Yes, yes I am fully aware that my list looks as though Bill has invited one of Uncut’s writers to have submitted their own Top 20 as a kind of ‘guest list’, and I was agonising about whether to put certain albums in, briefly considering whether I should perhaps instead replace them with some younger, more vibrant, up and coming artists, as befits this very site. But then two things hit me: first of all, Uncut is actually still a great read and has some of the best writers in the business, so there’s really no shame in it, and secondly, these are genuinely the albums I’ve played and enjoyed the most since the beginning of 2010, so if I DID replace any, I’d merely be lying to myself. So balls to it, THESE are the albums I’ve loved. If you’re after newer, ‘ones to watch’ type lists, our other writers will have that covered, ok?
1) Tom Waits – Bad As Me
Already an astonishing return to form, although admittedly I can’t actually recall a time where he was ever OFF form, Tom Waits returned to the sound of former glories such as Rain Dogs on the likes of Bad As Me‘s title track and ‘Chicago‘, while still proving his romantic worth on ‘Back In The Crowd‘ and the Keith Richards featuring ‘Last Leaf‘. But it was the apocalyptic drama of ‘Hell Broke Luce‘ that really proved Waits was truly at the top of his game, with lyrics that make you chuckle at first, until you realise that the song is based on the tragic true story of Jeff Lucey, a suicide victim who could not cope with the post-traumatic stress caused by his time as a soldier in Iraq. At this point, we realise that it’s quite possibly the most effective anti-war song ever written.
2) Gruff Rhys – American Interior
Gruff Rhys, over the past quarter of a century, has surely gradually made himself a case to be reckoned as one of the greatest Welsh songwriters of all time, both with his band Super Furry Animals and his various side projects, not least his sparkling solo career. For me, American Interior is Rhys at his pinnacle, a concept album of sorts, with the fascinating backstory of the 18th century explorer John Evans trying to establish whether there really IS a Welsh speaking native American tribe walking the Great Plains. Regardless of the story’s seemingly fruitless end result, along the way we are faced with some of the most beautifully melodic songs in the great man’s canon. Highlights include ‘The Last Conquistador‘ and ‘Liberty (Is Where We’ll Be)‘, but really, take your pick.
3) Ezra Furman – Perpetual Motion People
Granted, Ezra Furman is an acquired taste, having made no secret of a love for the equally divisive vocal tones of Violent Femmes frontman Gordon Gano. But Perpetual Motion People is an absolute riot from start to finish, and there’s little let up from the relentless energy of opener ‘Restless Year‘ up until to the folksier musings of finale ‘One Day I Will Sin No More‘.
4) Hurray For The Riff Raff – The Navigator
“…elsewhere, there are the Latin rhythms of the title track, which is part Dummy-era Portishead, part Tom Waits circa Rain Dogs, and part Henry Mancini. These songs are always authentic, never less than rousing, and often stirringly beautiful, like the hushed tones of the short but affecting ‘Halfway There‘, and there is even a perhaps accidental nod, lyrically, to Iron Maiden on ‘Rican Beach‘, whose initial prose (“First they stole our language/Then they stole our name/Then they stole the things that brought us fame“) shares sentiments with the aforementioned metal band’s ‘Run To The Hills‘ (“White man came across the sea/He brought us pain and misery/He killed our tribes he killed our creed/He took our game for his own need“). Every track on The Navigator is 24 carat gold.”
5) Ryley Walker – Primrose Green
“Ryley Walker’s musical persona inhabits the same woozy, smoky 3 am jazz club once patronised by the likes of John Martyn. The similarity is uncanny at times, notably on the breathtaking ‘Same Minds’ and the ‘Solid Air’ melancholy of ‘Sweet Satisfaction’, the former of which begins with the kind of sparse, off-kilter bass championed by Tom Waits (yes, him again) around his Small Change era, and the latter of whom changes tack at the end into a frenetic workout that is as thrilling as it is unexpected. It’s no great leap of faith, either, to picture Walker, hair cascading in the summer breeze, as a kind of messianic figure up on the main stage at Woodstock as the song builds, lost in the marijuana fog clouds and immersed in the splendour of the remarkable musical sparring team he has built around him.”
6) First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar
I first saw First Aid Kit around 2009, when they were practically still children, at a festival. There were about 30 or so people watching them, and even then, the three dozen of us witnessing that set went home thinking there was something very special about these Swedish siblings. They proved they were capable of moving up a notch between their debut EP, Drunken Trees, and their first full length, The Big Black And The Blue, but nothing had prepared me for their staggeringly brilliant second long player in 2012. The Lion’s Roar was a beautifully realised record, the often dark observational matter disguised behind frivolously cheerful melodies. Case in point? Look no further than the apparent jollity of ‘Blue‘, in which, when you dig deeper, you find lines like “And the only man you ever loved, you thought was gonna marry you, died in a car accident when he was only 22. Then you just decided, love wasn’t for you.” So while on the surface, The Lion’s Roar may seem like a glossy, coffee table crowd pleaser, it really is anything but. It’s just a remarkable album.
7) The Hold Steady – Thrashing Thru The Passion
“Instantly we are sucked back into the murky underworld of the fictional society created by The Hold Steady, who, despite not having released a new album in more than five years, and now with former member Franz Nicolay back in the fold, immediately hit us with their best long player since 2008’s Stay Positive. Thrashing Thru The Passion should please old fans and new alike, with tunes filled with the euphoria of Boys And Girls In America period onwards, but also the amused/bemused fervour of the band’s earliest works. The icing on the cake, of course, is Craig Finn‘s incredulous delivery, whose four fine solo albums away from his cohorts, as well as Nicolay’s return, seem to have served to inspire him to get back to grass roots and to the sound that regularly saw the group touted as the “best bar band in the world.” Quite simply, Thrashing Thru The Passion rocks, and then some.”
8) Future Of The Left – The Peace And Truth Of Future Of The Left
“Have they mellowed? Has their sound and ethos progressed onto a new sonic plane? Well, no. Of course it hasn’t. FOTL remain les enfants terrible of the modern musical world, refusing to follow industry rules and ploughing their own unique furrow.” (from a review by GIITTV’s Dean Mason)
9) Drive-By Truckers – American Band
“In complete contrast to the gritty realism of American Band’s lyrics, the melodies served up are often bright and pretty, the defiant ‘Surrender Under Protest‘ coming across like the best song REM never wrote, and the venom spitting rage against racism, the NRA and all its followers being partially veiled, first by the rock and roll acumen of ‘Ramon Casiano‘ and later by the quite devastating ‘What It Means‘, which poignantly informs us that “Barack Obama won/And you can choose where to eat/But you don’t see too many white kids lying bleeding on the street.”
10) The Blood Tub Orchestra – The Seven Curses Of The Music Hall
“The whole thing will have you smiling like an air stewardess in no time, though there are no forced grins here, as the opening gambit of “My goodness, you do seem a miserable lot” from the brilliant opener ‘Things Are Worse In Russia‘ strikes up, and there’s no let up throughout. The closest thing I can compare the latter track with in terms of exuberance is The Wedding Present‘s staggering sidestep Ukrainski vistupi v Johna Peela. But don’t be misled into thinking this is going to be all about hell raising, for the outfit’s take on Charlotte Alington Barnard‘s 1868 tune ‘I Cannot Sing The Old Songs‘ sounds like The Psychedelic Furs doing Music Hall – Kitchens Of Distinction at a push – and is positively heart-wrenching. Then we are met with a Madness-like swagger, Mr T. Whelan’s slightly slurred vocal reminiscent of Suggs, on the rambunctious ‘The Football Match‘ in between its fairground verses, before the stunningly brilliant ‘They Can Do Without Us‘, “a 1922 sex wars belter“, which lies somewhere between Dr Feelgood, Squeeze and Chas and Dave, and is utterly delightful for it.”
11) The Wave Pictures – Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon
“Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon sees them striking great fountains of oil in their own backyard, and it is difficult not to equate this to the fact that it was recorded with the help of the band’s all time hero, Billy Childish. Beginning with the terrific title track, frontman David Tattersall is clearly attempting to adopt the vocal style of Tom Verlaine but instead ends up sounding like Art Brut‘s Eddie Argos with a fit of the giggles. This is no bad thing though and the result is tremendous fun, as is ‘I Could Hear The Telephone (3 Floors Above Me)’, both culminating in Tattersall’s signature garage guitar squall.”
12) The Decemberists – What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World
“It’s one of those albums that when it’s finished not only do you want to go back and listen to it all over again, but it also makes you want to go and check out their back catalogue.
Although derided in certain corners as a ‘hipster band’, what it comes down to on this record is simply the quality songs. Whilst the album starts off in pretty good fashion with ‘The Singer Addresses His Audience’ it’s the central three absolutely brilliant tracks on the album that are worth the price of admission alone – ‘Cavalry Captain’, ‘Philomena’ and ‘Lake Song’.
In a funny way, though it sounds nothing like it, it’s rather like the warm, fuzzy feeling you got listening to Vampire Weekend, that feeling you get when you hear a great collection of songs. Sure What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World may soundtrack campus dorms, but the last time I checked, that wasn’t a criminal offence.” (from a GIITTV review by Ed Jupp.)
13) IDLES – Joy As An Act Of Resistance
Our live editor, Jim Auton, has already pretty much hit the nail on the head with this one. Quite frankly, IDLES are one of the most vital live acts out there right now, and their ultra positive message is exactly what the world needs. If only more people would pay attention to that. They’ve already made an impact on many of us, but the beauty of Joe Talbot and co is that they never give up, even on their fiercest opponents.
14) OMD – The Punishment Of Luxury
OMD‘s greatest album in YEARS, The Punishment Of Luxury melds the excitement of change with fear of technology, much as they always have, but with an added intensity on the incredible, machine gun rhythm of ‘La Mitrailleuse‘, and beyond that, some of the catchiest tunes in the entire OMD treasure trove.
15) Jason Isbell – Southeastern
“When Jason Isbell released his 2013 album Southeastern, you could palpably feel the earth tremors from the sound of jaws dropping in unison around the globe. It was, quite simply, a masterclass in songwriting, focusing on such bleak subjects as watching helplessly as a loved one slowly deteriorated from cancer (‘Elephant‘), the vengeful murder of an abusive father by one of the victim’s classmates (‘Yvette‘), and suicide (‘Relatively Easy’) amongst others. Cleverly though, all of these tunes had a positive side, as the record attempted to find salvation in the darkest places.”
16) The National – High Violet
Weirdly, up until High Violet, I hadn’t been that much of a fan of The National, but this, for me, is where it all came together, the emotion of each track really tugging at your heart strings, which is strange in itself, when you consider the fact that the first song’s opening lyric is “It’s a terrible love when I’m walking with spiders.” Say what? Still, it just FEELS right on so many levels, especially on the remarkable single ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio‘ with its uneasy intensity and on the epic finale ‘Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks‘, which momentarily invites you into another world, a better world, after which it merely makes you want to play the whole damn thing over and over again.
17) David Bowie – The Next Day
I know, I know. I’m supposed to laud Blackstar, aren’t I? And I do like the great man’s parting gift to us mere mortals, but, whisper it quietly, I much prefer The Next Day myself, which, although Bowie‘s work was considered his “best record in 30 years” practically every time he released anything, on this occasion, I would have to concur. The glam-stomping spirit of his heyday rediscovered on the likes of the title track and ‘Dirty Boys‘, the astonishing, nostalgic, tender ballad that would become his final top ten hit, ‘Where Are We Now?‘, and the one that lots of people said was rubbish, ‘I’d Rather be High‘, which they were hideously wrong about and was actually the best song on it, for me. Plus, the cover to The Next Day was piss funny. I nearly collapsed laughing when I first saw that.
18) Israel Nash – Israel Nash’s Silver Season
“If ‘Willow‘ is a carefree celebration of nature and a full embrace of life itself, ‘Parlour Song’ is a solemn lament to the loss of it. It’s not immediately apparent, but this was Nash’s exasperated response to the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Connecticut in 2012, where 20 children and six adults were tragically robbed of their lives by a lone gunman, who then turned the gun on himself. You can feel the anger and frustration in Nash’s voice throughout this moody, claustrophobic piece, its focal point being the wearied refrain – amongst a swirling mass of psychedelic guitars – of “I’m tired of the people!” – presumably aimed, with a mixture of contempt and disbelief, at those who oppose the reformation of gun laws. “Sooner or later/We’ll surrender our guns,” evinces the Missourian hopefully, before crushing that dream incredulously with the sucker punch, “…But not until we’ve shot everyone“. It’s a truly remarkable song, high on emotion and crystal clear on point.”
19) The Felice Brothers – Life In The Dark
“The Felice Brothers have always been exquisite in marrying the buoyant and the macabre, and this is perfectly displayed in the single ‘Plunder‘. A wild, blustery sea-storm of a song which begins jubilantly with the affectionately nostalgic line “I had a dog named Archibald/The biggest dog in town,” before ending the verse, rather more calamitously, with “Him and this other dog named Bobby/They let a schoolgirl drown.” Indeed, The Felice Brothers’ world remains inhabited by all manner of sordid figures, tragi-heroes and dubiously intentioned miscreants, but also a healthy dose of hedonistic ritual and romantic bonhomie. The Clash, of course, attained a famous tagline about being “the only band that matter.” To this end, I would like to make a motion that The Felice Brothers should be recognised henceforth as “the most reliable band since the turn of the millennium.” Seriously, Life In The Dark is as good as anything the band has previously released, and, on several occasions, perhaps even better.”
20) Pale Honey – Devotion
“Single ‘Get These Things Out Of My Head‘ is an abrasive, frustrated exorcism of niggling thoughts from the mind of a tortured genius, perhaps. That, in turn, is swiftly followed by the incredible ‘The Heaviest Of Storms‘, in which Tuva Lodmark and Nelly Daltrey have achieved that rarest of art forms – conveying the theme of the song perfectly, merely with their instruments. Not that they don’t sing on it, because they do – to great effect – but the whole thing feels like a ship out at sea, the ominous foreboding of the tempestuous climate prevalent throughout, and when the storm DOES come, by way of huge confrontational, crunching guitars, it feels like we’re part of the voyage, being flung around helplessly and clinging on for dear life before still waters eventually return and we can breathe again. It’s a truly beautiful song and an amazing album to boot.”