Monday, 15 December 2008

yay end of year post yay

Arbitrary end-of-year list. Hooray. It might get us on Hype machine.

This was actually quite hard. The strength of this year's recorded output struggled to match up to that of the two years before it, and although I enjoyed all 10 of these albums quite a lot, most of the music I downloaded this year was older stuff I wanted to get into. Some of the most acclaimed music this year came from fairly obscure sources and I only got them within the last week or so. As such, I should point out that I've enjoyed what I've heard so far of Islands, Frightened Rabbit, The Very Best, Ponytail, Deerhunter, that National EP, Portishead, the Jonny Greenwood soundtrack to There Will Be Blood, Adem, Department of Eagles, and Sigur Ròs but haven't listened to them enough to give a fair account of them. Sadly I've also not even heard the Vessels, Abe Vigoda, No Age or Bug albums yet, so they're still on the to-do list. In any case, these were the albums that I did enjoy:

10: Fuck Buttons - Street Horrrsing

Best instrumental album of the year, boiling music down to comforting noise, warming even as it confuses. 'Bright Tomorrow' may have caught people's interest, but 'Colours Move' was the finest moment here. Respect also for the brilliant cover of 'Mogwai Fear Satan' released on their split EP with Mogwai.


9. Marnie Stern - This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It and She Is It and It Is It and That Is That
Once you can get past the preconceptions of 'my God, she's female', and indeed the technical wizardry of it all, you reach the conclusion that, much like the Ponytail LP mentioned above, this album is full of entertaining, experimental pop music. It's ultimately a hell of a lot of fun. Stern's records are also further proof that Zach Hill's astonishing drum work is most succesful on albums which contain choruses, like They Mean Us, his excellent album with Rob Crow under the name of The Ladies. Highlights: 'Steely', 'Roads?...', 'Prime'.


8. Late of the Pier - Fantasy Black Channel

Inevitably, the sparkle and excitement of these songs has waned a little since their first hearing, hence the album's lower placing in this list. The only other complaints I could have would be the pointless 'Mad Dogs' and the odd decision to re-record some of the original versions (most of which work well, like the added harmonies in 'Random Firl' and guitar solo in 'Bears') but not others. Aside from minor quibbles, this is a fascinating, thrilling ride travelling at around 1 genre per minute. 'The Enemy Are The Future', the oddest thing here, may also be the greatest: from lounge jazz to Justice in 3 minutes. The most exciting new British band since the Futureheads first appeared.

7. The Week That Was - The Week That Was
Pete Brewis will probably never be recognised for his work with Field Music and this album, probably the best thing he has produced. Acclaim for the record was slow to arrive, and although many blogs caught onto the record eventually, The Week That Was has largely been ignored in end-of-year polls. Brewis is an expert at innovating with sounds not normally heard on pop records, but there is a simplicity and coherence to everything on this record. In 'The Good Life' and 'Scratch the Surface', Brewis also managed something that always eluded Field Music: brilliant choruses. An excellent curio that survives multiple listens.

6. Destroyer -Trouble In Dreams

I really don't understand why Dan Bejar still contributes to the New Pornographers. Regardless of whatever happened to Newman's songwriting abilities on the weak Challengers, for the first time Bejar's contribution was the best, particularly 'Myriad Harbour'. Meanwhile, to relatively little fanfare, he produced another brilliantly unique and enjoyable record, if anything a slight improvement on Rubies because of the greater focus of its songs, less rambling than the likes of 'A Dangerous Woman...' and 'Rubies'. 'Cathedral sick of the sky again' also happens to be my favourite lyric of the year. We should treasure him more than we do.

5. Fucked Up - The Chemistry of Common Life
Punk albums have no right to be this challenging, intelligent and reflective. Lyrically, Pink Eyes expresses the same anger with the oppression of everyday life as the majority of his fellow punk singers ('Hands up if you think you're the only one/We've all got our fucking hands up) but is capable of much more, as in the majestic 'Royal Swan', a song any young angry teenager with a guitar should hear. Chemistry is an album aware of Fucked Up's remarkable but terrifying live reputation, and plays with the expectations of anyone new to the band: even experimental hardcore bands like Hüsder Dü never dared to open and close their records with a minute of solo flute. A step forward from the already good Hidden World, but considerably more cohesive than the wandering Year of the Pig, this is a group at the peak of their powers: an astonishing feat, considering the fragility of the group. If they can hang together long enough for a third album, it'll be world-destroying.

4. The Hold Steady - Stay Positive

Even the Hold Steady's weakest release beats most other bands' releases. When you rely on a very repetitive sound (fast rocker, slow bluesy number, repeat), you need to come up with great lyrics and great melodies. The former will never be a problem with Craig Finn around, but the second is a worry: 'Lord, I'm Discouraged' as a carbon copy of 'First Night' being the guiltiest canditate. It's in this spirit that the band include harpsichord on 'Cutters', or leave their sound wide open on 'Both Crosses'. It doesn't always come off, but Finn is on top lyrical form, and his band still come up with five fantastic riffs per album. I fear that they will begin to run out of ideas from now on - no band has ever made 5 brilliant albums in a row - and if that turns out to be the case, 'Slapped Actress' is an incredible swansong.
3. Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid

Their strongest release since Asleep in the Back, and maybe their best record to date. All the elements of rock ('Grounds for Divorce'), rapturous sweeps and singalongs ('One Day Like This'), and fragile but proud balladry ('Some Riot') have always been present in their music, but this album embodies them at their greatest, not putting a foot wrong. Elbow now rival Radiohead for the title of best British group still recording, and they deserve the accolade.
2. TV on the Radio - Dear Science,

Although it seems hypocritical now, given my hyperbolic praise for the album at the time, Return to Cookie Mountain was actually quite a patchy album. Peppered with wonderful songs, a lot of ideas was crammed into a small place, and often melodies suffered as a result. Dear Science, exposes all those faults by being the exact opposite: concise, accessible and superbly written. Every song is perfectly judged here, for the first time since their Young Liars EP. This is a band flexing its muscles, showing the world how masterful they are at any song they care to write.

1. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago

I appreciate that this was released last year and that it may seem strange that I include this album and not In Rainbows, but whereas I was listening to Radiohead from October last year, Bon Iver didn't enter my life until 2008. He won't leave any time soon either. The incredible falsetto of Grizzly Bear, the gentle and intelligent innovation reminiscent of Radiohead, the songcraft of Sam Beam: all these factors combined produced an album that was tiny but unbeatable. No song has ever threatened quite as much as 'Skinny Love'. The Blood Bank EP is equally good, and hints at a very bright and significant future.
Honorable mentions:

Cajun Dance Party - The Colourful Life
Cool Kids - The Bake Sale
Girl Talk - Feed The Animals
Dodos - Visiter
Nick Cave - Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!
Dears - Missiles
REM - Accelerate
Coldplay - Viva La Vida
Bloc Party - Intimacy
both Los Campesinos

Biggest disappointments:

MMJ - Evil Urges
Fleet Foxes
¡Forward, Russia! - Life Processes
Guillemots - Red
Kings of Leon - Only By The Night
Cold War Kids - Loyalty To Loyalty
Best songs:
Pink Sabbath - Dananananaykroyd
Dears - Savior
Fucked Up - Royal Swan
Wrens - Sleep
Friendly Fires - Paris
TVOTR - Lover's Day
Elbow - Some Riot
Biffy Clyro - Mountains
Destroyer - My Favourite Year
Hold Steady - Slapped Actress

That's all. xxx

12 comments:

CC said...

Love it! Really nice list.

Anonymous said...

Good list, although the formatting makes it look like biffy clyro, Fucked Up, and Dananananaykroyd were dissapointments :)

Anonymous said...

Good list indeed - although i think coming in Mojos top ten and in Uncuts best of means that The Week That Was hasn't exactly been ignored. Which is a good thing.

Joe said...

Fixed! Hopefully...
Also, I had seen Week That Was in the Uncut list but missed them in Mojo. All the same, I'm not even sure our local Fopp stocked it. Shame, really, I felt it could have been one of those word of mouth indie sleepers, but I don't really think it has.

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