Top 15 Albums of 2009 (5 – 1)

5.

Islands – Vapours

Key Tracks – Disarming The Car Bomb, Vapours, Switched On, Heartbeat

A mastery of obscure story-telling (buying drugs from suspicious characters and trying to defuse explosives form two of the tracks), which complements the light and generally unobtrusive pop that backs it. Rewards extra listens as each subliminal riff is unwrapped, Nick Thorburn fuses the advantages of electronica, pop and indie guitars to maximum effect for the most part, though the material lapses into repetition later on, causing the end of the album to drag despite the lean tracks.

~

4.

Fanfarlo – Reservoir

Key Tracks – The Walls Are Coming Down, I’m A Pilot, Fire Escape, Harold T. Wilkins

Fanfarlo came out of nowhere for me. In terms of sublimely passionate debut folk albums at least I was given a heads-up about Mumford & Sons. The vocals sound as if Fanfarlo are calling their audience to a peaceful rally, a sit around the campfire to celebrate company and peaceful natural times. Not as consistent throughout the album as might be hoped for, but in terms of debut quality this does as well as Fleet Foxes.

~

3.

Various Artists – Dark Was The Night

Key Tracks – Deep Blue Sea (Grizzly Bear), Sleepless (The Decemberists), Lua (Conor Oberst and Gillian Welch), So Far Around The Bend (The National)

You could just read the cast-list on the back of the album in awe, or you could get down to the nitty-gritty of listening to this 31 track epic. A spectacular ride through the current North American indie rock/folk scene, hopefully forming a stepping stone of popularity between the 00s and 10s for the genre. The acts involved are so good that 50:50 ratio of success to failure would still make it pretty incredible, and that’s about what you get. Disc 1 is more consistent than Disc 2, and also contains many of the highlights, but Disc 2 should certainly not be overlooked.

~

2.

Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More

Key Tracks – Thistle & Weeds, Little Lion Man, The Cave, Timshel

The emotion that oozes from Marcus Mumford’s voice is what carries this album. That’s not to say a bad word against the clever folk guitars, banjo and all, or the lyrics, which weave tales of loss and love, striving to describle the indescribable. But somehow the focus is not on the instruments or the words, because the power or fragility (the movement between the two is unexpected in its subtlety) that really takes this album past its competitors in the field of seasonal moods and post-Fleet Foxes yearning. The “swelling rage” of White Blank Page and Little Lion Man is dealt with as beautifully as the quieter tracks.

~

1.

Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest

Key Tracks – Southern Point, While You Wait For The Others, Two Weeks, Foreground

OK, yes, I did originally underestimate this as an album too concerned with building overarching moods to care about the hooks and the surprises. There are parts of the album where this holds true, where the connections between the instruments are perfect but lack a certain immediacy. But with more listens I’ve realised something, if the weak tracks on an album are merely unengagingly perfect, then it is difficult to truly complain about the album. Veckatimest both offers an artful mood (on the likes of Dory and All We Ask), and produces individually spectacular songs (Southern Point, Two Weeks). Knowing that the band specialize in tone can sometimes take away from the riffs themselves, and if on first listen you miss out on just how special the guitarwork on While You Wait For The Others is, you need to give it more time. Like a good game of Pass the Parcel, with each turn more is unwrapped, with each increasing layer offering more surprises. A truly special album and DEFINITELY BETTER THAN MERRIWEATHER POST PAVILION!

Top 15 Albums of 2009 (10 – 6)

10.

Rain Machine – Rain Machine

Key Tracks – Give Blood, Hold You Holy, Free Ride

There’s a beautiful lead-back feeling throughout most of Kyp Malone’s first solo effort. The swirl of simple clean guitar and African-inspired percussion gets repetitive near the end of the album, as the pace starts to dip, but the individual tracks are skilfully built up. Though the length of songs such as “Desperate Bitch” give the album a slow-burning feel, so it is imperative to keep attention focused on Malone’s soulful tones and sly lyrics to ensure the album never gets tedious.

~

9.

Kasabian – West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum

Key Tracks – Underdog, Vlad The Impaler, Fast Fuse

There is a particularly strong mood running through Kasabian’s third album. A swagger that is much more difficult to achieve than it may first seem. The album is largely consistent, and Kasabian are happy to mix up their styles and drop musical red herrings (see the opening to “Fast Fuse”) before getting down to the business of delivering track after fist-pumping track that drips passion and confidence.  Dumb and brash, yes, but infectious too.

~

8.

Bat For Lashes – Two Suns

Key Tracks – Daniel, Moon And Moon, Siren Song

There has been a lot of attention given to “Daniel”, I’ve noticed, and deservedly so. But doing so at the expense of the rest of the album would be doing it a disservice. There is much to enjoy, as Natasha Khan’s stunning vocals shape around dark, moody electronica. The overriding solar theme represents isolation and desire to connect in much the same way as classics such as “Space Oddity”. A consistent, often surprising album.

~

7.

Jarvis Cocker – Further Complications

Key Tracks – Angela, Further Complications, I Never Said I Was Deep

So, maybe the Pulp hiatus will be going on a bit longer than we imagined. The insanely cool Jarvis Cocker has produced a second solo effort than improves upon the last in nearly every aspect, and is as clever and vitriolic as any Pulp record. Cocker vocally leaps around standard Britrock guitar, mixing up shouts of anguish with grumpily delivered non-sequiters. Your enjoyment of this album will depend on whether you consider “I met you in the museum of palaeontology/ And I make no bones about it” to be sickeningly embarrassing or one of the best pieces of lyricism you’ve heard all year.

~

6.

The Decemberists – The Hazards Of Love

Key Tracks – The Wanting Comes In Waves/Repaid, The Hazards Of Love 1, The Rake’s Song

The Decemberists doing a concept album about the pains of infatuation… what’s new? Well, musically, the interweaving threads and repeated phrases are interesting and do not grow wearisome, whilst Colin Meloy’s vocals range admirably from soft to hard as and when the story demands. The Decemberists have always been good at weaving tales together, but this, I feel, is them at their peak, testing out small chunks of material and then mixing them in between and around each other to great effect.

Top 15 Albums of 2009 (15 – 11)

I have noticed that, of late, I have avoided writing anything of substance and descended into a roll-call of endless lists that are collectively of very little use or function. Now, considering we are coming to both the end of a year and the end of a decade, I think that this is reasonable, as I am attempting to create some sort of summation of all the music that has come before. Thus I present a list of a little more standing than an ordinary Wednesday Countdown, the top 15 albums of 2009, which will be presented in three parts, five albums apiece.

Just to be clear, yes, I know that Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion isn’t on this list. Want to know why it isn’t on this list? Because it is exasperatingly ordinary and mostly dull. If you want to complain about this state of affairs, don’t bother, people who think MPP is better than Veckatimest seem to be in the majority, so rather than argue, just quote the number of publications that have put Animal Collective as No. 1 album of 2009. I am also aware that albums that I’m sure will appeal to me but I haven’t got round to listening to yet (Dirty Projectors, Phoenix, Atlas Sound, Dinosaur Jr.) may well be better than the album I have at number 15. So the comprehensiveness of this list should also be called into question. But whatever, I don’t think I should pull apart my own work, good as I am at doing so.

Anyway, list.

~

15.

Wilco – Wilco (The Album)

Key Tracks – Wilco (The Song), You And I

Fans of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot will be dispirited by the turn towards pop, and in this case the relationship between “pop” and “dull” holds fairly true. Light and uncomplicated fare, Wilco show that they can do the simple stuff well to distract from how simple it is. Jeff Tweedy shows that his vocals are good enough to lead where once they would simply have accompanied, which is worthy of note in itself.

~

14.

The Antlers – Hospice

Key Tracks – Two, Kettering

Though I personally don’t feel the deep emotion the melancholic music is trying to convey, I can certainly tell the skill involved, and the haughty ambitions are achieved spectacularly on “Two” (if not on some of the longer songs such as “Atrophy” and “Wake”). Often threatens to collapse under layers of pretension, but the sincerity of the writers prevents this from ever actually happening.

~

13.

Yo La Tengo – Popular Songs

Key Tracks – Avalon Or Someone Very Similar, Periodically Triple Or Double

The album as a whole is imbalanced by a closing three tracks each going well over nine minutes, and seems to comprise mostly of droning indifference. This takes away a little from the opening half of the album, which is a clever, varied mixture of tracks that retains attention by ensuring unpredictability. The organisation may have been haphazard, but there is still plenty to enjoy from YLT’s seemingly endless invention.

~

12.

Andrew Bird – Noble Beast

Key Tracks – Fitz and the Dizzyspells, Effigy

This is not exactly a disappointing album, but you expect Andrew Bird to extend himself more than he does here. There are certainly good tracks, and all of the trademarks of an Andrew Bird record are in place, but somehow it doesn’t do anything spectacular enough to warrant attention. Not that it does anything particularly wrong either, it’s just the sort of decent album that I can’t fault specifically, and definitely enjoyable, but is somehow too lightweight.

~

11.

Them Crooked Vultures – Them Crooked Vultures

Key Tracks – No One Loves Me And Neither Do I, New Fang

It was an interesting experiment, pulling Gods of Rock from three generations together and seeing what they could come up with. Less than the sum of its parts, but only because the parts (Grohl! Homme! John Paul Jones!) were pretty damn good to start with. Stripped down but punchy, it parallels the best of QOTSA, but misses a bit of variety and changes in pace or mood.

Top 42 Albums Of The Decade (5 – 1)

~

5.

Radiohead – Hail To The Thief

Radiohead - Hail To The Thief

Length: 56 minutes

Key Tracks: There There, A Wolf At The Door, Backdrifts

Lyrical Quality: 4.6 / 5

Melodic Quality: 4.7 / 5

Track Quality: 4.9 / 5

Album Quality: 4.2 / 5

Total: 18.4 / 20

Recommended Albums:

Muse – Origin Of Symmetry

Elbow – Asleep In The Back

~

4.

Arcade Fire – Funeral

Arcade Fire - Funeral

Length: 47 minutes

Key Tracks: Tunnels, Wake Up, Rebellion/Lies

Lyrical Quality: 4.7 / 5

Melodic Quality: 4.8 / 5

Track Quality: 4.6 / 5

Album Quality: 4.6 / 5

Total: 18.7 / 20

Recommended Albums:

The Decemberists – The Crane Wife

Andrew Bird – Noble Beast

~

3.

The National – Alligator

The National - Alligator

Length: 47 minutes

Key Tracks: All The Wine, Friend Of Mine, Mr November

Lyrical Quality: 4.9 / 5

Melodic Quality: 4.5 / 5

Track Quality: 4.9 / 5

Album Quality: 4.7 / 5

Total: 19.0 / 20

Recommended Albums:

Frightened Rabbit – The Midnight Organ Fight

Various Artists – Dark Was The Night

~

2.

Radiohead – Kid A

Radiohead - Kid A

Length: 49 minutes

Key Tracks – How To Disappear Completely, The National Anthem, Idioteque

Lyrical Quality: 4.8 / 5

Melodic Quality: 4.9 / 5

Track Quality: 4.8 / 5

Album Quality: 4.9 / 5

Total: 19.4 / 20

Recommended Albums:

The Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin

Beck – Sea Change

~

1.

Portishead – Third

Portishead - Third

Length: 49 minutes

Key Tracks – Threads, Machine Gun, We Carry On, Hunter, Plastic

Lyrical Quality: 4.8 / 5

Melodic Quality: 4.9 / 5

Track Quality: 4.9 / 5

Album Quality: 5.0 / 5

Total: 19.6 / 20

Recommended Albums:

Massive Attack – Mezzanine

My Brightest Diamond – Bring Me The Workhorse

~

(Somewhere on the south coast a man has just spat out his coffee in disgust).

So there you have it, Third is my favourite album of the decade.

What is it about Third? Its the bleak mood, coupled with Gibbons’ harrowing voice. The way every track is essential, even Small. The way it doesn’t seem to matter that it just went from a light ukelele interlude to abrasive electronic drums. Threads. The darkness. The beautiful sound of despair. We Carry On, the official war song of the robot armies when The Revolution comes. The turn of phrase, words that sound so wounded, vocals that sound so naked.

One day I will write a proper review of this masterpiece, and I shall properly put forward all the ways that I love Third. It is Portishead’s finest achievement. And my most loved album released this decade.

Top 42 Albums Of The Decade (10 – 6)

~

10.

Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago

Bon Iver - For Emma Forever Ago

Length: 37 minutes

Key Tracks: Skinny Love, Flume, Re: Stacks

Lyrical Quality: 4.5 / 5

Melodic Quality: 4.6 / 5

Track Quality: 4.1/ 5

Album Quality: 4.3 / 5

Total: 17.5 / 20

Recommended Albums:

Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker

Iron & Wine – Our Endless Numbered Days

~

9.

Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

Length: 51 minutes

Key Tracks: Jesus Etc., I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, Radio Cure

Lyrical Quality: 4.5 / 5

Melodic Quality: 4.4 / 5

Track Quality: 4.2/ 5

Album Quality: 4.7 / 5

Total: 17.8 / 20

Recommended Albums:

My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges

Pavement – Slanted & Enchanted

~

8.

Bright Eyes – I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning

Bright Eyes - Im Wide Awake Its Morning

Length: 45 minutes

Key Tracks: Lua, At The Bottom Of Everything, First Day Of My Life

Lyrical Quality: 4.6 / 5

Melodic Quality: 4.5 / 5

Track Quality: 4.4/ 5

Album Quality: 4.4 / 5

Total: 17.9 / 20

Recommended Albums:

Elliot Smith – Either/Or

Monsters Of Folk – Monsters Of Folk

~

7.

TV On The Radio – Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes

TV On The Radio - Desperate Youth Bloodthirsty Babe

 

Length: 47 minutes

Key Tracks: Ambulance, The Wrong Way, Dreams

Lyrical Quality: 4.6 / 5

Melodic Quality: 4.7 / 5

Track Quality: 4.6/ 5

Album Quality: 4.1 / 5

Total: 18.0 / 20

Recommended Albums:

Yo La Tengo – And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out

Dirty Projectors – Rise Above

~

6.

The National – Boxer

Th National - Boxer

Length: 43 minutes

Key Tracks: Brainy, Apartment Story, Fake Empire

Lyrical Quality: 4.8 / 5

Melodic Quality: 4.4 / 5

Track Quality: 4.6/ 5

Album Quality: 4.4 / 5

Total: 18.2 / 20

Recommended Albums:

Okkervil River – Black Sheep Boy

Manic Street Preachers – This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours

~

Top 5 tomorrow, and after that I shall be forced to return to band profiles, condensed album reviews, music-based ranting and less comprehensive lists. Also, my “albums I recently discovered (Mid Oct – Mid Nov)” arrives next Saturday.

Top 42 Albums Of The Decade (15 – 11)

~

15.

Radiohead – In Rainbows (2007)

Radiohead - In Rainbows

Length: 42 minutes

Key Tracks: Weird Fishes/Arpeggi, 15 Step, Jigsaw Falling Into Place

Lyrical Quality: 4.2 / 5

Melodic Quality: 4.1 / 5

Track Quality: 3.8/ 5

Album Quality: 4.2 / 5

Total: 16.3 / 20

Recommended Albums:

Beck – Guero

REM – Document

~

14.

Muse – Absolution

Muse - Absolution

Length: 52 minutes

Key Tracks: Falling Away With You, Time Is Running Out, Thoughts Of A Dying Atheist

Lyrical Quality: 4.0 / 5

Melodic Quality: 4.1 / 5

Track Quality: 4.4/ 5

Album Quality: 4.0 / 5

Total: 16.5 / 20

Recommended Albums:

Hope Of The States – The Lost Riots

Placebo – Meds

~

13.

Modest Mouse – The Moon And Antarctica

Modest Mouse - The Moon And Antarctica

Length: 60 minutes

Key Tracks: 3rd Planet, I Came As A Rat, Dark Centre Of The Universe

Lyrical Quality: 3.9 / 5

Melodic Quality: 4.3 / 5

Track Quality: 4.2/ 5

Album Quality: 4.2 / 5

Total: 16.6 / 20

Recommended Albums:

Neutral Milk Hotel – On Avery Island

The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots

~

12.

Laura Marling – Alas, I Cannot Swim

Laura Marling - Alas I Cannot Swim

Length: 38 minutes

Key Tracks: My Manic & I, Failure, Night Terror

Lyrical Quality: 4.4 / 5

Melodic Quality: 4.2 / 5

Track Quality: 4.1 / 5

Album Quality: 4.3 / 5

Total: 17.0 / 20

Recommended Albums:

Lisa Hannigan – Sea Sew

Kid Harpoon – The Second EP

~

11.

The National – Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers

The National - Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers

Length: 44 minutes

Key Tracks: Murder Me Rachael, Available, Slipping Husband

Lyrical Quality: 4.5 / 5

Melodic Quality: 4.1 / 5

Track Quality: 4.6 / 5

Album Quality: 4.0 / 5

Total: 17.2 / 20

Recommended Albums:

Interpol – Turn On The Bright Lights

Editors – The Back Room

Top 42 Albums Of The Decade (20 – 16)

~

20.

The White Stripes – Elephant

The White Stripes - Elephant

Length: 49 minutes

Key Tracks: I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself, Black Math, Ball & Biscuit

Lyrical Quality: 3.2 / 5

Melodic Quality: 3.8 / 5

Track Quality: 4.2 / 5

Album Quality: 3.7 / 5

Total: 14.9 / 20

Recommended Albums:

The Strokes – Room On Fire

Kings Of Leon – Because Of The Times

~

19.

My Morning Jacket – Z

My Morning Jacket - Z

Length: 45 minutes

Key Tracks: What A Wonderful Man, Off The Records, Dondante

Lyrical Quality: 3.2 / 5

Melodic Quality: 3.8 / 5

Track Quality: 3.9 / 5

Album Quality: 4.2 / 5

Total: 15.1 / 20

Recommended Albums:

Wilco – Wilco (The Album)

Band Of Horses – Everything All The Time

~

18.

Islands – Return To The Sea

Islands - Return To The Sea

Length: 55 minutes

Key Tracks: Humans, Jogging Gorgeous Summer, Don’t Call Me Whitney Bobby

Lyrical Quality: 3.6 / 5

Melodic Quality: 3.8 / 5

Track Quality: 4.1 / 5

Album Quality: 4.1 / 5

Total: 15.6 / 20

Recommended Albums:

The Unicorns – Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?

Frog Eyes – Tales Of The Valedictorian

~

17.

Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest

Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest

Length: 52 minutes

Key Tracks: Southern Point, While You Wait For The Others, Two Weeks

Lyrical Quality: 3.4 / 5

Melodic Quality: 4.3 / 5

Track Quality: 3.9 / 5

Album Quality: 4.4 / 5

Total: 16.0 / 20

Recommended Albums:

Panda Bear – Person Pitch

Akron/Family – Akron/Family

~

16.

LCD Soundsystem – Sound Of Silver

LCD Soundsystem - Sound Of Silver

Length: 55 minutes

Key Tracks: All My Friends, Someone Great, New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down

Lyrical Quality: 3.9 / 5

Melodic Quality: 4.1 / 5

Track Quality: 3.9 / 5

Album Quality: 4.2 / 5

Total: 16.1 / 20

Recommended Albums:

Hercules And Love Affair – Hercules And Love Affair

The Avalanches – Since I Left You