Tomorrow we head down to the first Wilderness Festival, taking place on our back door in the beautiful Cornbury Park Estate. Previously this lovely venue has hosted the Cornbury Festival, which has thankfully now moved elsewhere as (trust us) it has the worse possible line-up you could ever imagine for an event of this type.
Anyway, the Wilderness is, as we say, a different kettle of fish featuring Gogol Bordello, Toots and the Maytals, Dry The River, Hypnotic Ensemble, CW Stoneking and Hayseed Dixie all creating the sounds today. Antony and the Johnsons will headline Sunday’s music menu, alongside Mercury Rev, Laura Marling, Guillemots and The Low Anthem. Wilderness ‘artist-in-residence’, Daniel Johnston will also perform in his only UK appearance. His Sunday Night ‘Songbook Finale’ will see him perform a number of unique collaborations.
So here is a little Wilderness mix to whet the appetite, as long as the sun shines it should be a cracker.
Here at MM we share, chat, argue, bury and praise music on a pretty regular basis…like daily. So throughout the year, the Mackerel crew (Mrs Mackerel, Barry-Sean, Christy-Popper, Dr Roddy, Polly Pocket, Starbar, MM and others) keep their own ever-changing top tens ready for publication at the climax of the festive season.
So last, but very much not least, is the lovely (though flu-stricken) Mrs Mackerel and her choices for 2010.
We all sweat a little over our top tens and I don’t know why really. This is just what I think, you will undoubtedly think a little different. But I’ve always found my fellow top ten contributors a great source of new sounds that maybe I wouldn’t have otherwise chosen myself. And if you find one song you like that you didn’t know before, then job done really. So to all the musicians that kindly let us post their wares, a heartfelt thank you – here’s to the next 12 months.
Appeals to the latent rock chick in me: she may lie sleeping, but she’s still in there. The laconic, growling delivery of the lyrics makes this tune twist and dip. Late night smoky bar sort of song, bit of a hip swayer over a cocktail or two. “I know you’re a wonderful dancer” – why thank you, Adam, I expect I’m the one with the answers too.
A proper bit of girl power in the form of a punchy, irrepressible foot-stomping beat. It’s not one to get your daughters to sing along to, but I love the rhythmic no-messing attitude of this song. It’s not often you hear such a drum/percussion-dominated track but this only means it beds into your mental song library very easily. And unlike with say, Two Little Boys (sorry Rolf), you don’t end up irritating yourself.
A sleazy, sultry mix which tips a nod to Chris Isaacs and maybe even the Raveonettes too; the drums sound like a heartbeat, the guitars borrow a little from Hank Marvin. This song belongs to a different era, where women had beehives and men wore hats and chain-smoked. Just fabulous.
Off we gallop at a rollicking pace before yep, here he comes, the Tallest Man on Earth, this time masquerading as the King of Spain. He has a unique and idiosyncratic voice that truly sets him apart from many of his contemporaries, and my great musical regret of 2009 is that MM and I were unable to make his London gig in last autumn.
5. The National – Bloodbuzz Ohio
Oh I do like a man with a voice as deep as the night. Matt Berninger’s unmistakeable baritone cuts through this lament, with the drums bringing up the rear. Hypnotic offering from a band that have been waiting in the wings for some much deserved recognition from the wider world.
4. Haunted Windchimes – Sea Bride (Visit their website here. We can’t post the song or find a stream or a video…but you can listen via spotify here)
I loathe wind-chimes. Pointless instruments of aural torture. But once I got past the name, well this is a finger-pickin’ good tune. One of my outstanding films of 2010 was Winter’s Bone and there’s a scene in it where a hill-billy Nan and her mates are sat round in what looks like someone’s front room/bar. What they make is real music for the soul. I could imagine the Haunted Windchimes pulling up a chair and being right at home – and I mean this musically, not in an in-bred, gun-toting sort of way (she adds hastily).
3. Stornoway – I Saw You Blink
To me this is our MM summer of 2010 song: it’s sunshine and dreaminess and love. There’s self doubt and possibly even a Shelley-esque metaphor used (eyes being the window of the soul and all that). All sung to a back-drop of retro, up-tempo, carefully layered music. He’s in love, distracted, missed his train, and constantly wondering what she’s thinking. Dammit, Lucy, he needs to know – are you one he’s been waiting for so, so long? I’m rather glad I’m not 20-something any more …
2. Laura Marling – What He Wrote
What she writes, what she sings, what she plays is incomparable to any of her peers. But age sometimes belies wisdom. I struggled to choose from the riches of her second album, but this wins over Goodbye England by a smidge, simply because I prefer the latter in its unaccompanied arrangement. Here we have a piece of Greek mythology entwined with some war time letters; cause and effect; love and loss. “I am broken too and spoken for, do not tempt me.” A talent of rare and precious mettle.
This snuck up when I wasn’t looking: the more I listened, the more I liked it. Kiwi Dave Baxter is Avalanche City; he taught himself to sing, plays all the instruments (apart from the drums) on this track, and recorded his debut album, solo, armed with a week’s supply of veggie curry. I like that in a person. And the song? It’s about losing yourself, and finding yourself again. It’s uplifting and positive and life-affirming – and it has a goodness that radiates through my very skin. “But now all that I see is life breaking free, so long captivity for me.” Not a bad way to end the year.
Bless you, Jason Ward. And bless you, MM. It’s quite a feat to make someone laugh when they’re in that much pain. Lies, deceit and fraud just ain’t enough for some people – let’s chuck in assault and battery too. Bless You is the anthem for the lesser common psycho. Delusional and toxic, they often hunt in pairs. Napoleon and Squealer. The Liver Turds. All should be sealed in a room and made to listen to Alexandra Burke on a loop. All together now, “How horrible are you …”
Well, often timing is everything; I became aware of D&TD about ten days after they split up. Was it something I said? Scorpio is a particular favourite, a painfully observed lament about a dying relationship.
So after much deliberation, head scratching, discussion, and more head scratching, we have MM’s favourite albums of 2010. And we choose our words very carefully here, because we would not presume them to be the best, only those that have given us the most pleasure and enjoyment, records that we have returned to again and again, and for whatever reason have captured a moment or special place in our hearts.
And while we have limited our selection to 25 albums there were many, many more that could have, and maybe should have, featured. But there that’s the beauty of music, entirely subjective and based on individual opinions not fact.
So without further ado, here are our 25 favourite albums of 2010.
25 Sharon Van Etten – Epic
Haunting, ethereal and stunning album from a modern day siren. Sad prairie folk music indeed.
The son of the peerless Steve Earle comes of age with a perfectly judged set of tales that in their honesty and unashamed frankness are worthy of Townes himself.
Listen to Harlem River Blues.
21 Titus Andronicus – The Monitor
With repeated listens the sheer power and passion of The Monitor becomes overwhelming. So what if it is a concept album about the American Civil War, its ambitious, rebellious, and rousing. Just play it loud!
Another perfectly judged record from the perfectly matched duo. Campbell’s lovely whispering tones offset by Mr Lanagan’s threatening growl.
Listen to Snake Song.
19 Lower Dens – Twin Hand Movement
An album of dreamy, unsettling rock melded with freak-folk to provide one of the year’s most unusual and most rewarding listens. At times it sounds like an evil Beach House and at others spare and caustic where hope is slowly, but firmly drowned in a swirling, atmospheric mix of twinkling guitars and alluring voices.
In the vein of the much lauded and genuinely good Tame Impala, Tweak Bird were louder, faster, and simply rocked harder. A superb mix of motorcycle rock riffs with dirty fingernail blues and even a hint of jazz. This was stoner rock for the 21st century and it was brilliant.
Indie rock with a country inflection, Delta Spirit packed History From Below full of dusty, rural Americana and bar room blues boogie. With the impassioned and distinctive voice of Matt Vasquez backed by a rumbling juggernaut of percussion and rhythms, the album was a welcome addition to the long tradition of classic American rock.
Indie gods manage to live up to, and then surpass the hype with The Suburbs, an album full of outstanding tracks that demand they be listened to as a whole – a proper music album.
Watch Ready To Start.
12 Band Of Horses – Infinite Arms
Despite some occasional iffy AOR moments, Infinite Arms was like the girl with the curl, and when it was good (which it mostly was), it was brilliant.
11 Black Keys – Brothers
Authentic blues duo cranked out their best yet and in tracks like Sinister Kid and Howlin’ For You added some more classic cuts to their catalogue.
Watch Tighten Up.
10 Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can
Showcasing her incredible natural talent despite such tender years, I Speak Because I Can truly marked Laura Marling out as a worthy heiress to Joni, Emmy Lou and the like. Darker, stronger, and more confident than her debut, she is surely poised for great things.
Watch Rambling Man.
9 Liars – Sisterworld
A brilliant collection of crushing guitars, machine gun percussion and soaring vocals that retained its experimental art-noise edge but became much more accessible and much more listenable – welcome to the big league time?
Listen to the superb Proud Evolution.
8 The National – High Violet
Overcoming the music blogger’s ‘big band’ prejudice with ease, High Violet was bigger, better and more affecting than anything the National have done to date.
Listen to Conversation 16.
7 Strand Of Oaks – Pope Killdragon
Having caught our attention with their wonderful Springsteen cover on Hear Ya, Strand of Oaks more than lived up to our expectations with Pope Killdragon. Sparse folk tunes mixed with occasional and abstract guitar wigouts and also showcased Tim Showalter’s ability to grab the attention with some of the best lyrical couplets of the year. Stand out track Alex Kona a case in point, starting “Alex Kona was twelve feet tall, his mother was killed by a bowling ball” – what’s not to like?
Spare, beautiful, mournful and melancholic, the fragile folk of Mathew Sawyer hid whiplash lyrics and biting black humour that revealed and revelled in a bittersweet world where daydreams and nightmares fought to the death for supremacy.
Backwards-looking it maybe, but that’s to miss the point of Black Mountain. This was an album bursting with rock riffs that were so good you thought they must have been invented in the classic age of rock, and in Let Spirits Ride, the band provided the headbanging anthem of the year.
Another wonderful record of rousing, country infused tunes. Each listen revealed more of its anthemic charms and spirited, rugged rock on an album full of top notch tunes from start to finish.
Watch Shadow People.
3 Blitzen Trapper – Destroyer Of The Void
A brilliant and worthy follow-up to the exceptional Furr, and in songs like The Man Who Would Speak True, Blitzen Trapper showed they had worthy successors to classics like Black River Killer and the like. Full of prog-folk, dusty rural ballads, sci-fi synths and more, Destroyer of the Void was a stunning record.
After the sublime To Willie tribute last year came the originals. From the loose, ramshackle rock of It’s Hard to Be Humble (When You’re From Alabama) to cowboy ballads, transcendental homages, and the climactic, Neil Young like, epic album closer L.A.
Despite Wither Thous Goest, Cretin only receiving an initially limited release, and despite it being overshadowed by the subsequent release of (the also excellent) The Death Seat on Michael Gira’s label, Wooden Wand delivered an album of stunning simplicity, in equal parts poignant, heartbreaking, and redemptive.
With lyrics that are the match of any songwriter we know (“He had just enough rope in his trunk to make her nervous”) allied to sparse, plucked folk on the one hand and footstomping barnyard rhythms on the other, there is not a wasted moment, nor a false step on the entire album.