This is always one of the hardest (and most enjoyable) stages of the whole year of music listening, the moment where I can confirm that there are only ten albums left and where I begin to play those ten, fantastic examples of music intensively, before announcing the album of the year on 31st December 2009.
It’s been a tough one this year, more so than other years, due to the fact that many more albums have been around the eight out of ten score, meaning competition is tougher round the 11-20 mark than it is in the top ten. The top five was actually decided before I even came near to being ready with this – different years, different focuses!
I’m hoping, what with my focus on the whole chart just now, that I can get the 10-5 list ready for Christmas Eve, meaning that all will be set for the big five countdown, which should be posted 31st December (and which I’ve failed doing for a few years now).
Here’s 20-11 (which includes the previous number 21, due to a glitch in the system. I had an album in the top 20 that wasn’t eleigible, meaning Lisa Hannigan is actually number 20)
20. Lisa Hannigan: Sea Sew
I’m a bit slow it has to be told, and only found out today that Ms Hannigan recently won the Mercury Prize for this particular album, and as such, is not too bothered about finishing a lowly 20th in my little chart. On reading the nominees, I see that two of my albums that finish above Lisa are there. Let’s see where those two end up eh?
It’s a lovely little album this one and I very much understand why it won the prize. Compared to Kathryn Williams (totally underrated musician) and it can be argued that Lisa is the better half of Damien Rice, when it comes to music. I can admit that I wasn’t that fond of Mr. Rice, when I heard the album O, but I was interested in the female voice that popped up from time to time. Since they parted ways, Lisa has followed a George Michael-like rise with Rice hitting the dizzying lows of a certain Andrew Ridgeley (remember him?).
Anyway, Lisa’s Plink Plonk Rock (as a friend of hers termed it) is really rather lovely and is very indebted to folk as inspiration. With a cracking voice and some top-notch lyrics, Hannigan has all the requirements needed to be massive and I, for one, will be following her career with interest.
19. Marmaduke Duke: Pandemonium
One of the hardest albums in the chart to classify, this is because once you think you have a grip on the album, it pulls the rug from under your feet on the next track. I mean, every time I listen to Demon, (with its mish mash of styles and bass levels) I sort of wonder why I’ve not got it higher and then Erotic Robotic, pops on and it makes sense again, just before I’m hit with Je Suis Un Funky Homme, which is actually better than the title suggests. You sort of never know where you are with the album and even though that’s something I can really warm to, given today’s X Factor overloads, there is still something comforting about continuity of a sort…
18. Shannon Stephens: The Breadwinner
One of the two albums in the top twenty, which I wouldn’t have heard about if not for the wonder that is Sufjan Stevens. When checking out what was going in the world of Sufjan for 2009, on the Asthmatic Kitty record label, I came across the artist that features a little higher in the chart, before then hearing about Stevens interviewing a new artist on the label, one Shannon Stephens.
Stephens is a little higher than Hannigan yet there is not a lot between them. I think Shannon’s lyrics spoke to me more and I also feel that Stephen’s voice is a little more captivating. I’d be hard pressed to argue strongly for the two place difference and why I believe the ‘funky hommes’ should be sandwiched by them, but then hey, this is what subjective charting is all about eh? 😉
17. Rodrigo y Gabriela: 11:11
One that a fair few of you wouldn’t have been expecting but then I do surprise people every year, when they find out I actually listen to a fair bit of pop, heavy metal, and world music (of course not country music you do understand). I love music and do attempt to get the feelers out anywhere I can to get hold of new stuff.
11:11, really appealed to me, as a flamenco-type guitar duo, inspired by eleven bands in eleven tracks, some of those being Jimmy Hendrix and Pink Floyd, and the result is rather impressive. There’s lots of speedy strumming energetic guitar playing, yet with a real sense of purpose in making it an east meets west recording. I think the guys succeded – judge for yourself if you like the idea. I’m sure it won’t disappoint.
16. Taken by Trees: East of Eden
So, music reviewer living in Sweden, has a Swedish artist in his top twenty. This all makes sense, right? Well not exactly, as I’d never heard of Victoria Bergsman, until I visited England this November and watched a horrible advert (about how you should buy seriously expensive Christmas gifts for your family to re-create those wonderful Christmases of your past) with a rather weak cover of a rather weak song (Guns ‘n’ Roses’ Sweet Child O’ Mine).
OK, so how does a weak song equate to me going further with this? I don’t like the song, and I don’t think Bergsman made it that much better but what she did was showcase her voice and it’s a rather lovely one at that. Add to that the fact that she has decided to enlist the help of Indians to sing on her latest album and you have a real multi-cultural mix that just oozes class. When I heard the first few tracks of this, I was convinced that the album was going to jump straight into the top ten. Unforntunately it loses its way a bit as it progresses but with the addition of a song, sung completely in the Swedish language, it is a worthy buy and a very worthy addition in this chart.
15. Phoenix: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Album title give anything away? Cover? Basically there is always room for an album of sheer fun, delightful in its approach and with real crowd pleasers, such as Love Like a Sunset (one of my contenders for track of the year), it’s one of those albums I can just pop on, whilst getting on with stuff, knowing it will elicit a smile and a tapping of the feet very early on. I’m not too concerned with the lyrics, have not got into the secluding myself away with the headphones on, just enjoying it as it is, for what it stands for (which is actually a major reason for it not being higher).
14. Kings of Convenience: Declaration of Dependence
You may or may not remember that a couple of months ago I maintained that I had my album of the year. Yes, it was this one, dropping rather sharply when the music listening got to its most intensive. Their debut album missed out on the number one spot to the Eels (with Souljacker) in 2001 and their second did rather well too, meaning I was going to be listening to the guys very favourably when their third album was released (I’m ignoring the remix album here).
Yet, on more listens, I could see (or rather hear) something that I wasn’t altogether happy with and that was a band that hadn’t really moved on, hadn’t progressed from previous albums and had actually released something that felt almost like a compilation of the first two albums. Let’s not forget though that this Norwegian duo are so massive that with all this complaining, the album still ends up as my fourteenth favourite of 2009.
13. White Denim: Fits
Only just managing to get into stage two of the reckoning, White Denim’s album just went from strength to strength, once I could give it the listens it required. For this is not an easy album to get into and it is only after about a dozen listens that you start to realise just what the guys are up to. There’s a little mish-mash going on, similar in some ways to Marmaduke Duke’s offering. However, White Denim invite a litte more oompf in their recording, and back that up with some wonderful use of sounds and vocals. I think this is one of those albums that will have me looking back in a year or two and wondering why I placed it so low…we shall see…
12. Editors: In This Light And On This Evening
A few might well be surprised that this album finds itself so low, although none more so than myself, tipping them for a top five spot the second I heard that they were to release an album. For the Editors were the band that topped the whole chart in 2007, for both their wonderful music but also for the emotional response it evoked at rather a powerful time in my life.
Yet, An End Has A Start is nearly the perfect album and it was going to take a lot for this to come anywhere near it, on any level.
The opening (and title) track almost makes you believe it can, however, a blistering track that grabs immediately and doesn’t let go until well after the last note, followed by Bricks and Mortar, which suffices (and by suffices with this band means impressive). But then come the next two tracks, Papillon, easily being one of their worst tracks (probably the worst) andYou Don’t Know Love, not particularly stirring the senses either, and you know this is no album of the year contender, not even top ten, as it happens.
But this is how it is, being excellent is an achievement but maintaining it, well…
11. Patrick Wolf: The Bachelor
And here is the second of those choices, the second that was supposed to follow on from a previous win (this time in 2005 with Wind in the Wires), especially when considering that 2005 was one of the toughest years in terms of both quantity and quality. Granted Patrick has already had an album out in between these two, which didn’t feature in the top ten of 2006 and so the expectation was maybe not as high but Wind in the Wires, is easily one of the defining albums of the last decade, and there are hints of that in this one. Thickets and Hard Times, easily two of the best tracks of the year and very reminiscent of that beloved album of mine.
However, like the Editors, Patrick Wolf also has his rejects, tracks such as Battle andCount of Casualty, which are so bad that I keep checking the CD player whenever they come on to see if my three year old has switched the CD for another band. It’s depressing that my heroes of only a couple of years ago are now struggling to get into the top ten but eleven in a year like this is not too bad – and it is a cracking album all told.
(I had some help this time too)