Best of 2010: Albums and EPs

I feel as if I’ve read through innumerable Best Of lists this month, as, I suspect, do you (especially if you’ve managed to make it far enough down your googling results to reach my little bit webspace). And, as is usually the case, most of them probably read as a tidy summation of what began the year as the most anticipated releases of 2010 with a few surprises thrown in for good measure. But, as hard as I try, no list I can pull together could hope to effectively encapsulate the music of 2010. Of course, there are the usual gaps in my listening, as there are with anyone. But, more importantly, I think the legacy of this past year, at least in my experience, will be an idea. ‘Beauty is back‘.

With it’s near-flawless litany of releases, the genre-bending and earth-shattering work of New Amsterdam Records is proof enough that beauty is a priority once again. But add to that the utter sweetness of The Secret Sisters, rampant sexual tension of Bitter Ruin, the raw power of My Gold Mask and Dimbleby & Capper, and the sheer joy of Super Desserts and Allo Darlin’, and our rediscovery of the visceral impact of technique and execution is impossible to ignore.

I haven’t ranked the albums and EPs on this list. Their very appearance here will attest to my attachment to them (if you want more details—well, that’s what the rest of this blog is for). Still, despite the ironic egalitarianism of my Best Ofs, there is one album which stands out in my mind as the landmark achievement of 2010. This one.

Allo Darlin’ – Allo Darlin’

Belle & Sebastian – Write About Love [review]

Bitter Ruin – Hung, Drawn, and Quartered [interview]

Dimbleby & Capper – Slick Maturity [more info]

Hooray For EarthMomo

Ivan MoultThe Mine Canary [review]

My Gold Mask – A Million Miles (From Where We Were Last)

Public Service Broadcasting – EP One

The SchoolLoveless Unbeliever [review] [interview]

The Secret SistersThe Secret Sisters

Sarah Kirkland Snider (feat. Shara Worden and Signal) – Penelope [review]

Super Desserts – Twee As Folk [review]

VictoireCathedral City [review]

Loveless Unbeliever

Score: 99

I find it ironic that Loveless Unbeliever, the debut LP from The School, begins “An apology for today, an apology for a lifetime”, because I feel I owe them an apology. I recently discovered that, in my first posts about them (over a year ago, now), I called The School “twee”. I was young and new to this business, but now that I know better, it is only fair that I admit my mistake.

There’s more to The School than twee, of course. They’ve carved out a niche in that sliver of sixties throwback between Camera Obscura and The Pipettes—and what a home they’ve made there! For my money, no one embodies the golden age of pop music better than the kids from Cardiff. Loveless Unbeliever is replete with all the memorable hooks, striking melodies, and tasteful orchestrations, and Liz Hunt’s vocals are nothing short of intoxicating—I still get chills every time I listen to “I don’t believe in love” (also featuring former drummer Rob, now of Voluntary Butler Scheme).

The long-awaited LP includes most of The School’s hard-to-find early material (it’s missing Christmasy songs, including my favorite “Kiss you in the snow”, and “And Suddenly”, a Left Banke cover). And it’s a good thing the old releases have been included, because amongst them are some of the band’s best songs, such as: “Let it slip” which is essentially a perfect pop song, and “I don’t believe in love”, with a melody as sweeping as the lyrics are heartbreaking. And, lest you get the impression that this is an album built on the strength of recycled material, the seven new songs are every bit as memorable as the old stuff. The first single, “Is he really coming home”, picks up right where the Let It Slip EP left off, whilst “Can’t understand” and “Hoping and praying”are two of the most unabashedly fun tracks on the album.

Loveless Unbeliever has been a long time coming. The School were signed to Elefant Records in 2007. In the meantime, there have been some lineup changes and a quite a fuss over their early EP and singles—no doubt all contributing factors to the long wait for this album. Then again, maybe that’s just how long it takes when you set out produce an “album…full of pop hits”. Regardless, there is no filler on Loveless Unbeliever, only 37 minutes perfect indie pop that will spend weeks at a time in your stereo (personally, I’ve just reached the one month mark). Hopefully, we won’t have to wait another three years for The School’s next LP, but, if it’s even half as good as this one, it will have been well worth the wait.

[For more, read our interview with The School]

An interview with The School

There is nothing “normal” about Edinburgh. I passed two hours reading epitaphs in an overcrowded, haunted kirkyard before following adverts scrawled in chalk on the walls of medieval buildings to the Wee Red Bar (which I never would have found had it not been for a handful of strategically placed wall scribblings, because Edinburgh is a city that never fails to confuse the hell out of me—and I love it for that reason) where The School would be playing later that night. So, when the eight of us—87.5 % of the band and me (violinst Steph was not present)–piled into the van that would tow them about the country on tour, I had no idea what to expect.

By the time we’d finished, Liz (lead vocals, keyboards), Ryan (bass), Rich (drums), Fran (trumpet, backing vocals), Kay (violin, backing vocals), Harri (guitar, glockenspiel, backing vocals), Ivan (guitar), and I had covered everything from the new album and the Cardiff music scene to chat up lines and 6 Music. And what I found amongst more than half an hour of clever, insightful answers to questions I didn’t even know I wanted to ask were seven people with real interests, opinions, and the sort of multifaceted personalities you’re not allowed to express in the grown up “real world”—the sort of people I miss having around.

An excerpt from the interview is below, but I highly recommend you read the transcription in its entirety here.

The School Interview

TIH: How did this particular lineup end up together? [pause] Judging by your reaction, it’s probably fairly complicated.

Liz: It is pretty complicated. I started in 2007. I used to be in a band called The Loves, and we did some demos of songs that I was writing which were 60s influenced but more girl-group kind of things and then I recruited Ryan to play bass.

Harri: I saw an advert you put on the internet that said “anyone who can play anything, please sign up”, but I was too scared…

Liz: Yeah, we’ve had quite a few band members. They’ve come and gone because we have so many instruments. It’s just different people’s commitments and stuff, because there are so many different parts going on. In Cardiff, it’s quite a small music scene so musicians are kind of rare.

Fran: I was actually looking for some place to live, so I typed in “musicians in Cardiff” and came up with “wanted: female backing singer and trumpet player/musician” and I was like that’s me!

Kay: I found my advert on my own website, which was interesting. So I deleted it and took it.

Rich: I got in through the old guitarist. He recorded a demo of another band I’m in and they needed another drummer, so I joined that way.

Liz: Yeah. The rest were stolen from other bands. Ivan, I met at gig he was playing and I thought Ah, guitar…

[Read the whole interview]