Best Music of 2010

For me, 2010 hasn’t been a great year for music. It didn’t stop my purchasing though. I bought 93 different releases, only one less than 2009! I still haven’t listened to 6 of them. Maybe it’s because I buy less variety nowadays. I mostly buy ambient/drone/instrumental type things. Not much music with singing on it – unless it’s from a female singer-songwriter I like. I also tend to buy all new releases from my favourite artists. Looking at my list, I’ve only bought a couple of pop records, one hip-hop, and no hardcore, metal, punk etc. There is only one release that I’d give five stars to. Anyway, without further ado, here’s my top five records of 2010:

  1. Ólafur Arnalds – …and they have escaped the weight of darknessÓlafur’s second full album is absolutely beautiful. Its sparse, slow piano and lovely string quartet. Like before, he adds a touch of electronics, live drums and electric bass guitar as well. I really got addicted to this album and listened to it repeatedly for a long time. The one word that really suits this is “beautiful”. Because it really is. (P.S. another reason I think 2010 wasn’t that great for music is that the best song on my favourite album is a re-working of a song previously released on the Found Songs EP)
  2. Jóhann Jóhannsson – and in the endless pause there came the sound of bees
    Whenever I needed a break from Ólafur Arnalds, I always turned to this as it is quite similar. Full of sweeping strings and again, it is beautiful. I think I prefer it to Jóhann’s previous two albums as I wasn’t keen on the concepts of the last two albums. This however, is the soundtrack to a great (wordless) animated short film, Varmints. The film was originally released in 2008, again adding to my thinking that 2010 wasn’t that great for music. Unfortunately the film isn’t available on DVD but is available for download off iTunes.
  3. Azure Ray – Drawing Down The Moon
    Finally reunited since their last album in 2003, it doesn’t sound like any time has passed. It’s still all slow hushed female vocals over pleasant acoustic and electronic backing. And it’s not too dissimilar to Maria Taylor’s three solo albums either. Still, it’s great to have them back, and this is a really solid album that I’m sure I’ll be listening to for years.
  4. Ryonkt – Window To The Room
    The most pure drone album I have. Its really blissful and relaxing and consists of basically pure and pleasant drone. Great for falling asleep to on long train journeys.
  5. Four Tet – There Is Love In You
    Didn’t really know what to pick for my fifth choice but this was the one I’d listened to the most out of the other candidates. Four Tet again provides something different. I thought it was a step down from the Ringer EP, where he explored techno and discovered the 4/4. He relies on voice samples which initially is odd but really grows on you, as does each song over the course of its duration, steadily building up and up.

I was also going to list my top pop songs of the year, but it turns out my top pick was released in 2009 so I wont do that! If you want to know, it was Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys – Empire State of Mind Part 1. Such a fantastic song, a huge beat, an even huger chorus and really makes me want to visit New York!

My favourite labels of the year have been Sonic Pieces and Second Language. They are both quite similar. They both only do limited edition releases of mostly instrumental music and both have beautifully handcrafted packaging.

Sonic Pieces is run by Monique Recknagel in Berlin who lovingly crafts the casing for each of her limited edition releases by great modern instrumental artists such as Nils Frahm, Dustin O’Halloran, Erik K. Skodvin, Greg Haines and more. I buy every release she puts out and only one of them I would rate less than four stars. They are consistently good, produced by favourite album of 2009 and two of the contenders for the 5th place for 2010. And I haven’t even listened to their latest release yet!

Second Language Music is an English label with offers its limited edition releases mostly via mail order subscription. Its always a surprise to find a package in the mail. And then when you open it up, each release features fantastic handmade packaging which is very unique to each release. Then when you listen – it is always great. Actually, there was one release I didn’t like that much, however that was a compilation of mostly vocal songs, rather than the instrumental music I prefer. However, that compilation did feature an exclusive Ólöf Arnalds song which is better than any of the songs on the album and two singles she released in 2010! I would thoroughly recommend subscribing to Second Language if you love instrumental music.

2010 also brought us the first posthumous release by Michael Jackson which was surprising by not being that bad, and better than his last real album.

2011 brings us the first new Bright Eyes album since 2007’s Cassadega. And possibly the last under the Bright Eyes name. Also, Peter Broderick has a new album out, hopefully in the piano and strings style, rather than guitar and voice. I think Dustin O’Halloran has a new album out too, although its not Piano Solos volume 3 unfortunately. I’m not sure what else is coming out but I’m sure I’ll be buying tonnes of records anyway.

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