x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Observing life: Soundtrack to world's end

Oliver Good: May we are all doomed but at least this has been a great year for music to see us out.

The end of the world is surely upon us. Anyone who hasn't noticed the signs must have their eyes closed. If the Icelandic volcano belching ash all over Europe wasn't a big enough clue, then Britain's Liberal Democrat party finally taking up positions in government should confirm that the very fabric of existence is breaking down. But while it seems certain that none of us is going to survive another year, it's worth celebrating one thing about 2010: it's already been a great year for new music.

In almost any mainstream genre you choose, this year has offered more brilliant albums than hours in the day to listen to them. And it's a welcome change from last year. Rock and indie bands suffered in 2009, when synth revival groups tried to make guitars irrelevant again. Just as they failed in the early 1980s, they seem to have failed again. Already this year we have seen career-topping albums from the brooding rock band The National (High Violet), the preppie afro-poppers Vampire Weekend (Contra) and the agit-rockers Foals (Total Life Forever). The world of folk is also riding high on genre-redefining albums by Joanna Newsom (Have One on Me) and Laura Marling (I Speak Because I Can).

The pop act Gorillaz' latest longplayer, Plastic Beach, is not only the finest of their career, but (with a huge selection of guest musicians) sets a new precedent for what collaborative recording can achieve. Even R&B seems to be presenting us with new releases focused on much more than revisiting former glories, such as Kelis' Flesh Tone, or to a lesser extent Usher's Raymond vs Raymond. But if one genre has really dominated the first five months of 2010, it's electronica. On almost a weekly basis, laptop musicians and other sonic adventurers have been outdoing each other with albums more daring and mind-expanding than the last. It began with glitchy nighttime records from the Brits Autechre and Four Tet, then the tempo rose thanks to efforts by the North American artists Caribou and Flying Lotus, only to reach a crescendo this month, thanks to LCD Soundsystem and a group from Toronto with an unrepeatable name (their album is called Latin).

The only major genre that's failed to be uplifted in 2010 so far seems to be hip-hop. Even Lil Wayne's rock-orientated Rebirth was deeply uninspiring. There have been a couple of stinkers in the other genres too - not least MGMT's long-awaited follow-up (and contender for this year's most boring album), Congratulations. It's also worth noting that none of the above albums is a debut. Rather than being a great year for new artists, 2010 is shaping up to be remembered as a year when established musicians built on existing successes. Having said that, it's possible that a little-known act are about to release a debut that will wipe the slate clean and make everything else look rather inconsequential, (a coup that The Strokes' Is This It pulled off in 2001). But while the earth continues to spin off its axis - let's enjoy the end of the world with a killer soundtrack.