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Reviews

Music of the year

Jude Mason

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In sitting down to write our annual round-up I was terrified to discover that I could only think of one new album that's rocked my world this year.

As an ardent music lover, this terrible realisation made the back of my neck turn cold. Was it that bad a year? Am I losing my marbles and have forgotten all the records? Have I really not listened to any new music?

On further review, and while I don't think this year will ever go down as a vintage one musically, I was relieved to re-discover enough good stuff to save both mine and 2010's blushes.

Head and shoulders above almost every other release was The Suburbs from Arcade Fire. Here honest questioning, sweet remembrances, intriguing arrangements and singable melodies are all delivered with the passion and finesse of a band completely living up to their hype.

The only other album even in that stratosphere is the fabulous Go by Sigur Rós frontman Jónsi. Accustomed to the delicate foreign liltings of his band, Jónsi's solo debut surprised me, delivering a joyous riot that explodes with pounding drums and surprisingly intelligible lyrics. Go has the power to brighten the dullest of days.

After letting everyone know that he wasn't going to be making pop music anymore, Sufjan Stevens released Age Of Adz in October. Way more electronic than his previous albums it has been a 'grower' in which I'm glad I have invested the time.

The Sea by Corinne Bailey Rae is another album I've gone back to repeatedly in quiet moments. Its heartbreaking themes are full of beauty and not without moments of quiet hope. It proved her to be all grown up, and I'm still excited for what's next.

Talking of grown ups, it's been a big year for the grey-heads. Tom Jones' excellent gospel album Praise & Blame reminded us that it's not just the deep south that can sing the blues, while Robert Plant built on his success with Alison Krauss to show how AOR (Adult Oriented Rock) needn't be MOR (Middle Of The Road) on his wonderful Band Of Joy.

One reason I haven't bought much new music this year is the vast amount spent on re-buying old music. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Stooges are just a few who've pulled apart, polished, and put back together their entire back catalogues. If you've got iTunes tokens left from Christmas… well the choice is yours.

At the younger end of the spectrum 2010's pop queen was still Our Lady Of GaGa, who managed three weeks at the top of the UK album chart with a release from 2008. The pop princess tiara is firmly in the dirty mits of Miss Katy Perry, whose Teenage Dream is pure pop perfection, with a little bit of Russell Brand's sauciness thrown in to scare Grandma. Justin Bieber, on the other hand, is so clean he squeaks, but though his haircut may annoy you his music is disappointingly fabulous.

Marina and The Diamonds was this year's Florence and The Machine with her Kate Bushy grown-up pop, Eminem proved he's still top of the hip hop heap with Recovery, and Take That got Robbie back, wrote more great songs and sold a ba-jillion concert tickets in a nano-second.

If you like your music layered with echo and lush with harmonies then Beach House's Teen Dream and Infinite Arms by Band Of Horses are a double whammy of loveliness.

My biggest hit of 2010 has been the glorious Spotify. If you haven't discovered its magical capabilities yet then get online and download this fabulous player to have all the music I've mentioned here at your fingertips. Well, all except Arcade Fire. But that's not bad right? I've put together a little Best-Of playlist to get you started. Just go here.

Finally, my top tip for 2011. There's a duo from Nashville called The Civil Wars. Check them out on MySpace (yes, it still exists) and thank me later.

Jude Mason