would be. There’s nothing like being in a crowd of people who absolutely adore the act they’re seeing, and that was definitely the case last night. A tightly controlled ticketing system limiting buyers to two ticket vouchers only, which were to be exchanged for wrist bands with photo ID at the box office meant that the sold-out gig was tighter to get into than Miles Kane’s trousers, but also meant die-hard fans had their day and touts were left high and dry.

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The Brooklyn-based band performed for a solid two hours, playing heavily from the magnificent new album Trouble will find me ,  as well as dropping gems from their back catalogue, like Fake Empire, Squalor Victoria and Apartment Story from Boxer as well as Secret Meeting, Abel and Mr November from Alligator. It was 2010’s High Violet that gave them their biggest success before this new album, and they played Terrible Love, Conversation 16, and of course, England from that, among others. But the real highlight for me? I have been waiting to see them do Bloodbuzz Ohio live for a long time, and it was just spectacular – driven, emotional, epic.

Before they started I was chatting to the guy next to me who said the new album was one of two halves – the first half being ‘the singles’, which he preferred. I think he has a point, but I think the more I’ve listened to it, the more I’ve liked the latter half, and Pink Rabbits, done so beautifully last night, is fast becoming one of my favourite tracks. As is Humiliation. But Sea of love and Graceless were phenomenal, as was Don’t swallow the cap, I Should Live in Salt and first single, Demons.

I am rapturous, I know, but why do I love them so much? It’s the introspective, intensely felt lyrics and Matt Berninger’s unbelievable, extraordinary voice that’s capable of great, deep baritone sensitivity and screaming heights. It’s also the raw, what I like to call ‘man emotions’, that come through in the songs, the fantastic metaphors and imagery (‘I was just soaking my head to unrattle my brain’), the below the surface anxieties, worries and fears layered over the wonderful, interesting phrasing and arrangements. Then there’s Bryan Devendorf on the drums. He is so good. Listen to Brainy from Boxer to know what I’m talking about.

The lighting was superb too, and I swear there wasn’t a dry eye in the house when Berninger got down into crowd to lead a music-free singalong to Vanderlyle Cry Baby as the final song of the night. It lifted the roof of the Roundhouse.

by Patricia Turk

 

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The National – Trouble Will Find Me

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The National – Trouble Will Find Me

Posted on 05 June 2013 by Joe

Born out of the chaos of the hurricane that ripped New York state apart last year the Brooklyn based band have produced one of their most calming and satisfying releases yet.

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That is not to say the blistering drumming on Boxer’s great hits such as Mistaken For Strangers, or the stadium sized rock of 2011’s High Violet aren’t satisfying. But with Trouble Will Find Me the band’s search for a sense of calm amid the chaos around them gives it a wonderful simplicity and extra satisfying glow.

For me The National’s greatest strengths have always been Bryan Devendorf’s Joy Division-esque, off beat drumming and singer Matt Berninger’s deep, haunting vocals, and it is these two aspects of the band that are the welcome focus of Trouble Will Find Me’s production.

The writing and arranging skills of brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner are still integral to their sound though; its just more subtle on this album, with their low key flourishes played down in the mix and giving  Trouble Will Find Me an additional level that demands frequent listening, such as on the wonderful opener I Should Live In Salt.

Demons sees Berninger’s vocals seem somehow deeper across its wonderful chorus  as the Dessners stay in the background controlling proceedings. Among other high points are the epic Graceless, Don’t Swallow the Cap and the brooding Fireproof, the nearest they’ve got yet to Radiohead’s stadium sized music. Sea of Love is another standout, with vocals and drumming marrying perfectly.

As with their albums from Alligator onwards the National are still reliably consistent, never poor. Even their weaker songs on this album, such as Slipped and Pink Rabbits, are firmly under grower category offering a long term cosy blanket to calm the nerves.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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Guide To The UK’s Best Festivals 2012

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Guide To The UK’s Best Festivals 2012

Posted on 29 February 2012 by Joe

With Glastonbury taking a break during 2012 there’s the possibility of around 200,000 revellers looking for an alternative trip away. To offer some of those Glastonbury regulars and others decide where to spend their festival cash we’ve selected our pick of the best the UK has to offer. Our focus is on the best line-ups, those that give new bands a chance to get a bigger audience and those located in unusual and excellent settings. For those looking for the type of  middle of the road bore fest that T in the Park or V Festival have served up once again this year then our list will not be for you. For those looking for an excellent, interesting and diverse line up then read on.

All Tomorrow’s Parties

Jeff Mangum Curates, March 9-11;  The National Curates, Dec 7-9, both at Minehead

The ATP format, of a band curating a weekend of music at a holiday camp, has taken a few knocks in recent months from disgruntled fans. The Jeff Mangum event was moved back to March from December last year by ATP without explanation, leaving many fans who had booked transport out of pocket. ATP has still not given an explanation. The move also meant a number of bands, by strange coincidence mainly those with mammals in their names (The Mountain Goats, Fleet Foxes, Panda Bear) had to pull out. The resulting line-up is still stellar, with Mangum’s oddball tastes represented in the likes of Sun Ra Arkestra, sitting along side ATP regulars  such as Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Joanna Newsom, Sebadoh, Thurston Moore and The Magnetic Fields. The event is also a must for fans of the Elephant Six collective that Mangum is part of, with Oliva Tremor Control, Apples in Stereo and an Elephant Six Holiday Surprise set completing one of the most eclectic line-ups of the year.  Hopefully The National curated festival doesn’t suffer the same postponement without explanation. It is already shaping up to being a great festival with the US band already selecting among others Owen Pallett, Suuns and My Brightest Diamond for the bill.

More information here.

The Great Escape

May 10-12

Dry The River: One of the highlights of The Great Escape 2012

Get your running shoes ready for this Brighton based festival that features 300 bands at 30 venues across the city. Our advice is  make sure you arrive at venues in good time as they can be tough to get into at this increasingly popular event. Among the line up, which focuses on new and emerging talent, is Django Django, who topped our ones to watch list for 2011 , and Dry the River, who made our 2012 list after we caught their energetic performances at last year’s Great Escape and Glastonbury.

More information here.

Field Day

June 2, 2012

Django Django confirmed for Field Day 2012

This 20,000 strong one day festival in Victoria Park, Tower Hamlets, London, is now in its fifth year and in the past has hosted the likes of Battles, Foals and Laura Marling. This year’s line-up is among the most interesting of any UK festival, featuring Neonfiller  favourites such as Django Django, Revere and Andrew Bird alongside more mainstream attractions such as Metronomy and The Vaccines.

More information here .

Indietracks

June 6-8, 2012

For the last two years we’ve made sure we cover the Indietracks festival.  Not only does it offer visitors one of the most scenic  and unusual settings, at a vintage railway  centre in Derbyshire, but the line up is often a who’s who of  indie pop. Teenage Fanclub, Pains of Being Pure At Heart and The Primitives are among previous headliners. This year’s event is shaping up to being one of the best yet with US indie-pop label Slumberland Records teaming up to curate. Neonfiller favourites Tigercats, Allo Darlin and Veronica Falls have already been confirmed among a line up that also includes The June Brides, Tender Trap, Evans the Death, The Sunbathers, Gold-Bears and Sea Lions.

More information here.

Greenman

August 17-19, 2012

Set in Glanusk Park, Wales, this three-day event offers an enticing blend of folk and alternative acts. This year sees Feist as one of the headliners on a bill that includes Neonfiller favourites CW Stoneking, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks and Field Music. Further down the bill we urge you to check out Liverpool trio Stealing Sheep, one of the best acts we’ve seen this year.

More information here.

End of the Road

September 2-4, 2012

End Of The Road

The stunning setting at the Larmer Tree  Gardens, North Dorset is almost a big a pull as the line-up, which always delivers one of the year’s most interesting mixes of the unknown and more well known alternative acts. This year Beirut, Joanna Newsom, WildBeasts, Laura Marlng and Mogwai are among the major draws on a line up that also includes Best Coast, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and one of Neonfiller’s favourites The Leisure Society. Also watch out for  Canadian act Timber Timbre and This Is The Kit, whose recent albums have impressed us.

More information here.

by Joe Lepper

 

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Top 20 Albums of 2010

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Top 20 Albums of 2010

Posted on 20 December 2010 by Joe

We usually compile a top ten albums of the year list, but in recognition  of 2010 being one of the best years in recent memory for indie/alternative releases we’ve decided to double the size.

The year started well with ambitious albums by the likes of Field Music, Los Campesinos! and Owen Pallett and got better with stellar releases from the likes of The National, the welcome return of Belle and Sebastian and some surprises from the likes of Janelle Monae. Some familiar names return to our end of year countdown on a list that features some excellent new UK music. Sit back, get your emails to Santa ready and enjoy Neon Filler’s Top 20 Albums of 2010.

1. Field Music Measure

Measure, a double album no less, sees the band move on yet another level. There are aspects of the sweeping, mazy songs on their eponymous debut as well as the jerky, more structured pop of second album Tones of Town, but a whole lot more has been added. Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, even ELO, XTC, The Move and 10cc are thrown into the mix. This album came out at the beginning of the year but its breadth and ambition continues to astound as the year comes to an end.  Read our full review here.

2. The Miserable Rich – Of Flight and Fury

Of Flight and Fury is the second album from Brighton’s The Miserable Rich and it picks up from where their excellent debut left off. Part of Brighton’s Willkommen Collective they are the most compact and focused of the bunch. One of our top ten bands to watch out for in 2011, we are expecting big things from this band. Read our full review here.

3. Darren Hayman & The Secondary Modern – Essex Arms

The album is the second part in a trilogy about Hayman’s native Essex and continues with a warts and all nostalgic look at working class England. Like its predecessor Pram Town (which topped our Top Ten Albums of 2009 list) Essex Arms is wonderfully evocative of a place and time, without descending into sneering or cloying sentiment. Surely Hayman has earned national treasure status by now.  Read our full review here.

Essex Arms

Darren Hayman & The Secondary Modern - Essex Arms

4. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest

Deerhunter have named their fourth album Halcyon Digest for good reason, as once again the US band serves up an unusual and effective mix of music that takes a range of influences from the golden years of rock n roll to the 1990s shoegazers. Halcyon Digest is lush, layered and timeless. Deerhunter’s most focused and accessible album yet. Read our full review here.

Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest

5. Janelle Monae

The debut album from former stage school kid and Outkast collaborator Janelle Monáe could well be the most eclectic album of the year so far. Mixing orchestral pieces, hip hop, soul, pop, psychedelic rock, folk and even a collaboration with Of Montreal into 18 tracks. It is ambitious and mesmerising as it effortless travels between genres. Read our full review here.

6. Belle and Sebastian – Write About Love

It’s been a long wait for such adoring fans, but the band are now firmly back after a four year hiatus touring and with a sparkly new album, Write About Love, a concept album of sorts about, well, love. So where does Write About Love sit in its catalogue?  For us its one of their best yet. Welcome back Belle and Sebastian. Read our full review here.

Belle and Sebastian - Write About Love

7. The Walkmen – Lisbon

With Lisbon US band The Walkmen have delivered a perfect follow up to their last album You and Me, which topped our Top Ten Albums list for 2008. Retaining You and Me’s stripped back, timeless production with nods to the 50s and 60s, Lisbon has plenty more goose bump moments and once again offers a perfect showcase for lead singer Hamilton Leithhauser’s stunning rock vocals and the band’s love of vintage instruments. Read our full review here.

8. Owen Pallett – Heartland

With the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and Arcade Fire’s Jeremy Gara involved, Heartland is at times pure Brian Wilson  as it effortlessly takes in aspects of classical music, electronica, pop and indie-cool. Read our full review here.

Owen Pallett

9. Surfer Blood – Astro Coast

As debuts go Astro Coast is already a modern indie classic. Full of  a marvellous mix of riffs, indie rock influences such as  Sonic Youth and Pavement, passionate singing and some neat tricks as well. It is all that is good about the best of modern US indie rock. Read our full review here.

10. The National  – High Violet

How can a band this good, this radio friendly, this professional not be bigger? Why is it that the likes of Muse, Radiohead and Coldplay play in front of multi-zillion seater stadiums and headline major festivals and not The National? After the release of High Violet The National are well on their way to similar success. Read our full review here.

11. Shearwater – The Golden Archipelago.

When the end of the world comes, as pollution lays waste to the Earth, Shearwater’s leader singer Jonathan Meiburg will be on a nuclear  ravaged tropical island somewhere screaming bloody murder in his haunting baritone at the corporations and politicians. This indie/folk/rock album is powerful stuff. Read our full review here.

12. Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt

Swedish folk singer Kristian Matsson, who takes to the stage under the name Tallest Man On Earth, must be bored to tears with being compared with early Bob Dylan, especially when in many respects he is actually better than the great man at the same stage in his career. Read our full review here.

13. Broken Bells – Broken Bells

Opening track and lead single ‘The High Road’ kicks things off beautifully on this debut album from Shins frontman James Mercer and producer Danger Mouse and is a sign of the good things to come. By the time you’ve listened to ‘Vaporise’ and Mercer’s surprisingly good falsetto on ‘The Ghost Inside’ you know that the duo have produced something worthy of an end of year best of list. Read our full review here.

14. Beach House  – Teen Dream

The slicker production and attention to detail  on Teen Dream  compared to previous releases unsurprisingly coincides with a move to the label Sub Pop, which has a strong track record of getting the best out of its eclectic mix of artists ranging from The Fleet Foxes to Postal Service. Read our full review here.

15. Los Campesinos! – Romance is Boring

Los Campesinos! are among the most divisive of bands. A bunch of shouty students, spouting immature teen angst to some, one of the most innovative British bands around for others. Their 2010 release Romance is Boring is a pretty good case for the latter’s cause. Read our full review here.

16. New Pornographers – Together

When we first heard the song ‘Your Hands (Together)’, from the fifth album by The New Pornographers, we were disappointed. So much so that we avoided the album and didn’t review it on this site. But after hearing another track from the album, the brilliant ‘Crash Years’ (one of our songs of the year) we realised we were missing out. Building on the more subtle styles of 2007’s Challengers with a return to the more bombastic power chords of their earlier albums this is classic pop music at its best.

The New Pornographers - Together

17. The Besnard Lakes – The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night

After the first 30 seconds of opening track ‘Like The Ocean Like The Innocent’ we were sceptical. We’ve heard enough meandering drone rock to last a lifetime, but nine minutes later at the end of the track we were converted. This is music with genuine substance and power. Read our full review here.

18. Allo Darlin’

Allo Darlin’s self titled debut is a near perfect slice of British “twee” pop played by associates of Amelia Fletcher and Darren Hayman. Melodic, sweet and sensitive it has possible singles from start to finish. The more jaded listener might find songs like ‘Heartbeat Chili’ a little hard to stomach, but if you keep your mind open there is much to love here. One of the discoveries of 2010, and very much a band to watch in 2011.

Allo Darlin

19. Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse – Dark Night of the Soul

Second appearance for Danger Mouse in our top 20, this time his long awaited collaboration with the late Mark Linkous, aka Sparklehorse. Unreleased for some time due to contractual wrangles it was originally intended to accompany a book of visuals by David Lynch. The book was published, but the album itself was shelved and emerged some months later during 2010. It features contributions from a number of singers and musicians including the Flaming lips, Suzanne Vega, Iggy Pop, can be a difficult listen in places but as you would expect from Linkous and Danger Mouse, stunning in others. Read our full review here.

20. Fang Island  – Fang Island

Imagine if you will Bill and Ted’s band Wyld Stallyons, but better, speeded up and backed by members of Primus, Faith No More and The Descendents. It’s a heady mix of humour, power chords and squealing solos that Fang Island pull off with aplomb. Read our full review here.

To hear more by the bands above (and some other great acts from the year) listen to our best of 2010 Spotify playlist.

See Also – Top Ten Albums of 2008, Top Ten Albums of 2009

Compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

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The National – High Violet

Posted on 20 September 2010 by Joe

While watching The National at one of ATP’s 2008 festivals in Minehead, UK, I was left confused. How can a band this good, this radio friendly, this professional not be bigger? Why is it that the likes of Muse, Radiohead and Coldplay play in front of multi-zillion seater stadiums and headline major festivals, yet I’m watching The National in the atrium of a Butlins holiday camp in Somerset?

Back then their incredible album Boxer had been out for only a few months, featuring some sublime tracks such as ‘Mistaken for Strangers’ and ‘Fake Empire’ that sounded as incredible live at that ATP gig as they did on the album.

Now two years on they are back with High Violet,  a far more downbeat affair than Boxer. But despite the lack of immediate impact it carries with it a greater sense of subtlety, of mood and emotion, that rewards those who are familiar with the word ‘grower’.

The heartbeat like drumming on opener ‘Terrible Love’, has less melody than Boxer opener ‘Fake Empire’ but is more hypnotic and draws the listener nicely in to the rest of the album.

‘Sorrow’ feels lighter, even breezy after a few listens, ironic given the title. It is also the first goosebump moment on the album caused by Matt Berninger’s distinctive, broody baritone.

While there’s no immediate standout ‘Anyone’s Ghost’ comes pretty close and  Bloodbuzz Ohio is another  fine track. It’s no surprise that this latter track is the one The National’s label 4AD have been pushing hard in promotional activity.

The track England’ is also among the best. A slow build up, like a boat soaring to the Dover coast, presumably all the way to the burger stalls of Butlins, rather the 02 Arena or Wembley VIP lounge.

In one respect High Violet is an improvement on Boxer. While Boxer started off in stunning fashion it became a little pedestrian by the end. In contrast High Violet is more consistent throughout, asking the listener to take more time.

The bass and snare coming in on ‘Afraid of Everyone’ is a case in point and apart from

Berninger’s vocals is as near as it gets to defining The National’s sound.

I still wonder why The National aren’t bigger. Seems perfect for a headline show to me at Glastonbury, better than the likes of Coldplay and Muse by a mile. I for one will be getting my giant flag and lighter out for tracks like ‘Runaway’, even if its at a smaller venue, for now at least.

8/10

Joe Lepper, May 2010

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Clogs – Creatures in the Garden of Lady Walton

Posted on 20 September 2010 by Joe

Pigeonholing Clogs, formed by members of The National to explore their more classical and folk leanings, is pretty tricky.

Folk would be a good start. But then there’s a bit of chamber music, jazz, Americana and ambient to add to the mix. For me it is probably the nearest thing to the late Simon Jeffes 1980-1990s band Penguin Café Orchestra in the way Clogs take whatever genre comes to hand to evoke a mood.

While Clogs output so far has been instrumental, on Creatures in the Garden of Lady Walton they’ve found a voice. In fact not just one but several well known ones.

Clogs mainstay Padma Newsome takes a turn on vocals, as does fellow National member and lead singer Matt Berninger. Sufjan Stevens joins in as well on vocals and banjo, but it is Shara Worden, from My Brightest Diamond, who steals the show.

Across the range of folk, pop and chamber music styles on the album Worden’s voice looms large over around half of the tracks, with her distinctive operatic soul style creating something wholly distinct that works with the odd conceit of the album.

Written by Newsome in 2005,  during a residency funded by the Fromm Foundation at the Italian botanical garden Giardini La Morgelooam, its a concept album of sorts about the garden and its creator Lady Walton, the widow of composer Sir William Walton on the Italian island of Ishcia.

It’s taken around four years to record and mix taking in sessions in Brooklyn and Sydney but the wait has been worth it. Among highlights are the hypnotic instrumental ‘I Used to Do’, Worden’s showpiece ‘On the Edge’ and Berninger’s emotional ‘The Last Song,’ which sounds like one of the best songs The National never made.

But it is not an album of standouts as such, it is a proper old school album to be heard from start to finish letting the listener drift in and out of moods, imagining Lady Walton’s ornate shrubs and greenhouses and marveling at the musical talent on display.

8/10

by Joe Lepper, June 2010

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