Hello, young chaps. We’ve been moving towards this moment for the past two weeks and the time is now here to tell you lucky folks which albums comprised our writers’ collective top three of 2009. The top 50 has been chock-full of some excellent choices, a sizeable amount of which could happily’ve taken these top three spots. But when it came down to it, it was these three that had the most votes from the writers. So here they are!
3) Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion by Russell Warfield
Animal Collective have been so diverse over the last ten years that they haven’t so much created a back catalogue of albums as they have a series of alternate debut records. The band whimsically flit from ear piercing noise drone to stripped down acoustic sounds in a manner which allows them to simultaneously progress and start afresh with each passing album.
Reinvention of their musical identity is something Animal Collective have once again achieved with Merriweather Post Pavilion, turning their hand this time to electronic-based material, but never have they accompanied it with such mainstream crossover appeal. Throughout this album in particular, the band triumphantly marries Panda Bear’s penchant for loops and samples with the tightly focused song structures of Avey Tare.
When you add to this the most glorious production the band has ever cultivated; lyrics which have taken a sudden turn for the literal and relateable and, perhaps most crucially, catchy-as-hell melodies, you have a recipe for something which, in an alternate reality, would probably break the UK top 30 album charts – oh, hang on. It did.
2) The XX’s XX by Jamie Smith
In a year that will mostly be remembered for the rise of Brit-rap and electro-pop, the xx stood out like a sore thumb with their gentle ambience and careful melodies.
If the Big Pink laid the foundations for the resurgence in subtle British alternative music with their electric-rock debut earlier in the year, the xx built on them in stunning fashion with an eponymous record so accomplished and sure of itself you wouldn’t believe it was their first. The xx were the most precious delicacy of 2009 in more ways than one. Deliciously simple yet spellbindingly immersive, they proved that sometimes blogosphere hype is well deserved.
The boy/girl vocals of Oliver Sim and Romy Madley-Croft offered a fresh take on sharing lyrical duties with their sexy, sumptuous simpering to each other, while multi-instrumentalist and this writer’s namesake Jamie Smith put together the gorgeous backing tracks for the pair’s aural lovemaking.
1) Wild Beasts’ Two Dancers by Natalie Shaw
From the opening chimes of ‘The Fun Powder Plot’, the stage was set for a boldly original album of true originality, sonic warmth and labyrinthine, admittedly thorny subject matter. The brazenness and volatility of the mating game, the quest to explore new senses through expansive, vivid passages of foreplay – it tempered the brashness by creating characters to despise and be ashamed of yet still, somehow, embrace.
With every listen, something surprising snuck out from behind the elegance; breathless, uncluttered production that gave the songs space for their extravagant eloquence and scope to slowly seep out. From the moment it was released in early August, Two Dancers capitalised on the unique charm of first album Limbo, Panto, piling on top of it crystal-clear tales of a dark underground via lecherous slapstick, tribal-style desperation and wild passion.
The “elegant and ugly” reference on ‘Hooting and Howling’ is a perfect pre-cursor to an album structured around such such striking sounds. And Hayden Thorpe’s outrageous falsetto isn’t used as a comic device, more as a foil for the harrowing feeling of threat the songs portray; not to say Wild Beasts haven’t seen the lighter side of their sound. Take the background “ooh”-ing on ‘Two Dancers (ii)’ against Tom Fleming’s rich baritone and you’re left with a quieter, ruminating band than on much of that first album. And the ‘Through The Iron Gate’ ends Two Dancers in a dark room, with guitar sounds mimicking reverberating thoughts.
Wild Beasts immortalised bleak tales of a social class usually side-stepped by the eloquent, with each note ringing out, longing remorsefully in the uncomfortably depravation set up by Chris Talbot’s core-of-steel drumming. The “guts fried up” imagery on ‘Underbelly’ and the oft-quoted “this is a booty call; my boot up your arse hole/This is a Freudian slip; my slipper in your bits” one-two on the album-opener are simply crane-arm picks from an anthology of breathtaking lyrics that scale the heights in their own right.
Two Dancers is a genuinely one-off piece, a truly unique album and it sits proudly on top of 2009′s tree of storming albums as less of an album, more of a world.
And that concludes that. 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, 20-16, 15-11, 10-7. and 6-4 – the full top 50. And check out Wild Beasts’ verdict on the news right here.
Please also read out Editor’s choice for the top 20 albums of 2009. Interesting stuff indeed.