OK, so it’s 2010 now. But I haven’t forgotten to do my “best of 2009” posts. Here’s the beginning! :)
The Best Music of 2009
The 15 Best Albums of 2009
A pretty self-explanatory category!
1. Two Suns by Bat For Lashes: March 2009 marked my first listen to this, Bat For Lashes’ second album. As I write this now, on New Year’s Day 2010, Two Suns remains an incredible and captivating work. It’s an album to get lost in, wander around, and eventually find your way back – although you’ll find you don’t really want to leave. Highlights include but are not limited to the epic storytelling (not to mention the exquisite musicianship) of “Glass,” the jangly hooks of “Sleep Alone,” the threatening tones of “Peace of Mind,” the desolate dreamscape of “Good Love,” and the on-the-road-again feel of “Travelling Woman.” My favorite thing about Two Suns is that even amidst the big sounds of tracks like “Daniel” or “Two Planets,” there are little moments, little details that emerge upon repeat listenings. What an extraordinary album.
2. Lungs by Florence + The Machine: For a while I thought this debut from Florence Welch would overtake Two Suns as my favorite album of the year. Still, second place ain’t too shabby! :) Lungs is truly an astounding record. Florence’s powerful vocals alone would make an impact, but here her force is matched by pounding percussion, glittering harps, and screeching strings. Songs like the grandiose “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up),” the sonically aggressive “Howl,” and the thundering “Drumming” sit anxiously next to slightly less attack-ready tracks like the eerily excellent “Girl With One Eye” and the modern classic (mark my words!) “My Boy Builds Coffins.” And that’s why the album works so well – you feel a sort of exhilarating anxiety the entire time you’re listening, not sure about where the sounds will go next, even on your hundredth listen.
3. Fast Life by Hadise: This album by Turkish singer Hadise was my favorite pure pop album of the year so far back in July, and it’s still my pick for the best, unashamed pop pleasure of the year. The supercharged electro- and r’n’b-tinged pop Fast Life features eleven single-worthy tracks, like the fantastically fierce “On Top,” downbeat stunner “Hero,” and Turkish-flavored Eurovision entry “Dum Tek Tek.” Memorable lyrics, top-notch production, and Hadise’s lightly soulful vocals make this album a winner.
4. Do You Want The Truth Or Something Beautiful? by Paloma Faith: A bombastic collection of soul- and jazz-inspired tracks that never devolve into pastiche, Do You… showcases the personality and voice that is Paloma Faith. Her expressive, endearing vocals are supported by dreamy lyrics and beautifully arranged strings, horns, and background choirs. Showstoppers like “New York,” “Upside Down,” and the title track combine with the no less wonderful rest of the album to make a spellbinding, satisfying debut.
5. Polly Scattergood by Polly Scattergood: Polly Scattergood’s eponymous debut will either have you rolling your eyes or eager to hear more. I’m in the latter camp. I love following Scattergood’s rambling lyrics and wondering where they’ll take me next. The instrumentation and production is minimal but effective – check out the ghostly voices in “Untitled 27”! Pretty melodies and lyrical ideas in songs like “Unforgiving Arms” and “I Am Strong” share space with harsher soundscapes and darker subjects, like in the phenomenal opener “I Hate The Way.” With this album, Polly Scattergood proves that hers is a voice that must be heard.
6. Back To Life by Sandra: After 2007’s mostly mumbled The Art Of Love and a divorce from her husband and producer of the majority of her work, Sandra’s sound was ready for a new start. And it turns out that the best way to start anew is to look back a bit! Sandra always shines with uptempo, cheery tunes and Back To Life goes back to that kind of feeling. “Say Love,” “Never Before,” and “These Moments” are standouts but the whole album is a celebration, from start to finish. She can also sing a mean ballad, and the few that pepper the album, like “Just Like Breathing,” recall and update her best slow songs. Such a fun album!
7. Macadam Flower by Emma Shapplin: Released at the tail-end of the year – I think November 30 in some territories, and early December in others – Macadam Flower is a late addition to my list. In the relatively short time I’ve been listening to it, though, the luscious production and beautiful vocals from erstwhile opera-pop singer Emma Shapplin have gotten under my skin. I say “erstwhile” because this album is apparently (if scuttlebutt on the internets is to be believed) quite a departure from Shapplin’s classically-inspired work. Alls I know is that Macadam Flower sounds fantastic! Dreamily sung, delicately produced tracks like “The Hours On The Fields” and “White Sail” are complemented by heavier, faster-paced songs like the vicious “Reptile.” A really lovely, rewarding listen.
8. Caféine by Christophe Willem: The album kicks off with the lurching, icily synthesized and just plain amazing “L’homme en noir,” and only gets better. “Berlin” is a rollicking electro stomper and “Coffee” has a campy sample that rides atop a fun melody and kicky beats. There’s even a Kylie Minogue duet – a slightly reworked version of X track “Sensitized”! Willem’s ballads are gorgeous, too – listen, for instance, to “Entre nous et le sol” and its airy production and vocals. I’d never heard of Willem before this album – what an introduction!
9. Come To Life by Natalie Imbruglia: This is a tale of two halves – the singer-songwriter-y first half of Come To Life, and the electro-tinged pop of the second. It speaks to Imbruglia’s strength as a songwriter and singer that even though the album feels like two separate works tacked together, it still makes sense and sounds good! The aching “Fun” and driven “My God,” from the first half, are more organic but no less lovely than the second’s shadowy electro beauty “Want” and dark dancer “Cameo.” This is an album that might not stun ya on your first listen, but one that you’ll embrace more over time. Enchanting.
10. Hayrola? by Hande Yener: Yener’s cool electro/dance album was released in April, but it took awhile for it to register with me. I loved the title track but couldn’t quite get into the rest of the songs. In December, though, I found myself listening to it a lot – there’s just something about the expert dance production and confident vocals from Yener that I just fell in love with. Among the album’s best tracks are “Ok Yay,” which brings to mind the euphoria of Madonna’s “Get Together,” the slick “Deliler,” and the simply infectious “Narsist.” Also listen out for “Arsız (feat. Teoman),” a really good duet that got stuck in my head for a few days!
11. Spinnerette by Spinnerette: This is just good, old-fashioned rock. The lead singer is Brody Dalle, who is likely best known as the lead for The Distillers, and her voice is distinctive and made for thrashing against rough guitar licks. I probably like this album so much because beneath the choppy surface, these are great songs with quality melodies and hooks. Every song on this album is highly enjoyable, but some tracks to cherish are the menacing “Cupid,” brilliant “Baptized By Fire,” and odd one out “Impaler” – it has a really organic, tribal feel.
12. The Big Machine by Émilie Simon: Let’s just get this out of the way – yes, an obvious inspiration for Simon’s newest album is Kate Bush’s early work. I don’t see why this is such a bad thing. The Big Machine is not derivative, but instead has the out-there spirit that Bush’s work embraces. The album cover art, to me, really describes the sound of the record – colorful, twisting, and turning. “Nothing To Do With You” highlights Simon’s singular voice, “The Cycle” has a delightful bell-like riff, and “Rocket To The Moon” is a jazzy, hand-clappy sort of affair.
13. Yes by Pet Shop Boys: I wasn’t in love with the Boys’ newest album at first – perhaps I expected too much? – but then it hit me. These songs are future PSB classics. From the clever lyrics of “Love etc.” and “Pandemonium” to the shadowy melancholy of “The Way It Used To Be” and regal stature of “Legacy,” Yes puts the PSB’s best songwriting on display – and pins it to fab beats. :) There isn’t a dull track on it, and each song gets you revved up and eager to hear what will come next. What an enjoyable album!
14. Lal Meri by Lal Meri: I’ve listened to this album by Lal Meri (which features chillout wiz Carmen Rizzo, musician Ireesh Lal, and the honeyed tones of Nancy “Rosey” Kaye) a lot this year. To be more specific, I’ve fallen asleep to this album a lot this year. I like to do that – pop on my earbuds and doze off to a good album. An album has to be really excellent for me to do that – though it can’t be too loud! ;) – and Lal Meri’s debut is fantastic. “Dreams Of 18” is deliciously trippy, “Bad Things” has a groove I just can’t get enough of, and “My Ocean” brings to mind visions of balmy beaches at sunset. I can’t wait to hear what Lal Meri do next, but for now, I’ll just keep spinning this record!
15. Reality Killed the Video Star by Robbie Williams: Williams’ newest album, his first after the mostly forgettable Rudebox (I have to admit to having the title track on my iPod, though – it’s fun!), is a splendid collection of strong tracks. “Morning Sun” is simply beautiful, with a Beatles-ish middle eight, and lead single “Bodies” is a triumphant return to form. Williams’ ballads, like “Blasphemy” and “Deceptacon,” are lush oases amidst the fist-pumping energy of “Do You Mind?” and “Difficult For Weirdos.” “Don’t call it a comeback,” Williams sings, but… well, it’s a darn good comeback.
More “best of”s coming later! :D