Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Best Albums of 2009, Part I

It's that time of the year! It's list-making time, of course, and while I would normally leave this sort of stuff until the new year, I have a "best albums of the decade" list to get through as well and that's going to take more time to curate. I should point out that my music listening habits changed in 2009. No longer do I write album reviews for a local rag so I no longer receive all the free albums that have made making lists in years past so chaotic and diverse. I wasn't forced to listen to anything I didn't particularly want to.

The list below are 11 titles that I feel incredibly passionate about. I wanted to stop at 10 but #11 just kept itching at me and I felt I needed to include it. I have some honourable mentions to get out of the way first as well as the prestigious honour accolade of Worst Album of 2009.


Lungs by Florence and the Machine was far too long, but Florence’s voice helped the album overcome its samey-samey nature outside of the truly stellar tracks like "Dog Days are Over", "Kiss With a Fist" and "Rabbit Heart". Spinnerette’s self-titled album had some truly killer stuff such as "Baptized By Fire" and "All Babes are Wolves" on it, but was also excessive and a bit too histrionic at times. Rihanna’s Rated R leaned far too heavily on a hard urban sound rather than the European sound she should have gone with, but I can't deny there was amazing material like "Rock Star 101", "The Last Song" and "Wait Your Turn". Trying too hard to please America will not work!

Passion Pit had an explosion of electro on Manners and Beyonce’s best was not I Am… Sasha Fierce, but in fact Above & BeyoncĂ©, the album that continued the trend of BeyoncĂ© being better in remix form. Meanwhile, I still don’t know what to make of The Crying Light by Antony and the Johnsons. Get back to me in a few years on that one. And, of course, there is Lady GaGa’s The Fame Mons†er. If it had a few more tracks of the quality of “Telephone” and “Bad Romance” then I have no doubt it would be on here.


Timbaland Presents... Shock Value II
I wasn't a fan of Shock Value - in fact it was my #7 worst album of 2006, sitting unpretty between dirge by Ultrabeat and Cicada - but at least that one had a few tracks worthy of keepsake. Volume II, however, has nothing. It is dreadful in every conceivable way. Timbaland is one of those artists that is far better when producing for others than he is making his own music (although his colab albums with Magoo are quite good) and nothing makes that more evident that this album. He's roped in strange "featured" artists (Miley Cyrus, JoJo, Jet, Chad Kroeger of Nickelback and Daughtry) as well as the usual suspects (Justin Timberlake, Nelly Furtado, Keri Hilson). Flat and boring songs with nothing that even approaches his weakest moments with early proteges like Aaliyah and Missy Elliot. There's no other word for it: Disaster.


Sarah Blasko
As Day Follows Night
It’s actually hard to believe that when I first listened to Blasko’s third album, As Day Follows Night, that I was disappointed. I thought she was treading water and that she had failed to truly move on from What the Sea Wants, The Sea Will Have and Overture and the Underscore. It wasn’t until months later that I took another punt at it and hit my forehead with the palm of my hand. What was I thinking? Blasko’s vocals really are as dreamy as ever, and the lyrics – she was clearly dealing with “stuff” as she wrote it, evidenced plainly enough in the album title – are potent. The extra bonus disc called Cinema Blasko, in which she recreates five of her favourite songs from cinema including “Xanadu”, “Maybe This Time” and “Something Good” is what made me need to include it in this list.

Phrase, not the Hilltop Hoods, is my pick for Aussie rapper of the year. It was the Hood that got all the press, all the praise and all the chart-topping sales, but it was Phrase who released the superior record. The first Aus-rap that didn’t actually sound like Aus-rap (a cringe-inducing sub-genre I must confess) and that actually sounded like it belonged on the world stage. Phrase’s use of Wendy Matthews on a reworking of her ‘90s hit “The Day You Went Away” is truly superb, the ethnic electro of “Paradise” alongside Jackson Jackson and the wild frenzies of “Burn it Down” and “Street Lights” amongst others are great and help allow Clockwork to rekindle some of the love affair I’ve had with hip-hop.

Little Boots
Little Boots took a time machine, but only went back four years and for that I am thankful. 2005 was an epic year in the evolution of pop music and Hands is reminiscent of some of the best albums from that year. Madonna’s Confessions on a Dancefloor, Girls Aloud’s Chemistry and Goldfrapp’s Supernature are all in good company with Little Boots who makes such great pop in the form of “New in Town”, “Earthquakes”, “Click” and “Remedy”. And then she even managed to get Phil Oakey on board, which shows a panache and intelligence.

Adam Lambert
For Your Entertainment
If American Idol is a tool for an upcoming artist to weave there way through a list of various styles and influences and deciding what sticks then Adam Lambert’s debut record after placing second, in the American reality series, sees him continuing the exploring. Whether he’s aping off of Freddy Mercury, George Michael (on album highlight “Fever”), Matthew Bellamy, Richard Marx or even Cliff Richard (you cannot tell me that “Broken” doesn’t remind you of “Some People”!) For Your Entertainment almost never fails to be interesting. Sure, the album is mostly based around radio friendly populist modern rock hooks, but there’s something fascinating about listening to this openly gay male sing about being openly gay. Whether he’s flirting with post-disco (“If I Had You”) or extolling lyrics such as “I was born with glitter on my face” and the pro-homo “Aftermath” (surely set to subvert TV soundtracks) the album is such a great listen and one that proves track-after-track that Lambert is unafraid to be the extrovert and that is something to be cultivated.

Lisa Mitchell
Many people would be aware of my aversion to the recent upswing in popularity of female singers who sound like twee pixie fairies whose songs sound like some sort of cutesy moopsy floopsy falala music. That I had such a positive reaction to Lisa Mitchell’s Wonder is, indeed, quite wondrous. However, when I really dug into the album I realise it wasn’t such a surprise. Sure, Mitchell has a tendency to sound like she’s whispering into a microphone, but when her whispers are so beautiful – those howls on “Coin Laundry” are some sort of national treasure – I can’t resist. That songs like “Oh Hark!”, “Sidekick”, “Neopolitan Dreams” and the aforementioned “Coin Laundry” have such irresistible hooks and melodies is just further icing on the cake.

Bertie Blackman
Secrets and Lies
Much like one of the bands you’ll see tomorrow, Bertie Blackman took a lean towards electronic music with her latest album, Secrets and Lies, and came out the other side rosier than ever. Bigger sales, more popularity and even an ARIA award for her efforts. In a year in which I started to become disinterested with the barrage of electro-pop (the most prevalent genre of 2009 I would say), I guess it figures that it took artists like Blackman to flip it on its head and make it far more interesting than it had gotten. Her song writing skills are still there, top notch as ever, and that voice fits with the production like a glove, just listen to “Clocks”, “Thump”, “Sky is Falling”, “Byrds of Prey” or “Heart” for perfect examples. If you have never heard Blackman’s album – and I imagine many of you readers have not – and you’re after an easy comparison, I’ll say that at times she sounds just like Imogen Heap, but without all the frou frou.

Tomorrow we continue to look at the best albums of the year with position 5 to 1. Who will be on there and what will be left of them where will they place?



a nice smattering of some of the better elements of 2009's electro-pop and folk-stylings.

I have a personal bone against Little boots (where's the hooks, where's the joy there? the free blood//golden filter remixes of the singles are vastly superior) and I still don't know how she roped Phil Oakey onto the album.

Phrase's release was one of the more interesting aus-hip hop releases this year, although I thikn Diafrix did a pretty interesting job there too.

I've wanted to write off Adam Lambert, but times have shown that he's actually quite an intriguing performer. Not sure what to make of the weezer-penned track for him though. Such a strange song.

Worst album of 2009 was totally The Chris Cornell Solo album produced by timbaland.

it's the worst thing I've heard in a long time. honesty: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nz5p0Fp0Ico

Anonymous said...

Here's my Top 5 of the year. I'm kinda sad The Temper Trap wasn't in there :( An AMAZING album.

01. Conditions - THE TEMPER TRAP
02. It's Not Me, It's You - LILY ALLEN
03. As Day Follows Night - SARAH BLASKO
05. Veckatimest - GRIZZLY BEAR