Monday, 19 January 2009

Top 20 Albums of the Year Countdown (part IV)

I shall be adding new albums to the list every couple of days this week until we reach number 1. Exciting? Yes/No (delete as applicable).

12. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes

After their festival-stealing performance at SXSW, big things were expected of Fleet Foxes’ debut, and mostly they delivered. Many critics hailed this album as an instant classic, with one publication labelling it a “landmark in American music”. It is very good but not deserving of the incredible media hyperbole bestowed upon it. If only the breathtaking warmth and fervour of hook-laden tracks like ‘White Winter Hymnal’ and ‘Your Protector’ were replicated on parts of the album where there is an over reliance on repeating choral harmonies and overusing reverb to create ambience, then differentiating between songs would be easier and such hype would have been almost justified.

For all this though, the album is cathartic, addictive and powerfully evocative both lyrically ("You would fall and turn the white snow red as strawberries in the summertime") and in its nostalgic musicality. For 39 minutes the listener is transported to a dimly lit porch out in the balmy American wilderness, slumped in a rocking chair, rocking slowly backing and forth and warmed by a roaring campfire. A superb album then for pure escapism. Oh, plus final track ‘Oliver James’ is also one of the best album closers of the year.
Listen to: White Winter Hymnal

11. Flight of the Conchords – Flight of the Conchords

Billing themselves as "Formerly New Zealand's fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo”, Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement have gained a cult following through their own BBC radio shows and HBO TV series. Some might argue that an album by a fictional band has no place on an “end of year” list but when their playfully respectful parodies of well-known artists are every bit as good as those they are mimicking, exclusion would be wholly unfair. The quick-witted, exquisitely observational lyrics of songs such as ‘Business Time’ and ‘Inner City Pressure’ lodge themselves deeply in your brain courtesy of the pair’s keen ear for melody. Even after heavy rotation both on DVD and CD the tracks have yet to become tiresome, surely the ultimate accolade for a comedy album and a testament to the duo’s song writing abilities.
Listen to: Inner City Pressure

10. Bloc Party – Intimacy

You could almost be forgiven for not knowing that Bloc Party had released an album this year following a messy promotional campaign involving a digital release with exclusive mp3 bonus tracks followed by a physical release with extra songs a few months later. So which is the definitive version? You get the impression that only lead singer Kele knows, which is fitting as this sounds very much like HIS album. Vocal effects are pushed to the fore with drum loops and production tricks bringing a touch of Timbaland to the (Bloc) party. It’s certainly more of a return to the dancefloor after ‘A Weekend In The City’ with the pounding ‘Ares’, ‘Mercury’ and ‘One Month Off’’ finely tuned for shaking asses across student unions nationwide, as well as recalling the sound of their stunning debut on ‘Halo’.

In truth though, the impressive musicianship on display and the skill shown in pulling off so many varied musical styles also means it lacks cohesion and at times the electronic trickery can overwhelm the sound of the band themselves. ‘Intimacy’s’ major problem compared to the band’s previous output lies in its inconsistency, perhaps a reason as to why tracks were added and taken away from various releases. It will be interesting to see which direction Bloc Party and their increasingly omnipotent lead singer will head next.
Listen to: Ion Square

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