(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)
Artist: Bedouin Soundclash Album Title: Light the horizon Year released: 2010 Details: Gatefold sleeve, orange translucent vinyl
The skinny: Just over a week ago, I started counting down my favourite albums from 2010, perhaps one of my favourite post-Y2K* years for music, especially in terms of Canadian indie rock. Bedouin Soundclash’s fourth album, “Light the horizon” appeared at the number nine spot on said list and while writing about it for that post, I got the urge to pull the record down off the shelf and give it a spin or three. It’s easily my favourite by the ska/reggae outfit that formed back in 2001 while its members were attending Queen’s university in Kingston, Ontario. They had had a huge radio hit with “When the night feels my song” in 2004 but I really think they found some special magic when they put together the ten solid tracks that made up this album six years later. I managed to procure this original pressing to orange translucent vinyl from Amazon, back before I became disillusioned with their lax attitudes with shipping records, and am grateful that I did. It looks and sounds great on my turntable.
So it feels like just yesterday that I wrapped up one of these series counting down my favourite albums of a select year, long past. In reality, it was only about a month ago but that one that I did for the year 2000 took almost two years to complete! Given this, you might think I would be reticent to start up another of these series, at least not right away, but not so. It’s almost like it feels like there’s something missing without one of these Best Albums series on the go.
This time around I am jumping ahead a decade to revisit 2010, a year that was actually quite amazing musically. I counted down my thirty favourite tunes of the year on these pages just over five years ago and I already did a similar countdown of my favourite albums for the year on my old music blog a bunch of years before that. Thus, it’s familiar territory we’re treading here (but not too familiar), many of the albums that will grace this list have a place in my vinyl collection, and those that aren’t there already are definitely on my wish list.
If you’ve followed me through one of these series before, you’ll recognize today’s post as the tease, introducing the five albums that round out the latter part of my top ten. From here, I used to out my five favourite albums for the year on a weekly basis and then, I tried stretching that to a bi-weekly basis. For this series, I make no promises but I am aiming to wrap this up in three to four months so maybe we’ll see a post every two to three weeks?
But before we go further, I’d like do a bit of a spoiler and a bit of indulgence and share a handful of albums (in no particular order) that didn’t quite make the list but are still worth your while:
Steve Mason “Boys outside” – the solo debut by the ex-Beta Band frontman is all kinds of psychedelic groove
Delphic “Acolyte” – another debut, this one the first of only two albums from the enigmatic, alternative dance group from Manchester
The Like “Release me” – the all-female quartet led by Z Berg went from alt rock to retro girl group, beach blanket bingo on their sophomore record
Frightened Rabbit “The winter of mixed drinks” – with their third record, the Scottish indie rock sextet continued a string of amazing albums that didn’t end until frontman Scott Hutchison’s death in 2018
Beach House “Teen dream” – the Baltimore-based dream pop duo found their footing with their third record and never looked back
With those out of the way, let’s delve into my top ten for reals. And of course, as we do, I’d love to hear your thoughts, both on my picks and what your own would be, if you had to rank your top ten albums for 2010, in the comments section provided with each post.
#10 Diamond Rings “Special affections”
John O’Regan made two records under the moniker Diamond Rings back in the early part of the previous decade. I remember seeing the album cover of the first of these, “Special affections”, for the first time and thinking that the image portrayed by Diamond Rings on it was an amalgam of Morrissey, David Bowie, and David Gahan of Depeche Mode. It’s no surprise, then, that there’s a definite 80s edge to the record. Its ten tracks ran the gamut, creating an expansive play school for O’Regan’s inner frontman to let loose in and laid down a solid base for his astonishing voice. The most obvious comparison point for his vocal work might’ve been Ian Curtis with his deep hued baritone timbre but there was more swagger here, invoking the glam of, say, Jarvis Cocker, Brett Anderson, and yes, David Bowie. For me, “Special affections” was a blast of pure oxygen the first time I listened to it, energizing my every fibre. Oh… and it sounded great on the dance floor.
Kingston, Ontario-based Bedouin Soundclash’s fourth record, “Light the horizon”, was easily my favourite of the ska/reggae band’s albums. It is a solid ten tracks that leave it all on the floor, as opposed to the previous two albums that had as many forgettable moments as they did memorable ones. From the opening number, “Mountain top”, you can hear a subtle difference in their sound. I had always tended to attribute it to the addition of the incredibly talented Sekou Lumumba on drums here but perhaps it is more than that. There really is plenty of exuberance to go around, in not just with the drumbeats but also in Eon Sinclair’s bass lines, which you can feel dancing up and down your spine. Frontman Jay Malinowski, too, riffs along as if newly inspired and his pseudo edgy vocals keeping things real.
There was very little dispute that LCD Soundsystem’s third album, “This is happening”, belonged on the multiple end of year lists that it appeared on for 2010, given its pretty much universal acclaim and the belief at the time that it would be James Murphy’s final album under that moniker. Of course, hindsight being 20/20, we now know that the group reunited a few years after that “final” 2011 show at Madison Square Garden, released a studio album and another live album and continue to tour these days, but we won’t hold that against “This is happening”. The dance punk album is only nine tracks long but it clocks in at well over an hour, every song save for one is longer than five minutes. It’s like Murphy enjoyed playing with these songs so much that he couldn’t let go of them or perhaps decided that the remixes were much more fun than the original recordings. I, for one, trust his judgement on this point. The songs on “This is happening” end exactly when they should, like perfect guests at the wildest of house parties, they never overstay their welcome.
The Drums’ self-titled, debut album and their last as a proper four-piece was like an extended ode to all music that is considered retro. If I were to reduce my thoughts on “The Drums” to three words, they would have to be “energy”, “energy”, and “energy”. Each song is bursting with (and pardon the oxymoron here) fresh sounding retro vitality. Channelling and blending the sounds of their influences in the post-punk of the eighties and the free and easy pop of the sixties, The Drums take peppy doowop rhythms, speed them up to double time and blast it all with synthesizer melodies that climb and slide down all kinds of staccato scales. I’ve heard them compared to The Smiths, Joy Division, and The Cure and I’d have to say: “yes, yes, and yes”. So if you’re a fan of these bands, as I am, the chances are good that you might enjoy more than a couple of the twelve tracks on the album.
The fifth album by the supergroup/indie rock collective based out of Vancouver, British Columbia is complex and simple, quiet and bombastic, raw and fey, earthy and alien. And I’m not purposely being contradictory here. A lot of people have bemoaned the fact that The New Pornographers have gotten away from the punchy edge that coursed through their first two or three records but that has never bothered me. Even though I also enjoy their early work, right up until this year’s release, “Challengers” and “Together” were my two favourite New Porno albums. It is here that their sound has grown, either Newman had given in a bit to Bejar’s bizarre ideas or he himself had lost some of his marbles. The band has never sounded typical but on “Together” they felt like they were exploring the periphery of their own boundaries and the results are slightly darker (if that’s possible) and more cohesive but not. I know. Contradictory.
(We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming today with a special guest post from our good friend Andrew Rodriguez, who was perhaps inspired to write some words by the recent news of Terry Hall’s death. We will return to our end of the year Best Albums countdown on the morrow. Enjoy.)
I met Todd Burnham in 1986. He was an “Old Boy” from the Boarding School I attended for a few years. In fact he was partially responsible for me being sent there in the first place, our fathers were friends, and Mr B had told my father about how ‘impressed’ he was with the school. What impressed me about Burnham most however, was his style. He was a Rude Boy. And he dressed like nothing I had ever seen. 2 Tone Dr Marten brogues, rolled up jeans, Fred Perry, Stingy Brim and a jacket covered in patches. “What is Ska?” I asked. “It’s early reggae – it’s faster tempo”. I cooly memorised all the names of the bands displayed on his jacket and made a note to seek out what albums I could, when I got to go home. The largest of the patches had a checkerboard theme and said simply ‘THE SPECIALS’.
About a year later I bought my first Specials album, with my allowance. It was called More Specials – their second album, though I didn’t know that at the time. From the first needle drop, I was very much hooked. A danceable mixture of styles and themes, characterised by a sort of (my term) pragmatic moodiness.
They formed around 1977 in Coventry England, from a band called the Coventry Automatics. They were key figures in the “2 Tone movement”, also called “second wave ska”, which was based around the 2 Tone record label (created by Jerry Dammers – their Organist). There were several other notable bands on that label but I won’t discuss them here. If you choose to look further into the Specials (you should), do not be confused by the names. Early on they went by the name “Special AKA”, and variations thereof. That name was also used by the second incarnation of the band, so it can get a bit confusing! With various lineup changes they’ve been an active touring and recording band since reforming after their first real breakup in 1984.
For the purposes of this short entry (no-one is allowed to go over word limits here – we are professionals goddammit!) I’ll skip the details of the band, that is what Wikipedia is for (be sure to donate too they are begging for money). I’m also going to stick to their (best) earliest era, lineup, and albums.
OK! They were just such a striking band. Their dress style was heavily influenced by the early 60s mod scene. Their first album was produced by Elvis Costello, and had a punk feel to it, something you really get in their live recordings. By the second album they slowed the tempo down a bit and the sound was fuller and more produced. More Specials also included outside personnel, including the Sax player from Madness and the singer from the Bodysnatchers – both labelmates on 2 Tone. Their lyrics were substantial, addressing daily life, with some political and social commentary elements thrown in for good measure. They looked cool and sounded even cooler. In keeping with the restrictions placed on me spirit of this blog, I’m now going to introduce you to 5 of my favourite Specials tunes. I hope you enjoy this as much as I do!
“Concrete jungle” (from The Specials, 1979)
Remember I mentioned the punkiness of some of their early stuff? First up is a live version of Concrete Jungle, from their self-titled debut LP. It’s not a cover of the Bob Marley song. The grainy footage is taken from a film called Dance Craze which was a sort of promo for 2 Tone, it and the associated live album are quite good, and feature most of the bands on the label. Both are on Youtube.
“It’s up to you” (from The Specials, 1979)
Now, this is direct from the first album – The Specials. I picked this because it showcases a bit more of their ska/reggae influences. The entire album is worth a spin, it’s hard to select just a few.
“Rat race” (from More Specials, 1980)
Next up we have Coventry’s finest looking very Scholarly, in the video for a tune from their second album (and the one I bought first) More Specials. Rat Race (again not a Bob Marley cover!). Note the slightly moodier tone. Note also, singer Terry Hall and the band don’t look nearly as dated as the 1980 kids in the ‘classroom’ – some looks just don’t go out of style.
“I can’t stand it”(from More Specials, 1980)
Hey – I coined the term “pragmatic moodiness” – so I certainly as EFF can determine this song to be the epitome of it! From More Specials, and a personal favourite, I Can’t Stand It. verbally jousting with Terry Hall is Rhoda Dakar – the singer from the Bodysnatchers.
“Ghost town” (from Ghost town, 1981)
NOW. The final selection, this is from the Ghost Town Ep. It was a single and it went to number 1 in 1981. Shortly thereafter Terry, Neville, and Lynval left the group to form Fun Boy Three. Ghost Town was a 3 song Ep and it is phenomenal. It is more reggae than ska. Since I really can’t make my mind up – you really should check out all three songs, each is very different. Friday Night and Saturday Morning is probably my favourite Specials song of all. But I won’t play it here because I’ve already done a moody song. Why? is also fantastic. But I will take the lazy route and just select the single itself. I drove around town a lot listening to this during the lockdown(s). You might see why it was stuck in my head.
Well that’s a wrap. Thank you for reading. Sadly, the day that I wrote this, I learned (from John) that Terry Hall died. The details are sparse, which generally leads some to speculation. There is no speculation to be found in these pages; merely respect, and appreciation for a fantastic singer and entertainer. Thank you Mr. Hall. You will be missed. On a more positive note I would like to wish the readership a Merry Christmas, and Happy music listening New Year!
A few more stats on The Specials
Years active: 1977–1981, 1982-1984, 1993, 1996–2001, 2008–present
Original band members:
Terry Hall – lead vocals (1977–81, 2008–22)
Lynval Golding – rhythm and lead guitar, vocals (1977–81, 1993, 1994–1998, 2008–present)
Horace Panter – bass guitar (1977–81, 1982, 1993, 1994–1998, 2000-2001, 2008–present)
Jerry Dammers – keyboards, principal songwriter, vocals (1977–81)
Roddy Radiation – lead guitar, vocals (1978–81, 1993, 1996–2001, 2008–14)
Neville Staple – toasting, vocals, percussion (1978–81, 1993, 1996–2001, 2008–12)
John Bradbury – drums (1979–84, 2008–15)
Dick Cuthell – flugelhorn, trumpet (1979–84)
Rico Rodriguez – trombone (1979–81, 1982)
Discography (studio LPs only):
The Specials (1979)
More Specials (1980)
Today’s Specials (1996)
Guilty ’til Proved Innocent! (1998)
Skinhead Girl (2000)
Conquering Ruler (2001)
Protest Songs 1924-2012 (2021)
For other top five lists in this series, click here.