Friday, December 04, 2009

the best single and album of 2009


No. 1: Röyksopp - Happy Up Here.

So this was the only song released this year that was better than Dizzee Rascal - Bonkers? Quite a bold statement, if you think about it.

It's a simple song. In discovering the nicest four second little hook buried away at the start of a song by Pavement called Do That Stuff, you imagine they then spent a weekend building it up so it lasted three minutes, adding increasing waves of pleasure until no more can possibly be crammed in.

The result is indeed maybe the happiest song ever created. Go listen to it and try to disagree with me. Quite simply remarkable.


No. 1: The Decemberists - The Hazards of Love

A prog-rock opera album, anyone?

Don't all jump at once now, but after one listen you'll be converted. This is a very immediate album. The structure. The exquisite sense of escalation. The odd reprise or five. And just how damn fine these songs are. Subsequent listens and you'll notice the whole thing is one big story of forest-dweller love.

It's awe-inspiring stuff, an epic hour long journey. You couldn't possibly regret purchasing it.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

top 10 singles and albums of 2009 - part 3


No. 2: Dizzee Rascal - Bonkers.

The future casestudy for how to bring the mainstream to you, rather than pander to it. Whereas Holiday and Dance Wit Me are unquestionably pop, here the beat comes straight from the club scene.

What really carries it the song though is its sense of fun. Nobody's taking themselves too seriously here. Seeing 60,000 people bouncing to it at Glastonbury isn't a memory that will fade easily.

Hell, it might even be better than Sirens. Although that might be pushing things a little too far.

No. 3: Biffy Clyro - That Golden Rule

The perfect marriage of the usual preposterous Biffy fare, and newly found mainstream sensibilities. Moments later they go too far and dumb down for the masses (The Captain), but that's not so here.

Getting the radio-friendly formula out of the way in two minutes flat, the track then beds down into its real intention: producing the riff of the year.

No. 4: Jay-Z - Empire State of Mind (feat. Alicia Keys)

The unquestionable highlight of Blueprint III (even when you take into account the circling addictiveness of ace street track D.O.A. (Death Of Autotune).

A simple love letter to NYC, the combination of Jay-Z's tension building lyrics followed by the release of Alicia Keys' chorus made this stand out from first listen. This was the highlight of Jay's live set even as the album was just being released - it sounded absolutely massive.


No. 2: The Horrors - Primary Colours

Nobody - really nobody - expected this to be any good. An industry joke in 2007 - the very definition of style over substance - to return with such an incredible second album was one of the most remarkable moments of the year. Wall-of-Sound classics like Mirror's Image and Three Decades sound incredible after first listen, and even better after the tenth.

Also impressive was the nod to non-commercialism in releasing the eight minute Sea Within A Sea (nowhere near the best song here) as the first single. Now a superb band with style AND substance.

No. 3: Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz!

Somebody, anybody, please explain why Zero wasn't the massive hit Yeah Yeah Yeahs have deserved for so long.

It was typical of the assured sound here, whether rocking the dancefloor (Heads Will Roll) or pulling on heartstrings (Hysteric). Since Elbow went mainstream, music's most undervalued band.

No 4. The XX - The XX

Pop minimalism? Yes please.

There's certainly nothing else out there quite like like The XX. Catchy pop tracks are stripped back to their most basic instrumentation, giving them full room to breath. The result is wonderful atmospherics like those of Crystalised and Fantasy.

Next time you're faced with a long train journey or drive home in the middle of the night, you will not find a more perfect accompaniment.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

top 10 singles and albums of 2009 - part 2


No. 5: Felix Da Housecat - Elvi$.

There was only one way to start a DJ set during the summer of 2009. With brutal urgency and immediacy, this is simple stand-up-and-pay-attention club music to get everybody in the room on side. Especially reccommended for anybody that's ever thought a car alarm is knocking out a surprisingly danceable hook.

No. 6: Franz Ferdinand - Ulysses

Their most assured song to date, here was where they slowed proceedings down a bit, and in doing so made the perfect (yes really: perfect.) indie disco anthem.

Their album 'Tonight...' deserves credit too - it's also their best yet, despite sinking without a trace due to the fact that nobody listens to indie anymore.

No. 7: The Airborne Toxic Event - Sometime Around Midnight

The song that should have been as big as Snow Patrol's Chasing Cars.

Which means it had the mainstream-y big-hearted appeal to sell a LOT of copies over a very LONG period of time. Soundtracking reality TV montages, or adverts for ITV's new autumn drama season. That sort of thing.

Might still happen of course. X-factor must be crying out for new tracks to help falsify emotion by now. This epic slow-building classic is actually deserving of such a wide audience.


No. 5: Vitalic - Flashmob

Continuing to prove that electro can work in the album format (see also: Justice, Mylo), thank the lord himself for Vitalic.

Now on his second completely essential album, he doesn't stray too far from what made 2005's OK Cowboy such a success. This is refinement, polish and progression. The quality never dips, and the pacing never falters. Ace.

No. 6: The Phantom Band - Checkmate Savage

A blend of gothic folk, krautrock, doo-wop and electro (thanks, Guardian), The Phantom Band are a weird bunch.

That's not to say they don't know their way around a good melody. It's a pitch-perfect blend, intelligent, experimental, yet accessible music. You should start your journey by giving Folk Song Oblivion a listen.

No 7. Noah and the Whale - The First Days of Spring

For everybody who fell in love with Bon Iver in 2008, here 2009's heartbreak album of the year.

And what heartbreak it is. Charlie Fink's lyrics don't bother to hide behind analogy, instead airing themselves in plaintive literalism. There's bad days (I Have Nothing) and good (Love of An Orchestra), and he chronicles the stages of the break-up process in agonising detail (the sleepless nights, the rebound sex, the determination to move on).

Rarely does music bare all quite so honestly.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

top 10 singles and albums of 2009 - part 1


No. 8: Sub Focus - Could This Be Real

Exactly what pop music should be doing in 2009. The initial Chicago house vibes give way one of the year's best wonky basslines (and that is a strongly contested category). In a lesser song these two sections would feel disjointed, but Sub Focus has more talent than that. A lesser artist could also be accused of selling out with a track like this, but here Sub Focus can be excused on the grounds that he is making pop music as interesting and high quality as is possible.

It comes from a (self-titled) album that nearly matches 2008's Chase & Status record as an urban album that deserves to steal the mainstream limelight.

No. 9: Jamie T - Sticks 'N' Stones

Credit to Mr. T (as everybody should refer to him) for nailing the artform of comeback single. Easily at his best both lyrically and musically, anybody who wasn't sold on his music surely was by now. There's a clever narrative structure in there and everything!

Which makes it all the more of a shame that the follow up single Chaka Demus was his worst single yet. Whoever released it needs shooting.

No. 10: Arctic Monkeys - Cornerstone

The welcome relief on their otherwise overblown album, here's a terrifically confident waltz that knows it doesn't have to try too hard. Seemingly Alex Turner is missing Alexa Chung a lot, so is wondering around town kissing similar looking girls whilst asking if he can call them Alexa Chung. Bit odd, but polygamy is one of the job perks of being an international rockstar I suppose.

It's a shame it's the song picked to sell the album to christmas buyers - many will feel cheated by how out of place it sounds.


No. 8: Muse - The Resistance

If you've come here looking for Knights of Cydonia v2.0, you'll be leaving solely disappointed.

The sound of a band deciding they've conquered rock music, and climbing into their spaceship to fly off and see what other genres they can invade. There's R'n'B (Undisclosed Desires), pop (The Resistance), classical (the wonderful Exogenesis: Symphony), and rock pomp channeling Bon Jovi (Guiding Light) and Queen (United States of Eurasia). What's special about the band now is their justified musical confidence in pulling these tricks.

Continue to push creative boundaries at the same pace please, Muse.

No. 9: Sweet Billy Pilgram - Twice Born Men

Completely unheard of before gaining a Mercury nomination, here's an album that marries left-field experimentalism with Elbow's gift for beautiful melodic sentiment. It's a thrilling combination, packing a sentimental punch that lingers long after its final note. Q Magazine readers especially should investigate immediately.

No 10. Fuck Buttons - Tarot Sport

Experimental wankery from Bristol, five of the seven tracks here come in at over eight minutes, so prepare to get lost in some seriously epic soundscapes.

And get lost you inevitably will do. This is ideal walking home, headphone music. Even better, find a dark room, a fine soundsystem a bottle of red. It's an often relenting and oppressive listen, but a hugely rewarding one.