Album of the Year 2009: Albums 5-1

Almost there! The plan was to have these ready for the 25th, before deciding on the 26th as an appropriate date (being as that’s my mum’s birthday and being as she was very influential in my early music listening) before the festive season took over…

Anyway, enough of that and on to the top five albums of this year!

5. Eels: Hombre Lobo [9.1]

Feels like Christmas, with the Eels in the top five and I don’t think there has been a year when they have not featured high in the chart, since 1997 when the whole Eels obsession began for me.

Although trapped in tradition is not really the thing here, as when it comes to quality it is quite simply that Mr. E produces great songs year after year and I, for one, am a fan, a huge fan.

This year saw them start a little lower, however, as I still think that Prizefighter, (the opener) is easily one of their weakest tracks, and starts some early pessimism off. However, after hearing the power of Tremendous Dynamite (easily one of their best) and the melancholy of The Longing, we are reminded that there is still much quality left in the house of Mr. E.

I think the album suffers a little again from that which I discussed with Andrew Bird and the Kings of Convenience, this symptom of tunes a little too reminiscent of earlier stuff. The Eels, though, are solid, solid and consistent and when they have things to say, you just feel like you have to listen.

And listen you should.

4. Julian Plenti: Julian Plenti is…Skyscraper [9.3]

Another online recommendation (many thanks to KV Taylor for this one) and one that pretty much enjoyed a spot in the top five since I got hold of my copy. Having enjoyed previous Interpol records, I was quite intrigued to hear that their lead singer had released a solo album, one that had been around ten years in the making.

And this is one of the things I thought might bother me in the recording, and that is of the album sounding like a ‘best of’, rather than a complete package. There is a disparate feel to the album but a very cohesive and thought out one also.

There are some absolute crackers on here: my personal favourites being Skyscraper, On the Esplanade, and Only if you Run but, in my opinion, this is stronger than anything Interpol have released. Musically I think it’s a bit tighter and I also think some of the lyrics are a bit more solid. I think Plenti (Paul Banks) has a wonderful voice and coupled with the tunes and lyrics on this album, make it all a perfect mix of rock and melody.

Fans of Interpol should be checking it out, but in truth, anybody into fine music should also have a listen.

3. DM Stith: Heavy Ghost [9.4]

And here we have the first of two Asthmatic Kitty records in the top three, showing my new love for this record label,  a worthy competitor to 4AD, as possibly the best label for indie music. And my word what an album this one is!

One of those albums that took lots of listens to fully get it and to fully put it in the spot it deserves (still not 100% sure it is high enough), due to the depth of quality within (an Asthmatic Kitty trait).

Stith eases along with this album, never jumping into high powered tunes, at times even lazily meandering along in an effort to deliver his words in the best way. And it is the lyrics that shine, for all that he employs great music and has a very engaging voice, you can’t help but be drawn back into the words, feeling almost like you can pluck them out of the air, solid as they are.

This is my first exposure to Stith and I am seriously hoping that it is not the last. I only have to think about the wonder that is Braid of Voices and I already begin to feel the hairs on my neck stand on end. The album is filled with moments that you just want to relive and, feeling the musical enormity of it all, is something that takes time. Come to Heavy Ghost with high expectations but don’t leave early if they are not fulfilled immediately, as then you haven’t done the album justice.

2. The Twilight Sad: Forget the Night Ahead [9.5]

The term has to be used, for ‘always the bridesmaid, never the bride’ has never felt more appropriate here. For in 2007 the band were number one for most of the year, losing out to the Editors and An End Has a Start, in December, before sitting pretty on the top here until a couple of days ago. So not only have they missed the top spot but they’ve missed it twice, as close as you can get to taking it.

Which in some way goes to show the strength of the band and how I cannot in any way fathom how they have not got more recognition in the last two years. I mean they have released two fantastic albums, which sit proudly in my CD collection, but so few people are on the bandwagon. I am aware that their debut, Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters received quite a bit of critical acclaim, yet missed out on all but one of the best of lists I read every year (featuring at number 14 on that one).

This year mine is the only chart in which they have featured and I am annoyed about that, especially when considering the enormity of their lyrical quality and that That Room is a very strong contender for song of the year.

I can only guess that people are shying away from a very dark album, one that is very powerful and hard to just sit and listen to, without being forced to relive memories that aren’t the brightest. I know a lot have issues with music that does this and can only guess that this is why one of the finest artists of the decade, seems to be missing from many best ofs.

Get out and get it listened to, this and the debut, as they are brilliant!

1. Sufjan Stevens: The BQE [9.7]

Here is my genius of the last five years or so, who, surprisingly, has not (until this year) had a number one spot since I first listened to him, the previous highest being a number three spot in 2005 with Illinoise. What maybe surprises is that it is this album as his first in that it is 100% instrumental, and two of Sufjan’s biggest strengths are his lyrics and his voice, meaning this particular album relies solely on his powerhouse talent that is his music.

You don’t have to be able to read music or have knowledge of a vast array of musical instruments but when listening to Stevens (and Andrew Bird) you realise how much of an advantage that is – for these two (especially Stevens) are giants when it comes to music.

The BQE is a commissioned piece, with the BQE being the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Stevens created a soundtrack for this particular stretch of road in the states. Here’s what he says about the project:

I intended to create a non-personal, non-narrative piece. I tried to reduce my own personal investment as much as possible, and I refused to incorporate one of my strengths, which is the song. I was relinquishing my greatest weapon.

which goes back to what I said earlier about his not using his voice. I’m not sure I would agree with him totally that he is ‘relinquishing’ his ‘greatest weapon’, rather using another powerful weapon to devastating effect.

The BQE is not an easy listen, especially not early on, and especially not for one waiting for the trademark Stevens voice. The distinctive music style of Stevens comes in rather early though, and I feel that those already sold on the master of this decade may well slip into the album earlier than those first coming to him.

And I would not recommend this album to those who have never listened to Sufjan Stevens before, as tips there would be Illinoise or Greetings from Michigan, where the full scope of his style can be enjoyed.

Think Gustav Holst, and The Planets, then bring that down to a road, in New York, and you have some idea of what Stevens is working with here. It’s a mighty mighty record and easily one of the classics of our time! I’m so pleased to see Sufjan Stevens in this position, just as we come to end of the decade in which he has shone so brightly!

And that was that! Next up is more than likely the top five songs of 2009, before I hit you with the top ten albums of the decade on New Year’s Eve!

About Mark S. Deniz

English teacher, writer, editor, publisher, reviewer and blogger. Founder of publishing company, Morrigan Books and imprint, Gilgamesh Press and editor-in-chief for review site, Beyond Fiction. Also cycles, plays floorball, listens to lots and lots of music, reads a ton of books and tries to fit in some TV, film and writing too. View all posts by Mark S. Deniz

2 responses to “Album of the Year 2009: Albums 5-1

  • Katey

    I agree about Stevens– there are pieces on that album reminiscent of Copland, Mussorgsky, Chopin, all kinds of composers including Holst (particularly considering the programme aspect of it all), but it’s still him. Very cool album, well deserving in my humble estimation.

    And I’m glad to see Paul Banks made it there. I’m still obsessing over the album months later myself– it gets stuck, in and not in that annoying ear worm way. Well put.

    The Twilight Sad sounds great. I like me some difficult music. It’s not so great as a writing background, but for inspiration, nothing can equal it!

  • Album of the Year 2010: Number 7 « THE Music Reviewer

    […] at the right times and is further indication that you can wow me with instrumental albums (if the number one album of 2009 didn’t show that) rather than this misconception (mostly brought about by myself it has to be […]

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