Best Of…


5. Sleigh Bells Treats

Sleigh Bells make me want to believe in questionable tales. If the story that Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller were a failed girl group member and hardcore guitarist respectively isn’t true, it will still be a perfect way to explain their music. But if it is true, then that’s so much better, because it just makes the fact that this album could ever have been made that much more improbable and, thus, wonderful. I could spend time making up torturous ‘sounds like’ similes here, but nothing betters that origin story. Then again, this is my blog, so fuck you. This is the sound of a sugar-induced migraine. Ha, too easy.

Sleigh Bells – Infinity Guitars (YSI)

4. The Morning BendersBig Echo


Equally indebted to early Noughties indie and ’60s pop groups, Big Echo is an unpredictable album. Demure and harmonic at one moment, it can become familiarly punchy the next without warning. When I first listened to it, I thought it could quite easily be a “summer” album, one that never stands up against the first few blissful listens when you got it. Upon relistening, its charms are still brilliantly evident – Chris Chu’s Casablancas intonations, the willingness to slow the tempo (‘Pleasure Sighs’ is a simply incredible show of pacing and gradualised songwriting) and a propensity for simply excellent harmonies pop up throughout. Equilibrium is all here – a sense of action and restraint is ever-present, and it’s their constant struggle for dominance that makes this album such a brilliant listening experience.

The Morning Benders – Wet Cement (YSI)

3. DeerhunterHalcyon Digest


I’m almost incredulous at my previous indifference to this band now. Halcyon Digest is a tumult of experimentation, not in the noodly, self-indulgent sense, but in the sense of playing with how guitar music can be stretched and reformed into new and more interesting shapes. It never lets go of its central core – this is American indie at its heart, but Cox and co. never allow it to get stale. The underwater tones of ‘Helicopter’, ‘Sailing’s simplistic, faraway tone or ‘He Would Have Laughed’, a shambling tribute to Jay Reatard, all come from the same sensibility, but have ended up in very different musical territories. This is music that’s unafraid to take you somewhere you didn’t know you wanted to go.

Deerhunter – Helicopter (YSI)

2. HarlemHippies


This could be so easy to dismiss. It sounds like any number of other bands, it’s doing nothing new, it’s juvenile. But here’s the deciding factor. Show me another album this year that sounds like more fun than this one. Bet you can’t. Hippies is the sound of friends making music for fun and nothing more, and never suffers for that. Michael Coomer and Curtis O’Mara’s alternating, breathless deliveries seemingly never let up, the drumming’s fantastically frenetic and every song sounds like an old friend. When I’m listening to this kind of music, I ask for nothing more than this – that the songs that are short, sharp and barely professional. Harlem deliver on every front.

Harlem – Faces (YSI)


1. MeursaultAll Creatures Will Make Merry


2010 was the year that saw me properly, deeply fall in love with Meursault. Pissing On Bonfires/Kissing With Tongues hooked me good and deep. The Nothing Broke EP made me realise just how talented this band was. But it took All Creatures Will Make Merry for me to forego any kind of detached journalistic cool and throw myself wholeheartedly into unabashed fawning at their feet. No other album has made me run the gamut of emotions this one has; sheer sadness in ‘Crank Resolutions’, singalong contentment in ‘One Day This’ll All Be Fields’, sheer energy in ‘What You Don’t Have’ and barely concealed terror in ‘New Ruin’ – it has it all.

I’ve searched for a long time for how to articulate just why I think this isn’t just one of the best records I’ve heard this year, but in my life, and I think it comes down to this: There is no song on this album that feels constructed. By that I don’t mean in a songwriting sense, these are clearly meticulously designed and nurtured compositions, but in the sense that every one feels entirely natural to the band – whether it be the lyrics, the raw emotion in Neil’s vocals or the incredible interplay between electronics and more organic sound. There’s no experimentation if the feeling was there the whole time.

Meursault are not a band who are finding their sound, their niche or their fans – they are a band who seem to follow a path laid out for them alone, and the singular nature of All Creatures Will Make Merry shows that perfectly. This is the best album of the year, for me, because it sounds like no-one else, and I’m not sure anyone else could sound like this.

Basically, if you haven’t listened to this, your life isn’t as good as it could be, so, you know, get on it.

Meursault – All Creatures Will Make Merry (YSI)

Phew, what a day! So now that that’s all done, here’s the final list:

1. Meursault – All Creatures Will Make Merry
2. Harlem – Hippies
3. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest
4. The Morning Benders – Big Echo
5. Sleigh Bells – Treats
6. Mountain Man – Made The Harbor
7. Beach House – Teen Dream
8. Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can
9. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
10. Good Shoes – No Hope, No Future
11. Bombay Bicycle Club – Flaws
12. The National – High Violet
13. Spoon – Transference
14. Woodpigeon – Die Stadt Muzikanten
15. Working For A Nuclear Free City – The Jojo Burger Tempest
16. Johnny Flynn – Been Listening
17. Timber Timbre – Timber Timbre
18. The Savings and Loan – Today I Need Light
19. Vampire Weekend – Contra
20. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World – OST

Merry Christmas one and all!

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10. Good Shoes No Hope, No Future


If you’ve been reading here long enough, you’ll know I have a serious soft spot for Good Shoes. Morden’s finest jangly miserablists were one of my first true musical loves, so perhaps I’m being a little biased here. Then again, I think there’s a serious case to be made for this being one of the year’s most underrated releases, perhaps because reviewers couldn’t separate the band that faced them from the image of one from the indie revival circa 2006/2007. But with a more open mind applied, No Hope, No Future is quite a different beast to its predecessor. Songs like ‘Our Loving Mother In Pink Diamond’ are far more intricate and layered than previous output while their more familiar numbers (‘Times Change’ and ‘I Know’ spring to mind here) have picked up a few new tricks in a faster pace, more willing to abandon a single, controlling melody. This is the sound of a group who have matured, but were met with a press that refused to believe that they had. I’ll be keeping the faith.

Good Shoes – City By The Sea (YSI)

9. Arcade FireThe Suburbs


Feeling for Arcade Fire is now so strong, I’m starting to wonder if they’ll ever have a release that won’t be hyped to high heaven – frankly, the sheer amount of discussion about this album before it had come out (I saw in-depth discussions about the significance of the album artwork appearing the day it was revealed) could have destroyed the band if the album wasn’t quite up to scratch. Luckily for them then that they have quite as much talent as they do, eh? Any album that starts with the understated majesty of the title track and follows it seamlessly with the stomping ‘Ready To Start’ is onto a winner and even if it’s not quite the magnum opus people are claiming it is, it’s definitely further proof that the ‘Fire are one of the most exciting prospects for continued brilliance in… well, the world right now.

Arcade Fire – Rococo (YSI)

8. Laura MarlingI Speak Because I Can


I have a feeling this is what Laura Marling always wanted – Alas, I Cannot Swim might have wowed many, but I’m not sure if she was completely happy with it. This, her second album embraced a darker, wilder feeling that always inhabited her lyrics and let it loose in places, whilst utilising her considerable skills as a truly emotive soul to spin tales of real beauty (‘Goodbye England (Covered In Snow)’ really, really works in the current British climes). There’s the creeping outside influences that Johnny Flynn succumbed to somewhat in songs like ‘Alpha Shallows’, but the difference here is that they’re wrestled into shape, slotting into the songs rather than overtaking them. What shines through is how much of Ms. Marling we see here – this is less an album of music than a document of the person she was as she recorded it. She may be telling stories, but the ‘I’ of the title really is Laura.

Laura Marling – Devil’s Spoke (YSI)

7. Beach HouseTeen Dream


Teen Dream is the moment Beach House broke out of the dream and into the pop. All the hallmarks of the band are there; laconic speeds, hazy synths and circuitous guitar lines, but in amongst it all lies a new knack for a properly catchy melody. Ask anyone who’s listened to ‘Norway’ recently, it will have been stuck in their head for days. This really helps move the album along too – as songs slip into one another the thing that breaks you out of simply letting it all wash over you is the appearance of a refrain you can really grab a hold of. A consistently beautiful, engaging listen.

Beach House – Zebra (YSI)


6. Mountain ManMade The Harbor


This group of Vermont-based ladies came out of nowhere, made me shiver in delight and seem to have disappeared again just as quickly. Luckily, I don’t think I’ll get bored of listening to this before they re-emerge. A collection of sparse, harmony-laden songs (both new and covered) with never more than a guitar and vocals to their name shouldn’t be this nice to listen to, but it is and with audible recording studio silences and stifled giggles between tracks, this could almost be a single long performance, which only adds to its intimacy. Not to blow my own bugle, but I think I said it best when I wrote that “this is heart-warming and haunting in turn [and] could soundtrack a summer day or a winter’s night”. That’s Made The Harbor’s greatest trick – making such similarly executed ideas sound so wonderfully disparate.

Mountain Man – How’m I Doin’ (YSI)

15. Working For A Nuclear Free CityJojo Burger Tempest


This album more or less blew my mind when I first heard it. Its never-ending switches of musical styles and references (see: Thom Yorke, The Beatles, The Flaming Lips, Weezer, Sebastien Tellier and some or all of the Warp artists) its insane overlength and the fact that its second disc is one long track are all things that would usually upset me about an album, but somehow seem entirely natural in the grand scheme of Jojo Burger Tempest. I could ramble on for many paragraphs, or point you to my frankly overwhelmed This Is Fake DIY review, but, in fact, the best way to describe it is perhaps visually – see that album artwork up there? That off-kilter, patchwork aesthetic is entirely informative of the sound of this album. At some point I’d like to make a little chart of how each song sounds and write them down in sequence, but for now I’ll just say this: it’s fucking nuts. Listen to it.

Working For A Nuclear Free City – Silent Tunes (YSI)

14. WoodpigeonDie Stadt Muzikanten


Perhaps less so than the last album, but still very much in the bracket of “diverse”, Mark Hamilton and co.’s third album is a wonderful exercise in how to craft an album just perfectly. Starting with pretty saloon piano pop, the album never stops moving about stylistically, but stays entirely familiar throughout. Traditional Canadian indie fare becomes Belle & Sebastian-indebted twee becomes sparse folk becomes shimmering love song and you never lose track. It might be hard to describe in a forthright, definitively descriptive way (are you getting that?), but the album itself never stops making beautiful, beautiful sense.

Woodpigeon – Empty-Hall Sing-Along (YSI)

13. SpoonTransference


The fact that this album was far less polished than their previous output was commented on endlessly at the time of its release but even now, months later, that’s still the most important facet of this album for me. The fact that many of the tracks here were just demos  means you listen far harder to what the band is doing, not what they’re trying to do. It’s a fairly nebulous distinction, but one that gains weight as you listen – every untreated aspect just plays what it’s meant to, not what production dictates it should. That’s not to say there aren’t more treated tracks, but Transference feels honest in the way it just sits there, rhythmic, throbbing, occasionally ferocious and displays all it has with no pretence (unlike this review).

Spoon – The Mystery Zone (YSI)

12. Bombay Bicycle ClubFlaws


Ridiculously youthful, musically talented and now multi-genred? Bombay Bicycle Club have always struck me as a bunch of precocious bastards, but their move into lilting folk-pop territory bloody proved it. Jack Steadman’s quavering tones sound just as at home fronting this mix of older tracks remade and newer ones purposely created in an acoustic mould and their occasionally more complex guitar arrangements sound wonderful when a banjo’s added to the mix. You just have to feel a little sorry for drummer Suren – he doesn’t get much of a look-in really.

Bombay Bicycle Club – There Are Many Ways (YSI)


11. The NationalHigh Violet


I wrote a ridiculous treatise about this album when it was released, claiming that it emulated Gustav Freytag’s Dramatic Arc, the way all traditionally told stories progress. I can’t claim that it entirely holds water as an idea, but there is certainly something enticingly dramatic about High Violet – the stories of beautifully told emotion complemented by music that could soundtrack any number of fictional scenes. I defy anyone not to feel moved by the distant shout of ‘It takes an ocean not to break‘ as ‘Terrible Love’ forces its way into a blustery climax. And that’s just the first track. But if carefully-constructed, ideas-driven rock is not your thing, fear not! At the centre of the album lies the year’s best triumvirate of songs – ‘Afraid of Everyone’, ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ and ‘Lemonworld’ are the beating heart of this work, embodying the sound and sentiments articulated throughout. It’s startlingly intimate, loud and quiet in equal measures and was just the thing to finally get me off my arse and listen to this band.

The National – England (YSI)

So we’re back here again, are we? You’re probably already tired of thousands of bloody lists, but I’m afraid you’ll have to stomach yet another if you’re staying around these particular parts of the internet for now. So here goes; my top 20 albums of the year, hastily assembled and even more hastily relistened to in order to form a vague order. Enjoy!

20. Scott Pilgrim vs. The WorldOST

Yes, I know, it doesn’t really count, but there’s enough original material on here to keep it at least vaguely valid in the grand scheme of things. You could criticise this collection for being much of a muchness, populated by hipster-friendly, retro-cool sounds, not to mention filled with throwaway Beck tracks. On the other hand, you could say that’s the whole point and, you know, Beck wrote those tracks. In my opinion, this is the most endlessly enjoyable collections of film music I’ve heard, treading a fine line between “jukebox” soundtrack and original compositions beautifully and ebbing and flowing just the way a “proper” album should, with very few low points (‘Under My Thumb’ is shit). The fact that even when I knew every track on this album and was watching the film for the third time, every track still sounded perfectly placed and never detracted from the film’s overall tone is testament to just how right Nigel Godrich and Edgar Wright got this.

Sex Bob-omb – Garbage Truck (YSI)

19. Vampire WeekendContra


This is more or less here on the strength of its singles. As an album, it lost the singular sound I came to adore from the self-titled debut, and failed to develop its own, but more than delivered on the sheer effervescent excellence of their best songwriting moments. ‘Cousins’, ‘White Sky’ and ‘Giving Up The Gun’ (and, to a lesser extent, ‘Horchata’) have been all over the place this year, and with good reason – they’re fucking amazing pop songs. I still can’t listen to the initial drumbeat of the former without smiling and jerking about like some sort of electroconvulsive arse. Maybe it’ll take more time (I didn’t give it much of a chance after its January release), but the only reason this isn’t right up there amongst the very best of the year is because nothing quite matched those incredible moments it offered only a few times throughout.

Vampire Weekend – White Sky (YSI)

18. The Savings and LoanToday I Need Light


I’m not going to lie, I’ve barely listened to this yet, but I’ve already taken to it completely. Only released this month, this duo’s much protracted debut (it’s been six years in the making) possesses the kind of melancholy only the truly Scottish can muster. Anger is completely absent as the haunting sound of Martin Donnelly’s deep voiced,  poetic lyricism spreads slowly over quiet but carefully thought-out instrumentation. There’s something of The National in here, and not just through vocal similarity; this is the sound of an ordinary man almost burdened by his own artistic nature and ability to express the feelings of  many. A soundtrack to strong drinks (courtesy of the brilliant intro to ‘Catholic Boys in the Rain’) and prematurely dark days.

The Savings and Loan – Pale Water (YSI)

17. Timber TibreTimber Timbre


Technically a re-release, but I only heard it this year so it’s going in, all right? This group of creepy, folk-based songs act just as well as mini fairytales – the kind the Grimms tried to get rid of. Taylor Kirk’s warbling vocals articulate a kind of non-specific terror that never seems to stop closing in, lending the whole affair a tone that’s adopted perfectly by the instrumentation. Distant organ, staccato, reverb-heavy guitar riffs and the briefest hints of fiddle contribute throughout, aiding every slimy little feeling Kirk wants to wrest from you. It’s a masterclass in emotional music, it might just not be the emotions you want to experience.

Timber Timbre – Lay Down In The Tall Grass (YSI)

16. Johnny FlynnBeen Listening


This wasn’t quite the follow-up I’d hoped for from London’s best Shakespearian actor/folk pin-up, but it grew on me from its release onwards. On first listen, I was pretty aggrieved at how little cohesion I thought it had. Moving towards a more eclectic sound, the album utilises upbeat trumpet, electric(!) guitar and even a bossa nova beat (on ‘Churlish May’). Sitting smugly and listening, I thought ‘Ha! He’s abandoned his folky roots, the bastard,’ but after quite a few more listens (thanks to my girlfriend’s obsessed housemates) I feel like the bastard now. While there’s definitely been an expansion in ideas, he always returns to the core of what he does best. For every bolshy ‘Kentucky Pill’, there’s a beautifully harmonised, quiet ‘Amazon Love’ to back it up. It may not flow perfectly, but it’s certainly a great set of songs.

Johnny Flynn – Howl (YSI)

Here’s the second chunk of tuneful wonderment, and if you want the whole list in one easy-to-download package of delight, here’s the whole damn heap.

Manic Street Preachers – Me and Stephen Hawking (YSI)

I’ve heard the whole album in different sittings, and it really should be on my list, but I never actually bought it in the end, so here’s my favourite song so far – the perfect connection of Richey Edwards’ incredible lyrics and James Dean Bradfield’s rockstar guitar tendencies. The Manics recaptured their greatest form here, I just hope they’ve got more of the much-missed Mr. Edwards’ notebooks hidden away somewhere.

Meursault – William Henry Miller Pt. 1 (YSI)

Meursault have firmly rooted themselves on my ‘favourite new bands’ list, with their debut album and latest EP releases each blowing me away for different reasons. This song has an oh-so-catchy handclap chorus and lyrics about a hermaphrodite politician who had strange burial requests. What more could you want?

Meursault – William Henry Miller Pt. 2 (YSI)

I just couldn’t decide ok? The second half of this story sees a far slower, wail-filled affair, bringing the whole mood done somewhat, but for an entirely good reason. By the way, the band have just released new, more electronic, versions of both of these songs as new singles – get ahold of them from Song By Toad, it’s bloody worth it.

Phoenix – Lisztomania (YSI)

What list this year would be complete without Phoenix? This and ‘1901’ are just incredible singles, sure to become classic pop hits, and whilst I like both, there’s something about ‘Lisztomania’ that oozes cool, seeming to explode with noise at points, and yet never losing its feeling of easy-going charm.

Radiohead – These Are My Twisted Words (YSI)

Ah, Radiohead. How they can make me like what’s essentially a five and a half minute sinister freak out (not my favourite style I have to say) is a marvel. There’s something so beautiful about the directions and left turns they take, letting it wash over you before switching up again, never quite allowing one idea to go on for too long. It felt perfectly at home in their live set too, bridging the gap between their more abstract songs and the hits.

The Second Hand Marching Band – We Walk In The Room (YSI)

Making beautifully constructed songs must be difficult if you have a shifting set of over 20 musicians, but this song proves it can be done. Adapting a Beirut sound into a far more expansive and ever-growing proposition, the mass chants sound like a rallying call for fey indie kids everywhere, and it doesn’t succumb to the crescendoed heights it seems to suggest it will at points, a nice exercise in restraint that shows how such a large band can make understated music.

Shift-Static – Father’s Footsteps Pt. 2 (YSI)

Shift-Static describe their genre as shoe-step, embracing the disparate influences of shoegaze’s wall of sound techniques and dubstep’s shuffling, occasionally mournful beats. It doesn’t get much clearer that this is a perfect description when you listen to this. All Kate Bush swirling vocals to begin with before suddenly mutating into some quietly throbbing, beat-laden beast, it’s bloody weird, and bloody brilliant.

Thom Yorke – All For The Best (YSI)

This cover of a Mark Mulcahy song takes the best of Thom Yorke’s solo work and marries it to louder sound, allowing guitars and real drums to seep in somewhere along the way, perfectly complementing the sad yet ultimately redemptive tone of the lyrics.

Tom Williams & The Boat – Bonkers (YSI)

Tom Williams may be adept at creating folk-pop tunes that I love, but this hoedown version of Dizzee Rascal’s horrible, horrible song made me love the band for a whole new reason – their sense of humour. This just sounds like friends making music because they love it, with no ulterior motive.

Two Door Cinema Club – Something Good Can It Work (YSI)

This song can cheer me up in mere moments. There’s something so bloody wonderful about listening to a band just say, ‘yeah, things can be good’ and back it up with the most upbeat music you’ve ever hear. At the time that I heard it, they were unsigned and still playing little gigs; now they’re signed to cooler-than-thou Kitsuné and I saw them play Glastonbury. They’re going to be big, they’re going to make a lot more amazing songs, but this will always be the one I cherish most, because it feels like a band just believing in themselves, even when they haven’t achieved anything just yet.

Vampire Weekend – Horchata (YSI)

I simply cannot wait for the second album from these guys, and by the sound of this track they might have some new tricks up their sleeve. This takes all the African influences they love so much, cranks them up higher than they’ve ever gone before and puts it all on an avant-garde dance track. Freakin’ awesome.

The Very Best – Warm Heart of Africa (feat. Ezra Koenig) (YSI)

Just after I talk about Ezra Koenig making an African-themed dance track, we have this, an… African dance track, featuring Ezra Koenig. It somehow sounds completely different though, using actual African samples as a base and building up from there. It’s an unadulterated slice of sunny pop, and a sure-fire dancefloor hit.

Withered Hand – Religious Songs (YSI)

Technically, it’s a song from 2008, but I’ve only heard this year’s Good News album version so I feel no shame in including it here. The lyrics are what makes this so brilliant, at times a twisted love song, at others a meditation on happiness and all the time wonderful. Lines like ‘How does he really expect to be happy/when he listens to death metal bands’ and ‘I knew you so long I ran out of cool things to say’ make me smile instinctively, and turn this into an instantly relatable song, totally human and never pretentious.

Having written this, I realise I’ve definitely missed some out, so if you want to tell me what you think I’ve omitted, comment me up!

What with the spirit of goodwill that’s being bandied around at the moment, I thought it only proper to recognise the achievements of those bands whose albums weren’t quite good enough (or didn’t exist enough) to be included on my end of year album list. So here we go, the unrecognised gems of this fair year of music.

What with the spirit of goodwill that’s being bandied around at the moment, I thought it only proper to recognise the achievements of those bands whose albums weren’t quite good enough (or didn’t exist enough) to be included on my end of year album list. So here we go, the unrecognised gems of this fair year of music. Oh and if you’re too lazy to download them all from below, and too impatient to wait for the next half tomorrow, here’s a big ol’ Zip file stuffed full of ’em.

Arcade Fire – Lenin (YSI)

I know this has been around for quite a while, but 2009 was the year that this song was finally released, and it’s my list, ok? A more sparse and upbeat affair than their usual offerings, Montreal’s finest have created a jaunty, guitar-driven imagining of everyone’s favourite Bolshevik’s childhood, chock-full of piano sweeps and not-quite singalong moments.

Band of Skulls – Death By Diamonds and Pearls (YSI)

I still haven’t got round to listening to this album, but if this song is anything to go by, it’ll sound like the White Stripes. A lot. I mean, everything about this song, from the vocals, guitar tone, crashing drums and even the skittering, twitching solo sounds like Jack and Meg. And in my head, that can never be a bad thing, it’s just badass from begininning to end.

Beirut – My Night With The Prostitute From Marseille (YSI)

Some didn’t take to it, but Zach Condon’s brief foray into laid back electonica made me a happy man. There’s something about the rising and falling of the underwater synths in this song, coupled with his idiosyncratic drawl that never fails to make me pleased, it sounds like a more chilled-out Hot Chip at times. If Zach ever decides to bring back his Realpeople alter-ego again, I for one will not be unhappy.

Beth Jeans Houghton – I Will Return, I Promise (YSI)

Another North-East entry, this time trying to wrestle the London-centric new-folk scene all the way up the A1. Ms. Houghton’s four track EP, Hot Toast Vol. 1 gave us an alternative to all those Southern softies (note: I am one) with a punchier folk lilt, with this opening track the standout.

Black Eyed Peas – I Gotta A Feeling (YSI)

Now, I understand this is a controversial choice for a blogger to make, but honestly, this is (to use the common vernacular) a CHOON. It always made me a little happier to be in a place playing crappy music, and when it was played in Newcastle’s coolest club (World Headquarters) by the coolest DJ (Tom), it vindicated my guilty pleasure. Plus, hearing Fergie sound like a fucking idiot when she shouts “Drank!” and “La chaim!” will never tire.

Bob Dylan – Must Be Santa (YSI)

To be honest, this is a favourite just because of how fucking insane it is. I hated it when I first heard it, but one more listen convinced me that polka + Dylan’s new voice = terrifying, hilarious, genius. It’s brightened up my whole Christmas.

Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip – Thou Shalt Always Kill (De La Edit) (YSI)

It’s not as good as the original, but the sound of those synths and Pip’s Essex preaching accompanied by Posdnous’ classic flow was always going to be a good idea. “Thou shalt not think that having a blog makes you a journalist”. Oops.

The Drums – Let’s Go Surfing (YSI)

Time will tell if this band can get out of the one-trick-pony phase they seem to be in now, but their first single was my song of the summer. It’s an infectiously whistle-filled romp of post-punk surf pop that charmed many a blogger and even the discerning ears (read in sarcastic tone here) of Radio 1 for a time, albeit a long time after summer was over.

Esser – Headlock (YSI)

I really liked Esser’s album when it came away, but my interest waned after a few listens, it just seems to lack the real substance that a truly good album needs, but his singles were always winners, and ‘Headlock’ is no exception. Re-released to promote the album, it just jumps out at you, all mockney vocals and cheap-sounding synths and beats. It’s endlessly danceable and emininently catchy.

Good Shoes – The Way My Heartbeats (YSI)

The sample track from the Morden boys’ second album piqued my interest in them all over again, with a heavier, quicker sound, but retaining the jangling guitar tone and Rhys’ yelping vocals that I fell in love with. Brilliant.

Grizzly Bear – Two Weeks (YSI)

I’d never paid much heed to Grizzly Bear before this, the whole American indie sound is alien to my frosty British ears a lot of the time, but this the swooning vocals put over a sluggish stomping beat in this song just grabbed me, it sounds far more sinister than it should, and the video is bloody wonderful.

Little Comets – One Night In October (YSI)

This is an insanely cheery slice of debut single indie-pop from Newcastle’s favourite new bunch of smiling loons. Full of yelps and charmingly twee lines like ‘Just like Carlisle, she lies on the border‘, the band seem to specialise in gettingnunder your skin and getting you to twitch about, just like the song. They’re getting an increasing amount of love up north, and if they keep making songs like this I can certainly see that extending all over this fair green land and maybe beyond.

Local Natives – Camera Talk (YSI)

I haven’t got hold of their album yet, but Local Natives’ indie band version of Fleet Foxes’ harmonies along with an irrepressible quick-march tempo is just beautiful. The amount of instruments they get into this song without making it sound overstuffed is a masterclass in prudent songwriting.

So here we are, the final list, my five favourite albums of 2009, I do hope you’ve enjoyed my selections, and maybe found some new stuff for your mp3 players to eat up. Speak to you all soon!

5. Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard – ‘Em Are I

When I first listened to this latest effort from New York’s premier anti-folk troubadour/comic book artist I expected what I’d heard before in my brief forays into the Lewis back catalogue; gentle, off-centre ditties about charmingly witty and strangely perverse subjects. In fact, I was kind of wrong. For a start, a lot of this album is a lot louder than I expected it to be, with opener ‘Slogans’ blasting the whole affair into life in a whirl of Libertines-ey razorwire riffs whilst I actually found a lot of the subject matter to be charming and witty, but mostly conventional in its approach. And maybe that was the best way to really introduce me to Jeffrey Lewis, expect the unexpected. The album takes lyrical left turns throughout, with love songs to Greyhound buses (‘Roll Bus Roll’) giving way to existential musings (‘If Life Exists?’) before discussing how whistling prevents hearing corpses talk about you (‘Whistle Past The Graveyard’) whilst musically we’re met with folk ditties, Cake-style freakouts (‘The Upside-Down Cross’) and indie-punk anthems (‘Broken Broken Broken Heart’). It’s Lewis himself who makes this album what it is then, infusing every track with his own irrepressible charm and verve, not to mention his distinctive nasal whine (certainly not a bad thing, by the way). There’s just so much to be told on this album, you just want to hear what he’s telling you throughout, and it’s a storytelling experience as much as anything else and that’s what makes it quite so special.

Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard – Roll Bus Roll (YSI)

4. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

Not having been alive in 1983, nor having done any kind of extensive research into the music of that time, all the talk about how POBPAH (lovely acronym that that is) are simply rehashing the famous C83 tape flies right over my head. I’ll tell you what I hear on this album – some unfairly talented young people making shimmering, occasionally loud, twee indie music in an almost perfectly-realised way. It doesn’t matter that this has been done before, and it certainly doesn’t matter that the band have done their research into what they want to sound like before they made their album, what matters is that this is one of those albums where every song feels like an old friend after one listen. And it’s the second listen that counts, where you realise for the first time just how well made all of these songs are. ‘Young Adult Friction’ is a gloriously sparking love song, ‘A Teenager In Love’ is quietly glimmering pop masterpiece whilst ‘Everything With You’ is a punk-flecked headbanger for kids in NHS specs, complete with a wonderfully out of place stadium rock guitar solo. If I was a bit younger and a bit further back in my relationship, this would be the perfect soundtrack for falling in love to.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Everything With You (YSI)

3. Future of the Left – Travels With Myself and Another

Future of the Left are quite likely the most menacing band I’ve ever heard. Menacing because they’re not balls-out terrifying like a death metal band, menacing because you can never quite tell whether they’re joking, menacing because there’s always the suspicion that they’re even angrier than they let on, and it might just all tumble out of your speakers and throttle you without you realising. And I love them for it. There’s something in that commitment to releasing your anger through music, but in no immediately obvious way that makes me smile. It seems the intelligent way to do it. Packing barely twelve songs into just over half an hour, this is a tightly-wound ball of aggression, taking in ‘The Hope That House Built’s barely-contained war march, hellish (PUN) anthem ‘You Need Satan More Than He Needs You’ and the spring-loaded punk of ‘Stand By Your Manatee’ before winding down with the spectacularly odd spoken-word explosion of ‘Lapsed Catholics’. It all seems like the perfect follow-up to Curses – it has all the same vitriol, the same mish-mash of the heavier genres and the same sense of deranged playfulness of subject, but something is lying there behind it all, differentiating it, with a bigger grin, and a bigger sense of something truly dangerous behind that grin.

Future of the Left – Chin Music (YSI)

2. Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More

This was, as any regualar readers will know, my most anticipated album of the year. After three EPs that I couldn’t get enough of and after experiencing them live, I really couldn’t freaking wait for Sigh No More. I was not to be disappointed. Choosing some of their best songs from the original EPs and surrounding them with some excellent new additions to the catalogue was a very good call, appeasing the fans with new material whilst showing new ones what they’ve been missing. This is a group who seem assured of their positions within each song at all times, using each instrument to full effect, and bringing every track to life with incredible precision. We all know they’re masters of the uplifting buildup by now, with tracks like ‘Winter Winds’, ‘The Cave’ and ‘White Blank Page’ all exhibiting that particular talent, but there’s a wealth of different styles on show here, with quieter tracks like the brooding ‘I Gave You All’ being given just as much space to breathe as its more ostentatious neighbours. Marcus’ beautiful keening vocals are another source of wonder, moving from scratching solos to taking its place amongst the rest of the band as they harmonise like nobody else. Not only that, but ‘Dust Bowl Dance’ showed room for expansion, embracing electric instruments and making an almighty racket with them. It has to be remembered that this is a debut album too, they may have had more experience than many new bands do when they recorded it, but for a band to put together such a coherent, beautiful record on their first try is nothing short of amazing, and their new-found larger fanbase is just reward for the hard work they’ve put in so far.

Mumford & Sons – White Blank Page (YSI)

1. The xx – xx

To be honest, this was probably the easiest choice of them all, but I still ask myself one big question whenever I think about this album – where the hell did it come from? In today’s world of leaks, Myspace fame and PR overload, how did The xx seem such an unassuming prospect until they hit us with xx? It was a miracle of timing and possibly purposeful mystery that brought the band to everyone’s attention at the same time, creating a singular (mainly bloggy) fervour to write about them just before the album came out and they played the summer festivals. It’s not just the mystery of their appearance that makes them incredible though, I’m still bowled over by just how assured a debut this is, particularly from teenagers with basically no experience or exposure to the world they were entering. And yet The xx have made an album that should be and, I imagine, is looked at with incredulity to think getting a better sound means adding more to it. These are eleven tracks of quiet, gloomy romance that have been picked back to their bare bones, skeletal reminders of what they could have been, and how unnecessary it would have been to fill them out. Songs like ‘VCR’ get by with so little instrumentation they could almost seem incomplete, but occasional touches of bass or the barest hints of synth high hats push them into their own uniquely quiet territory.

Romy and Oliver’s vocals are the real centre piece though, their interplay, weaving in and out of each other, joining together and overlapping is a masterclass in how boy-girl vocals needn’t be a gimmick or oppositional; they can act in symbiosis, saying the same things in different ways. The instruments act in a similar way, with quietly picked guitar parts following bass throbs while gentle synths wind their way around both. In ‘Heart Skipped A Beat’, the sparse drum machine dance beats lead the way, allowing for other instruments to make their way into the mix, quietly creating an almost imperceptible crescendo that disappears as quickly as it formed. It’s the Jamie Smith’s well-studied exercise in silence-as-production-technique that accentuates these moments, makes them important to the listener, and elevates the vocals above the rest – and it’s the silence rather than anything else that characterises this album. It’s an odd idea, but silence has been the only true new sound this year – almost everything else on this list can be traced back to someone elses’ music, but the silence on xx is so singular it becomes its own feature, and that’s why this album is the most important, and, more usefully, the best of the year.

The xx – Heart Skipped A Beat (YSI)

Just as a round-up, here’s the full list:

1. The xx – xx
2. Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More
3. Future of the Left – Travels With Myself and Another
4. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
5. Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard – ‘Em Are I
6. The Horrors – Primary Colours
7. Mos Def – The Ecstatic
8. Telekinesis – Telekinesis!
9. Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career
10. The Maccabees – Wall of Arms
11. Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinsons – Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson
12. Andrew Bird – Noble Beast
13. Hockey – Mind Chaos
14. Pull Toger Tail – PAWS.
15. Bombay Bicycle Club – I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose

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