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The Best Albums of 2009: Editor’s Choice

December 8, 2009 Articles, Features 2 Comments
Wild Beasts - Two Dancers

Wild Beasts - Two Dancers

As a companion piece to our 50-1 countdown that hit the internet gradually over the past couple of weeks (check the top three and work backwards), I’ve decided to do this piece on my own personal top 20. First person writing, the chance to eschew writing as voice of a consensus – my very own top albums of 2009 as some sort of deeper representation of what this here site’s all about.

The order is very loose, and I guess based on factors such as how and how much I enjoyed them. I could probably put these albums in a tombola, get them out re-ordered and still call it a fair representation of my year. That said, the top five would have to be the top five, and in that order. They are five incredible albums that have added a next-level fever to this year.

And a special mention should also go to the following, who just missed out on the list: Sian Alice Group‘s Troubled, Shaken Etc, Tortoise‘s Beacons Of Ancestorship, Bill Callahan‘s Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle, Extradition Order‘s Since The Bomb Dropped, Annie‘s Don’t Stop, Fuck ButtonsTarot Sport.

In short, it’s been a phenomenal year. Now here they are…

20. Sunset Rubdown – Dragonslayer: Spencer Krug’s genius knew no bounds as Sunset Rubdown’s third album loosened up and toned down the private narrative quota. Yet more of that layered-thought stuff Krug’d become such a master of mixed with deliberately child-like turns of phrase, AND we got given the most impossible not to dance to track of the year in ‘Idiot Heart’. An instructive triumph.
Position in writers’ top 50: #18

19. Fever Ray – Fever Ray: Karin Dreijer Andersson’s hermetic wall got strengthened further still as her Fever Ray persona all-out succeeded at creating an arcane cloud of vocal manipulation and dense electronica. So static was this self-titled record in its chimes and drones that the claustrophobia felt like a letting go. The sounds were plaintive and jarring, fitting the themes of disconnection and debilitation like hand-in-glove.
Position in writers’ top 50: #4

18. Cymbals Eat Guitars – Why There Are Mountains: The wildest experimentation hid deftly behind a heart of ’90s U.S. college rock on this impressively-developed debut album. Its variation never felt overblown as noises posed as hooks and dichotomies were linked together with lengthy passages of of arpeggial cacophony. Seamless ebb and flow between the gaps bridged this album into the mainstream, only briefly disguising Cymbals Eat Guitars’ world-sized ambition.
Position in writers’ top 50: did not chart

17. The Decemberists – The Hazards Of Love: Based on an interpretation of the title of an Anne Briggs (lost folk singer from the ’60s and ’70s) EP, this ruddy ridiculous 17-track extravaganza was put together as, yes, you heard: a concept rock opera. The homicidal rake, the choir for revenge-seeking undead kids, the psychotic queen – they were all here. I’m still playing catch up with their garrulous fantasy, happily revelling in its exulted pomp.
Position in writers’ top 50: #32

16. tUnE-yArDs – BiRd-BrAiNs: Recorded on a digital tape recorder but by no means lo-fi in scope, tribal drums and ukulele loops formed the backbone of a record hissing with charm and clattered snippets of tribal drumming. Merrill Garbus’ (approx.) 26-octave range combined with rhythms attacking from all corners and oddly, it felt like a giant cohesive whole. Relying heavily on looping imperfect takes of each part into the polyphony, BiRd-BrAiNs possessed an improbable, one-off charm.
Position in writers’ top 50: did not chart

15. Blue Roses – Blue Roses: The perfect soprano of Laura Groves, the fragile melodies, the warm thumb piano, the rapturous passages of choral melisma, the occasional twinkling xylophone – these were the reasons why Blue Roses’ beauty didn’t feel trapped by conventional boundaries of structure and harmony. Uneasy suspensions built up, descending scales and ascending sequences were sung, and I became enraptured.
Position in writers’ top 50: did not chart

14. The Horrors – Primary Colours: This was a remarkable album of pitch-bending darkness cutting iconoclastic outlines, with 2009′s finest out-and-out frontman at its core. The hype died down as Geoff Barrow came in to make The Horrors’ second album a revelation of whizzing keyboards, Germanic screaming, hypnotic basslines, spiralling rhythms and giant crescendos. And I’ve still not a clue what they’re on about. Do they? It’s a moot point.
Position in writers’ top 50: #7

13. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart: There’s no wonder I fell so hard for a record combining the sounds of my favourite indiepop, C86 and dancefloor-bothering shoegaze bands. TPOBPAH danced through the mopery with such panache, bringing a sub-scene crashing into 2009 with an endless stream of precise and fuzzy twee anthems lucky enough to have Kip and Peggy’s sweet, nerdy vocals sat right at the heart.
Position in writers’ top 50: #8

12. The Clientele – Bonfires On The Heath: Capping off a period of almost exactly nine years after the release of Suburban Light, The Clientele’s breathy, ingratiating sound found its resolve with the addition of purring Spanish guitar lines, warm brass and a teasing sitar. The lyrics were as pictorial as ever, MacLean’s cogitative words conjuring up vivid imagery of clothes-stealing rhododendrons, characters solitarily traversing autumnal scenes. This was a great band doing what they do best: dreamy, romantic poesy with just the right amount of space to take it all in.
Position in writers’ top 50: did not chart

11. Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career: Whether jubilant to be sad or sad to be jubilant, the simple phrasing cut just where it hurt. The Glaswegians’ mix of indelible sadness and celebration was approached in a more poised fashion than their illustrious output had previously seen, making this LP their finest yet. Surging string arrangements and extravagantly lush production made each glorious catharsis all the more hard to take, only increasing my desire to be take the Traceyanne Campbell fangirling to a whole new level and do the obvious – give her a hug.
Position in writers’ top 50: #19


10. Patrick Wolf – The Bachelor:
Funded by the fans, this record was an artistic ceremony. Each inch sounded so desperate to impress that it was a pass or fail mission – but fear not, for its perpetrator  concentrated so hard with such determined lyrics that it was to go no way other than a massive pass. The orchestral arrangements were pinpointed to each emotion, and Wolf’s interplay with interpretations of techno-pop and Celtic folk sounded like a homecoming, a personal revolution.
Position in writers’ top 50: #29

9. The Duckworth Lewis Method – The Duckworth Lewis Method: I’m not going to lie here: I’m no a cricket fan. It was the idea of this album that I loved, how sprightly and geeky it sounded. I temporarily became simple as the in-jokes rang out. “Always denied entry by the English gentry/now we’re riding Bentleys playing Twenty20″ they said, and I was filled with an untainted joy that led me to fleeting hour-long Wikipedia trails, teaching myself the idiosyncrasies of cricket. The idea of Hannon and Walsh spewing this gem out for jokes made it all the more addictive.
Position in writers’ top 50: did not chart

8. Micachu and The Shapes – Jewellery: Mica Levi’s distinctive vocals and cohesive, fluff-free experimentation created an album of all-encompassing, neatly plastered together joy.  And I’ll bet my Spotify Premium subscription that Levi’s knowledge and desire to listen to everything was the background to her simultaneously attention-grabbing, attention-shirking debut. That it wasn’t a rumpus for its ambition goes by the wayside. Congratulations, Micachu.
Position in writers’ top 50: #17

7. YACHT – See Mystery Lights: Cryptic, skittering and even comical computer beats set the pace for this hedonistic record released on the ever-excellent DFA imprint. I’d never heard an album sound so wired yet chock-full of ridiculous hooks – the cabalistic minute-long build-up on ‘Summer Song’ offers the perfect snapshot. Simple basslines sat under disaffected vocals, and it sounded like an underwater party. Maybe if YACHT were around a few thousand years ago they’d now be as popular as religion?
Position in writers’ top 50: #48

6. The Whitest Boy Alive – Rules: Coming out too early in the year for it to be remembered (or so I choose to believe), Erlend Øye’s latest outing revelled in a fragile and introspective groove. With dance anthems waiting to escape (‘High On The Heels’, ‘Courage’) playing equal part to in-a-corner think-outs (‘Island’, ‘Intentions’), irresistibly smooth vamps symbolised the quietness craved in spite of Øye’s emotional turmoil. It sounded seasoned, like a weathered voice of self-absorption.
Position in writers’ top 50: did not chart

5. The Puddle - The Shakespeare Monkey: New Zealand’s The Puddle have been making music for 25 years, this album again completely slipping by the wayside. It featured, as ever, a sweet, shambling and velvety delivery meandering a well-read path of topics including infinite probability and human frailty. The polite/angry dichotomy of the guitar-playing reminded me of bands not often recalled like Galaxie 500, The Go-Betweens and Sebadoh. This album was lyric art of the wonkiest indiepop variety, a perfect set of reedy, well-worn literacy.
Position in writers’ top 50: did not chart

4. St Vincent – Actor: Annie Clark’s rowdy prog-pop songs travelled to unexpected places by creating distinct and developed characters. Their numbed emotions were accurately reflected in the sympathetic production, and as the actors’ façades piled on top of each other, their own insecurities came gleaming through. Heavy guitars interspersed the glimmer in between that uniquely plush drollness as the listener became Clark’s foil, a helpless bit-part in the affair.
Position in writers’ top 50: #16

3. The XX – XX: An uncertain record sung as a one-on-one confession or an awkward late-night reveal with probably as many silences as notes, it was unclear whether XX was as stripped-back as being about a sexless sex, an intangible resolve that never came, or something else entirely. We’ll never know. But should it have been monikered ‘brave’ for its starkness? Remarkably not, as the xx’s influences seemed to be so incidental. This band’s exploration happened right before our eyes, in the dark and through a tiny crack in the door. An oh so welcome addition to trendsetters’ Things To Tack Onto And Learn From.
Position in writers’ top 50: #2

2) Lights – Rites: Lights’ endearingly schizoid personality made for an astonishingly sexy stoner record with killer slap-bass, cathartic guitars, soaring triply-dubbed harmonies and fuzzed-up dual vocals from Sophia Knapp and Linnea Vedder. It was an intense listen for sure, ranging from heavy and woozy to escapist and Italo disco-evoking in parts, impossible to find a centre in. The vocals cracked and disappeared into ambiance sometimes before gloopy acid-rock took over, at other times a quiet funk. In spite of the lack of centre, the jubilation was just so euphoric; its knack for creating this real, multi-faceted persona left me baffled as to why it didn’t become more popular than the ultra-cult secret it shamefully became.
Position in writers’ top 50: did not chart

1) Wild Beasts – Two Dancers: With any luck, you’ll have read me gushing about this in our Top 50 countdown series, because it finished top of the writers’ list as well as my own. But just why it was my finest album of the year? Well, the way it snuck out from the realms of outsider-pop for starters, the drug-like nature of how I breathed it in. The way each note rung out leaving me longing for the next; the reverb and the sound of it being played back like it was evolving right before my eyes. And those lyrics, why of course; heavenly metaphors clothed the darkest words in the finest garb. Two Dancers was that album, the one that will be looked back on as an unrivalled masterpiece for years to come.
Position in writers’ top 50: #1

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