Top 20 Albums of the Year, 2009

It’s that time of year again. In keeping with a three-year-old tradition, I present for your delectation and discussion my top 20 albums of the year. The main difference this year being that, thanks to the wonders of Spotify, you can now debate and dispute my choices at the click of a button. Anyway, this year’s list is topped by:

1.) Manchester Orchestra – Mean Everything To Nothing

Worthy of their place at the top this year if only for the fact that their keyboard player resembles the bastard lovechild of 70s soul legend Lionel Richie and Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite. Their second record sees the Georgia quintet mature into a potent force of emotional rock, blending the best bits of Brand New and Weezer into an irresistable package.

2.) Biffy Clyro – Only Revolutions

Having taken the UK by storm with their fourth album Puzzle, you would be forgiven for expecting the Biff to go mainstream and placate the American market. Not so, with the incest jibes of Born on A Horse, the jagged riffery of That Golden Rule and the pirate laden sea shanty The Captain. A real triumph.

3.) Frank Turner – Poetry of the Deed

Frank’s third record is a significant achievement, proving that he is a one-man band in name alone. Pianist Matt Nasir adds a noticeable roundedness to this record, whilst the folksy melodies of tracks such as The Fastest Way Back Home and Sunday Nights are real growers.

4.) Doves – Kingdom of Rust

Maybe it was because I wasn’t clued up enough to fully appreciate their previous LP, 2005’s Some Cities, but this album blew me away. Doves’ unique sound is finely honed on Kingdom of Rust and it is a complete travesty that they did not follow in the footsteps of Elbow and finally achieve the mainstream recognition they deserve after this barnstorming album.

5.) Placebo – Battle For The Sun

It’s amazing what a new drummer can do for a band. Steve Forrest’s arrival breathed new life into Placebo this year, who are back to their best – sounding as vibrant and edgy as ever, albeit with a subtle emotional twist.

6.) Arctic Monkeys – Humbug

The northern lads have taken a bold step on their third record; one which may yet see them earn real recognition as a sophisticated rock group, not just a bunch of oiks who use Yorkshire slang in their lyrics.

7.) Muse – The Resistance

I suppose the only thing predictable about Muse is that they will always continue to get more absurd and flamboyant as their career goes on. The impact of their style may have faded somewhat, but that doesn’t stop this from being the most ambitious album of the year, if not the most subtle.

8.) Brakes – Touchdown

This Brighton four-piece started out life as the side projected for the disaffected members of Electric Soft Parade and British Sea Power. On their third record, they have well and truly eclipsed both of their former bands to create a folksy record of indie-pop gems.

9.) Cougar – Patriot

Inventive, inspiring, instrumental joy from deepest, darkest Wisconsin. It only takes a few listens to see why Cougar are the logical inheritors of Explosions In The Sky‘s post rock crown.

10.) Fake Problems – It’s Great To Be Alive

Unashamedly erratic folk-punk from the Florida quartet who supported Frank Turner on his American tour. The least understated record of the year, riven with religious angst and gutteral singalongs.

11.) Idlewild – Post Electric Blues

12.) Conor Oberst – Outer South

13.) Baddies – Do The Job

14.) Art Brut – Art Brut vs Satan

15.) Thursday – Common Existence

16.) The Mars Volta – Octahedron

17.) Brand New – Daisy

18.) Thrice – Beggars

19.) New Found Glory – Not Without A Fight

20.) Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown

As always, I’d love to hear any recommendations of decent albums that I’ve missed off the list. This is by no means definitive and I’m always keen to hear about great new albums.

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Climate Change protesters on the crest of a Wave

Trudging through a soggy December afternoon is rarely as heartening as it was last weekend. The Wave, organised by the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition, attracted swathes of punters to London, all intent on putting pressure on the gathered politicians at the upcoming Copenhagen Conference on climate change. Some were seasoned veterans, others were barely old enough to walk. All the pilgrims gathered in Grosvenor Square around midday and the congregation of banners, face-painters and vibrant music gave the day a festival-esque feel. The choice of Galvanize by the Chemical Brothers as the anthem of the day was particularly astute and fitting.

Ed Miliband at The Wave 2009
A Miliband in the midst

When the music subsided, so did the early euphoria. A sizeable stage had been erected for the organisers to give speeches from, yet the PA was either too weak, or badly balanced, so their words fell on deaf ears. Next to me, a small girl, no older than six years old, blew loudly on a whistle. As her parents tried to quieten her down, she retorted: “What’s the point? I can’t hear them anyway.” Among the crowd, Energy and Climate Change minister Ed Miliband mingled, fielding general questions and posing for photos.

From this point onwards, the lack of organisation began to show, as the march got off to an awkward, stumbling start. The planned exit to Grosvenor Square became an impenetrable bottleneck, and made the event seem more like queueing for climate change, rather than marching. As we reached Mayfair, the pace began to quicken and the eccentricity of the protesters shone through.

A Cycle-powered stero at The Wave 2009
The Cactus Caravan

Later, my group passed the Cactus Caravan, a cycle-powered stereo atop a garishly-decorated trolley, which entertained the masses with classic protest anthems such as Gold Lion by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer.

As we marched past Starbucks, McDonald’s and Porsche garages, I was surprised not to see even a hint of anti-capitalist rage. Despite various communist banners, the tone of the Wave was peaceful and a million miles away from the hectic events of the G20 protests, back in April. The sheer turnout and the diversity of the crowd made this a far more significant demonstration of public sentiment. Those who marched in The Wave were undeterred by the wintery conditions and there was no allure of anarchy and violence to draw in the curious or those attending for the wrong reasons.

All the major charities were out in force, some making more helpful contributions that others. I was in two minds about the rickshaws that Oxfam had deployed to ferry protesters along. On the one hand their irritating size hindered those of us on foot (what’s the point of going to a march and being chauffeured around anyway?), but on the other hand they did provide valuable support for the elderly and infirm.

As the march turned onto Piccadilly, a party atmosphere began to build. Walking down the middle of one of London’s most famous streets was a liberating experience, which climaxed at the world-famous Piccadilly Circus. This invigorating feeling continued to buoy up the troops as we passed Trafalgar Square, despite a cynical banner that proclaimed: “Don’t be duped, investigate climategate“. It may be a while before people are marching for climate change denial, but the presence of this defiant banner was indicative of the sea change that has taken place over the past week.

Houses of Parliament from a bridge over the River Thames, London
A View From The Bridge

Reaching Parliament Square should have been a triumphant end to this march, however, due to a gross lack of central organisation it was more of a damp squib. The proposed finishing point was 3pm, at which point we were all meant to create a Mexican wave around the Houses of Parliament. But when exactly is 3pm? By whose watch? From where I stood it was impossible to hear Big Ben’s chimes, so the wave that came was disorganised and confused.

As we crossed the eventual finish line at Embankment, we were greeted by a man on top of a bus giving general encouragement via a megaphone; words to the effect of  “Thank you all for coming, aren’t we all great?”. I have no idea who he was or whether he was meant to be an important figure. “Last year we had George Monbiot, this year we’ve got this berk,” a man next to me bemoaned. Our megaphoned crier was certainly far from well-informed. “How many did we have here today?” he asked an assistant, before inaccurately proclaiming that 40,000 had turned out.

Later, from the comfort of a nearby pub, BBC News informed us that the turnout was closer to 20,000 and our fellow beer drinkers cheered heartily. In some ways it was all about the level of participation, which showed a real groundswell of support ahead of the Copenhagen conference. The range of people, from toddlers to pensioners, hippies to yuppies, showed that climate change truly is an issue with the scope to garner widespread interest. To convert this popular sentiment into results will take much better organisation, however. Stop Climate Chaos ultimately failed to provide a focal point for the march, resulting in an anti-climactic, disaffected end to an otherwise encouraging march.

To see more photos from The Wave, click here.