Friday, January 1, 2010

Top 10 albums of 2009

Hello again!

Hope you had a great Christmas and new year. There's been plenty of new music round here at Discopop Towers, but that can wait til next week. Until then, here's our summary of the best 10 records of the last 12 months. 2009 wasn't a vintage year, to be perfectlly honest. But the top 3 make up for all of that.

1) Florence and the Machine - Lungs

Like all the best records, this is a slow-burner. For me, the epiphany came the first time I played the CD over real speakers, and Florence's epic, gothic drums punched me right in the heart. There's plenty to admire here: Attitude as firey as the 23-year-old's big red barnet, shockingly visceral lyrics, and, on Kiss With A Fist, a healthy obsession with the White Stripes' Hotel Yorba. Ironically for an album called Lungs, it will take your breath away.

2) Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz

Everyone says this is the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' disco album, but that does it a grave disservice. It's Blitz isn't about the carefree hedonism of Sister Sledge - it's about a seedy night out at the wrong end of town, ripped stockings, smudged mascara and all. Singles Zero and Heads Will Roll snog your face off on the dancefloor, while Dull Life breaks out the guitars for a brief opportunity to mosh or pogo or any of the other grandiose terms you use to describe "jumping up and down". The end of the record captures the comedown, too, with Runaway and Hysteric the perfect soundtrack to the guilty regret of a rainy Sunday morning. If you can stand Karen O's voice through the hangover, that is.

3) A Camp Colonia

A cheery record about rape, pillage, divorce and war in the Belgian Congo. The work of former Cardigan Nina Persson, her husband Nathan Larson and Atomic Swing's Niclas Frisk, Colonia was inspired by 60s girl-pop and the works of Adam Ant. Brilliantly, it manages to sound nothing like either of them. Instead, it's a sumptuous, orchestral, alt-rock album, encompassing bittersweet ballads (Stronger Than Jesus), regal waltzes (The Crowning) and glam rock stomps (My America). A towering achievement.

4) Temper Trap - Conditions

For my money, the only decent guitar album of the year. Aussie quartet Temper Trap are essentially Coldplay with a decent rhythm section. That means (a) their songs aren't hopelessly twee and (b) they occasionally have songs you would consider dancing to. Both of these are good things, of course, especially when combined with haunting falsetto vocals and chiming, spacious guitar lines. I wish I'd written more about them over the last 12 months, to be honest.

5) Lady GaGa - The Fame / Fame Monster

In 2009, the best singles, the most deranged outfits, the stupidest videos, the unlikeliest rumour, the most ridiculously censor-baiting awards performance, the highest heels, the tallest piano, and the best overarching artistic-visual concept all belonged to New York's Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. Sadly, her album was a bit hit and miss after all that - but there's a great 10-track "The Fame - Redux" playlist on my iPod, ready to be depolyed any time I fancied a 40-minute dose of demonic space age artnoise. The addition of Bad Romance and Alejandro from The Fame Monster created the year's most note-perfect pop record. It's all in the quality control.

6) Passion Pit - Manners

Yes, the lead singer bears a resemblance to Rory McGrath (look him up) and yes, they rely a little too often on the kids' choir from the Sesame Street theme tune - but this record is one big bundle of happy, poppy fun. Sadly, you're more likely to have heard Passion Pit's colourful electronica on advertisements than on the radio, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't check it out.

7) Regina Spektor - Far

Like a lot of fans, I was initially disappointed with Regina's follow-up to Begin To Hope. The Jeff Lynne-produced tracks, in paticular, lackied the fanged bite of her earlier, spikier songs. Once I got over the lack of yelping and lo-fi tin shack recordings, however, there was a rewarding, multi-textured album waiting to be discovered. Laughing With has a beautifully observed lyric about how athiests suddenly start praying when things go wrong. The hip-hop tinged Dance Athem Of The 80s is the dippy story of a night "Walking through the city / Like a drunk, but not". In the end, the addition of string sections and radio-friendly production didn't ruin Regina at all - they grounded her eccentric musings in the real world, making this album all the more potent.

8) Little Boots - Hands

Little Boots has a tendency to let a creative writing exercise get in the way of a decent lyric - shoe-horning references to Fibonacci and Pythagoras into the pun-o-rific Mathematics, for example. On the other hand, New In Town - Amazing; Earthquake - Amazing; Meddle - Amazing; No Brakes - A-ma-zing; Remedy - Amazing x5,000,000; Stuck On Repeat - Amazing10000000000000000.
In summary, then: Not bad.

9) La Roux - La Roux

Elly Jackson's voice is so shrill they use it to cut diamonds. Ben Langmaid's synthesizer has two sound settings "80s synth" and "80s steel drum". Yet, together, they made an album of surprising depth and emotional power. Jackson's expressions of heartbreak and emotional fragility gave the dayglo pop some much needed light and shade - particularly on the weepy bedsheet ballad Cover My Eyes. Yes, the 12 tracks kind of blended into one another - but sometimes, just sometimes, a pop album should sound homogenous. Otherwise, it could be any old vocalist belting out any old nonsense over a faceless producer's meaningless beats (we're looking at you, The Saturdays).

10) Nelly Furtado - Mi Plan

Because Nelly Furtado makes better Spanish albums than Shakira does English ones.

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