I’m a bit of a one trick pony. Or maybe two or three tricks. There are a couple of little obsessions I have, and I tend to keep coming back to them.
One of these is how ridiculous it is that British rapper Ty isn’t a whole lot more famous; he’s an amazing rapper, with thoughtful lyrics, great beats and melodies, and deserves to be a massive success.
Whilst his recent move to the Tru Thoughts record label isn’t likely to propel him into the upper end of the charts, it does mean that we get some new music from him, including this classic slice of intelligent British hip hop.
Photo via Tru Thoughts
On Friday Absolute Radio announced the result of its song of the decade vote: shockingly the top 10 doesn’t include the Arctic Monkeys, Strokes or White Stripes but does include two songs each by The Killers & Snow Patrol, a sign that whilst the station may be excellent, the average Absolute Radio listener gets most of their musical taste from the latest copy of Now That’s What I Call Indie. Oh well.
Anyway, in order to prove that this decade should be remembered for more than some sell-out Scottish Coldplay wannabes and a half-decent American 80s British indie tribute band, I thought I’d note down the albums that have made the last ten years such a musical treasure trove. As always, these are in no particular order.
- Paul Weller – 22 Dreams: Whilst, like most double albums, it would have benefited from a bit of judicious editing, this was still one of the finest albums Weller has produced in years. In fact, with its wide-ranging eclecticism & its towering sense of a man ageing yet still having an unparalleled love for music, 22 Dreams is simply one of the best records Weller has ever made.
- Common – Be: Kanye West may have been, along with his mentor Jay-Z, the man who stole all the spotlight in terms of noughties hip-hop, but his best work was often as a producer. Like a 21st Century Gil Scott Heron, on Be Common blended soul, funk and a stridently political view of the world to amazing effect.
- José James – The Dreamer: Anyone who says that jazz is dead clearly doesn’t know what they’re talking about, but if you’re determined to prove them wrong then give them anything by Soil & “Pimp” Sessions or their Brownswood label-mate José James. He brought a hip-hop swagger to his take on classically cool piano-led jazz. With the voice of an angel, James may well be one of the most exciting discoveries of the noughties.
- The Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not: Talking of exciting discoveries, the Arctics burst onto the music scene like a fresh Yorkshire breeze. From the dead-pan intro to the video for their début, I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor (“We’re t’Arctic Monkeys, this is I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor. Don’t believe the hype.”), to their scathing take on British bands thinking they were Californian (whatever happened to The Thrills?), they showed that they were more interested in making amazing rock music than matching any passing fads.
- Tuomo – My Thing: Sounds like stone-cold perfect 60s/70s era-American soul. Actually written & performed by a ginger guy from Finland in 2007. So perfect it probably shouldn’t be allowed.
- Marc Mac Presents Visioneers – Dirty Old Hip Hop: Better known for his role as part of hardcore & drum & bass pioneers 4hero, Dirty Old Hip Hop could well end up being Marc Mac’s best ever work. It basically takes classic hip hop tracks, and tracks famously sampled for hip hop records, and recreates them with a lush live soul band. The cover of Pharcyde’s Runnin’ is just one track that now sounds better to me than the original.
- Ohmega Watts – The Find: Like a mix of Visioneers & Common, Ohmega Watts, on splendid independent US label Ubiquity, used soul samples that wouldn’t sound out of place on an early-90s golden-era track with ryhmes that avoided all the nasty rap cliches. Good old-fashioned, pure party music, this deserved to be huge. Obviously it wasn’t.
- Radiohead – In Rainbows: Whilst Kid A may be getting most of the end of the decade plaudits, personally I prefer Radiohead when their biggest experiments are saved for their retail mechanism and they remember that there’s nothing wrong with a tune. Blended the avant garde spirit of OK Computer with the stone-cold tunes of The Bends.
- Amy Winehouse – Back To Black: Her 1st album was a lovely blend of old-time jazz vocals and hip-hop sass & beats. Her 2nd, produced by soon-to-be über-producer Mark Ronson, jumped forward, providing a 21st Century slant on the Motown girl-groups of the 60s. And, as with her first, Winehouse’s amazing voice was used to catalogue her ‘interesting’ private life. Unfortunately it was soon anything but to be private and I think we all wish she had gone to rehab. Whether she’s release anything as good as this in the next ten years, or even releases anything at all, we” always have this amazing record of being a young woman in the noughties.
- The Strokes – Is This It: If the title of this album was a question, the answer looking back from 2010 would probably have to be yes. Whilst they seemed poised to take over the world they never really equalled the brilliance of their début, but what a début it was: drenched with New York cool, it married the stripped down sound of The Velvet Underground with a glamour that was very un-indie. Did for the US what the Arctics did for the UK.
- Kings Of Leon – Only By The Night: They started the decade being written off as a southern Strokes, but ended it as, arguably, the biggest and best rock band in the world. As with so many American acts they first found an audience in Europe, and especially the UK. And the years of touring their first three albums were apparent in the perfectly pitched and incredibly tight tunes on Only By The Night.
- Omar – Sing (If You Want It): Briefly famous in the acid jazz days of the 90s, Omar resurfaced in the noughties with a beautiful album of modern British soul. The album reeks of London, blending as it does sounds & styles from around the world, a fitting tribute to the most multicultural of cities. It’s also one of the few albums to feature a Stevie Wonder duet that doesn’t sound like it’s been phoned in.
- Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid: The band everyone wanted to succeed finally did. Their rendition of One Day Like This became the defining song of Glastonbury 2008, the album won the Mercury and now we all await their next record with bated breath. An achingly lovely record which could only have been born in Britain, and with a lead-singer who wouldn’t have made it past the auditions on the bland production line that is the X Factor.
- Ty – Closer: Prior to Dizzee Rascal’s take-over of the charts, Roots Manuva was probably the highest profile British rapper. But whilst his music was often dense and claustrophobic that of his protege Ty was soulful & full of melody. That’s not to say that he was any less serious, his rhymes covered every topic imaginable, but did so with an infectious joie de vivre. How this album wasn’t massive, superior as it is to any number of huge selling American hip hop albums, I really don’t know.
- Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes: A stunning record that brought to mind everything from Gregorian chants to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s classic Deja Vu, this is the perfect winter record and manes expectations are very high indeed for their follow-up next year.
- Jazzanova – Of All The Things: Jazzanova are best known as producers of high quality electronic dance music, but on the showing of this record, they’re even better at producing organic 21st Century soul. With a stellar line-up of contributors from the world of contemporary music, every song on this record sounds like a single and is a pleasure from start to finish.
- Zero 7 – Simple Things: dismissed as mere Air copycats, they’re so much better than that. Obviously huge fans of soul producer Charles Stepney, this oh-so laid back album positively drips with strings, which act as a perfect backdrop for the lush vocals of the various contributors. Just because the swathe of ‘chill-out’ albums that came in the wake of Simple Things were mostly shit, doesn’t mean that we should discard this great record along with them.
- Norah Jones – Come Away With Me: Another record that has suffered because of the pale imitations that have followed it, Jones’ début was a delightful blend of jazz & country, and her stunning voice became a staple on Radio 2. But that doesn’t mean the record isn’t amazing.
- The Streets – Everything Is Borrowed: His first album perfectly caught a moment in time and defined a genre just as it outgrew it, his second was hailed as a modern equivalent to Shakespeare and, in Dry Your Eyes, spawned a Wonderwall-size hit, his third was shit but his fourth, with its move to a more organic sound, and intensely personal lyrics, was his finest. Apparently his fifth will be his last, I really hope it’s not.
- Kanye West – Late Registration: After nearly losing his life in a car crash (as he never bores of telling us) Kanye’s debut was a miracle of some sorts. Not just because it actually got made, but also because it saw a mainstream black rapper admitting to being human, rather than spitting out the same old boring ‘guns & hos’ rhymes. Jesus Walks is massive, Through The Wire touching and All Falls Down just plain brilliant.
- Gomez – How We Operate: Most people probably think the one-time Mercury winners have long-since disbanded. In fact they’ve gone from strength to strength, quietly ploughing their own furrow of intelligent, eclectic rock. This album is the perfect demonstration of this, packed as it is with sunny melodies and wistful vocals. Unsung heroes.
- Jamie Lidell – Jim: Lidell was probably signed by Warp because he was a geek creator of weird electronica. They can’t have expected him to turn into the best producer of blue-eyed soul the decade has seen. He sings like he went to church with Otis Redding but looks like he went to Reading Polytechnic.
- Nitin Sawhiney – London Undersound: Apparently this record was Sawhiney’s musical response to the London bombings of July 2005 and the events that followed them. If so, it’s the perfect response to the religious fanatics who try to rule us with fear, being as it is an example & celebration of the beauty that secular multiculturalism has to offer.
- J.A.M. – Just A Maestro: In their ‘day-job’ they make up half of experimental Japanese ‘death jazz’ band Soil & “Pimp” Sessions. But with their splinter group J.A.M., they’ve produced a record more consistent, and more listenable, than anything by the Pimps. It might be slightly more mainstream, but it’s still modern jazz of immaculate quality and would be enough to get a corpse dancing.
- Estelle – Shine: After being unfairly ignored by the, border-line racist, British music industry, Estelle went to the US to be produced & mentored by John Legend. She had a worldwide smash with American Boy but also produced an album that should be compulsory listening for the likes of Beyonce, Leona Lewis & Simon Cowell, who generally seem to think that R&B has to be bland. Catchy but still intelligent, this is a great modern pop record.
Well, there you go. I’m sure that I’ll think of some more, and there are probably a load you think I’ve missed. But
2010 image by Doug8888 on flickr
Though I said in my post on the best songs of the Noughties that I was not going to try to include all of them, since I wrote I keep thinking of songs that really are too good to miss out. So, for what it’s worth, here’s Now, That’s What Ciarán Calls The Noughties, Vol. 2 (in no particular order).
- The Enemy – We’ll Live & Die In These Towns: Not as good as the music press thought they were, but this track from the Coventry three-piece, with lines like “the toilet smells of desperation” is a worthy addition to the town’s music heritage, including as it does The Specials’ Ghost Town.
- The Courteneers – Not 19 Forever: A beautifully wistful piece of perfect indie-pop: despite the fact that it was written by guys barely in their twenties, it probably resonated even more with those of us on the wrong side of our thirties.
- The White Stripes – Seven Nation Army: The White Stripes were probably John Peel’s last great gift to the world (God, I’d forgotten that Peel died in the noughties – that alone makes it a wretched decade). And this is probably their finest moment to date – absolutely thundering in its simplicity, the fact that he’s actually playing that bass line on his guitar is still enough to leave me dazed.
- Joss Stone – Fell In Love With A Boy: When she came out it seemed impossible that a Cornish teenager could have a voice that so perfectly matched the soul tracks on her début album. The fact that her taste in music, as evidenced by the direction she decided to take as she got older (bland, modern R&B) shouldn’t blight the magnificence of this Roots produced White Stripes cover.
- Mos Def – Umi Says: Showing, once again, that intelligent hip-hop can beat mindless gangster rap nine times out of ten, this acoustic led track is probably one of my favourite hip-hop songs of all time. And it’s another one that Zero 7 did an amazing remix of.
- Liam Lynch – United States Of Whatever: This is, like, uh, an anthem for the decade. Or whatever.
- The Libertines – Don’t Look Back Into The Sun: I was never a totally devoted fan, but still think that Pete Doherty’s descent into tabloid drug stooge, and his split from Carl Barat, is one of the biggest musical wastes of the century. But “Don’t Look Back..”, with its era-defining lyric “then they played that song at the Death Disco” (Alan McGee’s Zeitgeist spawning club night) is a suitable memorial to them.
- Wolfman feat. Pete Doherty – Song For Lovers: The track that showed that, like most artistic junkies, Doherty is an incurable romantic. Shame he’s also a total fucking waster, or he might have spent more time producing amazing songs like this, rather than dating a clothes horse and falling out of the tabloids.
- Hard-Fi – Living For The Weekend: Spawned, like The Enemy, by a provincial town, this song catalogued the mundane tedium of a suburban week and the desperate search for excitement of a suburban weekend. It also, in a delightfully ironic twist, also ended up being the soundtrack of the small-town discos whose tale it tells.
- Jamie T – Sheila: The bastard son of Pete Doherty & The Streets. Brap!
- Elbow – One Day Like This: Not their best track, but it’s my bet for Absolute’s Best Song Of The Decade and it’s now so ubiquitous it would be churlish to exclude it. And one of the greatest ever Glastonbury tunes (if they don’t headline next year, Eavis probably ought to retire).
- The Futureheads – Hounds Of Love: An epic cover of the Kate Bush classic and undoubtedly the best thing that this Maccam firework indie band did.
- Dr. Dre – The Next Episode: The album it was on, 2001, was released in 1999 but the single came out in 2000, so I’m claiming it. Dre once again showed that very few people can do gangster rap intelligently, and he’s one of the few. Awesome.
- Tuomo – So Surreal: What’s surreal is that a ginger-haired Finn could produce some of the finest modern soul I’ve ever heard. Just about any of the tracks from his debut album, My Thing, could feature in this list, but this is the one I’m digging most today.
- Little Dragon – Scribbled Paper: What with Finland’s Tuomo & Sweden’s Little Dragon, it’s been a good decade for Scandinavian modern soul. This is at the other end of the spectrum from Tuomo – it’s stripped down electronic soul of the sort Massive Attack used to do so well, and which Cinematic Orchestra still do.
- The Cinematic Orchestra feat. Roots Manuva – All Things To All Men: One of the best things that either Cinematic Orchestra or Manuva have done, this is a towering piece of moody, orchestral hip-hop. Astounding.
- Ty – Hustle (That’s Wy We): Whilst Manuva gets the plaudits, his understudy Ty has been quietly turning out some of the best British hip-hop of recent years. He swaps Manuva’s neuroses for self-deprecating wit, and his claustrophobic dub for dance-floor friendly soul, but that doesn’t make his tracks light-weight, and Hustle is perfect proof of that fact.
- Athlete – Westside: Vehicles & Animals was one of my favourite albums of the past ten years: with its distinctly British outlook and the band’s willingness to experiment it reminded me of 90s never-weres Thousand Yard Stare and was a welcome relief to the bland homogeneity of most indie at the time. Unfortunately they decided to ‘do a Snow Patrol’ and abandon their invention is search of mass-market appeal. It seems they really did want to be part of the rock scene.
- Sugababes – Freak Like Me: It was a cover of an Adina Howard mash-up by Richard X, but it proves that there were girl-bands producing intelligent pop music before Girls Aloud and is a monster of a track, whilst the band’s franchise-like approach to members also strikes me as perfectly noughtie-ish.
- Outkast – Hey Ya: At one point it seemed like Outkast would become the biggest act of the decade, but instead they did a Prince and made a really shite film. Hey Ya, and Ms Jackson, are reminders of how truly great they were. And the covers of the two tracks, by Matt Weddle & The Vines respectively, manage, by bringing the words to the fore, to highlight what amazing lyricists they were.
- Jamie Lidell – Another Day: His move from weird techno boffin, to outright soul belter, was amazing. As was this track and the album it came from; in many ways the album I wish Ben Westbeech had produced.
- The Kaiser Chiefs – I Predict A Riot: Probably the ultimate firework band, The Kaisers had two huge albums, ruled the festivals, and now haven’t been heard of for years. But, for one summer at least, this was an anthem.
- Wiley – Wearing My Rolex: Resistance is futile.
- Dizzee Rascal – Pussyole (Old Skool): Boy In Da Corner may have won the Mercury whilst Dance Wiv Me made him Britain’s biggest, and most unlikely, pop star, but, for me, this unashamedly retro track is one of his best.
- Katalyst feat. Steve Spaceck – How ‘Bout Us: One of many fine finds from Gilles Peterson’s Bubblers series, How ‘Bout Us sounds like Curtis Mayfield if he was someone who had been born 20 years ago, rather than someone who’s been dead for more than 10 years, and should have been huge. It wasn’t, obviously.
Well, that’s another 25, and there are probably 25 more still. But that will do for the meantime, and until I think of another 20, here’s a very worthy 26, Badly Drawn Boy’s beautiful Once Around The Block. Enjoy.
Image from Times Online News Blog.
I really have very little to say about this other than Ty rocks. He’s on the Ninja Tune off-shoot Big Dada, also home to the wonderful Roots Manuva. Although personally I tend to think he’s actually better than Manuva, with a tad more variety to the influences that he blends. Whatever, Closer by Ty, which features Maceo of De La Soul (a sure sign of quality if ever there was one) rocks. Nicely. As does the album of the same name.