Last week, we gave you the albums that finished everywhere from 50th up to 21st in our writers’ collaborative albums of the year post. This week, we mean business – and that’s exactly why we’ve got 20 paeans coming up over the next five days until the grand reveal of Muso’s Guide’s favourite album of 2009 first thing on Friday morning. Now here’s the 20-16:
20) Future Of The Left’s Travels With Myself And Another by David Lichfield
Picking up from where Curses left off, only bigger, angrier and hungrier, Britain’s most defiant cult band unleashed a momentous sequel in the summer. Although the band were openly fuming after its extremely premature leak, this album nonetheless cemented the trio’s reputation as the most intriguing yet uncompromising act in the UK via a spoiling of instant classics such as the addled Bond theme of opener ‘Arming Eritrea’, and the defeatist yet unifying sole single ‘The House That Hope Built’, with its persuasive “come join our hopeless cause” refrain.
‘Throwing Bricks At Trains’ and ‘You Need Satan More Than He Needs You’ proved synths can rock as much as the next instrument, and the cutlery-preoccupied ‘Yin/Post Yin’ captured their breakneck, confrontational live experience perfectly. Weirdly tender and nostalgic in the most seething of ways, the album climaxed with the gigantic closing discharge of ‘Drink Nike’ and ‘Lapsed Catholics’, the perfect finale to an album both simultaneously absurd and utterly engaging.
19) Camera Obscura’s My Maudlin Career by Greg Salter
I’ve written about My Maudlin Career a few times over the past year – each time I’ve tried to describe the swoon of the heady pop songs and the emotional power of the slower numbers, the dry humour that sits alongside the heartbreaking frailty of Traceyanne Campbell’s lyrics.
I’ve now realised that to do this properly would involve picking these intricate, exquisitely arranged songs apart piece by piece, when really these songs, more than any others, should be left just to speak for themselves.
Early listens were initially hampered by lead track ‘French Navy’ just being so good that I kept restarting the record. I also found myself wondering, ‘Who has done all this to this poor woman?’ a fair few times too – heartbreak can be faked sometimes, but on My Maudlin Career there’s no escaping the all-too-real, heavenly/horrendous moments that give the band licence to plunder pop history and craft a collection of timeless, endlessly replayable songs. And, no, there’s nothing remotely ‘twee’ about any of it.
18) Sunset Rubdown’s Dragonslayer by Alexander Tudor
In a nutshell, the band often mistaken for a side-project of Wolf Parade’s weirder singer / synth-player, make their most rocking album to date. All year, though, I’ve been trying to analyse The Genius That Is. Interrogating Spencer Krug about cyclical melodies shifted up and down a key, across keys / gtr / vox; about influences from glam-rock and classical minimalism; about the mix of yelping autodidacts, and squawk-making instrument-building art theorists, he’s got in his band.
So, for sure, S-down channel 1970s Eno, with dashes of Ziggy-era Bowie and Roxy Music; plus, you can imagine if Radiohead kept on writing songs as intricate as ‘Paranoid Android’, and Thom’s magic realist lyrics became positive.
You could even say it’s like Joss Whedon wrote another musical and set it in Montreal’s Hotel2Tango. Fact is, nothing else made me grin like this, sing along to every last line, and dance like a goon.
17) Micachu and The Shapes’ Jewellery by Mitchell Stirling
“It sucks, it’s just noise” was one of the first things I heard from the unoriginal people I know after I’d recommended Jewellery to them. “I’m still not hearing what you must be hearing, I do like ‘Golden Phone’ though,” they’d say. I’d ask why they were still making an effort on a record that they think sucks, and they’d never have an answer to that. Then, a month or so later, they’d be telling me how much they’d loved it. ‘Grower’ is one of the most heinous terms thrown about on the internet so I’m not going to call this that. It’s a thinker though, an album you could all too easily dismiss and then find snippets of looping in your head days afterwards. It almost confronts you to challenge what you expect from new music in 2009.
I had nodded along, enraptured at the thought that maybe other people might take inspiration and make music that may not sound like *this* but worked like it and was thought out the same way. I dislike they way some acts take a slight song and pile on layers of noise, a guitar solo anything to distract from it’s lack of foundations, but Micachu and The Shapes don’t do that.
It’s structured chaos, ordered disorder, a stunning, forward looking record that doesn’t use a pile of superfluous effects to bolster the songs, those are the song they’d collapse without them.
16) St. Vincent – Actor by Katherine Rodgers
The one thing that always boggles my mind about ‘Actor’ is Annie Clark’s immense musical bravery – a disciple of both Sufjan’s sprawling support band, the Illinoise-makers, and the slightly-cultish psychedelics The Polyphonic Spree, it would have been so easy for Annie to churn out the same old finger-plucked female singer-songwriter drone as every other babe with doe-eyes and an acoustic guitar. From the moment the twitching, whirring fairground electronics click into place over a padding backbeat on ‘The Strangers’, it is clear that Annie has taken a route very far from the beaten path.
Every song on ‘Actor’ throbs with the kind of innovative, experimental wonderfulness that gave Bjork her name – from the thorny, electric-shock guitar yelps of ‘Marrow’ to the silky, thumping, trip-hop percussion of ‘Laughing with a Mouth of Blood’ – Annie refuses to let herself relax into any kind of predictable stereotype – for example, just as things are getting a little too precious on the music-box lullaby ‘The Strangers’, she slices the fairytale whirring with a warped, buzzing electric guitar solo – like a chainsaw slicing through the Disney forest. This is typical of ‘Actor’ – sometimes heartbreakingly beautiful, sometimes dissonant and disgusting, but always, always surprising.
If you missed out last week, please read the following: the mathematical geekery on how we got this countdown, the 50-41, 40-31 and the 30-21. See you tomorrow as we get ever closer to telling you which album topped our poll…