Dic 13 2009, 19:43

Forgoing the best of the decade list thing, I decided on my top three 2009 album picks.

1. Arctic Monkeys - Humbug:
I confess on my first listen through the Arctic’s third album, I wasn’t terribly sold. Sure, the first single, ‘Crying Lightning’, had been great, and certainly the musicianship and song craft were all there. But something just hadn’t clicked for me, not like their two previous efforts anyway, which both seized a favourite place in my heart almost immediately upon consumption. So I left the album aside, hoping desperately that the day I came back to it would bring a renewed sense of awe and love for this band of such promise.

I suppose I never should have trusted myself to stay away from the Arctic Monkeys for too long, because before I knew it I was listening to their album again and again. And as the album grew with repeated spins, I came to realise Humbug is the Arctic Monkeys' most accomplished work. Distanced, but not removed, from the young charms of their first, and expanded from the themes of their second, their third represents a growth in both style and substance. Produced by Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age (and other various supergroup endeavours) in the isolation of the Joshua Tree Desert, Humbug exudes the desired smokey mystery and cunning of classic Western America, while retaining the band's native sound and singer Alex Turner's sharp wit. With curious stories and swampy swagger, the album strides through a collection of 10 songs which each offer a slice of Turner's clever turn of phrase, Jamie Cook's ever improving guitar, Nick O'Malley's assured bass, and Matt Helders' powerful drums. This isn't a singles album to be sure, and perhaps holds nothing with the potential of 'I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor' or 'Fluorescent Adolescent.' But it is a better album, and certainly stand out songs like 'Cornerstone' and 'Pretty Visitors' rank among the band's best.

It's hard to say what the legacy of Humbug will be. Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not will always hold a special place in the canon of the decade, and Favourite Worst Nightmare will always be revered for backing up the hype and rebuking the backlash of its predecessor with even better offerings. But what of its successor? It's hard to imagine any indifferent Arctic Monkeys album, and if this is the band's direction now, I simply can't wait for the gems their fourth will surely yield. I'm afraid though, that Humbug will have disappointed some; it certainly is a removal from the pop perfection of their early singles. Regardless though, I hope Humbug will go down as a statement to the band's inherent genius, and their ability to craft albums that no matter their popularity, will be in their own right a success, if only for its own musical excellence.

2. Passion Pit - Manners:
Upon first hearing the genius pop of pilot single ‘Sleepyhead’, I was desperately eager for all the Passion Pit I could get. Grabbing their first EP, Chunk of Change, with brimming excitement, I was soon disappointed that none of their other songs seemed to hold such rare preciousness as the single. I’ve since changed my mind about that EP; while definitely not as exceptional as the album, Chunk of Change certainly holds its own. Though yet again my hopes of something great had seemingly been dashed, and I had to content myself with ‘Sleepyhead’ until the release of something new to compare it to. And the band certainly met the challenge. So much so, that ‘Sleepyhead’ is no where close to being the best song on Manners.

A debut so full of sunshine and exalted smiles, Manners grins at dreary heat and lackluster days of summer with an infectious happiness and enthusiasm that is so often sorely missing in hyped releases. Devoid of any filler, Passion Pit crafts an album replete with genuine pop gold and honest sweetness. Perhaps it might be all too much for some, more saccharine than sweet, but it's sort of nice to see a summer release that sounds less like sleeping in the sun and more like dancing. With cues to take it “higher and higher and higher” ('Little Secrets'), Manners is a lesson in how to have fun. And as much as there is brilliance in the effervescent chants of 'The Reeling', Passion Pit knows how to balance out, with gliding tunes like the featherlight 'Moth's Wings'.

In all honesty there's little else to say of such veracious charm; it is what it is, you like it or it grates. But Manners will gladly capture you if you let it, and trust me, it's a fantastic ride when you do.

3. Patrick Wolf - The Bachelor:
There's always been something dark within Patrick Wolf's music, without quite being sinister. 'The Libertine', for example, is sort of a twisted story. But wrapped up in such a nugget of fiddle and zeal it becomes almost joyous in its ardour. The idea of this continues in his fourth album, The Bachelor, with an overall dark mood, as the cover art might suggest, that turns into something exhilarating. The title track, for instance, is so much of what I imagine Patrick Wolf to be. Caustic lyrics are complemented with dream string arrangements and fantastic guest vocals. Speaking of guests, among the contributors to this album is actress Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton), who contributes to 'Thickets', 'Theseus', and 'Oblivion', all some of the best tracks of some 14 new songs. Lead in single 'Vulture', a bit misleading as to the album's whole sound, may not have sat well with me at first, but it fills in a space in the album wanting something simply excitable. No, the biggest fault in this album, I think, is penultimate song 'Battle'. Which, while in itself isn't very objectionable, within the context of the rest becomes quite incongruous. But, indeed, there isn't so much removal from his previous work as some might suggest. Yes, it's cleaner, fuller, and all together more of a spectacle, but The Bachelor overall retains Wolf's cherished whimsical vigour.

It could be all too much of a production for some, but I see this as him really coming into his own. And let's face it, bemoan his evolution away from his “original” sound if you wish, there have been hints as to his direction all throughout his previous works. None so obvious as The Magic Position, but even a song such as 'Tristan' winked at a greater ambition beyond Wind In The Wires. I can only eagerly anticipate what his fifth album, The Conqueror, will bring, as part two of his double album plan.


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