All entries for Wednesday 16 December 2009

December 16, 2009

Albums Of The Year 2009 – #11–25

I do love end of year music lists, especially the ones arrogant enough to declare their contents the “Best” albums of the year. It’s wonderfully arrogant enough coming from magazines, to see it on blogs is just hilariously self-inflated, and I recognise I am guilty of this myself. I didn’t even do one of these lists last year so convinced was I that it was a purely futile use of my time.

But this year I have decided I will play the game, because people I know, mates who want to share music, share tips, and flat out mock me for my seemingly endless ability to listen to music which sounds like “a thousand Sega Megadrives dying simultaneously” (that’ll be Kap Bambino you’re thinking of, Ben), I will do it, I will make a list of my favourite albums of the year. That’s right, favourite.

My second favourite album of the year is a good example of what I mean – it is derivative, relatively lightweight, doesn’t push the boundaries of music, and makes no grand statement. However it is also the most fun and outright good-mood inspiring CD I have acquired in a long time and it’s mere existence makes me happy, so it outranks in my affections the more serious, weighty and innovative stuff on the list, with one exception.

Anyway, too much waffle. Here’s 11-25, cos no one wants all 25 in one go.

11. Passion Pit – Passion Pit

In midst of this 80s revival we are enduring it’s odd that the most 80s band of all hasn’t really been tarred with that brush. Perhaps looking like hairy indie kids of the sort which was endemic this decade, rather than painted New Romantic peacocks (emphasis on cocks) has rescued Passion Pit. But the truth is there – they use synthesisers to create pop songs. They want to write pop hits. They are the Pet Shop Boys but hairy and American and not as camp. And verily, Passion Pit did create an album of excellent pop. Synths squiggle with a life of their own, and they have more variety of sound than most of the 80s revivalists because they are tied only to their desire for melody, not authenticity. One of those albums where every song could be a single, and that’s high praise.
Best bit The lurching chorus to ‘Eyes As Candles’.

12 Franz Ferdinand – Tonight: Franz Ferdinand

Three albums in and Franz are still making virtually no effort to possess any depth or soul. However they do possess tunes, and now some old synthesisers too. They’ve done well to apparently find synths that adhere to their austere, post punk previous, and like the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs album, the synths slot in rather than feel like a zeitgeist chasing failure. That and Alex Kapranos is still a king when it comes to writing choruses you can sing along to without having heard before. Not the radical departure they talked of, but better than the second album, and possibly not far off the first.
Best bit ‘Lucid Dreams’ which has a nicely sinister chorus, and that squelchy extended outro.

13 Au Revoir Simone – Still Night, Still Light

More synthesisers? Did I even hear a guitar this year? Well yes, but not from Au Revoir Simone, who made the prettiest synth music of the year. Really pretty. They also threw in some lovely girly harmonies, and a wonderfully wistful atmosphere which envelopes the listener like something fluffy with a mechanical, metronomic heart. Unassuming but all the better for it.
Best bit The staccato vocals of the chorus to ‘All Or Nothing’.

14 Cymbals Eat Guitars – Where There Are Mountains

If you’re going to cross breed two bands, Arcade Fire and Los Campesinos! sound like a good place to start. Wailing vocals and wall of sound guitars, minus the kitchen sink instrumentation, coalesces into a gleeful riot. In a year when it felt like everything listenable was loaded with synths, here was proof that guitar bands that can still be exciting, tuneful and charming at the same time.
Best bet The ambition, whilst still remaining accessible.

15 Peaches – I Feel Cream

When it felt like every female in the charts was surfing there on an electro pop wave, it was a bit of a surprise that the best example of the genre was Peaches. Yes, her of the smutty, clattering electro rap, Merril Nisker decided to out do the crowd with an album of well produced, big bangers. With smutty lyrics. Some truly filthy basslines were on offer too, in an album that managed a consistency which was lacking in more high profile girls-with-synths releases. Plus the video to ‘I Don’t Want To Lose You’ is hilarious.
Best bit The title track’s middle eight dropping back into the chorus. The lady can actually sing!

16 Miike Snow – Miike Snow

Studio bods with pop hits to their name (‘Toxic’ primarily) decided to indulge themselves on an album which acts as the downbeat side of what Passion Pit were doing. The best adjective to use is chiming, every instrument on this album appears to chime, from the pianos on ‘Silvia’ to the percussion on ‘Black And Blue’. A more restrained sort of indie-electro, there was almost something folky in its introspection.
Best bit The vocodered (Autotuned?) vocals on ‘Silvia’ which managed to use the most irritating musical trend of the year to genuinely emotional effect.

17 The Cribs – Ignore The Ignorant

Wherein The Cribs recruit Johnny Marr and make an album which sounds like The Cribs featuring Johnny Marr. The surprise is that it suits them, it suits the Jarman brothers to have someone else to jangle with, and it sets up their most mature album, with all the connotations that means. The riffs are expansive, if a little less urgent than before, but overall the slight polish it infers suits them.
Best bit Can’t argue with Match Of The Day on this one, got to be the riff from ‘We Share The Same Skies’. Marr, of course, although it’s Ryan Jarman’s suit in the verse.

18 Little Boots – Hands

There’s something not quite right at the heart of this album. On the one hand there are a good half a dozen truly excellent synth pop tracks, including two (‘Stuck On Repeat’ and ‘Remedy’) which are amongst the very very best of the year. But it just doesn’t seem to sustain itself over the course of the whole album, running out of steam slowly but surely. Whilst it does have momentum it’s a vindication of the hype, with some nice lyrical turns contained within the shiny exterior.
Best bit The lyrics to ‘Mathematics’ which manage to reference Pythagorous and algebra in a singalong manner without sounding stupid.

19 Memory Tapes – Seek Magic

Whispy, whooshy, sinister and chilled. The music (synths again) is richly textured, half buried vocals sound like flowing water, and there’s a general air of being trapped in some sort of futuristic rainforest, although without the diabolical New Age-y connotations that might bring to mind. One for blocking out the world and getting lost in.
Best bit The spooky, half buried vocals.

20 The Phantom Band – Checkmate Savage

Seemingly a bunch of Scottish folk musicians who have stumbled across electronic drones and a widescreen worldview to enticing effect. Singer Rick Anthony has one of the most enchanting voices of the year, all broad Scottish brogue and rumbling authority, telling stories from rainswept streets and shores. Not that it’s as wanky and pretentious as I am making this sound, trust me, it packs a punch to head and heart.
Best bit Rick Anthony’s voice, as mentioned.

21 Muse – The Resistance

Oh dear. It starts promisingly, it ends ambitiously, but jeez, what’s with the saggy middle? The Queen ripoffs, shapeless dirges and, perhaps worst of all, ‘Guiding Light’ in which they rip off themselves (‘Invincible’) in such a way as to sound worse than their younger selves. Still, there’s enough good songs, whether they ripoff Goldfrapp and the Dr Who theme (‘Uprising’) or r’n’b (‘Undisclosed Desires’) or classical music (the ‘Exogenesis’ symphony) to make it enjoyable. Definitely not a band who should be allowed to self produce their albums.
Best bit Making slap bass almost bearable with ‘Undisclosed Desires’ – truly a feat in itself.

22 La Roux – La Roux

A classic case of overkill, the massive overexposure the singles garnered meant for most of this year the thought of even listening to this album was just too much to bear. As it turns out this was unfair, the album tracks show a little bit more depth than the singles, especially the overlooked ‘Tigerlily’. There’s a lot people won’t like, it’s the most 80s of the 80s revival, and Ellie Jackson’s voice is an acquired taste, but dammit, I did find myself really enjoying it.
Best bit ‘Tigerlily’, even with the cheesy ‘Thriller’-style voiceover.

23 Brand New – Daisy

Not as expansive as The Devil And God… but still not back to the poppy punk of earlier times, Daisy is a nicely dark rock record with the typically perverse tracklisting which throws samples of old time warblers, depressing slowies to kick things off, and screaming explosions of rage when least expected. Cranky but great.
Best bit The always explosively shocking way the first track bursts in over the sample.

24 Empire Of The Sun – Walking On A Dream

Another one which runs out of steam, but Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore’s marriage of twinkly indie and dressing up as twats is enchanting in parts. Personally I really like Steele’s voice and it works well with the music as it loops through a wide variety of odd noises and fairly nonsensical lyrics.
Best bit The artwork – not to do the music down, but it really does have to be seen in all its widescreen madness.

25 Howling Bells – Radio Wars

No massive shakes, merely a continuing evolution of their dark and moody first album’s themes into tracks which are dark and moody and little bit more intricate and accomplished. At times dense, others sparse, and always feeling like it should be soundtrack a murder in a western, this is an underrated gem.
Best bit Juanita Stein’s voice.

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