Ok, this is LAST year’s list posted properly in preparation for my 2010 list which will ultimately replace the page currently dedicated to this stream of consciousness babble.
I’ve looked back on some of the cliché-ridden writing and cringed a little, but I think this serves as a record of my first half-hearted attempt at blogging – I hope I’ve come on leaps and bounds since then!
Compilation of the year…
Various Artists – Dark Was the Night
All multi-artist compilations have a few dogs amongst their tracklisting and this is no exception. It’s particularly disappointing that heavy hitters like Arcade Fire and Cat Power aren’t pulling their weight with the latter offering a dreary version of ‘Amazing Grace’. That said, within these 31 tracks, there’s a near perfect 20 track album trying to get out. Particular highlights come from Yeasayer, Bon Iver and the magnificent sprawling epic ‘You Are the Blood’ by Sufjan Stevens. It’s all for charity too. So why haven’t you bought your copy yet?
Spotify: You Are the Blood by Sufjan Stevens
25. Flaming Lips – Embryonic
Wayne Coyne originally pitched this as a set of semi-improvised psychedelic freak-out jams rather than a collection of songs – and he’s not wrong. It’s a really challenging listen, a million miles away from ‘Race for the Prize’ or ‘Yoshimi…’. Persisting with it will reap rewards, however, particularly in the second half when they let their guard down, allowing such things as conventional song structures and discernible melodies into the mix. Also features Karen O on random animal noises…
Spotify – Silver Trembling Hands
24. Wye Oak – The Knot
December 1 was the first time I heard this and I was immediately taken with it. It put me in mind of 2007’s great lost album The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse – slow burning riffs, delicate vocals… I must confess I know next to nothing about them but I want to hear more. I’m quite sure this would have been much higher in the list if I’d had more chances to listen to it.
Spotify: Take It In
23. Malcolm Middleton – Waxing Gibbous
Scotland’s favourite miserable ginger is back with his fifth album in six years and, if you believe the reports being bandied about, his last for some time. For all the bleakness of his lyrics, there’s always been a playful sense of humour about his material, and much of what’s here feels increasingly upbeat. If there’s a complaint to be made, it’s simply that with most of songs touching five minutes, some do outstay their welcome. But that’s that a minor gripe, and here’s hoping he’s back to make us think about topping ourselves in an amusing way soon.
Spotify – Kiss at the Station
22. The Twilight Sad – Forget the Night Ahead
While it doesn’t quite live up to the promise of their stunning debut, running out of steam a little towards the end, this is still a really good sophomore album. They’ve reigned in the tinnitus-inducing noise a little but the effects pedals still get quite a work-out. A brooding, piano-led ‘The Room’, however, is the stand-out track here.
Spotify – The Room
21. Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes – Up From Below
Take one struggling LA troubadour, add a pseudonym and assorted random musicians. Mix well. Pour in some sun-soaked Californian folk, topped up with the Beach Boys, Arthur Lee and Big Star. Add a dash of eastern mysticism and Mariachi brass. Serve up with a whiff of religious cult on the side. Enjoy.
Spotify – Desert Song
20. The Low Anthem – Oh My God, Charlie Darwin
This Rhode Island three-piece seem to have come from absolutely nowhere to land a nomination for the Uncut Award. They’ve been compared to Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver, and while fans of both will appreciate what’s going on here, The Low Anthem are less about the swirling funereal folk of those artists and more about driving country blues with more than a hint of backwoods menace.
Spotify – The Horizon is a Beltway
19. Brand New – Daisy
Not quite the promised complete change of direction, but this does at least move one of America’s best rock bands further and further away from their alleged (truthfully non-existent) emo roots. One or two weak moments but enough crunchy riffs, shouting and reflective moments to keep it well above average.
Spotify: You Stole
18. Dananananaykroyd – Hey Everyone
If by looking at the name you’re thinking slightly silly throwaway pop shenanigans you’d only have half the story. They’re a bunch of slightly unhinged Glaswegians, who while dressing in bright t-shirts and daft hats also possess riffs that Black Flag and Minor Threat would have been proud of. Play loud.
Spotify: Some Dresses
17. Noah and the Whale – The First Days of Spring
Need a bit more heartbreak in your life? Thought the last Elbow album was a bit ‘meh’? Well this is the album for you. The whole album documents singer Charlie Fink’s break-up with folky songstress Laura Marling and while it’s a bit gruelling in places, it’s never anything less than compelling, and thankfully a million miles away from ‘Five Years Time’. Incidentally Ms Marling is now going out with one of Mumford and Sons, so expect a tear-soaked emotional epic from them in 2010.
Spotify – Blue Skies
16. The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love
I found ‘The Crane Wife’ a bit too much like hard work in 2006 so when I read tales of a 17 track concept album, brimful of sea shanties and sonic exploration, I sighed and chucked this near the bottom of my ‘to buy’ list. Thankfully it found it’s way to me in the end and while all the above is true, ‘they’ forgot to mention the superb songs, thunderous riffing and driving percussion. Also Colin Meloy’s least annoying set of vocals in years.
Spotify: The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid
This year I haven’t even bothered with a few things that a few years back would have been high on my ‘to buy’ list. Undoubtedly a reflection on how my music tastes have changed, and dare I say, improved…
I didn’t even bother with…
Editors – Loved the first album. Follow-up put me to sleep. Couldn’t be arsed with this.
Idlewild – A band in terminal decline since 2002. Unsure why they’re still bothering.
La Roux – Catchy singles. Stupid hair.
Dot Allison – Two good albums at the start of the decade but the last one was a bit of a yawnfest. Reviews for this weren’t promising and she’s hanging round with that dirty junkie Doherty.
The Big Pink – Overhyped and overexposed. They’ve already sold their biggest song for a TV ad. Nein danke.
*****WARNING, WARNING ANTI-X FACTOR RANT IMMINENT*****
Any kind of music that you watch on telly on a Saturday night and vote for – Anyone who knows me will undoubtedly be aware that I wouldn’t piss on Simon Cowell if he was on fire – in fact I’ll probably have been the one to strike the match in the first place. But please, can we all just stop watching his formulaic, lowest common denominator, exploitative garbage and maybe show an interest in some musicians/singers with ACTUAL talent and charisma??? All we’re doing is LINING THE CUNT’S POCKETS!!!! Even by watching the show we’re justifying the existance of this wank. Are there really 19 million windaelickers in the UK??? Aaaaaargh!!!!
Anyway, where was I…
15. Mumford and Sons – Sigh No More
I was a bit sceptical about this bunch when I started to read their press, but here they are. This album has more banjos than a wedding on Benbecula and is a folky joy from start to finish.
Spotify: Little Lion Man
14. The Horrors – Primary Colours
Yes, that’s right, THE HORRORS. The same talentless Shoreditch chancers who released an utterly dreadful debut album a few years back. This is a brilliant about turn though, and with Geoff Barrow (Portishead) behind the mixing desk, they’ve completely reinvented themselves and produced a glacial, claustrophobic drone of an album influenced by My Bloody Valentine, Suicide and Can.
Spotify – New Ice Age
13. Silversun Pickups – Swoon
Yes, yes, so they sound a bit like the Smashing Pumpkins, so what. This is an accomplished, mature set of songs that builds on the blueprint of 2006’s ‘Carnavas’. It’s not a massive leap in sound – fragile vocals and grungy riffs are still very much the forefront of their sound, but it’s not like that was a bad thing in the first place.
Spotify – There’s No Secrets This Year
12. The Phantom Band – Checkmate Savage
One of the best bands to come out of Scotland in the last few years, and given how packed a field that it is, that’s a brave statement. This is a schizophrenic blend of folky melodies, twitchy electronica and tuneful indie rock that demands repeated listening.
Spotify – Folk Song Oblivion OR Left Hand Wave – I just couldn’t decide!
11. My Latest Novel – Deaths and Entrances
It seems like their last ages since their last album ‘Wolves’ and while the lengthy gap has done little to help record sales, it does seem to have helped develop their sound. Accusations of a Caledonian Arcade Fire were always a little unfair, but here they sound a little like Death Cab for Cutie before they went mainstream, but always with a Scottish accent to the fore.
Spotify – The Greatest Shakedown
And to quickly return to the themes covered earlier (assuming you’re still reading and that I haven’t offended everyone)… I’ve been disappointed in the following:
I’ve been disappointed in…
Green Day – “I’ve got this great idea, guys! Let’s make a critically acclaimed and hugely successful political album, flog it like a dead horse then wait almost five years before releasing… exactly the same album!!! Brilliant!!!”
Muse – Ok, we get it. YOU LIKE QUEEN! Now can you please extract your heads from up your own arseholes and get back to the killer riffs please!
Maps – I had high hopes for James Chapman’s second album after really enjoying We Can Create. But it was exceptionally dull. NEXT!!!!
Animal Collective – Don’t get me wrong I do like Merriweather Post Pavilion – but album of the year (according to Uncut, The Skinny and others)? Don’t think so. Don’t believe the hype.
Speech Debelle – Yet another undeserving Mercury winner. If this is the best of UK hip hop in 2009 then I’m quite happy to stick to my indie strummers, thanks.
I also wish I had more time to listen to…
Christ, where to start? Having acquired so many albums this year I haven’t been able to do many of them justice. Honourable mentions to Pelican, Monsters of Folk, Rain Machine, Wild Beasts, Yo La Tengo, the Mountain Goats, Richard Hawley, Russian Circles and lots more who all sound great but time was against me in giving them any more than a cursory listen.
Ah, now where was I…
10. Modest Mouse – No-one’s First and You’re Next
There aren’t many bands out their who could cobble together eight cast-offs from album sessions a few years ago and turn it into one of the year’s best records but Modest Mouse are clearly one of them. This is the perfect introduction to a great band combining the trippy, unhinged Mouse-sound of old with their recently discovered pop nous, with Isaac Brock’s hissed vocals bringing the whole thing together into a surprisingly coherent record.
Spotify – The Whale Song
9. The Joy Formidable – A Balloon Called Moaning
At eight tracks and barely half an hour long this is hardly an album at all, but what’s here is a joyous blend of pop hooks and thrashy, distorted guitars.
Spotify: The Last Drop
8. Manic Street Preachers – Journal for Plague Lovers
‘Send Away the Tigers’ was better than anything they’d done in years but still didn’t quite hit the heights of their pre-1996 work. This most certainly does. I won’t dwell on the fact that they’ve dug out Richey’s old lyrics or that this is a perceived sequel to the Holy Bible (a label that I don’t really think fits). Their political sensibilities never really left them despite peddling radio-friendly indie for a decade but now they’ve finally translated them into an seriously aggressive album, both lyrically and musically. While it’s not a sequel to the Holy Bible, it’s certainly the best thing they’ve done since then.
Spotify – She Bathed Herself in a Bath of Bleach.
7. And You Will Know Us By the Trail of the Dead – The Century of Self
They lost their way badly on 2007’s ‘So Divided’, so it’s great to see them back to their best with some serious thrash-rock going on here. There’s a strong whiff of prog rock about some of the arrangements but that wouldn’t stop the likes of ‘Isis Unveiled’ provoking some serious moshing.
Spotify – Isis Unveiled
6. Sonic Youth – The Eternal
Ok, so Sonic Youth don’t exactly do bad albums, but where exactly did this come from?? The Eternal is by far their most satisfying album since ’92 combining ear splitting feedback and melody to great effect.
So who’s just missed out?
- HEALTH – Your Mum would have called this ‘just noise’. And she’d be right. But what glorious, glorious noise.
- Flight of the Conchords - Straight-faced Kiwi folktronica. Definitely no humour here.
- Bill Callahan – Uplifting melancholia. Lovely.
- St Vincent – Not quite as good as Annie Clark’s debut but a fine record nonetheless.
- Clues – Whackjob Canadian indie makes a successful return.
- Thee Oh Sees – Rattly, lo-fi LA Punk. Great stuff.
- Biffy Clyro – No wait, come back, they’re better than you think!
- PJ Harvey & John Parish – PJ back to her best. Nasty, tuneful and vulnerable all at the same time.
- The Gothenburg Address – Great record, but inclusion would have been shameless nepotism!
So here’s the final countdown:
5. Mew – No More Stories Are Told Today, I’m Sorry They Washed Away, No More Stories the… aw fuck it!!!!
Ridiculously pretentious album titles aside, the four year gap seems to have done everybody’s favourite Danish angel-voiced indie proggers (No? Just mine?) the world of good as they’re back with probably their best album yet. ‘Repeaterbeater’ is the poppiest thing they’ve done, but the rest of the album builds nicely on the epic nature of previous work. If there was any justice they would be huge.
Spotify – Introducing Palace Players
4. The xx – xx
I’m always a little suspicious of hoodie-clad London teenagers making music, never less than when they’re in NME’s Radar section. Such prejudices were swept aside the first time I heard this magnificently understated record. They look like they should be peddling sub-Libertines waffle but instead have crafted a beautiful album full of lilting boy/girl vocals, sparse instrumentation and genuine sense of foreboding about the whole thing.
Spotify – Crystalised
3. Bat for Lashes – Two Suns
Natasha Khan is without question the best female singer/songwriter in Britain. Sorry Flossy fans, but Ms Welch pales in comparison to the second Bat for Lashes album which matches its outstanding predecessor right up to the last song for sheer twinkling quality.
Spotify – Siren Song
2. Fever Ray – Fever Ray
If you’ve heard of The Knife you’ll know who Karin Dreijer Andersson is and what her voice sounds like – and you’ll obviously love it. If you haven’t, then it’s only a matter of time. This is 10 tracks of her sweetly sinister Scandinavian tones cooing over dark, minimalist electronica that makes the Knife look like Fatboy Slim. A wonderful album.
Spotify – When I Grow Up
1. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest
This is a simply beautiful album – melodic, haunting and layered in swathes of guitar noise, They’ve only really come to my attention in the last year but I fell in love with this album after a single spin and can’t see that I’ll ever get bored with it.
Spotify – While You Wait for the Others