Wednesday, 9 December 2009

the top ten of oh nine

"It pleases me, children, to now be able to annouce the winners of our annual prizegiving for album of the year. This year has seen many great efforts from the pupils at our school, and it goes without saying that even if you haven't won a prize, you should still be very proud of yourself. The teachers, and I, know how much effort you've all put in to your work. You're all winners in our book."

(This should probably be a moan about how list culture dominates everything, but that would make this exercise a bit self defeating. So instead, read this. Lists are necessary to filter through the deluge of music that spreads across the interweb. They are needed. Tastemakers are needed. I am not a tastemaker. I do not expect you to listen to what I have to say. I am not that important. Some of you will have heard these, some will not. It doesn't matter.

So then, here are ten very good albums from the dimming lights of the noughties. Listen to them, if you must).

"And the first prize of the evening goes to..."

10// Cymbals Eat Guitars - Why There Are Mountains

It's as if Pavement started recording new music again, then decided that each individual demo weren't enough, that they needed to be soldered together, wedging style change after style change into the same song. Somehow it all fitted together, lego bricks connected in the most intricate, beguiling ways. It gave Cymbals Eat Guitars one of the strongest debuts of the year.

9// Atlas Sound - Logos

Naughty people may have heard a demo version of this last year, but the finished version was an improvement. 'Quick Canal' suddenly gained vocals, 'Walkabout' gained Panda Bear, the whole record became what we love Bradford Cox for – that slack, dreamworld feel, as if you're walking through a childhood photo, everything still frozen in time, all the layers visible like insects trapped in amber.

8// Nite Jewel - Good Evening

All this glo fi tastemaker malarkey has gotten a bit much, but Nite Jewel proved that the 'scene' wasn't all hype. Pulsing bass and synths stay sparse beneath a croon, beneath a warming layer of fuzz. The soundtrack of cruising round LA, in the dark, on isolated freeways.

7// Wild Beasts - Two Dancers

Somehow 'Limbo, Panto' didn't gain Wild Beasts the audience they deserved. They quickly rectified that with 'Two Dancers', adding a certain elegance, poise and a greater control of THAT voice. While it's another record that became soggy from all the critics performing group analingus on it, it still holds up.

6// Vivian Girls - Everything Goes Wrong

New Yorkers doing what New Yorkers do best. Inspired by all the best girl groups, and by garage rock, Vivian Girls made one of those albums that just doesn't rest. 'Can't Get Over You' is the sound of a hundred hearts breaking beneath their skinny ribs.

5// St Vincent - Actor

No one thought the Polyphonic Spree would be responsible for this. Some people might soundtrack their dinner parties with it, but there's too much darkness. “All of my old haunts are now all haunting me.” Annie Clark puts not a foot out of line, managing to sound both classical, and modern, concurrently. The strange dichotomy ends up being gently gorgeous.

4// Matt and Kim - Grand

“We cut the legs off of our pants / Threw our shoes into the ocean / Sit back and wave through the daylight”

Keyboard pop never felt so vital. To break a cardinal journalism rule and switch to the first person, this soundtracked a road trip across the States. Even after listening to it every other day for three months, it still didn't flag, rust, or show a dull or tired moment. One day people will realise how great Matt and Kim are, but by then they'll be gone. (plus, they're pretty good at videos)

3// Let's Wrestle - In The Court Of The Wrestling Lets

This is the third best record of the year, not just because it shows every other British indie band how to write pop music, not just because their ramshackle lo fi sound adds to the charm, but mainly because having done all this, they then go and showboat worse than the Harlem Globetrotters, with a brilliant five minute proggy thrash that doesn't even fit in with the record. Oh, the arrogance. They do it because they can. They do it because they're young. They do it for no reason. And that's where the brilliance is.

2// Lotus Plaza - The Floodlight Collective

Bradford Cox may get all the plaudits, and the attention, but The Floodlight Collective showed the dazzling talent of Deerhunter guitarist Lockett Pundt. It's hewn from roughly the same cloth (the first ten seconds of 'Redoakway' sounds just like 'River Card'), wreathed in dreams and a certain hallucinatory timbre, but something here creates a stronger kind of magic. Rather than beset by too many ideas, too much productivity (as can be seen in the constant stream of excellent Atlas Sound EPs), The Floodlight Collective works because of a unity of vision, and a glowing golden thread that runs through the whole thing.

1// Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion

What to say about Animal Collective that hasn't already been articulated better and more fluently elsewhere? Destined to be top of many end of year album polls, it's not even their best record (Strawberry Jam was, and I don't care what you, you, or YOU has to say about that). It contains several of their best tracks – 'Guys Eyes', 'Bluish', 'Brother Sport', and that famous one. Then they went and released an EP what would have been track of the year ('What Would I Want, Sky') had they not already released 'My Girls'. And while this is leaving everyone drowning in hyperbole and spittle, I'll quietly sneak off for another listen on my oversized headphones. Sometimes the crowd/flock are right.

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