My Top Albums 2009


Fev 4 2010, 9h18

These are my top 20 albums for 2009. This list has been derived by dividing the number of plays in my stats by the number of tracks in the album. Also, where there is a double-album (deerhunter, pitch black, stars of the lid) I have weighted the stats as one, rather than treat the two “discs” as individual albums.

1.Rhian SheehanStanding in Silence. This album came out towards the end of 2008. I am a big fan of Sheehan’s debut “Paradigm Shift”, but the subsequent “Tiny Blue Biosphere” and “Music for Nature Documentaries” were an exercise in diminishing returns. For me, this was Sheehan’s last-chance saloon. What is immediately apparent is that this is a huge step forward musically. The pristine electronic dub and slow house of his earlier releases is augmented by a lot more organic instrumentation - guitars and glockenspiels. It is also a bit ROCK at times, with a guitarist from Jakob contributing some lovely textures. Sonically the closest touchstones I would mention are Ulrich Schnauss and Sigur Ros. The tracks are conceptually and thematically unified – to the extent that there are no individual song titles – just parts 1 to 14. Despite being instrumental and in places beatless, this is not background music. I listen to a lot of music while I work, and this is mainly how I enjoyed his earlier albums. I was not able to digest this album like that. The peaks are dramatic and unflinching. He is not afraid of going over the top. And taken in isolation some of these tracks without context have come across as mawkish and overly sentimental (try listening to part 10 with no precursor and you’ll see what I mean). But to put this on and just LISTEN right through has been a source of huge pleasure for me. It is passionate, stirring stuff. At a time when digital downloads are the norm, this album is also a reminder of the pleasure of an album as an artefact. The photographic artwork is breathtaking and because I got in early, I also received a music box that plays the melody from “Part 3”. Cool!
2.ManualConfluence. A couple of years ago I was reading a review of an ambient album on Pitchfork (I forget which one). The reviewer stated that “Ambient drone is the last refuge for the talentless musician”. I have often struggled to reconcile why there is a fixation with method when writing about music. These questions really started for me when I started appreciating industrial and electronic music in the early 90’s. At the time a high-school friend of mine sneeringly asked the rhetorical question - “what good bands have keyboards?” It is now hard for me to think of a band that I love that does not employ automation or electronics to some degree. Yes! Confluence is a simple album. There is not a lot going on. I would not presume to know how simple or complex the process of making this music is, but I imagine the post-production of the sound has a lot more time invested than the initial plucking of the guitar string. It shimmers and drones, and carries on and on. Like Bajamar, and The North Shore before it there is a strong vein of melancholy running throughout with chord progressions that hint at peace and euphoria. The melancholy is slightly more pronounced as both the melody shifts and the album artwork hint at an impending winter, rather than a blissed-out summer. I wouldn’t care if this was the sound of Jonas Munk recording his cat farting on his amp. It is right near the top of my favourites for 2009.
3.Pitch BlackRude Mechanicals Remixes – At last! A Pitch Black remix album that does the source material justice. Quality dub reworked by a variety of NZ and international producers. There’s also a lot to digest, as the digital version contains 20 tracks, rather than 14 – a difference which actually caused me to NOT buy the cd as would be my normal habit. The highlight for me is the Keretta remix of bird soul, which somehow bridges the gap between noisy mogwai-esque guitar and Pitch Black electro-dub. Simultaneously accentuating the tonal richness of the former (minus headache), and the rhythmic tightness and energy of the latter. Awesome. The dependable and talented bass explorer - International Observer puts in a positive rework of 1000 mile drift, and the Simon Flowerremix of the same puts a minimal, urban spin that is utterly delightful. Highlights aside, it’s one of those albums that is all good. Also released at around this time, but not on this album – the Tom Cosm Remix of Sonic Colonic as GENIUS. Track it down if you can.
4.port-royalDying in Time – The extraordinary thing here is I have had this album for about a month, and it has shot straight to the top. But then, it’s almost inevitable that it would. It is a bit like Manual, although rougher in composition. Tracks change direction suddenly, with a quick fade transition, almost like a rough dj mix. My favourite track on the album – Susy: Blue East Fadingis a prime example of this. A track with three distinct phases. The last of which is some heady euphoric shoegaze trance. Really really great. I am worried I am listening to it too much. But when the music is this good, it is better to burn out than fade away.
5.Stars of the LidAnd the Refinement of the Decline – Gotta have some Kranky on here somewhere! This album is all class. Ambient, long, orchestral. I’d play it to my Mum. In fact, I think I will. There are some absolutely great moments on this sprawling mammoth – Tippy's Demise, and The Daughters of Quiet Minds. It has been a goto album (much in the same way as Confluence) this year whenever I need something chilled beyond compare. I am keen to track down the earlier album, which is apparently a little more guitar-based.
6.School of Seven BellsAlpinisms – A very well produced and listenable guitar pop album. Hit the spot for me, much in the way that “A Sunny Day in Glasgow” did last year. Alpinisms is a more refined, less noisy number. Tight and full of detail. It also hits the pop pleasure centres of my brain with the shimmering, woozy masterpiece “My Cabal” and the hypnotic, angel-voiced “Connjur”.
7.BacheloretteMy Electric Family – I went to see Stereolabearlier this year at the San Francisco Bathhouse in Wellington. Bachelorette was the the support act, and I think I enjoyed it, perhaps perversely, more than Stereolab. Annabel Alpers sulkily operated her machines behind a couple of knackered-looking CRT televisions that displayed the sine-line output of her neat electric pop. Towards the end of her set, she played a fantastic droney walz, “The National Grid”, which is a standout on this album. Not a huge departure from her earlier albums, which is fine by me.
8.DeerhunterMicrocastle / Weird Era Cont – The only album to make my top 10 two years running. Wellington, New Zealand can be a bastard cold place in the depth of winter. On one of the coldest winter evenings, when a southerly blast from Antarctica was lashing the town, Deerhunter played. I was worried. Here was this ramshackle noise outfit that had attracted some crazy bullshit indie tabloid attention. Somehow I knew that the skeletal Bradford Cox would be sick, and I had read enough bad reviews from their “Turn it up faggot”-era concerts to think that this was going to be the mother of all phoned-in concert efforts. What actually happened was they turned up. Bradford Cox was indeed sick, and they melted my fucking face off. The best show I’ve seen in over five years. These two masterpieces have been on high-rotate ever since.
9.DicepeopleTime to Play – A breathtaking amalgam of ideas on display with this one. This is the work of electronic / industrial producer Matt Brock. The majority of these beats are more for the head than the dance floor. First exception to this comes in at track two: Invader is a propulsive synth-driven banger that would just go off in a dingy goth dance party. “Time to Play” and “Ghost “ follow. Brock steps almost completely outside of the ebm sound set delivering some resonant, reverb-rich World instrumentals. The sinister and evocative “Wormsign” follows, rounding out a superb four-track run. Things return to slightly more traditional industrial/electronic territory with the vocoder-led “The Fear”. Brock injects a genuine sense of fun to proceedings with “Seek, Locate”. Yes it has Dalek samples, and yes it is every bit as cheesy as it sounds, but the track is imbued with a sense that it’s all been done with a wink. Album closer “Oubliette” is a serious statement of intent, and shows that Brocks ability to make evocative guitar-driven instrumentals. I look forward to more from this guy.
10.International ObserverFelt– No surprises here. I have absolutely thrashed the previous efforts “Seen” and the appropriately titled “All Played Out”. I hope Tom Bailey steps outside of his comfort zone for future efforts. While this is great slow dub/electronic, and stands head and shoulders above contemporaries, there is a sniff of diminishing returns about Felt. I’m sure I will continue to enjoy this music and find it relaxing, but there is nothing quite as blissed-out as the minicell-barone couple off Seen, or “Vale Bengali” off All played out.


  • RS10

    Happy you like the album (and glad you got a musicbox!). I love all the albums you're mentioned here too. Check out Helios and Hammock too Rhian

    Fev 4 2010, 13h18
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