1. Butcher Boy - React Or Die
year-end heads-up for DiS
Glasgow is typically characterised as a dreich, dank and violent city, but much of its musical heritage seems to be centred around the light, graceful and romantic: Orange Juice, the Fannies, Belle & Seb, and Camera Obscura. Butcher Boy need to be added to that list, and not just because of their similar style; their continuing low-profile, even in their home city, is perplexing considering the strength of both their albums so far. If debut Profit In Your Poetry was hugely promising, React Or Die fulfils that promise, with ten achingly pretty, perfectly paced and impeccably produced songs in thirty fatless minutes.
In opener 'When I'm Asleep', singer John Blaine Hunt pointedly insists that his night-times are sterile: "I never dream, I never feel anything" he sings over a trilling mandolin melody. His vocal control is important: he doesn't hold a note for an instant more than necessary; it's only when the song swells, when the strings and mandolin combine into a gorgeous melancholy, that his vocals allow for breath, his emotion seeping through. It's as if his stoicism is stolen by the song.
This whole record does that to me. I struggle to stay composed. I've tried to pinpoint why the keyboard outro of 'You're Only Crying For Yourself' draws my eyebrows into an arch and teases my tear ducts to stir, every time I hear it, like Pavlov's bell. But, well, my attempt at critical detachment is stolen by that song, by all of them, by their exquisite arrangements, by Hunt's romantic lyrics. I'm convinced React Or Die will one day be recognised as an equal of any of its hometown's indie-pop classics. For now, it's either "just too beautiful and bright for these times"; or I'm finally going batty.
And the rest...
MPP was The Skinny's album of the year, as you can read about here (or that last blog post on the left there).
3. Fever Ray - Fever Ray
In my head, the music I imagine my hypothetical future self will make is closer to this in style than any other album, ever.
4. Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career
My first Camera Obscura album. I know! Between this and Butcher Boy, I've had a swoonful year.
5. We Were Promised Jetpacks - These Four Walls
My breathless Clash review for it here, which I knew was breathless at the time but I still stand by 100%.
6. Dananananaykroyd - Hey Everyone!
My 5-star Skinny review here, which I think is only my fourth full-marks album review - after Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters, In Rainbows, and Third.
7. Bat For Lashes - Two Suns
I fucking love that cover by the way.
8. The Field - Yesterday and Today
In retrospect, better than his first album, which I wanted to like more than I actually did. Yesterday and Today has several passages of staggering beauty, I can't imagine ever getting bored of it.
9. Japandroids - Post-Nothing
Anthemic garage rock well encapsulated by the minimalism and friendship of the cover; until any clever sod can work out what the fuck is really "important", the answer is mates, music, girls and fun. Lad rock says the same, but Japandroids say it better.
10. Tony Allen - Secret Agent
One of the many sensible objections to music lists is that it's impossible to compare two works of art from completely different genres, so it's feels kinda weird positioning Tony Allen in a list just under Japandroids (and, for that matter, Japandroids in a list just under The Field). I try to make a guess as to how much I've enjoyed a record and rank it accordingly, because when you begin to think in genres, you apply your own perception of stylistic limits to the limit-free work of others. I discovered Afrobeat in 2009; it's not a genre I claim to know a lot about, and perhaps Afrobeat know-alls aren't impressed by Secret Agent; I haven't a clue. All I know is I played it to death and loved it every time.