10 Years On, #1 (2017)

10 Years On, #1 (2017)

A Sophomore British Post-Punk LP, Lesser But Still Incredible Kanye Record and Jubilant Psych-Pop Release


Emotionalism by The Avett Brothers

The Avett Brothers’ breakout record, Emotionalism is a potent distillation of everything the stupendously flawed band stands for: over-earnest sentiments, “Aw, shucks”-y charm, tear-jerker balladry and palatably rough instrumentation. Nothing here flows naturally quite like a proper album should, but in its jarring procession lies the undeniable sense that Seth and Scott Avett have nothing to hide and just about everything worth sharing.

Die Die Die” is a whipcrack of an opener, laying the ground for the straight-faced insistence and depths these guys are happy to wallow in. “Paranoia in B-Flat Major“, as the title implies, presents the sort of concerns they’ve each been mulling over for a while now, with their screechy vocals helping to offset the trembling insecurity at heart. Also, find me a song as heavy-handed and yet devastating as “The Ballad of Love and Hate” and I’ll show you a kid from North Carolina who doesn’t blush when he farts. If nothing else, it’ll leave you with the grinning understanding that no album has ever been more suitably titled than Emotionalism.


Favourite Worst Nightmare by Arctic Monkeys

Arctic Monkey’s debut album Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not is one of the most robust, gleefully full of shit post-punk LPs of the last twenty years, somehow capable of walking the cheeky walk it lays out in its boastful talk. As a follow up, Favourite Worst Nightmare does a pretty decent job of laying on the braggadocio even thicker while undercutting the laddish swagger of lead singer Alex Turner with a slew of more honest, less frenetic tracks.

On the one end, you’ve got the propulsive clutter of “Brianstorm” building all the way through to “Balaclava“, the shifty undertones and sideways chatter giving way to a burst of colourful, light irony on hit single “Fluorescent Adolescent“. Everything to this point is filled to the brim with skittery, hard-hitting drums, resonant guitar and pulsing bass lines, and then suddenly it all folds into the minimally fluid splendour of “Only Ones Who Know“. Then, because it worked so well the first time (and who can blame them?), they repeat this process, diving right into the blustery “Do Me a Favour” and kicking off a frantic sequence that leads to perhaps their crowning achievement as a band, the lived-in melancholy of “505”. It’s a story of missed opportunities and flailing memories, the realisation that you’ll never want someone as badly as when they’re not with you. Ain’t that always the way?


For Emma, Forever Ago by Bon Iver

Brutal break-up, cabin in the woods, messianic recording session, blah fuckin’ blah. If you don’t know the origin story for this album, Google it. Otherwise: Bon Iver slunk quietly onto the music scene in 2007 with one of indie folk’s seminal releases. Regardless of where he’s ended up – deploying warped and/or shredded vocals at his own behest as well as that of others – it would be hard for anyone to disassociate Justin Vernon from his humble beginnings here as just one heartbroken guy with a guitar and a laptop in the dead of winter.

The sonic palette on display is narrow as fuck, but the depth of it is astounding: from the opening chords and emergence of Vernon’s ghostly, somehow comforting voice on “Flume“, nothing that follows strays too far from the path. The walled-off, snowy sentiment is all encompassing but, being so well realised, it’s almost a joy to lose yourself in. The passive jog and muttering sprawl of “Lump Sum“, the sudden burst of life and sorrow throughout “Creature Fear“, even the inescapably sombre single “Skinny Love” all cohere into a world of loss that might only be bearable if you steer into it hard enough. As a capper, “re:stacks” doubles down on the dull ache at Vernon’s core and delivers a sign off of startling optimism from a man who’s already lost all he possibly can: “Your love will be safe with me.”


Graduation by Kanye West

If you’re a serious Kanye fan, I’d be pretty skeptical to see this album somewhere at the top of your list in a ranking of his best releases. That said, even Kanye at his least explorative still tends to yield remarkable results. I mean, if the turgid Auto Tune noodling and garbled emotions of 808s & Heartbreak can still lead to a half-decent album, then Graduation‘s more synth-based leanings – compared with the chipmunk soulful analog of what had preceded – was destined to deliver at least on Kanye’s own terms, which is always the best thing about his output: it’s purely his.

The opening four track run from “Good Morning” through to “I Wonder” is both one of Kanye’s least characteristic and most indulgent, swerving between laconic flows and motor-mouthed runs, with the crisp, tropical vibes of “Champion” and the Daft Punk-infused dark cauldron of “Stronger” sitting side by side like a set of identical twins somehow born in different eras. The charts remember the chortling “Good Life” and glitzy fame deconstruction of “Flashing Lights“, but “Everything I Am” remains something of a perfect stillness within this electronic maelstrom, punctuated by one of Kanye’s most tragic lines: “That’s enough Mr. West, please, no more today.”


In Rainbows by Radiohead

Every decade of their existence, Radiohead has found an innovative way to dominate the musical landscape. In the ’90s, The Bends and Ok Computer showed they were the emotional response to grunge that paved the way for guitar-heavy, ideological anthems. From 2010 onwards, they managed to moved past the dark sparseness of King of Limbs to a triumphantly orchestrated comeback in last year’s A Moon Shaped Pool. In between all of that, the ’00s saw them veer left on Kid A into computerised malice before slowly circling back to their crystalline, majestic instrumentals on In Rainbows, with a few digitised touches still on holdover.

Case in point: the first sound heard on “15 Step” is some dank, glitchy percussion, followed soon after by Thom Yorke’s wilted falsetto and then a familiar burst of rainy day guitar chords. As seems par for the course, there’s a long gestating single in “Nude“, first recorded in ’97 and achieving its gloriously languid final form here. The sleeper award, however, goes to “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi”, a song that abhors and welcomes its contradictions: calm yet sinister, sensual and antiseptic, its cyclical guitar figure and desperate vocals convey everything and nothing about this band all at once. They are, and remain, the most open and welcoming of mysteries, and who would want it any other way?


Person Pitch by Panda Bear

Panda Bear, both within the Animal Collective brand and as a solo artist, has always traded in off-kilter melodies and unusual song progression to arrive at something pure and almost childishly familiar. It’s strange and sometimes unsettling, sure, but it only really sounds abrasive if you’re listening too much (or not enough, for that matter). Person Pitch is easily his defining statement in this regard, a swirling mass of audiophiliac glee with one clear purpose: to unite and instil ease.

Don’t get me wrong: the uninitiated will find plenty here to jar against any typical musical sensibilities. Beach Boys harmonies aside, opener “Comfy in Nautica” turns you upside down and holds you under the stillest waters you’ve ever encountered, a resplendently slow paced track that will both lull and batter you into submission. Centrepiece “Bros“, a twelve-minute opus, is all sleighbells, twinkles and “oh-oh-OHS” in the service of diplomatically making a stake for yourself in the world. Arguably, though, the standout is “Take Pills”, a marvel of economical songwriting and progression, beginning with the clunky sound of a needle scraping a record and a lugubrious melody before taking the most unexpected of detours, down to a luau at sunset. The slog becomes a giddy jaunt, as a canny bassline and panoply of disjointed samples form to make the most sunny of declarations: “We’re stronger if we don’t need ’em!”

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