December 27, 2009

Favorites 2009: The Best Albums

It's not a secret that I hated 2009 as much as 2008. It was deep layers of misery on so many levels (we're talking unexpected death, etc) and even the final days have been madness. Like everyone is jinxed. As these things always go, I thought it was one of the best years in music in AGES.
Just one amazing song after another to carry me though. I had intended this list to be my Top Ten Plus One, but I had too many favorite albums. A luxury problem, as I say. And I am sure I forgot something? What was your favorite?

Album Of The Year

Florence And The Machine Lungs
Virgin sacrifice, storing human eyeballs until they dry up, crows, carrion, coffins and burning beds. So many images and so much sound. Lungs could not handle the weight of so many showstoppers, so Florence relegated one of the best songs, Swimming, to a deluxe version. I bought the album as a gorgeous 2-disc deluxe package and then in December as a 4 disc boxset. I have not been so excited by an album since Rufus Wainwright released Want One in 2003. Florence Welch is a MAJOR new voice in music.

Standout tracks: All were great, but I'll choose Rabbit Heart, Cosmic Love, Drumming Song (my single of the year), Swimming and Blinding.
...and 15 more fantastic albums:

Miike Snow Miike SnowThis one hit me hard and fast. It's a perfect marriage of indie electronics with strong pop melodies (two thirds of the group are Bloodshy & Avant). For me, Miike (Meekay) Snow is the sound of a major city. Totally buzzing. Full review here.

Standout tracks: Silvia, Songs For No One, Black And Blue, Sans Soleil

Jack Penate Everything Is NewPenate reinvented his sound with this surprising album. The sound was massive and airy, with lots of reverb on the vocals, chanting and lush melodies. Sure, he sounds like Robert Smith of The Cure, but it's been twenty years since Smith had songs this solid. And the word is he's a total Boy Dancer live, which makes me like him even more.

Standout tracks: Be The One, Body Down, Pull My Heart Away, So Near

Paloma Faith Do You Want The Truth Or Something Beautiful?
A magnificent underrated classic. Big sounds and equally grandiose visuals, from the covers to the videos. I misjudged her early on as a Winehouse rip and how wrong I was. Paloma's high moments on this album are as emotionally giving as any pop artist's can be. Beautiful music.
Standout tracks: New York, Play On, the melancholy Stargazer, Smoke And Mirrors

Shirley Bassey The Performance
Never in a million years did I expect a Welsh 72 year old to move me so thoroughly. The concept behind this album (today's songwriter's writing for DSB) is great, but the execution is FLAWLESS. Richard Hawley's contribution, After The Rain, is on my Top Songs of the year list. Heartbreaking.

Standout tracks: After The Rain, The Performance Of My Life, Almost There, The Girl From Tiger Bay, This Time

Prefab Sprout Let's Change The World With Music
A fantasy made real: One of the greatest bands of the 80s and 90s releases a brilliant album that was recorded and shelved during their heyday. The world is a greater place with these new vocals from Paddy McAloon, who is quite possibly the most emotive male voice of the past 25 years.

Standout tracks: Ride, Let There Be Music, Music Is A Princess

Frankmusik Complete Me
A bit too long, but laden with sublime pop song marked by frenetic arrangements countered Vince Frank's rich voice. That it didn't make much of a chart dent in the UK is tantamount to treason. Notable on this list as the most DIY album - though Stuart Price helped him polish the songs, Complete Me is almost a one man show.

Standout tracks: Vacant Heart, Three Little Words, Wonder Woman, Run Away From Trouble

Antigone Antigoneland
Antigone is the Lost Great Diva. In some ethereal realm, there are exotic characters shimmying in stilettos to her disco tracks. Full review here.

Standout tracks: More Man Than Man, Promiscuity, Mirror, Life Without You

Lily Allen It's Not Me, It's You
The first great album of 2009. How can a perceived train wreck like Lily Allen make a second LP that's potentially better than the first? It's about brains. She is a whipsmart lyricist and uncanny at choosing the right collaborators, in this case Greg Kurstin. This album veers from country slapstick to sweet sadness. Brilliant. Full review here.

Standout tracks: Back To The Start, The Fear, Everyone's At It, I Could Say, Not Fair

Little Boots Hands
Whatever her identity is or isn't, there's no denying this album was well-constructed electropop. A U.S. version is out this Spring, likely adding the perfect Not Now.

Standout tracks: Symmetry, Stuck On Repeat, New In Town, No Brakes

Black Room: Pop Noir
ormerly Lorraine, this Norwegian band's debut album is a deluxe set of post-Pet Shops Boys confections. Released so quietly most original fans never even knew, Pop Noir is notable for chiming, shimmery pop songs with superb vocals. In fact, Tell It All is one of the most anthemic tracks to be released in years. Take note that the band has rerecorded and neutered the song for potential re-release in 2010. Whatever! The definitive version is on iTunes now.

Standout tracks: I Feel It, Tell It All, Saved

Pet Shop Boys Yes
Is this a second imperial run for Pet Shop Boys? I truly believe this album will be more appreciated in years to come. Songs that did not stick the first time around (Love Etc anyone?) suddenly hit you at random moments and you say - ready? - Yes. I have such love for these guys. They have consistently raised the bar in pop music.

Standout tracks: Love Etc, Did You See Me Coming?, Pandemonium, More Than A Dream, The Way It Used To Be

Mumfor And Sons: Sigh No More
Britpop is a faded art right now. This London quartet is worthy of predecessors like Waterboys and Idlewild. A carefully crafted merging of rock, folk and pop, Sigh No More reminds me how long it's been since a banjo raged against the machine.

Standout tracks: Dust Bowl Dance, White Blank Page, Awake My Soul

LaRoux LaRoux
I like only about half the album, but what's good is sublime, especially the non-singles that mined a sweet 80's balladry. Bulletproof was a total kick ass jam. My favorite track has remained Colourless Colour with the sly chorus "Early 90's decor, it was the day for / We wanted to play, but we had nothing left to play for/ Colourless colour / Once in fashion, soon to be seen."

Standout tracks: As If By Magic, Bulletproof, Colourless Colour, Cover My Eyes, I'm Not Your Toy

Annie Don't StopA long time coming, this album. Paul Epworth sprinkled some new fairy dust. The special 2-disc edition makes it pretty close to perfect. And yes, I LOVE The Breakfast Song.
Standout tracks: Songs Remind Me Of You, Bad Times, I Don't Like Your Band

Röyksopp Junior
For me, this album marked the return of the amazing Norwegian singer Anneli Drecker, but it also contain vocals by Robyn and the slightly scary Fever Ray chick. It's Drecker's tracks that are my favorites. Everything about Junior is completely in the now, so exhilarating. The intelligent Vision One is on my top songs of 2009 and probably Drecker's finest moment on record.

Standout tracks: Vision One, True To Life, You Don't Have A Clue, The Girl And The Robot, Silver Cruiser

Other great 2009 albums:
Robbie Williams'
smooth, mature Reality Killed The Video Star
second release Fixin' To Thrill
Patrick Wolf's The Bachelor
ten years overdue BlackSummersNightSpandau Ballet's reworked hits record called Once More
Dan Black's unexpectedly indiepop Un (soon to be released in America)

Give London a kiss for me: I'll be right there.


Tatoonie said...

I like this list...and I agree with most of your picks, personally, i don't think you left anything out but some of these tracks and albums I want to give a second listen to though....Paloma Faith and Pet shop Boys will always be 2 of my faves this year. thanks much for the posting...:)

xolondon said...

Hey Tatoonie! Paloma has been getting me through some shit these days. It is a good record for all kinds of feelings, from loss to anger to romance. Stargazer has become a touchstone for me this year.

DanProject76 said...

I forgot all about Not Lorraine from my review. Damn!

Also: What about McAlmont & Nyman's divine album?

Phil said...

Quick thought, before my main thought: your posts always look deevone! You have an eye for the 'holding shot' too.

xolondon said...

We can thank Hedi Slimane for that, Phil!

Dan, need to play The Glare some more. It was daunting to me!

Aaron said...

Some great stuff on the list - What with Antigone, Annie, Paloma, Frankmusik, Little Boots, Lily, Robbie...- If I've not heard them - I desperately want to!

John said...

I have four of these in my top 20 for the year, but the big standout for me is Paloma. "Stargazer" is downright hypnotic for me. I feel myself drifting out into the atmosphere when I listen to it. Great list, as usual.

countpopula said...

Great great list, and I mostly agree. Surprised at the absence of the Gossip and the aforementioned McAlmont/Nyman record, and other than the fact that I cannot really get into the Miike Snow record even though I have tried at length (the Zoot Woman album was, for me, easier to love--I think I didn't like the guy's voice in MS too much), I am happy to see so many deserving people get praise.

Had a listen to La Roux again yesterday after putting it away for a few weeks...I think I love it even more now. Tigerlily is immense, and Fascination, a song which I dismissed a bit previously, should definitely be a single NOW.

Kudos to you for getting me to listen to: Paloma, Frankmusik, Jack Penate, and Bassey. I need to search out that Mumford album.

The Richard said...

Great, great list.
But I want to echo the above point about The Gossip. That record was one of my mega stand-outs this year (head and shoulders above 'Hands' --sorry, couldn't resist the pun). Beth's clever disco riffs and one-liners keep popping out at me and I think it was full of some of the best pop tunes of 09.
Just bought London tickets for La Roux, Paloma Faith and Rufus for 2010. When are you coming on over?!

zen~ said...

We were spoilt for choice this year, I have to say. Would gladly listen/agree to most of your choices, though I tried really hard to like La Roux, but she was 'in for the shrill' for me...that annoying voice was too hard to overcome.

I would throw in A Fine Frenzy, Bertie Blackman and Jessie Evans as having very solid and tip-top albums for 2009, as well. Also, with Y.A.S., Mirwais and Yasmine produced an album that Madonna would give her current toyboy for....

Dan said...

I can appreciate Florence as being good music, but I think you have to be a bigger Kate Bush fan than I am to really get into it. I like the few songs I've heard, but they never entered heavy rotation like I expected them to. *shrug*

Good list - it would behoove me to check some of these out since I was stuck in my past this year.

Alicia K said...

I'm so glad I found your blog this year - so much good stuff to discover I wouldn't have otherwise heard of!

I'd never heard of Paloma Faith until you talked about her single covers recently, and I sought out the album - love it!

I do take issue with you calling this year's U2 album "tuneless," but you are otherwise completely awesome, so I'll let it go. ... This time! (Har har, insert winky thing here.)

xolondon said...

Thanks Alicia!

Funny you should mention U2. I may restate that comment b/c I was just thinking it's not tuneless and it's not terrible either. BUT it just did not make me want to play it again and again. I actually saw the 360 show in DC. Amazing.

KulPop said...

Have you heard the Donkeyboy album "Caught In A Life"? Amazing record, definitely in my Top 5 for the year (due for release in the U.K. in March).

Unknown said...

Nice list. I was especially happy you turned me on to Jack Penate, and to see Prefab Sprout came out with a great album not resting on an old sound. And the Pet Shop Boys stay just a step or two ahead of everyone else in the world.

mineforlife said...

Good selections. You really should live in London, you know.

xolondon said...

Truer words never spoken. Please give me the hookup...