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This year I’m changing the top 10 albums approach. Usually it turns into this tormented process in which I weigh many complicated and mysterious factors to select and order the nominees. Something like {(personal preference + indie coolness + critical credibility) / commercial sell out index} – predictability rating = ranking score. This year I have thrown all Pitchforkian considerations to the wind and gone with the gut! Partly with this funny & succinct blog post on top tens in mind.

To put it nice and simple, only the albums that moved me the most in 2010 have made the cut. A few have moved me literally, urging me onto the dance floor, some have warmed the cockles of my heart with their melodious deliciousness, others brought a delicate tear to the corner of my eye. One thing is for sure, they have all had many many repeat spins on my ipod.

10. Caribou – Swim

I would not consider myself well versed in the world of electronica, but this terrific album obviously reached even a lay person as myself due to its cleverly crafted crossover appeal. It deserves mention for the two standout singles Odessa and Sun alone, but there is much more to discover. The hypnotic trip that is Bowls for in stance, and the poppy track Hannibal with its old school Phoenix vibe. For me though, Sun has got to be one of the best songs of 2010, in addition to winning the award for most minimalistic lyrics.

9. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

The incredible amount of raving press this album has received in the last three weeks almost made me want to ignore it, but what a waste that would have been! Kanye is back. He lost me after College Dropout and Late Registration, but he sure put those hamster cheeks to good use on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.  So much has been written already, but for me its brilliance is in the diversity, accessible yet innovative beats and production and last but definitely not least: a cast of amazing guest vocalists. Kanye knows he’ll never be Jay-Z, but he can get him to drop some lines and lift a track to a higher level.

8. Foals – Total Life Forever

It’s great to see Foals are still upping their game. Total Life Forever may be a bit less frantic and dancy, but it has made way for a more diverse style, more room for experiment and more catchy mid tempo tunes. In a way it’s a diesel train of an album. You might be lured in by the jumpy drum driven lead single This Orient and then be won over by the raw emotion of Blue Blood or the slow burning repetitive mantras of Spanish Sahara. I am still discovering new corners and side alleys on this album.

7. Hot Chip – One Life Stand

Hot Chip doesn’t dilly dally or beat around the bush. They know what it’s all about: love, synth nerds need it as much as anyone. And so on One Life Stand they set out to pay tribute to the subject in all its guises, and they have the perfect beats and grooves to do the job. You cannot help but smile when Alexis Taylor sings “I’ve known for a long time, you are my love life” in Hand Me Down Your Love, or “We have love, give it up give it up, there is nothing else to be proud of” (We Have Love). And besides smile you must dance. Hot Chip insists.

6. De Jeugd van Tegenwoordig – De Lachende Derde

Yes, in the brokenbranches top ten it is entirely possible that a Dutch hiphop release ranks higher than Kanye’s megalomanic ‘record of the decade’, and for good reason. DJVT have taken their characteristic combination of incredibly sharp and witty lyrics, making up a whole new vocabulary along the way, with Bas Bron’s supreme beatsmanship to another level on De Lachende Derde, their third release. There’s the silliness you would expect in songs like the winning single Sterrenstof and Get Spanish (don’t be fooled though, silly but shrewd as hell). But the youth is growing up too, as can be heard in Zo Volwassen, Zo Beleefd and tear jerker Huilend Naar De Club. Most exciting of all there are some proper dance floor stompers like Sexy Beesten and Elektrotechnique I can’t wait to hear in the club.

5. Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record

I’ve had a thing for BSS for quite some time now, but somehow they have always remained a bit elusive to me, just out of reach. Perhaps not so strange considering the band is constantly shape shifting. But I’ve really been able to sink my teeth into Forgiveness Rock Record and now I get it. It’s official, they have made it into the ‘favourite bands’ category you’d list on an online profile page. I like everything about this album, the way some songs gently meander (Sweetest Kill, Highway Slippery Jam), others amp up the drama (anthem in the making World Sick and the majestic instrumental Meet Me In The Basement) and how it brings together magical guest contributions like Amy Millan, Feist and personal favourite Emily Haines on Sentimental X’s.

4. Beach House – Teen Dream

Zebra, what a song to open an album with. The mysterious name alone will make you curious, then you’re welcomed with a friendly guitar tune, soothing aaaahhhhhs and Victoria Legrand huskily asking you “Don’t I know you better than the rest?”. It makes you wish it was true. I’m at a loss to pick songs to highlight on Teen Dream, there is such a bounty to choose from. From the woeful wailing of Silver Soul to the light and airy beauty of Norway, the melancholy piano driven Used To Be and Take Care‘s heart breaking lyric “I’ll take care of you, if you ask me to”.

3. Local Natives – Gorilla Manor

Now it’s getting serious, top three time. Let’s just get those two words out of the way first: Fleet Foxes. Yes, Local Natives have had a good listen to their west coast peers, but in my opinion they have masterfully blended americana and folk influences with a hearty dollop of indie and pop sensitivity and have come up trumps with this extremely accomplished debut album. There is a remarkable number of quality hook-laden singalongs like Wide Eyes, World News, Shape Shifter and Talking Heads cover Warning Sign. And let’s not forget the moving single Airplanes, about a son who misses his mother. Go see them live too, such a nice and talented bunch!

PS Just found out this album was already released in november of 2009! Oh well, I only discovered it this year, allow me one cheat…

2. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

Well, no surprise for any brokenbranches regulars, this one was bound to end up in my top 3. A stroll through blogville and twittland have taught me it is apparently uncool to list this album for your top ten as it is too predictable a pick and ‘not that good’. Well, I beg to differ! This is the album Arcade Fire have been aiming for over the last years, the soundtrack of a generation. It is the perfect culmination of years of pent up suburban boredom, having to grow up, longing for days gone by and fear of what is to come, clinging to those you want close to you in the face of approaching ugliness. The Suburbs is therefore the perfect opening song and album title, moving straight into the excitement of Ready To Start. Other album highlights include the haunting Rococo, a real showcase of Win’s growing confidence and ability as a frontman, We Used To Wait and Deep Blue. It might take you longer to let The Suburbs into your heart than Funeral or Neon Bible, but it’s a keeper.

1. Robyn – Body Talk Pt. 1

The number one slot is even a bit of a surprise to me, but so deserved. I have played Robyn’s first Body Talk release to death! For anyone who hasn’t noticed yet: the days that Robyn was a mainstream poppy R&B chart girl are long gone. Her 2005 self titled release saw a definite turn in her career and the Body Talk trilogy has sealed the deal: make way for Robyn the electropop hiphop dancehall queen. I could have gone for the final of the three releases which combines most of Body Talk Part 1 & 2, but I think the first one stands out on its own.
Dancing on My Own is easily one of the best songs of the year, and the super-disco-sexy Röyksopp co-production The Girl And The Robot will stick in your head for days. Part 1 has the acoustic version of Hang With Me, which holds it’s own and turns into Part 2’s standout track in the electronic version. Dance Hall Queen and None Of Dem show off Robyn’s sassy side, and I was able to witness in Paradiso she has all the necessary moves to back it up. Robyn has really come into her own. Her music is sincere, from the heart and from the gut, and she has a perfectly tuned ear for what makes a good song amazing. To see her on stage is a delight, a confident, gorgeous and talented woman doing what she does best.

If you’re on Spotify, check out these albums in my best of 2010 playlist.

Lima area

When you wake up on day three there is always a slight feeling of panic. Surely this cannot be what my face looks like? Why am I not able to stand up straight any more? Where did I leave my voice? Three nights with at most 4 hours sleep, lying on a wafer thin ‘self inflatable’ mattress really take their toll. But there’s still so much to see, no rest for the wicked.

SUNDAY 22-8

I decided to start my day off with a touch of hippy and headed straight for Yeasayer. I didn’t really know what to expect live as some of their songs are better suited to a state of mantra meditation, but I was pleasantly surprised. Their set was really diverse with more hits than I realised and the band sounded great, with both singers pitch perfect.  Even though their music can be a bit complicated for such a big stage there were plenty of anchors to hang on to: Sunrise, Ambling Alp, ONE and 2080. A wonderfully melodic and smooth start to the day.

Yeasayer live at Lowlands 2010 (photo Nick Helderman via 3VOOR12)

Even though The National is not necessarily my cup of tea I decided it would be worthwhile to have a peek and indeed it was. I was treated to a beautiful rendition of Bloodbuzz Ohio and heard a well oiled band playing intense songs with understated emotion, but it still didn’t grab me. A friend of mine said that if I love Radiohead I should love The National as well, but I’m going to have to let him down.

And now for something completely different: Die Antwoord, completely off kilter rap techno hip hop Zef  beat threesome from Cape Town. I had high expectations for this act, bringing something completely new to the festival lineup. It turned out to be a very entertaining show with special mention for the tiny and talented Yo-Landi Vi$$er, but it didn’t blow me away. The beats were there, the X-rated lyrics were all over the place (Jou ma se poes in a fishpaste jar!), the hits were there (Enter The Ninja, Beat Boy, Wat Pomp), but somehow it didn’t reach the next level. A lot of the material was still rough around the edges and friend & fellow Zef man Jack Parow did a much better job of connecting with the audience. And where was Parow during the hilarious closer Doos Dronk?

Die Antwoord at Lowlands 2010 (photo Jelmer de Haas via 3VOOR12)

On to Manchester new rave alumni Delphic, who delivered exactly what you would expect: a whirlwind show of synthesizers, beats, strobe lights and aspirational lyrics (Give me something I can believe in), brought with a lot of energy and conviction. The crowd enjoyed it and so did I, but somewhere in the ‘rave’ part of their music I lose interest. Maybe it’s the Manchester thing, never really got any of the bands with that sound, bands like Foals speak to me a lot more.

On the other side of the dance spectrum we find the straight laced but seductive London synth sound of Hot Chip. I’ve seen them a few times now and enjoy them more each time, they understand perfectly how to build a festival set and have the crowd jumping around in no time. With a hit packed catalogue of material to choose from it’s almost too easy: Over And Over, One Life Stand, Ready For The Floor, One Pure Thought, Hold On... Shame that Joe Goddard wasn’t with the band this time, although they used video images to produce his essential warm vocals.

Hot Chip

After the steaming Hot Chip crowd flowed out of the sauna of the Bravo tent I wandered over to the India stage for a spot of Two Door Cinema Club and was amazed to see a huge crowd stretching far beyond the tent joyfully dancing and singing along to every song. How did that happen? Did Something Good Can Happen get so much airplay that everyone bought the album? The Northern Irish boys are still a bit shaky in parts but are playing with loads of gusto and the crowd is clearly loving it. It’s cheerful and cleverly made pop music at it’s best, perfect little festival band but I’m curious to see if they have anything else up their sleeve.

At this stage of the day, hitting 9 PM and the festival slowly coming to an end, I find myself calculating the chance I will be able to make it through the next gig standing up. And so I decide to enjoy Massive Attack from the sidelines with some much needed refreshment. Not a decision I would usually make, as this is the kind of band you need to experience from within the dark brooding belly of the beast, way up front in the tent, where Martina Topley Bird’s bewitching vocals surround you. Sadly I was surrounded by kids in their late teens – early twenties who hadn’t the slightest idea what Massive attack have contributed to music.

Fool's Gold

Then comes the crucial moment: deciding which act will be your last one of the festival. Go the obvious route and head for Queens of the Stone Age at main stage Alpha? No, seen them before and not enough of a fan to brave the masses. Go out with the festive gypsy sounds of Shantel? No, not in the mood for Balkan beats. We happily ended up at the intimate Lima open air stage where Fool’s Gold gave the perfect end of festival performance. The musicians seemed to be having the time of their lives, the music was appropriately sunny and upbeat with a lot world music influences (African, Israeli and hometown Brooklyn to boot). I enjoyed it immensely and so did everyone else considering we were all still singing the last song for ten minutes after the band left the stage. They even came back for an extra bow and to take pictures of these crazy Dutch people who didn’t know when to stop.

Our little gang ended the night with the completely mental party cooked up by legendary Dutch DJ Kees van Hondt with his special brew of insane German and tiroler folk beats (where does he find this stuff??) and all the partygoers bringing attributes to the tent (mainly broken branches, inflatable animals and any unsecured piece of festival furniture). Then back to the camp sight to spend roughly three hours dreaming of what a wonderful edition 2010 was. Let’s do it all again next year.

Lowlands at night

[1] day but more videos til Lowlands!

Today is a bit different. With only 1 opportunity left to post a video I was unable to choose. So I’ve decided to post all my remaining recommended artists I haven’t had the opportunity to showcase yet.

Frightened Rabbit – gorgeously melodic indiepop, good enough to forgive the occasional cheesy lyric

Hot Chip – irresistible nerdiness, and when played live incredibly danceable too

LCD Soundsystem – I expect mayhem, anthems and fierce moshing!

Marina and the Diamonds – She’s talented and quirky and wants to make sure you know

Miike Snow – skillfully crafted indie dance pop by Swedish hit doctors, leaves you wanting more

The Low Anthem – such delicate tunes and tales of woe, will they survive a festival?

The National – Slow to win me over, but I’m crumbling for the moody majesty

The Opposites – Cream of the Dutch hip hop crop, funny and skills to boot.
Also a fitting last clip as it is actually about looking forward to Lowlands!!  “Lowlands zin in, zin in Lowlands”

Saturday night Hot Chip played in Paradiso headlining the fourth night of the Five Days Off festival. I’ll keep my review short, because in all honesty I was too busy jumping around the place to pay serious editorial attention to detail.

What I can say is that it was short and sweet: they came saw and conquered Amsterdam in under 90 minutes. They seemed to have some technical glitches at the beginning (can’t be easy fine-tuning 7 synthesizers) and as for stage presence they’re definitely not in the top 10 most charismatic acts out there. But when you manage to get people all the way to the back of the room shaking their behinds, I would say “who cares?”.

They played a good mix of old & new, thankfully leaving out most of the more mellow songs from their latest release One Life Stand. From that album I really enjoyed We Have Love and I Feel Better, but Ready For The Floor, Hold On and of course One Pure Thought from Made In The Dark also got a great reception. The ultimate Hot Chip classic Over And Over caused a minor earthquake, and even included a crowdsurfer.

‘Tis a strange phenomenon, this Hot Chip. A peculiar combination of understated vocals, at times rather soppy lyrics and then these thumping beats that are so incredibly well made and seductive. I suppose it’s exactly this paradox that makes them quite special. Amsterdam loved it and judging by the band’s twitter so did they: “The crowd is always so nice there!”

I’ve been keeping an eye on video footage of my personal Lowlands favourites popping up on the net over the last few days. Here’s a selection, but be sure to check out 3voor12’s Lowlands page for more footage and obviously anything tagged “lowands 2008” on youtube.

Hot Chip – Ready For The Floor (audiostream)

Blood Red Shoes – Doesn’t Matter Much/ interview segment/ I Wish I Was Someone Better (video)

Does It Offend You, Yeah? – We Are Rockstars (short clip to show the mayhem)

Santogold – L.E.S. Artistes (video)
Clik here for an audiostream of the full concert 

Roisin Murphy – Overpowered (video)

Franz Ferdinand – Come On Home (video)
And another short clip to demonstrate the insanity during This Fire

Los Campesinos! – Death To Los Campesinos! & Knee Deep At ATP (3voor12 session at Lowlands)

Laura Marling – Blackberry Stone, Ghosts That Broke My Heart, Cross Your Fingers, Rambling Man (3voor12 sessie at Lowlands)

Sadly I couldn’t find any footage of Get Well Soon or anything halfway decent on other favourites Does It Offend You, Yeah?, Lykke Li and Black Kids.

And here’s some of the stuff I wish I could have seen (sadly no good clips of The Roots and Late Of The Pier):

Underworld – Born Slippy (looks/ sounds amazing! hang on for the massive balloons at around 4:25)
(check the higher quality tv-registration here, but the ones filmed by visitors better capture the atmosphere I think)

N*E*R*D – Rockstar

Elbow – One Day like This

The Hives – Tick Tick Boom

We Are Scientists – The Great Escape

Editors – Smokers Outside Hospital Doors

And Finally, The Ting Tings – That’s Not My Name (because it was sort of our annoying yet amusing festival anthem, thanks to friend MB…)

My favourite way to start the day is by chilling out in the very relaxing hippy-inspired Lima area of Lowlands. There’s plenty of room to lounge around in the sun (yes there was sun!), drink some herbal tea or eat a fair trade sandwich and watch some of the more weird & wonderful street theatre. Another big bonus is the Lima tent, which tends to host mainly singer songwriter types: a perfect mellow appetiser to your musical day. On Friday it was Tom Baxter who kicked off the day. I only caught a few songs (Better being the standout one), but they were nice and easy on the ears, all be it not very memorable.

Next we headed to the tent of tents: the Alpha, to reconnect with our pubescent during The Presidents of the USA set. As was to be expected, the crowd responded well to their old favourites (Lump, Kitty and of course Peaches), but wasn’t to interested in the new material.

We then popped in to the Grolsch, which was surprisingly full for The National. Although I like their music, the lead singer’s vocals always turn me off, I find his singing voice a bit monotone and uninviting. I still found this to be true as I stood watching them play, but the intense sound the band produced as a whole definitely gripped me much more than the albums and made me stay for the full set.

Hot Chip

Next up my Friday highlight: Hot Chip! These guys delivered a concert packed with extremely danceable goodies which sounded thicker and less polished than on cd and had the whole Bravo jumping. Do it do it do it do it do it do it do it now!! Shame about the very unnecessary Sinéad O’Connor cover at the end though.

After Hot Chip we could here The Ting Tings finishing up their show with the unavoidable That’s Not My Name in the India. Judging from the crowd’s singing which could be heard far outside the tent, it was obviously very well received.

A short break to refuel was all we had before heading to Santogold, which we decided to check out in stead of the main event over in Alpha: The Kooks. I’m happy we did because Santogold’s rock-dancehall-raggamuffin-mix was just what the doctor ordered to get the energy levels up again. There wasn’t much of a difference between her performance and the tracks as they appear on the album, but I’m not complaining with great songs like L.E.S. Artistes, Creator and You’ll Find A Way. What’s more, the show was great fun to watch thanks to her two back up singers, who busted the coolest synchronised dance moves ever. The crowd was instantly trying to copy them.

From dancing back up singers to dance diva extraordinaire: Róisín Murphy. She was her usual sultry self, changing in and out of stylish getups every few songs and twisting the audience around her little finger. The element of surprise is gone for those who have seen mrs. Murphy live before, but she still has amazing stage presence and carries out her songs perfectly, although the live versions go on a bit too long for my taste.

Roisin Murphy

Roisin Murphy

Gloriously exhausted and from all of the day’s impressions and the extreme heat in the Bravo tent during Róisín’s performance, we decided to call it a night.

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