20. Dirty Projectors + Björk – Mount Wittenberg Orca
It’s probably because of their innovative use of vocal techniques that Dirty Projectors can count Björk among their fans, and her interest led to the composition of this collaborative song cycle. Offering what might loosely be referred to as an acoustic rendering of their most recent musical style (as heard on last year’s Bitte Orca), Mount Wittenberg Orca is equally the spiritual follow-up to Björk’s own all-vocal Medúlla.
19. Gorillaz – Plastic Beach
By stepping out from the shadows at recent concerts, the Gorillaz live band acknowledged the limited shelf-life of the “cartoon band” phenomenon. With its novelty long since departed, the onus fell on Albarn to make an album that would put the original concept in the shadows. Plastic Beach, with its varied musical sources, anti-consumerist theme and high profile guest stars including Lou Reed, Mark E. Smith and Snoop Dogg, was just the tonic.
18. Avi Buffalo – Avi Buffalo
Teenagers at the time of release, Avi Buffalo’s self-titled debut tells no deep truths and offers no “wisdom beyond their years”. Perhaps better, in the circumstances, they show musical dexterity and an honest willingness to write lyrics which never betray what’s on their hormonal minds. The end product conveys as much of the warmth of a summer evening as it does the apparent horniness of its teenage composers.
17. Villagers – Becoming a Jackal
Any earnest singer-songwriter faces a challenge to be heard apart from an often humdrum crowd, but on the strength of this record, Conor O’Brien deserves to be lifted away from the Rices and Obersts of the world. While his debut as Villagers doesn’t always stand out lyrically, its enjoyably experimental musical elements – dating back to his time in avant-garde rock band The Immediate – suggest him to be an altogether more engaging artist.
16. Hot Chip – One Life Stand
Although their eccentric synths and vocals can be deceptive, the Prince-loving London quintet has always – correctly – been singled out for producing synth-pop with an emotional core. For all the invention of their mid-tempo new album, the emotions bubbling to the surface – and they do come across more determinedly than before, especially on the title track and ‘Alley Cats’ – steal the show.
15. Sleigh Bells – Treats
The Brooklyn noise-rock duo’s brash debut is uncomplicated but original. Despite marrying the simplistic beats and violent guitars of The White Stripes to abrasive electronics and smooth vocals much like M.I.A.’s, it would be a mistake to think of Sleigh Bells as chiefly derivative. In fact, Treats is held together by a distinctive, abrasive but utterly enjoyable aesthetic, whose exciting new path makes it the most refreshingly explosive album of the year.
14. Race Horses – Goodbye Falkenburg
Since Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci departed to their final resting place somewhere in the Carmarthenshire clouds, the indie world has largely been without oddball Welsh psychedelia. Race Horses’ debut serves up a welcome antidote, tossing together sentiment with trumpet fanfares, cake (euphemistically) with sex. The entertaining balance between wistful and wacky that Goodbye Falkenburg sustains justifies giving Race Horses GZM’s crown.
13. Four Tet – There is Love in You
Over the course of 12 years recording under the moniker Four Tet, Elliott School graduate Kieran Hebden’s electronica has reached a level of sophistication not many producers would attempt. Often mesmerising, his highest charting record yet comes across as a minimalist masterstroke. He uses vocal loops and other samples to construct his silky night time tracks, which ebb and flow gently or suddenly pulse depending on the subtlest of structural changes.
12. Sam Amidon – I See the Sign
Despite, on the face of it, being just another singer of folksy Americana, Amidon has hidden depths. If his vocal similarity to Jim O’Rourke hints at a more experimental artist, his past collaborations with Nico Muhly confirm that Amidon belongs to a higher-art music plain than the average Vermonter with a banjo. With careful pacing, slow-burning arrangements and a surprising R Kelly cover, I See the Sign is an all-too-easily overlooked gem.
11. Gil Scott-Heron – I’m New Here
One of the great politicised voices of 1970s America, Scott-Heron hadn’t surfaced since the millennium until I’m New Here came out in February. A poet as well as performer, the intervening years have seen his spoken words’ soul backing replaced by atmospheric trip hop, while his voice has taken a similar trajectory to that of Tom Waits – gravel-wards. With frank, unprecedentedly autobiographical lyrics, his transformation is compelling.
Albums selected from this longlist.