2013: Films of the Year

Wonky eye-displeasing pretentious PhotoShop job? It must be an end of year list!

Wonky eye-displeasing pretentious PhotoShop job? It must be an end of year list!

So here, for the few that care, are ten films are kinda liked that had a UK release date no earlier than January 1st 2013 (hence older films included), but not necessarily have had a UK release before 31st December 2013 (hence some festival films included too). If you want an idea of the pool of films from which I’ve taken my choices, I’ve reviewed every film (old and new) I’ve seen for the first time this year on Tumblr. These are not the objectively best films – I have issues with most of the films below – but these are a bunch which struck a chord and for whatever reason were kicking around my head the most thinking back over 2013.

#1. It’s Such a Beautiful Day

It’s Such A Beautiful Day manages more genuine profundity, earned emotion, and moments of cosmic beauty than The Tree of Life in half the time and with a fraction of the resources – all that, and there’s still room for great jokes.”

#2. The Kings of Summer

“…a well-rounded and wholly satisfying movie like few I’ve seen this year. Fantastic, refreshing and just damn funny, The Kings of Summer is an absolute treasure.”

#3. Under the Skin

“…filled with such startling imagery, bolstered by a dark, hypnotic score by Mica Levi and drenched in a rich, tense atmosphere, anything explicitly explained would detract from the experience, and an excellent one at that.”

#4. Inside Llewyn Davis

“It’s often very funny, though it is its bleakness that leaves the most impact, mining the most depressing situations to great effect. Excellent.”

#5. The Act of Killing

“…in bringing in to focus a horrible episode in mankind’s history and highlighting how little has changed in the interim, while simultaneously offering incredibly vivid imagery and an in-depth portrait of a key figure in it all, The Act of Killing is a unique experience.”

#6. Gravity

Gravity is effectively an honest, stripped back disaster movie, but with all the catastrophe and wonder brought down to a very focused, personal scale, and it is pulled off with impeccable skill.”

#7. Bullhead

“Just like its central character, on the surface Bullhead appears to be mostly about meat, steroids and machismo, but deep down it hides an aching sadness…it is Schoenaerts’ imposing presence, both physically and emotionally, that dominates and lingers longest in the mind.”

#8. The Place Beyond the Pines

“…its scope and ambition is part of why it remains compelling and engrossing…a satisfying and rich piece of work that wears its heart (and flaws) on its sleeve.”

#9. Stoker

Stoker is a peach of a film – ripe and juicy, with a hard stone at its centre. Subtle it certainly isn’t, but that’s where the fun of the film lies.”

#10. Warm Bodies

“…perhaps the best zombie performance since Bub in Day of the Dead…the love story at the centre of Warm Bodies is so delightfully played, funny and charming, its blunders elsewhere can be largely forgiven.”

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2011: Films of the Year

It was a bumper year of movie viewing for me. Obviously not compared to some people, but unemployment certainly does wonders for your film watching tally. Of the 172 films I saw for the first time last year, 61 were 2011 UK releases (I’ve just caught up on a couple more in 2012 already though), but here are the 10 I’ve selected for special attention. Some are very personal favourites, some more objectively better quality films than the others, and all could probably be shuffled about or substituted by my honourable mentions beneath. But for here and for now, here are ten films you should probably watch or something, yeah? Yeah!


10. KILL LIST

Intentionally infuriating ending aside, Kill List is a grim and gripping experience, made all the more upsetting through its believable, and strangely likeable, characters.

BESTEST THING IN IT: MICHAEL SMILEY JUST BEING ACE

LAZY POSTER QUOTE: It’s DEAD MAN’S SHOES meets THE WICKER MAN!


9. THE SKIN I LIVE IN

Perhaps the oddest film of the year, Almodovar gleefully subverts genre and confounds audience expectations in what is effectively a very beautifully designed and performed piece of melodramatic schlock.

BESTEST THING IN IT: THAT TIGER COSTUME

LAZY POSTER QUOTE: It’s WEIRD SCIENCE meets BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN!


8. TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY

Gary Oldman sits around thinking a lot, while Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy do all the work. All three are excellent. Probably beaten only by A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas for amount of smoke on screen at any one time.

BESTEST THING IN IT: “I FEEL SERIOUSLY UNDER-FUCKED.”

LAZY POSTER QUOTE: It’s BOND but for GROWN-UPS!


7. SENNA

The little documentary that could, the story of Ayrton Senna is compellingly told, skilfully edited, and has a great dollop of genuine humanity and sincerity. Better car chases than Fast Five (though if it had The Rock in it, would have been an easy number one).

BESTEST THING IN IT: THE CHRISTMAS VARIETY SHOW

LAZY POSTER QUOTE: IT’S NOT JUST FOR FANS OF FORMULA ONE, YOU KNOW!


6. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN

Tilda Swinton may be getting the plaudits, but its Ezra Miller’s deliciously devilish performance, plus the two mini-Kevs, which, despite the upsetting subject matter, left a big grin on my face. Its overwrought symbolism just adds to the fun.

BESTEST THING IN IT: ALL THREE KEVINS BEING EEEEVVVIIILLLL

LAZY POSTER QUOTE: It’s NOTES ON A SCANDAL meets THERE WILL BE BLOOD!


5. CONFESSIONS

It may chuck logic and reason out of the window, but Tetsuya Nakashima’s stylish psychological thriller lingers with you like few other films managed to achieve this year. (See review)

BESTEST THING IN IT: TEACHER DROPS A BOMBSHELL

LAZY POSTER QUOTE: It’s THE JAPANESE WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN!


4. DRIVE

Proof that the most tired plots can seem fresh and exciting when the right cast and crew are assembled. A big juicy peach of a film, lush and dreamy, with a rock hard stone at the centre. (See review)

BESTEST THING IN IT: WHEN THE NEON PINK MISTRAL TITLES KICK IN

LAZY POSTER QUOTE: It’s COLLATERAL meets THE EIGHTIES!


3. SUBMARINE

Richard Ayoade successfully walks the precarious line between quirky charm and annoying whimsy, which completely earns its flights of fancy through its terrific cast and just plain funny jokes.

BESTEST THING IN IT: PADDY CONSIDINE’S VAN

LAZY POSTER QUOTE: It’s RUSHMORE meets WALES!


2. ATTACK THE BLOCK

In a year of great British debuts, the director of Toytanic’s sci-fi/action/comedy/horror was the most surprisingly confident and downright most entertaining film of the year. ATB pushes the cult nerd reference buttons for sure, but with a voice and style all of its own, and in its creatures, offered seamless integration of CG and live-action (something blockbusters 10 times the budget fail to achieve) and one of the most original movie monster creations in years.

BESTEST THING IN IT: THE BEAR-WOLF-GORILLA-MOTHERFUCKERS

LAZY POSTER QUOTE: It’s KIDULTHOOD meets CRITTERS!


1. THE ARTIST

It’s easy to just slap it at the top of my 2011 film list because it means I don’t have to make a proper decision amongst all the other film favourites, but it really does earn its place. The Artist embraces and subverts its self-imposed restrictions, but ultimately it’s the performances from both its two wonderful leads which really make it an absolute treat. Marvellous and magical.

BESTEST THING IN IT: THE DREAM SEQUENCE

LAZY POSTER QUOTE: IT’S BLACK AND WHITE AND SILENT, BUT DON’T LET THAT PUT YOU OFF!


Honourable Mentions (i.e. The Next Ten – in Alphabetical/Numerical/Kind of Order):

13 Assassins – total massacre!
50/50see review!
127 Hours – gripping!
Bridesmaids – funny!
The Green Hornet – not the car crash everyone says it was!
Outrage – really violent!
Rango – really weird!
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows – better than the first!
Super 8see review!
Tyrannosaur – brutal and upsetting!

Reissues:

Just a quick word on a couple of older film which got another lease of life. In particular, Deep End (see review) is just a magnificent encapsulation of adolescent tension, with all the humour and grief that entails, and a bit of the surreal too. And Zipangu Fest managed to unearth The Ghost Cat and the Mysterious Shamisen, a rare 1938 Japanese horror film specially subtitled for the festival, which while undeniably creaky, had some pretty creepy moments, and a wonderfully frenzied climax thanks to some surprisingly forward-looking in-camera effects.

Non 2011 Releases:

As is customary, I tend to highlight a few other films which I saw the first time and could possibly have made a top 10 list for whichever year they were made if I had been more on the ball/alive at the time. Pop this top 10 list on your LoveFilm list maybe (other movie rental companies available):

Black Narcissus – beautifully shot, with amazing performances!
The Breakfast Club – beloved 80’s cultural touchstone turns out to be pretty good shocker!
Bronson – Tom Hardy being scary!
The Children – wonderfully nasty and bloody (see also: Who Can Kill A Child?)!
Harold & Maude – gleefully dark, with the incredible Ruth Gordon (see also: Rosemary’s Baby)!
Phantom of the Paradise – glamtacular!
Possession – wall-to-wall insanity; think a Polish Hellraiser with Sam Neill!
Society – disgustingly hilarious satire!
The Squid and the Whale – horrible people do cruel things to each other!
Summer Wars – super-charming and touching anime (see also: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time)!

2011: Soundtracks of the Year

SPOTIFY PLAYLIST ALERT! Before we head into the actual films of the year list itself, let’s take a moment to pause and reflect on some of the best scores and soundtracks of the year. While an unmemorable score won’t necessarily detract from my feelings toward a film, an excellent one will certainly reflect better in my mind, listening to the soundtrack post-watch perhaps elevating it in my estimation. But why shouldn’t it? And what better way to look back at the year gone by then by listening to my Spotify playlist while you skim through my top 10 for an extra immersive experience?


1. Drive – Cliff Martinez and Various Artists

A perfect combination of score and song, ice-cool brooding minimalist metallic electronica synched with bubbling retrotastic contemporary synth and breathy vocals to create the must-have soundtrack of the year. And not just the ideal soundtrack for the film, but for any night-time car journey. Once Kavinsky’s ‘Nightcall’ kicks in, you’re hooked, while College’s ‘Real Hero’ might just be the theme tune of 2011. Also works when playing Portal, I find.


2. Confessions – Various Artists

Another example of incredible visuals requiring just the right musical accompaniment, as Tetsuya Nakashima draws largely from epic Japanese rock band Boris, plus tracks from Radiohead, The xx and (yes) KC and the Sunshine Band. A sumptuous listening experience.

 

 


3. Hanna – The Chemical Brothers

British electronic and dance acts played catch-up with their French counterparts this year, and in response perhaps to Air and Daft Punk, Messrs Rowlands and Simons work on Joe Wright’s teenage killing machine on the run/comedy fish-out-of-water/fairytale parable action flick was superb. And surprisingly, it’s the quieter calmer tunes that stand out the most.

 


4. Super 8 – Michael Giacchino

If there’s one thing about Super 8 which evokes the Spielbergian family adventure film more than anything, it’s Giacchino’s score. Managing to out-John Williams even John Williams, it has some of the most heart-warming/-pounding/-string-tugging (delete where applicable) themes in recent memory.

 


5. Norwegian Wood – Jonny Greenwood

Based on a book taking its title from a Beatles track, and featuring cameos from YMO’s Haroumi Hosono and Yukihiro Takahashi, with Can also on the soundtrack, Norwegian Wood is steeped in musical lore, so it’s just as well There Will Be Blood composer and Radiohead member Greenwood is on hand to deliver another masterwork. Strings haven’t sounded this piercing since Bernard Hermann thought some shower sequence in some film could do with a musical sting.


6. Attack the Block – Steven Price, Felix Buxton & Simon Ratcliffe

Another fine example of a Brit beats duo turned film scoring duo, as Basement Jaxx team up with Steven Price for a pulsing soundtrack, as if John Carpenter had gone grime.

 

 


7. Submarine – Alex Turner

Arctic Monkey Alex Turner’s selection of short songs for Richard Ayoade’s directorial debut succeed on two fronts, both avoiding the risk of the familiar and cultural baggage that previously existing songs invariably are saddled with, and just being really lovely originally songs indeed.

 


8. Underwater Love – Stereo Total

2011 was not exactly a big year for musicals, but in any year, a Japanese pink sex film musical shot by Christopher Doyle about a kappa would always stand out. French-German duo Stereo Total provide the film’s barmy songs (in Japanese, no less), and they’re all wonderful fun.

 


9.  Take Shelter – David Wingo

Sometimes the most simple ideas are the most effective, and Wingo’s plinky-plonky contribution (for want of a better phrase) sounds like an ominous wind-chime, matching the film to create a genuinely unsettling experience.

 

 


10. The Artist – Ludovic Bource

It’s rare that a silent film is ever a silent experience, the musical accompaniment providing an even more essential role than it would in a ‘talkie’. So it’s just as well Ludovic Bource was around to provide such an accomplished score, nostalgic without ever sounding stuck in the past.

2011: Comedy of the Year

It should be a given by now that all these lists carry with it an unwritten disclaimer (which I shall now write anyway) that I can only pass judgment on things I have actually seen and experienced, or at least can remember doing, so I am well aware there are great big gaps in my annual comedy consumption, but these are just the ones that stuck out.

Sketch Show – Limmy’s Show!

Brian “Limmy” Limond returns with another batch of low budget high quality sketches, tied together with his own observational musings which are far more successful than those of other would-be observational comics thanks to his believable increasing frustration with the world as it exists and a welcome touch of the surreal. A shame its only show on BBC Scotland (iPlayer’s your friend here), but at least a third series is in the works.

Panel Show – Shooting Stars

As we mourn the loss of Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer’s madcap nonsensical take on the celebrity TV quiz, at least we can rest safe in the knowledge that it was still going strong, some 18 years since its original episode. I don’t expect it’s the last we’ll ever hear from Shooting Stars (Sky have recently come out saying they won’t be taking it), but with Vic & Bob indulging their barely-scripted sketch itch with Fosters, it will be exciting to see where they end up next.

Sitcom – Him & Her

Cowards‘ Stefan Golaszewski broke the BBC Three comedy curse with Him & Her series one by bringing to the channel a sitcom which was actually pretty good. Series two, however, completely took me by surprise, frequently very funny, incredibly perceptive and genuinely touching. “A lazy couple in a flat being visited by their friends, family and neighbours” is perhaps the least exciting premise one could think of for a comedy, but Golaszewski has a great nack for picking up tiny details which a wonderful cast skillfully deliver every time. Special mention to Kerry Howard as the deliciously bitchy Laura. Really looking forward to the third series now. Definitely not to be overlooked.

Comedy Drama – Psychoville

Though traditionally a name given to programmes which are “not funny enough to be a comedy, too silly to be a drama”, I’m really just using the category it won at The British Comedy Awards as an excuse to just talk about Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s incredible second series of Psychoville. Just as dark and funny as any League offering, Psychoville repeatedly pulled the rug out from under your feet by saving the lives of most of the first series characters, only to have them all dispatched one by one, an act of audience-baiting cruelty but a perfectly-judged one. And for every fallen individual, a worthwhile replacement, be it Imelda Staunton’s Judi Dench-wannabe villain, Jason Watkins’ camp and creepy toy-shop owner, or the appearance of the Silent Singer…

Stand-up – Adam Riches

While I have still yet to see his full-length Edinburgh Comedy Award winning show ‘Bring Me The Head of Adam Riches‘ (though will do soon!), the brief segment of his I saw as part of An Evening Of Telly Live at Kings Place was the most astonishing face-achingly funny performance I enjoyed in 2011. Audience participation is the bread-and-butter of many a stand-up routine, but Riches‘ fully-invested character turns means any unlucky participant really has no way of knowing where he’s heading and no out from the increasingly bizarre situations they find themselves in. And a scene from a movie based on the popular colour-based guessing game Mastermind starring Daniel Day-Lewis certainly takes some beating.

Live Show – Tim and Eric

Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! is quintessential cult entertainment at best even in the States, so with only two series released on DVD in the UK, it’s safe to say they are even more of an underground deal here. But that didn’t stop their shows selling out when they came to London. More of a greatest hits package of fan favourite characters and sketches than anything, Tim and Eric arrived on stage arrived on stage in nude suits with giant testicles to a song the entire lyrics of which was just the word “diarrhoea” repeated over and over. To the unprepared, bafflement and bemusement was the inevitable result (as the myriad one-star reviews demonstrated), but one man’s death-knell of comedy is another’s bell of, I don’t know, joy, or whatever. I had my fun and that’s all that matters.

Short/Animation – The External World

David O’Reilly is kind of a genius whose talent and artistry is only matched by his twisted mindset. And The External World is his masterwork thus far – a very troubling and deliberately unclassifiable masterwork, but one nonetheless. Ostensibly an animated collection of sketches (though naturally far more than that), its not only beautiful to behold, but disgustingly hilarious too. Less talk, more watch.

2011: Albums of the Year

SPOTIFY PLAYLIST ALERT! Though I’ve picked out ten of my favourite albums of the year, there were plenty of other great albums and some damn fine singles released too, so I’ve put together a pretty great collection of 28 tracks into one super-duper playlist. Enjoy!


1. Darwin Deez – Wonky Beats

I’m probably as surprised as you that a concept rap album sampling Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory from already accomplished none-more-hip singer-songwriter Darwin Deez would be my album of the year, but it’s just too much damn fun for it not to be. The lyrics are more like a bizarro geek stream of consciousness than anything, a 21st century pop culture time capsule, and few have other musical offerings this year have left me with quite as broad a grin on my faces as Wonky Beats. And the best thing of all? It’s free!

TOP TRACK: I Don’t Like The Look (Remix)


2. The Horrors – Skying

The Horrors expand on the successful formula they nailed with Primary Colours, with an even bigger and better sound than before. Not original by any stretch of the imagination, but by golly, it’s an album that truly soars.

TOP TRACK: Monica Gems

 


3. Matt Berry – Witchazel

Not just gifted with a smooth voice and comedy chops, Matt Berry is also a supremely talented musician, as is evident with this, his third album – a magical folk-infused journey into the English countryside, with a warm 70s telly incidental music sensibility.

TOP TRACK: Take My Hand

 


4. Metronomy – The English Riviera

The sound of the summer, Metronomy’s best album yet was stripped-back, stylish simplicity married with bona fide excellent tunes.

TOP TRACK: The Look

 

 


5. TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light

Another typically strong work from the TVOTR team, though tinged with inevitable sadness with the passing of bassist Gerard Smith shortly after its release.

TOP TRACK: Repetition

 


6. Battles – Gloss Drop

Battles return as a trio, but on fighting form with a sparky set of intricate tracks, buoyed by wonderful guest turns from the likes of Gary Numan, Matias Aguayo, and Yamantaka Eye.

TOP TRACK: Ice Cream

 


7. Radiohead – The King of Limbs

Abstruse, for sure, bordering on the impenetrable, but given time, The King of Limbs unfolds into a fascinating and atmospheric listening experience.

TOP TRACK: Lotus Flower

 


8. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

Few artists manage to conjure up quite so wonderful dreamy soundscapes as Anthony Gonzalez, and this double album is a fine example of what he does so well.

TOP TRACK: OK Pal

 


9. Justice – Audio, Video, Disco

Topping their debut was always going to be a tall ask, but Justice come pretty close with another batch of hard-to-beat beats that mainline into whichever part of the brain responds to awesomeness.

TOP TRACK: Civilization

 


10. The Leisure Society – Into The Murky Water

A musical voyage of pure unabashed loveliness that gently rocks you into submission. Something special.

TOP TRACK: Into The Murky Water

 

 


Honourable Mentions:

Cults – Cults
Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi – Rome
The Dø – Both Ways Open Jaws
Flashman – To the Victor the Spoils!
Fruit Bats – Tripper
PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
Ladytron – Gravity the Seducer
Russian Circles – Empros

BONUS: Music Video of the Year

Is Tropical – The Greeks (Dir: Megaforce)

2011: Gigs of the Year

And so beginneth the first in a series of top 2011 lists, starting with my favourite live performances of the year. All images were taken at the Glastonbury Festival by me, and you can see all my other festy snaps here, and I’ve also thrown in some YouTube links – I mean, all those guys with their cameraphones out at gigs weren’t just recording their crummy footage for nothing, right?

1. Janelle Monáe (Glastonbury)

Though on sparkling form at her Roundhouse show earlier on in the year, that was marred by overcooked sound levels. No such problem here, in easily the slickest and downright most entertaining performance I’ve seen this year. With the ArchOrchestra on top form, Monáe, polished but still filled with soul and bundles of energy, effortlessly rattled through her set with a bonus note-perfect cover of ‘I Want You Back’ to boot. My crowd-surf super-lucky photo-op (which was exhibited at The Guardian offices in London, dontcha know) was just the icing on the cake.

2. Guitar Wolf (Islington Academy)

Legendary leather-clad riotous rockers Guitar Wolf touched their space battleship down in London for a non-stop tour de force leading to puddles of sweat, an audience member attempting a guitar solo, a human pyramid and, when the lights came on and the power was pulled by venue management, an acoustic finale out of necessity as Guitar Wolf battled on regardless. Factor in support from London-based psychedelic noise merchants Bo Ningen and you have one hell of a show.

3. Pulp (Wireless)

For their first announced comeback show, tickets for Pulp’s headlining day at the Wireless festival were rather bafflingly not sold out. But other people’s loss I guess, as Cocker and chums delivered a stonking set filled with their biggest hits and plenty of fan favourites. And Pulp are arguably even more necessary today than at the height of their Britpop popularity.

4. Foo Fighters (Roundhouse)

I am no great Foo Fighters fan, more a casual appreciator, but there was no question that their iTunes festival gig was something almighty. From Dave Grohl appearing behind the audience on top of the bar for a guitar battle, and then later getting an unruly attendee thrown out for picking a fight, to special guest appearances from Lemmy and Queen’s Roger Taylor and Brian May, it was two-and-a-half hours plus of rock excellence.

5. Darwin Deez (Glastonbury)

Darwin and his fellow Deezers know how to put a performance together. Not content with playing their already wonderful tunes, they drop instruments for impeccably choreographed dance interludes to a jukebox jamboree. Not to mention a side order of sweet rapping. Fun fun fun.

6. Mono and Holy Ground Orchestra (Koko)

First time I saw Japanese epic rock instrumental group Mono, they were supported by the astonishing World’s End Girlfriend who somewhat stole the show. But in the European debut of their orchestral accompaniment set, they really came into their own. A beautiful and memorable evening.

7. DeVotchKa (Glastonbury, Wireless)

Perhaps best known for their big Little Miss Sunshine-featured themes, live DeVotchKa have no problem rocking with the best of them, with pounding gypsy-infused stomps amongst the more sensitive sections. Plus, a bit of theremin action, a great big horn, and even a banana maraca.

8. Portishead (ATP I’ll Be Your Mirror)

Though ATP’s inaugural I’ll Be Your Mirror festival was hardly without teething problems, they sure had a doozy of a curator for their first effort. If Beth Gibbons’ voice sounds hauntingly flawless on record, live it’s astonishing. So glad to have finally seen them live.

9. Grinderman (ATP I’ll Be Your Mirror)

For snarling sweaty rock that’s raw, ready and rough around the edges, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds side project deliver in buckets. Shame to hear they may be pulling the plug on Grinderman for the time being, but great to see them run riot in Alexandra Palace.

10. Grace Jones (Wireless)

With multiple hat-and-accessory changes on top of an already revealing outfit (for 63 years old, she still cuts a striking figure), Grace Jones is also a great entertainer. Witness her closing number as she rocks a hula hoop for the whole of ‘Slave to the Rhythm’ and then continues to keep it spinning as she introduces all the band members and still keeps it going as she leaves the stage. Very not bad.

2010: Music of the Year

I spent every one of the preceding three hundred and sixty five days, now lost to the annals of history and all things intangible, filling my earholes with someone else’s made-up words and noises, and now I present to you ten such collections over that course of time that particularly tweaked the part of my brain that responds favourably to music.

10. The Dead Weather – Sea of Cowards

Little Jack White has so many thumbs in musical pies at any one time, it seems like everyone forgets to bat an eyelid his way when he unleashes yet another rock glob on the populous even if it is still royally deserved. So, with a quick turnaround second album from the other band that isn’t The Raconteurs, it was like Consolers of the Lonely all over again. Which is a shame, as it is rollicking good fun from start to finish, with piss and vinegar seeping from its wet black jeans. Not a pretty image, but an image nonetheless.

> > > Hustle and Cuss

9. LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening

I’m pretty late to the LCD Soundsystem party (a great oversight on my part), but thankfully rectified with Mr James Murphy’s third (and final?) outing of liquid crystal disco. It sounds effortlessly cool, but there’s so much going on, it’s just plain fun to listen to, dance to and do just about anything to – be it the washing up, filling out an application form or being attacked by PANDUHS!

> > > Drunk Girls

8. Fukurouzu – Loop Suru

A pure punt of a purchase based on hours spent in HMV and Tower Records in Shinjuku and Shibuya at their countless listening posts sampling as much as was currently riding the Japan-o-charts, and it’s only really a mini-album, comprising seven tracks from this new indie group. But every track is superb, each different but just as good as the last. I look forward to whatever they do next.

> > > Dekinai

7. PVT – Church With No Magic

An interesting departure from 2008’s brilliant O Soundtrack My Heart (under their then-name of Pivot), with a darker moodier synth-led atmosphere and added lyrics, though ultimately the singing is just another layer of sound than making their output any more conventional. In fact, it’s probably a harder sell than their instrumental-only work. Still, despite the decidedly iffy title track, Church With No Magic (the album) is an overall success from a band that won’t let expectations get in the way of invention.

> > > Window

6. Charlotte Gainsbourg – IRM

Sure, she’s not the greatest singer, but, aware that her personality and heritage are integral to her success, she clearly knows who will best utilise these to create terrific tracks. 5:55 saw her collaborate with Air, Neil Hannon and Jarvis Cocker. But this time around it was Beck on songsmith duties (a role repeated as principal penner for Sex Bob-omb in the year’s third best movie Scott Pilgrim vs The World), and such a creative union brought about this rather fine selection of ditties.

> > > Heaven Can Wait

5. MGMT – Congratulations

With many a semi-psychedelic catchy-riff festival anthem under their belts (despite still being a disappointing live act) from Oracular Spectacular, follow-up Congratulations could have easily been more of the same. Instead, they went and did something even better, creating a spiralling dizzy mix of magic and wonder that harked back to decades gone by with both joy and sadness. A surprising and mature album that defies the flash-in-the-pan success I expected from them. Congratulations.

> > > Congratulations

4. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

Blah-blah-blah, not as good as Funeral. Blah-blah-blah, no-one liked Neon Bible anyway. Well, The Suburbs, on its own terms, is a plenty good album. Sure, it could probably lose a few tracks around the middle, but it manages to capture a different feel to their previous offerings, yet still remains distinctively Arcade Firey. There are obvious highlights (Ready to Start, Rococo, Empty Room, Sprawl II) from the get-go, but as a whole, it’s a definite grower and one I’m looking forward to returning to in the months and years to come.

> > > The Suburbs

3. World’s End Girlfriend – Seven Idiots

Is there no end to this man’s mind-boggling talent? A release on his new Virgin Babylon Records label and a late entry into my top ten, it’s also my favourite Japanese release I’ve heard this year. A throwback to the electro-scrambling of his earlier work but still retaining the classical beauty and dark atmosphere of Hurtbreak Wonderland, Seven Idiots is hard to pin down, but an irresistible treat for WEG acolytes, and probably as good as any place to begin for the freshman.

> > > Les Enfants du Paradis

2. Yeasayer – ODD BLOOD

If I still had albums on cassettes, Yesayer’s latest would be one worn-out tape this year, which would have required a lot of unspooling and respooling when not jammed into my chunky old walkman. Luckily, the digital age avoids such wear and tear, so I was free to enjoy every one of the wonderful songs in ODD BLOOD on heavy rotation. Refreshingly upbeat and positive, it’s stirring stargazing stuff.

> > > Ambling Alp

1. Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid

My new favourite lady of song and dance, and while I would usually do that terrible thing one does about things they love by secretly hoping it’s never popular so it can be your own special thing, I wish Ms Monae every success that comes her way. In this day and age of Lady Gaga left right and centre, here’s an artist with style AND substance. And some killer moves to boot.

The ArchAndroid represents Suites II and III of her Metropolis saga (begun with the equally wonderful The Chase EP), featuring a time-travelling plot of forbidden love, the suppression of robotkind, and t-t-tipping on a tightrope. But what really marks The ArchAndroid out from the pack is the diverse range of musical showmanship and craft throughout the album, hopping from genre to genre with every track, yet all tied together by the narrative through-line and Monae’s incredible range. Rock, jazz, classical, folk, funk, soul, electronica…all bases covered, all boxes ticked, all with relish and fun, but with surprising depth and meaning.

It’s wonderful to have an artist so resolute in breaking down boundaries, avoiding categorisation and celebrating differences rather than conforming to mainstream expectations or whatever is ‘hip’ or ‘cool’ in any given week. What the world needs now is a little bit of Janelle Monae.

> > > Tightrope

If the list and YouTube links were not enough to satisfy, I’ve also knocked up a playlist featuring tracks from some of the albums above, as well as a bunch of my other tip-top tracks of the year, in a handy one-size-fits-all Spotify playlist.

LISTEN NOW: 20×2010