03 March 2011


10. Morcheeba – WHO CAN YOU TRUST?
This trio was initially far hazier and mellower than most trip-hop collectives. Apart from a beatless orchestral interlude, everything here sounds the same, and for once that’s a good thing—this is a chill out album with hooks (languorous and sneaky as they may be), plus Skye Edwards’ smoky, sultry vocals register as vital signs, not as chilly detachments.

The closest Phillips ever came to attracting more than a cultish audience was with this sharp, sly, album-length Beatles homage. From “I Need Love” to “Baby I Can’t Please You”, she was never so user-friendly or comfortably retro again. Thus, occasional left turns like the clanging “Black Sky” or the submerged, ominous cover of Lennon’s “Gimme Some Truth” that she goes out on seem all the more startling.

8. Portishead – DUMMY
For all of its noir-drenched gloom, this landmark set remains accessible and oddly inviting because Geoff Barrows and Beth Gibbons paid as much mind to melody and song structure as they did to tension, texture and cannily-employed samples. They had a keen sense of humor as well (“Nobody loves me / it’s true / (pause) / not like you do”), even if steadily shattering laments like “Glory Box” and “Roads” left a more indelible impression.

7. Concrete Blonde – BLOODLETTING
Still one of rock’s most underrated vocalists, Johnette Napolitano makes up for a lack of technique with how her beguiling wail magisterially fills a space. Although the title track established her band as favorites in Goth circles, the album’s bulk is less theatrical and brooding. She supposedly wrote these songs in a rush after deciding not to break up her band, and their urgency comes through in undulating detail.

6. Saint Etienne – SO TOUGH
Using an up-to-the-minute cut-and-paste aesthetic, this trio curates a music geek’s joyride through decades of pop effluvia from a decidedly British viewpoint. In a series of wild juxtaposes, heavenly strings and wide-eyed innocence sit next to a swirling guitar loop sampled from a Rush song, and the soaring, sighing seven-minute impressionist epic “Avenue” never loses its footing even as it threatens to be forever whisked away by the wind.

5. The Magnetic Fields – 69 LOVE SONGS
Living up to its title, this sprawling triple album contains said number of songs sung by five vocalists in at least twenty-five genres. An extraordinary act of chutzpah for leader/composer Stephin Merritt or his successful bid to be a modern-day Cole Porter? Both, actually—the talent and dedication put into this massive, singular project is such that you almost believe every word, even when deliberately cloaked in irony and pastiche.

4. Everything But the Girl – AMPLIFIED HEART
On first listen, every note seems smooth, sophisticated, carefully chosen and executed, like aural wallpaper for a subdued cocktail party. Then, you notice the raw, messy emotions beneath the glassy veneer; the lyrics surge with longing, regret, disappointment, melancholy, resolve. Although one could interpret a sense of romantic breakdown and failure in the subject matter, after a series of tinny, overproduced EBTG releases, the remarkably stripped-down, elegant music carries with it the promise of rebirth.

Still the best used-CD store impulse purchase I’ve ever made (without having heard any of its contents), this album beautifully captures of ennui of city living near the fin de siècle. From the first crisply strummed chords of opener “The Best Thing” to the overlapping vocals fading into the ether on closer “Back in Our Town”, these songs shift between sun-soaked ecstasy, moody reflection and glistening calm, all punctuated by Dominique Durand’s French-accented croon. It’s a perfect soundtrack for almost any occasion.

2. Belle and Sebastian – IF YOU’RE FEELING SINISTER
This wasn’t the band’s first album, but it was the first one most people heard. To discover it is to stumble upon an anomaly in pop music, an alternate universe that has nearly nothing to do with rock star celebrity or artistic pretension. These literate, bittersweet songs begin quietly (barely audible at times), then gradually build, adding on piano, trumpets and strings until the chorus swells with Stuart Murdoch’s fey warble exuding a force you never guessed it had.

Check back in a few days for the number one album (and more)! What could it be, what could it be???

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I kid you not. Sam's version of "Gimme Some Truth" starting playing right before I brought this list up. Awesomeness!