2010 is here, so it’s about time to wrap up 2009 with a micro-panorama of the albums which, according to me, defined that year.
As always, I call bullshit on people who pretend that no good music is released anymore. Here is my own subjective proof, in the form of a 2009 top 10 albums (followed by drop-outs from the short-list), accompanied by their respective Twitter-length micro-review.
10. Bill Callahan — Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle
Intimate stroll with a lone crooner and his humble orchestra. Simple, deep, human songs.
9. Florence + The Machine — Lungs
More than pleasant hipster pop, its tunes either catchy or naive.
8. The Dead Weather — Horehound
Jack White’s new supergroup and latest genius iteration of rock’n’roll, conjuring a sexier vibe, sharper sounds.
7. Phoenix — Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Strongest instalment of Gallic pop-rock yet. Tighter, richer, more daring and referential than ever.
6. Bat For Lashes — Two Suns
Natasha Khan steps outside and embraces a broader musical scope in her mystical journey.
5. Au Revoir Simone — Still Night, Still Light
Casio-pop elevated to a new level, where naive words dance with trivial melodies and shine.
4. Sufjan Stevens — The BQE
Beautiful mini-symphony swirling from Tchaikovsky to Gershwin, seamless wedding of orchestra & electronica.
3. The XX — XX
2009’s revelation of minimal rock, haunting production of dry beats and clear guitar and tense duets.
2. Dinosaur Jr. — Farm
Conquering guitars, fuelled by a rare melancholic humility. A new gem of classical rock.
1. Fever Ray — Fever Ray
Incense and lasers. Soundtrack for a pagan celebration of drums, synths & obsessive, forbidden melodies.
Besides those, a number of albums didn’t make the cut but are still definitely worth a listen.
On the discovery shelf, the dark ballads of Soap&Skin (Lovetune For Vacuum), the catchy vintage funk/hip-hop of General Elektriks (Good City For Dreamers), the tender and clever pop of Peter Von Poehl (May Day), the spatial laments of Sébastien Schuller (Evenfall), the irresistible dance beats of Tiga (Ciao!).
Existing bands I only started listening to in 2009 include the ultimate hip combo of Animal Collective, for its panoramic ethno-electronic experiment in Merriweather Post Pavilion, and Grizzly Bear, who outsmarted pretty much everyone with their odd, fakely retro chamber-pop capharnaüm Veckatimest. Both would probably have deserved a spot in the Top 10 if I had invested more time listening to them.
Time which was instead spent on catching up with new releases from artists I already loved.
Some turned out slightly disappointing: Patrick Watson, who got a bit lost in the expansion of his musical universe (Wooden Arms); Fischerspooner, too hectic and cheesy to hit the target this time (Entertainment); Röyksopp, as desperately cheap as always save for a few highlights (Junior); Zoot Woman, clubbier but not as tightly poppy (Things Are What They Used to Be); Sonic Youth, traditional and predictable (The Eternal).
My own long-time favourite, Air, didn’t really deliver either with Love 2, too naive, too free of tension to capitalize on their ideas and renewed synth army.
Archive, on the other hand, successfully reconciled their trip-hop legacy with their recent experimental electro-rock on the dark and modern Controlling Crowds. Positively surprised too by both The Flaming Lips, with its very raw assemblage of rock cuts that was Embryonic, and Super Furry Animals, bringing a new selection of catchy pop (Dark Days/Light Years). More conservative, Junior Boys kept refining their minimal-dance in Begone Dull Care, unsurprising but nevertheless quite essential. More daringly, Jamie Cullum went further than ever in his blend of pop/jazz, reaching out to new ears with broad, spatial tunes interleaved with more intimate jazz classics (The Pursuit).
Also of note, a couple of new bands born from the recombination of established artists: Moderat (Apparat + Modeselektor), serving a sublime mix of fat beats, swirling soundscapes and spoken rhythms on Moderat; Jónsi & Alex (with Jón Þór Birgisson of Sigur Rós), premature leak of the soundtrack of your ascension to paradise, complete with layers of strings and boy choirs, in the form of Riceboy Sleeps; and Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse’s Dark Night of the Soul, brilliant collage of collaborations resulting in a coherent kaleidoscope of ideas.
In a totally different genre, I recommend the dreamy soundtrack of Moon by Clint Mansell, as icy, spatial and mysterious as the film.
Or at both ends of the “ethnic” range: very classical and flawless Latino pieces by Quantic & His Combo Barbaro (Tradition In Transition) or the inspiring curiosity of African spirits channelled through a European production of The Very Best (Warm Heart Of Africa).
See? Music is not dead. Far from it.
Just shut up and listen.