Steve from YG here - currently holed up at my parent's house for the holidays, clutching my single malt like a wizard's staff from the highest peak of Mt. Rockingwhore, while my thousand yard gaze looks beyond the two suns descending on the airbrushed horizon. Yes I am feeling suitably reflective (drunk) and thinking of the past year, the year in music, specifically. Personally, this has meant that 2009 saw YG finally release it's second album 'Invisible Republic' and begin touring again, thus setting us up for a busy 2010. In fact, we have begun tracking our 3rd album and should have it finished by March. Without giving away many details, it marks a massive shift in the creative approach for the band and sounds unlike anything we have done before. We hope it surprises, or at the very least, defies any expectations people might have about us. We are hungry to find our place in the pantheon of great modern bands, especially since we believe so much of what is championed as important and groundbreaking music currently is decidedly OVERRATED. In addition, I believe too many bands are conservative and insecure about creative risk-taking. Sadly, indie rock has fallen victim to careerism as much as mainstream music has. Fair enough, I say, given that the industry has turned it's back altogether on the idea of developing acts. As a result, bands pander to the latest trends, or release much ballyhooed but half-baked albums only to never be heard from again 6 months later. And though taste is subjective and the most championed bands are often intriguing and clever, they are not as life changing or life affirming as the blogisphere would have you believe in my opinion.. It is bewildering to a person like me, who for the better part of 30 years has spent the majority of my time listening to and reading about and absorbing all things music, to see the same bands showing up on the year end lists over and over again when they just aren't that good. I realized in making my top list of 2009, I don't believe there have been 10 great records made this year, but despite this, some great and diverse records have been made. So without further adieu, here is my list!
1. Wild Beasts - Two Dancers
Fey-yet-cheeky English pop from northern upstarts. Display a wicked sense of humour in a subtle way, which is very hard to do in music, in my opinion. Reminiscent of The Sm**hs, but remarkably are not a pastiche like so many Sm**hs influenced bands. Notable for their distinct lyrical technique, tasteful use of two lead vocalists, and above all else, they have the choons. A surprising delight this year..
2. The Horrors - Primary Colours
It was a pretty good year for the English all told, who struggled in the wake of brit-pop's late 90's domination with some horrendous music in the 00's. The Horrors were another great surprise of 2009 - previously I had thought of them as a 10 in look and a 1 in music, as so many stereotypically think of English bands. But Primary Colours is a visceral album which is at once reverential towards many great bands that came before (Joy Division, MBV, etc.) but always inspired enough to overcome it's influences. 'Sea Within A Sea' may be my most satisfying track of the year. And they still look great..
3. Fever Ray - Fever Ray
Sweden's Karin Dreijer Andersson accomplished the difficult task of making a distinct sounding record that didn't compromise tunes either. At once aloof and intimate, soothing and disturbing - Fever Ray is not an easy listen, but totally compelling none-the-less..
4. Bear In Heaven - Beast Rest Forth Mouth
Despite being another Brooklyn band, Bear In Heaven actually lived up to the hype. Psychedelic and hummable, the songs spiral colourfully in a style reminiscent of an early Beta Band, which is no bad thing..
5. El Perro Del Mar - Love Is Not Pop E.P.
Mopey Swedish singer-songwriter intriguingly re-invents herself on this groovy concept E.P. about breaking up. Sounds a bit like Avalon-era Roxy Music - no small feat in my opinion! Intimate and deceptively psychedelic, so naturally it must have been produced by Rasmus Hagg, one half of my current musical heroes, Studio. Great Lou Reed cover, 'Heavenly Arms', too!
Taken By Trees - East Of Eden (Swede goes to Pakistan, makes recordings, has them elaborated upon by the the other member of Studio, Dan Lissvik, groovily so. Can those guys do no wrong??)
The Joy Formidable - A Balloon Called Moaning (Welsh female fronted power pop. I never thought I would write this phrase in a best of list! Sounds like Pixies a bit? Right on!)
The Flaming Lips - Embryonic (A difficult, long listen, but as usual, rewarding and beautiful. Still at the forefront of modern music and unafraid to take risks.)
The Clientele - Bonfires On The Heath (Not taking risks, but reliably so. As long as they write great songs, they will be the musical equivalent of lighting a fire in the fireplace in the dead of winter.)
Broadcast And The Focus Group - Broadcast And The Focus Group Investigate Witch Hunts In The Radio Age (Not much of an album per se, but a gloriously stitched together, trippy sound collage that has whet my appetite for a new Broadcast record in 2010!)
There you have it. Here's to you all, have a safe and great holiday season and see you in 2010! Bring on the new decade!