20. Gorillaz – Plastic Beach [UK]
How many classic albums have a different featured guest on every track? Not a whole lot, but then Music Is Changing, right? And Gorillaz are Not Your Favourite Band. So, with Snoop Dogg, Mark E. Smith, the Syrian National Orchestra for Arabic Music, Lou Reed, Bobby Womack and Mos Def in tow, they have a go at a concept album about indefinitely accumulating rubbish and postmodern artifice being a good thing. Sometimes it doesn’t work, and when you’re Damon Albarn, your friends and peers aren’t necessarily the freshest thing out. But sometimes it does. Though lesser names, relatively speaking, UK MCs Bashy, Kano and the aforementioned orchestra combine to make the best track, White Flag, a tag team rap over SNES beats and Arabic classical music. De La Soul and Gruff Rhys do a decent update of old school hip hop on Superfast Jellyfish, imbued with all the slight plastic discomfort of the whole. Strange stuff for the pop it is, and better for it.
Gorillaz’ incredibly busy-looking website and a BBC session with an XX cover via State.
19. These New Puritans – Hidden [UK]
As well as witch house, this year had some genuinely, elementally frightening music, made up of war drums, stately woodwinds, deadpan singing and a heap of noise. Hidden plays like a reaction to the tendency to reverb and overdrive last year and this year. Jack Burnett famously once mentioned a pre-Renaissance Florentine poet as an influence during the height of the band’s first sonic iteration, dance-punk. It’s that kind of wanton awkwardness that makes Hidden so interesting. It’s tribal but it’s quantised, it’s orchestral but it’s undersung too. It can be great in a dozen different ways. Orion’s core is church choral music, and it plays like the breeze in a cavernous cathedral with some errant private school kids mumbling and hitting drums in it. We Want War is more like MIA if she knew how to sound like she probably wants to sound, with the distinct feeling that if you were about to lead a horde of lads with spears and shields into a battle, it’d be the song you choose to play loud.
Famed music journalist Paul Morley talks to TNP at the Guardian, and a music video.
18. Liars – Sisterworld [US]
Heady music is great, music you can count beats to or decoct intricate production. But what is also great is when songs and soft and then get very heavy. That’s how Sisterworld starts. It’s visceral, and all those other worlds you use to describe shit when it makes you accidentally punch the wall of your bedroom as you mosh obliviously to it by yourself. But on Scissor and elsewhere, that seminal moment where Thom Yorke decided he was a Liars fan and brought them on tour is becoming a thing. It’s not that they all of a sudden sound like Radiohead, but their experimental urges have rounded out into something coherent and only repellent, when it wants to be repellent, because of the music, not the atmospheric mulch of Drum’s Not Dead. Plus they never forgot how to move you.
Angus having Earl as one of his albums of the year and an interview, both from Pitchfork.
17. Four Tet – There Is Love In You [UK]
Electronic music’s interesting, cos y’know, it’s a new art form and a set of aesthetic criteria haven’t emerged yet. Or something like that. Kieran Hebden’s everywhere though, remixing, DJing, having chess nights with Dan Snaith, Steve Reid and Burial in my imagination, so he must be countenanced on some terms, and it’s not on him to find them. Four Tet operates on perpetual motion, but its own particular kind. A Four Tet beat is instantly recognisable. There’s something in the drag on the drum hits, or the way busy interacting rhythms can still end up sounding sparse and minimal. Something in the way a guy who used to be in a post-rock band who was tagged as “folktronica” for a decade can end up within the fence of what’s now post-J Dilla instrumental hip hop in America. And sure, he blisses out. I wonder what it looks like naked.
Four Tet’s Soundcloud, full of mixes and remixes, and an interview from the AV Club.
16. Vampire Weekend – Contra [US]
Having won a ring in their rookie season as far as this blog is concerned, Vampire Weekend released their second album from a position of privilege but also one of pressure. From a totally subjective standpoint, how do you follow up something “clamped to my ears for 12 months”? Well, if the s/t was the sound of white (or sorry, Jewish, Persian, Italian and Ukrainian) boys backpacking through sound, then Contra is just more of that in a different direction. Diplomat’s Son does an African rhythm on programmed bloops with chamber string backing, White Sky stands as a decent shot at the ultimately doomed post-AnCo genre and I Think Ur A Contra, by virtue of its butterfly-wing production and away-better-than-X-Factor vocal performance from Ezra Koenig, turns a bleary-eyed piano ballad into something that sounds like it might crumble to dust if you trod too heavy near it. But at the bottom of all of this is what Vampire Weekend do. Melody.
Explaining how White Sky was written to the Guardian and a BBC radio session version of Cousins that’s good.