So, 2009 is just about over and we’ve managed to give our topsy-turvy, high-speed decade a suitably bizarre final 12 months. In terms of music, the mainstream media’s MGMT-fuelled obsession with synths continued while someone clever thought that all the solo females should be judged as a single entity to save time, thus shackling Florence and Marina with the disappointing pop of Little Boots and whatever the hell La Roux is supposed to be doing amidst all the pouting. The industry itself seems no closer to figuring out how it wants to evolve as everything becomes “littlized and speedified”. The iPhone has crept ever further towards ubiquity while Spotify has made a decent attempt to point the way to the future we all knew was coming. But as we near the end of the year, record companies are still trying to sue, block and imprison those that break their archaic and self-serving laws. What will 2010 bring? More lawsuits, good music and bad music – same as this year. Here’s my favouritest 20 albums of the past year:
TOP 20 ALBUMS of 2009:
1. Florence + The Machine – Lungs
Quite simply, its like nothing else I’ve heard this year, or ever. You can compare her to Kate Bush if you like, but I can also compare myself to John Lennon if I like. This is an album of absolute top quality that has appealed to all ages and demographics due to the strength of the songs and that astounding voice. Without doubt, an album that will be revisited in years to come and viewed as a classic.
MP3: Florence + The Machine – Dog Days Are Over
2. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca
I wouldn’t rank this album so highly purely based on the unique and experimental sounds contained within, impressive though it is. Experimentation is one thing, but when you can marry that with songs that are medicinally catchy and feature some of the finest vocal melodies and harmonies you’re likely to hear this side of Motown, you’ve got a pretty great album.
3. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest
This album seemed like it was coming forever and I spent a considerable amount of time in ’08 listening to “Two Weeks” and “While You Wait For The Others”. These two are still up there as favourites on an album where almost every single moment contains some sort of wondrous sound. There’s plenty of people out there doing what they do now, but nobody does it like them.
4. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavillion
Apparently this leaked on Christmas Day last year. I wouldn’t know because, like a sane person, I was having a competition with my family to see who could eat the entire food pyramid first. For those that were online scouring the Hype Machine though, this was a wonderful present. The gushing went on into the new year and has barely faltered since. It’s warranted though, it’s a terrifying leap forward for a band that are already a dot on the horizon.
5. Passion Pit – Manners
After “Sleepyhead” came along late last year to stake a claim to Song of 2008, expectations were high for a debut album full of similarly schizophrenic delights. That’s not exactly what we got, but the 10 tracks of joyous synth-pop that accompanied it on Manners made it the soundtrack to the happier times of ’09 with songs like “Moth’s Wings” and “Little Secret” sounding like a Lucozade overdose.
6. YACHT – See Mystery Lights
YACHT is not a cult apparently. I hadn’t thought they were until they warned me they’re not. But they are “a band, belief system & business”. You do get a strong sense of the beliefs that drive their music, how it’s written, sung and played. This stuff is all about honesty, self-belief, love and good times. If I’m ever bothered to defect from the Catholic Church, I’d probably join their non-cult instead.
MP3: YACHT – Psychic City
7. Fanfarlo – Reservoir
I can’t decide if “Fire Escape” is the standout track here or not. It had been bouncing around my iTunes since last year and it has a different sound to the rest of the album which relies more on piano-led ballads and rousing choruses than the relentless swirl of possibility contained in “Fire Escape”. This albums feels like something from the ’90s, such is the consistent quality and consideration of the album as a whole piece of work. Fact: these loon-balls sold this for $1 a few months back.
MP3: Fanfarlo – Luna
8. tUnE-YaRdS – bIrD-BrAiNs
Yeah, tUnE-YaRdS. Spell it right, or don’t. I doubt she’ll mind. Similar to other albums on the list, I had the track “FIYA” floating around for ages and it occasionally blew me away with it’s bizarre structure and roughly sampled sounds. It’s like all the quirkiness of old-skool Joanna Newsom or Regina Spektor given a menacing twist and a DIY loop-station makeover.
MP3: tUnE-YaRdS – HATARI
9. The Juan Maclean – The Future Will Come
Generally, when an album comes out from DFA Records, you know you’re likely to be dancing soon afterwards. The Juan Maclean’s album was no different, mixing up sultry grooves and relentless funk with the kind of beats you’d be accustomed to from the DFA stable. It’s full of the kind of music that quietlely turns a gathering into a party without anybody noticing. A bit of an underappreciated album too.
10. Yo La Tengo – Popular Songs
Yo La Tengo have been making music since the first dinosaur sneezed and fell over. Blah blah blah… They’re still fucking great and yet another brilliant album proves that they’ve run out of neither balls nor ideas. It’s mostly trademark Yo La Tengo, but after this long and this many classic albums, I’m not going to question their approach when they’re turning out albums like this. If only other bands had the creative stamina that these guys do.
11. St. Vincent – Actor
I loved her first album, Marry Me, a few years back but it never took off. I’m not sure if this one has either though it’s certainly won her a bit more critical acclaim. She remains a little unknown even in the nerdiest of circles. The poor attendance in the crap, muddy IMRO tent at Oxegen is understandable, but the apathetic chattering while supporting Grizzly Bear in Vicar Street proved that most have yet to catch on to this wonderful album.
MP3: St. Vincent – The Strangers
12. Fever Ray – Fever Ray
When this came out first, I confused it with an American indie band called Azure Ray who have a song called “Fever“. Until I heard it of course. That would have been a major change of direction! No, the logical conclusion was that yer wan from The Knife had ditched the band-mates to make scary costumes and even scarier videos to accompany her eerie solo tracks. It’s quality stuff, but not one for the bed-wetters.
13. Dan Deacon – Bromst
Dan Deacon got a little annoyed because everybody was reporting that this album would be “darker” than the previous one. A casual comment about his new music apparently grew legs. There’s a massive change in his style here though, it’s far more ambitious and more considered without losing his hell-for-leather approach or deflating his insane live show.
MP3: Dan Deacon – Paddling Ghost
14. Bibio – Ambivalence Avenue
No, I wasn’t familiar with his previous work before this, but when I tried out this album full of rare, crackly grooves I was hooked immediately. It’s a wonderful mix of folk, home-recordings of chatter and electro groove samples. It’s additive and it should have been the soundtrack to what should have been summer. It still sounds great now though and the aforementioned crackly goodness makes me wish I had it on vinyl. Santa?
15. Matt and Kim – Grand
This album’s only problem is diversity. There’s either too much or not enough diversity, I can’t decide. They’ve got a style, that’s for sure. A sort of dancier, more reckless and abrasive version of Mates of State. When it works, as on “Daylight” and “Good Ol’ Fashion Nightmare”, it’s brilliant. But when they stray a little, it grates too much and the songs aren’t strong enough to pull it through. I think that’s the problem though, they only stray a little. Their diversity isn’t diverse enough.
MP3: Matt and Kim – Daylight
16. Bat For Lashes – Two Suns
Bat For Lashes’ (am I obliged to mention that her real name is Natasha Khan?) second album is another steady, but impressive, step forward from her debut. She’s got a confidence about her, like a genuine artist, in the way she makes her own music the way she wants. It’s all got her unmistakable style to it and it’s infectious in a kind of eerily sneaky way. If “Daniel” is considered something of a pop single, I’m impressed by the high standards of pop music these days.
17. Girls – Album
Girls won me over through simplicity. I couldn’t keep track of other acts like Theoretical Girl, Paranthetical Girls, Girls Doing Embroidery and Dum Dum Girls, so San Francisco’s Girls suited me just fine. Combine this with the most simplistic album title since Led Zeppelin refused to get out of bed and it was an easy road to success. It’s the kind of album that cozies up next to you and wants to be your friend. There’s an honesty and directness reminiscent of Frightened Rabbit that makes this slightly depressing album entirely uplifting. It’s about accepting the bad shit and trying your best not to just trudge on.
18. Clues – Clues
Answering the question nobody asked – What happens if you cross yer man that used to be in The Unicorns with the drummer Arcade Fire used to have? – was Clues, the debut album from… Clues. This album is sharp as a recently sharpened tack and full of the kind of memorable riffs and slow-building crescendos that Montréal kids seem to have on their Corn Flakes. It’s nowhere near perfect, but a hefty batch of brilliant songs make it worth a few careful listens.
19. Fuck Buttons – Tarot Sport
It took me a while to get through the noise barrier on Street Horrrsing and really get into the hidden melodic brilliance, but once I did, I was all over it like an mother offended by the band’s name, screaming “Won’t someone please think of the children?!?”. By the time they released their follow-up this year, I was well in the mood for more of the same, but they’ve gone above and beyond. Producer Andrew Weatherall has been credited with much of the shift towards electronics and synths in their gigantic sound, but it’s the added maturity in the songwriting that makes this album superior.
20. The Low Anthem – Oh My God, Charlie Darwin
I don’t remember where I first came across the song “Charlie Darwin” but it stuck in my head for quite a while. Next I heard, the band were touring the US with Lisa Hannigan. Fair enough, I thought. Then I got the album and found that they dabble equally in bar room blues as they do in lush, soothing acoustic charms. As an album, it’s kinda all over the place, but I think that’s how they are and how they need to operate. Hand-printed sleeves are beautiful too.
MP3: The Low Anthem – Charlie Darwin