Thursday, December 23, 2010

Top 10 albums of 2010

4 Phosphorescent – Here's To Taking It Easy
The Mermaid Parade is like a maritime version of Mardi Gras. Held on Coney Island every year on the Saturday nearest the beginning of Summer it is, according to the ever reliable Wikipedia, 'well-known for extraordinary marine costumes, and for the occasional partial nudity.' I had never heard of it until I read an article about Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson being the parade's King and Queen this year. It sounds like a blast.

About a week later I was listening to the iPod on shuffle and up popped a song which I didn't recognise, but it which was very definitely about the same event: 'Oh, but I didn't make it to the airport today / I wound up walking out by the ocean today / there were naked women dancing in the Mermaid Parade.' It was a beautifully yearning, melancholy waltz through the singer's calamitous love-life, which manages to  create a whole history from a few beguilingly sketched incidents. Straight away I was intrigued. The track was by a band called Phosphorescent, which it turned out was really just a front for solo artist Matthew Houck. I also discovered that I had another track off the album – the tongue-in-cheek (I presume) It's Hard to Be Humble (When You're From Alabama), which I had listened to a couple of times and decided that I didn't like.

And that was almost that. Although I love The Mermaid Parade I presumed that it was a one-off and had pretty much decided that it wasn't worth investigating the rest of the album. How wrong can you be? It turns out that It's Hard to Be Humble (When You're From Alabama) is the exception and the rest of the album is as spectacularly good as The Mermaid Parade.

Houck's voice is instantly recognisable, bruised, world-weary and able to convey a depth of emotion with the slightest intonation. The album title is apt, because the music is mostly easy-going, deep-south rock'n'roll. There are jaunty numbers like Heaven, Sitting Down and I Don't Care if There is Cursing and darker, country and gospel tinged tracks like Los Angeles and Hej, Me I'm Light but all of the songs have a timeless, effortless grace.

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