Saturday, 17 January 2009

Top 20 Albums of the Year Countdown (part III)

An update! Yes! You're eyes do not deceive you!

Nearly three weeks since my last ramblings, I have decided to post three more of my favourite albums of last year. Even though it is very much out of date, with it being 2009 and all, some of the albums listed are now currently available at very cheap (1970's) prices. If you have a quick scavenge in skips near Woolworths and Zavvi stores you might even find some for free!

15. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago

Written and created on basic equipment, alone in a Wisconsin log cabin over a period of three months, ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ is a recording which only reveals it’s true mastery when listened to with undivided attention and concentration. An album made in complete isolation for times of isolation. Bon Iver is the pseudonym of folk singer-songwriter Justin Vernon whose falsetto vocals swell and wane with an individuality not heard since Anthony Hegarty first spread his wings. The voice is undoubtedly the most expressive instrument utilized on this record and is made even more so by the use of double tracking and layering to create rich, resonant textures whilst maintaining a sense of intimacy.

Many critics have cited this as the “album of the year”, although I personally have a few gripes with it. Firstly, at only 37 minutes and 9 tracks long, it passes by far too quickly. Secondly, going back to my first point, if not listened to in seclusion, this is an album that can easily pass you by. And finally sometimes it is hard to make out the lyrics. A minor grumble really and an acceptable trade off when the voice is so often used purely sonically to deliver such raw emotion. This is an album you really have to live with for a while, but in return will be a source of solace for years to come.

Listen to: Flume

14. Blood Red Shoes – Box Of Secrets

Blood Red Shoes are Steven Ansell (drums) and Laura-Mary Carter (guitar). Highly regarded for their DIY credentials, their passionate, frenzied live performances and an undercurrent of sexual tension, their debut album managed to capture all this and more. Adding a slightly more polished sheen to their previously grungy sound allows the captivating split-vocal dynamic between the pair to come to the fore to an even greater degree. They play off of one another at times with the seductive and teasing tone of flirting teenagers and at others with the venom of a warring couple, taking out their frustrations not only on each other, but on their instruments too. Both drums and guitar take a battering over the course of the album with no real let up in velocity or volume. This is particularly effective in a live situation but can become a little tiresome over 42 minutes on record. However the sheer confidence and visceral energy on display here outweighs any negativity. And I didn’t mention the White Stripes once. Damn.
Listen to: It’s Getting Boring By The Sea

13. MGMT – Oracular Spectacular

‘Time To Pretend’, ‘Weekend Wars’, ‘The Youth’, ‘Electric Feel’ and ‘Kids’. Five of the most exuberant and life-affirming pop songs released all year. They are the first five songs on an album that, if it were a seesaw, would cause one child to plummet towards the ground whilst the other soared upwards, helplessly trying to equal the weight of their companion on the other side. You see the first half of Oracular Spectacular is, for want of a better word, spectacular. The second half however pales in comparison, feeling somewhat sluggish, self indulgent and overly sentimental. This is exactly the kind of album that the ‘shuffle’ function was made for. The progressive, psychedelic space-rock of latter tracks fails to fully engage with the listener to the extent that their poppier moments manage with such vigour. The cartoonish bouncing synths of ‘Time To Pretend’ and fuzzy electro-funk of ‘Kids’ perfectly capture the mood of a contemporary youth-culture that is brimming with creativity. If MGMT can maintain a degree of consistency over the length of their next LP, then the world will be their playground.
Listen to: Time To Pretend (in case you’ve been living in a cave for the past year)

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