Our finest 20 records of the year are the ones that are closest to our collective hearts from a San Francisco band’s debut to a Kosmische pile-up between Tangerine Dream, Sunn O))) and proggy ambient techno to the return of some French Anglophiles, to our highest charting Irish albums, a band on their 13th release, an icy Swedish enigma and a slew of Brooklyn based bands.
20. Julian Casablancas – Phrazes For The Young
It was interesting to chart Julian Casablanca’s musical progression this decade, from 2001’s distinctive skinny-jeans-and-cigarette vibe of The Strokes’ to 2009’s ’70s synthesizers and computers enhanced album Phrazes of the Young. Phrazes is a melodic and pleasant solo debut from Casablancas and rather than feature a number of Strokes B-sides it highlighted Casablancas songwriting ability in a different light. In recent interviews he’s criticized his fellow Strokes for stifling ideas early in the creative process; here he is adventurous, willing to boldly take risks that seemed all too dangerous for The Strokes. The record is a measly eight songs long, but still manages to pack in many anthemic moments, mounting melodies climb and climb, Julian’s voice riding with the music before eventually cascading into immense walls of noise. The New Order-esque ’11th Dimension’ is a standout moment, and leaves us optimistic about the direction a forth Strokes album may take. (Shane Lyons)
19. Bibio – Ambivalance Avenue
You have to hand it to the prescience of Warp Records for their knack of signing artists who shortly after, release their career’s best work to date. As with Grizzly Bear, Stephen Wilkinson aka Bibio has done just that. What’s most pressing about Ambivalance Avenue is the sheer eclecticism of its 42 minute length. It flits from a funky lo-fi jam (‘Jealous of Roses’) to an ambient dreamy escapade (‘All The Flowers’) to beat-driven J-Dilla-esque instrumental hip-hop (‘Fire Ant’) to electric folk (‘Haikuesque’) to synth-driven Clark-esque electronica (‘Sugarette’) within the album’s first seven songs. What makes it work thematically as an “album” is the sweetness, a delicate use of guitar and a joie de vivre that few can imprint so beautifully in the music. (Niall Byrne)
18. Girls – Album
Here was an album with a back story to live up to: Christopher Owens, the duo’s lead singer and writer, grew up in the Children of God cult before escaping from his mother and sisters to live on the streets in San Francisco. It’s possible to over-read things, and it’s hard to know what effect this kind of attempt at an upbringing has on a songwriter; hard too, though, to imagine that the longing of the utterly magnificent -Hellhole Ratrace’ or the -Heal the World’-borrowing -Curls’ has no roots at all there. -Lust for Life’ combines a huge hunger for simple normal things (‘I wish I had a boyfriend / I wish I had a loving man in my life / I wish I had a father… I wish I had a pizza and a bottle of wine’) with the urgency of a young guy refusing to be damaged, making up for lost time at lightning speed. (Niall Crumlish)
17. Dan Deacon – Bromst
“Eccentric” is the word most tiresomely used to describe Dan Deacon, but it’s one that’s perfectly justifiable when you consider that he spends most of his live sets ordering his fans to play acidified children’s party games with the kind of earnestness that you’d only imagine to be present at a CERN “we’ve made an unfortunate mistake” press conference. Bromst is his maze-like and euphoric vision of music distilled into an hour of your time. To be entirely unallegorical, this is the noise that a kaleidoscope would make if it could sing. Its brilliance is such that it makes its also excellent predecessor Spiderman of the Rings seem cheap and grainy by comparison, like last year’s Santa toys. Always technically precise and magical in its rushing movements, Bromst sees Deacon harnessing technology to do his joyous bidding, often making sounds which would be literally impossible to make without an orchestra of dozens of savant woodpeckers. This is back-of-the-bus music for grown ups and androids. (Bobby Aherne)
16. Fuck Buttons – Tarot Sport
Crashing into 2009 like a Kosmische pile-up between Tangerine Dream, Sunn O))) and proggy ambient techno, Tarot Sport could well be the real sound of new rave, a few years after the -nu’ version went out of fashion. Andrew Hung and Benjamin Power’s debut Street Horrrsing buried delicate synth fractals underneath sheets of white noise, but Tarot Sport unravels a widescreen kaleidoscope of pulsing rhythms and drones, teeming with hypnotic build-ups and soaring pay-offs. Sure, track names like -Space Mountain’, -Flight of the Feathered Serpent’ and -Surf Solar’ sound like teen role-playing fantasy fare, but Fuck Buttons have thrown their toy keyboards out of the pram for a more mature and direct upward journey. And as for Tarot Sport‘s producer Andrew Weatherall – well he has a habit for sitting in on milestone albums like this.