Allow us to get closer to revealing our very favourite album of the with a few more choice cuts, namely with the grand reveal of the LPs that finished between 15th and 11th in our annual countdown:
15) Antony and the Johnsons’ The Crying Light by Danny Washington
Antony Hegarty had a lot to live up to after his Mercury Award winning album I Am a Bird Now. Critics adored his unusual vocal style, painfully personal lyrics and dreamlike piano based ballads.
With his third album The Crying Light, we hear traces of what made him so revered, but with a more fleshed out sound. Slightly more impressionistic and fanciful, and with a wider range of instrumentation, these songs explored issues involving the environment, Hegarty’s relationship with his mother and once again the theme of gender, a topic which made I Am a Bird Now so captivating.
Tracks like the beautiful opener ‘Her Eyes Are Underneath The Ground’ haunted me for weeks after this album was released, and single ‘Aeon’ is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard all year.
It’s a great shame that this album didn’t receive a Mercury Award nomination. Arguably better than its predecessor, with a richer and more creative sound.
14) Florence + The Machine’s Lungs by Jon Fletcher
Covering Candi Staton’s ‘You’ve Got The Love’ was an act of marketing genius for Florence Welch, a.k.a. Florence + the Machine, and almost certainly brought her debut album Lungs to a far wider audience than might otherwise have been the case. On the record though, the song is a distraction from Welch’s own ample song-writing talents.
Despite its Bat for Lashes fairytale imagery and a consistently powerful vocal, this is an album that is unexpectedly lacking in pretension and that sells itself, song by song, on its own merits. Underlying the tales of sacrifice and coffin-maker boyfriends is a bedrock of solid, catchy tunes. Many of the standout songs – from early single ‘Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)’ to the theatrics of ‘Howl’ and ‘Drumming’ – are shaped around driving rhythms that perfectly counterbalance the sometimes whimsical content, making this one of the most listenable albums of 2009.
13) Fuck Buttons’ Tarot Sport by Harley Sherman
Like any noise band, Fuck Buttons possess aggression and dynamism in abundance. Their debut LP Street Horrsing certainly had this, along with an instinct for melody, something their peers have lacked. However, accessibility was not one of its strong points, and with Tarot Sport, Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power had clearly sought this. Thankfully, without making any concessions, the duo swapped the dense, droning chaos for ’80s synths and a generally more expansive sound.
This LP found them tackling avant-garde electronica with a post-rock sensibility; swathes of noise and synths are layered one by one, climaxing in a series of almighty crescendos. The album reaches its peak with the one-two of ‘The Lisbon Maru’ and ‘Olympians’. The former’s stomping percussion gives way to sharp synths and intense white noise, before segueing into the flute-led euphoria of ‘Olympians’. Brutal yet hardly impenetrable, Tarot Sport is simply stunning.
12) Phoenix’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix by Robert Freeman
Beginning life as a synthy discopop band flirting with Daft Punk/Air connections, the Phoenix of late have ditched their almost Hebdonesque concern with loops and sampled instrumentation, evolving into a guitar-pop band of mind-boggling aptitude.
Each instrument on fifth album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is meticulously calculated to balance and offset the other, displaying an almost classical concern with arrangement. On top of which, there is a wistfulness to the songs (most obvious in the melancholy of lush, synthy highlight, ‘Rome’) that sets the band apart from the vagaries of the majority of modern chart music.
“Minimalist’, ‘hypnotic’, ‘fast and intense,” says lead singer Thomas Mars of the album, and coming in just under 38 minutes, the strength of its conciseness is balanced by only by a genuine sadness that it ends so soon. One of the most carefully put together, emotive and best pop albums of the year.
11) Manic Street Preachers’ Journal For Plague Lovers by Paul Brown
The prospect of Manic Street Preachers finally recording Richey’s last lyrics was both mouth-watering and terrifying. This weighty task had dogged them for fourteen years, what if it proved too great? Such trepidation seems foolish, even insulting, now. The process of finally exorcising their ghosts triggered a catharsis, as the band delivered one of their best albums yet, sounding more alive than they have in years. James’ delivery and guitar work, in particular often reached his high watermark of 1994. The songs were typically dense and occasionally harrowing, but they also contained odd flickers of the mordant humour that has long since been written out of Richey’s history.
There’s also a real tenderness present in Nicky’s heartrendingly flat vocals on ‘William’s Last Words’, a strength always possessed by the Manics, but rarely fully appreciated. With Journal For Plague Lovers, the Manics have enhanced Richey’s legacy, when they could easily have harmed it.
Tomorrow we march on with the albums that finished between 10th and 7th in the countdown. If you’re not read more about the albums that finished below that lot, be sure to gander over to mathematical geekery on how we got this countdown, the 50-41, 40-31, 30-21 and the 20-16. You’ll be seeing us tomorrow!