Top 20 Albums of 2009: Part Three
Spotify playlist of the whole shebang HERE:
1. The xx – xx
It wasn’t my intention to have the xx as my top album of the year. I was going to relegate them, indecisively, to number three, and let the far more heavy hitting releases from Dirty Projectors and St. Vincent take first and second respectively. The xx are an odd band – they look out of place, they’re nervy and awkward on stage, their blend of moody, chiming guitars and soulful vocals sounds absolutely awful on paper – but it really, really works. ‘xx’ is a strike of lightning moment; completely unclassifiable and indescribable – music has never sounded quite like this and will never sound like this again. Their combination of stark, dubby beats, cold guitars and hot, cagey, backwards desire has never been done before, and will never be repeated in quite the same way. The glue that ties this odd, bastard combination all together is the complete, full perfectness of Oliver and Romy’s intonation, their vocal interplay, the subtle reams of poetry they shoot into the lyrics. Listen to the first verses of ‘Heart Skipped a Beat’. It’s perfect. The slowed-down, syrupy soul of Oliver’s delivery contrasts perfectly with Romy’s quick, flouncy prettiness. To quote Paul Morley when he first heard The Smith’s ‘This Charming Man’ – ‘This is not the kind of record that you find yourself in a corner with at a party, pressed awkwardly against it and fumbling with its buttons. This is the kind of record that you marry.’
2. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca
Dirty Projectors are all about joy – and ‘Bitte Orca’ is simply bursting with it. The ‘Yeah, I Wanna, Yeah I Wanna!’ call-and-response of ‘Remade Horizon’, the ‘Bitte orca, Orca Bitte!’ freak-out in ‘Useful Chamber’, Dave’s triumphant simile of ‘What hits the spot, girl, like gatorade? You and me, baby! Hitting the spot all night!’ in ‘Temecula Sunrise’ – all of these moments encapsulate a kind of primal happiness deadened in most modern music. It’s almost unthinkably rare that a single album should contain so many moments of unbridled, yelping moments of wild joy – but, God knows how, Dirty Projectors have managed to harness it into ‘Bitte Orca’. It’s chaotic and logical and wild, it’s beautiful and unlistenable. And it’s so much fun.
3. St. Vincent – Actor
Annie Clark is simply remarkable – with her doe-eyed good looks and high-pitched warble; she could easily make uninspired, female folk and be all the more beloved for it. However, on ‘Actor’ she opted against the easy route, and concocted a highly original blend of throbbing, fairytale whimsy and jagged, cruel guitar mess. This is the kind of album that seems to be, at all times, hanging by a thread – it could so easily fall to pieces at any moment, but Annie’s breathtaking voice and cohesive grasp of the subtleties of melody makes it all come together. Remarkable.
Read my ‘Actor’ review HERE:
4. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion
For me, Animal Collective is a band of extremes – they can either be jaw-droppingly good or completely dire. MPP heralded a new Animal Collective sound – their gooey, psyched-out sonic textures and crazed yelping were finally collected and reigned into something cohesive and enjoyable. You only need to listen to the insanely moreish ‘My Girls’ to know that AC are toeing the pop/experimental fault line more than ever before. Poppy or not, it sounds good. MPP feels like a homecoming, a triumph of some sort, a crazed, wild celebration.
5. Girls – Album
Girls aren’t a complicated band – this may sound like a criticism, but considering their background – Owens grew up in a cult, escaped, was homeless, taken under the wing of a local millionaire and made ‘Album’ under the influence of a plethora of drugs – ‘Album’s happy-go-lucky simplicity is more of a feat than if he had made a morose album, riddled with self-doubt. Girl’s simplistic, almost-childlike lyrics (‘You’ve been a bitch, I’ve been an ass’) and his ragged, full-throated whine sound like they’re hiding a clandestine world of pain, and it’s impossible not to admire Owens incessant sunniness, his grins – however genuine they may be. However, it’d be surly to over-analyse such a genius piece of work – ‘Lust For Life’ is pure, indie-pop goodness that hasn’t been quite as realized since the days of Elvis Costello, and ‘God Damned’ finds Owens doing a spot-on Elliott Smith.
6. The Antlers – Hospice
Like Girls, The Antler’s Peter Silberman has an equally tragic, Bon Iver-ish back-story – ‘Hospice’ was conceived while caring for a terminally ill patient (Presumably the ‘Sylvia’ the album speaks of). After the death of the patient, Silberman retreated into a long period of isolation, and emerged with the bare bones of ‘Hospice’. Unlike Girls however, ‘Hospice’ wears it’s pain on it’s sleeves – it’s seismic combination of bedside epic and hushed, warm intimacy is mind-blowingly effective and Silberman’s hushed, prayer lyrics encapsulate the intricacies of hospices – whether the dependence of doctor and patient (‘Let me do my job, let me do my job’), the exasperation of a patient who has given up (‘You can throw the thermometer right back at me, if that’s what you want to do, okay?’), the pain of seeing someone you love wither (I’d happily take all those bullets inside you and put them inside myself’), or the patient blaming the carer (‘Couldn’t you have kept all of this from happening?’). This is a powerful, pain-ridden, terrifying record, and it’ll destroy you. Not to be taken lightly.
7. Sunset Rubdown – Dragonslayer
Just as you think indie-rock’s getting old, another supreme record comes and knocks you off your feet. Another product of the incredibly prolific Montreal indie-rock scene, Sunset Rubdown (Fronted by Spencer Krug, of Wolf Parade, Frog Eyes, White Rabbits etc) ‘Dragonslayer’ is fiercely empowering indie-rock at it’s very finest – the searing roar of the guitars in ‘Idiot Heart’, the battle cry of ‘Apollo and the buffalo and Anna Anna Anna Oh!’, the evocative lyrics (‘I hope that you die in a decent pair of shoes/ You got an awful lotta walking to do’) aren’t anything startlingly original – you only need to put on Arcade Fire’s ‘Funeral’, or Wolf Parade’s ‘Apologies To The Queen Mary’ to get the same kind of fix, but Spencer Krug does it so well, it’s impossible not to feel roused by this startlingly good record.
8. Cymbals Eat Guitars – Why There Are Mountains
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a review of ‘Why There Are Mountains’ without it mentioning Pavement in some shape or form – but it’s true, in the best way possible, Cymbals Eat Guitars have conjured up the gentle humor and exhilarating triumph of the pioneering indie-rock band without sounding derivative at all. Cymbals Eat Guitars do the whole Pixies quiet-loud sonic assault thing so well that every song on ‘Why There Are Mountains’ could be touted as a possible classic. Highlights are the soaring triumph of ‘…And the Hazy Sea’, the lyrical poetry of ‘Indiana’ and the jagged, Pavement-esque ‘Some Trees (Merritt Moon)’. As epic as its album namesake, Cymbals Eat Guitars are a band that shouldn’t be missed.
Read my review of Cymbals Eat Guitars HERE:
9. WHY? – Eskimo Snow
‘Alopecia’ is one of my favourite records of all time, so I felt like mourning when Yoni Wolf proclaimed this ‘the least hip-hop thing out of anything I’ve been involved with’. However, where ‘Alopecia’ laid break beats and drums, ‘Eskimo Snow’ lays roaring guitars and tinkling percussion. It’s a departure, and his more hip-hop orientated days of cLOUDDEAD and Hymie’s Basement will be missed, as far as departures go – this is pretty sweet.
10. The Pains of Being Pure At Heart – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Straight from a gauzy bubble of pitchfork-generated hype, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart are a New York indie-pop outfit hell-bent on recreating the gauzy, sublime wonderfulness of twee c-86 and Sarah Records. Wearing their influences proudly (Heavenly, Orange Juice, Talulah Gosh) their debut album is a sweetly nostalgic affair, punctuated by some killer tunes (‘This Love is Fucking Right!’)