Archive for December, 2009
And here are the top ten albums of the last year in music. As always, my choices are based on no scientific method or claims to objectivity. It’s just what I loved.
10. Editors – In This Light & On This Evening
In my mind, the Editors have always been the best of the new generation of post-punk bands drawing on the Joy Division school of songcraft. Their music was overly portentous at times, but managed to package up the doom and gloom in big choruses and warm melodies. Their latest album was a fairly major departure from their earlier work, as they synthed out and took cues from Depeche Mode and Joy Division successors New Order.
9. Broken Records – Until the Earth Begins to Part
Folk in form but rock in spirit, Broken Records create a musical patois combining gypsy and English folk traditions with the hard push of rock songwriting. It’s earnest music, but nothing sounds better than this when you find yourself in an overly earnest mood.
8. Florence + The Machine – Lungs
Bat for Lashes new record was good (good enough for me to declare it 13th best album of the year) but it did take itself very seriously. Florence + The Machine brings the fun back to Kate Bush-style theatrical pop folk rock, and Lungs is an accurate title for the vocal virtuosity on display here. It’s thoughtful music you can still dance to.
7. Soulsavers – Broken
An inspired collection of covers and originals, the electro-folk duo of Rich Machin and Ian Glover again join forces with overworked growler for hire Mark Lanegan to produce another beautiful, atmospheric album even better than 2007’s It’s Not How Far You Fall, It’s the Way You Land. They add a few other vocalists to the mix (Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Gibby Haynes, Mike Patton, Richard Hawley, Jason Pierce), but it’s the sombre yet warm soundscapes that stand out, with just a touch more edge to them this time around.
6. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
There’s something loveably goofy and charming about French pop rockers Phoenix. They make precise and meticulous songs that have, on past releases, occasionally sounded a bit hermetically sealed. This album sees them bring a little warmth to proceedings. The two Love Like a Sunsets are especially exhilarating.
5. The XX – The XX
The XX produced a remarkably confident debut very different from a lot of music out there these days. Austere and restrained, the band make as much use out of the space between the notes as they do with the notes themselves. Their seeming 18,000 date tour has contributed to the departure of keyboardist Baria Qureshi (citing exhaustion), but the band is continuing on as a three piece. It will be interesting to see where they take their sound from here.
4. The Raveonettes – In & Out of Control
Dark lyrics and bubblegum pop melodies are a beguiling mixture and one that the Raveonettes have perfected on this album. The songs make you want to sing into a hairbrush like a teenaged girl on her way to a 1960s sock hop, until you realise that you’re bopping your head to lyrics about suicide and rape. That might not sound much like everybody’s cup of tea, but even if you ignore the lyrics, the noise and melodies of the music come together to create an irresistible sweet and savoury combination.
3. The Antlers – Hospice
A bit of a harrowing listen, the Antlers somehow sound more fragile and vulnerable the louder they get. This is far from a loud album though, with Peter Silberman mostly whispering a tale of terminal disease and the dissolution of a relationship. Again, that probably doesn’t strike many people as a fun time, but the music is grand enough to make the effort worthwhile. It’s Arcade Fire with the highs stripped out, but sometimes a person isn’t looking for joyful.
2. Mew – No More Stories are Told Today…
This album is annoyingly titled, but awe inducing in scope and sound. Prog rock doesn’t have to mean wanky soloing and interminably long tunes about space ships. 2003’s Frengers had the songs, 2005’s And the Glass Handed Kites had the vision, but with this year’s album Mew combined these elements into an immersive full-album listen with songs that stand up on their own as well. Unfortunately, this year’s second best album also wins the top spot for worst album art.
1. Doves – Kingdom of Rust
Doves have been consistently good since their debut, but this album brings together all the elements that make them such a strong band. Dance beats, rock guitars and empathetic lyrics are shaped by the band into some songs that inspire, some songs that evoke something a little more sadly complicated and some that manage to do both. Even after countless listens, this album still manages to surprise and excite me every time I hear it.
New Music News
On Christmas Eve, alt-singer songwriter Vic Chesnutt died from a report overdose of prescription drugs. He’d attempted suicide in the past and had a hard life, battling depression, physical pain and high medical bills after an auto accident rendered him a paraplegic about 25 years ago. I’ve been meaning to explore Chesnutt’s music for about a year, as I’ve heard wonderful things about his vivid imagery and stark songwriting talent. What I’ve heard I’ve liked, and want to explore it further. I know his music touched a lot of people very deeply, and news like this is always sad, whether you know or like the artist or not.
Also, as I’ve devoted the past month to a top ten, year-by-year recap of the best of the decade, I don’t want to take a lot more time on the topic. However, here are the ten acts that gave me the most joy over the past ten years (see entries from the last month for more on each band, along with samples):
10. Drive-By Truckers
9. The White Stripes
6. The Arcade Fire
5. The Gaslight Anthem
4. The Constantines
2. The Hold Steady
1. The National
See you next week, when we will resume our (somewhat) regularly scheduled programming here at Kill Rock Music!