Once I’d seen some other albums of the year lists, I thought “hmm, there are a lot of albums here that are what I’ve been listening too, I don’t really need to bother doing my own.”
There were a few anomalies. PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake, for instance, I regard as ludicrously overrated. Lyrically it’s intelligent (and so much has been said about the timeliness of the themes, but do we really believe Harvey predicted the riots?) but musically it is very staid. If Radiohead released an album that sounded like that, the world would release a collective yawn. OK that’s not true the world would fawn over them too, I’m just trying to make the point that musically it’s not inventive.
Anyway, onto being positive. Once I actually started to think about the albums I’ve been listening to this year, I realised there were actually quite a few which were strangely absent from other lists. Either my musical taste is more individual than I’d realised, or some critics have been a bit lax (in the case of some, January releases probably haven’t helped). I’ll point out the albums which seem under represented, as really those are the records that prompted me to bother doing this list at all.
20. Battles – Gloss Drop
When I first heard Ice Cream I knew I was in for a treat. (Treat = ice cream, yeah, geddit?!)
Battles – Gloss Drop on Spotify
19. Fucked Up – David Comes to Life
A hardcore punk rock opera concept album? YES PLEASE. Actually I would have said no thanks but I heard it before I realised what it was, and it’s ace.
Fucked Up – David Comes to Life on Spotify
18. Twin Atlantic – Free
I like Frightened Rabbit, Biffy Clyro and the occasional bit of cheesy-emo-pop. So why wouldn’t I like this?
Twin Atlantic – Free on Spotify
17. The Appleseed Cast – Sagarmartha
Don’t quite understand why these guys are still overlooked, as per my recent review of their 2000 album Mare Vitalis. This is more instrumental than usual, but every bit the slab of post-rock goodness as Mogwai’s latest offering.
The Appleseed Cast – Sagarmartha on Spotify
16. Gil Scott-Heron & Jamie xx – We’re New Here
Is it bad that I didn’t really get I’m New Here until the bloke out of the xx put lots of shiny dubsteppy glitchy stuff on it? Probably.
Gil Scott-Heron & Jamie xx – We’re New Here on Spotify
15. Cut Copy – Zonoscope
Need I say more than Need You Now? I do? Oh OK. The rest of the albums pretty great too. The best Aussie 80s synth romance pop album of the year.
Cut Copy – Zonoscope on Spotify
14. Wild Beasts - Smother
Two Dancers was easily my album of 2009. I can’t tell you why Smother didn’t get me in the same way, it’s just colder somehow. Still pretty blooming marvelous though.
Wild Beasts – Smother on Grooveshark
13. Friendly Fires – Pala
Just makes you feel good.
Friendly Fires – Pala on Grooveshark
12. The Decemberists – The King is Dead
A January release means everyone’s forgotten about this. The Decemberists dropped the prog and focused on their always bloody brilliant songwriting, which has the opportunity to shine in this relatively simple folk rock record.
The Decemberists – The King is Dead
11. Yuck – Yuck
Not the most innovative album of the year, you normally need to do a bit more than sound a lot like a band of the past (in this case Dinosaur Jr) to win my affection, but for some reason I found myself listening to this over and over.
Yuck – Yuck on Spotify
10. Little Dragon – Ritual Union
Why is this not higher in other lists, huh? Why? Understated, unassuming but soulful electro-R&B from Sweden, with occasional dubstep inflections and a vocalist who also appeared on the Sbtrkt album, this should be a shoe in for high positions. But it’s December and I appear to be the only person still backing it.
Little Dragon – Ritual Union on Spotify
9. The Antlers – Burst Apart
I came late to this one. Really late. In fact I’ve only listened to it properly since I saw it topped DiS and The Fly’s year end lists. It’s really, really beautiful.
The Antlers – Burst Apart on Spotify
8. Bombay Bicycle Club – A Different Kind of Fix
Another album I’ve been surprised not to see in more lists. Released at the end of August, being an early one can’t be the reason. I reckon it’s a combination of Bombay Bicycle Club’s prolificacy (three albums in three years, all good ones too) and a kind of snobbishness that they’re a depressingly young band who get Radio 1 airplay. There are some dazzling moments on this album, not least single Shuffle, which (try as Radio 1 and Xfm might) cannot be overplayed. One of those rare songs that does the spine-tingling-makes-it-all-OK-again thing.
Bombay Bicycle Club – A Different Kind of Fix on Spotify
7. Jay Z & Kanye West – Watch the Throne
A vanity project? The very definition of. But done with such aplomb that even I (a man who likes his musicians with a slice of humble pie) am unable to resist. Somehow, a vanity project from two of the vainest men on the planet makes for serious fun. Maybe next time they should get Cristiano Ronaldo and Robbie Williams to make guest appearances.
Jay Z & Kanye West – Watch the Throne on Spotify
6. Radiohead – The King of Limbs
I am one of those annoying obsessive Radiohead fans. Sorry. I do believe that OK Computer is the Greatest Album of All Time (it is, they’ve done tests). There was a time when any albums of the year list would be topped by Radiohead in a Radiohead album year. But not so this year.
When In Rainbows was released, of course there was the hubbub about how, but I really felt it was one of Radiohead’s greatest – the sound of a band who had learnt to relax. I’m not sure if that was retracted or exacerbated on The King of Limbs. It’s a tense record, taut like Amnesiac, indicating they had thought a bit too hard, but lacking in tunes indicating that they actually hadn’t. I know, I know, “you listened to Radiohead expecting tunes?!” But there were tunes on In Rainbows. The King of Limbs’ focus is on rhythms, it’s the first album where Phil Selway and Colin Greenwood are possibly the most important members. Which is good, and why the album’s still in at 6, but it’s not perfect. Thom and co. – do that, and remember to write some tunes, and you’ll have another OK Computer on your hands.
Radiohead – The King of Limbs on Spotify
5. Metronomy – The English Riviera
I’ve probably said all I can about this one here.
Metronomy – The English Riviera on Spotify
4. M83 – Hurry Up We’re Dreaming
I debated placing this so highly as it is patchy, at best. Doesn’t need to be a double album. To be honest I could probably count the number of times I’ve listened to it from start to finish on one hand. A few songs are good, but DEAR GOD are they good. Midnight City has to be the Song of the Year. I’m not even the biggest anthemic synth-pop fan, but this just smacks everything MGMT ever recorded out of the park (incidentally, MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular didn’t even need to be an entire album – double sided single would have done the trick).
Now all we need is for someone to make the modern day Breakfast Club so this can play out the end credits.
M83 – Hurry Up We’re Dreaming on Spotify
3. Ghostpoet – Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam
My highest ranking album which I’m surprised not to see in more year end lists, especially given it was a Mercury nominee. Victim of a January release, I suppose. Or maybe the impossibility of pigeon holing this album means it is hard to find an audience to champion it. It’s received great reviews and acclaim, but not being clearly hip-hop, dubstep or indie, no one scene has taken it in as their own. As you can see from this list, being a little bit hip-hop, dubstep and indie suits me just fine.
Ghostpoet - Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam on Spotify
2. Sbtrkt – SBTRKT
It’s an easy listen, yes, but there’s intelligence, emotion and invention in this. The album which James Blake could have made, it’s the closest thing to a perfect post-dubstep record we’ve seen yet. What I find most amazing is the breadth of guest vocalists on there do not stop it from sounding like a cohesive record. Unlike Magnetic Man’s self titled last year, which although fantastic, sounded like a huge mound of individually great songs. That’s the sign of really great production.
Sbtrkt – SBTRKT on Spotify
1. Bon Iver – Bon Iver
No, not a controversial choice at number one, but for me there is no question that this album deserves the number one slot. For Emma, Forever Ago was my favourite album of 2008, and Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy last year’s in no small part due to penultimate Justin Vernon assisted track Lost in the World. So my top music lists have been quite Vernon/Bon Iver dominated recently.
I didn’t quite comprehend the beauty of this album at first. It may have taken repeated listens, but I’m not sure I would have given it those repeated listens until I read an amazing review of the album on The Liminal, which serves to draw out the intricacies, emotion and attention to detail that make this one of the greatest albums of our time. An example of how great writing can turn you onto great music.
Bon Iver – Bon Iver on Spotify