As usual, I found putting together this list incredibly tough (and a touch premature – but they always end up needing to be done in mid November for most publications), but this is the top five I eventually came up with (6-10 here). Two of my top three acts – the two more well known ones right now – were only at the very edges of my musical knowledge this time last year, and I’ve come to really love them. It’s nice to be looking on something new as quite so special. Here’s the top five:
5. Paranoid Visions – Outsider Artist. Not just musically, but generally, I’ve found Ireland’s reaction to the governments recession response to be extremely tame. You can point to all the protests, but the level of outrageous at the government’s prioritizing of bond holders, for example, is ludicrous but met with only limited real opposition. Surely an investment is by definition a risk? Paranoid Visions are the first real example of a musical protest I’ve come across since The Rags did something similar last year, and they do it with a proper punk-rock ethos. Sure, Outsider Artist is technically an EP, but it’s an EP that contains 8 bootlegged live tracks (bringing it to album length in total), and goes for a bargain 2 Euro in Tower. If you haven’t at least given this a spin yet, grab it. It’s not even going to break AIB…
4. Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes. Downright miserable, but ‘Wounded Ryhmes’ is also one of the most affecting, emotional albums I’ve heard in a long time. The main reason it hasn’t sneaked in much higher is really that I don’t think the quality is quite consistently high enough throughout the album (the singles are the clear stand outs), but tracks like ‘Sadness Is A Blessing’ and ‘I Follow Rivers’ speak for themselves.
3. Grouplove – Never Trust A Happy Song. This album just blew me away when it came out. ‘Colours’ is perhaps the best pop song released all year – instantly infectious, original, vibrant and worthy of compulsive repeats. The album, though, demonstrates their ‘five songwriter’ approach to writing music, with plenty of variety and lots of really loveable stuff. If I’m honest, what really won me over was their live act: boisterous, smiling and undertaken with the same enthusiasm to an empty tent at Oxegen (still one of my gigs of the year) and a rammed one three months later at Electric Picnic. That was a great measure of their progress, and this is one of those albums that’s unashamedly pop, but interesting, unique, very listenable pop. Love it.
2. We Cut Corners – Today I Realized I Could Go Home Backwards. We Cut Corners have been doing little things that have impressed me for at least a couple of years now, but I always felt they lacked just a little something. Over the last six months, they’ve emphatically changed my mind: the live performances have become brilliant self-assured, the White Stripes meets (their muse) Loundon Wainwright pay-off nicely melded together, and the videos are just genius. Today I Realized I Could Go Home Backwards has me just as excited as The Cast Of Cheers did last year. It’s the poetic style of the lyrics – that weird and wonderful, offbeat way they have of describing real life situations – the disguised meanings and the contrast between a vulnerable, delicate series of quirky ditties and the outright barrage of their rockier corners that does it for me.
1. Cloud Control – Bliss Release. This is an odd one, as technically ‘Bliss Release’ actually came out in 2010, but not in Europe. Cloud Control are one of those bands that have a real slow-building, dramatic affect with a lot of their songs: some sound like their layering aboriginal rhythms, others have weird backdrops (like the brilliant ‘Nothing In The Water We Can’t Fight’ – about the Ganges healing powers in Varanasi, India), and the there’s straight up good atmospheric pop rock songs like the big one ‘Gold Canary’. Another band that’s dingy on-stage atmospherics are possibly better than they are on record, but that’s saying something. This album is a stunner.