Albums of the Decade 3
published: 24 /
In the third and the final part of a three part feature our writers and photographers choose their Album of the Decade.
PJ Harvey/'Let England Shake' (2011)
Released eleven years after what many considered her magnum opus, ‘Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea’, in 2011 PJ Harvey issued her second masterpiece, ‘Let England Shake’.
Written over the course of two and half years and recorded in a mere five weeks with long-term collaborators John Parish and Mick Harvey, the album stands as one, if not the only LP directly inspired by warfare.
Inspired largely by the UK’s disastrous post 9/11 military adventures plus the huge losses resulting from the Gallipoli campaign of WWI, the album’s opening lines “The West’s asleep/Let England Shake” prepare the ground for what follows.
Written principally on the autoharp and sung in a higher register than on previous albums, Harvey spoke of “taking on the role of a narrator” in the songs, the meticulously researched tracks reading as dispatches from a war correspondent or a soldier’s diary entries.
The bulk of the lyrics are inspired by Tony Blair’s spectacularly wrong-headed interventionist strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan, with two of the album’s best-known tracks ‘The Glorious Land’ and ‘The Words That Maketh Murder’ directly referencing the conflicts. The former delivers the chilling verdict “What is the glorious fruit of our land?/Its fruit is orphaned children”, while the latter is a recollection of the horrors witnessed first-hand: “I have seen and done things I want to forget/Soldiers fell like lumps of meat.”.
Elsewhere the beautiful mirage-like 'Written on the Forehead' is an impressionistic account of civilians scrambling for safety while the funereal 'All and Everyone' reads like a front-line journalist’s account of the Gallipoli conflict.
An album whose timeless theme, effectively the utter pointlessness of almost all wars will never fade, is underlined by almost a decade since its release the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan show no signs of any improvement soon.
Richard Skelton/The Complete Landings (2011)
For my album of the decade, while it was a tough one, with Fleet Foxes 'Crack-Up' coming a close second, I have ultimately gone for this album. I chose it because it genuinely opened my mind to evocative instrumental music, how string instruments can be used, and the power of reverb - and ultimately influenced my own album 'In Stormy Nights' which I recorded with my group Dream Maps. Whenever I go to the Lake District or the Scottish countryside, I play it, as it reminds me of the landscape - the very same landscape that Skelton is based in.C
I do like some more 'formal' music too, with guitars and lyrics - but Skelton's sound is truly unique, and that's something that's increasingly hard to do. It is genuinely moving and quietly devastating, even while remaining instrumental.
Sufjan Stevens/‘Carrie and Lowell’ (2015)
Reeling from the spell cast by ‘Mystery of Love (Call Me by Your Name)', I surveyed previous works by Sufjan Stevens. His seventh album, ‘Carrie and Lowell’, vied for this position with good reason.
Only a unique artisan can turn grief into art without sounding maudlin; Stevens is that rare jewel. This project is dedicated to, respectively, his mother and stepfather. The former abandoned Sufjan and siblings during formative years, later resurfaced and died - the latter, stayed the course, assisting the songwriter in artistic pursuits.
Contending with post mortem misery, Stevens poured his heart into ‘Carrie and Lowell,’ surrendering fate to the common good.
‘Death and Dignity’ is a prime example of his approach: “Your apparition passes through me in the willows. Five red hens – you’ll never see us again.” Chords: pristine, lilting.
“Spirit of my silence/I can hear you but I’m afraid to be near you/And I don’t know where to begin.”
With falsetto, he exudes a primal fragility. “I can hear you/You’ll never see us again.” Finally, a series of emphatic, harmonic sighs.
I love the eerie landscape of ‘Fourth of July.’ Prose begins purposely; without incrimination. “Could I be the sky on the fourth of July?”
Suddenly, the tale morphs into a stunning conviction: “We’re all gonna die.” After sing-song innocence, Stevens transports us with a desperate plea for resolution. With immaculate phrasing and guitar wafting, memories of classic Simon & Garfunkel resound. Consider: ‘April Come She Will?” For these reasons, ‘Carrie and Lowell’ is timeless
Eluveitie/'Evocation II – Pantheon' (2017)
Being a photographer I travel all around the North West shooting a wide variety of music. Often the highlights are little known (to me) support bands.
I shoot many death metal/black bands, not because I like the music, but I love how they look...They are great to shoot.
Recently I encountered Swiss death metal band Eluvietie. I had not heard of the band before that night and casually approached the pit to witness a troop of eleven or twelve musicians come on dressed looking the guys who lost in the opening scenes of 'Gladiator', when Russell Crowe’s Roman legions crushed Germania. As I was being battered by the sound of industrial metal thunder, the band broke into a delicate Celtic riff, playing a variety of instruments such as harp, whistle, bagpipes and hurdy gurdy !
The sound was sensational. I was transfixed and felt like I was alone in the dark in a mid-European forest surrounded by howling wolves. If only I could experience that music minus the distorted guitars and growling male vocals. Hold my beer! 'Evocation II - Pantheon' is a follow on from the 2009 album 'Evocation 1 - The Arcane Dominion'. This is exactly what I was dreaming of, with bells on. The album is dedicated to Celtic mythology and the majority of the vocals are in Gallic, the European language which was spoken until the late 5th century AD.
Along with the aforementioned instruments and beautiful vocals, we are treated to tribal drumming and to amorphous chanting that make parts of the music a rich and rewarding ancient soundscape. I bet the senior members of the Chieftains would listen to this.
I have just played this album several times...it's late...but I want to imbibe a large goblet of mead, grab my broadsword and go out and slay a dragon... .
The 1975/'I Like It When You Sleep for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It' (2016)
Love and music are inextricably intwined. Never, though, in my most literal-minded moments, did I imagine falling in love because of a band.
“Are they hot?” was my first question as my Tinder date, Chris, and I sat in a Mexican restaurant full of drunk Santas. He shrugged, showed me a photo.
I asked, because Portland’s Roseland Theater was encircled with teenage girls, six-deep despite the December cold, waiting for The 1975.
As that three-margarita evening turned into a trans-continental relationship, falling for The 1975 was as inevitable as falling for the blue-eyed Arkansan audio tech who spent his nights unraveling Matty Healy’s mic cord.
Most of the time, Chris and I were oceans apart. 'I Like It When You Sleep…' became a proxy for togetherness; ‘The Sound’ a mantra, ‘This Must Be My Dream’ a song that could have been written for us, ‘Paris’ a reminder of stolen hours in various European capitals. When The 1975 released ‘Somebody Else’ on 15 February 2016 I texted Chris: “If we ever break up, that’s gonna be the song.”
Fifty-one weeks later – midway through their 22-month tour – I married him.
'I Like It When You Sleep…' is a laced with known elements, from INXS and New Order to Wham and Durutti Column – yet entirely itself. Love and music have this in common: they hold everything we know and crave. Then we encounter a sound, a voice, that resolves the glittering shards of memory and yearning into a mosaic – a future only made possible by our past.
Sleaford Mods/'Divide and Exit' (2014)
It’s 2014 and alternative music is getting predictable and boring. Few bands are pushing the sonic envelope or taking anything that remotely resembles a risk. Enter Sleaford Mods, the Notts-based electro-punk duo. 'Divide and Exit', their seventh studio album, saw the band step out of the shadows of relative obscurity to gain critical acclaim in the national music press. For me this was a complete game changer. I’d never heard anything quite like it; the combination of Jason Williamson’s razor-sharp, expletive-ridden vocals and Andrew Fearn’s minimalist punk-style basslines and unprocessed beats. Unfiltered and uncompromising. Observational lyrics, often confrontational and frequently laugh-out-loud funny. The fact that Williamson was a fellow Grantham boy sealed it. At last someone from my hometown had made their mark on the alternative music. Soon I was hooked, checking out all of their earlier releases and going to see them live and buying all of their subsequent releases.
It’s hard to pick out favourites from the album. If pushed, I’d probably go for the gritty urban bass rumble and guitar twang of 'Tied Up in Nottz' with THAT chorus and a plethora of obscure references ranging from 'Viz' character Norbert Colon right through to Nobby’s nuts. And the rhythmic shuffle of album closer 'Tweet, Tweet, Tweet' with its swipe at a nation of social media zombies. In truth there’s so many memorable lines on the album’s fourteen tracks; “What happened to Richard? All I can see is gear”, “I can't believe the rich still exist, let alone run the fuckin' country”, “We are real. We are looking 20p in the 10p mix”, “Turn this wannabe inner-city angst shit off. You're in the presence of toiletry.” Genius!