Io Saturnalia, and Top Ten Albums of Twenty Ten

It’s that time of year kiddies. That’s right, it’s the last day of Saturnalia! And then the end of 2010.

So, the whole end-of-year thing is upon me. I have stuff I want to get done, that I am going to force myself to get done, that should probably have been done earlier. For one, the PMT Finale which has been in a million bits and pieces for varying amounts of months. The aim for that is by the end of the year. That gives me the week after Saturnalia to piece all the crap together and hack it into a shape. Look out for that. As for the re-design, don’t hold your breath, you’ll suffocate.

In the meanwhilst, here’s my brief rundown of what my top ten albums of the year. Maybe I’ll do some other rundowns later on the site, maybe not. Anyway:

The Top Ten Albums of Twenty Ten

This was not the most exciting year for music releases if you ask me, but that doesn’t matter, there were still some great records. Here’s ten of them. There are others.

10. Jonsí – Go

It’s slightly sickly sweet at times, but these are some damn catchy tunes which befit Jónsi’s voice. Quaint and lyrical evocations of joyous childish wonder, with a mix of English and Icelandic words. The percussion is not your standard kit-playing, rather it is unorthodox and orchestral which evokes a primitivism and earthiness helps ground the record and prevents these string-heavy songs from drifting aimlessly in space. It’s more upbeat than Sigur Rós, but similarly textured.

9. Twilight – Monument to Time End

This caught me by surprise. This album applies trademark black metal bleakness and brutal sounds to post-rock structures and production. A heady but effective mix. Guitars are wide and hypnotic, drums are thick and roomy, and vocals are indecipherable screams… It does seem to take the traits of black metal and turn them into something more exciting than just another shitty-production-on-purpose grim-for-grim’s-sake BM release that are so common. It reaches outward in the way post-metal does, for a more ethereal sound, for a wider array of emotion and feeling, but it doesn’t meander so much, and always retains that blackened edge.

8. Swans – My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky

It’s Swans. Well it’s sort of Swans. It’s closer in style to Michael Gira’s solo work than to Swans of old, though certainly with a stronger aim towards the building violence and energy. There’s lots of latter-day Swans influence in the tubular bells and snarling swells of No Words/No Thoughts, but then a song like Jim is a slightly louder Angels of Light. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Angels of Light – but this seems like a transitionary album, like it won’t be until the next album, after a cycle of touring with Swans material, that this reunion will take true form.

7. Hans Zimmer – Inception OST

Bwoooooom, bwoooooooom, bwooooooom… This soundtrack has become fairly iconic already, with its signature brassy stabs, but what’s more interesting to me is the structure and overall shape of the pieces. Crescendos build into those impossibly large stabs, while other pieces drift slowly through a kaleidoscope of ambiguity and clarity. Dream-like, little snippets of melodies and ideas half-remembered emerge and come to the fore. There’s a very electronic feel, though it’s mostly orchestral.

6. Land of Kush’s Egyptian Light Orchestra – Monogamy

Though somewhat self-sabotaged by a peurile computer voice reading some very explicit sexual obscenties, this is a delightfully flighty Egyptian electro-acoustic folk-orchestra spinning allegorical yarns with strikingly colourful imagery. Guest female vocalists provide lyrics and sing with vigor across several tracks – adding a femininity and sexuality to these tracks that wasn’t as present on last year’s Against the Sky. There is a density and weight that comes only from having this many musicians contributing their small parts to the grander whole.

5. Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra – Kollaps Tradixionales

Silver Mt. Zion as usual, but rawer and punkier than ever. Efrim’s voice is strained and torn and angry and broken and painfully beautiful as ever. Everything is fuzzed out and roughed up. The tone here is as always one of despair pierced by the tiny powerful light of hope. Everything is broken and wrong, but alas, here we are.

4. James Blackshaw – All is Falling

Instrumental 12-string explorations with additional strings and percussion, intimate and melancholy, and yet at the same time soaring and grand. Repetition is the key here, and the slow evolution of melody and shifting harmonic colours. The oddly hypnotic voices calming counting out the rhythm on Part 6 are a playful deconstruction of this musical moebius strip.

3. The Stares – Meridians

While decidely less surprising than their debut, every bit as good. More gentle folksy songs with impecable production from Randall Dunn and lush string and horn arrangements by Eyvind Kang. Beautifully simple melodies and cryptic lyrics as before. There is a warmth and width here, a quiet intimacy and optimism that’s simply infectious. This album almost never came out, but then it did. It’s just a shame that still nobody knows who these cats are.

2. Gorillaz – Plastic Beach

A pop concept-album of surprising collaborations from the ever-reliable musical mind of Damon Albarn. De La Soul return, alongside unexpected appearances by Lou Reed, Mark E. Smith, even Bobby frickin’ Womack. Gorillaz take a distinctly electronic turn here, all bloopy bleepy synths and plastic-wrapped goodness. If more modern pop music were of this quality, the charts would be a far more interesting place.

1. Kayo Dot – Coyote

Terrifyingly stark in places, a very carefully composed but abstract melodrama, a feverish meditation on illness and dying by band leader Toby Driver and terminally-ill Yuko Sueta who sadly passed away during completion of the record. Fusiony, gothic, arch, traumatic. There is a frustration and a tension here which goes resolved for some time, not unlike specific influence Scott Walker’s The Drift. Once again Toby Driver has succeeded in a long-form conceptual composition with all the twists and turns of dream-logic. Some people say this album is too depressing, but a lot of it really speaks to me. The confusion and loss of identity, the loneliness and despair, and yet the strange disembodiment and dramatisation of it – as if it was something that was happening not to Yuko Sueta herself but the environment around her.

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