we're now halfway through the magnificent year of two-thousand-and-fine, and what a fine six months it has been. though genuinely, i'm struggling to remember a single thing that has happened. most of my sociopolitical awareness comes from Charlie Brooker columns and my Facebook feed - just a quick glance at Wikipedia screams back a litany of important dates and events that my poor caffeine addled brain can barely recall. global economic collapse? what government expenses scandal? i didn't know what swine flu was until five minutes ago, i just thought everyone in Mexico was wearing surgical masks in tribute to Michael Jackson. they should take the internet away from people like me.
one thing i like to think i do know a thing or two about though, is music. (and you, devoted reader, should be nodding in agreement. otherwise, this entire blog is moot. and what are you doing reading a moot blog?) so after careful deliberation, here follows the first part of my top twenty favourite full-lengths of 2009 so far.
current convention dictates that any "round up" or "retrospect" article be fully numbered and bullet-pointed with pretty pictures and sample MP3s, otherwise the list police will delete yr internet identity for being a countdown heretic and replace every blog entry you've ever written with a YouTube clip of a cat playing the keyboard. just to be on the safe side then...
20. Clubroot - Clubroot
comin' straight outta St. Albans, Clubroot's unique brand of sensual dubstep is like a siren ringing through the fog - beautiful and deadly. the roiling rumble of the bass and the lightning crack of the snares, washed over with sad angelic voices instantly bring to mind contemporaries 2562 and Burial. upon repeat listenings though, it becomes apparent Clubroot's style is one all of his own. not suitable for the club and too mournful for party mixes, this is strictly a home listening record. while it may lack the hooks to make a crossover hit, it has the distinction of being the first great dubstep LP of 2009. a gorgeous ghost ship of a record.
19. The Horrors - Primary Colours
onetime saviours of gothic proto-punk The Horrors' second album was not as much of a stylistic one-eighty as the music press made it out to be. they're still tugging on their influences sleeves like a toddler begging for a hot ribena, Faris Badwan still tries to sing like The Three Ians (Curtis, McCulloch, Brown) on nearly every track, and they still cut their hair like they're actively trying to get an eye infection. it was, however, as great as the music press made it out to be. taking all the best (and worst) bits from 80's space-gazers (Spacemen 3, The Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine) and leftfield post-punk (Joy Division, Suicide, The Fall) and turning it into something as fiery and karaoke'able as key tracks "Scarlet Fields" and "Who Can Say", is enough to warm the cockles of any emotionally detached self-appointed music critic.
18. Lukid - Foma
those among you who frequent this blog (there has to be some), will probably know by now i'm no stranger to hazy, rainy day, laid-back ambience. after such a stellar year for releases in this vein in '08 (Actress, The Fun Years, The Caretaker), i was actually quite glad when nothing popped up in '09 that was as standout excellent - i could devote my time to all the genres i'd been neglecting the past year. that was until this little beauty, along with the new Alva Noto (see part 2), ended up consuming most of my dedicated listening hours. if the prospect of Boards of Canada collab'ing with the new school wonky producers (FlyLo, SamiYam, Hudson Mohawke) sounds too good to be true, it's because it is. Foma, however, is the next best thing.
17. Mount Eerie - Wind's Poem
finally, Phil Elverum's much talked-about dalliance with black metal and Twin Peaks bears some fleshy and delicious fruit. various single and EP releases have been showcasing the man's recent musical flirtation - on Wind's Poem it all comes full circle, frail indie atmospherics join hands with cavernous, delay pedal'd electic guitar and haunting organ drones. think Mount Eerie, meets Jesu, meets Angelo Badalamenti. it's still distinctly a Mount Eerie record - there's no mistaking the arrangements, that voice - but there's a freshness to this LP that will take you back to the moment you first heard The Glow, Pt. 2 or Mount Eerie. take a listen of the epic, humming "Through the Trees" (the 7" of which featured some 'Peaks aping cover art) or "Between Two Mysteries". you can almost smell the log mill.
16. Women - Women
there's been no shortage of "lo-fi no-fi scum-punk noise-pop" records in 2009. it seems like all you have to do to get some Pitchfork hype these days is learn the guitar in a week, practice a couple of Guided by Voices demos that no one will recognise into a boombox recorder, think up a one or two syllable name and hey, presto! you're getting taken out to dinner at SXSW by Columbia records and you haven't even lifted a finger. so it begs the question: how, in 2009, an information-overload year of endless YouTube'ing and Twitter'ing of everything that's happened to anyone ever, do you sort the wheat from the chaff? answer: just listen to one of them. Women.
15. Nathan Fake - Hard Islands
from the terrible cover art to the lack of any promotion whatsoever, nothing about Hard Islands (Fake's second LP for slow coach label Border Community) should've worked. moreover, he'd taken the cozy, slow wave computer shoegaze exhibited on critically acclaimed Drowning in a Sea of Love, and thrown it into... the sea (?), in favour of a more club oriented, back-to-basics electro sound. it shouldn't've worked, but it did. the six tracks listed here hit you on the head with their 4/4 beats and ear-catching hooks, and are among the best the young producer has ever released. much like The Field's 2007 LP From Here We Go Sublime, he uses live mixes and leaves it all hanging out, audio glitches and all. if Fake was aiming for a staight-up techno record, he got one - but it has a human heart. it's a club record, made in the bedroom.
14. Cymbals Eat Guitars - Why There Are Mountains
Cymbals Eat Guitars know their American indie rock history. at least, as far back as 1997 - a vintage year. it's a special kind of band that can make an album that sounds like it was recorded and released in one very specific year, but Why There Are Mountains manages it. Pavement's Brighten the Corners. Perfect From Now On by Built to Spill. Modest Mouse's The Lonesome Crowded West. but it takes more than a great record collection, a flannel shirt and a grizzly beard to play indie rock, something else Cymbals Eat Guitars know well. it's an album that constantly keeps you on your toes - an ever-changing, eroding and adapting landscape of songs, fucking up the verse-chorus-verse format for everyone else and keeping it fresh for themselves. one of the most promising debuts this year, and i can't wait to see what happens next. who knows, maybe twelve years from now people will be making albums that sound exactly like 2009.
13. Universal Studios Florida - Ocean Sunbirds
somewhat of a glaring omission from last month's summer mixtape, Seattle's Universal Studio Florida bring the sun-kissed blissed out tropical vibes like no one else this year. armed with an un-googleable name that's just begging for a lawsuit, and some sweet golden synth hooks and big beats, Ocean Sunbirds is fast becoming one of my favourites for this year. they're taking the template that artists like Panda Bear, El Guincho and High Places laid out in 2007/08, and splicing it with the propulsive percussion of The Field and Studio, making it essential summer listening. in a just world, this would soundtrack beach BBQs and volleyball games everywhere.
12. Sore Eros - Second Chants
one of a crowd of fantastic dream pop records this year (see part 2 for some of the others), Sore Eros' debut album sees a lot of different ground covered for only being 40 minutes in length. from the The Clean-esque driving fuzz of opening track "Smile On Your Face", to the chamber pop-via-The Velvet Underground moments buried deep in the reverb on tracks like "Whisper Me" and "Lips Like Wine", everything about Second Chants feels like you're listening to about fifteen different bands at once, in a really good way. i think Boomkat called it best when they tagged it with "cosmic country". this quiet gem of a record should be on every would-be farmer astronaut's iPod.
11. Sonic Youth - The Eternal
for the NYC veterans first independently released LP since 1988, the Yoof dug deeper into their 28-year career than ever before to put out an record that wouldn't sound of place on a mixtape of some of the bands 90's classics. just one listen of blink-and-you'll-miss-it opening track "Sacred Trickster" indicates that you're dealing with a leaner, meaner SY - from this song onwards, Kim Gordon's incredible presence sticks out like a sore thumb on The Eternal, making Moore and Ranaldo's contributions sound almost lazy by comparison. not to fault the boys though, album highlight "Antenna" features one of Thurston's most full-on singalong vocal takes, and "What We Know" sounds like the Lee track that should've been on Experimental Jet Set. Kim's ten minute torch song "Massage the History" takes things to a bluesy close, rounding off an incredible twelve tracks that veer from the confrontational riffs and hooks from Dirty, to the introspective dissonance of Murray Street. here's to another 28 years.
here's the album samples as promised, in the form of another mix. though there's no beat-matching or syncopating here - it's just the ten tracks as they are. and it's down to you to decide whether that was worth reading all that awful hyperbole for. anyway, check back next week for part two.
1. clubroot - talisman
2. the horrors - scarlet fields
3. lukid - ice nine
4. mount eerie - ancient questions
5. women - shaking hands
6. nathan fake - basic mountain
7. cymbals eat guitars - cold spring
8. universal studios florida - sun glyphed comanche kissed
9. sore eros - smile on your face
10. sonic youth - calming the snake
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