2009 was a slow year for me buying albums. Nothing much grabbed me. Perhaps this is a sign that I'm getting old. Certainly the words "That sounds just like..." spring to my lips more and more often when I hear "new" music. Anyway, as I only bought 8 albums myself, and had another one bought for me for my birthday, I can't really do a 2009 Best Of, so here's a rundown of what I bought.
The record buying year started in April with the long-awaited fourth studio album from Doves
. After the mixed bag that was Some Cities in 2005, I was a mixed bag myself over whether to get the new one. Kingdom Of Rust
, though, was everything I'd hoped Some Cities would be. It's the album I've listened to most throughout the year, and each single or EP release has brought new joys in the form of b-sides like Push Me On, Ship of Fools and remixes by Andrew Weatherall, Sasha and the Glimmers, among others. That it has taken four years for them to rediscover their mojo can be forgiven. Their mojo is a thing to be treasured. Best tracks are House of Mirrors, Kingdom of Rust, Jetstream, Compulsion and Winter Hill.
My next purchases were inspired by a disappointing weekend at the Green Man Festival at Glanusk Park. Disappointing for me, because I liked it better when it was at Baskerville Hall and was more folky niche. Still, I got to see Stornoway (no album yet, and only one single so far - come on lads) and The Phantom Band
, who were both highlights, King Creosote performing with Pictish Trail and James Yorkston, Jarvis giving a last-night-of-the-tour knackered performance, a devastatingly dad-rock Wilco (which saw the band I would travel anywhere to see plummet drastically to I'd think more than twice about seeing them again status), and various other bright new things who completely underwhelmed me.
All of which brings me to my next purchase, and the album which might just pip Doves to the post for my record of the year. The Phantom Band's Checkmate Savage
was a breath of fresh air in an otherwise suffocating plastic bag of musical nonsense. Live, they are muscly and mesmerising. On record they can occasionally miss the mark they're aiming for, but at least they're trying to aim for something. A mixture of folk, punk and prog, this was a debut album to die for. Folk Song Oblivion, Left Hand Wave and Howling are album highlights for me.
The Rough Trade tent at the Green Man also inspired me to purchase King Creosote
's 516th recorded release (he must be somewhere around the 516th mark by now). Flick the Vs
is a hotch potch of sounds and experiments, not least a delightful falsetto on Two Frocks At A Wedding. The album is something of a departure from the Anderson norm, but bears repeated listens. Opener No One Had It Better is all glitchy beats and weird synth vocals that then flows into a skittish folk masterpiece. No Way She Exists is joyous and honkingly exuberant, despite the lyrical content. Coast on By also deserves a mention.
While in the Rough Trade tent, I also picked up Waxing Gibbous
by Malcolm Middleton
. Opener Red Travellin' Socks is a guitar heavy shout-along bounce fest. Musically and lyrically, Waxing Gibbous is pretty much more of the same for Mr Middleton. Aside from the occasional foot-stomper, it's pretty much the usual sweetly sad and occasionally bitter heartbroken melancholy. He puts me in mind of The Delgados a lot of the time. Beautifully packaged by Full Time Hobby, stand out tracks are Ballad of Fuck All, Shadows and Made Up Your Mind.
My third Rough Trade tent purchase was Jarvis Cocker
's Further Complications
. I can't decide about this one. Glam corker Angela is the best track on it. Much of the rest sounds like an old man yearning for his youth. Some of the observations would have sounded funnier if he weren't in his 40s now. While his lyrics have always declared him to be a bit of a perv, now he just sounds seedy. I Never Said I Was Deep is perhaps his apologist track on this record. Caucasian Blues is Sex Pistols meets the Monkeys and the sound of a man in need of a good lie down.
September saw the purchase of Richard Hawley
's Truelove's Gutter
. Hawley sounds like Jim Reeves on this album, his deep growl taking on an ever-more transatlantic twang, particularly on Ashes on the Fire which would fit nicely into my mother's record collection. It's a late night album, best listened to curled up with someone you love.
A birthday in October brought the new Flaming Lips
is definitely different, from its track titles to its lack of internal coherence, and yet somehow it works. A departure from the lushness of recent chart botherers Soft Bulletin, Yoshimi and Mystics, it is a return to their earlier experimentalism. Not for the faint hearted, it perhaps won't win them many new fans, but as an old fan I'm happy to hear their krautrock, age of aquarius meanderings. Opening track Convinced of the Hex is low-fi and mesmerising, Evil starts like a Boards of Canada track before turning into an out-take from Soft Bulletin, and the first of three collaborations with Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Gemini Syringes, is all electronic fabness and 1969 hippydom. My other stand-out from this album is Worm Mountain, a dense MGMT-tinged track of buzzing synths and kraut drums.
A nod in the direction of more new music from an old friend saw the November purchase of Wild Beasts
' Two Dancers
. This is my third contender for album of the year. Lots going on here, including lots that makes me use my old fogey phrase referred to above, but in a good way. Currently stuck in my car cd player, this is an album of Smiths-inflected dark joy, with hints of post-punk. I'd say that Wild Beasts is the band that Editors desperately wants to be, but isn't. Hooting & Howling, We Still Got the Taste Dancin' on our Tongues and Two Dancers (ii), are my stand-out tracks.
Final purchase of the year is the Badly Drawn Boy
soundtrack to the Caroline Aherne-penned ITV film Fattest Man in Britain. Is There Nothing We Could Do?
is all gentle, toyshop piano and swooning strings. Some of the instrumental tracks rely heavily on songs that have been and gone before, while others necessarily carry the film soundtrack themes, but the new songs are a delight, and while we wait for a studio album proper, this one will more than do. The man has a voice I could listen to forever, and a way with a tune that turns his everyday-mundane lyrics into pure poetry and romance. Title track Is There Nothing We Could Do? is a pastoral masterpiece and a Gough classic. Guitar Medley is all breathless vocals over a simple acoustic guitar motif that plucks the heartstrings, while Just Look At Us Now is an escapee from One Plus One Is One with added Carpenters and quite beautiful. Other highlights are Wider Than A Smile, with its cathedral like beginning, and tender closing track I'll Carry On.
So not a bad year, really!