My Top 50 Albums of 2009


Nov 28 2009, 0h44

2009…most notable, musically, for giving me an album so perfect I am seriously considering calling it my favourite ever release, though I’m still undecided for now. Japanese music continues to enforce its way into my tastes, I’m starting to develop a hankering for it more than ever. I thought I’d rue the day I ever developed a liking for girlish J-pop but then I guess some miracles never cease to happen. So a good year for music overall then…still no 2005, but nothing ever will be. Just a footnote, any music video included is not a random choice, it’s there because I think it warrants attention, whether it’s due to artistic merit or the fact that it ties in well with the song’s themes and/or images that it creates. If it has hot Japanese chicks then that doesn’t hurt either.

50. Keith - Vice And Virtue

Vice & Virtue manages that rare feat, a sophomore effort that simultaneously comes across as a letdown AND a worthy successor. On the one hand it feels like a step back of sorts, a devolution into a more restricting schematic of psychedelic-lite funk. The reason their excellent debut Red Thread stood out back in 2006 was because its eclecticism knew no bounds, possessed of an ability to fuse impossibly broad influences into its 11 adventurous songs. That’s not to say the Manchester band have forgotten how to captivate, as there are numerous moments here that rank with the best 2009 has to offer. ‘Up In The Clouds’ in particular is striking, transforming from the crackling, visceral funk of the first two-thirds into some existential, Eastern-sounding weirdness that doesn't sound a million miles from Acid Mothers Temple. It’s riotous yet slightly chilling at once. And as an aside, bassist John Waddington is still producing some of the finest, most wholly defining basslines around. The man is a virtuoso.


Standout Tracks - ‘Up In The Clouds’ ‘Lullaby’ ‘Lucid’


49. Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca

A venture in musical progression that cannot possibly be defined by genre alone, Bitte Orca’s profusion of unyielding spastic instrumentation mingled with outright pop accessibility means it’s avant-garde tendencies, though endlessly inventive, never keep the listener at arms length.


Standout Tracks - ‘Stillness Is The Move’ ‘Useful Chamber’ ‘Two Doves’

48. The Joy Formidable - A Balloon Called Moaning

Exploring the space between twee and dream-pop, the loved-up Welsh trio exhume a great deal of panache as their coruscating waves of gleeful noise spin into whorls of vivid colouration and fuzzy delirium. A vivacious rush of an album.


Standout Tracks - The Greatest Light Is the Greatest Shade ‘The Last Drop’ ‘Cradle’

47. The Rest - Everyone All At Once

A Canadian seven-piece collective that somewhat resemble an Arcade Fire closer to the folk spectrum, The Rest are every bit as large-scale but graceful. With irresistibly pretty mini-epics that scale a tableau of both the genteel and tumultuous, the songs take turns in unexpected directions but it’s all too artistically well crafted to become an aimless mess.


Standout TracksWalk On Water (Auspicious Beginnings) ‘Modern Time Travel (Necessities)’ ‘Drinking Again’

46. Dan Auerbach - Keep It Hid

Dan Auerbach temporarily ditches his partner in crime Patrick Carney for a solo outing that, while not a huge departure from the stripped-back scuzzy blues he’s built a career on, slyly reveals with repeated listens a more explorative and personal outlet of expression than he’s delved in before. Auerbach sings and plays with all the soul he can summon, whether it be on the more subdued numbers like sweetly sung, hear-a-pin-drop lullaby ‘When The Night Comes’, or the swampy deep south-flavoured grooves, which sound so authentic they could have been plucked straight from 1950’s Mississippi. So much more than a stopgap for the next Black Keys album.


Standout Tracks - When The Night Comes ‘Goin’ Home’ ‘The Prowl’

45. Hideka - hideka

Bidding farewell to the hubbub of city life, Hideka took residency in the rural pastures of home-town Yamanashi for her solo project, building a private studio and partaking in most of the recording duties and instrument playing herself. As such, this debut mini-album feels like a manifestation of her own little world, a cultivation of floating candy-coloured shoegaze that enthrals with its sumptuous textures and a hushed intimacy that only such isolated conditions could fully capture. Blissful.


Standout Tracks - ‘Brain to dream of’ ‘FOOL FOR LOVE’ ‘easy’

44. White Lies - To Lose My Life

White Lies own particular brand of depresso-pop owes a far more hefty debt to the Midge Ure-era of Ultravox as opposed to the usual Joy Division-influenced suspects they’ve been shoehorned in with instead, sharing as they do the same gift for soaring hooklines and theatrical pomp, but reigned in by a morbid streak encrusted within the songwriting and dour baritone of Harry McVeigh, that lends weight to their commercial slant. Charles Cave’s vivid reflections on mortality are painted with broad strokes, making them ripe for cynics to snort at churlishly, but for those with an ear for unshakeably confident, towering anthems, White Lies make for crucial listening.


Standout Tracks - Death ‘E.S.T.’ ‘To Lose My Life’

43. Maps - Turning The Mind

Turning The Mind sees James Chapman forego the shoegaze flavourings of his Mercury-shortlisted debut We Can Create in favour of a full-on dance album; and it can’t help but feel like a regression of sorts. But if scrapping guitars entirely does him no favours, a new emphasis on dancefloor-orientated synths and throbbing techno beats doesn’t hurt either, and here Chapman’s affinity for surging swathes of unadulterated euphoria remains very much unscathed. Brownie points for the albums crowning moment ‘Valium In The Sunshine’, which sounds like a re-jigged level theme from the ancient (but still awesome) PSOne platformer Jumping Flash!


Standout Tracks - Valium In The Sunshine ‘Papercuts’ ‘Die Happy, Die Smiling’

42. The Horrors - Primary Colours

Swept on a wave of hype back in 2006 that couldn’t be sustained, The Horrors were (quite rightly) written off as style-over-substance chancers, more notorious for their Rocky Horror Picture Show haircuts and blissfully short gigs than anything else. So where did it all go right? Finding a new deal with indie label XL and garnering full artistic licence in the process certainly helped. They also struck gold by enlisting Portishead’s Geoff Barrow as producer, his wealth of experience in foreboding soundscapes no doubt set them on the right course in the studio. As a result The Horrors have transmogrified into something revelatory. Borrowing from the best but not burdened by influence, they fuse a hazy rush of neo-shoegaze, psychedelic drones and krautrock rhythms that conjoin into a magnificent noise. All in all, a reinvention that has paid dividends.


Standout Tracks - ‘Mirror’s Image’ ‘I Only Think Of You’ ‘Sea Within A Sea’

41. Howling Bells - Radio Wars

It may not smoulder like the noirish mysticism of their masterful debut, but this long-awaited follow-up, with its newfound emphasis on massive pop-savvy hooks, ensures that the high standards set by the Aussie rockers are maintained. Thanks to both a willingness to branch out and enhance the pop with intricate smatterings of electronica and the irresistible lure of Juanita Stein’s seductive swoon, it’s this combined magnetism inherent throughout that means they never fail to cast a spell for the whole duration.


Standout Tracks - ‘Let's Be Kids’ Cities Burning Down ‘Treasure Hunt’

40. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion

Almost begrudgingly, it’s hard not to be of the opinion that the overwhelming hype is fairly justified this time around. Decidedly less pretentious and self-indulgent than Animal Collective’s previous installments, Merriweather Post Pavilion sets forth a delirious flood of multi-layered psychedelia that feels like being submerged in a pool of engulfing fluorescence, all the while (thankfully) keeping proceedings concise and melodious. Playfully avant-garde yet accessible enough so as not to detract from the lush textures that its sun-drenched tropicalia and Beach Boys harmonies give rise to, it’s a wonderful record that mercifully erases all memories of the dreadful ‘Peacebone’ and its ilk. Just about.


Standout Tracks - ‘Bluish’ ‘My Girls’ ‘Brother Sport’

39. Great Northern - Remind Me Where The Light Is

A sucker punch of noir-indebted melody from Los Angeles’ Solon Bixler (that’s some name) and Rachel Stolte, here meshing a series of smoky, spooky histrionics with an ambitious slice of stirring arena rock to terrific effect. Stolte’s purring vocals carry a sultry allure to them and when gears are switched for the gospel-tinged stately ballad ‘Stop’, they prove they can be genuinely touching.


Standout Tracks - ‘Stop’ Fingers ‘Warning’

38. Hope and Social - Architect of this Church

Essentially the line-up of Four Day Hombre minus a member, the remaining quartet start anew with a self-funded, self-made project that was written, recorded, mixed and mastered in the crypt of a West Yorkshire church. The endless hard work has paid off, from the mariachi festivities of ‘Living A Lie’ to epiphanic hymn ‘Looking For Answers,’ Architect Of This Church is a pleasure. A lesson in unconquerable self-belief and an open-souled meditation on hope, it’s resplendent in magnanimous vigour and features some of the most emotionally naked vocals of the year courtesy of Simon Wainwright. Strongly evoking Guy Garvey of Elbow, his voice howls and cracks with no heed of the strain it must cause, while his bandmates are as equally passionate.


Standout Tracks - ‘Do What You Must’ ‘In Hope’ ‘Looking For Answers’

37. Hurricane Bells - Tonight Is The Ghost

About as far removed from his bands archetypal sound as possible, Steve Schiltz’s solo album trades the rip-roaring shoegaze epics of Longwave for country-streaked, lo-fi recordings filled with an evocation of withdrawn, sometimes cowering woe. Predictably it’s a more intimate affair, everything is toned-down and it suits Schiltz’s warm vibrato well, to the point where the-broken-down-and-impoverished melancholia found in ‘Freezing Rain’ and ‘The Cold Has Killed Us’ may well leave you a little misty-eyed.


Standout Tracks - ‘Freezing Rain’ ‘This Year’ ‘The Cold Has Killed Us’

This Year

36. Manchester Orchestra - Mean Everything To Nothing

Still hailing from Atlanta and still not approaching anything resembling an orchestra, Manchester Orchestra return, three years on from debut I'm Like A Virgin Losing A Child, as a more seismic entity. Brandishing grunge of a more rabble-rousing pummelling nature this time around, the band has in Andy Hull an enigmatic frontman, blessed with an exhaustible vocal range and afflicted with a heavy dose of Christian guilt (“I am the only son of a pastor I know/Who does the things I do”). It’s confessional stuff, unselfconsciously angst-ridden and, often enough, uproariously fun.


Standout Tracks - ‘Shake It Out’ I've Got Friends ‘My Friend Marcus’

35. Odawas - The Blue Depths

A dreamy collage of folkish tones and psychy arrangements, showered with analogue synthesizers, harmonica, organ and drum machines that weave in and out, all synchronized to perfection. Managing to sound both minimal and vast amid the cavernous production, The Blue Depths floats along unperturbed as the formless sequences elude any typical structure and drift wherever the wistful sounds may take them. Close your eyes and be transported.


Standout Tracks - ‘Our Gentle Life Together’ ‘Secrets Of The Fall’

34. Rin Toshite Shigure/凛として時雨 - [album artist凛として時雨]just A moment[/album]

This batshit Japanese trio fire on all cylinders while never looking back, interjecting their post-hardcore stylings with a constantly shapeshifting palette of discordant sounds that are constantly at the mercy of fractured time signatures and ridiculously entangled structures. Coupled with the hysterical duelling vocals that can switch from a breathy whimper to full-on ear-splitting screamo, just A moment is masterfully executed stuff and a work of astounding exuberance that’s impossible to keep up with.


Standout Tracks - ‘a 7days wonder’ ‘Hysteric phase show’ ‘JPOP Xfile’

33. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest

One of the most unanimously celebrated albums of 2009 and rightfully so, pinpointing why Veckatimest is such a captivating triumph isn’t easy to explain. Its autumnal jazz-folk nomenclature is careful and considered, imploring the listener to persevere with unobtrusive compositions that demand patience to feel out every subtle nuance and uncover fresh layers that were once secreted away. Eternally rewarding.


Standout Tracks - ‘Two Weeks’ ‘Foreground’ ‘Ready, Able’

Ready, Able

32. Telekinesis - Telekinesis!

Telekinesis is the alter-ego of 22 year old Seattleite Michael Benjamin Lerner, who gamely recorded each track of his debut in under 24 hours while playing every instrument required in the process; and he makes it sound all so easy. Through a panoply of sun-kissed vibes, infectious choruses and straightforward instrumentation, the 31 minutes of sharp, unalloyed joy Lerner has created place him in a camp somewhere between the college-rock ruckus of Weezer and the vulnerable mediation of Death Cab for Cutie (Chris Walla helped produce the record). In essence, the love felt for Telekinesis! is as instantaneous as the songs themselves.


Standout Tracks - Tokyo ‘Foreign Room’ ‘Look At The East’

31. Teruyuki Nobuchika - morceau

Quaint folktronica that apparently the Japanese can do far better than anyone else, Nobuchika is a composer who mostly lends his skills for TV and film but this offering of warm textural ambience suggests he should release more albums. Through the blissed-out strands of studied electronica and easing classical instrumentation, he awakens feelings of peaceful reflection in music awash with diaphanous light and nostalgia, seemingly suspended in time as it quietly observes life go on around it.


Standout Tracks - N/A

30. The Hours - See the Light

James Cameron, the director of such colossal blockbuster fare as Aliens, Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Titanic, once declared “Less isn’t more, more is more”, a motto very much adhered to on The Hours follow-up to poignant debut album Narcissus Road. Central duo Anthony Genn and Martin Slattery are evidently working on a bolder scale, having expanded the live band to a seven-piece and piling on the guitars and percussion in the process, the gut-level reflections on life and inspiring treatises now sounding tailor-made for stadium singalongs. Genn, who retains his hallmark of unflagging self-belief and righteous zeal, sings every word as if it’s gospel while Slattery’s magisterial piano work has become even more empowering. See The Light may not deviate much from the well-trodden formula of before, but for music that thrives on its own conviction such as this, it doesn’t have to.


Standout Tracks - See The Light ‘Think Again’ ‘Never See You Again’

29. Headlights - Wildlife

Listening to Wildlife is like the aural equivalent of visiting a beach on a chilly day. Sure it’s a picturesque setting, free and unspoiled by the commotion of the populace, but gazing out to an infinite horizon with only the sound of gently lapping waves for company is going to lead to a pretty lonely experience. Headlights third album of indie-pop gems won’t set pulses racing, but that air of reserved sadness - joined by a lackadaisical pace and set to a backing of puppyishly sweet charms and hooks - makes for an outing that is sometimes grin-inducing, sometimes heart aching, but always gorgeous.


Standout Tracks - Get Going ‘I Don’t Mind At All’ ‘Dead Ends’

28. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It’s Blitz!

Largely eschewing the animalistic art-punk they had become renowned for, the Manhattan-born trio swaps Nick Zinner’s all-conquering guitar for a slightly more sophisticated assembly of glitterball beats and space-age synths, designed for dancefloor-packing mayhem and no doubt delivering. It’s a dramatic shift that has alienated some fans but gained them a whole lot more, the rapturous new sound perfectly complimenting the wild abandon and glee Karen O sings with.


Standout Tracks - Hysteric ‘Zero’ ‘Heads Will Roll’

27. A Place to Bury Strangers - Exploding Head

The debut saw a small army of tinnitus-inducing effect pedals take priority over the songwriting, but Exploding Head rectifies this disparity with a more balanced schematic, initialising a cleaner production job to combat the adrenaline-veined, obliterating industrial-rock that the New York trio specialize in. So while the brutal squalls of feedback and cyberpunk decadence still decimates all in its way, it’s never at the expense of the tunes this time. No further demonstration is needed than ‘Deadbeat’, its dalliance with surf-rock a snapshot of a band who can do ‘catchy’ – just as long as you don’t mind having your head caved in during the process.


Standout Tracks - ‘Deadbeat’ ‘Lost Feeling ‘I Lived My Life To Stand In The Shadow Of Your Heart’

26. St. Vincent - Actor

Annie Clark’s sophomore album relies on a menagerie of conflicting sounds as she constructs glistening, Disney-esque vistas and then perforates them with detonations of crunchy guitar noise. It highlights a mind rich with ceaseless creativity and capable of pulling off an unpredictable smorgasbord of bedazzling baroque orchestrations.


Standout Tracks – ‘Just The Same But Brand New’ ‘Marrow’ ‘The Neighbours’

25. sgt. - Capital of Gravity

If Mono’s Hymn To The Immortal Wind (that other Japanese post-rock album of the year) specialized in scrupulously organized build-ups into walls of sound, then Capital Of Gravity is as diametrically opposed in its approach as possible. Straying from the post-rock archetype, sgt. opt for a more spontaneous aesthetic, concocting an extensive selection of sounds to revolve around the central core of the storming rhythm section, from vignettes of free-form jazz to plinky-plonky piano interludes to, most impressive of all, violinist Mikiko Narui, whose supercharged melodies are like a guiding light amidst the looping, anything-goes nature of the songs. Who’d have thought post-rock could be this exhilarating.


Standout Tracks - ‘Tears of na-ga’ ‘Apollo Program’

24. The Mummers - Tale to Tell

Written and recorded in a tree-house(!), Tale To Tell is a magical amalgamation of Björk’s eccentric pop (to whom vocalist and ringleader Raissa Khan-Panni’s dainty tones bear more than a resemblance to) and Patrick Watson’s subversive excursions into the carnivalesque. From the cavalry of orchestral flourishes that ebb and flow throughout to drawing inspiration from Alice In Wonderland and Tim Burton films alike, Tale To Tell is an album suffused with enough grandiloquent, fairy-tale charm to create a daydream no one would want to wake up from. Plus any album that features a spoken word excerpt from John Carpenter’s Dark Star has to receive an automatic thumbs-up.


Standout Tracks - ‘March Of The Dawn’ ‘This Is Heaven (Glow)’ ‘Lorca And The Orange Tree’

23. Mew - No More Stories...

For all the pretentious idiosyncrasies present and correct on Mew’s fifth full-length album - the elongated album title, the first track played in reverse, the labyrinthine song-structures and abrupt time signatures that contain more twists and turns than a rollercoaster - the reason for the Danish outfits steadily-rising global fanbase is simple, they never let prog-leanings overshadow their lush pop sensibilities. More than ever, Mew are irrefutably accessible yet unique enough to render them incomparable to anyone else, piecing together songs that, though complex, are so universally beautiful that anyone can relate to them, no matter how far into an unorthodox realm they take it.


Standout Tracks - Sometimes Life Isn’t Easy ‘Repeaterbeater’ ‘Silas The Magic Car’


22. A Sunny Day In Glasgow - Ashes Grammar

Weighing in at a daunting 22 tracks and running time of over 60 minutes, Ashes Grammar should be an exhausting listen, and make no mistake, it’s an album that requires a great deal of tolerance. Repeatedly shifting back and forth from meditative interludes to full-bodied arrangements imbued with ideas, none of it is particularly song-orientated and a surplus of sounds fighting for attention within the impossibly deep production can only exacerbate its woozy inclinations. But there’s much fun to be had in discovering and deciphering the sweet-souled shoegaze over the course of several listens, and when experienced as a whole, the seamless flow from track to track amplifies these perpetually mesmerizing explorations that ebb and flow in every direction.


Standout Tracks - N/A

21. Blakroc - Blakroc

Further proof, if needed, that The Black Keys can do no wrong and anything affiliated with them is awesome by default. Already riding the crest of his winning solo album this year, Dan Auerbach – reunited with the Key’s other half Patrick Carney - tries his hand at fusing rap and rock. Collaborating with a whole host of established MCs, a heady camaraderie is formed between band and guest rapper, both ably supporting each other from the sleazy sex-obsessed jam ‘Coochie’ to the gritty riffing and quickfire wordplay of ‘Done Did It’. But it’s Nicole Wray who shines most amongst the guest stars; the stripped-bare downcast soul she exudes on ‘Why Can’t I Forget Him’ warrants her own joint album with The Black Keys at some point in the future. A little more of Auerbach’s vocal work pushed to the fore wouldn’t have gone amiss, but with something this well accomplished and irrevocably cool, it’s easy to look past any deficiencies.


Standout Tracks - ‘Why Can’t I Forget Him’ ‘Ain’t Nothing Like You (Hoochie Coo)’ ‘Done Did It’

20. Broken Records - Until The Earth Begins To Part

Every significant event needs a soundtrack, and when the apocalypse finally arrives then Scottish seven-piece Broken Records will be the ideal choice to send us all off in the chaos and calm that ensues, for debut Until The Earth Begins To Part is ‘big’ music in all sense of the word. As open-hearted emotions are let loose and flail in union with stirring swarms of cello, accordion and trumpet, singer Jamie Sutherland boasts an extravagant range that makes the orchestral playing of his bandmates seem positively meek by comparison. The no-holds-barred earnestness may have proved too much for critics, but anyone who appreciates a spell of melodrama that’s unhindered by cynicism will find this has a magic and ferocious passion unbefitting of a band so early in development.


Standout Tracks - A Good Reason 'Wolves' 'If Eilert Loevborg Wrote A Song, It Would Sound Like This'

19. Mono - Hymn To The Immortal Wind

With a cynical enough viewpoint, one could dismiss post-rock as an assimilation of restrictive genre definitions, serving under and adhering to a strict formula of ludicrously long song- lengths, prolonged build-ups and swelling crescendos. And in all admittance, Hymn To The Immortal Wind falls victim to this generalization, albeit without apology. For rather than carve a niche of their own and offer something new, Mono instead continue to build upon the foundations of post-rock and, on their fifth album, have excelled themselves, releasing their best material in an already illustrious canon of work. Never once is a word uttered, yet this is an album that runs the emotional gamut, the enveloping blizzard of guitars and utilization of a 28 piece orchestra heightening the drama, the compositions acting like a soundtrack to the most beautiful film you’ve never seen, yet can easily imagine. This is truly music to retreat into, to get lost in and find resolve in its infinite grace and lulling power.


Standout Tracks - ‘Ashes In The Snow’ Everlasting Light

Follow The Map

18. Manic Street Preachers - Journal For Plague Lovers

Infamous for its usage of Richey Edwards final scribblings before his disappearance, the Manic’s ninth longplayer sees them abide by their old work ethic of sculpting the music around his lyrics. While reviving the last musings of a man on the brink of destruction may be a chilling prospect, James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire and Sean Moore take the words and bring them to life with gut-wrenching vivacity. Unearthing their past anger once more, the pulverizing jagged punk riffs, Wire and Moore’s gutsy playing and Bradfield’s raw half-singing-half-shouting vocals are back and intact, reinvigorating the band and giving them their best material since 1996’s Everything Must Go. It’s a poignant, fitting tribute to a tragic figure whom for fans has attained legendary status, but to the band is simply a dear friend sorely missed.


Standout Tracks - ‘Marlon J.D.’ Jackie Collins Existential Question Time ‘All Is Vanity’

17. Yomoya - Yoi Toy

Championed by Shugo Tokumaru, the Tokyo-based foursome share his same knack for easy-going, lo-fi prog-pop - albeit wrapped around a more conventional format that relies on dotted bleepy keyboards and lazily strummed guitars. There’s something immensely likeable about it all and whether they’re working up a funk groove on ‘Fuan’ or maintaining a measured yet dynamic flow on the sprawling 12 minute ‘Ameagari Atosukosi’, the Saturday-morning-cartoon melodies come thick and fast, always accompanied by an approachable gaiety. Based on these efforts they should be afforded the same occidental recognition as their peer.


Standout Tracks - ‘Film To Shutter’ ‘Chorus’ ‘Syuuhasuu’

Film To Shutter

16. Pentatonik - A Thousand Paper Cranes

The third offering from Simeon Bowring is thematically based around the story of Sadako Sasaki, a 12 year old Japanese girl who died after suffering the effects of the H bomb. Believing that she would be cured of her cancer if she made a thousand paper cranes (the paper crane being a symbol of peace in Japan), Sasaki was unable to finish her undertaking, but left the words “I shall write peace upon your wings, and your heart and you shall fly around the world.” Listening through A Thousand Paper Cranes it’s difficult not to cast the mind back to this heartrending notion over and over as the music unravels. Wholly instrumental, there is nevertheless a strong emotional backbone to Bowring’s beguiling slate of analogue electronica interspersed with classical ideals. It’s a pictorial concoction that often echo’s the best parts of Susumu Yokota, Vangelis and Ryuichi Sakamoto in an arresting myriad of styles that make Pentatonik a breathtaking and unutterably stunning proposition.


Standout Tracks - ‘In Your Arms’ ‘Desert Fall’ ‘Aquamarine’

15. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

Phoenix continue their ascent toward pop supremacy with Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, although why they’ve only now achieved the world-wide recognition that their last two superior albums (Alphabetical and It's Never Been Like That) should have given them is anybody’s guess. But never mind, because now everyone knows that summer starts with Phoenix and while this fourth outing hardly marks a significant departure from the sleek, retrofitted dance-pop they’ve mastered time and time before, they are still as unequivocally joyous as the day Too Young first chimed out of radios all those years ago.


Standout Tracks - 1901 ‘Countdown’ ‘Lisztomania’

14. Brand New - Daisy

If The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me was built on a set of brooding, slowly gestating passages, then Daisy sees the Long Island emo band mutate into a heavier, more direct beast. The restrained misery found in cutlets like ‘Bed’ and ‘You Stole’ may inject a sinister chill in all the right places, but the album really prides itself on its full-blown lacerating numbers - the ear-scouring screams and buzzsaw riffs found on songs such as ‘Vices’, ‘Gasoline’ and ‘In A Jar’ are laced with violent intent, yet are too outrageous not to be blisteringly fun – and it’s all loaded with such gravitas that's impossible to refute.


Standout Tracks - ‘Gasoline’ At the Bottom ‘Vices’

13. LoveLikeFire - Tear Ourselves Away

The full-length debut of San Francisco based art-rockers LoveLikeFire gains immediate notoriety for the vocal chords of frontwoman Ann Yu, her diminutive frame belying a voice that is inescapable, unstoppable, yet tragically fragile when conveying the pent-up frustrations and repressed childhood recounted earnestly throughout. This powerful force collides with the bombastic coactions of her bandmates to make for an explosion of cataclysmic effect, songs like ‘From A Tower’ and ‘Good Judgement’ reaching skyscraping climaxes that ought to see them filling stadiums. But mostly Yu steals the show, and if LoveLikeFire can sustain this trajectory of excellence then she is surely set to steal the indie-queen crown from Karen O’s head.


Standout Tracks - ‘William’ From A Tower ‘Good Judgement’


12. The Fatales - Great Surround

Some of the most memorable albums are those that paint a multitude of resonant images in the mind of its listener. Just one listen to Great Surround and it becomes clear that NYC-unknowns The Fatales are able to achieve this feat in abundance. Their sound, though hardly a bastion of originality, is one difficult to pin down or compare to other artists. Here atmosphere and mood play the prominent factor in their rhetoric and rambling song structures flail amid a succession of grandiose string arrangements, glitchy electronics, austere piano notes and an imposing rhythm section. It’s this almost filmic intensity that grips on those precursory listens and ensnares the listener back time and time again afterwards; to revisit the places each song takes you. And although the twinkling, romanticised urban-waltz of ‘Stadtpark’ sticks in mind, the truly stellar moments surface when a sense of unease sets in; the ritualistic ‘Islands Of Fortune’ a case in point, a pitch black canvas of a song so shrouded in fearsome mystery it makes for an unprecedented highlight.


Standout Tracks - ‘Islands Of Fortune’ ‘Stadtpark’ ‘Darkened Country’

11. Kasabian - West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum

While not their best record to date (although close), Kasabian’s third is the first to suggest a real longevity to their career. Shunning much of the yawnsome bravado of before, here they exhibit a robust parade of worldly influences that suggest principal songwriter Serge Pizzorno’s record collection consists of more than just Oasis’ latest hatch-job. So while the Madchester grooves still get a look-in on the likes of lead track ‘Underdog’, what else lies ahead can merely be guessed at. One moment dust-ravaged spaghetti-western soundtracks co-mingle with larksome disco beats and the next, Eastern-strings and gypsy violins give way to brisk forays of industrial-krautrock while the ‘60s garage dementia of ‘Fase Fuse’ careens with such berserker determination that it’s hard not to be convinced it’s the best thing the Leicester quartet have yet recorded. Arrogant swines they may be, but after taking such risks and throwing caution to the wind, one can’t help but feel they have every right to gob off.


Standout Tracks - ‘Fast Fuse’ ‘Secret Alphabets’ ‘West Ryder/Silver Bullet’


10. Vib Gyor - We Are Not An Island

Woeful band name, non-existent artwork, a laughable album title; it’s a miracle the music is even worth listening to. But it is, although to say so is perhaps the understatement of the year. Because for a debut, We Are Not An Island is a remarkable accomplishment that, despite excelling with its template of Cathedral-sized atmospherics and climactic surges, has quite tellingly had its every little detail agonized over and crafted to near-perfection. Sounding like a meeting of Coldplay and Radiohead whilst drifting on an iceberg, the Leeds/Barnsely quartet showcase a deft hand in hymn-like laments of ecclesiastical proportions, as glacial piano chords pine with sorrow and reverb-frosted guitar arpeggios haunt long after the music has given way to silence. Irrepressibly huge.


Standout Tracks - ‘Take Cover’ ‘Fallen’ ‘Red Lights’ ‘Ultimatum’

9. The Antlers - Hospice

It’s hard to form the words necessary to describe just how much of a harrowing ordeal Hospice is from start to finish. A concept album, it documents the trials of a love-affair between a hospital worker and an abusive cancer patient, penned by singer/lynchpin Peter Silberman during a lengthy period of self-inflicted isolation from society. From this darkness has emerged some of the most astonishingly gorgeous music put to tape this year, juxtaposed by the deeply unsettling lyrical content and heart-wrenching vulnerability laid bare from beginning to end. The narrative depictions of a sterile hospital backdrop, scream-inducing nightmares that punctuate an already restless slumber and attempted suicide add credence to the story-telling and ring true as Silberman’s often-disarmingly naked falsetto chills to the bone. And as the musical palette shifts from walls of swallowing guitar blasts to muted, almost whispered segments of terse introspection, Hospice always makes for a difficult yet unforgettable experience.


Standout Tracks - ‘Wake’ ‘Epilogue’ Bear


8. Red Light Company - Fine Fascination

With more pop than a coke bottle factory, Anglo-Aussies Red Light Company make no secret of their aspiration to engage in stadia-destined singalongs for the masses. But like the best crowd-pleasing anthems, it’s the intimacy and minute details found in the lyrics that ground the songs into something tangible and prevents everything from becoming meaningless bluster. Touching on such cheery topics as childhood suicide, torn apart friendships and drug addiction (plus sex addiction for good measure), the splenetic vocals of Richard Frennaux sell the anguish convincingly, his voice a gestation of nervous quivering, so fraught it feels like it could cave-in on itself at any given moment. By contrast, the surrounding music is jubilant, pleasingly wrought and played with intent. Bassist Shawn Day provides judiciously implemented backing vocals in ‘Scheme Eugene’ and ‘Meccano’ that are like jolts of motivational electricity, whereas the polished production lends James Griffiths’ drums a seismic vibration felt with every beat. There aren’t many bands around today who can write a pop song so endearingly heartfelt yet big by design, and for those who can’t see past the unrepentant radio potential, it’s their loss.


Standout Tracks - Arts & Crafts ‘With Lights Out’ ‘When Everyone Is Everybody Else’ ‘Meccano’

7. The Sleepover Disaster - Hover

If one band deserves to cast off the shackles of anonymity and revel in some ubiquitous adulation this year, then step forward The Sleepover Disaster. Having been pressing on for 10 years now, the L.A. trio show no signs of wear and Hover, their third LP, bursts with an indefatigable energy, a collection of 9 songs that despite harking so faithfully back to the shoegaze era (specifically the likes of Ride and Swervedriver) is nevertheless timeless music. Without undermining the more-than-capable support offered by bassist Eric Peters and drummer Vince Corsaro, The Sleepover Disaster’s strongest asset is singer/guitarist Luke Giffen. His expertise with six-strings, a whammy bar and a plethora of effect pedals yields electrifying results, unleashing an album steeped in thick slabs of cosmic-crushing, FX-laden guitar work but rarely trundling into distorted excess and never forgoing the essential core melodies. As such the guitars dominate the mood, often teetering back and forth between warm blankets of reverberant fuzz (‘Make You Sing’ ‘Friend’) and body-throttling, screeching-riffs (‘Funnel Cloud’ ‘Edward Said’), combining both for the show-stopping 8-minute closer ‘Songwriting For Dummies’, a song that perfectly encapsulates the dynamic range that should see this band continue for another 10 years.


Standout Tracks - ‘Songwriting For Dummies’ Friend ‘Funnel Cloud’ ‘Tremble’

6. Asobi Seksu - Hush

Ignored by many simply because it didn’t produce the same instant thrills as breakout album Citrus, the third offering from the Brooklyn duo is in actual fact the definitive slow-burner of the year, and with a little patience and dedication guarantees the listener will soon be reaping the many rewards that it indisputably has to offer. Shedding the shoegaze of yore and the maelstrom of noise that came with it, they prove to be as equally adept in crafting Cocteau Twins-drived, lustrous dream-pop. Meanwhile, Yuki Chikudate hasn’t lost the ability to send hearts aflutter, her forlorn sentiments and pure-as-snow vocal delivery still as achingly potent as before, perfectly suiting James Hanna’s distortion-bare, crystalline reverberations and the smothering of wintry, snow-freckled keyboards that are as pure as mountain air at midnight. Alas, by ditching the “nu-gaze” tag that ran parallel with their sudden rise through the ranks of indiedom, Asobi Seksu have lost some fans along the way. But Hush ably demonstrates how forward-thinking the band are and, while it was never going to surpass the expectations set by its predecessor, still shows that this isn’t a band that can be so easily pigeon-holed after all.


Standout Tracks - ‘Transparence’ ‘Layers’ ‘Sing Tomorrow’s Praise’ ‘Blind Little Rain’


5. Muse - The Resistance

As absurdly great (and absurd) as 2006’s Black Holes and Revelations was, it was essentially the release that put an end to the meteoric trajectory that saw Muse’s star shine brighter and brighter with every passing album. Though you can hardly blame them - sculpting a work of career-peak precision such as Absolution would place anyone in a precarious position come time to record the follow-up - it ushered in the inevitable reminder that the English trio were only human after all. Thankfully, The Resistance sees Muse engage on a more consistent yet courageous level than Black Holes…, managing this time to serve up even more preposterous portions of action-packed space opera than they’re used too. Leaping from genre to genre to the point of sensory overload, they indulge in anti-capitalist glam-rock, magnetic Timbaland-styled R’n’B, delectable classical symphonies and more, pulling off almost every one and doing it with a requisite measure of knowing silliness to ensure the pitfalls of self-parody are sidestepped. In fact, amongst the ridiculous conspiracy theory concepts, overt vocal tributes to Queen and clarinet solo’s, one somewhat surprising strength of The Resistance is how laugh-out-loud funny it often is.

Rejoice then, with Matt Bellamy and co on revamped form their evolutionary cycle begins again, and should history repeat keep repeating itself, the next album will see Muse attain perfection once more.


Standout Tracks - ‘Unnatural Selection’ ‘Undisclosed Desires’ ‘Exogenesis: Symphony’

4. Chatmonchy/チャットモンチー - Kokuhaku

All-girl trio Chatmonchy are a regular fixture in the Oricon charts of their native Japan and with good cause. If their commercialised-yet-soulful pop-rock is at all representative of the quality of material that tops the charts over there then I’m living in the wrong country. We get Girls Aloud and Tinchy Stryder...yay! Kokuhaku (translated as ‘Confession’) is an album full of sweet-sounding, guitar-driven anthems performed to an absolute tee, with such fierce radio potential for each and every song that you’d be forgiven for double checking that it’s not a best of album. The girlishly high-pitched voice of Eriko Hasimoto is a definite acquired taste, but grow accustomed to it and you’ll soon appreciate the fervent ardour with which she sings, belting out no end of beguiling choruses with the breathless insistence and over-excitable manner of a sugar-riddled kid, while the acute interplay between her and bandmates Akiko Fukuoka and Kumiko Takahashi mean they fully convince as a credible rock act. Overall you’ve got an album that could entertain a corpse, transcending the boundaries of language and culture with its unbridled joy and leaving you wishing you knew the language just so you could sing along.


Standout Tracks - ‘Kaze Fukeba Koi’ ‘Yasahisa’ ‘LOVE is SOUP’ ‘Uma Kara Deta Sakana’

Hira Hira Hiraku Himitsu no Tobira

3. Doves - Kingdom Of Rust

After a slip in their (admittedly high) standards with 2005’s grey-hued Some Cities, Jimi Goodwin and Williams brothers Jez and Andy retreated from the world to record their next album, which eventually took four years in the making. It was an unbearably long wait, but if Some Cities was a gloomy chronicling of the trio’s disillusioned return to Manchester after years of touring, then Kingdom Of Rust sees Doves rediscover what it was that made them such a prolific act for the past decade; an exceptional tact for eruptive anthemics of panoramic scope. Indeed, their fourth long-player manages to redress the balance that once saw Doves contrasting miserablist lyrical themes with celebratory music that unfolded with an unfaltering desire to brave new pastures. And just like The Last Broadcast, this is again a perfect collusion of the two. The dark, mournful murmurs of ‘Birds Flew Backwards’ and the title track could have easily slotted in Some Cities tracklisting, but here they walk hand in hand with more exotic tracks, like the urban beats manifested in ‘Jetstream’ or the doo-wop turned gospel turned rock jam jaunt of the marvellous ‘10:03’. Kingdom Of Rust marks Doves most diverse release yet and one that arrests the listeners attention from the start. If you don’t love it, it’s only because you haven’t heard it yet.


Standout Tracks - 10:03 ‘The Outsiders’ ‘Kingdom Of Rust’ ‘Spellbound’

Kingdom Of Rust

2. The Boxer Rebellion - Union

It’s been 4 years since the release of The Boxer Rebellion’s first album, the genre-defining opus Exits. A sonic banquet of boundless, stratospheric scale, it had a dexterity rarely seen in a band so young, pouring its dark heart of entrapment and alienation into songs that ranged from raucous industrial-rock to nocturnal ballads of shivering opulence, sung by the Tennessee born Nathan Nicholson with a voice that could oscillate from ravenous growl to dulcet croon at the drop of a hat. It was as close to perfect as a record could get.

And thus, as is so often the case with the age-old second album dilemma, the future of a follow-up might as well have already been written; a diluted repeat of past glories that couldn’t possibly compete with the lofty heights reached by its predecessor. However, during the painstaking creation of their second album - which saw the band grapple with means of funding after being deprived of a label less than a fortnight after Exits’ release - it was looking increasingly likely that not only was a worthwhile successor on the horizon, but something that could topple that faultless debut.

Which is what ultimately makes Union such a frustrating album; it’s a masterpiece, but a flawed one. Union seemed a shoo-in for 10/10 status, its flood of fresh demo’s and new songs performed live over the years - to appease a small but hardcore fanbase always hungry for more - dutifully delivered and then some. Although in rough stages of development at the time, these demo’s revealed that The Boxer Rebellion was still a burgeoning band rather than one at the end of its tether. Unfortunately, because of a series of small yet unavoidable blemishes that have hindered the overall product, Union will always be perceived as a (slight) disappointment.

The main qualm relates to the generally lighter, more ‘widescreen’ sound utilized for this second release, which sees the gothic and macabre undertones that slithered throughout earlier material being deserted for something more wholesome. It’s no surprise that the band has recently been lumped in with unfavourable comparisons to more big-league acts, when in truth one listen to Exit’s post-hardcore roar-fest ‘Watermelon’ would soon dispel any notions of the bedwetting variety. The other misgivings lie in two of the actual songs included in the tracklisting. With regard to the vast catalogue of album-worthy b-sides and unreleased rarities that The Boxer Rebellion possess, the decision to include ‘These Walls Are Thin’ is an ill-judged one. The only b-side of theirs that deserves to remain a b-side and nothing more, what worked for Exits’ ‘World Without End’ certainly doesn’t have the same pay-off here. ‘These Walls Are Thin’ is painfully lightweight fare compared to its neighbouring songs, and why it was included in the final tracklisting over the likes of ‘The Rescue’, ‘Broken Glass’ or ‘Murder Ballad’ is baffling to say the least. The other song of issue is revenge fable ‘Semi-Automatic’. Of the plentiful demo’s that were previewed early on, the gritty power and bubbling rage that this song seethed made it an immediate standout. In its finalized form however, that power has been neutered into something more clinical and sleek, its guttural impact greatly diminished.

But, believe it or not, these criticisms are borderline nitpicking, the ramblings of an obsessive fan. Cast aside these damning indictments and it doesn’t take long to realise that Union is still leagues ahead of any competition out there, riven with jaw-dropping highlights performed by four expert craftsmen who play with every fibre in their being. Todd Howe’s guitar acrobatics are still in full-flight, the man proving a remarkable talent on virtually every track. On the country-infused ‘Soviets’, his space-rock guitar-chimes subtly bleed in midway through, morphing it from a front-porch strum into an elevation to the stars, all in the space of four minutes. On the aeronautical ‘Flashing Red Light Means Go’, Piers Hewitt’s tribal drum loops are paired with tremolo-soaked guitars, reaching a pinnacle of purifying windswept beauty by the climax. And even as lesser bands make a big commotion about “going electronic”, The Boxer Rebellion slip in a brief excursion of the knob-twiddling kind with ‘The Gospel Of Goro Adachi’, complete with a ghostly semblance of music-box keyboards and multi-tracked murmurs that puts to shame anything found on Editors lacklustre third album. Elsewhere, from the testosterone-drenched ‘Forces’ to the oceanic ‘Misplaced’, there are emotive, celestial crescendos here that other indie contemporaries cannot touch upon.

When it comes down to it, Union is a labour of love, an album that exists today because of a band who recognised their own significant worth enough to keep going. Having endured all manner of hardships The Boxer Rebellion’s tenacity has finally paid off, the success of Union’s digital release in the iTunes charts led them to becoming the first unsigned band to break the Billboard Top 100 Albums Chart, chronicling a moment of triumph over adversity. It reinforces the life-affirming qualities of their music, and for a band that has always been naked in its sincerity, it’s a joy to behold.


Standout Tracks - ‘Move On’ ‘Misplaced’ ‘Soviets’ ‘Flashing Red Light Means Go’ ‘The Gospel Of Goro Adachi’

Broken Glass (Bonus Track)

1. Leaves - We Are Shadows

Music, at its heart, is an escape, an art form capable of transporting the listener to any desired place through sound alone. Sure, cultural relevance is all well and good, the socio-political commentary that fuels hip hop or the aggressive protestations at punk rock’s core undeniably serve their purpose and no doubt, music is a multifaceted medium. But honestly, how often do we want to be reminded of life’s grim realities, especially amid the doom and gloom of these current recession-wracked times. With the release of their third album, Leaves understand this better than anyone.

The Icelandic quartet, comprising of Arnar Guðjónsson (vocals, piano, guitar), Hallur Hallsson (bass), Nói Steinn Einarsson (drums) and Andri Asgrimsson (keyboards) were dealt a serious blow back in 2005, having been dropped by Island Records soon after the release of second long-player The Angela Test. With no desire of being remembered as major-label also-rans, the band took the DIY approach to making music, setting up their own studio and undertaking production duties. Needless to say, the decision was a wise one, the absence of label interference has allowed them to hone their skill and blossom as a band, masterminding an album that eclipses not just their more-than-formidable back catalogue but practically any other release this century.

It’s worth nothing that, despite hailing from Reykjavik, Leaves hold an unusual British influence that has seen them garner eye-rolling comparisons to Coldplay since their origin. While there is no denying the resemblance Guðjónsson possesses to Martin’s distinctive warble, their musical aesthetic owes far more to the cinematic, genre-hopping soundscapes of Manc melancholists Doves. And much like that band’s seminal breakthrough album The Last Broadcast, what Leaves have conceived with their third effort is a masterclass in escapism. Finding resonance and emotion in the elemental - each track is its own separate environment, its own force and aura. And for 56 minutes of nigh-on aural perfection, We Are Shadows is fearless in its pursuit of the grandest sound.

And grand it begins as atmospheric opener ‘The Harbor’ announces Leaves’ return with a rising torrent of noise that succumbs to blaring horns and pounding Phil Spector drums. In the tradition of all Leaves albums it is a mournful beginning, Guðjónsson crooning wearily amid a musical milieu of rain-lashed, grimy desolation, the spindly harpsichord lurking in the background contributing to the bleak mood. There is more than a hint of resentment, perhaps disillusionment aimed at an industry that has left the Icelandic collective to fend for themselves, but the undulating power brimming within ensures the mood is more propulsive than oppressive.

By almost stark contrast ‘Aeronaut’, as its title would imply, soars with an easy buoyancy. With a prelude of swelling violins and the opening couplet of ”Through cirrus clouds, a whispering sound/I keep on climbing without looking down”, the song’s intentions are made immediately clear as it swiftly becomes an embracing singalong of genuine uplift, reaching a simple yet rousing chorus that is classic Leaves. It’s blindingly obvious, and a little hackneyed maybe, that the metaphorical pilot of the title is an expression of forward direction, freedom, pressing onwards in spite of oncoming turmoil. But through a superbly realised composition such as this, it’s hard not to be swept off one’s feet.

‘Planets’ is most note-worthy for the lingering organ heard at the start which bears a baffling similarity to some of the pieces heard on 植松伸夫/Nobuo Uematsu’s seminal Final Fantasy VII soundtrack. Trivial comparison aside, it swells graciously from understated ethereality into a doom-laden bombast but suffers somewhat from being wedged in-between two of the best songs on the album.

Which brings us to ‘All The Streets Are Gold’, the most commercially viable track and, had We Are Shadows been a major-label release, a guaranteed lead-single. Right from the tumbling drum rolls it launches into a shimmering, upbeat pop-assault, decorated in luminous colours and veering from verse to chorus in quick succession. At least until the halfway mark, when the song’s structure is subverted and the tone takes a turn for the bittersweet, previously suppressed layers of melancholy now accentuated through a host of weeping keyboard effects and guitars, Guðjónsson crying out as if he’s in the throes of death. Based solely on the first half, ‘All The Streets Are Gold’ serves as a hugely adept pop song. Paired with the second, it’s something quietly devastating.

An excursion from the melodrama, ‘Dragonflies’ falls under the guise of standard orchestral fare, all billowing strings and the sporadic rumble of an orchestral bass drum. That is before a light caressing of harp, stabbings of techno and a dance-like drum beat are gradually integrated into the mix, eventually culminating in a vivacious, disco-esque shuffle, topped off with an extended guitar wig-out for good measure. The perplexing nature of the song is also its ultimate triumph, a fusion of unlikely instruments shouldn’t mesh together so fluently. How Leaves pull it off is a head-scratcher, but they do, with effortless style and ingenuity.

Making its first appearance on the bands myspace page in 2005, ‘Kingdom Come’ sounds just as vital now as it did back then, showcasing Leaves at their heaviest with a no-nonsense slice of space-rock. Amongst the onslaught of galloping drums and star-gazing guitar riffs, Asgrimsson’s synths run amok, gathering a sci-fi flair whilst Hallsson’s earth-shaking bass manages to tie the mayhem together. But it’s the various assortment of production flourishes, ranging from the marching footsteps during the bridge that sound like an approaching army to the otherworldly vocal effects towards the songs conclusion, that give ‘Kingdom Come’ real textural depth. As the song escalates to a juddering climax of erratic Muse-esque proportions, it’s hard not to imagine it as the soundtrack to space exploration.

The next track, and undoubtedly the centrepiece of We Are Shadows, is a 6 minute instrumental that signals Leaves’ most daring, ambitious work yet. If ‘Jetstream’, the opening track from Doves’ Kingdom Of Rust, is indeed an “imaginary song to the end of Blade Runner” (as described by frontman Jimi Goodwin) then the Vangelis influenced ‘Motion’ could soundtrack it’s opening shot, that wondrous first unveiling of a huge dystopia stretching as far as the eye can see. Encircled around an echoing guitar line, ‘Motion’ constantly adds and peels off layers, meticulously applying all manner of electronic touches to create an immersive, cinematic vision. It’s here where (presumably) Asgrimsson’s skills really come to the fore, utilizing his keyboard wizardry to capture the palpable pulse of a neon-stained megapolis, conjuring a myriad of visuals through waves of futuristic synthesizers and enveloping distortion, up until the very last solitary sound, the dying heartbeat of a city. And then the journey is over.

Swapping dystopia for utopia, the appropriately titled ‘The Painting’ is a thing of irrepressible beauty. A pastoral symphony, it comes replete with all the technicolour sweep and bluster of an MGM musical and features Guðjónsson’s most impressive vocal performance yet, his unstoppable octave-surfing enforced by an aural splendour of angelic harmonies and swirling strings. As birds chirp happily in the background it fades out with a serene coda of country-tinged acoustic guitar plucking, an idyllic finish to a song utterly at peace with itself.

‘Raven’ follows the same starward trajectory as ‘Kingdom Come’, but rather than tearing through space at hyperspeed it invokes images of entering a newly discovered planet, nose-diving through its atmosphere in a blaze of awesome fire. Put frankly, ‘Raven’ is a gargantuan song, even by Leaves’ standards. Always verging on the pompous, it rides the crest of its astronomical central riff, by aid of tolling church bells and whiplash drums, to an inevitable chorus of insurmountable proportions. The seemingly nonsensical lyrics (“The sun still shines but there’s a shadow/We hide beneath the ocean waves/The old black raven is here to steal our souls/Close your eyes when it goes by”) only contribute to its fantastical grandeur.

The title track presents a moment of quiet introspection, a stripped-back ballad revolving around a softly-sung vocal and simple piano motif that coalesce to form an almost classical sensibility. Guðjónsson’s voice has never sounded so pure and tender, a warm amber glow warding off the harsh, wintry ambience that surrounds it. And however brief ‘We Are Shadows’ may seem, as the last of the piano notes drift away it’s haunting beauty resonates long after.

As the album draws to a close We Are Shadows signs off with a sky-rocketing prog-rock opera that incorporates elements of krautrock and psychedelia to craft one last bout of intergalactic discovery. ‘With Drums We March The Streets’ is, aptly, a drum-led track that provides Einarsson with his finest moment, channelling the Secret Machines skin-beater Josh Garza for unyielding battering-ram immensity, his domineering drums a fixation throughout. His bandmates pursue him with slowly-but-surely escalating walls of astral wonderment, backed by Guðjónsson’s declaration of “With drums we march the streets/ Can you hear us?”, in turn broadcasting Leaves’ staying power, a refusal to be ground down by whatever opposing forces dare stand in their way. By the climax, he offers the victorious parting message of “I am part of you/As you are part of me” amidst a supernova of glorious noise that’s like a shot of adrenaline straight to the heart, a fist-pumping assertion of unity between band and listener, squeezing every last drop of emotion out of its euphoria. It’s a fitting, and more than worthy, denouement to an album unashamedly huge in its scope.

We Are Shadows doesn’t just serve as a mere progression onwards from two already excellent albums. It is Leaves’ magnum opus, achieved by a broadened sonic canvas and resolute willingness to further push their own musical boundaries. They’ve never sounded more confident, leaving the competition trailing in their wake. In fact, We Are Shadows’ only handicap is its self-released status, something that may well deny Leaves reaching even a modicum of the widespread acclaim a record of this magnitude so amply deserves. Don’t let that be the case.


Standout Tracks - ‘Motion’ ‘All The Streets Are Gold’ ‘Aeronaut’ ‘With Drums We March The Streets’ ‘Kingdom Come’ ‘The Painting’


  • Clandestinka

    fever ray?

    Nov 28 2009, 2h52
  • android9791

    it's pretty sad that i only own 2 of these albums.

    Nov 28 2009, 8h53
  • Machiventa

    damn, that's an epic list. in both the scope of the writing and sheer awesomeness of great albums posted (at least the ones I've heard). great write up!!

    Dez 7 2009, 2h24
  • Acquiescence

    Thanks for the words Machiventa, much appreciated.

    Dez 7 2009, 19h05
  • BowenRock


    Dez 13 2009, 10h20
  • JaimeChiens

    glad to see antlers in the top 10! i cant believe you did top 50 albums of '09. i'm working on my top 10 list now and it's been a struggle. though 09 had a lot of good music, i'm having trouble finding actual albums that i enjoy as a whole, and not just singles. i'll have to check out some of these on your list.. never even heard of leaves.

    Dez 13 2009, 20h04
  • Acquiescence

    Maybe you just have higher standards than me! Not that I'm easy to please either, maybe I just have a knack for seeking out stuff I think I'll like. Not many people have heard of Leaves (unfortunately), so don't worry. But please do check them out, I'll even send you the album if you want.

    Dez 15 2009, 18h50
  • jaxxa

    Excellent list! I used a quote from your review of We Are Shadows when compiling my own Best of list, so I want to thank you for that. Hard to find reviews of that album, which is weird because it certainly is awesome! I'll have to check out some of your other picks too since we seem to have a few in common :)

    Jan 1 2010, 18h24
  • Khanatist

    Wow, that's a LOT of work you put in here. Honest respect, although not a single (0) album of that list would have made it in my Top 50, hehe. Will check out Leaves for sure. Keep the passion up!

    Mar 3 2010, 12h15
  • Gullimont

    This is a beautifully written list. Hell you could call it an article, one would be lucky to read something half as professional in a full time musical magazine. I'll have to check out your number 1 pick.

    Ago 15 2010, 0h59
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