So, that was 2009? Possibly the most blink-and-you-missed-it year of the decade. I mean, it literally feels like a few weeks ago that I was sitting here excitedly revealing M83 Saturdays = Youth as our album of 2008 (if you missed last year's list cast your eyes this'a way). Yet, in the 52 weeks which have whizzed by there have been shock shifts in direction from brave Brits (The Horrors, Arctic Monkeys and Muse, to name but three) as well as many fine acts not just delivering on their promise but raising the bar, and then some (hello Wild Beasts and Fxxk Buttons!). Was it a great year for music? A high watermark? Only time will tell but there have been some triumphant, innovative and bold records released and cherished in 2009 and we hope our list of the top 50 of the year reflects this.
With all of the releases on this list the one thing that they share is their ability to take us elsewhere. We've ventured from the dark atonal tombs of Sunno))) or Fever Ray, explored the neon industrial sci-fi lands of HEALTH and been beamed up to the contrary planet of pulsing mirrors that Lady Gaga inhabits. We've closed our eyes and seen the remotest parts of Scotland with Idlewild and My Latest Novel, woken up at house parties in San Francisco with Girls and had chill-fi-ers Neon Indian and Memory Tapes take us down a Warioland-pipe and into their swirling playgrounds made of mercury and toxic goo. Whether it was a place beyond our solar system or the re-imagined bedrooms of Croydon, music in '09 has tried its damnedest to distract us from the humming-drum of war and recession and remove us from the grey, homogenized, globalized blah that exists somewhere outside our office/bedroom windows.
Of course, the one other thing which truly brings these records together is the fact we liked them more than all the others released in 2009. When I say 'we', I mean the trinity of DiS staff, forty+ freelancers and the regulars on our music forum. I've spent the past two months exploring all the recommended albums suggested on our boards here, going as far as making this epic playlist on Spotify which'll take a mere 4.1 days to listen to. I also took into special consideration top 5 lists from all of our regular contributors, looking for patterns (nearly every number 1 was different) and surprises. For more of my thoughts on why this list was compiled in this manner please visit my blog.
So, without further ado, here we go, a year of record releases compiled into a top 50...
1) Phoenix Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
By DiS Founder/Editor Sean Adams: There can be only one number one and to be honest, there's only one album which far and away soared into our collective bosom in 2009. One record which, even on first listen, felt like ingesting industrial strength Haribo as the melodies exploded in my bloodstream and the beats stroked every erect hair that the falsettos had left standing on end. For every high - and this record is full of them ('Rome', 'Lasso', 'Armistice', 'Lisztomania', '1901'...) - there's a sugar crash but it's the most graceful, filmic, shot in black 'n' white variety of beautiful slo-mo crash. In fact, it's the slow, brooding, instrumental electronica-ish track 'Love Like a Sunset - Part 1' which is the throbbing heart of this epic album. It's Wolfgang's epicenter not only because it is one of the songs of the year/decade but because it feels like the manifesto track which forms the backbone of this fourth Phoenix album. Sonically, it's magnificent but musically it's one of the finest explorations of song to have been committed to tape. Even now, after months of repeated listening, its climax leaves me breathless.
Wolfgang... is a record that is sprawling but has a honed sense of style that marries the synthetic with the sound of very real drums and guitars, yet it's not all-production-no-trousers and the substantive songcraft would still shine through if this record was recorded onto a dictaphone. Every syncopated drum pattern builds and falls away without any excess and every chorus has a Sunny-D like charge of summer sun. Despite an uncluttered air of simplicity, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (9/10 Review) is an utter masterclass in sophisticated songwriting which they have honed and developed over the past decade and finds Phoenix almost too good for British TV or the radio, in an age of co-writers, talentless upstarts and pop mediocrity, with whom they're battling for air-time. Yet, outside of the UK, this album has been unanimously heralded by the pop press, American TV and music enthusiasts, as the best record of the year. Even the blogosphere went nuts for it and its subsequent remix album featuring the likes of Friendly Fires, Passion Pit and Animal Collective. I don't expect this to be everyone's album of the year (you're wrong, obviously!) but of all the records in this list, I believe this is the record that 2009 will be remembered for when history is written twenty or thirty years from now. It's a record that becomes an addiction and repeated listens reveal evermore ornate textures. And there's only one thing left to say: Bravo and thank you, you bloody brilliant Frenchmen!
On hearing they'd topped the list, Phoenix had this to say:
'merci drowned in sound for the gold medal! We are very proud to be on top of your list.
Merry Xmas to you all and happy 2010!
DiS Interview: Ed from Grizzly Bear's phone call with Branco:
2) St Vincent Actor
By Chris Power: I saw Annie Clark, aka St Vincent, play live twice in the last year: first with her band on a little Bella Union bandstand at Wireless in Hyde Park, and the second time alone, supporting Grizzly Bear. Both were great performances, but what impressed me most about them was the way Clark shredded, turned aslant and re-stitched the songs from Actor. I was already a fan of the album, but hearing her do so helped me realise what a lot of people no doubt already knew: that this is an album of songs strong, smart and nuanced enough to not only endure, but grow in the retelling.
Clark adopts personas when she writes, and her talent for mutability is what gives Actor its substance, as well as the over-arching theme suggested by its title. Just as her lyrics inhabit numerous troubled lives and fraught situations, so does the music she surrounds them with stutter, warp and tremble through the more uncomfortable emotional registers. Even at its most lushly melodic, as on ‘Laughing With a Mouthful of Blood’ or the stunning ‘Just the Same But Brand New’, there’s a jagged fringe of anxiety, even barely-withheld panic, skirting the outskirts of the melody.
It’s there on the diseased guitar that bleeds into life on the deceptively breezy opener ‘The Strangers’, and the eerily robotic waltz-time revolutions of ‘The Neighbors’. Most blatantly of all, it's at the core of the spiralling chamber orchestra crescendo of ‘Black Rainbow’, the lyrics of which need assemble just a handful of word pictures to evoke a powerful sense of suburban suffocation: a bird fighting its own reflection in a kitchen window; neighbours’ endless talk; the oppressive black rainbow itself, looming above the narrator’s house.
Like a great short story collection, Actor enthralls and entertains immediately, and then goes on to grow in the revisiting. Its most fascinating mysteries barely seem like mysteries at all the first time around, but give it a little of your time and its initial gorgeousness passes into a richer, stranger splendour.
Review | Interview | Video: Tour Diaries
3) Yeah Yeah Yeahs It's Blitz!
By DiS Albums Editor Andrzej Lukowski: It’s Blitz! probably isn’t in my personal album of the year (which I, er, haven’t properly totted up yet) but I’m happy as a pig in the mud to see the band’s third album up so high.
It’s kind of an awful concept to suggest a decade comes with such a thing as a defining band, but nonetheless, have any musicians conducted themselves more impressively over the last ten years than Yeah Yeah Yeahs? Three immaculate albums, two goddamn near-perfect EPs, and still conveying the impression of being the cool but misfit kids who walloped us over the head with ‘Bang’, back in 2001.
It was a less abrasive, but no less potent blow struck early this year when Karen and the gang sauntered back into the game with the joyous neon blast of ‘Zero’. I’m not going to patronise you by re-reviewing the thing here, but the fact it was a) a perfect pop song, b) totally unexpected (in its abandonment of guitars for synths) and c) entirely expected (it still sounds EXACTLY like the YYYs) says pretty much everything you need to know this band.
It’s Blitz! wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination the synth-pop record some were expecting (and indeed described it as, purely on grounds of ‘Zero’ and the feverish boogies of second track ‘Head Will Roll’). In fact, it’s a selection of reliably brilliant songs – a good deal of them of them lush, heady ballads, others guitar-dominated for the Zinner fanboys – that once again saw the band failing to put a foot wrong. I’m beginning to wonder now if they ever will.
Review | 10/10 Live Review at Brixton Academy | Interview
4) Manic Street Preachers Journal for Plague Lovers
Let's not pull any punches with this blurb, Richey Edwards' words easily win the lyrics of the year award, plus come runner-up and fill places 3-20. Greatness abounds but it's visceral lines like these which trump all else committed to tape in 2009: "The falcons attack the pigeons, in the West Wing at night," "beaten across the face, with a horsewhip, where the wounds already exist," and, the chorus question of the year "Mummy, what's a Sex Pistol?" There's the stream of consciousness listless listing, the May Day protest rush of the sneering sloganeering ("crucifixion is the easy life") and the meticulous yet nightmarish details like "she bathed herself in a bath of bleach", and it's these jagged, blood-splashed words which help this record burrow beneath your skin. Add this James Dean Bradfield's voice and guitar lines, which are some of the best of his career and the production from Dave Eringa and Steve Albini and this really is a special record.
For more on why this one of our records of the year read Dom Gourlay's review and the fascinating biography by John 'Kill Your Friends' Niven . Also read the three-part interview we conducted with Nicky Wire, which begins here.
5) Fxxk Buttons Tarot Sport
DiS albums editor Andrzej Lukowski: So there's a not unreasonable argument doing the rounds that a lot of these end of year lists are looking mighty similar, to the point of losing meaning. And y'know, I kind of agree - I love the Fever Ray and Animal Collective records, but even so, what does another thumbs up mean? Everything else you see in this top ten is songwriterly, mostly verse-chorus-verse stuff, written by bands poised to have a big critical or commercial smash before this year ever started - admittedly great music, and hardly meat'n'potatoes, but is it really a victory for anything in particular that Merriweather Post Pavilion has bagged itself another end of year nod? The only record whose presence in this top ten (or any others) feels like a victory to me is Fxxk Buttons' (swearing censored to make this page safe for work) Tarot Sport. Sure, its place in these lists in now kind of a given. But it's a seven track, instrumental noise trance record made by two pleasant, entirely un-starry chaps whose defining rock'n'roll trait is 'quite fond of hoodies'. It's three euphoric climbs - the pulsing firestorm of 'Surf Solar', the martial build of 'The Lisbon Maru'-'Olmpians' and the mindwipe explosion of joy as 'Space Mountain' ignites into 'Flight of the Feathered Serpent' - flowing seamlessly into the best and (sorry, Vitalic) loudest dance album of the year. And I truly think its acceptance is a small tipping point for the avant garde.
Sure it's not a hard or even particularly abrasive noise record, but it's made out of drones and feedback, jumble sale bric-a-brac distorted to the max... and a lot of people who shouldn't like it, like it. NME likes it. Q likes it. The Telegraph likes it. This would not have happened ten years ago. If this stuff is going mainstream, if kids starting bands might start wondering how they can sound like Andy Hung and Ben Power... well, we'll still have a lot of shit guitar bands... but I'm going to stick my neck out and say the world will be a fractionally better place.
Fuck Buttons - Surf Solar from ATP Recordings on Vimeo.
- Click here to listen to the top 50 albums (if available) on Spotify.
- Or click here for a more digestible 2 tracks from each available album sampler on Spotify
6) Grizzly Bear Veckatimest | Review | Grizzly Bear Week
7) Animal Collective Merriweather Post Pavillion | Review | Interview
8) Wild Beasts Two Dancers | Review | Interview
9) Fever Ray Fever Ray | Review | Interview 1 / 2
10) Paramore brand new eyes | Review
11) Bat for Lashes Two Suns | Review | Interview
12) Arctic Monkeys Humbug | Review
13) The Horrors Primary Colours | Review | Interview
14) PJ Harvey & John Parish A Woman a Man Walked By | Review
15) Dirty Projectors Bitte Orca | Review
16) Memory Tapes Seek Magic | Review
17) Metric Fantasies | Emily's Track-By-Track
18) The Veils Sun Gangs | Review
19) The Phantom Band Checkmate Savage | Review
20) Raekwon Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II | Review coming v.soon
21) Future of the Left Travels With Myself and Another | Review | Falkous' Track-by-Track
22) Marissa Nadler Little Hells | Review
23) Sunset Rubdown Dragonslayer | Review | Interview
24) Idlewild Post-Electric Blues | Review
25) Pissed Jeans King of Jeans | Review
26) HEALTH Get Color | Review
27) Mos Def The Ecstatic | Review
28) Lady Gaga The Fame Monster | Review coming soon
29) Atlas Sound Logos | Review
30) Girls Album | Review
31) Muse The Resistance | Review | Interview
32) The Maccabees Wall of Arms | Review
33) The Flaming Lips Embryonic | Review
34) Sunn0))) Monoliths & Dimensions | Review
35) Moderat Moderat | Review coming soon
36) The Pains of Being Pure at Heart The Pains of Being Pure at Heart | Review | Interview
37) Vitalic Flashmob | Review
38) Emmy the Great First Love | Review | Emmy's Track-by-Track
39) Gallows Grey Britain | Review
40) Annie Don't Stop | Review
41) Neon Indian Psychic Chasms | Review
42) Dananananakroyd Hey Everyone | Review | Track-by-Track Commentary
43) Jamie T Kings & Queens | Review
44) Grammatics Grammatics | Review
45) Micachu Jewellery | Review
46) Mew No More Stories... | Review
47) My Latest Novel Death and Entrances | Review
48) Sufjan Stevens the BQE | Review
49) Sky Larkin The Golden Spike | Katie's Commentary
50) the xx the xx | Review
Oh no, that's your lot and you've got to the end, who did we forget? Beirut? Andrew Bird? Decemberists? Dark Was the Night (sorry, we decided not to include compilations)? Bonnie 'Prince' Billy? Sonic Youth? Cursive? Mars Volta? Telepathe? Wilco? Jay-Z? Passion Pit? School of Seven Bells (technically out in '08)? Nadja? Oneida? Noah & the Whale? Biffy Clyro? Mum? Isis? M.Ward? Kraftwerk (we didn't include re-issues, we'll do a separate list)? Little Boots? La Roux?
Also, tell us what your favourite 10 albums of the year are below... also you can now rate every album in the database out of 10 and we'll be revealing the 'best rated' in January.
- Listen to the top 50 albums (if available) on Spotify.
- Or click here for a more digestible 2 tracks from each available album sampler on Spotify
- 2009 In Photos - snappers favourite shots of the year
- Singles of the Year - coming soon
- Staff Mixtapes - coming soon
- 2009, a year in news - coming soon
- All 2009 Year-End coverage compiled
- Drowned in Sound's review of the decade - coming Summer 2010 to coincide with our 10th Anniversary!