[sic] Magazine

My 2009 – Rob Gannon

As the year draws to a wintery close, I find solace in drafting many lists, partly to justify my existence and partly because I’ve nothing better to do. Here follows my thoughts on the musical year that was 2009:

Best gigs …

10. Crystal Antlers, HEALTH, Deerhunter – Koko, London, because although Deerhunter were lacklustre HEALTH’s theatrics more than compensated.

9. Silent Age, Ox.Eagle.Lion.Man – Hoxton Bar & Kitchen, London, because whilst Ox.Eagle.Lion.Man were entertaining with their medieval art-punk, Silent Age reminded me that quality miserable post-punk isn’t dead.

8. The Soft Pack, Crystal Stilts, Black Lips – The Deaf Institute, Manchester, because you can’t trust someone that doesn’t like Black Lips, and because Crystal Stilts supported. Double whammy.

7. Silversun Pickups – Manchester University Academy 2, because despite this being in my least favourite Manchester venue, Silversun Pickups held their own and rocked out.

6. Airship, The Antlers – The Deaf Institute, Manchester, because The Antlers sounded so fragile I wanted to hug them back.

5. Delta Spirit – London Institute Of Contemporary Art, because of their intimate banter and clear love of their craft.

4. Elbow – Manchester Evening News Arena, because despite a shaky start, Elbow justified their success. And then let off some glitter bombs.

3. Woods, The Cave Singers, Espers – Manchester University Academy 3 & Space Kraak, Manchester, because the aftershow at Space Kraak, a “temporary art space in Manchester’s Northern Quarter” was something special, and unexpected.

2. Super Furry Animals – The Ritz, Manchester, because I wasn’t expecting to be blown away. “The Man Don’t Give A Fuck” still rules.

1. So So Glos, Middle Class Rut, … And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead – Manchester University Academy 3, because Trail of Dead and their two drummers tore it up so hard.

Best EPs …

10. Bon Iver – Blood Bank – it wasn’t For Emma mark II, but all that vocal tampering made it worthwhile nevertheless.

9. A Grave With No Name – A Grave With No Name – shoegaze with a great name, ’10 ought to see more of them.

8. Heartsrevolution – Hearts – another Japanese only EP putting previous mp3s into physical. Thank you please.

7. First Aid Kit – Drunken Trees – Swedish teenage sisters doing campfire folk I hear you say? Where do I sign up?

6. Ipso Facto – If – sadly no more, but this Japanese only EP showed great goth-tinged promise.

5. Loverman – Human Nurture – early Nick Cave and London goth-rock aficionados rejoice, you’ve new saviours.

4. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – Higher Than The Stars – if it ain’t broke why not make it better?

3. Deerhunter – Rainwater Cassette Exchange – if it ain’t broke why not churn out another effortless win.

2. The Drums – Summertime – fragile yet confident hipsters producing rock ‘n’ roll wet dreams.

1. Surf City – Surf City – it’s hard to fail with surf-rock riffs and a J&MC inspired band name. NZ’s Surf City didn’t.

Best tracks …

50. Young Rebel Set – Won’t Get Up Again – The Pogues via The Boss, but from Middlesbrough. Genius.
49. The Deer Tracks – Yes, This Is My Broken Shield – elfin post-rock that is simultaneously cold and embracing.
48. Nurses – Lita – otherworldly harmonies yet warm with alt-folk influences and added strangeness.
47. Middle Class Rut – All Walks Of Life – hits with the power of Jane’s Addiction covering “Disposable Teens”.
46. Lay Low – The Reason Why My Heart’s In Misery – ever so pretty Icelandic country music, faithful and flawless.

45. HTRK – Rentboy – distant and dreamy, this should have been up with The xx in the success stakes.
44. Wildbirds & Peacedrums – Liar Lion – minimal and soulful, does for simple what Animal Collective do for complex.
43. Au Revoir Simone – All Or Nothing – inhabits a dreamy synth-pop niche, which can’t help but delight.
42. Sleepy Sun – White Dove – lolloping psych-rock epic with frazzled asides and add-ins to keep your interest.
41. Wavves – So Bored – Nathan Williams’s crowning glory, beyond fuzzy lo-fi with a surf-rock riff to temper.

40. Titus Andronicus – Arms Against Atrophy – blistering Bright Eyes-brand vitriol with snotty garage-punk delivery.
39. Kasms – Male Bonding – bruising, exciting but commercial goth-rock, dubbed “shriekbeat” by its creators.
38. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Zero – nevermore glamorous new-wave pop with impeccable delivery.
37. The Horrors – Sea Within A Sea – clothes horses no more, The Horrors blossomed into an edgy krautrock beauty.
36. A Grave With No Name – Silver – perfect My Bloody Valentine fuzz and drone atop superlative shoegaze.

35. Vivian Girls – Where Do You Run To – surf-rock, garage production and girl-group vocals. What’s not to like?
34. CFCF – You Hear Colours – Balearic-bliss, chilled and purposeful, you can almost hear the rainbow alluded to.
33. M. Ward – Fisher Of Men – with an irrepressible country nod, “Fisher Of Men” charms from start to finish.
32. DM Stith – Braid of Voices – piano-led and pensive, haunting and hard-hitting, this was by far the album highlight.
31. Black Lips – Starting Over – lo-fi garage-rock taking in 60s R&B never before sounded so anthemic.

30. Graffiti Island – Wolf Guy – infectious deadpan goth-rock that’s “afflicted with congenial general hyper-trichosis”.
29. The Maccabees – Young Lions – fragile jangly indie-rock anthem that belies its powerful and exciting climax.
28. We Rock Like Girls Don’t – I Just Wanna Stick My Head In The Bass Drum – dumb and fun, this rocks hard.
27. The Raveonettes – Breaking Into Cars – their latest echo-y incarnate goes toe-to-toe with Karen O for style.
26. Suckers – It Gets Your Body Movin’ – the Arcade Fire effect, trembling and then massive and sing-along.

25. Girls – Hellhole Ratrace – repetitive, simple, effective, a summery lament that drips “been there, done that” kudos.
24. Crocodiles – I Wanna Kill – it’s like Psychocandy never left; hear that snare, that reverb, that vocal distortion.
23. The Decemberists – The Wanting Comes In Waves/Repaid – menacing duet unlike much else ever heard.
22. Dum Dum Girls – Don’t Talk To Me – fuzzy and lo-fi, this GG Allin cover is even more addictive than it is trendy.
21. Crystal Stilts – Graveyard Orbit – effortless Jesus & Mary Chain/C86 love in, endlessly beautiful and depressing.

20. Silent Age – Only The Good Die Young – poignant post-punk, presumably for the Ian Curtis this strongly recalls.
19. Polly Scattergood – Bunny Club – disturbing, paranoid pop that pairs Xiu Xiu’s keyboards with dub-lite smugness.
18. HEALTH – Die Slow – crunching and explosive, foreign and essential, “Die Slow” equally mesmerises and terrorises.
17. R O M A N C E – Another Place – promising post-punk that knows when to rock out. Hurry up the album please.
16. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – 103 – sounds like an old favourite, true indie in a Stone Roses/C86 way.

15. Trailer Trash Tracys – Strangling Good Guys – dizzying shoegaze with that lo-fi fuzz you’ve heard about to boot.
14. Marina & The Diamonds – Obsessions – pop done the right way, fun, inventive and with tongue firmly in cheek.
13. Grizzly Bear – Two Weeks- lush harmonies and incredible bounce, Grizzly Bear brought smiles back into fashion.
12. Forest Fire – Fortune Teller – with a bounce to rival Grizzly Bear, “Fortune Teller” deserved to match its success.
11. Animal Collective – Summertime Clothes – embarrasses everyone else. Nailed their own sound.

10. Memory Tapes – Bicycle – Alan Braxe Balearica and Passion Pit space-pop, with one of New Order’s bass lines.
9. The Big Pink – Velvet – that key change, combined with macho, contemporary shoegaze had win stamped all over it.
8. Chew Lips – Solo – LCD Soundsystem-type electro, adding bleeps and a would-be Karen O vocal performance.
7. Kindness – Swinging Party – heart-stopping ambient electo reworking of The Replacements. Unmissable.
6. SALEM – Redlights – bass-heavy and bleak, this is uncomfortable and shoegazing electronica at its best.

5. Dead Confederate – The Rat – slowburn grunge with huge results, quiet-loud never sounded so pitiful.
4. The xx – VCR – spiralling New Order bass work, atmospheric, breathy vocals and sultry simplistics.
3. Antony & The Johnsons – Daylight And The Sun – a laying bare of the soul, orchestral and genuinely spectacular.
2. Wild Beasts – Two Dancers (I) – stunning does not do this brooding and breathtaking masterpiece justice.

1. Japandroids – Wet Hair – when perfection arrives it is impossible to miss. “Wet Hair” is not complex; it is frantic, rabid and stupid. It talks of loving a girl with wet hair, and being able to get some money together so that the pair can “French kiss some French girls”. It layers in a pounding twenty-second drum solo and reprises the chorus ad infinitum to finish. Breathless and indispensible.

Best albums …

100. Bell x1 – Blue Lights On The Runway (indie-rock)
99. Arbouretum – Song Of The Pearl (psych-rock)
98. AA Bondy – When The Devil’s Loose (singer-songwriter)
97. Atlas Sound – Logos (dream-pop)
96. Stórsveit Nix Noltes – Royal Family-Divorce (post-rock)
95. Dananananaykroyd – Hey Everyone (garage-punk)
94. Desire – II (Italo-disco)
93. A Hawk And A Hacksaw – Déliverance (Balkan folk)
92. The Phantom Band – Checkmate Savage (indie-rock)
91. I Concur – Able Archer (post-punk)

90. The Boxer Rebellion – Union (post-punk)
89. Bombay Bicycle Club – I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose (indie-rock)
88. HTRK – Marry Me Tonight (industrial-rock)
87. Julian Plenti – Julian Plenti Is … Skyscraper (indie-rock)
86. Obits – I Blame You (garage-rock)
85. The Cave Singers – Welcome Joy (alt-country)
84. Super Furry Animals – Dark Days / Light Years (pop/psych-rock)
83. Manchester Orchestra – Mean Everything To Nothing (grunge)
82. Vivian Girls – Everything Goes Wrong (garage-rock)
81. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz (pop)

80. Monsters of Folk – Monsters Of Folk (alt-country)
79. The Thermals – Now We Can See (garage-rock)
78. Cymbals Eat Guitars – Why There Are There Mountains (garage-rock)
77. Kurt Vile – Childish Prodigy (blues-rock)
76. Bowerbirds – Upper Air (alt-folk)
75. Metric – Fantasies (pop-rock)
74. The Maccabees – Wall Of Arms (indie-rock)
73. Sleepy Sun – Embrace (psych-rock)
72. Bonnie Prince Billy – Beware (singer-songwriter)
71. A Grave With No Name – Mountain Debris (shoegaze)

70. We Were Promised Jetpacks – These Four Walls (indie-rock)
69. Au Revoir Simone – Still Night, Still Light (alt-pop)
68. Cryptacize – Mythomania (experimental indie)
67. Wildbirds & Peacedrums – The Snake (experimental indie)
66. M. Ward – Hold Time (singer-songwriter)
65. CFCF – Continent (electronica)
64. The Strange Boys – And Girls Club (garage-rock)
63. British Sea Power – Man Of Aran (instrumental/post-rock)
62. Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson – Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson (singer-songwriter)
61. Crystal Antlers – Tentacles (rock)

60. Future Of The Left – Travels With Myself And Another (punk-rock)
59. The Flaming Lips – Embryonic (psychedelia)
58. Wilco – Wilco (The Album) (alt-country)
57. Sunset Rubdown – Dragonslayer (experimental indie)
56. Vivian Girls – Vivian Girls (garage-rock)
55. Slow Club – Yeah So (folk)
54. The Decemberists – The Hazards Of Love (prog-opera)
53. Real Estate – Real Estate (indie)
52. The Low Anthem – Oh My God, Charlie Darwin (alt-folk)
51. Butcher Boy – React Or Die (indie-rock)

50. Let’s Wrestle – In The Court Of The Wrestling Let’s – King Crimson-like album name for indie DIY pioneers.
49. Soulsavers – Broken – collaborator par excellence Mark Lanegan at it again with the gentle washing of Soulsavers.
48. The Mayfair Set – Young One – Blank Dogs and Dum Dum Girls team up for lo-fi collaboration of the year.
47. Woods – Songs of Shame – an imperfect-but-all-the-better-for-it collection of lo-fi, folkish psych.
46. Sons Of Noel & Adrian – Sons Of Noel & Adrian – fluttery mature folk to make the heart soar.

45. Pissed Jeans – King Of Jeans – sludgecore kings return with another thoroughly nasty slice industrial hardcore.
44. Memory Tapes – Seek Magic – euphoric and contemplative, Dayve Hawk mixed it up with his trendy electronica.
43. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca – odd time signatures and glossy vocals about cannibals, Dirty Projectors are back.
42. Tiny Vipers – Life On Earth – frosty folk that never quite leaves you after having been played.
41. Alberta Cross – Broken Side Of Time – rockin’ American country-rock with balls and tears.

40. Patrick Wolf – The Bachelor (Battle One) – him with the hotpants back with a baroque pop masterpiece.
39. Casiotone For The Painfully Alone – Vs. Children – deadpan Owen Ashworth tackles Divine Comedy-like tales.
38. Amazing Baby – Rewild – powder-munching hippies with more backbone than MGMT.
37. Dead Confederate – Wrecking Ball – southern-fried grunge practitioners with an anthem in “The Rat”.
36. Comanechi – Crime Of Love – drummer from The Big Pink unleashes her own brand of art-ish punk.

35. Blank Dogs – Under And Under – C86 meets The Cure for very likeable results.
34. Soap&Skin – Lovetune For Vacuum – 18y/o Austrian girl does goth-infused orchestra.
33. eels – Hombre Lobo – Mark Everett is on the prowl for female blood on Hombre Lobo (Werewolf).
32. The Raveonettes – In And Out Of Control – their poppiest offering to date, mixed with trademark 50s shtick.
31. Delta Spirit – Ode To Sunshine – original R&B and country licks combine effortless to whoop and holler.

30. DM Stith – Heavy Ghost – alt-folk singer-songwriting, which is consistently inventive.
29. Andrew Bird – Noble Beast – lyrical singer-songwriting and perfectly cadent rhythms.
28. Fanfarlo – Reservoir – ghostly and folkish indie-pop with flattering Arcade Fire borrows.
27. Lightning Dust – Infinite Light – quivering Black Mountain side project delivers in gentle spades.
26. A Place To Bury Strangers – Exploding Head – pummelling return to the fore for “NYC’s loudest band”.

25. Girls – Album – reflective and honest, this economically-titled album mixes Beach Boys harmonies, Kinks-brand summeriness and a bucket-load of charm. And it’s all true, even about being adopted by a Texan millionaire. Crackers.
24. Nurses – Apple’s Acre – Portland-based sophomore outing with hazy harmonies, distant organ and sad piano to die for. Irrepressibly upbeat but sufficiently diaphanous to dilute.
23. We Rock Like Girls Don’t – How Did It Get To This? – balls out, tongue-in-cheek erotic rock. Done by girls gagging and succeeding to please. Direct and marvellous.
22. The Big Pink – A Brief History Of Love – catchy, swaggering, baggy shoegaze with pedal abuse and a nod to the Gallaghers. Ignore “Dominoes” brash machismo and focus on the swirling majesty of “Velvet”.
21. Forest Fire – Survival – intimate and campfire friendly, it’s like The Velvet Underground with much less severe drug habits. Bouncy, wistful and sweeping acoustics take on intelligent indie-rock song structures.

20. The Joy Formidable – A Balloon Called Moaning – in your face, superlative indie-rock with a brain, enormous key changes and enough big venue-sized ambition to see them through to stardom.
19. The Veils – Sun Gangs – Nick Cave fanaticism played over paranoid and fractured singer-songwriting of the highest order. Vitriolic in places, elsewhere contemplative, “Sun Gangs” offers its heart on its sleeve.
18. Silversun Pickups – Swoon – the best Smashing Pumpkins tribute act around who rarely enter the realm of parody. A Siamese dream of hard rockin’ proportions.
17. Kasms – Spayed – gothic pop-punk with no-wave and art-rock elements, with a loveable banshee on vocals to boot.
16. Telepathe – Dance Mother – too-cool-for-school electronica-influenced minimalism that combines hypnotic tribal trance elements with stripped back guitars and minimal synths.

15. Black Lips – 200 Million Thousand – ceaseless garage-rock done a variety of ways including pedestals to the Blues, psych-rock and alt-country. A maintaining in form for a band with an already impressive run.
14. The Dø – A Mouthful – a hotchpotch of invention that reels from PJ Harvey indie to Cardigans pop with insouciance, from Finnish folk to cavalier hip-pop with glee. A veritable mouthful indeed.
13. The Pink Mountaintops – Outside Love – another fine product from the Black Mountain stable. Highly recommended and relaxed psych-stodge in a Spiritualized – Songs in A&E mould.
12. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – eponymous near perfection. Early Britpop jangle, which nestles happily in Stone Roses and Smiths country.
11. Titus Andronicus – The Airing Of Grievances – acerbic garage-punk and storytelling alt-country mash-up that recalls Bright Eyes and Cursive with a Black Lips level of general shambolicism.

10. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest

Veckatimest is an uninhabited island close to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. Veckatimest the album however is deceptively full of life. This is one of a series of paradoxes at the heart of this record. It feels awkward, each note having been carefully chosen, or composed as some have suggested, but it comes across entirely comfortable with its nods to folk and experimentalism. It feels adventurous, but in an entirely safe way.

Inevitable comparisons are to be made with Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion. Both records are experimental and have had loose genres such as folk, pop and generic indie, even combinations thereof, thrown at them with the hope one might stick. However, whereas the Animal Collective album was full of giddy abandon, Veckatimest is truly hammock-worthy in its more relaxed approach.
The close harmonies of West coast classics live on in this record, as they did in Fleet Foxes’ successful release last year. Yet, there is much more at play. The infectious bounce of “Two Weeks” is loveable in a way Fleet Foxes were not, which is to say while they were “White Winter Hymnal”, this is summertime swoon.

The vocal is ever warm and dreamy to the point of Deerhunter. “Cheerleader” strongly recalls the considered plod of Bradford Cox’s “Saved By Old Times”. The bubbling harmonies, acoustic strumming and mid-tempos that start “Dory” bring Department of Eagles to mind. The orchestral quality of “‘Hold Still”, with its choir-like vocal hints at the scope of the album’s potential. “While You Wait For The Others” confirms it with its epiphanic and soaring vocal. Album closer “Foreground” ushers the listen to a close with ivory-tickled tristesse – a touching and fitting close to an album, which if not immediate does affect the listener deeply in its sentiment and aesthetic.

9. The xx – xx

Minimalism is the new experimentalism. Out with your complex collectives and in with pure expressionism. This fast rising London outfit have two weapons of choice, stripped beats and reverb, as well as the combined clout of their vocalists. The sultry Romy Croft coos throughout and Oliver Sim croons compliantly in velvet soporifics.

Lead and atmospheric single “Crystallised” is but the tip of this frosty iceberg. The echo-y gloom of the economically-titled ‘Intro’ is Turn On The Bright Lights without the theatrics. Its stadium-sized riffs are played at a whisper and the shoebox production only adds to the claustrophobic and dreamy qualities it evokes. Whilst Australia’s HTRK worked with similar influences this year on their “Rentboy” track, but focused the album more on an industrial Birthday Party-like fix. The xx were always seemingly keener on the Cocteau Twins’ ethereality.

The wonderful “VCR” has genuine pop appeal and happily soundtracks some fuggish slow-dance with a handsome stranger, thinking nothing of raiding the Carlos Dengler catalogue for bass inspiration. “Islands”, along with “Basic Space” plays host to the gentlest of beats-led, urban R&B influences. “Shelter” is even mildly trip-hop-ish. The Ronettes famous drumming patterns are borrowed and duly perverted on ”‘Heart Skipped A Beat” and the relaxed near-electronica of ”Night Time” is part Hot Chip’s bespectacled nod and part Chromatics’ frosty, post-coital meditation.

The xx gently blur all the right boundaries on their debut, introducing a real age of understatement.

8. The Horrors – Primary Colours

Few people were ever in doubt that the Horrors had cracking record collections, a collective eye for natty threads, as well as coercible hairdressers. It was a pity therefore that they seemed intent on strangling their musical endeavours with a selection of broken pedals and their own hype. They were black and white, style over substance.

That was then. Primary Colours is very much now, shifting their monochrome focus into a more vivid arena. Nothing has been cut however from their debut Strange House, but plenty has been added. Notably, it’s in with intelligible organ, Joy Division homages and My Bloody Valentine drone. Primary Colours contorts from curiosity into contender really rather quickly.

As Strange House hinted at surf-punk, Primary Colours hints at spectral girl groups, distorted, of course on “Who Can Say”. “I Can’t Control Myself” persuades Spiritualized’s “Come Together” to guest on its own re-imagining. Elsewhere it’s Bauhaus grooming a fledgling Cramps, the title track is The Jesus & Mary Chain as fronted by the sombre ghost of Ian Curtis. Seven-minute closer “Sea Within A Sea” is a joyously optimistic show of synth, a krautrock paean to triumph in adversity, a tacit statement of self-assured self, a told-you-so to the naysayers.

Whilst its knockers still cite originality as a major downfall, there is an art to pastiche, an art in which the Horrors have become more than proficient. Their former incarnation as skinny clotheshorses has allowed them to evolve and run confident streaks across this record like a rainbow breaking out of a storm, spreading the primary colours of Loveless, Psychocandy and In The Flat Field across their canvas. Pastiche with power, it’s as easy as one-two-three.

7. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion

Animal Collective’s signature psychedelic swoon is better honed on this album than ever before; their joyous brand of esoteric quasi-attainability is not always easy to penetrate but always worth the wait. Merriweather Post Pavilion is as close to pop as they have or are likely to come.

Opening with waves of nauseous squelching, “Summertime Clothes” recalls Battles’ alternative masterpiece “Atlas”. Both these tracks come replete with bubbling vocals, seemingly recorded underwater, and dancing, swirling, synthesised samples twinkle like deserved handclaps around this moment of catchy beauty.

“Bluish” is a more restrained, comprehensible affair recalling the work of Mercury Rev circa Deserter’s Songs, but with a much larger vision for production. Album closer “Brother Sport” is unsure what it wishes to be, part Paul Simon bandwagon, and part calypso freak-out: the sort of thing one could assume Beetlejuice may play to get himself in the mood, and “Lion In A Coma” hints at dreamy Deerhunter-like soundscapes, garbled layering notwithstanding.

Merriweather Post Pavilion, like previous efforts, is wilfully experimental, but crucially not conceitfully so. Established converts will like or more likely love it, despite its flirting near-conversion to very alternative pop. The vocals across the album have been used as an extra instrument, carrying rhythm rather than meaning and this complexity and density of this production may leave come-latelies a little dry, but honestly, more fool them for not wanting to get their feet wet.

6. Crystal Stilts – Alight Of Night

Alight Of Night appears dead on arrival. The vocals drawl and linger, the bass-led, jangling sound is lazy, and the composite drone and echo-y reverb lull the listener towards what threatens to be a permanent sleep. Then a surf-rock rhythm stirs, playing out over feedback and the introduction of a curiously familiar organ. So cue very apparent influences.

Unknown Pleasures is the apparent bible, Psychocandy the illicit thrill hidden inside its pages. The Velvet Underground sit out of shot pouting, throwing their hat into the ring on tracks such as “Prismatic Room”. And yet, at its heart, Alight Of Night is a pop record, albeit one played at too slow a speed.

Post-punk and shoe-gaze collide in slow motion to mask these pop sensibilities in moribund noise. Suggestion is hidden everywhere as, but sneaks out in rare moments such as in the pretty “Graveyard Orbit”, which borrows wistful 50s rock ‘n’ roll guitars from the likes of Ben E. King.

Alight Of Night seems to want to slide into oblivion so that it can be hailed as a lost cult-classic by beard-strokers and music obsessives, but needs to be recognized in its own lifetime. Whilst it might appear dead on arrival, there is a life aplenty to be found with repeat listens. This light deserves to never go out.

5. Wild Beasts – Two Dancers

Wild Beasts are probably fans of Dirty Projectors, they with their strict avoidance of tune and peculiar time signatures. Yet, they perhaps thought they could do better by adding in some of those elusive tunes. Eccentric rather than wilfully trendy, the latter merely a handy by-product, Two Dancers easily knocks the debut into a cocked hat. Its operatic falsetto still roams with abandon, but Two Dancers is hugely more sleek and appealing.

The first part of the title track (it is split (I) and (II) is tinglingly atmospheric, taking du-jour drumming and musical laissez-faire and twinning it with menacing gloom, haunting backing vocals and that trademark soprano. Part (I) comes back-to-back with the astonishing “We Still Got The Taste Dancin’ On Our Tongues”, a more world-beat affair set to hand-drummed funk with the gentlest of Talking Heads influence. “All The King’s Men” is infectious enough alt-pop to resuscitate Humpty Dumpty after his great fall.

There is a charming coherency to Two Dancers. The lower octave vocal harmonies support the flamboyant and wobbly lead. The swayingly danceable rhythms flirt with cadent song-craft. Piano, woodblock percussion and theatrical, Antony Hegarty-like dalliances all combine with enviable ease to create a fluidity and sense of natural progression. Two Dancers is so cohesive in fact as to suggest only one.

4. HEALTH – Get Color

HEALTH don’t play their guitars, preferring to torture them. Electrical interference and guitar FX sounding like a thousand breaking windows soundtrack their skittish wailing and flailing. At regular intervals, unintelligible and spiky noise smashes between bars giving credence to the much-banded “noise terrorists” tag.

These challenging soundscapes are punctuated with true songs: joyous and deliciously dark experiments in post-punk like deconstruction all swaddled in My Bloody Valentine’s most abrasive drone. Industrial-shoegaze Colossae A Place To Bury Strangers are brought to mind with the heavy FX abuse, elsewhere the addition of DFA 1979’s anarchic bloodlust allows Get Color to reach boiling point. The breakneck, car-crash theatrics of “Die Slow” are fascinating and visceral. The terminally cool “Before Tigers” sizzles with energy and amp-wrecking feedback levels.

The Crystal Castles-like way in which “Death+” manages to infuse a rhythmic funk into cacophony provides sublime moments of horror disco. Its aggressive tribal drumming gives way to bleak post-punk and Decepticon-like electrical distortion. Jake Duzsik’s ghostly vocal sweetens this mix throughout. The penultimate offering, “We Are Water” combines the best bits of Battles’ increasingly influential “Atlas” and smashes them headlong into Slayer’s Reign In Blood.

Along with the rest of Los Angeles’ Club Smell scene, HEALTH go a long way to proving that a city without a great past has a great future, for beyond the explicit beast there is an absolute beauty.

3. The Antlers – Hospice

After The xx gave us the key to unlocking the age of understatement, The Antlers confirmed the power of restraint. Pete Silberman and band form a simple 5-piece. Hospice’s 8, one-word tracks are bookended by an instrumental, post-rock prologue and swelling and eye-welling epilogue. Their influences are clean to the point of clinical.

The washing cymbals of “Thirteen” are particularly poignant. Silberman’s falsetto flits around Hospice like a dove. Hospice is the sound of simple done sickeningly well. “Atrophy” and “Bear” are constructed around purposeful piano, and that Silberman’s mumbles parts of his falsetto on these tracks is all the more compelling. Extended, shimmering instrumentals give way to chilly confessions that evoke the spirit of Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago. The hard-hitting key changes in “Sylvia” bring to mind Arcade Fire’s best emotive flourishes. The haunting, choral harmonies that drift around the cavernous Hospice seem like embracing angels.

Silberman’s trump cards, held close to his chest against a maudlin backdrop of shivering sorrow, are his rays of sunlight which punctuate the clouds. The unbridled optimism that, for example, cracks the echoing gloom in “Two” is testament to what it is to be human.

Hospice is much more than just music. It is the meeting of long-lost friends, the loss of a first love, the desire to be with one’s family and that feeling of being lost. We tend to enter the world and most probably leave it in the hospital, and now all the moments of consequence in between have a fitting soundtrack.

2. Japandroids – Post-Nothing

Some records come with a feeling of not wanting to leave until each fuzzy drop of reverb has finished, of being late for work thanks to sitting in the car until every last track has come to a close, of missing the last bus home, just for an extra 30 seconds of encore.

Vancouver’s Japandroids have that appeal and more. Their lo-fi punk cum garage-rock yells about getting out of your hometown, drinking, getting girls (or not), simply being in a band, being young and getting older. Consequently, it is dumb, the vocals are daft and repetitive, but it is also essential. It leaves you breathless, spent and utterly content.

It is Fugazi with more hooks and a sense of melody, it’s No Age with tunes, it’s Dinosaur Jr done by kids. The opening trinity of tracks are faultless. “Wet Hair” is particularly pleasing in a call-to-arms-for-the-disenfranchised kind of way, full of youthful dreams and fantasies, dreams, which have a realistic, but darker edge, on equal highlight “Young Hearts Spark Fire” – “we used to dream, now we worry about dying” they sing in harmony.

Even the album title is indicative of their fuck-it-and-have-some-fun attitude; it turns their sound into a self-proclaimed year-zero for music and comes therefore with a degree of seminality. Fast and furious, Japandroids are making up a generation’s disappointing youth.

1. Antony & The Johnsons – The Crying Light

The beauty that The Crying Light possesses is sufficient to reduce the listener to tears. The music has that same warmth that only Richard Hawley can imbue in a piece, the vocals are finally well pitched.

Where I Am A Bird Now squawked and screeched, The Crying Light coos. It is more restrained and as a result much richer. The Crying Light is pitched away from the contemporary edge and all better for it.

The orchestral inclusions: the piano, the alternating light and menacing strings, the woodwind, all are perfect for quiet but soaring introspection. “Another World” and “Daylight & The Sun” are piano-led majesty, every bit as beautiful as Nick Cave’s No More Shall We Part, the latter perhaps one of the most poignant pieces ever committed to posterity and sufficiently grandiose to rival Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah”.

Hegarty’s sublimely neutered tear-jerking is present throughout. “Aeon” even embraces electric guitar to accompany the swelling sound. This is the sound of a man entirely comfortable with his ability and with himself.

Antony Hegarty is a special talent that has finally matured to fruition. His Mercury-winning past was deserved, and this is one giant step beyond. Mercury is also known as quicksilver, and now The Crying Light can be synonymous with gold.