Geographically speaking, I don't think I could be further from Scotland and still be in the UK. You'd never guess that from reading this blog however, as Scottish acts seem to be dominating my tastes for the last few years. 2011 has been no exception, and four albums on this list have their roots firmly planted north of the borders. As well as being a year for Scots, 2011 appears to be the year of the Return To Form. In itself this is a good thing, as recent years have seen more disappointing highly-hyped albums than good ones, but it means there's a higher than normal percentage of 'old pros' in this year's list: amazingly, only one album on this list is a debut.
At this point an honourable mention ought to go Chris Thile and Michael Daves for their album Sleep With One Eye Open. The Hype Machine's widget for compiling their annual Zietgeist list didn't recognize the Jonnie Common record, so albums 9 and 10 got bumped up a place, meaning Thile and Daves were promoted to the number ten spot on my Hype Machine list, but didn't make the top ten proper.
So without further ado, here is the moment you've all been waiting for since January; the official Eaten by Monsters blog Top Ten of 2010:
I umm-ed and ah-ed about whether this one would make the cut or not, as it isn't a perfect record by any standards, and at times it strays far from what I would normally consider to be tasteful. For all its occasional flaws however, when it's good it's very, very good. His duet with Kimbra on Somebody That I Used To Know is a particular highlight, and the album is worth owning purely on the strength of that track alone. But there are further treasures to be discovered, as evidenced by my favourite track on the record, Eyes Wide Open.
Mine Is Yours
This one is simply fantastic right from the very first seconds. Robbers and Coward, from back in 2006 (and particularly the track We Used To Vacation), earned Cold War Kids a fairly unassailable position of prestige in casa EbM, but 2008's Loyalty to Loyalty didn't quite live up to expectation. As a result, the return to form displayed in Mine Is Yours is all the more satisfying.
Master of None
Despite my taste for singer-songwriter-style songwriting with esoteric electronic noises, it seems to be a micro-genre that is very infrequently mastered. Many try and fail to marry the two almost-mutually-exclusive textures, so when it's pulled off successfully I'm over the moon, and rarely will you hear it achieved with such aplomb and deftness of touch that's displayed on Master of None.
The People's Key
Even more than Cold War Kids, the team behind Bright Eyes - Conor Oberst, Mike Mogis et al - have been slipping off their game of late. As much as their early efforts number among my favourite albums of all time, Cassadaga just doesn't sit well with me. By all accounts The People's Key will be the last album to bear the 'Bright Eyes' label, and I'm sincerely relieved that they managed to get all cylinders firing for their swan song.
The trouble with Emmy's debut album, First Love, was that all the best songs had been floating around for ages before the album was conceived. What drew me to the early demos was the almost brutal juxtaposition of Emmy's voice and her lyrical content, thrown into sharp relief by the decidedly amateurish nature of the recordings. The pristine album cuts, shorn of all their grit and viciousness, left the album itself sounding weak by comparison. With Virtue - her second full-length - the production is even slicker, but this time it's a blessing and not a curse.
Codes and Keys
The last of the returns-to-form in this list, and by now the story's a familiar one: astounding early albums, a disappointing last record, and finally the triumph that we've been waiting for. Codes and Keys marks a return to the more studio-based recording approach that made the band's best albums such complete joys to listen to and, surprise, surprise, it's led to yet another fantastic album.
The Mercury Prize nominations are always interesting from an academic viewpoint, but rarely - if ever - do they include an album that I'd include if I was compiling the list. Imagine my surprise, then, upon discovering that this year's shortlist that included this KC gem. It's not Kenny's best record by a long way, but it's testament to the strength of his other work that this sub-par effort nevertheless warrants a fourth place on this list.
Boots Met My Face
I only discovered this album recently, having grown to love the track Squealing Pigs over a period of a few months, and it's fast moved up the ranks of this year's best albums. While technically this record had its first release last year, it was re-released back in March, so I'm claiming it as a 2011 record (if only because I'm ashamed to have missed it the first time around).
Last year's Scratch My Back project saw Gabriel record orchestral covers of a host of popular songs, and while on paper that sounds like a heinous cringe-fest not fit for human consumption, it was actually rather impressive (although a few of the covers were as awful as the premise suggested, far more were haunting, effecting, moving and surprisingly powerful renditions). This year he gave the same treatment to his own back-catalogue and had even greater success. An assured and overwhelmingly impressive album, New Blood is a truly remarkable feat, especially coming from someone that I'd written off as having his best days long behind him.
For a long time now I've liked the idea of FOUND much more than I've liked their actual music. Heralded by reviewers far more familiar with the band than I as their most accessible record to date, they're not wrong as I finally find myself loving FOUND's music. Maybe my taste is more predictable and mainstream than I'd like to admit, but the only thing that really matters is that this is a simply super record.