2009: Music. From Concentrate.

by Sarah Curristan

Following on the back of a bitter end to 2008, by all standards 2009 looked set to be one toilet of a year. From the outset, the promise of change was placed before us and the world hovered over it like all-too enthusiastic Snap players. “Things have to get worse before they get better” seemed to become the adopted mantra of choice, and it became apparent that, well, change kind of sucked.

And if the banner year for crap couldn’t have been anymore filled with malaise and confusion, the musical world decided to contribute a few more crop-circles for your consideration; Susan Boyle (or SuBo as she’s now referred to) became the UK’s new sweetheart, Michael Jackson died suddenly, Scarlett Johansson attempted a new album – which shockingly didn’t fall into the realms of awful – and the masses once again decided to band together for a worthy holiday cause: trying to make Rage Against The Machine’s “Killing In The Name” Christmas number one. My eyebrows may have become permanently arched this year, but I’m sure it gave Facebookers enough to talk about.

Album-wise, my attention was happily diverted by the following list, which I suppose is a testament to that looming “bright side” thing. It was substantial enough proof that 2009 wasn’t all bad. The bizarre, unexplainable, and discomfort part of the year did serve in producing some great albums.


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The ‘Way Pop Albums Should Be’ Award

Wild Young Hearts – Noisettes

It’s been a while since I found a pop album I could really get into, but the Noisettes’ debut, Wild Young Hearts, with its weird fusion of soul, synth, and lead singer Shingai Shoniwa’s interminable source of energy had me won over from the get-go. The majority of albums that summed up 2009 for me all seemed to share some shade of bleakness, so the vitalizing sound of Noisettes made for something refreshing.

Best Track: Singles “Don’t Upset The Rhythm,” “Wild Young Hearts,” and “Never Forget You” still haven’t worn out, and “Beat Of My Heart” is worth checking out.

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Best Debut

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart

New York seems to have recently taken over from London again in producing indie bands on near factory levels before spitting them on a conveyor belt towards worldwide acclaim. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart is one such output that hopefully won’t get lost in the shuffle. With a warm, familiar sound that is sandwiched in between the likes of Belle And Sebastian and The Smiths, their debut is outstandingly easy to sink into.

Best Track: “Stay Alive,” “This Love Is Fucking Right!,” and “The Tenure Itch”

 

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The ‘We’re Also From New York’ Award

Veckatimest – Grizzly Bear

No, I can’t pronounce it. Apparently it’s an island. And it’s also village biking all over countdown lists. For me, “Two Weeks” alone would manage to secure Veckatimest’s (thankfully you can read that to yourself) place on any list, but having a devastatingly creative album to back it up doesn’t exactly hurt either. Yes, it’s haunted, moody, and vocally fantastic and has that Fleet Foxes resemblance that people will crawl over themselves to mention. Unlike Fleet Foxes, however, you don’t get that clear-cut sense of place, so by the end of the album you’re left reeling and disorientated, wondering where you’ve been left at. But in a good way, of course.

Best Track: “All We Ask”

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Best Use Of A Synthesizer

Manners – Passion Pit

Having to work to like an album kind of defeats the purpose and seems kind of arduous when you consider an album like Manners will just hand you everything instead. Passion Pit is doubtlessly 2009’s MGMT, with an album raftered by just as much synth, hooks, and vocal effects as Oracular Spectacular. Coming from a genre that I don’t particularly warm to, it’s one of the most accessible of its kind. It’s light and stellar and almost allowed me to put faith in the omnipresent brand of synthy-poppy-dance-indie. Almost.

Best Track: “Eyes As Candles,” “Sleepyhead.”

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Best Soundtrack

Where The Wild Things Are Soundtrack – Karen O And The Kids

If Karen O decided to make an album solely accompanied by the sounds of a jackhammer and a hairdryer I would buy it, and it would no doubt be spectacular. The soundtrack to Spike Jonze’s Where The Wild Things Are, helmed almost entirely by Karen O And The Kids (presumably not the same child army from the “Y Control” video) runs seamlessly alongside the film. The album has traces of Kimya Dawson’s playful style, but these are far surpassed by the finished product. Carrying a mix of the innocent and the primal, it’s the perfect parallel to the film.

Best Track: “Hideaway.” Beautiful.

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The ‘Once More For Karen O’ Award

It’s Blitz – Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Well, it’s not like it’s undeserved.
Best Track: “Hysteric”
 
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The ‘Has The Tide Of Recognition Stopped Yet?’ Award

Lungs – Florence And The Machine

2009 was definitely kind to Florence And The Machine. Her debut album Lungs was unanimously heralded on messiah-like levels, but when the dust of mania settled, a ‘good but not that good’ stance seemed to be adopted. By no stretch does it qualify to be ranked along with the all-time greats, but for sheer creativity, a dexterous execution, and just plain bravery, I’d still stand by it as one of my favorite records of this year. 

Best Track: “Dog Days Are Over” has yet to stale and “Blinding” is still as striking as ever.
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Best ‘Kinda Like The Last One’ Award

My Maudlin Career – Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura is the shining example of if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Their latest album, My Maudlin Career, doesn’t manage to top 2006’s Let’s Get Out Of This Country, but it doesn’t stagger too far behind either. There’s a certain sameness that pervades their music, but that’s less a criticism and more a sense that what you’re listening to could have been penned by no one else but Camera Obscura. It’d be hard to find another band who can document heartbreak as shrewdly while still managing to sound so sweet and cavalier.

Best Track: “You Told A Lie”

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The ‘Far Removed From Everything Else On This List’ Award

Two Suns – Bat For Lashes

Bat  For  Lashes’ second album, Two Suns, is probably as brave of a follow-up record as you could attempt to make, and sees Natasha Khan venture even further afield, cliff-diving into dream pop. The album’s tone is a strange mix between synth-pop and the tribal and hypnotic. Wading through Two Suns is a genuinely ethereal experience, and one of its best aspects is the fluid progression from track to track that makes the album so unitary. It’s a fantastically creative record in the vein of calculated bizarreness that would draw similarities to Bjork, Tori Amos, or even early Sarah McLachlan if she had actually fumbled towards some ecstasy.

Best Tracks: “Glass” and “Daniel”
 

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The Emperor’s New Clothes Award

Merriweather Post Pavilion – Animal Collective

Did I miss something here? A friend recommended me this awfully-titled offering from Animal Collective and after a due amount of repeated listening to eleven tracks of Casio torture, I was left feeling that Animal Collective owed me those hours back. Any further assailment of my ears would probably have caused me to dissolve into a puddle of skinny ties and trilby hats. Over-hyped with nothing vaguely listenable – the worst possible combination. No thanks AnCon.

Best Track: With Sophie’s Choice level indecision I’ll pick “My Girls.”
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Best In Show II

Primary Colours – The Horrors

You’re going to fall one of two ways with this album – a pure masterpiece (correct) or “it’s just noise” (no). Coming from a band I paid little attention to before The Horrors’ follow-up to 2007’s Strange House writhed into my ears and set up a fanclub. The strong echoes of ‘80s post-punk and the taste for dramatics could easily have fallen prey to comparisons with any dire covers band, but with The Horrors, it’s just too shockingly fitting. It’s hard to understand how an album that comes across so detached and disenchanted could be so mesmerizing, but Primary Colours is probably one of the only records this year that left me shaking my head and speechless.

Best Track: Numbers one through ten.

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Best In Show I
Hospice – The Antlers

I was torn between The Antlers and The Horrors for my favourite record of this year, but if there was one album to leave you crawling on the floor this year it was definitely Hospice. And for me that’s what gave it the edge. With the background setting of hospital beds and mortality, The Antlers’ third album unfolds in a series of harrowing narratives that is both most piercing and evocative. The intricacy of the full-bodied lyrics chronicles something that would epitomize tragedy and despondence. And at this point I’d usually quote something, but you’ve really got to hear it for yourself.

Best Track: I’ll take them all please, particularly “Bear,” “Epilogue,” and “Kettering.”


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