Here we go, counting down the 50 albums you voted for in the highest number as your favourites for 2009. Numbers 50–41 right here.
* * *
[Irony Bored; October 2009]
What we said then: “There’s nothing embryonic about this accomplished collection of songs; Me Oh My is fully formed and well matured, showing just how far Le Bon has come since her early performances… A big warm cwtch of a record.” ••••• Richard Steele
What we say now: Me Oh My has lost none of its off-kilter shock and awe in the short time since it hatched into the public domain. A hugely promising debut, it was perhaps just too damn strange from the outset to reach a Laura Marling sized audience, but wider recognition surely can’t evade Ms Le Bon for long.
Download: ‘Hollow Trees House Hounds’, ‘Sad Sad Feet’, ’Terror Of The Man’
[Affairs Of The Heart; August 2009]
What we said then: “[The Knot] is awash with clouds of guitar distortion, tuned and manipulated into crashing sonic ramparts and embellished with cool blues licks. [Jenn] Wasner conduits emotions directly through her Fender with endearing honesty, and it’s rare to hear rock guitar played with such authentic revelation, yet there’s a discernable fatality in her raw and often pain-filled wailings.” •••• Charlotte Richardson Andrews
What we say now: In The Knot, Wye Oak delivered one of the year’s most unexpected treasures that saw them successfully tying up many of the loose ends that marred their somewhat ropey first effort, helped no end by Wasner’s once-frayed vocals coming into focus. If the duo can match the impressive trajectory between albums for outing number three, replicating the brilliant leap in both ambition and execution that The Knot represents, they’ll be virtually untouchable.
Download: ‘Siamese’, ‘Sight, Flight’, ‘That I Do’
[Double Six; May 2009]
What we said then: “As [The Last Laugh] moves between light and shade with a sweeping grace, it becomes ever more apparent that Danger Mouse and [Helena] Costas share a unique musical affinity, able to juxtapose seamlessly the real and imaginary. The Last Laugh could masquerade feyly behind the ‘folk-pop’ label it is being attached to, but with peculiarities galore and a pinch of something ever-so-slightly unnerving it’s a smidgen too dark to be entirely true to that, admittedly nebulous, genre.” •••• Charlotte Richardson Andrews
What we say now: The media push behind The Last Laugh probably wasn’t helped by the reclusive tendencies of the very private Costas, but it obviously reached enough of you to ensure a place in our top 50. And justifiably so. Few albums this year have so expertly flitted between the commonplace and the surreal, and with such beautiful results. Anyone who thinks that Danger Mouse is past his best as a producer should listen to this. Guaranteed to upend even the most determined frown, even if just for a moment.
Download: ‘Chasing Ticking Crocodile’, ‘The Running Goblin’, ‘Worm’s Head’
[Sacred Bones; July 2009]
What we said then: “As much as the tracks are most definitely menacing, they never become frantic or raucous. Always the fear is chilling, underlying and intense, without ever breaking into full on panic. Much like a thriller movie that shows no gore or actual violence, but still manages to be completely anxiety-ridden… A night with Zola Jesus should ensure maximum unreleased terrors, sights that would never manifest themselves other than in the mind.” •••• Stephanie Heney
What we say now: This provocative debut is like the big sister to Soap&Skin’s Lovetune For Vacuum, bleeding forth like black gold from the prairies of Midwestern America rather than bubbling up from the cracks in the pavements of downtown Vienna. It’s just as intense, equally uncompromising, and bold as you like, its murky distortion defiantly punctured by Nika Danilova’s soaring, seething vocals. We can’t wait to see her translate the atmospheric menace that laces these songs to the stage.
Download: ‘Clay Bodies’, ‘Smirenye’, ‘Tell It To The Willow’
[The Tiny Music; October 2009]
What we said then: “We bipeds are frequently given to falling down flights of stairs and knocking into balusters, finding ourselves at the bottom with a muddled perspective and a throbbing head. But with their third album Gravity & Grace, The Tiny navigate the art of locomotion in a startlingly balanced manner. Cellist Leo Svensson and bassist Johann Barthling rise and descend the steps of instrumental range, while Ellekari Larsson sings in a voice that sounds tickled by a feather… Eleven songs, all a tad enchanted and fluid, fall upon the listener’s ears like autumn rain, creating ripples of sound.” ••••½ Dalia Wolfson
What we say now: These talented Swedes seem incapable of making even one bad song, let alone a below-par album. Tiny by name, gargantuan by talent, Gravity & Grace makes it three astounding works in a row for Ellekari Larsson and co. Though it doesn’t quite match 2007′s Starring; Someone Like You on the basis of charm alone – and the cover artwork certainly leaves a lot to be desired – Gravity & Grace is perfectly titled; few albums carry themselves with such stylishness and poise. Often fragile but always relatable, there are secrets here worth hearing. Make it a priority.
Download: ‘Last Weekend’, ‘Ten Years’, ‘The Man Who Ran’
[Nettwerk; May 2009]
What we said then: “[Hanne] Hukkelberg’s creative fearlessness and attractive introvert nature are key to her success, and the way in which she instils life into each song through her uncanny alto always keeps things interesting. This disconnect between her ambition and perceived fragility is compelling and renders any comparisons to more famous singers pointless. With her first two albums Hukkelberg established herself as a real force in the singer-songwriter genre; Blood From A Stone elevates her into its elite.” ••••½ Tomáš Slaninka
What we say now: Hanne Hukkelberg’s decision to shut herself away on a remote island in northern Norway to write her third album resulted in some of the darkest and, perhaps counterintuitively, loudest music of her career. Seven months later, it still sounds every bit as fresh and emotionally resonant as on the first listen, revealing new craters of desolate beauty with each successive audition. Accordingly, we haven’t let the dust settle on this one for long; it’s barely been off our stereo all winter. Majestically bleak and beautifully realised, it sets the bar even higher for her next release.
Download: ‘Crack’, ‘No One But Yourself’, ‘Salt Of The Earth’
[Young God; September 2009]
“It may sound trite, but attempting to describe the experience of listening to a Lisa Germano album feels rather like trying to explain a dream you’ve had to another person; no matter how accurately you recall the events, sounds and emotions, they will never fully visualise the plateaus of quiet euphoria and chasms of despair of what you’ve witnessed. Magic Neighbor, her eighth solo album, is no exception. Similar in scope to 2006’s In The Maybe World, it’s built on tiptoeing piano melodies and pensive guitar figures that subtly pitch and unnerve. But where that album was substantively preoccupied with death, Magic Neighbor finds Germano peering out from the darkness with a half-smile arced with bemused curiosity.
It’s a sentiment that’s captured so perfectly in the artwork; open the booklet and the obfuscating passage of vines on the cover turns into a coastal panorama. With Magic Neighbor, Germano not only can see the wood for the trees, conveying a more heightened sense of holistic self-awareness, she also sees the gaps in the canopy. Describing the record as her first ‘daylight’ album, Germano shows a greater willingness to exploit those gaps, a different kind of maybe world where the answer is occasionally a friendly affirmative nod. As such, many of the songs exude a sympathetic character that’s instantly relatable; Germano questions and chides herself gently on ‘Simple’ and ‘The Prince Of Plati’, surrenders to an intertwined fate on ‘A Million Times’ and confronts her anxiety on ‘Cocoon’, while the more opaque ‘Snow’ and ‘Painting The Doors’ are heady, creeping pieces that rank among her finest, most evocative work.” •••• Alan Pedder
Download: ‘Marypan’, ‘Snow’, ‘The Prince Of Plati’
[Souterrain Transmissions; November 2009]
What we said then: “Beasts Of Seasons is full of well-directed sorrow, but it never loses a deep sense of beauty and a tentative optimism despite the impermanence that inspired it. You get the impression from the album that Laura Gibson is a gentle soul, but one full of American magical realism and an eye for the subtleties of a life that is forever ebbing away… Amid the noise and thrum of the contemporary world there is a need for a few quiet folk who search out meanings in the stone and lichen-creep of overgrown graveyards. Authenticity is a horrible word, particularly when applied to singer-songwriters, and conjures up images of worthy, proficient dullness. But in this case it’s deserved and meant entirely as a compliment.” •••• Martyn Clayton
What we say now: 2009 seemed to be a very successful year for Laura Gibson, with Beasts Of Seasons justly receiving a lot of love from music bloggers and print press alike. Gibson’s unassuming, warm personality and endearing stage presence have done much to encourage this, but even without that bonus, Beasts Of Seasons speaks plainly for itself as a powerful discourse on love and loss. In the right mood, every listen is completely enchanting.
Download: ‘Funeral Song’, ‘Spirited’, ‘Where Have All Your Good Words Gone?’
[Cooperative; November 2009]
What we said then: “Edith Piaf dramatised a certain kind of soul-response to the trials of love, the beauty and the tragedy of a life most at home in the poetic imagination. It was never a solitary act, but an almost sacramental relationship between artist and an audience that felt the same things but couldn’t articulate those feelings to the degree that she could. Even if she did approach this project with a degree of irreverence, Martha Wainwright manages to take on that mantle, finding her own voice and her own vivid emotional journey in the sweeping tales and drama of another nation’s heroine.” •••• Martyn Clayton
What we say now: The surprise with this album is not that it was made in the first place, or that it’s good, it’s that Martha Wainwright managed to transcend the weight of expectation to create something far better than it really had any right to be. Leagues ahead of her brother Rufus’s notorious fanboy reimagining of Judy Garland’s famous Carnegie Hall live recording, Sans Fusils, Ni Souliers, À Paris (“without guns, barefoot, in Paris”) succeeds mainly as a love letter to the songs themselves, rather than the personality behind them. While she faithfully – but not too faithfully – taps into the fluid poetry of Piaf’s dramatic performance style, Wainwright stays focused on serving the music above all else. That it was all recorded live is all the more astounding.
Download: ‘C’est Toujours La Meme Histoire’, ‘L’Accordeoniste’, ’Le Foule’
[EMI; September 2009]
What we said then: “Here’s The Tender Coming is a very special piece of work from a rare and special act; its few faults only strengthen the richness of its humanity, the honesty of its references. Its roots are deep, but there’s not a hint of the fey or mannered about any of it, and easily deserves the same recognition afforded to The Bairns.” •••• Martyn Clayton
What we say now: As expected, Here’s The Tender Coming has only cemented The Unthanks’ reputation as one of English folk’s most vibrant and talented collectives. That the album resolutely stuck to the Unthank way, refusing to make any noticeable concessions to commercial thinking, is admirable for a major label act and restores some faith in the industry. Left to their own devices, it’s hard to conceive of how they could go wrong from here. The peak of their powers keeps shifting ever upwards.
Download: ‘Betsy Bell’, ‘Sad February’, ‘The Testimony Of Patience Kershaw’
* * *
All additional commentary by Alan Pedder