Friday, December 25, 2009
First things first. We here at Ragged Glories are traditionalists. There's a reason we picked our Top 24s, and not Top 25s, for this project. A real advent calendar has only 24 doors.
So, er, what are we doing here today?
It's Christmas Day. There's turkey to eat. What could possibly be so pressing?
The overall top 10, of course. In all, there were 156 albums nominated by the panel over the last 24 days. Every single one of us came up with a different number one.
To make sense of it all, we wanted to then figure out what the consensus was amongst us - what was our collective No. 1 album of the year. Using a simple scoring system, one point for a No. 24 nomination through to 24 points for a No. 1, a chart was produced, and here for your listening pleasure is to the Top 10. The number in brackets indicates where in their top 24s individual panelists placed the album.
Have a very Merry Christmas.
1. The XX - XX (XL)
What we said:
Pranam (No. 5): "A Florence and the Machine remix and several listens on Spotify later, and I was hooked, addicted, bewitched and totally in love with this band. It’s a record that whispers rather than shouts, and my ticket for their return trip to Manchester is now very much booked."
Ali (No. 7): "Nothing is wasted on this album of simple, elegant beauty. This is Pinter-esque music, as much about what's not there as what is. Every pause is as important as every note, every beat is as important as every word."
Guy (No. 2): "Put simply, it's just astoundingly good."
Rory (No. 6): "One of the more surprising indie offering of the year, The XX debut was an effortlessly cooler-than-thou offering."
SP (No. 1): "...the teen quartet the XX produced an album of such simple, unfettered joy that to ignore it just seems perverse."
2. The Pains of Being Pure At Heart - The Pains of Being Pure At Heart (Fortuna Pop)
What we said:
Dom (No. 2): "The Pains of Being Pure At Heart is one of those records you listen to and want to tell everybody about immediately. Buzzsaw guitars churn away merrily underneath sugar sweet boy/girl harmonies and addictive melodies to create ten delicious slices of irresistible indie pop."
Pranam (No. 16): "The Pains should be thanked for making it okay to like indie music again."
Ali (No. 22): "The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart sound like The Smiths, Jesus and Mary Chain and The Stone Roses, while lyrics move from genuinely funny to out-and-out creepy."
John (No. 6): "Sure, their lyrics are intriguing and engaging, but Kip Berman and co aren't going to be blowing out speakers any time soon with tracks from this debut album, which was as fey as its guitars were fuzzy. Still, I loved it."
Me (No. 6): "It takes a special album to instantly feel both fresh and familiar. The Pains of Being Pure At Heart did just that with their wonderful brand of shoegaze pop, which would have transported me right back to the late 80s/early 90s had I been buying records back then."
Guy (No. 1): "While this might not be the most cutting edge or original album I've heard this year, its unrelenting ability to inject fuzzy rushes through my veins every time I listen to it means it thoroughly deserves its place at the summit of this list."
3. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest (Warp)
What we said:
Andy (No. 20): "Hard to describe but easy to love, Veckatimest, the band’s fourth record, draws on everything from jazz and doo wop to folk and Sixties pop – namely Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys – which makes for a seriously special album."
Dom (No. 5): "The third offering from Brooklyn quartet Grizzly Bear, Veckatimest is a gift that keeps on giving. A densely textured collection of songs that reveals more to the listener with every listen, it is a joy of a record."
Pranam (No. 1): "Grizzly Bear have blossomed. I love Veckatimest because it sounds like an album conceived in the old school classic sense of the term – something it has in common with all my top ten entries. To quote Dory, the tracks ‘wildly cohere’ though they may be different to each other in style, and there’s a mood and soundscape that lingers throughout the whole."
Me (No. 7): "No album released this year is bursting with more ideas than Veckatimest. Trying to pin down Grizzly Bear to a particular style is a pointless exercise, they simply dabble in everything. From the soaring beauty of Two Weeks to the pop of While You Wait For The Others via the more ramshackle likes of Hold Still, this is an album that gives a little more each time."
SP (No. 6): "Repeated listens reveal it to be a dark-hearted gem, like a Fleet Foxes for the bleak midwinter and closer in tone to the sinister melodies of Yellow House."
Track: Fine For Now
4. Noah & The Whale - The First Days of Spring (Mercury)
What we said:
Andy (No. 1): "I can’t remember hearing a record that chronicles the dissolution of a relationship so well, from the realisation things might be coming to an end, to desperate, I-don’t-know-what-to-do-without-you laments. There’s bitterness, mourning, sorrow and regret, but perhaps most magically, through the layers of high emotion there are green shoots of hope; first that his erstwhile love will return, and later, on the more realistic Blue Skies, for an end to the suffering."
Dom (No. 8): "Charting the break-up of Fink and folk songstress Laura Marling, The First Days of Spring is a stark, painfully honest and often beautiful piece of work. Yes, it can be uncomfortable listening at times, but any music that can both explore and provoke such depths of emotion should be admired."
Matt (No. 11): "An album that better emotes the heartbreak of love straight after its giddy highs you are unlikely to find."
Ali (No. 18): "It's a world away from happy-clappy 5 Years Time which made them mainstream stars and it's utterly compelling, though it's sheer honesty - particularly on Stranger, an account of a one-night stand written as a confessional - will have you blushing, curling your toes and trying not to catch anybody's eye."
Rory (No. 4): "Less than a year after a jaunty but forgettable debut, Fink has penned a potential break-up classic for the ages."
Track: My Door Is Always Open
5. Blue Roses - Blue Roses (XL)
What we said:
Andy (No. 8): "In some cultures, a blue rose signifies love at first sight or a feeling of enchantment. That pretty much sums up how I felt about Blue Roses, or Laura Groves as her mum calls her, the first time I heard her voice."
Matt (No. 2): "The combination of instruments is gorgeous, from the familiar yet expertly played acoustic guitars and piano, through to thumb pianos and swirling harmonies."
Ali (No. 1): "From the intake of breath which precedes Greatest Thoughts to the resonant piano that punctuates the end of Imaginary Flights, Blue Roses' debut album is spellbinding."
Rory (No. 8): "If history is kind it will judge Leeds singer-songwriter Laura Groves as 2009’s lost superstar. Despite limited exposure, she wowed all who came into contact with her intricate take on piano-based balladry."
Track: Does Anyone Love Me Now?
6. Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More (Island)
What we said:
Andy (No. 2): "They only formed about two years ago, but in that time Mumford & Sons have gone from sometime backing band of Laura Marling to genuine stars of 2009 with their sincere, powerful blend of traditional English folk and American bluegrass."
Matt (No. 7): "Get a bunch of men together. Arm them with guitars, banjos, a big tom drum and a beater to hit the drum as hard as possible. Tell them to play as fast as they can, then to hit the drum as hard as they can when they want to slow down. The result will be something akin to Sigh No More."
Rory (No. 9): "...They delivered with a robust set of big rootsy tunes, driving banjos and frequently blurred the lines between emoting and rabble-rousing. This is country-rock with a soul."
Ali (No. 16): "Single Little Lion Man and a reputation for storming live shows set the bar high Sigh No More, which largely lives up to expectations."
Me (No. 16): "...These are real growers, and who knows, had it had more time it might even have made it higher up the list."
Track: The Cave
7 (Tie). Wild Beasts - Two Dancers (Domino)
What we said:
Andy (No. 14): "It’s easy for a band to be weird for the sake of it, but it’s even easier to see through. Obtuse lyrics, theatrical flourishes and depressing, morose imagery alongside fabulous pop melodies, though? Now you’re talking."
Pranam (No. 11): "Howling and hooting their way into my heart, this band keep the flame of British idiosyncracy alive. They're a little mad and a wee bit proggy, but they write great songs, such as the album highlight below."
Ali (No. 4): "What makes them great is their daring, filthy songs - pulsing with bass and oozing with grime. No artist has quite nailed life in 21st-century Britain like this, from the casual misogyny of All The King's Men through to the boozed-up anti-ballad This Is Our Lot. Kaiser Chiefs, take note."
Guy (No. 6): "The only reason this isn't number one is that the rest of the album doesn't quite match the sheer brilliance and eccentricity displayed on 'Hooting and Howling', 'We Still Got The Taste Dancing On Our Tongues' and 'All The Kings Men'."
Track: Two Dancers (I)
7. Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson - Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson (Saddle Creek)
What we said:
Ali (No. 20): "The visceral thrill of seeing Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson's raw stage act doesn't quite transfer to record, but his pounding, shambolic rock anthems (Woodfriend, My Good Luck) and the feeling that you're listening to a man constantly on the brink of a breakdown lend an excitement of their own."
Dom (No. 4): "Against the odds, near flawless song craft allied with gloriously ragged (see what I’ve done there) production allows for many uplifting moments."
Rory (No. 7): "An early favourite that dominated the first part of my 2009 listening. MBAR, an engaging storyteller like only New York can produce, sired an album of scuzzily-produced, tautly played rock ’n’ roll."
Me (No. 3): "This one will hit you like a freight train. With a powerful, bruised, troubled but ultimately uplifting album, Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson announced his frightening potential on his self-titled debut back in March."
Track: The Debtor
9. Doves - Kingdom of Rust (EMI)
What we said:
Andy (No. 6): "When Jetstream was released, fans knew to expect something special. And they got it. There’s Jimi’s trademark, hurt howl, carnival drumming from Andy Williams and brother Jez’s guitar playing, as wide open and sprawling as the rolling Cheshire landscapes and industrial wastelands the songs pay tribute to."
Dom (No. 7): "Much of the initial press for Kingdom of Rust spoke of how Doves had moved back to their Sub-Sub post-Hacienda roots and recorded a dance orientated record. However, this proved to be only a partial truth and a one-dimensional way of looking at a fine record by a fine band, even if it was not their finest."
Matt (No. 4): "But this is fine stuff - mesmerising effect-heavy guitar riffs swirl round a fast paced series of almost excluvely strong rock songs."
Track: House of Mirrors
10. The Horrors - Primary Colours (XL)
What we said:
Dom (No. 21): "Reference points including My Bloody Valentine, Joy Division and Heaven Up Here-era Echo & The Bunnymen combine to produce an impressively brooding soundscape. This record is a lesson that well layered guitars with classic 50’s style echo produces far more gothic darkness than shit eyeliner ever could."
Pranam (No. 2): "No one saw it coming. Primary Colours is a thrilling ride from start to finish."
Guy (No. 14): "They've toned down the Stooges-influenced jams of their debut and branched out to embrace a much fuller sound, incorporating gothic synths, psychedelic guitars and tuneful pop ditties to impressive effect."
SP (No. 9): "Just when you thought The Horrors were going to go the way of JJ72 and Terris (remember them?!), they startled everyone with an album of unexpected depth. There are no primary colours in this gothic shoegazing fuzzfest but Farris Rotter and co. paint it black in style nonetheless."
Track: Mirror's Image
And that's it. This whole crazy scheme is over (until we do it again next year). A big thank you to the panel for their work, and to all those who followed along and made sure we weren't just talking to ourselves.
Normal service will resume on Ragged Glories just as soon as I find the energy.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Here they are. The chosen few. The special ones. The Albums of the Year.
Ten albums. Ten excruciating decisions for our panel. Ten necks put on the line.
So who got it right? Let the debates begin...
Blue Roses - Blue Roses (XL)
Track: I Am Leaving
From the intake of breath which precedes Greatest Thoughts to the resonant piano that punctuates the end of Imaginary Flights, Blue Roses' debut album is spellbinding. The first thing that strikes you is the warmth and purity of Laura Groves' voice, an instrument of real beauty which, incidentally, is every bit as striking live. Equally impressive, though, is her songwriting. She's just as comfortable with three-minute pop classics like I Am Leaving as she is with meandering short stories like I Wish I... - then she throws in charming oddities like Doubtful Comforts for fun. Blue Roses is an album made rich by a rare depth of emotion. When Groves sings "I need the coast of the east of England", you feel her longing and need it too, and she captures perfectly the feeling of being lonely among people. The town of Shipley, until this year probably most notable in musical circles for being the birthplace of John Peel's wife, can now boast one of Britain's brightest talents.
Emmy The Great - First Love (Absolute)
To vote something as your favourite album in a year of many wonderful and varied releases takes a number of factors. Firstly, the record must be seriously, unequivocally good. Secondly, it has to sound or feel undeniably of the moment. But thirdly, and most importantly, it must be something you love blindly, passionately and, for the most part, almost irrationally.. For me, First Love ticks each of those boxes in big red indelible marker. Remarkably dismissed in some quarters as a little lightweight, further inspection reveals a set that packs a real emotional and intellectual punch. MIA is one such example, a deliciously delivered narrative from the scene of a fatal car crash. Lyrically, the imagery is gruesome and heart-breaking, but the melody and the disengaged guitar line make the scenario seem serene. Beautiful, almost. Elsewhere she takes an ingenue’s-eye-view of religion (The Easter Parade), synchs a Motown rhythm with a story of sexual politics (We Almost Had a Baby) and signs off with the devastating City Song.
The Arctic Monkeys - Humbug (Domino)
Track: Secret Door
After cementing their place as a generation-defining band with their first two albums, Arctic Monkeys decided to bugger off to the desert with Josh Homme, grow their hair and record a “mature” record. Understandably Humbug caught a few people off guard. There is nothing as instant as Mardy Bum here, or as rousing as A Certain Romance, but persevere and you might just find this to be their finest achievement to date. Homme’s influence on barnstormers like Potion Approaching is clear, but the remarkable factor is the continued development of Alex Turner as one of the decade’s finest talents. Moving away from the wry observational vignettes that have become his trademark, Turner’s lyrics have acquired a depth that is wonderfully menacing on highlights such as Dance Little Liar. Crying Lightning draws on the seductive stylings of fellow Steel City exile Jarvis Cocker, while the majesty and elegance of Secret Door and Cornerstone elevate the Arctics to another level. All of this is powered by Matt Helders’ simply jaw-dropping drumming. Humbug is the sound of a band petrified of standing still, on top of their game and capable of achieving whatever they choose. We should cherish them.
Noah And The Whale - The First Days of Spring (Mercury)
Track: My Broken Heart
“We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival.” They’re the words of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill: wise words, and ones seemingly not wasted on Noah And The Whale frontman Charlie Fink. Most people have had this album in their Top 24 so far, so I won’t bore everyone with the story again. I can’t remember hearing a record that chronicles the dissolution of a relationship so well, from the realisation things might be coming to an end, to desperate, I-don’t-know-what-to-do-without-you laments. There’s bitterness, mourning, sorrow and regret, but perhaps most magically, through the layers of high emotion there are green shoots of hope; first that his erstwhile love will return, and later, on the more realistic Blue Skies, for an end to the suffering. “’Cause it’s time to leave those feelings behind. Blue skies are calling, but I know that it’s hard,” he sings, clearly willing himself out of the funk and to think positively. I am already waiting with bated breath for their next collection of songs. Here’s hoping Charlie doesn’t have to endure so much to find them.
The Pains of Being Pure At Heart - The Pains of Being Pure At Heart (Fortuna Pop)
Track: This Love Is Fucking Right!
As ludicrous as it might sound I genuinely bought this album purely on the basis of the band's name, which is frankly stunning (such an emo). While this might not be the most cutting edge or original album I've heard this year, its unrelenting ability to inject fuzzy rushes through my veins every time I listen to it means it thoroughly deserves its place at the summit of this list. This collection of irresistible indie-pop anthems soundtracked my summer and with any luck will do for many more to come.
Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest (Warp)
Like Ian, the first I heard of Grizzly Bear is when they released the Friend EP. A folk-influenced band signed to Warp? I was curious. And like Ian again, the video of four men singing a song in a bathtub had me intrigued and enthralled in equal measure. Friends did not agree. No matter because man, were they wrong. Grizzly Bear have blossomed. I love Veckatimest because it sounds like an album conceived in the old school classic sense of the term – something it has in common with all my top ten entries. To quote Dory, the tracks ‘wildly cohere’ though they may be different to each other in style, and there’s a mood and soundscape that lingers throughout the whole. Veckatimest has soundtracked my year – from hearing Two Weeks for the first time in spring, to watching them perform live with the LSO in autumn, and finally seeing them again with Ian when the played at Manchester Cathedral in November. I think album track Cheerleader is about as sublime as music gets. Enjoy.
Frida Hyvonen - Silence Is Wild (Secretly Canadian)
Track: Dirty Dancing
Perhaps that Strokes debut and Sleater-Kinney's One Beat would pip it my personal album of the decade rundown, but I'm not so sure. I love this record. I'm all over it, and so too is Frida Hyvonen's sometimes tormented, often lovelorn, highly sexualised, ever passionate soul. Hyvonen, from northern Sweden, is an elegant pianist, masterful even, but that alone would not have sealed the deal. Her lyrics can switch from brutal to witty, line to line, nowhere more obviously than on the harrowing 'December', documenting the precise, painstaking and quite devastating detail of an early-morning trip to the abortion clinic. Hyvonen manages to render dark humour to the story which ends with shared laughter between partners for whom the occasion marks the death of their relationship - "a relief in the grief", she concludes. Elsewhere Hyvonen is playful amid pain, and 'Dirty Dancing' had her relating her teenage lust for a boy named Jimmy to the 80s big-screen romance after meeting again later in life when he, now a chimney sweep and father-of-two, visits on his rounds. "I guess you do the dirty now and I do the dancing," she tells him, "and once we were Baby and Johnny." On London she recalls the "beautiful boys in exquisite fabrics" and wishes: "I want to be like them/I don't care if they are men/I want to be rich, I want to be fine and dandy." And I could go on but I'll leave you plenty to explore instead.
The Leisure Society - The Sleeper (Willkommen)
Track: The Darkest Place I Know
There is probably no better song to hear while ill than The Last of the Melting Snow, the Ivor Novello nominated single from the Leisure Society's debut, Sleeper. A heartbreakingly simple piece of songwriting, a theme echoed throughout the rest of the album, which makes great use of their expansive line up by including everything including the kitchen sink. Ukuleles, cellos, flutes and triangles all sit snugly alongside acoustic guitars and organs, which take lead singer Nick's songwriting to happier places than the title track. Underneath the prettiness lies a collection of truly great songs.
The XX - XX (XL)
For an album that sidled onto my iPod so modest and understated, it seems pretty contrary to be shouting it's praises so loudly now. But teen quartet the XX produced an album of such simple, unfettered joy that to ignore it just seems perverse. Surprisingly for such a young band, this is a masterpiece of economy and that only makes the cute lovelorn lyrics cut to the bone more directly. It tops my list by virtue of being the only album that ends just as I'm getting in to it, prompting repeat plays every time.
Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears - Tell 'Em What Your Name Is (Lost Highway)
Wow. That was my first reaction to hearing Black Joe Lewis when his Gunpowder single was streamed on the Lost Highway website late last year. Wow. That was my reaction to hearing the EP in full when it came out in January. And, then, well, wow. That was the album in full when I got hold of it in March. BJL's brand of 'garage soul' will grab you by the lapels and shake you off your feet. From the opening bars of the explosive Gunpowder through the irresistible sweetness of Sugarfoot and past the raw power of Big Booty Woman and joy of Get Yo Shit, there's not a duff moment on one of the most exciting records I've heard in many a year. With his sound firmly rooted in the likes of Otis Redding, Black Joe Lewis may be stuck in the past, but he should have a rollicking future.
And there we go, folks. The final door is open. But we're not quite done. Moments ago I posted the compiled list of all 10 top 24s, specially designed to embarrass those members of the panel, me included, who had glaring misses on their lists. It's certainly worth checking back for a quick look.
Then, join us tomorrow, just before you get stuck into the turkey, for a special top 10 of the year, compiled using a complex scoring system, to determine the panel's collective albums of the year.
Oh, and, have a very Merry Christmas.
So the No. 1 albums have been announced, and the recriminations are already under way.
But mocking the lists of others is as much about what they left off as what they put on. To make such mockery easier, here is a brief recap of all 10 top 24s, so you might more easily spot their scandalous decision to omit Black Joe Lewis entirely.
1. Blue Roses - Blue Roses
2. Nancy Elizabeth - Wrought Iron
3. Emmy The Great - First Love
4. Wild Beasts - Two Dancers
5. Florence & The Machine - Lungs
6. The Leisure Society - The Sleeper
7. The XX - XX
8. Left With Pictures - Beyond Our Means
9. God Help The Girl - God Help The Girl
10. The Maccabees - Wall Of Arms
11. The Mummers - Tale To Tell
12. Andrew Bird - Noble Beast
13. The Decmberists - The Hazards Of Love
14. Broken Records - Until The Earth Begins To Part
15. Slow Club - Yeah So
16. Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More
17. The Low Anthem - Oh My God, Charlie Darwin
18. Noah And The Whale - The First Days Of Spring
19. Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career
20. Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson - Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson
21. The Unthanks - Here's The Tender Coming
22. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart - The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart
23. The Felice Brothers - Yonder Is the Clock
24. Taxi Taxi! - Still Standing At Your Back Door
1. Emmy the Great - First Love
2. PJ Harvey & John Parish - A Woman, A Man Walked By
3. Japandroids - Post Nothing
4. Noah and the Whale - The First Days of Spring
5. Wilco - Wilco (The Album)
6. The XX - The XX
7. Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson - Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson
8. Blue Roses - Blue Roses
9. Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More
10. Soulsavers - Broken
11. Bill Callahan - Sometimes I Wish I Were An Eagle
12. The Antlers - Hospice
13. BLK JKS - After Robots
14. Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca
15. The Decemberists - Hazards of Love
16. Arctic Monkeys - Humbug
17. Cymbals Eat Guitars - Why There Are Mountains
18. Sleeping States - Gardens of the North
19. Alberta Cross - Broken Side of Time
20. John Vanderslice - Romanian Names
21. Headless Heroes - Silence of Love
22. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion
23. Bruce Springsteen - Working On A Dream
24. NASA - Spirit of Apollo
1. Arctic Monkeys - Humbug
2. The Pains of Being Pure At Heart - The Pains of Being Pure At Heart
3. Manic Street Preachers - Journal For Plague Lovers
4. Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson - Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson
5. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest
6. Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears - Tell 'Em What Your Name Is
7. Doves - Kingdom of Rust
8. Noah & The Whale - The First Days of Spring
9. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz
10. Alberta Cross - Broken Side of Time
11. The Flaming Lips - Embryonic
12. Dan Auerbach - Keep It Hid
13. The Felice Brothers - Yonder Is The Clock
14. Wilco - Wilco (The Album)
15. Soulsavers - Broken
16. Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson - Summer of Fear
17. The Dead Weather - Horehound
18. The Prodigy - Invaders Must Die
19. Cory Chisel & The Wandering Sons - Death Won't Send Me A Letter
20. Seasick Steve - Man From Another Time
21. The Horrors - Primary Colours
22. Florence & The Machine - Lungs
23. Brendan Benson - My Old Familiar Friend
24. Hypnotic Brass Ensemble - Hypnotic Brass Ensamble
1. Noah And The Whale – The First Days Of Spring
2. Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More
3. Richard Hawley – Truelove’s Gutter
4. Ian Brown – My Way
5. Jack Penate – Everything Is New
6. Doves – Kingdom Of Rust
7. Girls – Album
8. Blue Roses – Blue Roses
9. M Ward – Hold Time
10. John Parish And PJ Harvey – A Woman A Man Walked By
11. Fever Ray – Fever Ray
12. Monsters Of Folk – Monsters Of Folk
13. Muse – The Resistance
14. Wild Beasts – Two Dancers
15. Kasabian – West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum
16. Florence And The Machine – Lungs
17. Julian Casablancas – Phrazes For The Young
18. The Temper Trap – The Temper Trap
19. Arctic Monkeys – Humbug
20. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest
21. Emmy The Great- First Love
22. The Dead Weather – Horehound
23. Kings Of Convenience – Declaration Of Dependence
24. Asobi Seksu – Hush
1. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - The Pains of Being Pure At Heart
2. The XX - XX
3. The Twilight Sad - Forget The Night Ahead
4. Paramore - Brand New Eyes
5. Japandroids - Post-Nothing
6. Wild Beasts - Two Dancers
7. The Grammatics - The Grammatics
8. Passion Pit - Manners
9. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Pheonix
10. Thursday - Common Existence
11. Brand New - Daisy
12. La Roux - La Roux
13. The Veils - Sun Gangs
14. The Horrors - Primary Colours
15. Silversun Pickups - Swoon
16. Metric - Fantasies
17. Sky Larkin - The Golden Spike
18. The Antlers - Hospice
19. Jamie T - Kings & Queens
20. Sunset Rubdown - Dragonslayer
21. Dananananaykroyd - Hey Everyone!
22. Manic Street Preachers - Journal For Plague Lovers
23. Julian Plenti - Julian Plenti is...Skyscraper
24. Converge - Axe To Fall
1. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest
2. The Horrors – Primary Colours
3. The Phantom Band – Checkmate Savage
4. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavillion
5. The XX – XX
6. Micachu & the Shapes– Jewellery
7. Flaming Lips – Embryonic
8. Atlas Sound – Logos
9. Bat for Lashes – Two suns
10. Yo La Tengo – Popular Songs
11. Wild Beasts – Two Dancers
12. Sonic Youth – The Eternal
13. Beat the Radar – From The City To The Sea
14. Dinosaur Jr – Farm
15. Beirut – March of the Zapotec
16. The Pains of Being Pure At Heart – The Pains of Being Pure At Heart
17. Dangermouse/Sparklehorse - Dark Night of The Soul
18. Passion Pit – Manners
19. Black Lips - 200 Million Thousand
20. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
21. Dizzee Rascal – Tongue N’ Cheek
22. Super Furry Animals – Dark Days/Light Years
23. Devendra Banhart – What Will We Be
24. Crystal Stilts – Alight of the Night - Departure
1. Frida Hyvonen – Silence Is Wild
2. Shrag – Shrag
3. Pastels/Tenniscoats - Two Sunsets
4. MJ Hibbett - Regardez, Ecoutez et Repetez
5. Mika Miko - We Be Xaxu
6. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
7. La Casa Azul - La Nueva Yma Sumac
8. The Lovely Eggs - If You Were Fruit
9. Cribs - Ignore The Ignorant
10. Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career
11. The Thermals - Now We Can See
12. Art Brut - Art Brut Vs Satan
13. Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard - 'Em Are I
14. Love Is All - A Hundred Things Keep Me Up At Night
15. Vivian Girls - Everything Goes Wrong
16. Gossip - Music For Men
17. Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions - Through the Devil Softly
18. Brilliant Colors – Introducing
19. Annie - Don't Stop
20. Daniel Johnston - Is And Always Was
21. Sky Larkin - The Golden Spike
22. Joe Gideon and the Shark - Harum Scarum
23. Girls - Album
24. Medusa Snare - Cinderella
1. The Leisure Society - Sleeper
2. Blue Roses - Blue Roses
3. Fanfarlo - Fanfarlo
4. Doves - Kingdom of Rust
5. The Joy Formidable - A Balloon Called Moaning
6. Martin Carr - Ye Gods and Little Fishes
7. Mumford and Sons - Sigh No More
8. The Decemberists - The Hazards of Love
9. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros - Up from Below
10. First Aid Kit - Drunken Trees
11. Noah and the Whale - The First Days of Spring
12. Pet Shop Boys - Yes
13. Ohbijou - Beacons
14. Passion Pit - Manners
15. Port O'Brien
16. Left With Pictures - Beyond Our Means
17. Huw M - Os Mewn Swn
18. Adrian Crowley - Season of the Sparks
19. Julian Casablancas - Phrazes for the Young
20. Why? - Eskimo Snow
21. Cymbals Eat Guitars - Where There Are Mountains
22. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
23. Jarvis Cocker - Further Complications
24. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz!
1. The XX - XX
2. Mos Def - The Ecstatic
3. BLK JKS - After Robots
4. Memory Tapes - Seek Magic
5. Florence & The Machine - Lungs
6. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest
7. Drums - Summertime
8. Vetiver - Tight Knit
9. The Horrors - Primary Colours
10. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
11. Dan Auerbach - Keep It Hid
12. Bibio - Ambivalence Avenue
13. Modest Mouse - No One's First, And You're Next
14. Sweet Billy Pilgrim - Twice Born Men
15. Brother Ali - Us
16. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz!
17. Magic Arm - Make Lists Do Something
18. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
19. Richmond Fontaine - We Used To Think The Freeway Sounded Like A River
20. Portico Quartet - Isla
21. M Ward - Hold Time
22. Super Furry Animals - Dark Days/Light Years
23. The Phantom Band - Checkmate Savage
24. Kid Cudi - Man On The Moon
1. Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears - Tell 'Em What Your Name Is
2. Felice Brothers - Yonder Is The Clock
3. Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson - Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson
4. The Low Anthem - Oh My God, Charlie Darwin
5. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros - Up From Below
6. The Pains of Being Pure At Heart - The Pains of Being Pure At Heart
7. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest
8. Alessi's Ark - Notes From The Treehouse
9. Alela Diane - To Be Still
10. Alberta Cross - Broken Side of Time
11. Wilco - Wilco (The Album)
12. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz!
13. Deer Tick - Born On Flag Day
14. Great Lake Swimmers - Lost Channels
15. The Avett Bros - I And Love And You
16. Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More
17. AA Bondy - Where The Devil's Loose
18. Patterson Hood - Murdering Oscar (And Other Love Songs)
19. Floating Action - Floating Action
20. The Dirty Guvnahs - The Dirty Guvnahs
21. Cory Chisel & The Wandering Sons - Death Won't Send Me A Letter
22. William Elliot Whitmore - Animals In The Dark
23. Broken Records - Until The Earth Begins To Part
24. Heartless Bastards - The Mountain
So there we go. Start flagging up the errors at will...
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
And so here we have the final instalment as we pick up the pace a little bit more, swinging through some soulful numbers before rockin' out towards the end. It may be not be the sexy pick, but in putting together this particular compilation, I think I decided the Ed Harcourt romp through In The Bleak Midwinter might be my favourite thing on here.
Oh, and I couldn't resist a bit of Carol of the Bells as a closer. Why not, eh?
Merry Christmas from Ragged Glories.
Steve Earle - Christmas In Washington
Josh Rouse - Christmas With Jesus
James Brown - Let's Make Christmas Mean Something This Year (Parts 1 & 2)
Staple Singers - Who Took The Merry Out Of Christmas?
Ed Harcourt - In The Bleak Midwinter
The Ventures - Jingle Bell Rock
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir - Carol Of The Bells
Some people say second place is first loser. Idiots.
Clearly, they've never heard any of our No. 2 albums of the year.
Nancy Elizabeth - Wrought Iron (Leaf)
There's nothing showy about Nancy Elizabeth. Cairns, the instrumental opener to Wrought Iron, must be as low key a beginning to an album as it's possible to produce. When they kick in on Bring On The Hurricane, her unpretentious, sincere vocals won't blow you away like a number of other singer-songwriters around at the moment. But I challenge you to find a more gripping collection of songs released in 2009 than this. Each one is an understated masterpiece, from Divining, with its gently insistent piano riff, rising brass and barely-there heartbeat drums, to The Act, a hypnotic, sweaty drawl wrought from two crudely-played guitar chords and some lazy harmonica. Her 2007 debut Battle And Victory was a fine folk record, but this is a serious development of her talent. How it went largely unnoticed is beyond me - it's the sort of record that makes you evangelical. Buy it. BUY IT.
PJ Harvey & John Parish - A Woman, A Man Walked By (Island)
Track: A Woman, A Man Walked By/The Crow Knows Where All The Little Children Go
With each new release Polly Jean Harvey looks more and more an artist of lasting substance. Her punk outsider credentials were already well established when, with Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea, she proved in a mere flick of the wrist her credentials as straight-up indie icon. Then she recast herself as a Bronte-era Kate Bush with 2007’s haunting White Chalk. All of which brings us to her most fun incarnation yet: a sexed-up, whisky-soaked female Nick Cave. Grinderwoman perhaps. Here she croons,swoons, barks and berates in what is her most sonically diverse set to date.
The Pains of Being Pure At Heart - The Pains of Being Pure At Heart (Fortuna Pop)
Track: Come Saturday
The Pains of Being Pure At Heart is one of those records you listen to and want to tell everybody about immediately. Buzzsaw guitars churn away merrily underneath sugar sweet boy/girl harmonies and addictive melodies to create ten delicious slices of irresistible indie pop. Unashamedly rooted in the 1980s alternative tradition, it is an album of numerous highlights. The energy bouncing out of and coursing through Come Saturday demands to be turned up louder, and Young Adult Friction and This Love Is Fucking Right are pitched in a similarly glorious vein, before the shimmering centrepiece Stay Alive provides a stunning hit of anthemic euphoria.
Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More (Island)
Track: Dust Bowl Dance
They only formed about two years ago, but in that time Mumford & Sons have gone from sometime backing band of Laura Marling to genuine stars of 2009 with their sincere, powerful blend of traditional English folk and American bluegrass. It makes a refreshing change to see a band grow and then actually capture some of their riotous life performance on record and, with the help of Arcade Fire producer Markus Dravs, even expand upon it. Every component is essential, from Marcus Mumford’s oddly Irish-sounding howl and the four-part harmonies, to Ben Lovett’s skilled piano and Country Winston’s banjo playing, which propels many of the songs here along. Debut of the year without a doubt.
The XX - XX (XL)
Track: Night Time
There's very little left to say about this album that hasn't already been covered by the endless amount of praise already heaped on it. Put simply, it's just astoundingly good. The myriad of influences are harnessed so effectively that they conspire to create a sound that is uniquely their own. This has soundtracked numerous late-night boozing sessions for me and my mates this year and almost everyone that has come into contact with it has fallen under its magical spell. In truth, if I was submitting my list now this would probably be number one.
The Horrors - Primary Colours (XL)
Track: Sea Within A Sea
SP put it perfectly when reviewing this album on day 16. No one saw it coming. Primary Colours is a thrilling ride from start to finish. Should producers Chris Cunningham and Geoff Barrow take some of the credit for turning this band into 'Album of the year material'? Perhaps they are the unsung heroes here. I've chosen this track because I love how it morphs from a garage-rock kraut-inflected guitar odyssey, into a Delia Derbyshire synth rave-up for the post-club generation. Bliss.
Shrag - Shrag (Where Its At Is Where You Are)
Track: Talk To The Left
Huggy Bear and Bikini Kill might be long extinct but thankfully there's still a flickering flame in the burning embers of riot grrrl and the DIY ethos. Brighton-based Shrag, three girls and two guys at the time of this album's release (but two girls, three guys now after a line-up change), put out their debut album in January on the very excellent Where It's At Is Where You Are label (Comet Gain, Love Is All). It has marked them down as potential British figureheads of the reinvigorated movement promoting and encouraging female creativity despite the apparent prejudices of music industry whose male domination is rarely questioned. Check this advent chart - boys with guitars are everywhere, girls not nearly so prominent. On 'Shrag', the politics were pro-feminist, the guitars and keys were noisy and the overall sound called to mind underrated bands like Bangs, while the lyrics, sung/screamed by Helen King and Steph Goodman, were often as hilarious - intentionally - as they were biting. 'Talk To The Left' was a splendid slapdown to a lousy lover which promoted an altogether different brand of DIY, 'Pregnancy Scene' sneered at the young-mum culture, 'Different Glue' took a swipe at the leering touchy-feely menaces giving all men a bad name, and 'Forty-five 45s' was a one-way discussion about the sudden meaninglessness of records once central to a dead relationship. Shrag released a corking brand new single in December, Rabbit Kids. It capped a great year for them.
Blue Roses - Blues Roses (XL)
Track: Doubtful Comforts
I don't normally go in for the Kate Bush wailing about the sea as a metaphor for love school of songwriting, but this album has too many intelligent constituent parts to be ignored. The combination of instruments is gorgeous, from the familiar yet expertly played acoustic guitars and piano, through to thumb pianos and swirling harmonies. And despite playing the multi-movement-love-song trick that's normally quite irritating, for some reason they seem to fit together very nicely. But it's the quality of the songwriting that really shines through; intricate and therefore all the more refreshing when standout track Doubtful Comforts gently breaks through.
Mos Def - The Ecstatic (Downtown)
Who knew? After years spent messing around with Jack Black, Bruce Willis and Tim from The Office in Hollywood films of varying quality, Mos Def sauntered back on stage and scored the year's best hip hop album to boot. The influence of world music andtense 1970s thriller soundtracks loom large, with Mr Def railing against the hypocrisies of the world in a smooth, continuous flow. Supermagic adds Eastern guitar licks to urgent effect and was the highlight of his Forum gig last month.
The Felice Brothers - Yonder Is The Clock (Team Love)
Track: Run Chicken Run
I've adored everything about the Felice Brothers ever since I first stumbled upon pre-release copies of Tonight At The Arizona in Rough Trade two and a half years ago. Comparisons with Dylan and the Band abound, and you know I'm all over that. Regular readers of this blog will know they appear on here more often than anyone else, in some form or other - and anyone who gets more mentions that Neil Young is clearly on to something. Yonder Is The Clock is their most complete work to date, from the riproaring Run Chicken Run to the understated beauty of Cooperstown (already lauded on this blog as the finest song about baseball I've ever heard). This is officially album number two, but the Felice Brothers also have two others, Tonight At The Arizona, and Mix Tape, out there, and the one consistent fact is simple: they just keep getting better. In a day and age where we see too many bands flame out after a couple of long-players, that would be the most exciting thing about the Felice Brothers were it not for their live shows - incredible, effervescent events that should not be missed.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
If this was a grand prix, there'd be a champagne-drenching, if it was the Olympics, there'd be medals and national anthems.
But it's neither of those things. It's far more important than that. It's the No. 3 albums of the year.
Emmy The Great - First Love (Absolute)
Track: Easter Parade
"You know what they say about terrible hate - it will breed something good when it's through," sings Emma-Lee Moss on Museum Island, and she should know. Surely no artist in 2009 turned quite as much hate into quite as much beauty as Emmy The Great. First Love is an album soaked in bitterness and anger at boyfriends past, real or imagined. The fragile vocals speak of heartbreak, but the lyrics are smart and the rhythms unusual, stopping the album from being too morose, while in Easter Parade she has created one of the most beautiful tracks of the year.
Japandroids - Post Nothing (Polyvinyl)
Track: Wet Hair
Hollywood would have us believe the elixir of everlasting youth is found in some far off mystical valley. Nutritionists would argue it really lies in keeping tabs on your five-a-day. Andie McDowell, meanwhile, is still on the L’Oreal pay-roll telling us it’s mostly about expensive face creams. Well, the eight pop-rock gems that make up Post-Nothing are the best argument yet that the answer is really unabashed singalong melodies fused with fuzz guitar, pounding drums and lyrics about chasing girls and downing booze.
The Manic Street Preachers - Journal For Plague Lovers (Sony)
Track: Peeled Apples
Journal For Plague Lovers is a simply astonishing piece of work. Taking Richie Edwards’ final set of lyrics and weaving them around some white-hot slabs of post punk precision, the Manics sound more vital than they have done in over a decade. The pumping guitars and bass of opener Peeled Apples could probably strip paint, and a nod of credit must go to legendary producer Steve Albini. However the achievement here belongs to messes Bradfield, Wire and Moore, who complete a vibrant, moving and compelling record for a close friend they still miss dearly. That does not make Journal For Plague Lovers an exercise in nostalgia or the Holy Bible II. It stands alone as a superb album. This Joke Sport Severed is genuinely epic and one of their finest moments, while Jackie Collins’ Existential Question Time and Marlon JD showcase the articulate aggression that has been conspicuous by its absence some of their recent misfiring efforts. Bloody hell, I even quite like Williams Last Words, but you knew that already right?
Richard Hawley - Truelove's Gutter (Mute)
Track: For Your Lover Give Some Time
If you’ve got any of Hawley’s five albums, you might think you have all the sepia-tinged, Yorkshire-based nostalgia you need. You’d be wrong. Truelove’s Gutter may be named after a Sheffield landmark like Lowedges, Coles Corner and Lady’s Bridge, but it’s much more adventurous than its predecessors. It features such wild instruments as the ondes Martenot, cristal baschet, Tibetan singing bowls, glass harmonica and musical saw, which give an ethereal, ghostly tone to the album. It’s a gloriously uncommercial album too, just eight tracks in length, some hitting the 10-minute mark, and add into that the serendipitous tales from the making of the album and you’re left with something truly special, even by the great man’s high standards.
The Twilight Sad - Forget The Night Head (Fat Cat)
After falling head over heels for debut album ‘Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters’ there was never any doubt that the follow up from these brooding Scottish gents would win me over. This is essentially a masterclass in epic, atmospheric rock that gets under your skin and refuses to go away. Stirring choruses are never far away and James Graham's potent Scottish accent spits out rousing lyrics like his life depends on it. In short, the record Interpol should have made after 'Antics'.
The Phantom Band - Checkmate Savage (MRI)
Track: Folk Song Oblivion
Like The XX, I caught this band at Manchester’s Deaf Institute. Unlike the XX, the Phantom Band converted me instantly when they started their set playing home-made percussion to an insistent groove over a rootsy melodica refrain. They played the whole of Checkmate Savage live, albeit in a different order, and their curious mix of Scottish folk, krautrock, Beefheart and electronica was unlike anything I’d heard. This is a great album, totally unique in its charms, which is why I keep returning to it six months since I first heard it.
Pastels/Tenniscoats - Two Sunsets (Geographic)
Track: Song For A Friend
Two Sunsets is not at number one in my chart for two very good reasons, but it was by far the prettiest album I heard all year. It involved Stephen and Katrina from semi-retired Glasgow indiepop stalwarts The Pastels, and Japanese pair Tenniscoats, whose stock in trade is delicate, experimental pop, the kind you need large speakers not only to appreciate, but to hear. It was a project which could have become horribly lost in translation, yet a mutual admiration of each other's work helped it get off the ground, and the result was a record which soared above all expectations. The Pastels had not hidden the fact they have been moving away from the sound of C86 and in the direction of dreamy pop. There had been indications in their infrequent musical ventures of the past decade that they were ready to explore new territory, and on Two Sunsets they were led there by the hands of enthusiastic collaborators. Something special happened: Stephen Pastel's familiar low growl turned to more of a purring, perfectly complementing the fragile kitten voices of Katrina and Tenniscoats' Saya. 'Song For A Friend' was a heartbreaking tribute to a former Tenniscoats associate, DJ Klock, who committed suicide two years ago. It was the album's highlight, and you can listen to it now. Some tracks glistened, others noodled and ventured off piste, but every one was hugely rewarding as part of a luxurious listening experience.
Fanfarlo - Reservoir (Fanfarlo)
Track - Drowning Men
Most reviewers are calling these guys a cross between Bierut and Belle and Sebastian. Not far off the mark, but beyond the singer's voice having a passing resemblance to Stuart Murdoch's, I think there's too much passion and pogo potential in these guys to compare that closely. The songs are consistently excellent, which is a rare trick to pull off on any album, and when achieved, almost instantly propels an album to classic status. There's something extremely triumphant in Fanfarlo's sound, helped along by the regal trumpets and stomping rhythms. And any band with about twenty members playing a mix of instruments like melodicas, mandolins and getting audience members to swing tubes will always, ALWAYS get my vote.
BLK JKS - After Robots (Secretly Canadian)
Judging a book by it's cover can have the sweetest results and when I picked up this band's Mystery EP because it was on Secretly Canadian and had a cool photo on the front, I was pleasantly surprised. It still didn't quite prepare me for the head-throbbing freak out that is After Robots though. This is a monumental record, the sound of South Africa jacking up on Fela Kuti and TV On The Radio, all distorted jerks and unexpected diversions. Lakeside is perhaps them at their most conventional, but even then it is a sublime slice of 21st century guitar music.
Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson - Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson (Saddle Creek)
This one will hit you like a freight train. With a powerful, bruised, troubled but ultimately uplifting album, Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson announced his frightening potential on his self-titled debut back in March. The themes befit a former drug addict who spent one too many mornings waking up on park benches in Coney Island, but the theme is of redemption and hope of a brighter future - hard to believe, I know, when the opening track is set at his own funeral. The raw power of the guitar and the urgency of his singing give this the feel of an album MBAR was compelled to make, an album that quite possibly saved him from relapsing into his old life and hurtling towards a terrible fate. Essential stuff all the way.