Thursday, December 10th, 2009
Chromewaves’ favourite albums of 2009
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 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
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.
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”
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.