Best of 2009
...every album released this year has been listened to by each member of our expert panel exactly 2009 times; backwards and forwards, up and down, while upside down, while snacking, while jogging, while flogging, while lathing, while pruning, while snooping, while snoozing, while boozing, shopping, hunting, punting, stripping, dogging - you get the picture… We’ve made a list of the best ones.
Merriweather Post Pavilion was so popular upon its release, even your nan will have heard about it. Go on, ask her. One of the most forward-thinking groups around, Animal Collective reached past the indie underground and bothered the mainstream folk with this beautifully crafted selection. One of the best albums of the last ten years, never mind just this one.
A review of the second Horrors album has not been written without the words My, Bloody and Valentine, but they also do a good job of channelling the spirits of Bauhaus, Neu!, Can and the girl groups of Phil Spector. Hypnotic synths and guitars, motorik drums and Faris toning down on the sixth form poetry have bailed these out of any previous crimes to garage rock and hairspray.
A second album of startling originality and intelligence that blew the critics away and put the Wild Beast’s flamboyant and theatrical indie on the map. The baroque-esque camp is served slightly muted this time around, with the rich, fruity lyrics getting more treatment from bassist Tom Fleming’s deeper voice, as well as more reined-in, rigid structures that house a tidy groove. This is exquisite, depraved and for anyone looking for an adventure.
The xx were a music blogger's delight this year; bedroom taste-makers across the globe couldn’t keep their fingers from typing up more praise for their debut album. Featuring sultry boy/girl lead vocals - wrapped in sparse, moody atmospherics - and tight beats that give it the subtlest of R&B groove, this is a record sure to be in the upper echelons of everyone’s 2009 retrospectives and certainly a contender for next year's Mercury Music Prize.
Major Lazer lost his arms in the great Zombie War of 1984 (don’t check your history book) and had them replaced with laser canons. When the Jamaican commando’s not fending off the undead, he’s the mascot and namesake of cutting-edge producers Diplo and Switch’s new dancehall project. Guns Don’t Kill People…Lazers Do is a ragga-dub booty-shaking basement party with Santigold and some of dancehall's most respected names all invited. Who wouldn’t want to party with a man with laser guns for arms?
Veckatimest, the Pitchfork golden boys’ third album, has no musical peer; it stands alone as an incomparable record of chambered baroque art-rock, with tight, Beach Boys-esque vocal harmonies that are as fundamental to the record as their spectacular multi-instrumentalism. Making the top ten on the US Billboard and having won esteemed fans in Radiohead, Jay-Z and Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear are no longer roaming secretly in the musical wilderness.
2009 is, we've been reliably informed, all set to be Florence Welch's year. The proof? No sooner had her debut album Lungs been released than judges are nominating it for Mercury awards. Taking the festival circuit by storm with her fantastic live show, Welch's intriguing melodies, married to THAT voice, have been making us very happy indeed.
There is a man in France who has never stopped listening to Phoenix, such is their level of addictiveness; he survives only on polished pop-rock perfection with grooves you could hang your coat on. And just as he’s about to go cold turkey, along comes Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, their fourth album and strongest dose yet. This breakthrough will get you hooked - don’t fight it.
How to describe Health? They get labelled "noise-rock", but the layers of sound are too precise and calculated to be the result of loud jamming and some random stamping on a well-equipped pedal board. Like the aural equivalent of staring at a magic eye image, with Get Color it takes time to get the full picture, and what eventually appears is something like an 8-bit My Bloody Valentine. One of the year’s most rewarding listens.
Returning from his second job as rising acting talent, Dante Tyrell Smith-Bey seamlessly resurrects his most respected role as Mos Def, hip-hop icon, in his most exciting performance since Black on Both Sides. Samples lifted from a dusty crate of worldly gems, funk and soul, Bollywood breaks, African rhythms and even Turkish acid rock - it’s like the greatest mix tape never heard, with Mos Def’s politically charged lyrical flow locking to the beat like percussion. He should stick to this day job.
The rest of the best