5. Jack White - Blunderbuss
After calling the rigid set-up of The White Stripes to a close, and taking breaks from the other 39 bands that he is a member of, Detroit's Jack White graced us this year with his debut solo album, a record that reawakened many people's interest in the guitarist after getting lost somewhere between The Raconteurs' sophomore record and The Dead Weather's debut single.
Just like the albums he made with Meg, "Blunderbuss" is notable for the sheer variety of songs on offer here, albeit one that expands upon the rule of thirds he had stuck to over those 6 records. From balls-up rock on "Sixteen Saltines", to razor-tinted balladry of "Love Interruption", through to blues covers and piano waltzes ("I'm Shaking" and "Take Me With You..." respectively), "Blunderbuss" is kaleidoscopic view into the wonderful mind of Jack White.
4. Bruce Springsteen - Wrecking Ball
When Bruce Springsteen released "Working On A Dream" in 2009, it was a time of great hope. Barack Obama's election gave the impression of a new generation of politics, various foreign conflicts were coming to an end, and the financial crisis seemed to be nearly over. Perhaps it's because of this that in hindsight, the album was something of a damp squib.
Fast forward three years, and it turns out that things didn't quite go according to plan. The economy is in a worse off state than it was then, the country still found itself caught up in conflicts abroad, and Obama failed to walk on water and feed the five thousand. All of this has contributed to Springsteen's angriest album for some time, and consequently his best.
"We Take Care of Our Own" is his most accessible single in years, yet shows a great anger for the apathy shown by the government. Other tracks see The Boss addressing the bankers whom he blames for the economic downturn (using some colourful language on "Jack on All Trades"), and sees him addressing spiritual and catholic themes ("Rocky Ground" and "Land of Hope and Dreams).
Although I do hope that the economy etc. picks up pretty soon, there's a dark side of me that hopes things still haven't sorted themselves out by the time Bruce Springsteen releases his next album. After all, it's during times of crises that he writes his best work.
3. Eugene McGuinness - The Invitation to the Voyage
Who've thought that the guitarist for Miles Kane would write one of the greatest grown-up pop records of the year? "The Invitation To The Voyage" mixes sophisticated production techniques with literate and occasionally witty lyrics to great effect. "Harlequinade", "Sugarplum" & "Thunderbolt" feature some of the best pop hooks of the year, "Lion", the only indie-rock tune on the record, mixes a hypnotic guitar riff with side-splitting vocals, whilst he manages to sample Tricky on "Shotgun" and get away with it. It's not an album I envisage appearing on many other year-end lists, but it is a wonderful record if you take thetime to absorb it.
2. Japandroids - Celebration Rock
I feel that I might have been unduly harsh on "Celebration Rock" by Canadian duo Japandroids when I first mentioned it in July. Back then, I complained that it was too short (only 8 songs), and was far too indebted to Bruce Springsteen. However, given that I have declared it to be by 2nd favourite album of the year, it's fair to say my opinion has changed a lot.
Having spent a lot more time with the album, I think that eight tracks is the perfect length for the record, for if it was any longer, it would lose what was so special about it. Plus, as the band's website helpfully points out, "Born To Run" was only 8 tracks long as well. It is unashamedly a rock record, with guitars distorted to the maximum, and vocals set firmly on powerful. These are the songs of long nights spent on the road going from one city to the next. These are the songs spent performing in small-to-medium sized venues as fans chant along to the single's biggest hooks. And most of all, it's the music to soundtrack having the best of times, whilst you still can.
1. Little Comets - Life Is Elsewhere
If you had said to me two years ago that the Newcastle based group Little Comets would make the album I would consider to be the best of the year, I would have laughed in your face. After all, their debut album was released at the tail end of the so called "landfill indie" landslide, and the prospects of them even making it to album two seemed slim. Yet in losing a member to the real world, something extraordinary happened.
The band got good. Very good in fact.
"Life Is Elsewhere" is the sound of a band maturing and moving into interesting new waters. Conventional rock rhythms are ignored in favour of different rhythms and time signatures (The chorus of "A Little Opus is in 9/4 time, for example). The sound is comparable to a mix of mainstream 80s pop with the Afro-beat sound as popularized by Vampire Weekend. Whilst this new approach to writing has paid off really well, the album's most prominent feature is one that many other writers have failed to pick up on.
Lyrically, the album is a very dark affair.
Some of the reviews have tended to comment more on the upbeat hooks of the record, yet have downplayed the darkness of the lyrics, or in some baffling cases, ignored it all together. The only time I have ever been angry whilst reading an album review was when I read Earmilk's thoughts about "Life Is Elsewhere". According to their woefully misguided review:
"The album is full to the brim with light-hearted tunes. You won't find any dark or melancholic draws here, that's not Little Comets' style."
This conveniently ignores the fact that one of the tracks on the album, "Violence Out Tonight", deals with the brutal subject of rape, whilst another track, "Bayonne", was inspired by familial shootings. It makes me wonder if they really listened to the same album that I did.