Tuesday, December 15, 2009

December 2009

Its the start of the new year but before we consign 2009 to the dustbin of history, no year would be complete without the Nevstar's Top Ten Albums. As always, the list is necessarily limited by albums that I have actually heard. Still its an interesting list and may provide a pointer or two towards albums that you may have overlooked during the year.
Onto the countdown.

10. Marianne Faithfull - Easy Come Easy Go
The Christmas season sees the shops filled with efforts by ageing rock stars cranking out another a bunch of covers to fill someone's stocking. An astute friend of mine calls these 'lifestyle' albums - recordings to help the rock star sustain THEIR lifestyle. But an exception can be made in this case, because Marianne Faithfull released a stunning collection of tracks this year showcasing her wonderful voice and exquisite taste in music. A must for Faithfull fans. See full review in April 09 edition.

Best Track : The Crane Wife

Try this if you like : Marianne Faithfull, Dusty Springfield, Beth Orton

Listen to or purchase here

9. The XX - XX
One of the best websites to find new music is Metacritic which compiles music reviews from across the web. This proves a useful filter for determining what new albums might be worth checking out based on their opinion of multiple reviewers. And my Metacritic find of 2009 was The XX's who obviously spent a lot more time on their music than a name for this, their debut album. Packed full of lush, dreamy almost spacey pop music, this is an extraordinary album which manages to be quiet yet also have an awful lot to say.

Best track : Infinity

Try this if you like : Death Cab for Cutie, Arcade Fire

Listen to it or buy here

8. Airborne Toxic Event - The Airborne Toxic Event
This LA based rock band seemed to offer nothing new whatsoever. The same old riffs accompanied by the same old hooks interspersed with heroic guitar solos included to boost prospects of their inclusion in the next edition of GuitarHero. So how come I couldnt stop playing it? Maybe its simply that old time rock and roll sung with gusto and affection is always worth the time. The guilty pleasure of the year.

Best track : Papillion

Try this if you like : AC/DC, Guns & Roses

Listen to or purchase here

7. Kasabian - West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum
Now thats more like it. Kasabian have an interesting history. Their first album was full of brash enthusiasm. But, in attempting to generate ideas for a quick follow up to their mega-smash debut album, Kasabian reverted to raiding the back catalogs of Pavement and Primal Scream. So while their live act remains one to savour, the second album Empire was less than impressive. All is forgiven as the band this year produced a stunning album which harnesses their prodigous live efforts and condenses it into this action packed yet wildly inventive and interesting third album. Packed to the brim with ideas and overflowing with energy, WRPLA is a potpourri of loud guitars, synthesised rhythms and funky electronica. And not a band title either.

Best track : Vlad The Impaler

Try this if you like : Oasis, Primal Scream

Listen to it or purchase here

6. Manic Street Preachers - Journal For Plague Lovers
The Preachers are a band that in some respects have tried to avoid their past, latterly producing albums of glorious anthemic pop music. This emanated from the disappearance of lead singer, Richie Edwards in 1995, never to be seen again (rumours of presence in New Zealand continue to abound). That the disappearance might have been planned is given credence by this album where the remaining band members have written songs to accompany lyrics that Richey left with them. Its a mesmerising yet darkly voyeuristic listen in stark contrast to some of their more recent material. Its as if we are peering into someone's soul as they contemplate diving into the abyss. Its not an easy listen, but nor is it unrewarding. Few of us touch such chilling depths, even fewer could write about it.

Best track : Me and Stephen Hawking

Try this if you like : Sparklehorse, Elliot Smith, Nick Drake

Listen to or purchase here

5. The Doves - Kingdom of Rust
One of my favourite bands of the last ten years or so returned with another stunning album. Here the trademark atmospheric wall of sound is accompanied by nods towards progressive rock and Wall of Soundish stadium anthems. A welcome return to form after 2005's slightly underwhelming Lost Cities. Reviewed in full here.

Best Track : Jetstream

Try this if you like : Coldplay, Elbow

Listen to it or purchase here

4. Muse - The Resistance

Perhaps one of the most inventive rock band operating today, Muse returned in 2009 with The Resistance which is surely close to their "Piece de Resistance"! After dabbling in classical pieces in previous albums, Muse now seem intent on forging a new orchestral-rock synthesis. The Resistance has several pieces which would not sound out of place in a concert hall played by the London Philamornic. Who else would combine a full prog rock virtuoso with an exquisite section from Chopin's Nocturne in E Flat Major. Fulled with grandiose ambition and exceptional musicianship, Muse remain one of the absolutely delights in the world of music. The album finishes with a full three piece Symphony "Exogenesis". Run, dont walk, to the Big Day Out to catch them live where they are the headline act.

Best Track : Guiding Light

Try this if you like : Queen, ELO, The Moody Blues

Listen to or purchase here

3. Future Of The Left - Travels With Myself and Others
The second album from Future Of The Left after emerging from the remnants of the acerbic post-Britpop era band McClusky. FOTL are led by the engaging character Andy Falkous whose lyrics don't so much roll of the tongue, as somehow emerge from between a clenched jaw and a tongue-in-cheek. The songs are streams-of-consciousness poetic diatribes about any and everything. Sometimes his targets are clear, often not. The Hope That House Built perhaps purports to comment on the credit crisis, Drink Nike seems to comment on consumerism and That Damned Fly maybe launches a tirade against rapacious music agents. Gloriously fun yet thought provoking particularly the lengthy monologue opening the final track which asks what was the best prison break in film history!

Best track : You Need Satan More Than He Needs You

Try this if you like : The Pixies, Faith No More

Listen to or purchase here

2. The Horrors - Primary Colours
Not the number one album of the year but probably the number one surprise. Emerging from the all style-no substance of their debut album, The Horrors returned with a second album, the fantastic Primary Colours. Its an album drawing generously from the past but showcasing glimpses of the future. From the inventive Joy Divisionish opening track Mirror's Image to the hypnotic 8 minute closer Sea Within A Sea, its an album that got played a lot on the Nevstar's stereo this winter. With the assistance of regular Portishead producer Geoff Barrow, The Horrors have delivered a consistently brilliant album and its reward is placement in numerous Album of the Year lists including the most cherished of all, the Nevstar Music Guide!

Best Track : I Cant Control Myself

Try this if you like : Joy Division, My Bloody Valentine, Depeche Mode

Listen to or purchase here

And the number one album of the year is................

1. Black Joe Lewis - Tell Em What Your Name Is
It was a sad year for the retail music industry with many stores closing down and the writing seemingly on the wall for the business model of selling CDs to the general public from a High Street store. What I will miss most is the great recommendations from music store staff who know and listen to far more music than I do. The best example is this years number one album which was recommended to me by a staffer at JB Hi Fi in Queen Street. After figuring out what sort of music we liked, he unhesistantly handed me an album by Black Joe Lewis' called Tell Em What Your Name Is and told me I would like it. I'd never heard of the artist or the album but it proved to be an understatement. I dont like it, I absolutely adore it. Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears have produced an album belonging to the genre which I have dubbed retro soul. Its funky, sassy and fun. Paying respective homage to the greats of yesteryear, it also blazes the path for others to follow. Soul music is dirty and sexy, but simultaneously music for all generations due to its danceability and singability. Black Joe Lewis has all of the above and its a worthy number one album for 2009.

Best Track : Please Pt 2

Try this if you like : James Brown, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave

Listen to or purchase here

As always, there were a lot of albums which were very good but not quite Top Ten quality. Here are the Next Ten which I also enjoyed (listed in alphabetical order).

The Antlers : Hospice
Jarvis Cocker : Further Complications
The Decemberists : Hazards of Love
Dirty Projectors : Bitte Orca
Franz Ferdinand : Tonight
Florence & The Machine : Lungs
Maps : Turning The Mind
White Lies : White Lies
Wilco : (the album)
Yeah Yeah Yeahs : Its Blitz

Previous Nevstar Albums Of The Year

This is the eighth year of compiling my Top Ten of the year. Here were the top albums from the last seven years according to the Nevstar.

2008 : Glasvegas : Glasvegas
2007 : The Shins : Wincing The Night Away
2006 : The Beatles : Love
2005 : Kaiser Chiefs : Employment
2004 : Franz Ferdinand : Franz Ferdinand
2003 : British Sea Power : The Decline Of British Sea Power
2002 : The Doves : Last Broadcast

Thats all for this month. Check back next month which will feature the Nevstar's Big Day Out Review. See you all there!