Nick Allbrook’s decision to leave Tame Impala in 2011 to further pursue his side-project Pond may seem unwise in light of the success they found with Lonerism the following year. Released in 2012 but recorded in 2010, the band uses influences including The Kinks, The Stooges and Nuggets-era psychedelia whilst sharing similar DNA with his former group. The experimental aspects Allbrook typically brought to Tame were transmitted to this album, with many of the songs using pop structures as launch pads to vault into the territory of prog rock, but with none of the fusty, highbrow seriousness that this usually entails. Its heavier riffs on ‘Moth Wings’ and ‘Leisure Pony’ made Beard, Wives, Denim one of the most attractive and widely accessible indie albums of 2012. (ML) (LISTEN)
The new decade saw retro blues-rock duo The Black Keys finally shake off their tag as a ‘poor man’s White Stripes’ and break down the door to the mainstream. Just like its 2010 successful predecessor Brothers, Pat Carney and Dan Auerbach again enlisted the help of producer Danger Mouse for a quick follow-up in El Camino, and he brought a dusty, authentically soulful sound to proceedings. Drawing influence from the ‘50s to the ‘70s, including glam, rockabilly and surf rock, they stripped their sound of extraneous clutter down to a basic chassis of rhythm and guitar hooks. They even played their progress back on a speaker they bought from the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studio to nail that timeless sound. Only three years later, El Camino already feels like a classic. (EB) (LISTEN)
During the recording for Tramp, New Yorker Sharon Van Etten had briefly found herself homeless despite the critical success of her previous record Epic (2010). Spending over a year in the studio with The National’s Aaron Dessner on production, she took her time making her next move, and the contrast is notable. Her colourful character portrayals and matter-of-fact lyrics hit hard precisely because of her dispassionate vocal delivery – Van Etten paints a picture but is resigned to its reality and resolved to cope in the face of it, rather than sounding angry. Tramp was therefore the sound of grace and dignity in the face of huge odds. (EB) (LISTEN)
By the time they mothballed themselves in 2002, mysterious Canadian post-rock collective Godspeed had proven themselves to be one of the most forward-thinking outfits at the turn of millennium, signposting intriguing new directions for guitar music. Some of us thought we might never hear from them again, but some reunion gigs in 2010 evolved into a first album for a decade. Pleasingly, Allelujah!… showed that their ability to create deeply human and political music through instrumentals, of communicating universal truths without using lyrics, had not been dulled by the passage of time. By turns apocalyptically noisy and quietly cathartic, it won the 2013 Polaris Music Prize and the hearts of all who heard it. (EB) (LISTEN)
Trouble Will Find Me saw The National capitalise on the commercial success of 2010’s graceful High Violet by giving people more of what they wanted, making a big splash in the US Billboard charts and hitting #3. But it was more than just a victory lap, as the group began to let a little more light and colour into their brooding, sepia-toned mixture, and Matt Berninger’s oaky baritone retained all the self-effacing grace and charm we had come to expect. It was the point at which The National stopped being ‘plucky underdogs’, stepping out of the shadows of cult fandom and into the mainstream. Giving voice to a fear of loss, be it job security or love, they’re doing for late twenty-something white collar office dwellers in the ‘10s what Springsteen did for blue collar factory workers in the ‘70s. (EB) (LISTEN)
You might be a bit surprised to see such a commercial album on this list, but 21 was a success on such a stunning scale it’s now very difficult to conceive of anybody replicating it, even Adele herself. Sharing the same folk and Motown soul influences of her 2008 debut, she also reached out for a handful of new ones – American country and blues music, most notably. Quite apart from the sales figures (it was the biggest selling album globally in 2011 and 2012) and the sheer power of Adele’s heartbroken voice, what’s striking is how understated and minimalist the arrangements sound, in comparison to so much of the artifice of the contemporary music industry. This gives it a thematic singularity and cross-cultural appeal that eluded her debut, and 21’s relevance is sure to outlive a great many records this decade. (EB) (LISTEN)
The hugely anticipated second album by hip-hop collision Run The Jewels not only matched the brilliance of its predecessor, but surpassed it. Consisting of eleven slick, modern hip-hop uppercuts delivered with lethal force and accuracy, RTJ2 was a whirlwind of lyrical dexterity and rhythmic invention condensed into a lean, muscular 39 minutes. New York’s El-P and Atlanta’s Killer Mike’s different strengths dovetailed beautifully, the former’s concrete-hard delivery and the latter’s psychedelic Southern drawl creating a unique mix, and their anger is so real and seething you can almost touch it. RTJ2 takes on bullshitters, hypocrites and fakers occupying American politics and society, most vividly on ‘Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)’ which describes a prison riot (“We killin’ em for freedom cause they tortured us for boredom”). But despite its ‘state of the nation’ feel it never comes off like a soapbox lecture, always making sure to put fun first. (EB) (LISTEN)
If there’s nothing else that Scotland can do brilliantly, it’s producing indie bands formed at art colleges, and Django Django are just the latest in a grand old tradition (the London quartet all met at Edinburgh College of Art). Taking a long three years to put together after their 2009 AA-side ‘Love’s Dart’ / ‘Storm’, their self-titled debut was immediately one of the most irresistibly danceable records of the new decade, quite aside from the intelligence and painstaking way in which it was put together. It’s as if Django Django zoned in on a primitive, hard-wired part of the human brain. Seriously, just try not moving your head or feet along to the Public Enemy-esque sirens of ‘WOR’, the spaghetti-western guitar groove of ‘Default’, or the surf-and-sunshine rock of ‘Life’s A Beach’. You can’t stop yourself. (EB) (LISTEN)
Nominated for the 2012 Mercury Prize, Given To The Wild picked up high scoring reviews from critics following up from The Maccabees’ successful debut in 2007 and the much moodier follow-up Wall Of Arms in 2009. Peaking at Number 4 in the UK album charts, the album was far heavier in sound in comparison to their previous records, but still attained a level of ambience perfectly complimented by the whispery voice of Orlando Weeks and some awesome songwriting chops. The album was perfectly suited to a live environment and by resolving the weaknesses of their second record, The Maccabees returned with a vengeance, and its varied dynamics set down a template from bands as big as Mumford & Sons would later draw inspiration. (ML) (LISTEN)
One of the biggest music stories of 2014 was the return of Richard D. James, releasing an album under his Aphex Twin moniker for the first time in thirteen years. Two things strike you about Syro – firstly, how wonderfully ambient and lush it sounds, full of bouncy synth sweeps and jittery beats, and secondly, how much it plays to his strengths. We associate James so much as an artist who revolutionises music with every release that it’s strange to hear him play it so safe. But Aphex Twin on cruise control is still totally engrossing, more so than most other pop musicians are capable of even when operating at maximum capacity. Most likely he’s got hundreds of hours of unreleased material lurking on external hard drives, so we can look forward to a lot more of the Aphex in the coming years. (EB) (LISTEN)
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