Monday, January 3, 2011

SPAZ's Top 20 for '10!

SPAZ's Semi-official Top 20 list for 2010

Well, 2010 has come and gone.  Wow.  It doesn't feel like a year just passed by, does it?  I'm feeling like it was only 365 days...but that's just me.  Anyway, I usually don't like to put together lists of my fave albums of any given year because I always forget certain albums.  Even though this last year is pretty fresh in my mind, I still have the feeling that I'm forgetting something.  And one of the worst things is that I know that there are plenty of great albums that were released in 2010 that I haven't heard yet! 
So, with that being said, these are the albums that made my list as of January 1st, 2011.  The first 5 or 10 are definite top picks but everything after that are all pretty much tied, so please feel free to mix and match...

The Top 10

While his first album was your typical singer/songwriter fodder, this is something entirely different. With producer Bernard Butler at the controls, Love Will Find You sees Findlay creating an album that sounds like one Roy Orbison would have recorded in England in the early to mid ‘60s. Every song is a worthy addition to a mix tape (and I should know because I’ve made plenty of them!).

I love music that is both melodic, hypnotic and atmospheric (although not too dark or pretentious). This album sounds like it was influenced by the more melodic side of Cocteau Twins mixed with a folky edge. The melodies are beautiful and this album won me over on the 2nd listen.

It’s been 20 years since their last album, but Red Box have lost none of their pop smarts. Although they are no longer quirky and infused with World Music rhythms, the melodies are stronger than ever. Leader Simon Toulson Clake has always had a way with his melodies and this time, they are more mature and focused. He’s not a young pop star anymore and he knows it. So he just does what he does best and writes some wonderful songs. Pop and folky at the same time, but still based in classic British songwriting.

I was extremely worried when I heard this the first time. On their debut, they sounded very much like The Wombles and The Kooks, but on this sophomore album, they come out sounding like a completely different band altogether. Very produced, very clean and very commercial, the songs won me over and I cannot get enough of this album. Britpop with a healthy dose of modern Alt-Rock…

While I’m not entirely convinced that the album title was a good choice, it does speak the truth. For over 30 years, Paul Collins has not been the most prolific of artists but his albums are filled to the brim with great melodic guitar Pop. None of his contemporaries have stayed as true to the Power Pop genre as Paul Collins.

Finally, a new OMD album featuring the original line-up. Sounding as if they never went away, this is a fresh approach to the classic OMD sound. Using their classic Architecture & Morality album as a template, this really is the sound of a band that has plenty more to say, musically. Synthpop has rarely sounded this good in the new millennium

This one came out of left field for me. The new British Electro Pop brigade intrigues me, but most of the acts leave me cold. Dan Black, the most under-rated of them all, really sunk in deep and grabbed hold of my attention. While this album may not scream ‘POP’ like the over-rated La Roux, Dan Black mixes classic Synth Pop with a bit of Hip Hop and modern Electro and creates a sound that should have shifted quite a few more copies than it did…

While Eli Paperboy Reed may be a young white boy, this album is as hot and explosive as James Brown trapped in a microwave! Sharon Jones, Amy Winehouse and Duffy have traveled similar roads, but Eli takes the neo-Soul genre and shakes it on it’s head. While the production if far cleaner than purists may prefer, the songs and performances are top notch. This sizzles with excitement.

OK, so when the Pipettes’ debut album came out, it seemed as if they had stepped out of the ‘60s and straight into the millennium. Their girl-group sound was a pop dream come true. But then 2/3rds of the trio left (with only one replacement brought in) and they disappeared for a while. Finally, they have re-emerged with an entirely new sound (welcome to the ‘80s, girls!), great songs and a fresh, new lease on life. Let’s just hope that the public accepts their delicious new direction… Perhaps the pretentious Pitchfork crew may not go for it, but I'm certain Pop music lovers will drool over this one!

When Cirque du Soleil announced they were going to do an Elvis show, I was excited and hesitant. How would they treat the actual MUSIC? Would they try to create something new and exciting like they did for The Beatles’ Love? Well, they had plenty to work with… And Viva Elvis not only updates the King’s music, it does manage to be both new AND exciting. With all new musical backing and arrangements, Viva Elvis takes even the most overplayed Elvis tunes (“That’s Allright, Mama”) and makes them interesting again. The tracks may not replace the original recordings, but it’s fun nonetheless.

The Next 10

When the original Prog/Rock supergroup reunited with all four original members, it was cause for celebration. Their Phoenix album from 2008 was a stupendous return to form. While Omega doesn’t scale the same heights, it’s proof positive that John Wetton, Steve Howe, Geoffrey Downes and Carl Palmer haven’t lost their knack for creating wonderful music.

While Status Quo have barely caused a ripple in the U.S., they remain a Rock ‘n’ Roll institution in the UK, Europe and Australia. With One Step At A Time, Francis doesn’t move away from the winning Quo formula but offers up a platter of great tunes that, while Quo-like, didn’t make it onto any of the band’s albums. Well, apart from the new arrangement of their classic “Caroline”. Rock ‘n’ Roll, yes. But melodic pop tunes galore. And even some Country fans might take a liking to it!

Ever since Reg Mombassa and Peter O’Doherty left Mental As Anything, they’ve been creating low-key Pop/Rock/Folk albums that feature all the right elements including melody, humor and a love of making music. While River Of Flowers may not contain a song that would make the Top 40, it does feature a glorious batch of quirky songs that should appeal to real music fans looking for something intelligent and unique.

Many of my friends are at a loss when I tell them I love the new generation of AOR bands. Sure, the songs are filled with Rock clichés (musically and lyrically) but that’s what makes it FUN. Shame that some of the bands take it far too seriously. Not Wig Wam, though. They have fun and that is what it is all about. Imagine Poison, Def Leppard and classic ‘70s Glam all rolled into one tortilla… and you’ve got one heck of a meal!

Probably the only album on my list that will appear on many other ‘best of’ lists this year. Electronic Pop outfit Hot Chip are experimental yet melodic as sin. They don’t create music for the masses: the masses come to them (and that is pretty damn cool if you ask me). Mixing Kraftwerk, OMD and The Korgis might not sound like a recipe for success, but that is what I hear in their sound. And it works extremely well.

There are very few artists who have worked in the business for over 30 years and still have plenty to say: Jackie Leven is one of them. From his days fronting the British band Doll By Doll to his prolific solo output during the ‘90s and ‘00s, Leven takes Folk music and turns it on it’s head. He’s truly an original, capable of knocking out some amazing melodies and lyrics. While Gothic Road is not his best, it’s loads better than most other singer/songwriter crap out there.

Yet another truly original singer/songwriter….. Justin Currie used to front Del Amitri (but I’m not sure if they are defunct or on hiatus). His lyrics are amazing, his vocal performances stunning and his sideburns are to die for. Currie is probably the best lyricist since Chris Difford (Squeeze) and Elvis Costello. And this album really should have been embraced by all who love a great melody and a witty turn of phrase…

What? Spaz listens to Country Music? Let’s get him to an E.R. quick because there must be something wrong!!! In all seriousness, this album hit me on first listen, which is a rarity in any genre. Many folks have complained that he sounds too much like George Strait, but I don’t care. Badfinger sounded ‘too much’ like the Beatles and that didn’t stop me from loving them, right? C’mon, I’m a little more Country than that!

I love hook-filled Pop music and Lucky Soul know their way around a snappy little tune. This female-fronted outfit faintly recalls other great Chick Pop bands like The Primitives, but they mix so many influences (from the ‘60s to the ‘90s) that they end up sounding unique. I cannot wait to see what they have up their sleeves. Such a wonderful slice of Pop Heaven…

So, you only know them from “I Melt With You”? I don’t blame you. They had a pair of great albums (After The Snow and Ricochet Days) and spent the next 20+ years in the wilderness, occasionally releasing an album that didn’t measure up to their past work. Well, Soundtrack is the absolute best thing they’ve done since their heyday and should be heard by all of their old fans and anyone into British Rock/Pop…

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