Here we go. To all those people who read my blog and might at all be interested in what it is that I've been listening to all year. You might have seen the odd song in my monthly posts which might give some idea (although probably not as I do tend to skip around different years when I'm sat listening to music). But here we are at the end of 2009 and in music, 2010 has officially started (albums are already leaking such as the new Los Campesinos! (damn good btw)). So lets look back upon the last 12 months in music. I definitely felt that 2009 was stronger for more alternative music than for critically acclaimed indie music but it does seem that the two tend to swap between being my favourite genre (the last time this happened was 2006 when ironically both Brand New and Moneen had new albums out, so maybe it's something to do with those bands?).
So without further ado, album number 11
11. Hell or High Water - As Cities Burn
Probably the most underrated album of the year. Whilst they may be (unfairly pegged) as a Christian rock band, As Cities Burn made something excellent on this their last record. It's hard to say what exactly makes this album so good. But it was the first album of 2009 I truly dug, so it's just a shame that so much great music was released this year that it only finds itself at number 11
10. These Four Walls - We Were Promised Jetpacks
Another awesome year for Scottish music. Whilst The Twilight Sad released a great album this year, I felt we should give some respect to the newbies. They not be as polished as The Twilight Sad were on their debut or as superb on Frightened Rabbit's last release (still one of the best of the decade) but this album is just a great little album. It's dripping with the style of it's Scottish brethren and post-punkness. And yes, there is a little bit of the Arctic Monkeys in there.
9. xx - The xx
I haven't been listening to The xx for that long but their debut is just that impressive. By far the most intriguing debut of the year (whilst number 1 is technically a debut it is very much linked to a band that disbanded in 2007). The xx are an entirely unique band with a sound like no other. Already this debut is having words thrown around such as it being the most important debut since Arcade Fire's Funeral (I'd be intrigued by any album if it was compared to that album). Whilst completely differently sonically from Arcade Fire, it's an entirely unique album and really very minimalist. Whilst I'm not sure The xx will be able to sustain this level of greatness (one member of the band left due to exhaustion) this debut seems to have captured lightning in a bottle, which I'm sure I'll be enjoying for months to come.
8. Daisy - Brand New
One of the best bands of the decade released their fourth album this year. Whilst it definitely isn't their best work it still shows signs of their ordinary brilliance. The album starts off in extraordinary fashion with 'Vices', one of the biggest mindfucks of the year. Sadly it tails off with 'Bed' (dreadful, dreadful song) then the "obviously made for single" 'At the Bottom' which ruin the flow of the album. Luckily after the weirdness of 'You Stole' the albums shifts it into high gear and opens up as one of the richest and most dense albums of the year. Whilst it's still polarising to fans (it just isn't as good as 2006's 'TDAGARIM') it still comes out on top proving that even when they only make half an album work, Brand New are just one of the bands making music in the world at the moment.
7. The World I Want To Leave Behind - Moneen
One of my favourite bands in the world came back in 2009 with another awesome album. Whilst it might not be as brilliant as The Red Tree (I seem to be saying that a lot of these albums aren't as good as another album) but it still shows that these guys are one of the most underrated bands in the world. The fact that these guys haven't blown up when they are one of the best 'rock' bands in the world at the moment seems insane to me. This record is a lot more produced and clean than their past releases, and in some cases a lot more straightforward (the level of math rock has definitely decreased) but they have come out with some of the best songs of the year on an amazingly cohesive album. It's just a shame that these guys already recorded the perfect album and that this work, whilst brilliant has to live in The Red Tree's shadow.
6. Beggars - Thrice
You've probably heard of Thrice by now. Whilst not in that pantheon of critically acclaimed artists like Radiohead, they receive a lot of praise from the 'scene' for being one of the most creative bands in the world and always striving for a different sound, which is what they achieved here. Gone are the post hardcore screams and instead we get a slower more refined piece which I would argue is the bands finest effort. Beggars is melodic and if you went back to their first release (which came out some 8 years ago) you'd see just how far this band has progressed. Thrice are by far one of the most captivating bands in the world and you'd be stupid to miss out them, another of those under appreciated 'rock' bands.
5. Merriweather Post Pavilion - Animal Collective
It's probably sacrilege by this point to not have Animal Collective on the end of 2009 list. These guys are the new critical darlings and whilst of course that brings with it the backlash of people not normally listening to this genre jumping in and proclaiming it shit (it happens with films all the time, see last years Oscar winner 'Slumdog Millionaire' and the year before 'Juno'). Whilst I can see a lot of the problems that these people (normally from the 'scene') have with it, I have to say it's one of the most fun and original indie pop records ever. It might just be noise but the different vocals and styles make for very layered noise. And 'My Girls' is probably one of the most likable songs of the year. Animal Collective have been around for years but it's with Merriweather Post Pavilion that they blew up to be indie poster boys with the likes of Arcade Fire and Spoon.
4. Mean Everything to Nothing - Manchester Orchestra
Best rock album of the year? Yes they were on Gossip Girl but all that music is chosen by a woman with one of the best ears for music in the world. Manchester Orchestra are best friends with Brand New and whilst Brand New might beat them to one of the defining moments of alt-rock this decade, Manchester Orchestra trounced 'Daisy' this with 'Mean Everything to Nothing'. One of those albums that just needs to be listened to from beginning to end. It's emotional, full of awesome hooks, anthems and is just one of the best albums of the year. The lead singer even described it as 'Pinkerton on steroids' and whilst it might not be the epitome of perfection of that album, it still is worthy of that name. In any other year I might have proclaimed this as the best album of the year, but of course we still have three albums to go. Now those have to be outright incredible
3. Tarot Sport - Fuck Buttons
A band I only discovered recently. Very much a spur of the moment download, it stems from a friend saying that no band with 'Fuck' in their name was good and from a very regular stream of tweets between directors Edgar Wright ('Shaun of the Dead' and 'Hot Fuzz') who was listening to this band whilst editing his new movie and Jason Reitman ('Juno') whom was in discussion of how good the album was. So I listened and was blown away. I'm a big fan of post-rock. No vocals and just instruments building to a climax and then slowly fading into the next song. So many different styles can be found on one album and bands like Mogwai and Godspeed! You Black Emperor corner the market, but Fuck Buttons are unique. Fronted by only two people, one raised on rock, the other electronica, we get a wholly unique creation. The birth child of Mogwai and Aphex Twin. 'Tarot Sport' is more easily accessible than 2008's 'Street Horrsing', whilst they're still loud and aggressive there's a lot more subtly. The songs will frequently be 9 or 10 minutes long and take you on a cinematic journey through sweeping epics. With only two albums under their belt, Fuck Buttons have cemented themselves as one of my absolute favourite British bands and I can't wait to see what 2010 has in store for them, I just hope we got more of the best electronic noise band in the world
2. Aim and Ignite - fun.
fun. didn't come from nowhere. fun. is kind of like a phoenix (not to be confused with French band Phoenix who put out a pretty incredible album this year), it rose from the death of another great band, The Format, the band that lead singer Nate Reuss was part of. Luckily fun. feels like an extension of their original sound. The Format had released the brilliant 'Dog Problems' just before they broke up which showcased a brilliant indie pop sound. fun. takes this sound and begis to go in so many different directions. The songs are vibrant, original, full of energy and ultimately unpredictable. There's so many different elements to all the songs and listing them all seems like a pointless en devour. It might not be as seamless as other albums I would normally proclaim as one of the best of the year, but when your album has songs such as 'Be Calm' (I love that song soooo much) then I can forgive it not being as seamless as my favourite album of the year. fun. wrote a pop album which should be the touchstone of the 'pop' albums we hear in the charts. It's uplifting, enlightening and no one could listen to this album without feeling happy afterward. Nate Reuss is one of the best vocalists in the world (so yes that does mean no auto tune) and I'd be a lot happier with the world if decent 'pop' music like that which fun. makes were topping the charts instead of artists like Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus. But I'm also a selfish bastard, and finding an unknown band like fun. is the half fun of music, the fact that I get to hear a new and refreshing sound before it gets bastardized by the corporations or (heaven forbid) covered for the X-Factor.
1. Act III: Life and Death - The Dear Hunter
Before I start this I would like to say, don't start with Act III of The Dear Hunter's six part epic, instead it's necessary to start with Act I and Act II, it shows the evolution of one of the most promising bands in the world. Concept albums are becoming startlingly common and whilst a lot of them are quite bad, Dear Hunter injects new life into the concept. All three of their albums are dense and it's almost a requirement to just sit and concentrate upon them. They're also so dense and it's draining to listen to them (although the hour long length doesn't help). The band have had two albums to experiment and now they come about to hone their sound, it still darts across so many influences and genres but it now sounds like The Dear Hunter, due in no part to the tremendous vocals and effort put in by Casey Crescenzo. So many different genres are littered throughout, jazz, ragtime, prog, rock, bluegrass, ballads. There are slow songs and fast songs but all come to together into a cohesive blend ( again this an album that needs to be listened to in its entirety. If you've been listening to this band since the beginning then you know just how far they've matured, but if you're interested in them you need to start from the beginning and be a part of that journey. But for now we have to long wait for Act IV, whenever that might eventually come out.
And of course my favourite songs of 2009.
11. Lady Blue - As Cities Burn
My favourite song from of the most underrated albums of the year. Taking pieces from earlier songs on the album and even using a chain (?) as an instrument. Gang chanting make for a great song which was probably heard by far too few people.
10. Vices - Brand New
Chosen for more for the "Holy Fuck!" moment but an awesome way to kick of an album. Whilst all the momentum in this first song is lost by the awful 'Bed' (I really hate that song) it still stands as a glowing moment on the album which sadly finds itself so disconnected from the superb second half of the album
*WARNING* YOU MAY WANT TO BLOCK YOUR EARS *WARNING*
9. Two Weeks - Grizzly Bear
Sunshine-y indie pop music will litter this list but it was fantastic year for that sort of thing and this Beach Boys tinged song is absolutely superb (although the video is a tad creepy)
8. Crystalised - The xx
The very definition of headphone music. Minimalist beats with dual vocals mean not a single second of this song is wasted on extra elements
7. MK Ultra - Muse
The Resistance wasn't the second coming like many people were hoping and whilst it was a great album it doesn't hold a candle to Muse's other efforts but we still need to recognise the awesomeness of 'MK Ultra'. This was the yer that Muse showed they were fans of Battles ('Uprising') and Queen ('United States of Eurasia'). Hell they even wrote a symphony, but MK Ultra is the true centrepiece of The Resistance. Luckily Muse are still the best live band on the planet, so we can forgive them for the misstep that is 'Undisclosed Desires'
6. Doublespeak - Thrice
I could have chosen any song from Beggars but I chose this one mostly because it's cacthy, has a very cool piano and ends up being one of the heavier songs on the album. Plus references to 1984 are always welcome in my book.
5. I've Got Friends - Manchester Orchestra
The biggest anthem from the undeniably best rock album of the year. Whilst it's another one of those albums that lends better to be listened to all the way through, this lead single is an excellent in point for a band that just brought it in 2009.
4. Waterfalls - Moneen
I love all things acoustic and string. Moneen might be a rock band but they can do acoustic music like no other. Whilst this song is less acoustic than the one released on their EP earlier in the year, Moneen just know how to layer music to make already great songs even better.
3. My Girls - Animal Collective
Yes it's the most critically acclaimed song of the year and yes Animal Collective is now bigger than Jesus (in some circles) and now the backlash is coming in waves. So many people hate these guys but I'm not here to slam them, instead sing their praises for writing one of the most ingenious and near unanimously loved songs of the year/decade. Even haters have to admit the genius behind this one.
2. Surf Solar - Fuck Buttons
10 minutes long of just static I've heard this described as. Whilst that description does hold some weight I can't help but love this song and this band. The rises and the slowly layering of different elements. Rock purists might feel this is an electronic wank fest but honestly I couldn't give a fuck, one of the best songs of the year easily
1. Be Calm - fun.
No other song that came out this could touch this masterpiece. So many different elements make this song as awesome as it is. There's the string instruments, trumpets, accordian, Nate Ruess' vocals. Hell there's even a theremin used. A few months ago I was asked what my 'happy' song is. I can now safely say it's this song easily my most played of 2009.