Thursday, December 31, 2009

Top 20 Albums of 2009

20) A LITTLE HAPPINESS (Aimee Allen)
The aim of this album was said to be "to get people in a good mood and show them life is to be enjoyed” and it certainly achieved that aim. Not everything is a winner (it does get alarmingly all “Jack Johnson” at times, but the strength of the song writing means that this is a light, summery winner. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Save Me, Calling The Maker

19) THE GRADUATE (Nerina Pallot)
Sadly, it wasn’t anywhere near a “Fires” but Nerina Pallot’s third album has enough winners to make it another good album. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Real Late Starter, I Don’t Want To Go Out

18) SCARY FRAGILE (Butterfly Boucher)
It took a long time to come (over five years) but the follow up to Flutterby finally made it to the wider world in 2009 and it proved that her first album was no fluke. The kind of quirky “pop” music that could be huge but probably never will be, thankfully it avoided the trap of concentrating on castigating her former record label and just concentrated on the great tunes. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: I Found Out, Gun For A Tongue

I kinda ignored Paloma Faith when she first shot to prominence. But her funny turn on Never Mind The Buzzcocks had me smitten (I’m aware it was pretty a much Marmite moment) and after seeing the hilarious youtube video diary where she went into HMV to buy her own album I took the plunge. And I was glad I did. There is an argument that the album is purely an attempt by a record company to fill the gap until Amy Winehouse is sober enough to record her new one, but there are some genuinely good songs on here and it’s a very good album. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Smoke & Mirrors, New York

16) WE TOLD YOU WE WERE FREAKY (Flight Of The Conchords)
The genius of the Flight Of The Conchords is that it’s very difficult to listen to the songs they parody once you’ve heard their versions. Can anyone take the R’n’B likes of R Kelly seriously once they’ve heard tracks like “We're Both In Love With A Sexy Lady"? Does the Black Eyed Peas “My Humps” have any relevance once you’ve digested “Sugalumps”? Similarly, you’ll never quite listen to the Police’s “Roxanne” the same way again once you’ve heard “You Don’t Have To Be A Prostitute”. This is more than pastiche; it’s more than parody; it’s a bloody good record in it’s own right. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Hurt Feelings, Sugalumps, Carol Brown

15) THE DUCKWORTH-LEWIS METHOD (Duckworth-Lewis Method)
The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon, doing a concept album about Cricket…? Well it shouldn’t work, but work it did. There’s no denying that SOME liking for Cricket helps the experience (it could all be a bit baffling otherwise) but at the end of the day the songs are strong enough to stand up on their own two feet. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Jiggery Pokery, Meeting Mr Miandad

14) FIRST LOVE (Emmy The Great)
I was listening to the radio late one night, and I heard a live version of We Almost Had A Baby not knowing who the hell I was listening to (and the radio didn’t offer me any further clues) and it was still by accident that I bought this album and realised that that track was on it. And whilst that still remains my favourite Emmy The Great track, it’s by no means the only quality song on here. A stunning debut. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: We Almost Had A Baby, Bad Things Are Coming We Are Safe.

13) FEARLESS (Taylor Swift)
Someone criticised me liking Taylor Swift because she does “music for twelve year old girls”. Which may be a by-product of her record company’s attempt to market her in this Country (because Country music is traditionally a hard sell over here) but truth be told, none of that matters. Her debut album was accomplished enough, but this was another step up. There is some genuinely good song-writing going on here, and if it at times it all gets a bit “teenage” and “High School Musical” we shouldn’t forget that she’s not exactly an old lass is she? ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Fearless, Forever & Always, The Best Day

12) IT’S BLITZ (Yeah Yeah Yeahs) Cynically, rock-punk band coming back with an "all-new" electro sound should have been a sign that things were going to be “ho-hum” but I was proved wrong with a stomper of an album that never once gets dull or boring. I can imagine why some people got “upset” over this, but as “pop” isn’t a dirty word in my book, I loved it! ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Heads Will Roll, Soft Shock

11) TONIGHT (Franz Ferdinand)
Franz Ferdinand may never regain the critical acclaim that surrounded their debut album and the monster that was Take Me Out but I think they’ve remained constantly good and, perhaps as importantly, interesting. For me, Tonight, their third album, is up there with the debut overall and the likes of Ulysses, No You Girls and What She Came For are the kind of punchy indie-pop gems FF made their name on. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Ulysees, No You Girls,erm...What She Came For.

10) TRANSMITTER FAILURE (Jenny Owen Youngs)
Taking everything that was so beguiling about her debut, adding a commercial sheen but losing nothing of what made you fall in love with her in the first place, Transmitter Failure is a triumph. The sheer scale of emotions she can take you on shows again that she can both tug at the heart strings and, with her tongue-in-cheek attitude, make you laugh and that is some combination. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Led To The Sea, Here Is A Heart, What Beats Within

9) TWO SUNS (Bat For Lashes) Fur And Gold should have won the Mercury Prize (it really should) and whilst in some ways Two Sun’s nomination for the same award felt like an acknowledgement of that fact, this is still a stunning album which if not quite matching Fur and Gold, proves that ambition and quality can go hand in hand. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Daniel, Sleep Alone

8) WONDER (Lisa Mitchell) Largely known (if at all) for a song from an advert for Fabric Softener or something, it’s a shame that Mitchell’s beguiling debut album is destined to be largely ignored. A shame because it’s really rather good indeed. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Neopolitan Dreams, Sidekick, Animals

7) HARDSHIPS (Jenny Wilson)
Some albums defy easy categorisation, and so it is with Hardships. Theoretically this is an “R’n’B” album, but if it is then it’s unlike any one that you’ve heard before. Perhaps the best compliament I can pay it is that it’s packed full of songs that would be mega hits if certain other singers recorded them, but that kind of misses the point., Wilson’s genius is of it’s own. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: The Wooden Chair, Pass The Salt, Anchor Made Of Gold

6) DON’T STOP (Annie)
There was the potential problem that an album that combined Annie (excellent) with Xenomania (excellent) and Richard X (excellent) couldn’t possibly live up to the potential. Happily such fears were unfounded. Songs Remind Me Of You (produced by Richard X) is arguably my favourite pop song of the year and Loco (produced by Xenomania) is exactly the sort of pop stomper that Girls Aloud would have done before they got far too serious for my liking. Granted not everything on the album “works” but most of it does and it’s just a shame that, once again, the record buying public at large completely ignored an Annie album. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Songs Remind Me Of You, Loco, Don’t Stop

5) THE FAME [MONSTER] (Lady Gaga)
It’s by no means a perfect album (it’s far too long and certainly has its fair share of filler) but there probably isn’t a record this year that’s had as many genuine, ahem, monster hits in its midst’s as this one has. And given that at least 5 of the 8 “bonus” tracks on the Fame Monster version are winners, this certainly deserves its top 5 spot in my rankings. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Just Dance, Poker Face, Bad Romance, Alejandro

4) WE HAD A THING (Lisa Donnelly)
I’ve still no real idea how I “discovered” this album, but within one play of it on Spotify (genuinely a great invention) I was online (Aimee Street – a great place for this kind of “unknown” stuff) downloading the album. Such is the wide range of sounds on this album, it’s a difficult one to sum up in terms of style but don’t imagine that an attempt at a different sound on almost every track means that the album doesn’t hang as a cohesive whole. It does. In fact, it’s a stunning album. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: End Of Time, Laugh

3) YES (Pet Shop Boys)
Yes was the proper “return to form” that Fundamental ultimately proved not to be. Yes saw PSB sounding as fresh as they have done in years, gave a trio of cracking singles (Love Etc., Did You See Me Coming and All Around The World) and had plenty more to recommend within it too. Pandemonium, in particular, is probably their best non-single for a decade or more. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: All Around The World, Pandemonium, The Way It Used To Be, More Than A Dream

2) HANDS (Little Boots)
Ok, so the backlash began before the album had even hit the shops, and there is no getting around the fact that I am in love with Miss Hesketh, but Hands is a brilliant pop record. The singles (as good as Remedy was) don’t really tell the whole story. The likes of Symmetry, When Hearts Collide and Click are better than the singles and if justice played a part in the music business, would be huge hits. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Remedy, Symmetry, When Hearts Collide, Meddle

1) ACTOR (St. Vincent) Never content to limit herself to a particular style, Actor is an album that constantly surprises you. From the opening haunting choir on The Strangers to the last strings on the album closer The Sequel you will listen to this never quite knowing what's coming next. One particular case in point would be Black Rainbow whose pop symphony opening gives way to disturbing scuzzed up guitars reminiscent of some Horror film soundtrack. It’s obvious to say it, but this was easily my album of the year. I thought it when I first heard it, and time has proved me right. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Actor Out Of Work, Marrow, Black Rainbow

Top 10 Concerts Of 2009

Obviously, these are only concerts I have seen; so all this Radiohead/Muse/Coldplay bollocks will have to go elsewhere for their praise.

10) LITTLE BOOTS (12th March – 53 Degrees, Preston)
Normally I wouldn’t have two concerts by the same artists in this list (which kinda gives away that the lovely Victoria will be making another appearance as we go along I know) but I had to make an exception to my own rule this year. It’s not just the concert itself (which was amazing, naturally) but the whole day just made for one hell of an entertaining schmozzle. An on/off train journey was followed by a hotel that was 10 miles away from where my mate thought it was. Then there was enough alcohol to make Oliver Reed proud, meeting Little Boots’ brother who then introduced us to half their extended family (including her mum), being chatted up (and being taught dance moves) by a group of teenagers and failing to remember how we made it back to the hotel. This was finished with both of us being so sick that the sink almost overflowed, although we just about managed to clean up. The concert itself was great as well….

9) TAYLOR SWIFT (24th November – MEN Arena, Manchester)
Whilst I did expect there to be some youngsters in the crowd for this one, I was not prepared for there to be quite so bloody many screaming young pre-teen girls. At least I went to this one with my mate Marie and not my usual concert-going partner Gee as TWO men in their 30’s sat amongst the kids might not have been the best look. In amongst the incessant screaming and me being hit on the head with a glow stick, this was a very good spectacle although it was all a little High School Musical for my tastes. That said, I can appreciate the effort that was put into it all, and Miss Swift does have some killer tunes to back up the glitz and glamour.

8) LADYHAWKE (17th May – Academy 2, Manchester)
Another “Matt was pissed” night, but what are you going to do? This was one of those concerts where I was a little wary of what to expect, but in the end it turned out quite brilliant.

7) PALOMA FAITH (17th November – 02 Academy, Liverpool)
She as mad as a bag of spanners, but very very good live. I also appreciated the fact that she’d put some effort into her show.

6) LISA MITCHELL (11th November – Night & Day, Manchester)
Singer-songwriters are ten a penny at the moment, so it does take something a little special to stand out. Lisa Mitchell, who came through Australian Idol or something similar, is indeed something special. She’s very very lovely as well. So lovely, I felt compelled to buy a Lisa Mitchell tea-towel.

5) IMELDA MAY (11th February – Baby Blue, Liverpool)
This would have got it for the Tainted Love cover alone, and for the fact that it was one of the few concerts of the year where I didn’t feel old (even though those two jailbaits were obviously trying to make a move on us), but Imelda May comes into her own in the live arena.

4) FRANZ FERDINAND (6th March – Academy 1, Manchester)
Critically their reputation is shot, but they are still the duck’s nuts as far as I am concerned and for nearly two hours they thrilled with great track after great track and, perhaps just as importantly, seemed to be having a good time themselves!

3) LITTLE BOOTS (10th December – Academy 2, Manchester)
So here she is again. This was the 4th time in 2009 that I saw Little Boots in concert and it was undoubtedly the best. The nerves from her summer performances had dissipated and a much more confident performer was stood before us, belting out some of the best pop tunes of the year.

2) PET SHOP BOYS (20th December- MEN Arena, Manchester)
Well, ok, I am biased, but Pet Shop Boys are THE greatest pop act of the last 25 years, and this triumphant show was another of their spectacular live shows. Who would have thought so much entertainment could have been generated by 200-odd cardboard boxes? I also appreciated the song choice (including album tracks from Please) though I can imagine that more casual fans may have been more interested in the hits. The addition of What Have I Done To Deserve This and the Christmas encore made this the stand out show of the three of theirs I saw in 2009.

1) JENNY LEWIS (26th June – House Of Blues, New Orleans)
It’s probably predictable, but in the end there was no other choice. I didn’t even know she was playing in New Orleans when we got there, but a chance detour after a ride on a Mississippi River Steamboat found us walking past the House Of Blues. “Does that really say Jenny Lewis…tonight?” As she’s made it to number one in this list, obviously it did. Perhaps it was the booze (although Al, who’d just turned 30 and is 6 foot 7 couldn’t drink because he had no ID) or perhaps it was the fact that we were in a warmer climate (though not necessarily drier) but seeing the delightful Ms Lewis in this setting just seemed perfect and she seemed better than ever.