Here are numbers 10 – 6…
10. Goldfrapp – ‘Felt Mountain’
For me, Goldfrapp are a band who have been consistently brilliant since the first album they released. And when that album is as good as Felt Mountain, that’s really saying something. I love Goldfrapp’s synthy, sexy, stomping electro-glam as much as the next person, but it doesn’t come close to the haunted quality of their debut. It’s so… well, it’s just weird. It’s eerie. It was certainly very different to anything modern I’d heard back in 2001. From the opening alarm-turns-creepy-whistling of Lovely Head, to the half-whispered, quietly orchestral Deer Stop, to the sheer majesty of what remains my favourite Goldfrapp track, Utopia, it’s a start-to-finish, listen-to-in-the-dark work of brilliance. And apart from the innovatory musical end of things, there are some beautiful lyrics in there, too, like Utopia‘s twisted love paean: “When I’m with you, there’s no reason / There’s no sense / I’m not supposed to feel / I forget who I am”. Of course, she goes on to sing about her dog needing new ears, but… It’s just a great, great, hugely overlooked album.
9. Gillian Welch – ‘Time (The Revelator)’
I didn’t discover Gillian Welch’s albums in chronological order. I can’t even remember which one it was that I heard first (possibly Soul Journey), but I remember hearing ‘Time (The Revelator)’ and becoming fixated with it quite quickly. What is it about this album? It’s everything. It’s that slim, unique twang to her voice. It’s her instinctive awareness of when to be tender (Everything is Free) and when to just go for it (I Want to Sing That Rock ‘n’ Roll). It’s her ability to write lyrics that both come at you hard and fast, and float around your head before softly settling somewhere. It’s the sheer skill on display – both her own and of Dave Rawlings (still the best musician I’ve ever seen play in person), and their ease of their amazing harmonies. Anyone who’s idiotic enough to dismiss country music on the basis of the (admittedly plentiful) cheese that’s out there needs a crash course in Gillian Welch’s back catalogue, stat. This album is a great place to start.
8. PJ Harvey – ‘Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea’
I’m not going to lie: there was a time, maybe ten or so years ago, when PJ Harvey scared me. You can’t blame me, really – the woman is a force of nature. It did mean that I took me slightly longer to delve into her back catalogue, though, and I did gain an eventual appreciation of Rid of Me and To Bring Me Your Love. Stories From the City, Stories from the Sea was the album I fell in love with, though. This is Love was the tune that got me hooked. The sheer power and jagged edges of what was essentially a love song, coupled with that snarling, sultry voice drew me into an album packed with similarly intriguing songs: the almost poppy You Said Something, the fiery Good Fortune, the supernatural This Mess We’re In. Such a great album. Enough said.
7. Arctic Monkeys – ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’
I remember the weeks leading up to this album’s release. The swell of expectation, the buzz about a band that spread across Irish Sea like an airborne virus (not only from the usual suspects that instigate such infections like NME, but also from ‘credible’ muso sources), the general feeling that this could be the album to perfectly capture a snapshot of mid-noughties urban mundanities with a wry self-deprecation – in the same way that Jarvis Cocker did with Pulp, or Mike Skinner did with The Streets. And there was nothing disappointing about WPSIA, TWIN when it was eventually released (except the crap cover art, maybe). Not only were these songs lyrically smart and funny – Alex Turner taking his cue from everyone from Morrissey to John Cooper Clarke – but the songs were just bang on. With their ambitious compositions married to uber-catchy choruses, Arctic Monkeys crafted a debut that didn’t beat around he bush in any way, yet it was no less compelling.
6. Radiohead – ‘In Rainbows’
Radiohead are an extremely polarising band, but not exactly for the usual reasons (i.e. X simply thinks they’re brilliant, Y thinks they’re shit.) If you like Radiohead, you admire their constant evolution (even the biggest begrudger can’t deny the massive development from ‘Creep’ to ‘Everything In Its Right Place‘). If you don’t like them, they’re pretentious arses, teetering dangerously close to prog. Well, I’m certainly no fan of prog, so you begrudgers are just, well, wrong. In Rainbows is one of those rare albums that hits you immediately AND percolates over time. It’s a record that’s as moving (is All I Need not one of the most beautifully strange love songs of the decade?) as it is galvanizing (Bodysnatchers) and experimental, when it comes to chord and tempo changes (15 Step). There are just so many awe-inspiring songs on this album. I genuinely can’t wait to see what Radiohead do next.