It's the end of the year again, so following my efforts in 2008 and 2009, here's my look back at the year in music as I've heard it.

Before I do however, I need to highlight the end of an era. I never listened to John Peel on the radio but his influence continues to range wide and far. Whereas many may say that he was the reason they got a break or simply fell for music in a big way, for me the two people who filled that role were Tommy Vance and Mary Anne Hobbs. Tommy sadly passed away several years ago, but Mary Anne has continued to fill my ears with new and challenging music since the mid-nineties. Sadly she decided to leave her radio show after some fourteen years at Radio 1 in November, albeit with a bang. She will be sorely missed by all (except those lucky enough to be doing radio courses at Sheffield Uni at the moment.) Thank you Mary Anne. You'd definitely be one of my dinner guests.

Back to now.

Whereas last year's sources of new music were dubstepforum, boomkat and various electronica sites, this year I relied almost entirely on Spotify and the various blog sites highlighting new additions to the service to guide my listening. Spotify's 'What's New' service began the year as a weekly spreadsheet listing the latest additions but this quickly stopped as Spotify themselves changed the way they monitored imports. The Spotify UI itself is too rigid to allow anyone to see anything but the first 100 or so tracks recently added but various sites like Pansentient and Spotinews have managed to put a filter on the firehose that is the 'what's new' search results returned by the Spotify API itself. Sadly there's no genre information though so there's a lot of luck in what you notice has come out.

In any case, what follows are my track and album highlights of this year. All of these are streamable on spotify. The track playlist is here.

  1. Meet Me On The Outside - Melissa Auf Der Maur
    Out Of Our Minds is only Melissa's second record since leaving the Smashing Pumpkins some ten years ago and as a concept record based around viking myths and such like, it's surprisingly delightful, pitched nicely between rock and (yes) pop. Meet Me On The Outside starts almost timidly before the chorus warms it up and energizes it out of the viking snow. A track to go out to.
  2. Come Undone - Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan
    A lushly orchestrated smoulder of a song - romantic and yet not whimsical, a melancholic remnant of a MGM musical never filmed.
  3. Tempting Time - Animals As Leaders
    I love extended range guitars - those with seven or more strings. Typically it's jazz and classical players that really make use of those extra strings while rock and metal players use them purely for lower power chords. Not Tosin Abasi from Animals As Leaders though as Tempting Time demonstrates. Drums and two eight string guitars playing a heavier jazz/metal fusion with more style than I've heard in quite some time.
  4. Safe in the Steep Cliffs - Emancipator
    A happy recommendation from a friend at work. Emancipator's second release is download / stream only and this title track is a lazy sunny day with daisies floating through the air as you lay on the riverbank hearing the water flow past.
  5. The Calm – Dave Weiner
    Steve Vai's rhythm guitarist and Riff of the Week maestro released his second album this year. At 76 minutes with ten tracks, it's an ambitious slab of progressive instrumental music. The Calm is its brief prelude, less story telling and more mood setting, as the name would suggest.
  6. Hangar 18 (Live) – Megadeth
    The seminal Rust In Peace is 20 years old but like the Big Four thrash bands themselves (Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth and Slayer) it hasn't aged at all, still as urgent and vital as it was when first released. To celebrate, Megadeth played RIP in its entirety on the anniversary and recorded it for posterity.
  7. 8 Ball - Seasick Steve
    Far and away the most fun three minutes of music appearing in 2010, 8 Ball should be regarded as mandatory listening to all and sundry. Joyous hobo blues.
  8. Golden Room – Joe Satriani
    Joe’s latest is a far sight better than Satchafunkilus collection of a couple of years ago. His Chickenfoot collaboration in the meantime seems to have given him a lot of joy in his music and it’s reflected in pretty much the entire of his latest Black Swans and Wormhole Wizards album. This has got a set of great riffs and a cool Indian vibe.
  9. City Building - Johann Johannson
    Move over James Horner. Your soundtrack to Inception is an immense record but Johannson's 'And In The Endless Pause There Came The Sound Of Bees' tells almost the same aural story twice as well in half the time. City Building even makes sense in terms of Inception too.
  10. Devil's Spoke – Laura Marling
    With a voice that belies her age (only 20) and rivals Lanegan's for timbre, the entire of her album, I'll Speak When I Can, is a lesson in traditional folk with modern values. Standout track Devil's Spoke is an upbeat whirl-y-gig with a more serious calling.
  11. The Siren's Sound – Collapse Under The Empire
    This is a builder, starting from a simple heart beat, adding layers into a near maelstrom until the storm blows itself out, some nine minutes later. A splendid piece of post rock magic.

Albums

Teimo, Permafrost, Nunatak 3 disc reissues – Thomas Koner
The era of the digital download has put pay to the concept of an album as a single piece. Thanks to Amazon, iTunes and the like, we punters can buy individual tracks and lose entirely the glory of the full work. That's why Pink Floyd haven't released their albums legally to the web. There isn't a single standout track on any of the three albums in this reissue. Instead we have three complementary polar soundscapes, cold, barren and elegant in their minimalism. A challenging listen but ultimately worth it for the small tingles on the back of the neck they produce. (On Spotify)

Hawk - Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan
If he were British, I'd be petitioning for Mark Lanegan's voice as a national treasure. The well worn bass-baritone of the Screaming Trees singer reverberates deliciously wherever he sings - and fortunately he's a frequent guest voice on other people's albums when not bringing out solo material. Hawk is the third collaboration with the ethereal, fragile soprano of Belle & Sebastian's Isobel Campbell (the first that acknowledges Campbell as the writer of all the original material) and while the first two were OK, Hawk really refines the balance between the two to a tee. To whit, it has received a lot of radio coverage since release and justifiably so. Save track 1, the songs are lush, friendly and warm like a summer Sunday matinee. (On Spotify)