With the first decade of the new millennium drawing to a close it seems that everybody is going list crazy. As I always like to follow an enjoyable trend, here is a list of my favourite albums of the decade. I’d hoped for a Top Ten, but on review of what lives on my MP3 Player it appears I have more from the previous 3 decades than from the last 1 (I expect Simon Cowell is to blame!) and so instead offer up a top 4 and a few notable mentions. The selection criteria was simple, I had to own the album, like it, and have not deleted it off my MP3 player (where most albums get played 2 or 3 times before relegation to the backup server and replaced with the next favourite). So without further delay…
- Kate Bush – Aerial : Twelve years had passed since The Red Shoes in 1993, and for all but the most dedicated fans Kate had become an elusive figure mentioned only in the historical context. However, November 2005 saw her return with an incredible album of great complexity and beauty. This is decidedly a two part experience, with the album released as 2 CDs and even as a stunning 2 disc vinyl set in a magnificent gatefold sleeve with a 12inch sized book of artwork and lyrics. The first part was made up of individual songs covering diverse topics including fame, loss, seclusion, and motherhood. The second part consisted of multiple pieces all linked thematically by references to the air, sky and by birdsong. This second disc is arguably Kate’s best work, surpassing “The Ninth Wave” found on the B-side of Hounds of Love. For me, the standout tracks are: (Disc 1) How to Be Invisible, Joanni, (Disc 2) Prelude, An Architect’s Dream, Sunset, Aerial Tal, Somewhere in Between.
- Turin Brakes – Ether Song : This was an airplay purchase, as I’d heard the track “Painkiller” played on BBC Radio 1 during our summer holiday back in England. for some reason most references to this album have it plastered with “Explicit Lyrics” stickers, however although there are certainly some “adult themes” discussed, this is not a collection of curses and swearwords! The musical style is simple in an age of complex production, with great guitar hooks that pull you in from the beginning. If you like dry humour, and a large dose of introspection, then I strongly suggest you give this a listen. Standout tracks are: Average Man, Long Distance, Stone Thrown, Painkiller.
- Peter Gabriel – Up : Like Aerial there had been a considerable delay between this and Peter’s previous release. Work began on Up in 1995 and although rumours of its completion began circulating as early as 1998, it was eventually released in September 2002. Up is a dark album, focusing on life and particularly death. The opening track “Darkness” is for me the best description of the impact of bullying on the psyche that I’ve found in a song, and from this stunning start the album just gets better. It was a return to a grander style of writing for Peter, sharing more in theme and style with his Genesis and early solo work, with most songs exceeding 6 minutes and featuring many depths and layers. For me it was Up, along with my Kate Bush collection (then just consisting of Hounds of Love and Sensual World) that got packed into my hand luggage and carried to the US when I became an expat. They were essential listening to keep myself sane… I’d listened to More Than This and Signal to Noise almost exclusively whilst driving around the roads of my childhood in the weeks prior to our move and Sky Blue became a sanity check when dealing with the initial pangs of homesickness. Standout tracks: Darkness, Sky Blue, More Than This, Signal To Noise.
- Frou Frou – Details : The Naughties saw my return to ambient electronica. Back in my youth I’d been a huge fan of the massive productions of Jean Michel Jarre, and the early work of The Petshop Boys, but as the nineties had rolled through I’d drifted into the Britpop/Artpop scene as defined by Damon Alban with Blur, and Jarvis Cocker with Pulp. From there it was an easy slip into Brit-grunge and the bass fueled riffs of Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and The Wonderstuff, and so with a new decade seeing me living in a new country it was time for a change. I came across Frou Frou while trawling reviews of indie groups online on a lazy afternoon, and found myself transfixed by the mixing, and the wonderful voice of Miss Imogen Heap (listen to Hear Me Out and see what I mean). I’d describe the sound as somewhere between a stylish London nightclub and a Bronte novel, but be warned I’ve discovered that this album is like Marmite and while some listeners fall in love from the first taste others will be unable to listen without moaning and grumbling. Standout tracks are: Breathe In, Psychobabble, Only Got One, Hear Me Out.
So there you go, according to me the above are the four albums from the last ten years that you should have somewhere in your collection. They are all records I’ve gone back to time and again, given as gifts, commute to, and just can’t bring myself to wipe off the MP3 player.
I’d said there were a few notable mentions and indeed there are. These are albums I’ve come across in my musical travels, and either do not personally own, or have not had long enough to be completely certain they’d make the official cut:
- Emilie Simon – Vegetal : As I said about Frou Frou above, I’d returned to electronica after a long break, and falling into that category of rediscovery was this album from French chanteuse Emilie Simon. For some reason it was far easier in the US to find her album The Flower Book which shares many of the songs with the French release of Vegetal, but did not feel as well ordered hence it missed the final cut and instead I suggest you dig deeper and find a copy of the original! Be warned though, like Frou Frou listening to Vegetal is a love it/hate it experience where again I have had some friends instantly ask me where they could find it, whilst others described it with some disgust as sounding “like cockroaches crawling through chocolate”. Standout tracks: Il Pleut, Alicia, Le Vieil Amant.
- Imogen Heap – Ellipse : The voice from Frou Frou released this, her third, album in the summer of 2009, and therefore I wasn’t sure it had been around my ears long enough to find its way onto the list. Again, for me this is a combination of my interests and tastes spun into a single album, with the enticing combination of beautifully voiced vocals and epic production. With each listen I find myself hearing something new, or taking a new message away with me. Bad Body double has become my “get yerself down the gym lad” track. Oh, and Miss Heap seems to be a really nice person from her Twitter feed. Standout tracks: First Train Home, Earth, Swoon, Bad Body Double.
- The Mummers – Tale To Tell (Part One) : I’ve been a fan of Raissa since she released Your Summertime back in 1996, and so when I discovered she’d got a new band I had to buy the album. Linked here is the initial release from august 2008 when the album was going to be made up of a two part release, and features my preferred track order. After some good critical reviews the album vanished to be re-released as Tale To Tell (without the Part One) in April 2009 with a revised track listing. The fantastical orchestration is not always to my taste, and the album order still strikes me as odd and over long, but once again that voice wins out. Standout tracks: Wonderland, Lorca The Orange Tree, Teardropsfall