My 2009 – Tim Clarke
I can’t quite believe how many of my favourite bands released albums in 2009: Animal Collective, Circulatory System, Dinosaur Jr, Do Make Say Think, The Flaming Lips, Grizzly Bear, Tortoise and Yo La Tengo. (Only Deerhoof and Radiohead didn’t make a showing!) However, if you cast your eyes below you’ll only find half these among my top 10. How did this happen??
The album that will no doubt top most best-of lists, Merriweather Post Pavilion, meant a move away from the Animal Collective I love towards a sleeker electronic version that, for me, has infinitely less appeal. They’ve dropped the backwoods vibe and gone all Pitchfork-friendly electro-pop. Fuckers! I’ll concede that ‘My Girls’ is a stunning pop tune, but the rest of Merriweather left me decidedly cold.
Circulatory System’s sophomore album Signal Morning has been delayed for years, in part by Will Cullen Hart’s diagnosis with MS. When it finally arrived this year, I had to pinch myself. Sadly, I then had to console myself, because it simply doesn’t go anywhere near the unbelievable heights of their self-titled debut.
While Embryonic has some great tunes, and is a move in an exciting new direction for the Lips, repeated listens just give me a headache. And Yo La Tengo? They’re continuing their recent run of releasing middling albums with a few cracking tunes padded out with genre pastiche. Yawn.
So, a year of disappointments, but also one of dazzling surprises…
1. Opsvik & Jennings – A Dream I Used To Remember (Loyal Label)
Befitting its title, A Dream I Used To Remember is so utterly charming because it reminds me of childhood. In fact, it sounds like the soundtrack to an animated children’s series like Thomas the Tank Engine. Cute modes of transport with faces! These lovingly rendered melodic miniatures are so disarmingly beautiful that I can’t quite believe that Opsvik & Jennings managed to pull this off without sounding twee. And in ‘Sunroad’ they have the most achingly wonderful closing track of the year, too.
2. Nudge – As Good As Gone (Kranky)
This immaculately stoned and woozy album creates such a unique listening space with its oozing dub bass, hazy electronic textures, gloopy wah and sleepy vocal exhalations. It all adds up to something magical and eerie that sends you drifting endlessly free and ecstatically lost. Are they making it up as they go along? Probably, but it all hangs together well enough to keep you suspended with a tingle running up your spine.
3. Jim O’Rourke – The Visitor (Drag City)
I had no idea 2009 would be the year that Jim O’Rourke released a guitar album until The Visitor was almost upon us – all 38 minutes of it. Wholly performed by O’Rourke in his Tokyo flat-cum-studio, this single episodic track is impossibly nuanced and exquisitely melodic – and the only release this year to make this grown man cry.
4. Mastodon – Crack The Skye (Reprise)
Well, this fucking rocks. And, in a first for Mastodon, it’s great all the way through. The Atlanta metallers have tethered their brutal yet tuneful sound and wacky concept album themes to classic rock and prog. A marriage made in heaven, with some jaw-dropping playing and audacious twists and turns.
5. Ben Frost – By The Throat (Bedroom Community)
While By The Throat isn’t something I can spin repeatedly because it’s such a harrowing listen, there’s no denying the sheer power and vicious beauty of this painstakingly rendered blood-and-ice nightmare. Like falling in love with a mythical beast while it feasts on your heart.
6. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest (Warp)
I had such high hopes for this after Yellow House that it was never going to live up to my expectations. But there’s no denying that for the most part, Veckatimest sounds glorious. There’s too much baroque padding, but the high points (‘Two Weeks’, ‘While You Wait For The Others’, ‘Foreground’ – swoon!) are absolutely stellar.
7. Do Make Say Think – Other Truths (Constellation)
On Other Truths, DMST seem to tighten up their songs by stretching them out, filling the running time with four long songs that never seem long. There are endless tangles of overdriven guitar, their trademark twin drum-kit attack, the usual smattering of brass and strings to add some colour, and some long drawn-out codas to drift off to. Still one of the best instrumental bands around.
8. Dinosaur Jr – Farm (Jagjaguwar)
J Mascis can keep on making the same album for as long as he likes and it will still sound amazing. Best album for driving to, best guitar sound, best guitar solos and, as ever, some cracking tunes. Love it.
9. Volcano Choir – Unmap (Jagjaguwar)
I’ll confess that I arrived really late to the game to the lump-in-the-throat masterpiece that is Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago. So, when Volcano Choir came along promising Justin Vernon’s heavenly falsetto adorning more experimental musical environs courtesy of Collections Of Colonies Of Bees, I couldn’t sign up quick enough. This is a strange album, not wholly successful in its marriage of alt-folk/country songcraft and glitchy post-rock, but when it succeeds (‘Island, IS’, ‘Still’), the effect is spine-tingling and unique.
10. Tortoise – Beacons Of Ancestorship (Thrill Jockey)
Tortoise need a good slap for letting their indulgent side get the better of them on some of these half-ideas, but when you’ve got songs as awesome as ‘Prepare Your Coffin’ and ‘Gigantes’, the whole ends up greater than the sum of its parts. And John McEntire’s production is as gorgeous as usual.