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.

Bombay Bicycle Club – Evening/Morning (YSI)

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.

Hockey – Learn To Lose (YSI)

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.

Pull Tiger Tail – Animator (YSI)

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.

Andrew Bird – Effigy (YSI)

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.

Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson – Buriedfed (YSI)

Glastonbury Day Two

So, where were we? I’ll continue, a week exactly since the wondrous collage of genius that is Glastonbury, with Saturday. We awoke to an absolutely sweltering tent, and upon looking outside, saw that the weather had got much, much better overnight, which was a relief to say the least. Significantly cheered up, we roamed our way all the way across the site to where the brilliant Bombay Bicycle Club were playing.

After hearing them for the first time almost a year ago I can’t believe that I’m still waiting for the prodigiously talented band’s debut to come out (well, it’s only four days now, but you know…). Actually I’m rather happy I am, because every time I see them, they’re brilliant, and if they can translate that to a whole record, it’ll be an absolute corker. This appearance was no exception, with the whole audience enraptured by their jaunty tunes and Jack Steadman’s inimitable, fantastic vocals.

Quickly dashing off to the Pyramid stage we got there just in time for a band I still can’t quite believe I saw. Spinal Tap. David St. Hubbins, Nigel Tufnell and Derek Smalls emerged to screams like no other, and proceeded to wheel out every fictional hit they have. From “Gimme Some Money” to “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight”, they covered every iteration of their band, and every genre. Highlights included two little people carrying an inflatable Stonehenge and Jarvis Cocker joining the band on bass. Brilliant.

Suitably stunned, we made our way to see my favourite new band, Hockey. I’ve heard a lot about their live show not living up the promise of their recorded stuff, but as far as I could tell, they were on top form. Every swagger and soulful move of their tracks was perfectly recreated, and Ben Grubin ruled the stage, roaming up and down, making sure everyone got an equal chance to see his perfectly positioned headband and hipster clothing choices. Scenester aspects aside, Hockey look like a seriously good prospect for the future, and another band whose debut I can’t wait for, and this only helped me get more excited.

For our fourth band, and fourth stage, of the day, we took a safe bet and went to see Maximo Park. Just like The Maccabees, Maximo Park seem unable to fail when they play live. Whilst the band are absolutely perfect every time, Paul Smith is the perfect frontman, engaging, funny, humble and bloody mental on stage. His high kicks and little red book are already legendary, and it never gets old. With perfect picks from all three albums, the crowd lapped up every moment, singing along to every word and having a ball in the process.

After a long gap to wander about aimlessly and sample some delicious food, we made our way to the Pyramid Stage once more to catch the main event. It’s no secret as to why Bruce Springsteen is the dictionary definition of a rockstar. He owned the stage, never seemed dwarfed by his surroundings, and, unlike most artists, looked like there was no better place for him than in front of thousands upon thousands of people. There’s a reason it’s called stadium rock. Now I have to admit, I really don’t know much Bruce Springsteen material. In fact I can only think of two songs, and they both begin with the word “Born”, so I can’t say my attention was completely focused. It certianly isn’t usually my kind of music, but it was certainly an amazing (and long) performance, and the crowd absolutely loved it, so what more can you ask for?

So there you have it, another day of Glastonbury reviewing done, and only one more left. See you tomorrow folks!

Bombay Bicycle Club – Evening/Morning (YSI)
Spinal Tap – Gimme Some Money (YSI)
Hockey – 3am Spanish (YSI)
Maximo Park – Postcard of a Painting (YSI)
Bruce Springsteen – Born To Run (YSI)

I really can’t seem to stop blogging about these guys, and I’m sorry for that, but I really can’t overstate how much I think this band are going to mean this year. Hockey are just getting bigger and bigger, with track of the week’s all over the place, a remastered debut album coming in either June/July/August (depending on where you look) and their first appearance on TV, courtesy of Jools Holland.

If you’re in the UK, here’s the link to their performance on iPlayer but fear not international readers, I have a new mp3 too! “Work” is a slower paced effort from the Portland boys, with an almost reggae-style synth backing at times, ever-more soulful vocals from Ben Grubin and even an improvised keyboard solo that sounds like a ’50s Sci-Fi film as an outro. It’s basically, again, completely different to what I’ve heard before, but, again, absolutely brilliant.

If all goes well, I’ll have a review copy of the album coming through soon, and rest assured that’ll be reviewed and put up here very quickly. *tries to contain childish excitement*

Hockey – Work (YSI)

PS. Mediafire’s down, so it’s YouSendIt only at the moment, sorry!

Summer Bands

Well I’m set up and ready to go with this WordPress lark, and frankly after my experience with Blogger, I’m hoping for a better experience. I’m currently on a train speeding back up to Newcastle for the third term of uni, listening through the inordinate amount of albums I’ve bought recently (currently Cold War Kids’ Loyalty To Loyalty) and I think I’ll repost all those tracks that got taken down in last few days. The picture also took me ages to make (I’m a very poor photoshopper you may have noticed), so that’s what’s heading the post. I’ll return to normal service soon, I promise.

The Maccabees – Love You Better (YSI)
Magistrates – Make This Work (YSI)
Hockey – Learn To Lose (Xfm Session) (YSI)
Bombay Bicycle Club – Always Like This (YSI)

When I moved to Newcastle from the little village I lived in before I expected a new world of musical possibilities, gigs every night and a general involvement in something bigger than going out to a show once a month or less. Turns out I was just a little naive. Because it seems as though, despite the big Carling Academy and a few other great music venues, no bands seem to come here.

Future of the Left were due to play here last month, but cancelled, and then when I found out that Bear Hands and Hockey, two brilliant new American acts were going on a UK tour (with Passion Pit, who I like a lot less and so will spite by not mentioning them. Except for now.), I was disappointed (read: severely pissed off) to find out they weren’t coming anywhere near the North-East. What is it that makes Newcastle an undesirable city to come to? (No nasty jokes please)

Ah well, if you get the chance and they come near you, I urge you to go and see the two afore-mentioned bands, I’ve blogged about Bear Hands before, their post-punk buildups leading to huge choruses are just wonderful, and Hockey have been described as a synth version of The Strokes, something I totally agree with. Hopefully you’ll enjoy them. But I might have to hate you if you do see them.

Bear Hands – Bad Blood
Hockey – Too Fake