Still counting down the 50 albums you voted for in the highest number as your favourites for 2009. Numbers 20–11 right here.
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[Heinz; October 2009]
What we said then: “With Splendor In The Grass, Pink Martini has produced an album which wears its heart, and multiple influences, on its sleeve. Nothing feels out of place here. The recording, production and sequencing are superb, and the performances are exquisite throughout. A beautifully executed record, it is laidback, sweet and life-affirming.” •••• Matt Bregazzi
What we say now: Some canny voting here! This magnificent album from multi-talented collective Pink Martini truly lives up to its title. Blissful moments of pleasure melt into one another as they romp through several decades’ worth of music and popular culture, even securing ‘Sesame Street’ actor Emilio Delgado for a duet cover of The Carpenters’ ‘Sing’. Anyone still in doubt after the album finale that China Forbes possesses one of the most sublime contemporary voices in music really needs new ears. Fact.
Download: ‘New Amsterdam’, ‘Over The Valley’, ‘Sunday Table’
[Last Laugh; November 2009]
What we said then: “From the trilling vocal fanfare that heralds opening song ‘Whispering Light’, it becomes immediately clear that Hunting My Dress is the work of a singular artist. Throughout the album, staccato rhythms, layers of vocal harmony and abstract, onomatopoeic lyrics add up to make the sounds more important and immediate than the meanings on many of the songs. When this impressionistic vision comes into sharper focus, the result is heartfelt and moving.” •••• Lucy Brouwer
What we say now: A very strong showing for an album that’s only been out for a month, but Jesca Hoop undoubtedly deserves the acclaim. A favourite new discovery for some; for others a brilliant realisation of the potential she showed on her debut album Kismet, Hunting My Dress is more than just a statement of intent, it’s a proud, bold and swooping nugget of creativity and vocal prowess. You need to hear this.
Download: ‘Murder Of Birds’, ‘The Kingdom’, ‘Whispering Light’
[The Leaf Label; October 2009]
What we said then: “Wrought Iron is an album of passing scenes, whispered discretions and atmospheric change sweeping across big horizons. And in the middle of it all, connecting the earthly with the intimate is [Nancy Elizabeth] herself… As lyrically introspective as she is at her most solitary and unguarded, she leaves no room for indulgence; the lasting impression is of a talent who appreciates the need for solid foundations beneath the ornamentation. Wrought Iron is the best kind of sensual adventure, a personal retreat by musical proxy.” ••••• Martyn Clayton
What we say now: We could not be more delighted to see this album so far up the list. A five-star gem through and through, Nancy Elizabeth’s second album does everything right, maintaining its paradoxical strength-in-fragility motif from beginning to end, summoning all of the tenderness and rage of the natural world through a supremely personal song cycle that reinvigorates the spirit. With Wrought Iron, Nancy Elizabeth has forged a modern classic, fully deserving of wider recognition.
Download: ‘Feet Of Courage’, ‘Lay Low’, ‘The Act’
[Nettwerk; September 2009]
What we said then: “Back to breaking hearts with exquisite abandon all over again, Sandoval’s ethereal vocals have lost none of their bewitching authenticity, gracing the shifting currents of darkness and light with a spectral potency unmatched by any of her peers. Her command of lyrical poetry has grown achingly acute and the almost decade-long wait was unequivocally worth it. Through The Devil Softly is a stunning gift of words and sound that should could keep us all sated, and sublimely blue, for some time to come.” ••••• Charlotte Richardson Andrews
What we say now: She’d been away for far too long, but like fine wine, the eternally sweet Sandoval has matured rather then aged. The eight year gap was a wide precipice to leap across, but Through The Devil Softly did it with one elegant leap. Still reflecting, still bittersweet, Hope and Warm Inventions cohort Colm Ó Cíosóig created a textured, emotive follow-up that got us agitated with excitement and then duly lulled us into an awed, glowing trance. A welcome return, and an album well deserving of this lofty position.
Download: ‘For The Rest Of Your Life’, ‘Thinking Like That’, ‘Wild Roses’
[Polydor; November 2009]
What we said then: “Every track here is remarkably well constructed, albeit often from so many pieces of other songs that it might as well have been called ‘The Fame Magpie’. These disparate elements have been carefully selected and stitched together in a manner that’s impressive and precise, yet slightly haphazard and off-kilter, often provoking the response “This should not work!” As Gaga proves time and again, however, it works rather well.” ••••½ Chris Catchpole
What we say now: Having stupefied the large majority of her haters into, at the very least, a secret admiration, what Lady Gaga has achieved with The Fame Monster has far surpassed the reasonable reputation of her debut album, The Fame. Taken at ear-value only she might not be the most original artist around, but taking in the whole phenomenon, outlandish attire and barmy videos included, it’s hardly possible to deny her credit, and absolutely impossible to ignore. Where she goes from this hyper-real pop extravaganza is anyone’s guess, but we’re certain that much of the world will be watching.
Download: ‘Bad Romance’, ‘Monster’, ‘Speechless’
[Young Turks/XL; August 2009]
What we said then: “What makes The xx so intriguing isn’t immediately obvious; perhaps it’s simply the mashing of sultry beats and prickly guitar lines that sells it. xx is a slow burn, the kind of album that takes a few listens to fall in love with. An accomplished meditation on moments of uncertainty and hesitation, of metamorphoses, it is at turns haunting and sweet. And while it is by no means a perfect album, occasionally getting lost in its own hypnotic groove, it is without a doubt an impressive debut by anyone’s standards.” •••• Elyse Cain
What we say now: Though they formed as long ago as 2005, The xx seemed to come out of nowhere with their skulking, moody debut. And once they’d blinked into the sunlight, emerging from their West London recording studio, the hype machine hooked them in and clutched them tightly to its chest as it steamrolled through the internet, charged onto radio and into the lungs of club kids and wallflowers alike. They may have already lost one of their members – keyboardist Baria Qureshi quit the band in November citing exhaustion just before the band embarked on their first major US tour – but xx is surely just the beginning for these talented youngsters.
Download: ‘Basic Space’, ‘Crystalised’, ‘Heart Skipped A Beat’
[Kemado; March 2009]
What we said then: “Marissa Nadler’s Little Hells is nothing less than aptly named. It’s a slice of intricately stringed American Gothic that, if at times a little unrelenting, creates a distinctive fictional universe of which most seasoned authors would be justly proud… only Nadler has pointed out that many of the characters are based on real-life friends and acquaintances. So, for the record, we have in Nadler a 27-year-old, self-taught guitarist and singer, on her fourth critically acclaimed album, who has friends that could keep HBO in dramatic television series for years to come.” •••• Scott Sinclair
What we say now: Little Hells marks the point in Marissa Nadler’s career when the Boston-born singer-songwriter came out of the closet in the sense that it was the first time she openly admitted that her songs were about the people in her life – her previous three albums had been characterised by elaborate fictional characters like Mayflower May. Little Hells also marks the point where Marissa stretched her creative muscles by incorporating a much fuller band sound for her stunningly poetic compositions. Working more fluently with rhythms and incorporating lap steel to achieve a Gothic country feel, she made arguably the best album of her career. Ever prolific, she’s already started writing the next one, so look out for that in 2010.
Download: ‘Heart Paper Lover’, ‘Mary Come Alive’, ‘River Of Dirt’
[Sire; October 2009]
What we said then: “The Quin twins have always been way too active to slip into stultified emotional passivity, and it’s partly this energy that has always pushed them to write apart… an approach that’s sufficiently unbroken to really require a fix. Together yet apart, there’s a whole lot of dichotomies contained in this whole. And here’s another in conclusion: the small section of their fanbase that was starting to lose patience with them after The Con may well throw in the towel with Sainthood, but loyal devotees and newcomers will love the playfulness and diversity contained within. Tegan & Sara may never be candidates for musical beatification but they’re still pretty righteous.” •••½ Martyn Clayton
What we say now: Tegan & Sara can be a frustrating proposition in that they have yet to make a truly stellar album. They’ve come reasonably close with past efforts So Jealous and The Con, and Sainthood is certainly enjoyable, but we’re still waiting for the quintessential Quins to surface. Packed full of hooks and adopting a more straightforward rock band sound (though the songs themselves often satisfy with their complexity), Sainthood is a solid sixth album, but they’ve got better in them.
Download: ‘Don’t Rush’, ‘Hell’, ‘Someday’
[Smalltown Supersound; October 2009]
What we said then: “Like her first LP, Don’t Stop manages the breathtaking feat of pleasing both pop connoisseurs and indie fans who prefer their music with an authentic, DIY edge… Annie’s talent for merging an array of existing styles and sounds into something not only coherent but entirely her own is undeniable. Relevant, self-aware and adventurous, this dexterous flair for seamlessly decade-spanning, genre-skipping arrangements makes Don’t Stop a technically credible album, but never at the cost of its feelgood vibes.” •••½ Charlotte Richardson Andrews
What we say now: The elephantine gestation of Annie’s second album Don’t Stop is a convoluted story of miscommunication and disappointments, but the intrepid Norwegian followed her own advice and never pressed pause. With good friends Richard X and Xenomania on her side, the much anticipated record finally saw light in October with a slightly rejigged tracklist that bravely dumped the ‘failed’ (in major-label terms anyway) first single ‘I Know Ur Girlfriend Hates Me’ and internet hit ‘Two Of Hearts’, creating a whole new wave of Anniemania among music bloggers. For sheer persistence alone, Annie deserves this high ranking.
Download: ‘I Don’t Like Your Band’, ‘Songs Remind Me Of You’, ‘Take You Home’
[Rough Trade; September 2009]
What we said then: “Considering the problems that beset the making of the project, so much of East Of Eden effortlessly glides like a glorious shaheen on the wing that it’s easy to lose focus and simply relax into the flutes and gentle flow of songs like ‘Greyest Love Of All’ and ‘Tidens Gång’. ‘Watch The Waves’ is less hazy but still nothing short of hypnotic, again drawing on deftly overlaid percussion to create an emotionally resonant piece, as if propelled only by the lunar pull on the tide; a perfect attraction.” •••½ Alan Pedder
What we say now: The most impressive thing about East Of Eden is undoubtedly Victoria Bergsman’s ingenuity and bravery in transplanting herself and a recording engineer to Pakistan to immerse themselves in local culture and make an album that represents a most unusual culture clash between the vibrant Pakistani rhythms and the mild-mannered Swede. It was a move fraught with difficulties and emotional turmoil, not that you’d necessarily be able to detect that from the songs alone, but it was massively rewarding. For her, and for us. A delicate, exotic beauty.
Download: ‘Bekännelse’, ‘My Boys’, ‘Watch The Waves’
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Additional commentary by Charlotte Richardson Andrews (#17) and Alan Pedder (the rest).