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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Albums of 2009: Surprises and let-downs

Six months in and 2009 is looking like a great year for new albums, with so many coming out right now that my wallet can’t quite keep up; new records from Frank Turner, Placebo and Taking Back Sunday* are all on the horizon.

As a result of this veritable musical glut, I pondered the idea of doing a top 10 of the year so far, after my tutor Jason praised my top 20 list for last year. Instead, I thought I’d branch out and list my five biggest surprises and five biggest let-downs of the year so far, as powered by Myspace and my favourite new application, Spotify. So here they are, in no particular order:

brakes5 Surprise packages:

Brakes – Touchdown
A fantastically well-written album from a band who have grown beyond bizarre 1-minute tracks about porcupines and pineapples to produce some genuine indie-pop gems.

New Found Glory – Not Without A Fight
Florida’s finest return to what they do best; chugging riffs, massive choruses and enough energy to light up the national grid.

Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown
The jury is still out on this 18-track rock opera, but you have to admit (drab lead single aside) it certainly is surprising!

Fake Problems – It’s Great To Be Alive
An explosive third record from this Florida Quartet which makes you feel exactly what it promises. The thunderous vocals and uplifting melodies are simply irresistable.METN

Manchester Orchestra – Mean Everything To Nothing
I’m including this as a surprise, mainly because I’m astonished they they managed to top their fantastic debut, I’m Like A Virgin Losing A Child. METN is an astonishingly diverse record with crushing riffs and moving acoustic moments. I am giddy with excitement about seeing them at Reading Festival!

5 Serious let-downs:

Maxïmo Park – Quicken The HeartQTH
Not a patch on their first record, with the synth-led approach failing to deliver any big hitting tunes, but may prove to be a grower. See my live review on inthenews.co.uk here.

Hundred Reasons – Quick The Word, Sharp The Action
This turgid effort from HR is inexplicably getting a re-issue, albeit with B-sides as bonus tracks. Admit it boys, this was not your finest moment; move on and write some new material!

Thursday – Common Existence
After talk of an ambitious triple-record, for Thursday to come out with this samey record is quite a let-down. Chunky riffs abound, along with the odd flourish of inspiration, but it’s not quite up to their usual high standards.

Flight of the Conchords Series 2

Something of an inevitability, given how long they had to write material for the first series. I’ve Got Hurt Feelings and You Don’t Have To Be A Prostitute are particular highlights, but there is nothing to rival Business Time or The Most Beautiful Girl (In The Room).

conoroberstConor Oberst and The Mystic Valley Band – Outer South
A muddled second solo record from the former Bright Eyes man, who seems to have lost his sense of quality control. The MVB are afforded seven of the 16 tracks to exercise their vocal talents and none of them are particularly memorable.

As always, any thoughts/recommendations on any of the above are most welcome.

*I know New Again is out today, but I haven’t got it just yet. Steady on!