The award for the biggest let-down goes to The Dodos' Time To Die, a mediocre, fuzzy, numb album with none of the joi de vivre contained in 2008's Visiter. I love Visiter; it hangs together as an album rather than a mere collection of tracks. It's brimming over with energy, full of sharp percussion and robust, intricate guitar fingerpicking. I can't tell you where Time to Die went awry, but I suspect it's a combination of writing for 3 musicians instead of 2 and being produced by Phil Ek. The album sounds like it's by Fleet Foxes. I like Fleet Foxes – but I liked The Dodos too.
Another album that revealed the importance of producers was The Dandy Warhols' The Dandy Warhols Are Sound. Back in 2003 the Dandys released Welcome to the Monkey House, a wonderfully fun pop-rock album with a synth twist. It sounded smart, snarky, and redemptive: highlights include We Used to Be Friends (an upbeat track about drifting apart) and You Were the Last High (sex as a drug, and overcoming that addiction). But this wasn't the way the band wanted it to sound: they delivered their first cut of the album, and the label had it mixed by a different producer. The Dandy Warhols Are Sound is a release of the original version, and sadly the big, bad label was right. The original mix sounds murky, slow, and boring as hell. Welcome to the Monkey House can still excite me.
Other let-downs include Sufjan Stevens' The BQE (an ample demonstration that Sufjan should never, ever neglect his strengths as a singer & lyricist), Kings of Convenience's Declaration of Dependence (although their older albums are patchy too), Richard Hawley's Truelove's Gutter, and The Decemberists' The Hazards of Love (veers closely towards being a parody of The Decemberists). It was nice to get a new Camera Obscura and Maxïmo Park album, but neither drew me in and stirred up my passions in the way their previous records did. A lot of people liked The Raconteurs offering and The xx's debut, but I found both drifted in one ear and out the other.
2010 is already shaping up to be better; two months in and there's already several highlights. OK Go have given us their first LP for five years – a wonderful barnstomper that you will grow to love. It's sarcastic, melodic, and demands you turn your headphones up loud. Four Tet's There Is Love in You, forming one unbroken track that sweeps along atmospherically and is reminiscent of Upular. There's an MC Frontalot album in the works which I fully expect to have me gushing in my nerd-pants, and new albums from The Divine Comedy and Frightened Rabbit. I've heard Frightened Rabbit's, and it's good, but I don't know yet if it's as magnificent as The Midnight Organ Fight. We've also got a new Midlake album, but the less said about that the better.
I'd like to see new albums from the Arcade Fire (it's been 4 years since Neon Bible!) and Miracle Fortress, who released the utterly astounding Five Roses in 2007 and then went dark.
2009 wasn't a complete write-off; there were some staggeringly good releases. The best was Bromst by Dan Deacon, an almost indescribable album. I've never heard anything like it; it's electronic, and complicated, and busy; a mishmash of buzzes and tiny samples and overdubs. But it works – it's melodic and accessible. It's also full of life; it makes me want to dance and hug people. Wild Beasts released their second LP, Two Dancers, which took their music a step forward without leaving their original appeal behind. It's still brimming with braggadocio and public-school sex, and is easier to get into than their first. Clint Mansell's Moon is the only album that makes me play air piano. Tarot Sport by Fuck Buttons is an electronic, swirly, exciting album similar to Bromst that's way more listenable than their previous releases – they deserve to have a wider audience after this.
Metric's Fantasies really excites me, as does Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix by Phoenix. Please and Thank You by The Broken Family Band is also their strongest album yet, where every track's a winner; a fine farewell. God Help the Girl's eponymous debut took a while to grow on me but I love it – you've got to think of it as scenes from a musical about student life. Maybe it's because it makes me fantasise about a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but I find the confluence of confidence, insecurity, and naïvety of the main character utterly compelling. Finally, Neil Hannon and Thomas Walsh brought us The Duckworth Lewis Method, a concept album about cricket. To call it a comedy album would be selling it short; The Age of Revolution is the finest slice of baroque pop 2009 served up, and Jiggery Pokery is Neil Hannon at his arch best. It's a fun album that's not quite the one-trick pony you expect.