Monday, 7 December 2009

My Top 20 Albums of 2009 ...

I had planned to write war & peace for each as I had in 2007 but couldn't because:

1) I don't have the time

2) I can't be arsed !!!

3) I have 20, not 10 !!!!!!!

So, with choices, placings and comments open for abuse, I give you ............

20) We Were Promised Jetpacks: “These Four Walls”

Not sure if it’s just me or whether 2009 really has been a seminal year for Scottish bands (there’s more than one in my list this year). Very confident debut by one of many good new jock indie rock bands around today, it’s nice to see that Frightened Rabbit aren’t alone.

19) Brand New: “Daisy”

While reading online reviews for an album that appears later in this list I came across a recommendation for another band who also appear later. While reading reviews of the latter (confused??!!!) I came across Brand New and reviews of “Daisy”. While most were positive, there appeared to be a theme of reviewers identifying that Brand New had changed musical direction on all of their 4 album releases … this was interesting enough to check out Daisy.

On first listen, this is confused alternative Americana, further listens reveal structure, layers and influences that produce a remarkable album.

18) … And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead: “The Century of Self”

Texans Trail of Dead sit squarely on the border between art-rock and post punk and often dabble with progressive tendencies … the opener “Giant Causeway” leads you to believe the prog element will be in gear here as it reminds you of an excerpt from the Hitchhikers Guide to the galaxy theme !!!

It will always amaze me that these guys are not huge as they stand head and shoulders above most of their peers. Conrad Keely’s song writing and delivery deserves at least the recognition of Jack White et al …. In my humble opinion of course. I sleep comfortably knowing that I recognise the talent even when most others don’t … your loss !!!

17) Camera Obscura: “My Maudlin Career”

I defy anyone to listen to Camera Obscura and not be totally besotted with Tracyanne Campbell’s beautifully delicate vocals. Coupled with the near perfect song writing, arrangements (the string and horn arrangements are by Björn Yttling, of Peter Bjorn and John) and production, My Maudlin Career delvers another great album from another great Glasgow based (proper) indie band inspired by 60’s pop.

16) Yeah Yeah Yeah's: “Its Blitz”

I cringed when I heard Nick Zinner was ditching his guitars for this and though we were in for a cheesy retro electro-fest. No fears though ... the guitars are still here, they just go through some mega techno pedal configuration before hitting yer lugs !! Amazed that their earlier albums have been listed in top 20’s of the decade when this has been overlooked.

15) Bombay Bicycle Club: “I Had the Blues But I Shook Them Loose”

Yeah, silly name, cheesy indie pop riffs but well worth listening to over and over again to appreciate the subtleties and maturity in play here. A bit Foals, a bit Maccabies but bloody good stuff.

14) Dinosaur Jr: “Farm”

The ninth studio album from J. Mascis et al and the follow up to 2007’s post reunion of the original line up “Beyond”. It unmistakably J. Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph, its nothing new but its as consistently good as anything they’ve released in a long time.

13) Biffy Clyro: “Only Revolutions”

I’ve been a Biffy fan since they release “The Vertigo of Bliss” back in 2003. That was a spiky, alternative album that took many listens to even work out the structure of most of the tracks. Since then they have started to become a bit more mainstream and accused of being the Scottish Foo Fighters and I have to admit that I got less and less enthusiastic about each release … albeit I have them all. I didn’t expect much of “Only Revolutions” but have loved it since the first listen.

What’s wrong with being the Scottish Foo Fighters anyway ???!!!!

12) Julian Plenti: “Julian Plenti is Skyscraper”

The solo incarnation of Interpol’s Paul Banks, Julian Plenti is Skyscraper is to Interpol what Casablancas’ “Phrazes for the Young” is to The Strokes … except for one thing … Julian Plenti is on my list !!!!!!

Where Casablancas obviously wrestled for a long time to come up with a deliberately quirky collection of tracks, Banks rattled out this in a short period yet still managed to progress beyond the shackles of his day job.

What starts sounding like a decent Interpol album develops into a wonderful statement intent for either Julian Plenti, Interpol or, hopefully, both.

11) Caspian: “Tertia”

Almost the best instrumental post-rock record of the year … almost !

10) Ian Brown: “My Way”

After several brilliant albums, Ian Brown let himself down with 2007’s “The World is Yours” … I still feel guilty that he was affected by our meeting in New York while he was mixing that album, maybe no though !

Ian knew his previous effort was not up to par and committed to record an album based on the same principles that Michael Jackson had for ‘Thriller’, including the rule that if any track could not be considered a possible top 5 hit, it was binned.

“My Way” certainly appears to have been recorded using the technology around in the days of ‘Thriller’ given its constant barrage of cheesy loops and beats that sit just below the surface of some of king monkey’s finer work … OK, this is the guy who wrote ‘I am the Resurrection”, “F.E.A.R.” and “Keep What Ya Got” so that was a bold statement but this really is fantastic stuff.

09) Stellastarr: “Civilised”

Perhaps not musically justifying its place, but for the sheer enjoyment it gives listening to one of the worlds most under rated (especially live) bands, it had to be here. “Civilised” loses itself a bit for a couple of tracks in the middle so if you give it a listen for the first time, hang in there.

Its nice to have them back, if only for the chance that I’ll be able to see bass player Amanda Tannen in the flesh again someday soon

08) Silversun Pickups: “Swoon”

Often (and wrongly) cited as Smashing Pumpkins wanabies, this follow up to 2006’s “Carnavas” was highly anticipated. It still amazes me how Brian Aubert approached song writing as few of the tracks here have any kind of traditional structure while still being very accessible.

Anyone who hasn’t heard this should play “The Royal We” and “Panic Switch” back to back and very loud … then go back and listen to the whole thing.

07) Monsters of Folk: “Monsters of Folk”

I always knew there would be a Conor Oberst album in this year’s list but I hadn’t guessed it would be this one !!!

I’ve struggled with his other 2009 release “Outer South” and may well, on reflection, regret not having it anywhere here. When I first saw reviews for “Monsters of Folk” I was prepared to hate it …

I’m not a My Morning Jacket Fan and haven’t been a huge fan of most of the post Bright Eyes Oberst but have to say that, despite its roots, this is a stunning collection of many different styles delivered by a bunch of guys on top of their game.

Travelling Wilbury’s for the .net generation? … so ???!!!!

06) Arctic Monkeys: “Humbug”

I have to admit to being a huge Arctic Monkeys fan from the very beginning ... one doubt I had was what they would do after the initial childhood observational song writing style had nothing left to deliver … “Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not” was based heavily on reciting adolescent memories from the early days in Sheffield and what it missed out on musically was more than made up for in lyrics.

“Favourite Worst Nightmare” had matured musically however was still in the same vein, it was all beginning to dilute lyrically though.

Stereophonics had been in the same position after their first two albums and whereas they decided to crawl up their own arse, Arctic Monkeys chose another path …. Go dark, go heavy !

This is the album that makes Arctic Monkeys fans decide whether they are going to invest in continuing a musical development journey or just remember the happy times when bouncing around to “I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor etc”.

I personally don’t subscribe to the view that Josh Homme influenced the direction of this album in any way, I think the band wanted something very specific from him and he delivered … they all did.

05) Manic Street Preachers: “Journal for Plague Lovers”

I’m not even going to attempt to say anything original about an album that has been so widely discussed and deeply dissected as this.

Suffice to say that I think the band managed to deliver something quite special from Ritchie’s last lyric collection and especially in their ability to return to the darkness of “The Holy Bible” instead of building on the commercially successful platform that “Send Away the Tigers” had provided.

I saw them playing this live in London this year and it was quite a spectacle … so many years after Ritchie, these guys still miss him like it was yesterday … and now they’ve nae lyrics left !!!!!!!

04) De Rosa: “Prevention”

For me, this will always be associated with memories of the time leading up to the birth of my son.

I was working from home for a few weeks before he came along and listening to lots of random stuff based on loose recommendations etc. I was reading a Mogwai forum one day when read that Barry Burns had played piano on most of the new De Rosa album so I downloaded it.

It took several listens to get into, but this was constantly on my ipod while I was painting bathrooms, building furniture etc. They were due to play Aberdeen the week after Fraser’s due date but as he was late, I couldn’t go … they have since split up and the chance to catch them live has gone.

I’ve listened a couple of times in recent weeks to see if it stands up and still believe it is a beautiful (albeit ‘nicely’ flawed) record.

03) The Twilight Sad: “Forget the Night Ahead”

Having seen The Twilight Sad live many times and loving the brilliant debut “Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters” (2007), I still didn’t see the development that happened to allow this album coming.

While retaining the wall of sound guitars from the debut, “Forget the Night Ahead” introduces much more complex arrangements in additional to James learning that he can actually sing a bit !!! Tracks like “I Became a Prostitute” and “Made to Disappear” point to a potentially more commercially attractive direction but here’s hoping they retain the hometown edge

… definitely the highest placed album in my list from a band from Kilsyth !!!

02) Mono: “Hymn to the Immortal Wind”

Mono’s early albums had them tagged as the Japanese Mogwai, not unfairly given the similarity of the debut “Under the Pipal Tree” (2001) to the early Mogwai recordings. Over the years though, while both retaining the flawed tag “post-rock”, its fair to say that musical similarities are much more tenuous and Mono have established themselves as one of the world’s premier instrumental rock bands.

“Hymn to the Immortal Wind”, is a stunning collection or sound scapes that one minute remind you of epic film soundtracks and the next minute have you grabbing for the volume button as your ears start to bleed.

01) Manchester Orchestra: “Mean Everything to Nothing”

I discovered Manchester Orchestra just this year while reading online reviewed of the Silversun Pickup’s “Swoon”. “Mean Everything to Nothing” hadn’t been released at the time and I grew to love them through previous release “I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child” which was in a relatively mild alt. rock America styleee. There were one or two classic tracks on there that made me want to hear more.

“Mean Everything to Nothing” is a different beast to “I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child” … its more confident, much louder and Andy Hull has developed a vocal style that can both scare young children and make grown men greet (listen to "I Can Feel a Hot One", after a few glasses of wine just after becoming a dad for the first time !!). The band admitted that they wanted the album to be in two halves, the noise of the first and the calm of the second … it works, but needs the investment to get to the end.

Impossible to single out tracks but special mention to “Shake it Out”, and aforementioned “"I Can Feel a Hot One". Probably an acquired and specialist taste but one that ticks most musical boxes for me (on many levels) … one of the best albums I’ve heard in many years.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Top 10 Albums of 2008

I had my list done weeks ago and had planned to do the whole blog review thing as I did last year but circumstances mean that I haven't had the time, the energy or the inclination.

The other thing I failed with was to limit the list to 10 ... I did the whole paired decision making process to systematically narrow down a list from 20 to 10 but my number 10 and 11 came out with the same score and I couldn't split them ... therefore, my top 11 of the 2008 are:

11. TV on the Radio - "Dear Science"
10. Sigur Ros - "Með suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust"
09. Conor Oberst - "Conor Oberst"
08. Spiritualized® - "Songs in A&E"
07. The Wedding Present - "El Rey"
06. The Fall - "Imperial Wax Solvent"
05. Glasvegas - "Glasvegas"
04. British Sea Power - "Do You Like Rock Music"
03. Foals - "Antidotes"
02. The Walkmen - "You & Me"
01. Mogwai - "The Hawk is Howling"