Best of 2009 new music – Part 1

Yes, it is that time of the year again! Part 1 of the Smith round-up of musical highlights...and if you think ‘I’m too old for all this’ then think again; with Spotify there is no excuse these days for not trying out some contemporary music; you may just like it.  Not all these tracks are on Spotify but most are - I will do a playlist as well to follow.

Let’s start with looking back at my ‘2009 tips for the top’ that some of you saw last year; they were quite remarkably prescient for once.  We predicted big things for Lady Gaga (the most significant new pop artist of the last 10 years by the way, whether you like her or not), Little Boots, and Florence and the Machine; great in particular to see Florence doing so well, much better than I expected given her quirkiness, but a sign that even in these days of X factor slop, true talent can come through.

But I have a problem for 2010 – I have no idea who is going to make it.  I’m not knocked out by the big media tips; Ellie Goulding and the Drums for instance seem to me to fall into the category of OK but heard it all before.  So maybe I’ll just go for it being a year of consolidation, with artist such as Laura Marling, Los Campesinos and the Joy Formidable stepping up to the next level of success.

So, on to 2009.   I generally choose my top 20 or so albums, with a suggested track from each; although there is one exception (not an album) this year.  But before the top 20, here are a few near misses that I also enjoyed this year;  Paramore (bouncy, tuneful, 'not as heavy as they like to think they are' pop-rock);  M Ward (US folky singer songwriter), Muse (not up to the last album but still good stuff), XX (still getting into their atmospheric, stripped down sound but it is growing on me), the Horrors (I didn’t get it to the extent many critics clearly did, but a huge step forward for them), Little Boots,  the Blackout (Merthyr Tydfil’s answer to Linkin Park – and they were brilliant at Reading; they clashed with the Arctic Monkeys, and I wished the Monkeys had shown half the energy, passion and audience engagement in their set that the Blackout did), Kasabian’s West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum just missed out on the top 20, as did True Romance by Golden Silvers, a very promising debut.  LA Roux was another breakthrough this year, with an album that was far better than the initial hype suggested.  Bat for Lashes with Two Suns should probably have been in the top 20 as well.....and Brandi Carlile’s new record came out a little late in the year for me to get a clear view of just how good it is!

I don’t think despite all these recommendation that this was a great year for ‘rock’ or ‘indie’.  It was a year however that intelligent, somewhat left-field music that was hard to pigeon-hole (whether US bands such as Animal Collective  or Grizzly Bear; or UK acts like Wild Beasts and Mumford & Sons) came through to national or international prominence.   And it was a great year for pure pop; as well as Lady Gaga, great singles from Beyonce, several from the Black Eyed Peas, Dizzee Rascal, Jordin Sparks (‘Battlefield’ is just a classic song), JLS and others.

So here are my numbers 20 to 11, with YouTube or other relevant links.

Number  20 (so misses out if you’re putting these on an 80 minute CD!) is ‘Scheme Eugene by the Red Light Company from ‘Fine Fascination’.  Another one of my tips for 2009, unfortunately they lost their bass player during the year and the album did not sell as well as it might; still some great tracks though.

At 19, Green Day with ‘Viva La Gloria from their ‘21st century breakdown’  album.   Another burst of tuneful energy, not quite up to American Idiot but still a fine album; and they win my big gig of the year award for being great fun at the O2 in October.

Next we have Ash.  A fascinating year for them, and a fascinating marketing strategy for anyone who follows how music business is going.  They are releasing  26 singles at fortnightly intervals, available as a download package for £13 or limited edition vinyl singles.  The first five have ranged from good to excellent, vibrant slices of power-pop like ‘True Love 1980 that belie the number of years they’ve been going now; .  They also did a 26 date tour, stopping at towns from A to Z; we saw their first night in Aldershot! (Not on Spotify).

Next, at 17, the Low Anthem with ‘Ohio (reprise)’ from ‘Oh My God, Charlie Darwin’.  A touch of Fleet Foxes at times but with added hillbilly favourite ‘Americana’ album of the year.

‘Friendly Fires’ eponymous release is my number 16 of the year.  (‘Paris was one of the top tracks).  They followed in the footsteps of the Klaxons and the Foals with their indie-dance–pop crossover; the soundtrack to a million parties through the summer of 2009.

Alela Diane with ‘To be still’ (‘the Ocean is my favourite track) is my only country female singer this year – a genre I do like but didn’t hear much this year that grabbed me.  Actually, she is more folk than country, with a great, clear, striking voice.

At 14, it seems strange to be calling the young lads who are the Arctic Monkeys 'veterans'. But ‘Humbug’, their third album,  was a fine, mature, more ‘rock’ album than previously, with ‘Cornerstone a superb stand out track – showing Alex Turner’s huge song writing talent.

Grizzly Bear at 13 (album not on Spotify) were also tagged with the ‘2009  Fleet Foxes’ mantle.  I heard more of an updated Beach Boys sound on ‘Veckatimest’; quite intellectual music that you can enjoy at different levels.  The chosen track is ‘Two Weeks’.

Hockey are just great fun.  ‘Chic’ disco bass lines with nagging catchy tunes, a charismatic lead singer and a pop approach; they just need one breakthrough hit to be huge.  Very enjoyable live too. ‘Song away’ from their album ‘Mind chaos’ was almost that song.

Merriweather Post Pavilion (at number 11) from  Animal Collective was many critics’ record of the year. ‘My girls’ is a great song – I liked the album a lot but didn’t quite put it right at the very top.  Super-smart, clever, complex music – but also very listenable.

Tomorrow (or maybe Christmas Eve) - the top ten!!

Peter Smith

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Voices (4)

  1. adfunk101:

    Peter, if you get the chance to see Friendly Fires live, take it. They have so much energy and really got the crowd going when I saw them last year. Fantastic stuff.

  2. D:

    Peter, always a highlight of the New Year to receive the infamous album, even if left off of the original distribution! Disappointed that Paramore were unsuccessful – played an absolute blinder of a set recently in Cardiff, by far my favourite act to had the opportunity to witness at the CIA this year – better luck for them next year. Oh! and very impressed with the blog and use of technology.

  3. Adam Shoesmith:

    Fully agree about Ellie Goulding – she is just a hybrid of Little Boots, Florence, blonde one outta Ting Tings. It appears the industry machine is already rolling in her favour though awarding her a Brit for next year already!

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