Thursday, December 31, 2009 

Best music of 2009 part 2 / 10 best albums.

10. Lynx and Kemo - The Raw Truth

A couple of years on from when Lynx first came to mass attention within the drum and bass scene with the sounding like nothing else did at the time Disco Dodo, the d&b producer teamed up with vocalist Kemo for an album that attempted to cover all boundaries. While Lynx provides the beats alongside a whole range of fellow producers, including Alix Perez, whose own album 1984 only narrowly missed this list, it's Kemo's effortless rhymes and compelling voice that rewards repeat listens, providing the context and texture to urban British music at very close to its finest.

Lynx and Kemo ft. Henree - Deez Breakz

9. VA - Fabriclive 44 - Mixed by Commix

If it was dBridge and Instra:mental that created the real crossover and acclaimed smashes that fused dubstep's pallete with d&b's 170 bpm tempo, it was Commix that provided the mix that properly showcased the movement's sound in 65 blissful minutes. Featuring almost all the stalwarts that have kept d&b interesting, especially Calibre, Breakage and SpectraSoul, the biggest tune we didn't know yet here was undoubtedly Instra:mental's No Future, one of the future classics of the year, and since remixed into a complete smasher by Skream.

Commix - Bear Music

8. Wild Beasts - Two Dancers

Wild Beasts are always going to be one of those bands that splits opinion, purely because of the vocals provided by Hayden Thorpe, whose falsetto will either be adored or pilloried. Perhaps to counteract that, or just for further experimentation, Tom Fleming added his voice to the mix, and the result was a sleeper hit from a band that deserve far more attention than they have so far been accorded.

Wild Beasts - The Fun Powder Plot

7. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz!

When Fever to Tell came out back in 2003, all angular riffing and screeching from Karen O, you wouldn't have exactly put money on them returning with their 3rd album in 2009 having largely abandoned the guitars which they made their name with with synths instead. The result however was astonishing, although having created one of the downtempo songs of the decade in Maps it perhaps wasn't all that unexpected. While all the attention will be on the singles Zero and Heads Will Roll, it's the album as a whole that demands listening to in full, as the giddiness of the openers gives way to the tenderness contained in Runaway. Whether they continue to exist in their current form or not, YYYs will still be one of the decade's rightfully acclaimed bands.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Skeletons

6. Fuck Buttons - Tarot Sport

After the brilliance of last year's scream and noise heavy Street Horrsing, the Buttons had a similar sort of epiphany to the YYYs and recruited veteran house producer Andrew Weatherall to somewhat redefine their sound. The result, while losing some of the sharper points of their debut, was to create an album that toed the line between post-rock and outright electronica which few have dared to breach. It's the beauty that is however as compelling as ever, as well as the ability to get lost within the layers of sound that permeate everything the band does.

Fuck Buttons - Phantom Limb

5. VA - 5 Years of Hyperdub

Inaugurated just a year after the term "dubstep" was first coined to describe the bass-heavy sound which the likes of Hatcha, Youngsta and the Digital Mystikz crew were just beginning to push, very few retrospectives come even close to the aural pleasure provided by Hyperdub's look back at last half decade. With 2 discs, the first providing new material and the second a sort of best of, it's almost impossible to pick the best the compilation has to offer, but Mala's Level Nine and the 8-bit step of Quarta330's Bleeps from Outer Space, alongside the 2000f's You Don't Know What Love Is and Joker's Digidesign will prove very difficult for the label to top.

Quarta330 - Bleeps from Outer Space

4. Manic Street Preachers - Journal for Plague Lovers

After returning to commercial success with Send Away the Tigers, it might have seemed something of an odd move for the Manics to return to the introspection and even desolation of the lyrics left behind by the now legally dead Richey Edwards, but without exaggeration almost never has there been such a worthy musical tribute to a fallen friend as that provided by the Manics' Journal. It's also surely a musical exorcism: the ghost that has accompanied the band since Edwards vanished has finally been laid to rest, and even said goodbye to the in the form of the album's final song, William's Last Words. The anger of Peeled Apples, the humour even of Me and Stephen Hawking and the strange but honest eye which Edwards had for female annihilation on She Bathed Herself in a Bath of Bleach, also seen on the Holy Bible's 4st 7lbs, all add up to easily the best Manics album since Everything Must Go.

Manic Street Preachers - Me and Stephen Hawking

3. Bat for Lashes - Two Suns

There has to be something special about someone for their records to be equally at home being lauded on the likes of Pitchfork while also simultaneously played on Radio 2, and Natasha Khan fits the bill perfectly: few other nursery school teachers go on to write concept albums with the authenticity of Two Suns. A soundscape which is just as ethereal and convincing as that on her debut, it was combined with the brilliance of the singles Daniel and Pearl's Dream, the sort of album which you discover something new in every time you listen.

Bat for Lashes - Sleep Alone

2. Silkie - City Limits Vol. 1

For every jump-up mid-range tune that debauches the name of dubstep, there's the almost classical brilliance which not just Silkie but the entire Anti-Social Entertainment crew to which he belongs infuse nearly every track they create with. Silkie, as the Anti-Social Show on Rinse on Monday nights shows, has so many tunes that many of them remain unnamed, hence almost certainly this being just the first volume in many to come from the deep/melodic master. Almost every track here can stand up on its own, but it's the final two that continue to make waves: The Horizon, as described by the genre's scribe Martin "Blackdown" Clark as "
an explosive burst of emotion that combined Joker-like synth touches with euphoric percussion" and Beauty, which to quote an advert, does exactly what it says on the tin.

Silkie - Planet X

1. The XX - XX

There's a simple reason why the XX's debut has topped so many end of year lists: it's simply something which no one else in the indie camp has tried for quite some considerable time. The open minimalism of the music, combined with the warmth of the vocals, the almost openly sexual but uncertain nature of them, created its own environment in which to exist. Indie hasn't been this heartfelt, personal and solitary in a very long time, and with the band sure to move on, it might well never be again.

The XX - Basic Space

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009 

Best music of 2009 part 1.

Best Song / Track:
dBridge - Wonder Where

Like with last year, it hasn't been an exactly stellar 12 months for the individual song, although the fact that I've become somewhat distanced from the indie scene and increasingly fascinated with dubstep and the liquid/deep/minimal side of drum and bass might somewhat account for it. Accordingly then, my choice is probably one which many normal readers (all two of you) of this blog probably haven't heard. Wonder Where by dBridge is though one of the most musical and soulful tunes to have emerged from what is ostensibly drum and bass for quite some time; originally a part of Bad Company UK, who cornered the jump up section of the genre at the turn of the decade, he became increasingly frustrated by the constraints which many within it feel they have to operate in. Alongside Instra:mental, with whom he's set up the Autonomic club night and podcast, as well as an upcoming Fabriclive mix, the break out was finally cemented totally this year, and Wonder Where is easily the finest moment which the blending of dubstep aesthetics with a drum and bass tempo has so far delivered. Other highlights in a similar mould have been from Instra:mental naturally, with their almost equally gorgeous Watching You, and from SpectraSoul, with the aptly named Melodies.

Other contenders, especially those from outside the above, were Bulletproof by La Roux, Remedy by Little Boots, Shelter by the XX, Hyph Mngo by Joy Orbison, almost anything from the Manics' Journal for Plague Lovers but Jackie Collins Existential Question Time if you had to pick one, Purple City by Joker and Ginz (and almost anything from Joker really), Technique by Kromestar, Cornerstone by Arctic Monkeys and Pearl's Dream by Bat for Lashes.

Best Remix
La Roux - In for the Kill (Skream's Lets Get Ravey Remix)

Almost certainly the most remixed artist of the year, none of the later ones came even close to equalling one of the very first, by probably the most popular and well-known dubstep artist and DJ of them all (excluding Burial). The thing about Skream's immense remix is just how deceptively simple it is: dispensing almost entirely with original's beats, using only a small part of the melody and the vocal, to which more than adequate amounts of echo are added, it's the overwhelming sub-bass that kills it, all leading up to final breakdown and drop, finishing off with that mainstay of underground music for now almost twenty years: the Amen break. While still certainly dubstep, it's so far removed from the wobble and use of mid-range which has come to wrongly define the genre that it completely crossed over, resulting in the genre's very first gold disc. The very best from Skream though is almost certainly yet to come: his second artist album promises to include Listening to the Records on My Wall, a tune so massive and euphoric, again half-way between drum and bass and dubstep (it is after all a sort of follow up to his jungle tribute tune, Burning Up) that it promises to become one of the absolute classics of the genre.

Other contenders include again almost anything remixed by Joker, but especially Cruel Intentions by Simian Mobile Disco and Trouble Is by Turboweekend, Skream's remixes of Night by Night by Chromeo and Pearl's Dream by Bat for Lashes, Brackles' Remix of Crystal Castles' I Love London, Nero's Remix of The Streets' Blinded by the Lights, James Blake's Remix of Untold's Stop What You're Doing, and although more than a little cheesy, High Contrast's remix of Calvin Harris's Ready for the Weekend.

Best Reissue
The Stone Roses - The Stone Roses (I Wanna Be Adored)

Wasn't much competition on the reissue front this year, with only the entire Beatles catalogue being remastered and rereleased (not to mention Kraftwerk's, which received similar treatment), but what is probably the greatest debut album of all time still managed to triumph, with the Stone Roses' eponymous release enjoying it's 20th anniversary with the now customary special reissue. Remastered by the producer John Leckie and Ian Brown themselves, even if it wasn't in exactly unlistenable form before, it now sounds even more thrilling than before, making it a truly essential purchase.

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