The Best Of 2010

I think that 2010 has been a very interesting year for music, films and television. I thought it would be nice to share with you all which of those have been the best for me in 2010.

Music

Obviously 2010 was a very special year for me because I release my first two singles, Make It Better and Tonight. I also found myself being played on BBC Radio and then being interviewed as well which was all very lovely. However apart from that, what have been my other highlights?

Albums

Ellie Goulding – Lights

Ellie Goulding came out on top of the BBC Sound of 2010 list at the end of 2009. It showcases acts that they believe will make a big impact in 2010. When I heard the first major single released from the album ‘Starry Eyed’ I have to say I didn’t really like it that much. Then as I heard it more and more I really grew to love it. I loved the way that the song was produced, especially all the cut up little bits of vocals. When I heard the second single ‘Guns And Horses’ which I thought was straight out brilliant, I went and bought the album straight away. I have to say that I was blown away by how good it was. I started playing it in the background while I was pottering about and I kept coming to check was that name of a particular song was as I had liked it, I soon realised I was doing this for each of the songs on the album. In fact I’ve just made a quick playlist in iTunes of the songs I have played most in 2010 and ‘Guns and Horses’, ‘The Writer’ and ‘Your Biggest Mistake’ are the top 3, and they are all from this album.

 

Babybird – Ex-Maniac

I’ve been a very admiring fan of Stephen Jones, better known as Babybird, ever since I first heard ‘Your Gorgeous’ back in 1996. There is something about his songwriting that I find very appealing; Simple chord structures, fantastic melodies and absolutely fantastic lyrics. There aren’t many songwriters that can get away with writing about such dark themes and subjects whilst still coming up with songs that you actually want to listen to.

 

 

Gorillaz – Plastic Beach

I’ve always like Damon Albarn. For me it’s nice to see a musician who clearly loves making music so much that he has to find as many different bands and projects as he can to get it all out. I have found the previous Gorillaz’s albums to great, but a touch patchy. I think that this can end up happening when you work with so many guest artists. However Plastic Beach was the Gorillaz album where it all came together for me. I really feels like one cohesive album that takes you on a journey from beginning to end.

 

 

The Divine Comedy – Bang Goes The Knighthood

Neil Hannon is a real hero of mine and I’ve been a fan since I first heard the album Casanova in 1996. In the years since then there have been some fantastic albums released, but I was really sad to here in 2007 that Parlophone had dropped them from the label. However the music industry is not like it used to be fortunately and you no longer need major record company support to release an album. So I was very pleased when Bang Goes The Knighthood appeared in iTunes and I was able to buy a copy. I feel the album is a rather splendid return to form for The Divine Comedy. I only had to start playing the first song ‘Down In The Street Below’ and I was immediately reminded why I’ve been such a fan all these years.

 

Two Door Cinema Club – Tourist History

I bought this album without knowing anything about the band or having even heard any of their songs (or so I thought at the time). Sometimes I get a bit of a gut instinct about a band and buy their album on the off chance it’s good. In fact I discovered the rather wonderful American band Death Cab For Cutie in this way, so I guess I’ll keep it up. Anyway, I bought the Two Door Cinema Club album, put it on my iPod and went for a walk around town listening to it. Fortunately it was brilliant.

 

 

Vampire Weekend – Contra

Vampire Weekend were one of those band that I really thought that I didn’t like and then before I knew what was happening I was buying their albums and hoping they would appear on the Reading Festival bill in 2010 (they didn’t). I think it’s because sometimes there is a fine line between catchy and annoying. Most things seem to work they other way round, you find it catchy at first and then after the 1042nd time it’s played on the radio, it becomes annoying and you never want to hear it again. However Vampire Weekend seemed to move in the opposite direction for me. As a result of this it took a bit of work to get into the album Contra, but many of the best albums are like this, but soon enough I loved it. I think the closing song ‘I Think UR a Contra’ is one of my favourite songs of the year.

 

Band Of Horses – Infinite Arms

In the same way as I described for Two Door Cinema Club above, I suspected I would like Band Of Horses long before I actually heard what they sounded like. I think it may be to do with the covers of their albums, which always look beautiful. But it was actually through the Reading Festival in 2010 that I actually heard them for the first time. The BBC coverage of the festival showed a few songs from their set on the NME/Radio 1 stage and I had a bit of a lightbulb illumination moment. I bought Infinite Arms and thought it was fantastic. So fantastic in fact that I went and bought all their back catalogue as well.

 

 

Thomas Dolby – Oceanea & Amerikana EPs

Okay so strictly speaking these two EPs are not an album, but together they do make a very nice mini album. Beside, I have been waiting for so many years for Thomas Dolby to release some new music that I’ll find any excuse to go on about it. Thomas Dolby’s last proper album was ‘Astronauts & Heretics’ back in 1992 and it still remains one of my favourite albums to this day. Since then Thomas became a technical genius out in California founding some very successful companies. However in 2006 I was delighted to hear him announce that he was making a return to music. He built himself a studio in an old boat with a view out to sea and started work on the album ‘A Map Of A Floating City’. The album is being released first in EP sized chunks to his fan club and the first two parts Amerikana and Oceanea were released in 2010. Fortunately they were worth the wait and I was reminded what an amazing Songwriter and Producer he is. My favourite tracks change frequently, but I do have to say that the tracks 17 Hills and Oceanea are two of the most beautiful songs I have heard all year. I can’t wait for the full album in 2011.

Plan B – The Defamation of Strickland Banks

Who knew it could work? East End rapper makes a concept album that fuses soul, hip-hop and early 70s rock. For some reason it did work and it was marvellous. And what a single ‘Stay Too Long’ was. Fantastic!

 

 

 

Peter Gabriel – Scratch My Back

I really did have to think very hard about whether to include this album in my list. One the one hand without doubt it contains some my favourite songs of 2010, however on the other hand it contains a song that I hate so much I never want to hear it again. Ever. Peter Gabriel’s concept for the album was to do an album of cover songs he likes featuring just vocals, piano and orchestra. This is a lovely idea and it suits his voice very well indeed. In particular the versions of Heroes, Flume, The Boy In The Bubble and The Book Of Love are amazing, however over the course of the album the concept starts to wear a little thin. I had high hopes for the closing track ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’ as it is one of my favourite Radiohead songs. However I’m afraid to say that I find this version pretty much unlistenable. Sorry Pete.

So those were the albums that did it for me in 2010. There were some other stand alone tracks that I thought were fantastic in 2010 too.

Songs

Elbow – Mercy Street (Single)

When Peter Gabriel released his covers album Scratch My Back, he invited the artists he had covered to cover a song of his. This immediately sounded like a good idea to me as it meant that Elbow, one of my favourite band, would be doing a Peter Gabriel cover. This was especially interesting as I have always thought that Guy Garvey’s voice has a touch of the Peter Gabriel about it. They chose to do Mercy Street, which is my favourite song from the So album and the resulting song was lovely.

 

 

Example – Kickstarts (from Won’t Go Quietly)

Example has a succession of great singles in 2010 and Kickstarts was the best for me. There is something so damn catchy about that in your face synth hook that drills slowly but surely into your brain and won’t let go. Sadly I found the album to be a little bit disappointing, but hopefully this is just the beginning for Example.

 

 

 

Brandon Flowers – Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas & Crossfire (from Flamingo)

Two excellent tracks from Brandon Flowers from the Killers’ solo album Flamingo. The first track ‘Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas’ is a splendidly epic opening to the album and the first single ‘Crossfire’ had a chorus and middle 8 that I would love to write myself. The rest of the album was pretty good too.

 

 

 

Take That – Eight Letters (from Progress)

So the return of Robbie Williams to Take That also heralded a change in producer and sound for Take That. Personally I really liked the new direction and I think that if you are going to go a particular sound on an album you need to commit to it. Take That certainly did that and all credit to them for it. There are some really great songs on the album Progress, however the is one major flaw and that is that Gary Barlow has let the other members of the band take the majority of the lead vocal duties on the album. It says a great deal that the best track on the album is the one on which Gary takes lead vocal, Eight Letters. I really like the lo-fi production and the Ultravox influence on the piano line in the chorus.

 

Will Young – Golden Slumbers (from Dermot O’Leary Presents The Saturday Sessions)

A really fantastic cover of The Beatles’ Golden Slumbers that is merged rather fantastically with You Never Give Me Your Money as performed live by Will Young whilst on Dermot O’Leary’s BBC Radio 2 show. It was so good in fact that I immediately sat down at the piano and worked out how to play it.

 

 

 

Mitch Benn – I’m Proud Of The BBC (Single)

I’m a huge fan of the BBC and the amazing amount of fantastic output that it creates. However in 2010 it has come under a great deal of criticism, largely from Rupert Murdoch’s News International Empire and newspapers such as The Daily Mail, obviously the phrase about glasshouses springs hugely to mind. A great deal of the criticism seems to be directly at the way the BBC is funded via the Licence Fee and the supposed poor value for money this offers with regard to the more niche output offerings of the BBC such as BBC 4 and 6Music. However for me it is precisely the fact that the BBC is funded in this way under the proviso that it represents the minority as well as the majority (something the criticism always seems to ignore) that allows it create programmes that are bold and daring and not at all mainstream and commercial. This song by the comedian Mitch Benn perfectly sums how I feel about the BBC and the sentiment that people will only realise how it good it is when it’s gone.

 

Coldplay – Christmas Lights (Single)

Coldplay are one of those bands that have barely ever put a foot wrong for me, yet seem to be disliked almost in equal amounts to how much they are liked. I think this may come down to how hugely successful they have become. However for me it is all about the music and I was delighted when on their last album ‘Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends’ they teamed up with my dream producer Brian Eno to make what I think it their best album to date. It’s been quiet now for a year or two while they work on their new album, but I was really pleased to see this special Christmas single being released. It’s took a while to grow on me, but soon enough I found myself hooked.

 

Ben Folds & Nick Hornby – Password (from Lonely Avenue)

I can’t really put my finger on it, but I found myself going off Ben Folds over the past few year. I think it was a succession of things including a so-so gig at Shepard’s Bush Empire (a venue that I really dislike) and the fact that I really disliked the way his last album ‘Way To Normal’ was mastered. It may sound a bit weird, but I found far too loud. There is a bit of a growing trend in music at the moment at the moment to make everything as ‘loud’ as possible so that it stands out as much as possible when you hear it on the radio and so on. This is done at the mastering stage of producing and is done by using compressors and limiters to squash the dynamics of track down, so that the overall level of the track can be higher. When done right it can be used very well to make the track ‘pop’ ad make it sit well with the other tracks on the album. However when this process is pushed far to far is ruins the dynamics of the tracks and leads to something called ‘listener fatigue’. Essentially with me this manifests itself when a track that is mastered like this comes on my iPod when it’s on shuffle and it feels like you’re being smacked around the ears by music. And not in a good way. Anyway, I digress. I was very please therefore when I got hold of the new album by Ben Folds which has been written with the author Nick Hornby providing all the lyrics. Not only is listening to album not like being punched in the ears, it also contains some of his best songs for years. The highlight for me being the song ‘Password’ which manages to be very clever, whilst also being heartfelt at the same time.

Bruno Mars – Just The Way You Are (Single)

Pop seems to be a bit of a dirty word to some people, they almost seem to be ashamed and frightened that they will lose their cool if they admit to liking a Pop song. Not me though, a good song is a good song regardless of genre (if Pop is even a genre). And a great song is a great song and that’s what I think of ‘Just The Way You Are’ by Bruno Mars. Infectious is probably the best way to describe it and I think it says a great deal about it as song that it was already being covered on The X Factor while it was still in the charts. Regardless of what you think of The X Factor, this means that it has crossed over into the public consciousness which is pretty good going for a first single!

 

Kele – Tenderoni (from The Boxer)

I’m a massive fan of the band Bloc Party from which Kele is the lead singer. I thought that the single ‘Tenderoni’ which was the lead single from his solo album ‘The Boxer’ was fantastic. A sinister blend of pulsing synths and pumping beats mixed with Kele’s distinct vocals made it a bit of anthem for me over the summer.

 

 

 

Okay so that’s it on the music front. I’m sure that there are loads of others that I have missed that I will no doubt kick myself for later.

Films

Scott Pilgrim Vs The World

I had been waiting for the film for a long time. As a big fan of the Comic Books and an even bigger fan of the director Edgar Wright I hoped that this would live up to the impossible high standards I had set for the film in my head. Despite all of this, I was absolutely blown away by how good it was. Without a doubt it is my favourite movie of the year and the first film in a long time that I have been to see multiple times at the cinema. There is so much in it that you get something new from it each time that you watch it. It is very difficult to try and describe the film to anybody, but essentially if you like music, films, comics, or computer games they you should see this film. It also contains the funniest shot of someone drying their hands after using the bathroom that has ever been committed to film. If you don’t like it, let me know and I’ll pop around and stare at you for a bit.

 

Inception

I’ve been a huge fan writer and director Christopher Nolan ever since I had my brain fried by the film ‘Momento’ in 2010. I very much enjoyed his two Batman films and I’m looking forward to the third, but I was very please to seem him returning the brain teasing territory as ‘Momento’. Before going to see ‘Inception’ at the cinema I tried to avoid hearing anything about it in order not to spoil anything about it. I think that is the best way to approach a film such as this, you need to try and work it out in your head as it plays out to you in the way that it’s supposed to. If you know a spoiler beforehand you watch the film from a different angle which often spoils it, especially as Christopher Nolan seems to wants you to make up your own mind, rather than have it spelt out to you.

 

Let The Right One In

This Swedish film has been around for a few years now, but it was only in 2010 that I managed to see it. It takes something special to bring something new to any genre, horror especially. ‘Let The Right One In’ was genuinely scary, creepy and desolate yet at the same time touching and beautiful. Not easy to pull off.

 

 

 

The Social Network

When I first saw the trailer for this film I thought that it looked like one of the worst and misguided film ever to be made. I enjoyed the numerous spoof trailers that appeared online and I joined in the chorus of ‘Who wants to watch a film about Facebook?’ to people I spoke to. Well this film certainly seemed to wrong a lot of people including me, I had to read and watch numerous reviews of it before I saw the lights and watched it. It’s fantastic and of course the genius of it is that it’s not really about Facebook at all. Maybe next time I’ll pay more attention to who the writer and director are and I won’t right things off so easily.

 

 

Kick Ass

Again this is another film that I went to see without really knowing anything about it. It’s also a film that seems to split people right down the middle with no middle ground between love and hate. Personally, I though it was really great, entertaining and had a surprising amount of satire and pathos. A lot was made of the violence, particularly around the character ‘Hit Girl’ and her relationship with her father (Nicolas Cage doing the best Adam West Batman impression, his best role for years) but I actually thought that this was dealt with incredibly well.

 

 

Toy Story 3

For me Pixar are by far the best film studio making films at the moment. Not only do that make huge blockbusters that are visually amazing, but they also take risks and do things in their films that nobody else making ‘kids’ moves would ever do. I think their film ‘WALL-E’ from a few years ago is one of the best films ever made. This year saw the Toy Story trilogy coming to an end and once again Pixar delivered a wonderful film that was heartwarming and also achingly sad all at the same time. Absolutely wonderful.

 

 

Four Lions

Christopher Morris is one of my favourite comedians. Through programs like ‘The Day Today’, ‘Brasseye’ and ‘Jam’ he pushed comedy into the areas that I feel it has a duty to explore. This year he made his film directing debut with ‘Four Lions’. As you would expect from him, taboo subjects are not off limit and I cannot think of many other comedians that would even dare to approach a subject like suicide bombings. However go for it he does and it works brilliantly. I’ve never been to a film before that pushes you through so many different emotions, but by focusing on the characters he pulls it off and it’s a very funny and moving experience.

 

 

TV

How I Met Your Mother

This series has been running for years on America television, but I only found out about it in 2010. The series soon became a major addiction and we raced our way through all the episodes in no time at all. Essentially it’s a similar scenario to ‘Friends’ in that it’s about five friends that live and work in New York. However the genius about it is that the whole series is told as a story the character Ted is telling his children in 2030 about the events that are happening now. This set up enables the writers to do some fantastic things that allow the whole serious to have big story arcs, when normally a series such as this is very episodic. I can’t get enough of it and I’m recommending it to almost everyone I meet.

 

Sherlock

I was incredibly excited when I read out this series. It seemed like a dream come true, Sherlock Holmes in a modern day setting (something I always thought could work) and written by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, two of my favourite writers. Fortunately the result was as good as I could have hoped for and the two lead performances from Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman were splendid too.

 

 

 

Doctor Who

2010 was the year when the relaunched Doctor Who finally found it’s feet. Since it returned in 2005 that have been stunning episodes and I thought David Tennant was a great Doctor. However there were also some truely awful episodes as well that are best forgotten. However one of the threads that ran through all the great episodes is that a large number of them were written by the same person, Steven Moffat. I was delighted therefore when for the 2010 season Steven Moffat took over as head writer and showrunner. The quality of writing both from Moffat himself as well as the other writers over the course of the series was fantastic and the series featured some of the best episodes ever. Of course there was also a new Doctor – Matt Smith. I had already been really impressed by him in the television versions of the Philip Pullman books ‘The Ruby In The Smoke’ and ‘The Shadow In The North’ and I thought he made a fantastic Doctor. Roll on 2011.

 

The Trip

I must admit that I thought that a television show of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon going around to nice restaurants in the country and talking to each other sounds quite interesting, however I didn’t think it would turn out to be one of the television highlights of 2010. What a fantastic series this was, fantastic writing, brilliant performances and amazing direction. It managed to walk the fine line between funny and pathos brilliantly and I still laugh about the Michael Caine bit every time I think about it.

 

 

Dishonourable Mentions

Where there is good, there is also bad. Unfortunately I happened to watch a couple of them.

Lost

I don’t even want to talk about it because if I did, we’d be here all day. Let’s just say I stuck with it to the end. Then I gave away all of my Lost DVDs. The first time I ever done anything like that. Maybe with time, I’ll get over it one day, but I know I’ll never get all those hours back 😉

 

 

 

Jonathan Creek – The Judas Tree

I’ve got a soft spot for a really good murder mystery and I have really enjoyed Jonathan Creek in the past. It’s always pretty far fetched, but that’s part of the charm. The special episode ‘The Judas Tree’ crossed a line for me though. It was impossible to solve, or for that matter even get close to figuring out what happened before the reveal in the finale. This was because there was a crucial bit of back story to two of the characters that they didn’t reveal to you. Arrgghh! What’s the point in watching it?

 

 

Happy 2011 Everybody!

Stephen.

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3 Comments
  1. I liked Tendoroni, but the album itself was pretty bland. Shame, because Bloc Party were consistently good right up till they broke up.

    Can’t fault your film choices, but I thought the BBC’s Sherlock adaptation was a little unimaginative. Others have reworked Sherlock Holmes for the contemporary age with much more panache (House, Luther).

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