So it’s come to that dreaded time of year for every blogger – the end (or as I like to call it, Listomania, hur-hur). You’ve probably read several thousand ‘Best of 2009’ lists already, and mine will contain a lot of what everyone else has already agreed on I’m sure, but it seems important (or at least interesting) to me to really force myself to decide on my real favourite albums of the year, and make a distinct effort to see what moved me. I guess that’s why I like list posts so much, they may change, they may be based on a subjective (or worse, populist) view of the year’s albums, but the positions of albums, especially at the top levels, really interest me and I’ve already done my fair share of reading about why some have beaten others. So without further ado, here’s the first installment of my albums of the year.
15. Bombay Bicycle Club – I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose
I’d been looking forward to this record for a long time before its release. This prodigious bunch of Londoners had been charming me for over a year, constantly releasing little bits and pieces of the album, each one showing me another facet of their character as a band. When the album itself dropped I was initially a little disappointed actually, feeling that the individuality of each single was distilled by the album tracks. However, as the year went on, I would hear the album on people’s stereos all over the place and the cohesive nature of the record came through far better as background noise. For example, the expansive stomp of ‘Dust on the Ground’ may not seem to match the laidback groove of ‘Always Like This’, but they’re bridged by the beautiful ‘Ghost’ which marries the noisier guitar tone of the former with the more chilled-out feel of the latter. And it’s the same for the rest of the album – it’s a record that has somewhere to go with each track, well thought-out and beautifully realised. I can’t wait to hear more.
14. Hockey – Mind Chaos
An album that starts with five straight tracks of effervescent, fresh, Strokes-meets-James Murphy brilliance like ‘Too Fake’, ‘3am Spanish’, ‘Learn To Lose’, ‘Work’ and ‘Song Away’ will always catch my eye. As an opening salvo, there’s not been much to rival it for sheer throat-grabbing pop magic this year, and whilst the rest of the album might not live up to this initial blast, it’s certainly never short of ideas. There are the hipster prerequisites of indie and dance all over the place, but look closer and you’ll hear flecks of country, soul, classic rock and even an entertaining, if slightly misguided, attempt at ironic hip-hop in ‘Wanna Be Black’. It can seem a bit tumultuous at times, but Ben Grubin’s hipster drawl is the through line that holds the whole affair together and makes this, if not a perfect album, at least a very good one.
13. Pull Tiger Tail – PAWS.
It’s a wonder that this album ever got released, not to mention that it would be such a joy to listen to. Pull Tiger Tail have been one of the saddest casualties of the music industry I’ve ever heard of, and being left legally unable to release an album you toiled over must be a horrible experience. However, with sheer determination and some seriously devoted fans, the band brought us a bouncing bomb of an album, never sitting still but hitting harder than you’d expect for indie-pop. The really excellent point of this album is just how far the band can stretch their own sound. For sheer, bubbling pop look no further than ‘Let’s Lightning’. If you want a catchy guitar anthem there’s ‘Animator’. For bubblegum-gloom balladry we have the (unsettlingly prophetic) ‘Loki’. That this album should have been released in 2007 and it still sounds this good in a completely different musical climate is testament to the band’s talent, and frankly the only real downside to the album is that we’ll never be hearing any more from them.
12. Andrew Bird – Noble Beast
I really don’t like the term freak folk, and to see it bandied about in relation to this album seems like something of a mis-step. This isn’t some freaky, psychedelic experience of an album, this is a slow-burning stream of well-considered, floating songs, full of intricate little touches and spooky, vibrato whistling. At first listen, it might seem as though Mr. Bird is just wandering around his songs, casually tossing new rhythms and tonal shifts into the mix for the hell of it, but it seems after a few listens that what he’s really doing is injecting each one with a new lease of life just as they might drag on. It’s also interesting for its content; his lyrics are sometimes unbelievably wordy, more so than almost anyone else I’ve ever heard (singing about ‘calcified arithmatists’ or ‘proto-Sanskrit Minoans’ has that effect) and his voice strays into beautiful Thom Yorke falsetto at times. This is not an album to listen to for catchy catharsis, but it certainly is lovely, and perfectly replicates the pastoral beauty of that front cover up there, letting you just wallow and waste time in it.
11. Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson – Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson
I should hate this man, considering he stole my idea for a really cool song sound and using it for his opening track. ‘Buriedfed’ is a dark folk lament that crescendos into a huge, beautiful Arcade Fire-style explosion of instrument noise, which I’d always wanted to do but, not being able to play an instrument, let alone a huge number of them at once, I’d had to put that idea on hold for a bit. I’ll let him off though, because this is hands-down one of my favourite songs of the year, and opens up an album full of fantastic, mournful songs. From ‘Woodfriend’s skewed take on a blues-rock stomper to shambling, drunken anthem that is ‘The Ongoing Debate Concerning Present vs Future’, it’s clear that ol’ four-names is one talented man. His wails permeate every song with a sense of the sadness he’s singing about – party music this is not, but it is unbelievably affecting; even when he’s upbeat it seems like Miles might just collapse in a heap at any moment and give up. It could easily have turned into a self-indulgent, “emotional” record, but as he whispers “Don’t care to eat, to drink makes me thirst/My second year here has been worse than the first” on closer ‘Boneindian’, it suddenly all becomes heartbreakingly true. And amazing.