Thursday 23 December 2010

Albums of the Year, 2010

It's that time of year when I feel compelled to add to the mass of end-of-year lists that you can't help bumping into. I'll keep it brief then, and only list ten. These are the albums that I got most from in 2010. Not the "best" as that makes it sound like my best has to be your best, and of course it doesn't. They're my favourites, the ones I'm likely to return to during 2011 and beyond, but I'd be keen to hear if you think I missed something truly great. There's a Spotify playlist containing one track from most (not all) of the albums.

(Links are to BBC artist pages and Metacritic album review pages)

Arcade FireThe Suburbs
To anyone who says that albums are dead and now it's all about single tracks, this is the best response. A sprawling, 16 track affair which took multiple listens to start to make sense. Strange the way that AF songs have a habit of sounding, well, disappointing, until something clicks and they become your favourite songs ever. I wasn't sure how they'd come back after Neon Bible, but they did, with something even stronger. I can honestly say I think I'm in love with this record.

MidlakeThe Courage of Others
Strange, this one seems to have missed out on many end of year lists. I think I can see why: it's dark, serious and retro-sounding. To be honest it doesn't really fit into 2010 in any obvious way. But those songs! Beautiful melodies, and incomprehensible lyrics. It's an album for cold winter nights.

GorillazPlastic Beach
Another long 16 track sprawling album (is this a theme to my musical proclivities?) which took quite a while to really appreciate. Ambitious and eclectic, Damon delivered another masterpiece, mixing styles and guest vocalists, but always keeping great tunes at the heart of it. This is one of those albums that I can play where the children don't complain.

Broken Social SceneForgiveness Rock Record
I have to be honest, until this album came out I didn't know much about BSS. But if there was one album I listened to most this year it would probably be this. It didn't get rave reviews, but I don't know why. There isn't a mediocre song on the record, it's all good. Most under-rated band of the year for me.

US singer songwriter's 7th album. I missed the first six, but when Guy Garvey played a track from July Flame I knew this was something special. She really does have a great voice, and these songs are in the main outstanding. Perhaps a little long, but lovely nonetheless. And named after a variety of peach, which has to be good.

The NationalHigh Violet
I was already a big fan of The National, but this is my No.1 album by the Ohio art-rockers. The combination of baritone vocals and tuneful guitar does it for me, but the songs really hold their own on High Violet.  

Jonsi Go
Sigur Ros make the most beautiful and atmospheric music you could imagine, so it's not a surprise that their lead singer - Jonsi - made a superb solo album. It contains what is probably my favourite track of the year - Go Do - a truly mesmerising mix of sounds with vocal melodies that seem to come from outer-space.

Sufjan StevensThe Age of Adz
I'm still getting to know this album in truth, but it's clear to me that it'll be one of the records released this year that I'm still listening to in say 5 years time. Quite a break from his first two much loved "states of America" albums, it's complex, broad and not an easy first listen. But worth it.

Laura Marling I Speak Because I Can
How can someone this young (still only 20) write such mature songs? Not as "poppy" or obvious as her first stunning album, but after many listens it comes to life - there are some beautiful sad songs here.

Flying Lotus - Cosmogramma
Flying Lotus, AKA Steven Ellison, released a hugely ambitious mash up of musical styles in 2010. A distant relative of John and Alice Coltrane, the jazz influences are there, but so are many other genres. The most future looking album of 2010 for me.

If I'd allowed myself more than ten albums I'd have no doubt mentioned Bombay Bicycle ClubThe Tallest Man On Earth and Beach House, but I haven't so I won't.

Lists for 2009 and 2008.

Friday 3 December 2010

BBC Music Showcase

This has been a big week at work, at BBC Audio & Music interactive, where we released to live our first version of the BBC music showcase. I have to say I'm very proud to have been involved in this project for some time, and extremely pleased that it is finally out in the wild. It's been quite a journey, politically, technically and strategically.

Some background. The idea of a pan-BBC aggregation of music content is not a new one. In fact, the roots of this thinking go back the best part of ten years - I remember talking about the concept with Simon Nelson, Simon Hopkins and Dan Hill amongst others back in the early days of the journey to take the BBC's radio and music content online. The idea has developed loads since then, but the influence of Simon Hopkins and later Matthew Shorter and Tom Scott can't be underestimated.

So what is it and why is it important? What we've released so far, which is just the start, is an aggregation of all BBC music content that is not full length programmes. Our radio station sites and iPlayer cover that angle fairly well, but what we haven't cracked until now is getting those nuggets of great content out of their full length programme home to expose them in new ways. That content could be a live music session, or an artist interview, or a single artist feature, a DJ mix or a live concert. The BBC creates this kind of content in droves, but it's almost impossible to find what you are really interested in unless you know exactly what was broadcast and at what time. Now we can pull all those special moments out of their original context and offer them via genre, via a curated collection, via artist search, via most popular, latest in, and about to expire. In other words, these unique pieces of content are now accessible, findable and aggregatable.

That's just the start. The next stage is a development of the idea of curated collections mentioned above: we want to tap into the world class talent that the BBC employs to generate human powered recommendations, then use a service like Echonest to deliver onward journeys through music both on and off This is where the BBC has a fairly unique place to play in the increasingly busy music discovery space.

This is good news for traditional radio, because at last we are doing something which takes the fantastic content that is generated every single day via linear broadcasts, and offering it in an appropriate manner for the medium. This is truly a mash up of traditional broadcast media with digital media. I believe that it's projects like this that will help traditional media brands move successfully into the fully digital world.

Huge props must go to the technical and editorial teams who conceived and delivered it, especially Matt Coulson, Andy Puleston, Ant Smith, Nick Humphreys, Sacha Sedriks, Richard Berry, Andrew Hilton, Chris Lowis, Nigel Smith, Pete Marsh and Yasser Rashid.

Have a play with the Music Showcase and let me know what you think. Remember it's still in Alpha mode so expect to see lots of small updates over the coming weeks and months.

See more blog posts on this:
Andy Puleston
Matt Coulson