2009 in music: the top 20 recapitulation.


11 mars 2010, 13h14m

It was a real slog for me to write my annual summary this year. Finally, there it is. I have considered not doing it this year, but I had a strong motivation - I didn't like any of the professional Top of 2009 lists of the Internet bigwigs, so I decided I have to do one myself. And my God - isn't it lovely?

20. Jóhann Jóhannsson - And In The Endless Pause There Came The Sound Of Bees

The follow-up to the acclaimed 2008 album Fordlandia finds Jóhannsson refining his equilibrium. We are presented with a slight departure from longish landscape compositions for a carefully weighed and purposeful but less hopeful sound - And In The Endless... deftly aspires after Max Richter's vibrant string sections, maturely balanced piano and soaring female choirs. Jóhannsson is far from being amateurish and superficial and maintains his own ambience of contemporary classical music. Sadly, after 36 minutes we have to skip back to track number one. Nevertheless, the record paints a wonderful background.

19. Crippled Black Phoenix - 200 Tons of Bad Luck

Crippled Black Phoenix describe their music as 'end time ballads'. One might think of it as very apt statement since it's probably the only one concerning the band's output which escapes the imperfections of tagging. But there's more to it than just post-something properties. The band's strength lies in their ability to distance themselves from the modern world, and to develope a certain dispassionate remoteness about their records. The very coolness of the record engulfs the listener completely, creating an aura of tranquility, resolutness and objectivity. The abundance of instruments is an obvious plus here, but it's almost impossible to imagine it existing without the ever-present vocal parts. Burnt Reynolds, Rise Up and Fight and 444 are the immediate gems here.

18. Ludovico Einaudi - Nightbook

Throughout 2009 I have developed my interest in music and this lead me to discover Ludovico Einaudi, an Italian pianist and modern classical composer. After getting accustomed with his 2007’s Divenire I reached for his newest album Nightbook and wasn’t disappointed at all. Einaudi has released quite a number of records, and that’s why I reckon I don’t have grounds for going into details of his music, but I’ll hazard a conjecture that his last year’s album is better than the previous one. Einaudi is, of course, renowned for his use of melodic themes in his piano compositions but that’s not all he has to offer. In comparison to Divenire, Nightbook is a less melodic album – Einaudi seems to have focused on the structure of his songs and the feelings he wishes to evoke. The melodies on Divenire, although very pleasant at times, were predominantly in the foreground which sometimes caused a certain satiety – some songs appeared to be too melodic for classical music, not to say too tacky. The Italian pianist found a middle ground in Nightbook where his melodic phrases are moderately toned down, leaving more space for slower, reflective compositions, which smoothly introduce a state of solemn reverie. Songs like The Tower or The Planets are a great example of that new-found calmness while Lady Labyrinth or Nightbook may appeal to those who long for a more tuneful piano. In conclusion, Einaudi’s music can easily surprise and interest all of those who relish contemporary classical piano with occasional string sections.

17. The Black Heart Procession - Six

I've reached a conclusion that The Black Heart Procession's sixth studio album is probably their least interesting one. It lacks the beautifully bleak character, the gothic-like heaviness of their typical piano-laden sound, the raw, unpretentious tone of the instruments, the muffled vocals and the occasional ominous saw. All those elements make up something as vague yet vital as the atmosphere. However, The Black Heart Procession are one of those bands which I personally value for the entirety of their career achievements. And the overall quality of their musical oeuvre is definitely praiseworthy. With such hypnotizing tracks like Liar's Ink (fantastic refrain vocal duet), Suicide or Iri Sulu (truly TBHP-esque!) they add colour to their artistic work, even if the only colours they use are black and grey. Other than that...well, yeah, I'm a sentimental guy.

16. Heroin and Your Veins - Nausea

With Nausea, Janne Perttula, who bears the moniker Heroin And Your Veins, continues to delve into his fascination with everything that can be considered noir. His genre-defying style has been influenced by jazz, post-rock and, most of all, by film noir - the music really sounds as if it has been extracted from a modern movie about cynical detectives and teasing femmes fatales, full of good alcohol, cigarette smoke and big-city seclusion. Don't you dare listen to it before the nightfall or with your brightest light on - only in the dark does the album show it's true colours. Or, should I say, a rich palette of shades of the same hue. Nausea is an excellent accompaniment to the night - it doesn't tire one out, it's not invasive and lures us into its street-lamp, gutter atmosphere.

15. Brand New - Daisy

Daisy comes as a surprise even for the most avid Brand New fan, I believe. Already the opening track Vices suggests a rather conspicuous change of style. The aggresive post-hardcore gambit, however, does not work very well, leaving an aftertaste of pointlessness and concept deficinecy. On a number of occasions, Jesse Lacey seems to have pushed things too far. The fuzzy guitars, the screaming, the musty, stodgy vibe are not really supported by any lyrical or emotional depth. Thankfully, the album's mediocrity abundance is redeemed by tracks which find Brand New better than ever. At The Bottom is one of the best songs I've heard last year, with a really powerful and captivating chorus, every word sang with wisdom and experience and an exceptional magnitude in a fierce and Brock-esque manner. Worthy noticing are also the slower, dreamy and hazy Bed and Bought a Bride where the refrain screaming does not put off; it truly stirs up the listener's emotions. Daisy is a really cohesive attempt, but is too loud and chaotic at times with its only sense of purpose lying in the burdensome, mouldy and metallic atmosphere. Brand New mature with every release, but I’m positive that Daisy is not the top of their standards.

14. The Whitest Boy Alive - Rules

There's much to say about this seemingly average indie-pop record. What we're dealing here with is an album which gives us a new genre in the making. Rules is a perfect piece to wind down to - its mellow, almost chillout quality should be credited to the bass guitar, which leads each and every track in a cool and groovy fashion. Apart from the bass, the synths do a whole lot of good work, nicely contributing to the overall vibe of the record, which brings back the 80s or even the 60s, as if the lounge master Piero Umiliani himself put the finishing touches to the album. Rules doesn't try to be something it simply can't and it's so feelgood that it makes any kind of criticism seem daft and pointless. So let's ease up and enjoy The Whitest Boy Alive’s newest creation – lounge indie-pop.

13. Morrissey - Years of Refusal

Already in the first verse Steven Patrick Morrissey assures us that he is doing very well. And has Morrissey ever been wrong? On Years of Refusal he still exudes the self-confidence, sarcastic sagacity and overdramatic loftiness he’s been renowned and loved for; he still spouts the usual disarming frankness and the debonair demeanor. His ninth solo album presents Morrissey as a man who is more ruthless and nonconformist than ever; he seems to have lost his patience with the modern world, he doesn’t hold back his disappointment and anger. But even though Morrissey doesn’t change his tactics he can’t be perceived as a bitter and boring old man. In comparison to Ringleader of the Tormentors or even You Are The Quarry he’s able to muster enough energy and pearls of wisdom to entertain throughout the whole album. Former The Smiths’ leader has been musically active for over 30 years but he’s still able to adjust to the frame of modern rock music in an uncompromising way. His voice doesn’t falter – no matter if we’re talking about the massage he wishes to convey in his songs, the quality of his vocal abilities or the slightly self-absorbed air that he shrouds his personage in. Morrissey once again turns out to be an original and proud soloist and also a good mentor – not only for the musicians backing his powerful voice but also for millions of chosen people, for whom he serves as a distant yet tangible soulmate, and who have found him mysteriously charming ever since The Smiths.

12. Clint Mansell - Moon

Trailers and various advertisements I had seen really elevated my expectations. But the the ending of the film left my senses unsatisfied – I was hoping for something of psychological nature, a kind of surreal and disjointed exploration of the depths of the psyche and the tricks it can play on human mind. What I got instead was a rather simple and mundane answer, something too real in comparison to what the film suggested in its earlier scenes. It did hypnotize and absorb, and I think it’s fair to say that it was largely due to the work of the English composer. What the screen didn’t manage to present, the music surely made up for. Clint Mansell succeeded in conveying calmness, paranoia and solitude in this soundtrack, relaying mostly on subdued piano compositions and delicate string sounds. What’s more, Mansell makes excursions to ambient areas at times, where the delusion and the atmosphere of being lost often reach their emotional peak and increase the overall sense of delirium and confusion. But not to give you a wrong impression – this album is neither aggressive nor loud and works fantastically well when we need some composure or a bit of pensiveness. It indeed fits every single moment we see on the screen, adding the edge to the scenes which should’ve had more screenplay depth. The album may seem a bit repetitive in the long run (although I personally find the main theme really catchy) but it definitely does not disappoint and builds the atmosphere according to the film’s demands. Certainly another quality piece of music by Mansell that should appeal to every soundtrack buff, regardless whether they liked the picture or not.

11. The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble - Here Be Dragons

Not long ago I had the pleasure of seeing The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble live and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only person who found their performance highly impressive and inspirational. The songs from Kilimanjaro’s newest album Here Be Dragons obviously made up a large part of the show. Their follow-up to the self-titled debut is one of the genre-defining works. But then again, the tag , which even found its place within the name of the band, seems insufficient. When I think of doom\dark jazz I immediately picture Bohren & der Club of Gore and their smoky saxophone, somnolent tempo and film-noir atmosphere. But in the case of TKDE we are not only dealing with jazz – sure we have the wailing trombone and the moody piano but the band’s music is also defined by the heavy double bass, violin and a decent amount of drones and various electronic sounds and effects. We might say that The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble are Bohren & der Club of Gore on some hallucinogenic drugs – the sextet is a musical equivalent of Poe’s uncanny, the macabre version of dark jazz, some wily alter-ego of a mentally unstable person. This music can literally send shivers down one’s spine but when it does it makes the listener whimper for more. The band’s tremendous virtue is the fact that even though they’re not scared of experimenting, they do not overstep the dangerous boundary between pleasure and challenge. Listening to Here Be Dragons can be creepy and surprising sometimes, but it’s certainly not tiring or impudently innovative and daring. TKDE are being inventive but not extravagant. I’m quite positive that a regular smooth jazz listener can find his moments on this album - if he’s ready to enter the night-time sphere of jazz, obviously. The vocals of miss Cegarra are a wonderful addition to record’s drunken gloom in comparison to their first album, which also lacks the production qualities of the sophomore. It’s one of those albums which are not easily forgotten and which we want to promote as much as we can. A true 2009 gem.

10. Franz Ferdinand - Tonight: Franz Ferdinand

Good ol’ Franz Ferdinand. It’s been 6 years since we’ve first heard Take Me Out – one of the indie rock dancefloor anthems of the noughties. We listened to the self-titled debut, puked with it and then listened to it again, amazed how good it was. Franz Ferdinand have enjoyed a good reputation ever since that release. With their third record they proved themselves to be one of those exceptional bands who were not just some one hit wonders or a random overly-hyped indie artist – it really takes some talent to record three very good indie pop albums without losing the pop sensibility, which has always been a significant part of the band’s music. They have mastered and promoted their own unique sound and, hell, it’s difficult when everyone tries to play the same kind of music. Franz Ferdinand isn’t just a band name anymore – it’s a well-known, reliable music brand. It’s also a point of reference for anyone who wants to play guitar pop. I’m not sure if there’s much sense in getting into the nuances of the third record – it’s Franz Ferdinand, full stop. They haven’t lost their ability to record danceable, feel-good tunes – that’s a fact. Better yet, they are moving with the times – on Tonight: Franz Ferdinand they try to dabble in combining their fast-paced, half-distorted guitars with electronics, which doesn’t come out half bad. We might argue that it’s not as catchy as the debut or even the second one, or that the electronic bits spoil and weigh down on the renowned guitars, but I say that Franz Ferdinand really can’t go wrong. Tonight: Franz Ferdinand is a great choice when we are satiated with every other indie rock band and when good times are just around the corner. It’s always been nice to come back to Franz Ferdinand and I’m pretty sure it’ll stay that way.

9. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest

If you still haven’t listened to Veckatimest you’re probably one of those musically clueless teenagers, who are afraid to poke their noses out their own musical backyards. If you have and maintain that this is the last year’s best achievement in music, then you could be too hip for your own good. I used to claim that Midlake and their Trails Of Van Occupanther should receive at least as much attention as Grizzly Bear, but they were a bit overhasty with the folk-ish lo-fi movement – the fad didn’t start until 2 or 3 years later. I have come to my senses though – Grizzly Bear also deserve some praise, as Veckatimest is a really solid experimental pop album. It starts amazingly well – Southern Point is definitely my favourite song from the album. I love how the acoustic guitars sound here, how they build the atmosphere to reach the melodious refrain when the drums and percussion explode. This song is a true cornucopia – it breathes an air of amateurism to end with a plentitude of harmonious instruments. Then we have Two Weeks – the highest point of the album by popular demand. It’s also craftily woven pop song in disguise. The piano work and the choral singing throughout the song are splendid and the chorus is as captivating as it can be, as if it wanted to invite the listener to an over-indulgent feast of some kind. It’s pleasant and optimistic. Sadly, the album fails to keep the brilliance of these two songs in the next 40 minutes just to end with Foreground, which climbs the podium having a wonderfully mellow piano tune. The third track – All We Ask – sounds like a slowed down and vigourless version of Southern Point. The tracks from number 3 to 11 are too drowsy, slow and indistinct and seem to merge into one. They’re obviously not bad – the whole dreamy atmosphere of the album is a massive plus – they just lack the enormous quality and the character of the other three. Veckatimest as a whole is really original and exceptional – I am yet to hear a record sounding similarly to this one. Once again I could say that Grizzly Bear are innovative but not too experimental. The melody and the overall flow of the album are not interrupted by any unnecessary sound deviations, yet the way they sometimes combine the instruments is quite unconventional. The album floats serenely from the first song to the last with an incredible ease. Another point for Grizzly Bear here is the quality of leading vocals – Edward Droste’s voice is warm, mature and profound and listening to him sing is as enthralling as listening to Zach Condon – he does sell the words with his voice. Frankly, I was surprised with the amount of praise this album got last year and I’m sure it’s not because there are 3 awesome songs on it – people obviously must hear something that still escapes me. But maybe the very unobtrusiveness and hush emotions are what really makes it good after all?

8. Florence + the Machine - Lungs

It was in 2008 when I first heard Dog Days Are Over, the band’s second single. I was literally swept away by optimism and enthusiasm this song evoked. It made me want to jump around the room in jubilation and to scream ecstatically at the top of my lungs. This, for me, was the essence of ambitious pop captured in a song. So when the longplay finally came out I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed. Florence Welch took the music scene by storm, a rags-to-riches story fulfilled. Her debut album might have been higher on my list if the songs Dog Days Are Over, Kiss with a Fist and You’ve Got The Love gathered the momentum all at once, along with the others from the album. The fact that I knew those beforehand made the album have less of an impact. Nevertheless, I’m glad they didn’t try to stuff the record with some substandard tracks (as there none of this kind here) and that they decided to rely on those which received lots of airplay before the album was even finished. I can’t possibly imagine what effect the album as a whole might have on a person who hasn’t heard Florence before. Man, the girl can sing. I have never heard a female vocalist with such a powerful and galvanizing voice. Florence’s unique expressiveness and her ability to last long on a single breath have become the bases of the album and the highlights of every song. The vocal balancing acts are ever present on Lungs; Florence is confident of her own voice and she knows precisely when to go for higher or lower notes to achieve the best impression. What’s more, the way she delivers the lyrics doesn’t make her aloof or artificial. She drinks, she cries, she has a crush on someone and she’s not afraid or ashamed to admit that. There’s lots of melodrama here but we don’t get the feeling that Florence is over-serious – she doesn’t try to sound as if life had treated her sorely and that all that’s left is her accumulated experience. There’s a certain youthful enthusiasm and a go-getting attitude all over the record. What I also found riveting was the on and off use of the harp – it just fits the songs so well and doesn’t deprive them of the pop quality. Quite the contrary – it makes them sound fresh and idyllic. The Machine backing Florence certainly doesn’t loaf around and the instrumentation on the record is also first-class. Lungs is a great and masterfully produced pop album and such songs as Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up), Blinding, Hurricane Drunk or the aforementioned Dog Days Are Over (one of the best tunes I have ever heard, I swear) are not to become boring soon. But it’ll sure be a tough job to top this one.

7. The DecemberistsThe Hazards of Love

The fifth studio album by The Decemberists appeared in March last year without making any considerable fuss on the music scene. Then 2009 came to an end and so did the album. Music critics, self-proclaimed bards and loony connoisseurs forgot about The Hazards of Love and didn’t take it into consideration in their annual music recapitulations. The record faded away, underestimated and adrift, without being featured on many lists of those musically inclined. But a different state of affairs would probably be more startling and out of place than Fight Club being nominated for 1999’s Best Picture. The truth is The Hazards of Love finds fulfilment in its role of a forgotten gem among baubles and superficial inventivness. The Decemberists decided to embark on a rock opera project and have every right to be smug about themselves. It indeed is a folk rock opera through and through. There’s the love story of Margaret and William and their struggle with adversities and villains which brings every track together. There are also recurring music themes which lead the narrative in a harmonized manner. But those who don’t like to concentrate while listening and to devote their attention to the story shouldn’t be discouraged – the songs work just as well individually, which is not always an easy feat when you have a concept album in mind. The germs of this idea could be noticed on The Crane Wife but it was not until last year when The Decemberists chose to dedicate a whole hour to a single story. Another thing Americans have got out of amazingly well is the use of electric guitars, which it definitely worthy of admiration since it comes from a band associated with a strictly acoustic sound. The riff in Wanting Comes In Waves / Repaid displays the band’s true grit; the short, interlude-like A Bower Scene or The Queen's Rebuke / The Crossing brilliantly rely on the amplified heaviness of the chords. Don’t be mistaken - The Hazards of Love is still predominantly acoustic album, with everything a Decemberists fan could ever wish for. Yet the incorporation of electric guitars proved to be a good gambit after all, adding spice to the whole effort. But what other really valuable virtues are here to be found by a sophisticated treasure hunter? Certainly the album’s disarming lack of extravagance, the remarkable unpretentiousness of the way the story is told, the theatrical drama, the atmosphere of subtle childish naivety, spontaneity, blissful folk magic. But also the simplicity, good melodies and, above all, The Decemberists themselves who prove to be an unconventional band, yet they are still treated indulgently by the majority of the critics. There seems to be a demand for completely different values and aesthetics. Although the ending of this opera disconcerts me every time I listen to the record, I’d recommend it without hesitation, especially to those who have managed to save some shreds of decency and who nurture something more than just post-modern cynicism and a love for everything that’s loud, obscene and filthy.

6. Absynthe MindedAbsynthe Minded

Absynthe Minded's 4th studio album starts with a song which heralds their return to the jazz roots. The whole record is indeed very jazz-like in comparison to 2007’s the guitar There Is Nothing and can remind one of the Belgians’ debut which was a frantic trip through the lively contemporary jazz tunes. This time, however, Absynthe Minded went for a quiet and more reflexive form of jazz. It’s a record which is more suitable when we’d rather have a cosy meeting over a bottle of wine than a full-blown party in a large circle. Although some songs like Dead on My Feet, Mercury or the inspired Fortress Europe follow Acquired Taste’s fast-paced traditions, they don’t turn out to be as stand-out as those which are founded on melancholy and order. The highlights of the album are Heaven Knows, Moodswing Baby and Weekend in Bombay which with their emotional maturity and peaceful quality form the core of the album. Absynthe Minded fully satisfy my need of jazz elegance and class, rock nonchalance and pop sensitivity. I sincerely wish them to achieve a success on a larger scale because a band which is able to release four very strong albums in a row surely deserves more recognition. Last year’s self-titled record is once again a rare and tasteful concoction of my favourite genres and although it doesn’t beat New Day with its atmosphere, it’s still an exceptional production from a quintet with endless abilities, which is yet to record a bad song.

MuseThe Resistance

I had a huge problem how to assess this album properly. But I decided to refrain from digressions on the inexplicable hatred towards Muse and their unceasing existance in Radiohead's shadow, among various other accusations. I thought of comparing Muse to FC Barcelona and how there are always people who can’t humbly take their hats off to true champions, doggedly seeking to find flaws, inaccuracies, flukes. I came to a conclusion that the reasonable and sophisticated listeners do not need any persuasions to acknowledge the true value of Muse; there is also nothing to be gained by arguing on certain topics with those who crossed the dark side a long time ago. However, The Resistance itself is a tough nut to crack. It’s funny how some alternative music enthusiasts treat every sound they hear with utmost solemnity, as if their life depended on it. Any kind of debate on The Resistance is pointless unless we can distance ourselves from it. Muse almost got me with this one – I nearly let the critics convince me that The Resistance is in fact a pure kitsch, sham and rubbish. The tricks Muse pulled off here can easily slip by if we don’t tackle the album with adequate reserve. Muse are obviously taking us for a ride here – they play with the convention of shoddiness, sneering at the music scene and, more importantly, themselves. It is indeed a self-mockery of the highest calibre – Muse seem to be aware that Origin of Symmetry is widely regarded as their magnum opus, yet they still decide to choose a completely different road. Black Holes & Revelations was just a beginning; on The Resistance they decided to go the whole hog. In the multitude of modern rock bands who constantly try to prove something, Muse come out as the only one which consists of people too wise to even care about being perceived as true bigwig artists, who vaunt their unbelievably high aspirations. It’s like that piano duel in Tornatore’s The Legend of 1900 – the main character played by Tim Roth is too light-hearted to lick the guy with one hand, even though he knows he could, so amidst the camera flashes and the vibe of a serious jazz contest he starts to play a Christmas carol. He comes out as a modest winner in the end. I can complain that this is not the way I’d like Muse to sound and that I really hoped for Origin of Symmetry #2 but what’s the point? The Resistance, although very pop-ish, still sounds like Muse. I listen to the peculiar Undisclosed Desires and I wonder if that’s the same band which recorded Citizen Erased, yet I can’t stop marveling that I like it anyway. How do they do that? The catchiness of the album is top-notch; Muse explore the pop aesthetics in a masterly fashion. Uprising is one of the best songs I heard last year; it easily dwarfs their classic foot-stomper Supermassive Black Hole. Such tracks as Resistance and MK Ultra rouse every time they reach their refrains, while Unnatural Selection has a main riff which reminds us of the brilliance of New Born. Muse are probably the only modern rock band which draws extensively on classical music. United States of Eurasia and I Belong to You are delightfully based on Matt’s piano skills and literally sound like silk slip-sliding down a woman's body. The three-part Exogenesis symphony is on the other hand the band’s most ambitious undertaking to date, and a really formidable way to end the record. It is neoclassical in every sense of the word – string sections accompany the grand piano and Bellamy’s soothing vocals, forming a lofty and breathtaking piece. The genre and style diversity of some tracks is seemingly huge but all the ideas conveyed in the album work surprisingly well as a whole. On The Resistance prevails a futuristic atmosphere of a continuous sci-fi journey through far-away lands. Although it is not a concept album per se it’s really cohesive despite the self-evident divergences – something that Muse have surely worked on since Black Holes & Revelations. The influence of the album’s vibe on the overall quality cannot be overestimated. The Resistance didn’t presumably gain Muse new fans, nay it could’ve scared off some older ones. It’s not groundbreaking either and may not stand the test of time. But all these things weren’t the aim here. It’s irrefutable that there’s no other band like Muse nowadays. I find it highly impressive that these guys can jibe at everything that’s supposedly important for every contemporary musician, and still record a very good album packed with everything that they’re renowned for. I have always had a penchant for crafty satires and as a matter of fact I’m not really disappointed with the style of the album – as long as Muse remain true to their outlooks on life I can be sure that their music won’t lose any of its charm. Thus I hope that there will always be at least a single uppity music buff who will dismiss Muse no matter what. The day everyone sees Muse wink conspiratorially will be the day they become truly conventional. Right now they are still the coolest band in the world.

4. Portugal. The ManThe Satanic Satanist

I frankly don’t know any more if it’s surprising, hilarious or purely coincidental. I’m probably just glad that I can write about Alaskans every year, praising their another record. As the titles suggests, The Satanic Satanist is a really positive and playful album which is definitely the band’s best achievement since Waiter: "You Vultures!" Portugal. The Man abandoned mathy electric guitars and weird experimentalizations to focus solely on the melody. And the final outcome is nothing short of brilliant. Their two previous albums – Church Mouth and Censored Colors – were already very indie pop in comparison to the debut, but we had to wait for The Satanic Satanist to hear pop in full bloom. I always had a problem with finding the correct words for describing the music of Portugal. The Man – this may be due to the quirky psychedelia accompanying them from the beginning. It’s not different this time – The Satanic Satanist is wonderful in its simplicity, but it’s still far from being ordinary. The album’s strengths are the vocal harmonies and cheerful acoustic guitars. The whole thing is really pleasant to the ear – and I mean it. It literally drips with optimism, warmth and love, not being sickly-sweet at the same time. Especially the first four songs - they bowl me over with their catchiness which doesn’t go missing even for a second. I also like John Gurley’s vocals here – he does go quite high very often and sometimes he’s even accompanied by a female vocalist during a chorus. Maybe that is why (apart from the lyrics) that the whole album is lead by a peculiar hippie aura, which, I must say, doesn’t bother me at all. As much as I liked their quaint debut, The Satanic Satanist is just as good in its pop quality and I’m sure that the fans of cheerful acoustic sound and melodic vocalizations will be just as happy with that release. Honestly - great stuff whenever we need a mood boost. Have to go – their newest record is already waiting for me to listen to it.

3. As Tall As LionsYou Can’t Take It With You

Oh my, I adore this. As Tall As Lions’ second album had tracks clearly indicating genius (Stab City, Maybe I’m Just Tired) and some quite forgettable (I forgot). It’s quite the same with You Can’t Take It With You. I still can’t fully get into Go Easy as it’s kind of radio-friendly overly romantic; In Case of Rapture doesn’t stir up any significant emotions; after the track #7 the album seems to drag on endlessly and for now I’m not able to recall any single melody from that part of the record. But the highest points of this album are oh-so highly impressive. I don’t know if it’s just a coincidence or do bands really often put their best tracks right at the beginning. The record starts ambitiously - Circles differs from any of the stuff on their self-titled CD. It revolves around thumping drumbeat, fast and hypnotizing bass line and looped vocals. It’s not your typical rock song, although it starts with an acoustic guitar and ends with wailing, almost post-rock electric distortion. It’s probably the most slick track on the album with an incredible tempo as well and its considerate experimental quality. Right after that we have Sixes & Sevens. If you didn’t like the way Daniel Nigro’s vocal was artificially enhanced, this will surely be a relief. It begins with the whole band singing in a wonderfully harmonized choral manner, while Nigro takes the refrain parts solo. And he does it just as well as during the most heartbreaking parts of Stab City. The lines I've been hang out to dry. Strung out on denial. And it's all just, it's all just a waste of time. are sang so wonderfully well that I can’t even express it in words. I believe this is the best song on the album – it’s sumptuous; the piano accompanies the powerful bass and an acoustic guitar; there’s always something happening in the background. It’s complete although it’s just under 3 minutes. It’s full of indescribable yearnings. The third song on the album has a brilliantly catchy, slightly 80s-ish choral refrain but the hazy build-up is just as good – but I lack the knowledge to be able to describe it – let’s say it’s even more atmospheric than the chorus itself. Duermete and We’s Been Waitin’ also riveted my attention – the first one is a the kind of ballad which reminds me of the aforementioned Maybe I’m Just Tired; it’s the record’s longest songs, it has us slipped into reverie for over 8 minutes. The latter is just an intelligent, piano-laden pop song which features great unison vocals during the refrain. Am I overemphasizing the quality of those 5 songs? What’s more possible is that I underrate the rest of the album. The music of As Tall As Lions always reminded me of a big-city loneliness and the melancholy that came with it (Into The Flood EP!). You Can’t Take It With You is full of emotional moments that can leave you truly nostalgic and that’s not many rock bands nowadays which are capable of achieving that kind of effect. Stab City seems to be unthreatened, but some tracks from the new album bravely follow in its footsteps.

2. Regina SpektorFar

When I was carefully studying my last.fm charts, I noticed that Far is one of those albums to which I often reverted to during the last 12 months. It came to me as a surprise, I somehow let the fact that I really like this record slip by. Because at first sight, Far is rather inconspicuous, yet another modest production from Miss Spektor which doesn’t get recognized by the serious music critics. As I said before, there seems to be a demand for completely different aesthetics, values and sounds in the sphere of music, which I and many other musical snobs revolve around. But the point is she has never been so sickly-sweet but neither has she been so charming. And that sort of sums up Far. There’s not really much to be said about it, at least I seem to have trouble with mustering an elaborate critique. It’s simply…nice. I know, there might not be a whole lot of character to that word, but it does aptly describe the unassuming and playful nature of the album. Regina is surely having fun, and she infects us with joy, especially during Two Birds or the marvelously enchanting Dance Anthem of the 80s. As always, Regina makes use of her sense of piano melody and her voice, which often serves as a tool for creating the tune as well. Other songs like Blue Lips or Human of the Year got stuck in my head after the initial encounter with the album. It’s extremely easy to get into the record. Every time I listen to Far, more or less attentively, I always end up with at least one tune on my mind. This album is lovely in its straightforwardness and gullibility. In comparison to 2006’s Begin to Hope, Far seems to be frivolous and even infantile but – God help me if I’m wrong – it does make one feel serenely and blithely. How’s that for a quality record? There are some things that I dislike about this record like the unsuitable Machine or the excessive oohs in the middle of Eet, but I can’t be bothered to go on at them. Regina’s just too cute for that. Who needs St. Vincent?

1. The VeilsSun Gangs

Up to this point The Veils have always been something of an exotic phenomenon, a band which I knew existed, but if asked about their best songs I could probably only name Lavinia off the top of my head. And then out of the blue New Zealanders produced the record of the year, their best to date. Sun Gangs contrasts with everything I despise about those albums, which constantly seem to be hailed as masterpieces by the respected, opinion-forming music magazines, blogs, sites. It’s not extravagant and immoderate in its quest for the unknown, the untried, the unconventional. It doesn’t strike with unbridled creativity or superficial experimentations. It doesn’t try to attribute itself a deeper meaning or metaphysical nature when there’s none to it. It doesn’t choose psychedelia over harmony. It’s not cluelessly rebellious or impudently slipshod. It does not need to conceal the musicians’ lack of talent through avant-garde manoeuvres. It’s not an endless attempt to incorporate posh electronics everywhere. It’s not an art for art’s sake. It’s not immaturely noisy, defiant, provocative. It does not shatter my sense of decorum. It doesn’t boast about its motley bizarreness, neither is it show-off in its nonconformist attitude. It’s definitely not forcibly groundbreaking. Have I gone too far? Anyway, the main reason The Veils hit the number one spot this year it’s the only album I honestly can’t quibble about or find fault with. Not a bad song on Sun Gangs! This is what I’ve always valued; every single song is in fact an important component which makes up the overall quality of the given record. So when all of them are at least moderately good and distinguishable then it’s already quite an achievement in my book. I especially enjoy the most dramatic Killed By The Boom and Three Sisters which are sang piercingly by the band’s leader Finn Andrews. The Veils go really loud sometimes (Larkspur), but the occasional heaviness is skillfully balanced by the slower ballads like It Hits Deep or Scarecrow. I could talk about my excitement of innovations, captivating guitar parts, heartbreaking vocals, emotion-inducing build-ups. Or that I do occasionally enjoy a good solo or some crazy electronic bit. But at the end of the day, everything boils down to the sound of my favourite instruments and the way they work together, a catchy melody, mellow vocals. The seemingly simplest of solutions are sometimes the better way to go. But on the other hand, I seldom stumble upon on the albums which are as well-organized and flow as harmoniously as Sun Gangs. And it’s just piano, some guitars and Mr Andrews’ voice. What’s not to love?


  • icegate

    Nux Vomica was better...

    25 mars 2010, 0h05m
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