Monday, 14 December 2009

2009 Part 3 : Top 20 Albums

If you've just joined me then welcome to Keep Pop Loud's End of Year Lists. My introduction is here and my Top 5 Non-Studio albums of 2009 is here.

Before you get to the list of my Top 20 Albums of the Year, just bear in mind that it's completely subjective and arbitrary. It's also just Studio Albums (in the traditional sense) that're eligible. Lots of good albums didn't make my Top 20, but I really don't see any point in listing all of them.

So... this is the Top 20:

20) MJ Hibbett & The Validators - Regardez, Ecoutez et Repetez
Florence & The Machine was going to be taking this spot, but after a last minute re-think the spectacle-over-substance that is Lungs has been replaced by the latest album from Peterborough's greatest musical export. As always with MJ Hibbett albums it's the songs that really matter and similarly the songs are all strong and full of heart. In Hibbett's world you may be old and tired and wanting to go home or one of the walls of your house might have metaphorically fallen in but there's still room for anecdotal humour and everything will be OK in the end. Regardez, Ecoutez et Repetez is an album as an advice manual, but it's never pretentious and for that alone deserves this place over someone who already has enough End of Year List accolades to last her a lifetime.

19) Muse - The Resistance
The weakest output from Muse since their début still has a lot going for it. The problems may stem from one adventure too many into pretentious (see the second half of 'I Belong To You') or the fact that a lot of the record doesn't really sound like A Muse Album, but there's no denying the futuristic R&B grind of 'Undisclosed Desires', the stadium rock-out of 'Unnatural Selection' or all-round brilliant single-in-waiting that is the title track.

18) Jack Peñate - Everything Is New
Gone completely is the Cockney knees-up pop rock of Matinee, and in place is... well Balearic dance grooves. In a move that should have been an utter mess Peñate salvaged his career with the most appropriate album title of 2009. With some deep set bass and all manner of instruments on the high-end Everything Is New became the soundtrack to the summer, helped immensely by brilliant singles 'Tonight's Today' and 'Be The One'

17) Maxïmo Park - Quicken The Heart + Future of The Left - Travels With Myself And Another
In their own rights Quicken The Heart and Travels With Myself And Another are excellent albums, yet unfortunately for both they've followed two of the greatest albums of the past ten years and don't quite live up to the standard set. Still Maxïmo Park's taut post-punk is pulled so tight and sparse that it's always in danger of breaking completely, and that in itself lends for an exciting listen, that the lyrics document not only the tiny crevasses of life but the massive spaces between these moments only adds to its brilliance. Future Of The Left on the other hand have pulled out all of the stops and created a monster of a post-hardcore influenced rock album that manages to be both passionate and menacing.

16) Super Furry Animals - Dark Days / Light Years
When I read that this album was going to be based around grooves and riffs from jamming sessions I dreaded what would come out. Image the delight I felt when it transpired that: 1) this wasn't self-indulgent waffle, 2) songs were not only present, but actually great, 3) there's a fantastic summery, blissed-out vibe that lasts the length of the album without growing tired, 4) Super Furry Animals had recorded their best record since Phantom Power.

15) Noah And The Whale - The First Days Of Spring
I'd be lying if I said that I expected a follow-up album from Noah and the Whale so soon after their début to be really quite good. Brilliantly, this wasn't a record that was rushed in a keen attempt to capitalise on the success of '5 Years Time' it was the sound of a heart breaking and a man putting himself back together again. Slowly but surely Charlie Fink used music for the age-old use of mending a broken heart. Stunning catharsis and the most emotionally exhausting album of 2009.

14) The Horrors - Primary Colours
If the return of Noah and the Whale so quickly was a surprise, the reinvention of The Horrors nearly caused me a heart attack. How any band could go from the hilariously awful garage-goth shite of their first album to a jaw-dropping post-punk-prog-shoegaze act I will honestly never know. In today's Twitter-heavy days any mystery in music is increasingly rare and that Primary Colours sounds so mysterious, dark and actually magical is a feat in itself. Then there's the songs. Blimey!

13) Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
I've been largely in the dark when it comes to the blog-hype albums of 2009, but one that couldn't help but catch my ear was Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Without a doubt it's the most sophisticated pop album of the year and the best thing to come out of France since Daft Punk were at their peak. Cliché's aside this is just a really listenable record, going from joyous instrumentals to danceable indie-pop, and all with a stylish gloss.

12) Arctic Monkeys - Humbug
It's safe to say that Humbug will appear in the annuals of rock history as one of the great under appreciated and misunderstood albums of it's times. I'd love to say that I think it's a classic album and the Monkey's first masterpiece, but I doubt that it is – for the primary reason that unlike most 'classics' I actually get it. Gone is the dancefloor fodder band of boys, present in place is some men who know how to rock out and conjure a genuinely menacing atmosphere at the same time. No mean feat, and assisted greatly by Alex Turner's finest ever lyrics. He's practically a poet now – albeit less pretentious.

11) The Answering Machine - Another City, Another Sorry
There's no gimmicks here, The Answering Machine are just good. Listening to their fast-paced guitar pop I can't help but assume that these lads and lass have grown up with many of the same reference points that I have (Franz Ferdinand, Idlewild, fidgety-ness with the hometown) and somehow have articulated them into universal songs that reach for the stars. Not amazingly original perhaps, but straightforwardness can often be a blessing. In a year where decent new guitar bands have been few and far between I've taken The Answering Machine to my heart.

10) Art Brut - Art Brut Vs Satan
Album number three from Eddie Argos and co, and there's not really a lot left to say. I love Art Brut Vs Stan for the same reasons that I love the previous Art Brut records: the songs. Eddie always manages to bring a smile to my face and a spring to my step. Weather he's geeking out ('DC Comics And Chocolate Milkshake'), demanding tea ('Alcoholics Unanimous') or talking and talking about music ('The Replacements', 'Demons Out', 'Slap Dash For No Cash') he reminds me a little bit of me.

09) Johnny Foreigner - Grace And The Bigger Picture
My favourite musical discovery of 2009 was the début album from Johnny Foreigner, and truth be told, that may have helped Grace And The Bigger Picture climb a place in this countdown. Nonetheless it's a superb album in it's own right, with fractured sections of songs sitting jammed together on the same recording, it's energetic, sugary and schizophrenic in all of the right ways. Not as good as Waited Up Til It Was Light, perhaps but in giving Kelly a slightly larger role and with the use of recurring lyrical themes and musical motifs JoFo showed us that they were in this for the long haul, and before long are probably going to be one of the best bands EVER.

08) Sky Larkin - The Golden Spike
OK, so by the time it gets to here I have to admit that a lot of my Top 10 this year lacks a little in variety. What can I say, other than when given the choice I gravitate towards little-known UK based bands who write excellent pop music. Female members helps. Sky Larkin, therefore ticking all of the boxes here, put The Golden Spike out back in February and it's been on regular rotation since. Their early demos have been expanded upon brilliantly and the new songs sit well with old. In singer Katie, we've also got my favourite new vocalist of the year.

07) GrammaticsGrammatics
Such a wonderfully complete and majestic record, it's nothing short of astounding that any group could produce such a thing, never mind doing so on their début. As a four piece (including a cellist) they're able to move between glacial a'capella and juddering rock all within perfectly realised pop songs. Needless to say, it's not the most immediate album on the countdown, but it is the most special. Multiple listens reward as the layers of the song peel away. It's utter bliss and I can only assume that Radiohead wish they sounded like this.

06) Brakes - Touchdown
Brakes know how to rock the fuck out. Brakes also know when to play a country-influenced ditty about … actually, what is 'Ancient Mysteries' about? Nonetheless, Touchdown is the best album so far from the boys, and it's one we gave a proper review to right the way back in January. So there's not really any need to go into detail again – other than to say Eamon Hamilton fell in love and wrote one of the greatest songs of the decade ('Don't Take Me To Space (Man)')

05) The Maccabees - Wall Of Arms
After Colour It In blew everyone who heard it away, a LOT was expected from The Maccabees second album. Somehow they blew all expectations out of the water, creating a beautiful and soaring soulful album that really only has competition from Arcade Fire. Guitars, bass, strings and brass wrap themselves around stunning melodies and Orlando Weeks breathtaking vocal performances. I can only assume that everyone who's put Grizzly Bear's album high in their End of Year lists hasn't heard Wall Of Arms. It may only be Number Five here, but all five are so close that this could be Number One

04) Jarvis Cocker - Further Complications
The greatest ever singer/performer/pop star's best album this decade. Skirting knowingly close to MOR, Jarvis let rip with his savage wit on a thoroughly deserving target – himself. After lusting after girls twenty years his younger he calls himself shallow and a dinosaur, before closing with eight minuets and forty five seconds of disco. Nobody but Jarvis Cocker could make this album work and certainly nobody else could make it this affecting. More please.

03) Mastodon - Crack The Skye
Yes, a prog-metal album coming in at Number Three on a End of Year countdown on a Pop Blog. If I've complimented Arctic Monkeys and Super Furry Animals for creating a lasting and distinctive enveloping feel across the album then I'm pretty much fellating Mastodon for it, but believe me when I say that Crack The Skye is easily one of the all time greatest metal records. Sure, Mastodon have been heavier, and there's legs in the argument that they've had moments that are musically superior to Crack The Skye but they have never before created such a complete, thunderous, innovative, forward thinking and emotional record. Near perfection.

02) Franz Ferdinand - Tonight: Franz Ferdinand / Blood
Do I really think that Franz Ferdinand's third record is better than the Mastodon album? Well, probably not but I have enjoyed it more. Franz will always hold a special place in my heart for changing the way I thought about music and altering what I believed music could do, and as such will likely always ride high in my countdowns. Slightly more objectively though, the band have really stretched themselves here by traversing from standard Franz-pop ('No You Girls') to live dance work-outs ('Lucid Dreams') via glam-ROCK swagger ('What She Came For'). Bowie would be proud. It's a classic in my book and perfectly complemented by the (also separately released) CD of dub mixes (entitled Blood) that give further evidence that these boys take influences from far outside the general indie cannon.
01) Little BootsHands
OK, so we know objectively that Hands isn't The Best album of the year. What it is however, is my favourite and subjectivity is the order of the day. Little Boots is a fantastic Pop Star in every sense and with Hands has released an album that encapsulates that as much as is actually possible. I've found it hard this year to put into words why it actually is that I love Little Boots' music so much, and therefore haven't written about Hands on this blog in any great detail, suffice to say that all of the songs are perfectly constructed – both catchy and with multiple layers and tracks of electronics and vocals, yet they never become cloying or sickly. In producing what is pretty much, the perfect contemporary pop album Little Boots may have just beaten Girls Aloud at their own game.

So that's the list of my favourite albums 0f 2009.

The list of the Top 50 Tracks of 2009 will be up in the next week or so

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