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Thursday, December 10th, 2009

Annus Horribilis

Chromewaves’ favourite albums of 2009

Image via WikipediaWikipedia

No two ways about it, 2009 sucked. Hard. It started badly with the demise of a relationship and despite my determination to pull myself up by the proverbial bootstraps, only went downhill from there. The past twelve months have been marked by people moving on, moving away and passing away – not just my loved ones but those of people close to me. If there’s any silver lining to the huge, black cumulonimbus thunderhead that was this year, it’s that it’s over and I can only hope it’s not tempting fate to believe that things can only get better from here.

Ironically, though, it was a pretty good year for music. A lot of records I expected great things from met those expectations, some exceeded them by a wide margin and only a few disappointed. Picking ten to stand up and represent is always tough since what sounds like the best thing ever at any given time is wholly contingent on one’s mood. That said, as I’ve chewed on this list mentally over the past few months, a few records continue to bubble up to the surface as either played ad nauseum or hardly at all, for fear that the feeling of wonder around it might begin to dissipate.

Long-time readers may note an absence of some of the usual suspects who, despite putting out great records that if there existed some sort of absolute scale of measurement, might well be better than ones that made the cut, but never underestimate how much sway the element of surprise and discovery can have on one’s opinion. I can’t say that I’ll still endorse all of these records so strongly in a few years, or maybe even a few months from now but as of this moment, this is what it is. Alphabetized and unranked, as always.

And unlike past years where I spent an inordinate amount of time creating or commissioning artwork to accompany the year-end list, I’ve not gone to any particular trouble this year. Partly because though I’ve had some good/great ideas for visual treatments, I haven’t had the time to organize or execute them and partly because, well, 2009 doesn’t fucking deserve it. Maybe 2010 will get some sweet year-end loving but 2009? Begone.


First Love

Emmy The Great / First Love (Close Harbour)

First up is a record that would have been an odds-on favourite to make this list before the year began and yet was the final addition to the list. Realistically, there was no way that Emma-Lee Moss’ debut album could garner more affection from me than the random collection of MP3s I’d hoarded from hither and yon over the previous year. And it didn’t, but was still an excellent debut that got even better in its “+4″ edition, which added four re-recorded versions of her earlier and most beloved tunes and subtracted some pressing glitches that marred the first copy of the CD that I’d bought.

MP3: Emmy The Great – “We Almost Had A Baby” (Simon Raymonde mix)
Video: Emmy The Great – “First Love”
Video: Emmy The Great – “We Almost Had A Baby”
Video: Emmy The Great – “Easter Parade”
Video: Emmy The Great – “MIA”
MySpace: Emmy The Great

Spirit Guides

Evening Hymns / Spirit Guides (Out Of This Spark)

Initially I worried that my warm feelings towards this record came from its familiarity, as it draws together most all of the best aspects of the current Toronto “Bellwoods” scene into a single distinct statement, rich with atmosphere, emotion and melody. And then I realized that complaining about that was like complaining that someone gave you a mix tape that contained all your favourite songs that somehow sounded entirely new. Which is to say, ridiculous.

MP3: Evening Hymns – “Dead Deer”
MP3: Evening Hymns – “Broken Rifle”
MP3: Evening Hymns – “Cedars”
MySpace: Evening Hymns

Reservoir

Fanfarlo / Reservoir (Atlantic)

A musical pick-me-up if ever there was one, Reservoir sets the bar for happiness made orchestral. A troupe of Brits fronted by a Swede, they’ve certainly got the national propensity for crafting immaculate pop music that leans toward the twee end of things, and indeed Reservoir is full of that. Led by Simon Batlhazar’s looping, lilting voice, Fanfarlo are like a little parade that come bursting out of the speakers, leaving a trail of aural confetti in their wake.

MP3: Fanfarlo – “Harold T Wilkins”
MP3: Fanfarlo – “I’m A Pilot”
MP3: Fanfarlo – “Luna”
MP3: Fanfarlo – “Finish Line”
Video: Fanfarlo – “The Walls Are Coming Down”
Video: Fanfarlo – “Harold T Wilkins”
Video: Fanfarlo – “Fire Escape”
MySpace: Fanfarlo

Nice, Nice, Very Nice

Dan Mangan / Nice, Nice, Very Nice (File Under: Music)

In pondering exactly why I feel so compelled to include Mangan’s record on this list, the best I can come up with is a single word – empathy. Mangan’s songs are rich with it, with characters and vignettes of their lives rendered with such detail and affection that you can’t help but bask in the warmth of it all. Dress those words up with wistful melodies and arrangements that provide the perfect amount of air and embellishment and, by jove, you’ve got a pretty superb little record.

MP3: Dan Mangan – “Road Regrets”
MP3: Dan Mangan – “Robots”
Video: Dan Mangan – “Robots”
Stream: Dan Mangan / Nice, Nice, Very Nice
MySpace: Dan Mangan

Journal For Plague Lovers

Manic Street Preachers / Journal For Plague Lovers (Columbia)

Over a decade on from their last great record – Truth or Everything, take your pick – I didn’t think the Manics had another one left in them, just the occasional worthy single and glimpses of what had been. And then they go off and undertake a project that could have been the final nail – a calculated yet honest attempt to recreate the spirit of their best album, The Holy Bible – and instead craft an utter masterpiece, full of blood, tears, fire and rock.

Video: Manic Street Preachers – “Jackie Collins Existential Question Time”
MySpace: Manic Street Preachers

Introducing/Skaizerkite

Montt Mardie / Introducing… The Best Of and Skaizerkite (Ruffa Lane and Hybris)

A bit of a cheat, citing two records, but half of Introducing was re-recorded and since neither it or David Pagmar’s 2009 album of all-new material got much attention outside of Sweden anyways, I feel justified in including both. Pagmar is a musical packrat and pop culture obsessive with ADD and no filing system, his songs pinballing from lush Bacharachian orchestrations through heart-on-sleeve, shirt-button-undone balladry to giddy New Wave synth-pop, all delivered with breathless and infectious enthusiasm.

MP3: Montt Mardié – “Dancing Shoes”
MP3: Montt Mardié – “1969″
Video: Montt Mardié – “Dancing Shoes”
Myspace: Montt Mardié

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart / The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart (Slumberland)

If I were more suspicious or narcissistic, I’d say that this record was created in a lab with the musical genome of my CD collection as a roadmap, genetically engineered to tickle my ears and mine alone. Or anyone else with a big, soft spot for the place where the twee-est of indie pop and fuzziest of shoegazing rock intersect and roll around in a warm snuggie. Nothing new, but oh so delicious.

MP3: The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – “Young Adult Friction”
MP3: The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – “Come Saturday”
MP3: The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – “Everything With You”
Video: The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – “Young Adult Friction”
Video: The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – “Everything With You”
MySpace: The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart

The Bachelor

Patrick Wolf / The Bachelor (Bloody Chamber)

Wolf has never been one for restraint, but on the first part of his Battle diptych, he takes things so over the top – mashing together electo-industrial textures with orchestral-folk and glam-rock – that it can’t help but be his most polarizing record yet. Guess which side of the “love it/hate it” equation I fall on. If he had actually put out this and next year’s The Conqueror as a single work, and the second part is anything like the first, my head may well have exploded.

MP3: Patrick Wolf – “Vulture”
Video: Patrick Wolf – “Damaris”
Video: Patrick Wolf – “Hard Times”
Video: Patrick Wolf – “Vulture”
MySpace: Patrick Wolf

XX

The xx / XX (Young Turks)

This was one of those records that on first listen, made me think “this can’t possibly be as good as I think it is”, and yet dozens of plays later, the spell still hasn’t been broken. Spare, sensual and existing completely within its own musical world, listening to XX is like eavesdropping on something intensely personal and irresistible.

MP3: The xx – “Basic Space”
Video: The xx – “Basic Space”
Video: The xx – “Crystalised”
MySpace: The xx

It's Blitz!

Yeah Yeah Yeahs / It’s Blitz! (Interscope)

If this record was comprised only of “Zero” and “Hysteric”, it’d still be a strong contender for one of the best albums of the year. That it had eight more sleek and sexy tunes almost of that same quality is almost enough to drop the “one of” from the preceding statement. By making the least Yeah Yeah Yeahs-like record of their career, they’ve damn well made the best. And the acoustic, and in some cases string-laden bonus tracks of the deluxe edition are sublime.

Video: Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Heads Will Roll”
Video: Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Zero”
MySpace: Yeah Yeah Yeahs

By : Frank Yang at 8:33 am
Category: General,Year-End List

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

RSS Feed for this post27 Responses.
  1. Primavera says:

    Hey Frank – I don’t know you, but I’m hoping for a better 2010 for you. Thanks for keeping this blog going – it’s a part of my daily routine!

  2. Bruce says:

    Let the listmaking begin! I own a grand total of one of these albums (so far) but should have at least a few more of them by now, having liked what I’ve heard. Never too late! At the very least I’ll give the balance a little more attention to see if any of them click.

    Somewhat surprised at the absence of “Hospice”, but given the year you’ve had, can also see why it might best be left behind. It had its time and place.

  3. Tart says:

    Very interesting list! I’ll just say that you simply inspire me. And this year, as I’ve followed your progress, both it’s highs and lows, the music keeps an even keel somehow, doesn’t it? Thank you for not ranking, a breath of fresh air xoxo

  4. James says:

    Always look forward to your list, Frank. Great picks and sparkling writing, too. Here’s to a much better 2010 in every way.

  5. giselle says:

    hey frank,
    sorry to hear 2009 was pretty crap for you … just wanted to say how much i appreciate your blog and look forward to it every day
    also just wanted to let your readers know that fanfarlo just did a lounge act on woxy.com which was pretty awesome
    all the best for 2010

  6. LustandFury says:

    One of the only blogs I check daily. Always great writing even when things are going bad personally. Hoping 2010 shapes up nicely for you.

  7. alberto says:

    from your soul to italy every day. Thanks.

  8. NK says:

    Only 10?

  9. Bob says:

    My 2008 was crappy (for similar reasons to yours) but my 2009 was actually pretty decent, so hopefully you mimic my pattern for 2010. As far as your list goes, there’s a few I’ve never heard of, a few I like, a few I don’t and a couple that will end up on my final list too. Those are all things that make for a well rounded and enjoyable mix, as far as I’m concerned so well done, and I’ll see you at a show in ’10!

  10. Scott says:

    I have a lot of respect for this blog and have read it daily for years. Thank you Frank.

  11. kat says:

    Glad to see Evening Hymns on there! That album is beautiful!

  12. Chris says:

    I’m commenting simply to applaud you on your use of “cumulonimbus thunderhead”. That was outstanding.

  13. JiM says:

    I know what a shitty 2009 you’ve had Frank, and I wish for you a much more peaceful 2010. Seems like we’ve both been digging a of of the same records in 09 (surprise!) and always look forward to reading your list. Mine will be up on QBiM in a week’s time.

  14. dorian says:

    thanks for introducing us to new stuff, and documenting the great local shows.
    see ya at the shows!

  15. Lee says:

    Well, your readership remains behind you, Frank and will be there for you. Your music, your dedication, your perseverance, your humility – it sets the standard for so many of us and you can keep it wholly your own. This is a great group of albums as well, so cheers.

  16. Eddie says:

    Interesting list as usual, Frank. Your tastes overlap disturbingly with mine.

    Hope you have a better 2010 than ’09, and I’m moving back to TO next year, so see you at some shows!

  17. stytzer says:

    Like the rest, I hope your 2010 will be much better than the soon departed 2009!

    A fine list, but I do miss Richard Hawley! I know you liked it, but apparently you didn’t give it enough listens – otherwise it would have been a lock :)

  18. stytzer says:

    Forgot to add – don’t dream of giving up blogging next year – OK? Chromewaves is as essential as air!

  19. The R.O.B. says:

    Love seeing Evening Hymns up there also. Great record. Here’s to hoping Jonas is able to get out and tour in the new year…

  20. danieljosef says:

    Great list. Thanks for the intro to Fanflaro, it’s been in my iTunes for a couple months and I finally gave it a listen. Good record!

  21. KristofferAG says:

    I’m glad Evening Hymns is on there. Not a big fan of Fanfarlo, but it’s still good. Nice list, keep the posts coming.

  22. Paul says:

    Here’s to making our 2010 better than the year we’re currently crawling out from under. Good and interesting choices for your Top 10. Enjoying listening to your samples and will have to look into some of these artists further.

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