My Records of the Year

John Grant – Queen of Denmark (Bella Union)

Queen of Denmark

“I feel just like Sigourney Weaver/ when she had to kill those aliens”, sings the ex-vocalist of The Czars. We all do, John, and for expressing that eternal verity so perfectly in your honeyed baritone in this funny, messed-up, charming, endlessly beguiling collection of 70s-style folky, floaty, dreamy, trippy soft rock – with Midlake as backing band, no less – you win this year’s coveted top prize. Well, first-equal with Grasscut below.

(buy Queen of Denmark here)

Grasscut – 1 inch/1/2 Mile (Ninja Tune) 

1 Inch Half Mile
With Queen of Denmark this masterpiece by Brighton duo Andrew
Phillips and Marcus O’Dair is my most adored and played-to-death album
of the year, which is why it gets first equal prize. Imagine DJ Shadow
meeting Withnail & I in a Brighton bric a brac shop before making a
trippy excursion to the South Downs: samples of Chinese folk songs and
plummy- quavery-voiced old men meld with bleeps and shuffling hip hop
beats and pastoral melodies to create something poignant, beautiful,
nostalgic and quintessentially English.

(buy 1 inch/1/2 Mile here)

Caribou – Swim (City Slang)


Dan Snaith’s latest album will totally do your head in. Where it’s similarly brilliant predecessor Andorra was pastoral and gentle, this one is  like a distillation of the very essence of classic, rave-era dance music, condensed into nine brilliantly realised tracks of, thought-provoking, intense, infinitely subtle, textured, techno genius. And he’s got a PhD in Maths, so he really is that clever.

(buy Swim here)

Phantom Band – The Wants (Chemikal Underground)

The Wants

Think early Nick Cave’s gravel voiced Sturm und Drang meeting the mournful alt folk of The National with the proto-dance inventiveness of Krautrock in a forest of tuned percussion, fuzz guitars and medieval electronics. “What is this? Who are they?” your friends will ask. Epic, moody, poignant, swaggering, raw – but with naggingly lovely tunes – this Scottish sestet’s second album is the year’s dark horse.

(buy The Wants here)

First Aid Kit – The Big Black And The Blue (Jagadamba)

Big Black & the BlueCute sisters Klara and Johanna Soderberg (16 and 19) became internet viral sensations with their artless cover of Fleet Foxes’ Tiger Mountain Peasant Song. Their debut album is even better: clear, penetrating vocals, the sweetest close harmonies, the most delicious country twang and gorgeous melodies, none of them predictable or samey – you’d swear they were from the Appalachian backwoods, not Sweden.

(buy The Big Black and Blue here)

Midlake – The Courage Of Others (Co Op)

Courage of Others

It’s a measure of how stiff the competition is this year that an album this good can come so far down the list. With their twittery flutes and gentle harmonies, these melancholy Texans sing and strum as if we still lived in the era of the Laurel Canyon folkies, After The Goldrush and maybe a hint of Jethro Tull. Or The Decemberists meet Fleet Foxes if you prefer. And why not?

(buy The Courage Of Others here)

Robyn – Body Talk Pt 1 (Konichiwa)

Body Talk Pt 1

Sweden’s Robyn Carlsson is the Madonna it’s safe to like. Her Scandi-pop melodies are so insanely catchy and the production so slick that it teeters perilously on the brink of Euro Cheese. But there’s a darkness, sadness, an edge of daring and invention too, in this richly varied and intensely more-ish album that make you realise: “No. This record is genius!”

(buy Body Talk Pt 1 here)

Husky Rescue – Ship of Light (Catskills)

Ship of Light

More essence of Scandi-pop perfection, this time from Helsinki’s Husky Rescue whose gloriously catchy third album strikes a perfect balance between radio-friendly melodic jauntiness and fragile, yearning melancholy. Reeta-Leena Korhola’s fragile, tender bitter sweet vocals add a fairy tale magic. Live, the band resemble a glorious cross between Joy Division and a Seventies porn movie.

(buy Ship of Light here)

Charlotte Gainsbourg – IRM (Because Music)


Don’t expect instant fireworks: this is a slow burn grower, sweetly folky and Francoise Hardy in places, lightly industrial and post-rave in others, with a slightly shambolic, small-hours feel. That’ll be the influence of Beck who produced and co-wrote the songs, based on fragmentary lyrics suggested by Gainsbourg. An odd couple but a match made in heaven.

(buy IRM here)

UNKLE – Where Did The Night Fall (Surrender All)

Where Did the Night Fall

Like you, probably, I’d rather written off James Lavelle’s UNKLE project as a tired throwback to the days when you could talk of “trip-hop” without inverted commas. But this is a cornucopia of pulsing, trippy, beat-driven tracks ranging in style from psychedelia to afrobeat, and fronted by sundry cultish vocalists from South’s Joel Cadbury and Autolux’s Elle J to mister gravel larynx himself Mark Lanegan. Every one’s a winner.

(buy Where Did The Night Fall here)

Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam)

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Yeah, like Kanye West needs the extra sales or the publicity. But I can’t not include this record because it’s so preposterously awesome: a towering confection of overblown hip hop egoism, polished by ten of the world’s top producers and featuring everything from Elton John to Bon Iver and La Roux, with influences from King Crimson to Aphex Twin. It’s really, REALLY good.


(buy My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy here)

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7 thoughts on “My Records of the Year”

  1. EagerSpectator says:28th December 2010 at 11:00 amA very eclectic and interesting taste James.
  2. Jack Savage says:28th December 2010 at 5:08 pmGood on you , dude. Life is not JUST about being right about global warming!
  3. Velocity says:29th December 2010 at 9:51 amDid my best not to commit suicide listening through this far fro light entertainment. All a bit ‘wrist slitty’ for my ear i’m afraid.Best I could find Track 8, “Heavy Drugs’ on UNKLE album.

    Got any funky chill house with a heavy baseline, you know ‘up’ stuff you don’t have to physco-analyse the hell out of the words to enjoy as i simply can’t be arsed to work hard listening to music???

  4. Matthew Wilson says:1st January 2011 at 1:21 pmThanks for the recommendations, James. I got into John Grant through reading about his association with Midlake and seeing him support them on their recent UK tour. Given how good The Courage of Others is, it was slightly shocking to realise that they’d gone one better with their collaboration with Grant on Queen of Denmark. They’re supposed to be recording another album together next year.
  5. Matthew Wilson says:8th January 2011 at 12:26 amFor the benefit of anyone who’s interested, here’s a link to John Grant playing a club in Stockholm on his recent tour. Well worth a look for anyone enamoured of Queen of Denmark.
  6. wastrel says:24th February 2011 at 5:10 pmOn the money as usual James.Its always disappointing when your reviews do not appear in the ST Review.

    Grasscut is good, John Grant better, Charlotte Gainsbourg tremendous!

  7. Matthew Wilson says:16th June 2011 at 9:55 amJames, are you on Spotify and/or Facebook? I ask because I’ve just gone through Spotify adding all these albums into a playlist called “Delingpole Recommends (2010)” which can be shared via Facebook. Insane to think that not so long ago it would have cost more than £100 to buy all these albums to check them out, even at Amazon (Marketplace) prices. I would feel guilty about that, except that if I like an artist’s music I will end up buying their records anyway and will make an effort to see them live.

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Charlotte Gainsbourg, Firstaid, Tindersticks | James Delingpole

February 15, 2010

Charlotte Gainsbourg – IRM (Because Music) *****

Five stars: you’ll perhaps be expecting fireworks but what you actually get is a sultry, understated, modest affair – sweetly folkie and Francoise Hardy in places, lightly industrial and post-rave in others – with a slightly messy, small-hours feel to it. That’ll be the influence of Beck who produced and co-wrote the songs, based on fragmentary lyrics suggested by Gainsbourg. They’ve worked together brilliantly. I’m particularly smitten with the lilting lullaby-like In the End, the whispery dream-pop of Time Of The Assassins and the enervated punk-electronica of Greenwich Mean Time, but I can tell already the whole thing is going to be a massive grower. Borderline genius.

First Aid Kit – The Big Black And The Blue (Jagadamba) *****

First Aid Kit have become a bit of a You Tube sensation with a cover of Fleet Foxes’ Tiger Mountain Peasant Song so exquisitely, unfeasibly lovely it makes the original sound almost like a tuneless dirge. Though you’ll surely think, as I did, that they’re some authentic Appalachian folk outfit – clear, penetrating vocals, the sweetest close harmonies and the most delicious country twang – they’re actually Swedish sisters, Klara and Johanna Soderberg (aged 16 and 19). I particularly like that little high whoop one of the girls does on the mindblowingly good A Window Opens but really the whole album is a total masterpiece. Buy!

Tindersticks – Falling Down A Mountain (4AD) ****

I’m giving Tindersticks’ eighth album a four-star benefit of the doubt. While I’m not yet totally smitten their records are often very slow growers and even after two plays I can hear definite signs of renewed confidence and creative revival. Harmony Round My Table is classic, old-school Tindersticks – right down to the delicate glockenspiel – with Stuart Staples’s lugubrious lounge vocals reaching almost dangerous levels of jauntiness. Elsewhere there are forays into Calexico-style western, a duet with Mary Margaret O’Hara, some mildly experimental jazz, and some lengthy, sparse but haunting instrumentals. Worth a go, definitely.

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The Return of the Vinyl? How Britain Got Its Groove Back

On top of a brown Formica cabinet in a Portakabin office in an anonymous warehouse on the outskirts of London sits the most privileged record player in pop-music history.

The Garrard direct-drive turntable was the first outside a recording studio ever to play the Beatles’ Revolver and Sgt Pepper; the first to experience Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side Of The Moon; it was the first to be challenged by the Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen; it was there at the birth of dance music; and it’s still going strong in the age of Arctic Monkeys, Animal Collective and Lily Allen.

Remember all that talk in the Eighties when shiny, allegedly indestructible CDs came out, about how the days of the LP were numbered? Well, just recently exactly the opposite has started to happen: it’s the CD, the experts are now saying, that will soon be obsolete. It’s vinyl that’s here to stay.

The Vinyl FactoryBack in business: The Vinyl factory company logo (left) logo and coloured petals of PVC

Back in business: The Vinyl factory company logo (left) logo and coloured petals of PVC

‘I’m surprised a vinyl industry still exists, but the fact that it does is tremendous,’ says Roy Matthews, 73, who has been working on and off at this vinyl factory since 1956 and is now its general manager. When he started it belonged to EMI.

Then in 2000 the EMI manufacturing complex was being sold and the plant was scheduled to close. It was bought by a pair of entrepreneurs, Mark Wadhwa and former Olympic sailor Tim Robinson, and now operates as The Vinyl Factory, manufacturing about 2.5 million records every year.

It’s the last of its kind, as the only major vinyl manufacturing plant left in the UK. The equipment and methods are unchanged, from the revered Garrard turntable on which the ‘positives’ (from which records are made) are checked for defects, to the sacks of black (or coloured) PVC pellets on the factory floor.

The pressing machine that today squashes out special collectors’ LP editions of Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett’s Monkey and the recent Pet Shop Boys album Yes is exactly the same one that pressed the original editions of Mike Oldfield‘s Tubular Bells and Queen’s a Night at the Opera now gathering dust on your shelves.

For audiophiles and musicians this is a happy vindication of something they’ve been saying for years: the sound you get from vinyl recording is so much better than what you get from a CD.

(to read more, click here)

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Good Pop Is about Sex or Authenticity: Jacko Had Neither

Michael Jackson nearly killed me once. It was a dark and stormy night and I was motorcycling back on the M4 to London having been sent to cover one of his excruciating “Heal the World” concerts in Cardiff, when all of a sudden I was blown by a gust of wind across the rainswept carriageway into the path of a mighty pantechnicon.

“Ohmygod!” I remember thinking to myself in those slow-motion seconds. “Is it really my fate to be killed in so cruel and random a way? Not after a concert by Radiohead or Led Zeppelin but by the pop star I loathe more than any in the world: Whacko bloody Jacko!”

Yes, I know it’s sad that that the poor, troubled man has gone so young. But do please let’s get a sense of perspective. Sure, he was nimble on his pins. Sure, that werewolf video was really quite scary for its time. Sure, he sold millions of records. But the fact still remains that the self- styled “King of Pop” was responsible for some of the most excruciatingly dreadful music in history.

And some of the worst lyrics too. “Sunshine. Moonshine. Good Times. Boogie”. Why on Earth would anyone ever have thought to have blamed such very odd things for anything? “I’m bad. I’m really, really bad.” No you’re not. You’re a wuss. “Heal the world. Make it a better place for you and for me.” No! Please!

The first time I encountered him I would have been about 10. That was when my mother bought a soppy single called One Day in Your Life.

(to read more, click here)

Note: Link permanently broken.

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