By Various Artists
When reviewing each year in music, it's often difficult to pinpoint exact albums that represent the year best. In fact, I usually struggle to think of any and everything that pops into my head is actually from the previous year. 2009 has seen that change. It seems to have been an amazing year for emerging artists, new music and some of the best work from the world's greatest bands. Impossible as it is to really include everything (I'm still catching up with albums from the likes of St. Vincent and Yo La Tengo), here's a list of my favourite records from the last 365 days:
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz!
This list is in no particular order, but this is easily my favourite record of the year. Karen O and crew up the ante for electro-rock, crafting together the coolest sound of 2009. With It's Blitz! they seem to have mastered bringing that unrivalled New York melancholy onto the dancefloor with lead track Heads Will Roll crossing a bit more into the mainstream (it's even on that Hollyoaks advert!) and the excellent Zero continuing the disparaging theme "You're zero / What's your name? / No-one's gonna ask you". Every song is a single and they just keep getting better.
The xx - xx [read review]
Every now and then I cringe at the hype certain bands seem to get before they even release anything - they're touted as the next big thing and then the album comes out and it's a disappointment. Not this one. Sensitive South London three-piece The xx don't seem to have noticed the stir they've made as they continue to play meticulous minimalistic music with a unique panache, the album being a string of carefully placed silences and slow, slow sounds that soothe and stimulate at the same time.
Various Artists - Dark Was The Night
Compilations rarely spring to mind when considering great albums, but most compilations don't quite have the pulling power of this one. Devised by members of New York based band The National, DWTN is a collection of songs by some of indie rock's greatest, including Grizzly Bear and Spoon, but also capturing some more under-represented sounds with tracks from Dirty Projectors and Sufjan Stevens, creating a bit more of a folksy/world vibe. Ben Gibbard collabs with Feist; Arcade Fire, Beirut, My Morning Jacket and Bon Iver appear... you get the idea! Anyone who's anyone is on this album.
The Drums - Summertime! [read review]
Along with The xx, Brooklyn-by-way of Florida boys The Drums win the award for best new act this year, although their sounds probably couldn't be more different. The Drums have already (very quickly) perfected the art of masking tones of depression and sadness with energy and sweetness, an innocent charm and unbridled enthusiasm in their sound. Lead track 'Let's Go Surfing' bursts with pure sonic pleasure but much like the other tracks, the super-upbeat and cheerfulness is juxtaposed against darker, even nihilistic undertones: "Mama, I wanna go surfing / Oh mama, I don't care about nothing."
The Antlers - Hospice
I first heard of The Antlers last month when they visited The Cockpit for a show and were nice enough to let me point a camera in their faces and ask them questions, so the fact that they have made this list in such a short time says it all. Frontman Peter Silberman wrote the fantastic concept album semi-autobiographically with frank lyrics about dark subjects. The former solo project was then recorded with his two new bandmates and the trio signed a deal to let Hospice loose on the world. Tragic tales told with haunting sounds makes for a heavy time, but the perfectly orchestrated drum crashes and delicate whispers create atmosphere like no other album this year.
Blue Roses - Blue Roses
2009 has been nothing short of amazing for local lady Laura Groves. The Shipley native has seen her debut album released to great reviews in the UK, which is nice, but being signed to XL has even more perks as the album has also been very well-received overseas, notably in the US where she has just wrapped a tour. Mostly a solo album, Groves proves her worth in range as the album goes from guitar finger-picking to layered harmonies; home-made styles to synths and digital distortion.
Passion Pit - Manners
This is the happiest, most unabashedly current album of 2009. It's wonderful when electro-pop meets indie properly and frontman Michael Angelakos's excited falsetto creates a cool euphoria throughout. Highlights would be blogosphere fave The Reeling (check out the awesome accompanying video) and stand-out track Sleepyhead. Even the most dedicated of hipsters can't help smiling and dancing to this one.
Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion
Animal Collective weren't at all fazed by their prophesied crossover into the mainstream after signing to major label Domino; instead maintaining the same odd mix of analogue electronica (that's not an oxymoron if you really think about it), West African rhythms and experimental psychedelia to create the most inventive pop that they're loved for. My Girls is the best song of the year. This album is incredible.
Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca
Bitte Orca is one of those great albums that you could listen to one of two ways: absolutely let go and let DPs please your ears on a purely superficial level, allowing the flawless harmonies and acoustic prog-pop to work their magic for a full forty minutes, or take the plunge and try to notice all the complexities of the utterly brilliant nine-track album. It can't be easy to combine rock, prog and even R&B sounds in one album, but being their fifth, Dirty Projectors seem to have proved that musicians actually can't be too clever for their own good.
Metric - Fantasies [read review]
Wholly underrated, Metric's latest offering is like listening to a dream. Brilliant vocals, lots of big hooks, great singles including Gimme Sympathy and Help I'm Alive - the latter of which has an excellent acoustic version too - a truly well-crafted production from a band who know what they're doing. Broken Social Scenester Haines struggles a bit lyrically but Metric straddle the rock/dance line comfortably with equal parts synth and driving guitars, creating an album that isn't worried about being too "pop" but with a fresh indie authenticity that keeps them sincere.
It was nice to have some new material from Wilco and Brand New although Wilco (Self-Titled) and Daisy are hardly the best records from either band. Mumford & Sons, Girls and The Mountain Goats all had decent offerings, as did Wild Beasts (I can't imagine the backlash I'll get for not including them in the top ten) and Grizzly Bear. Neko Case never disappoints, Manchester Orchestra continue to impress me and any year The Flaming Lips release something is always good. Phoenix are great and I quite like Johnny Foreigner too. The Lonely Island released a fantastic comedy album with contributions from Norah Jones and Julian Casablancas, who brought out something rather awesome himself. Modest Mouse released a short album of b-sides and Death Cab For Cutie released The Open Door EP. The Clientele opened for Fleet Foxes and I fell in love with their latest album too. Pretty good, '09. Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good.