Ok, its that time of year…. Here are some of my favourites from 2009.
I’m not sure how I stumbled across this Norwegian band, but I’m glad I did. A classic rock fans dream, blending the guitar style of David Gilmour / Pink Floyd with early Porcupine Tree, and throwing in a little a-ha for good measure!
According to the wonderful stats provided by Last.FM, Airbag’s debut album Identity has been my most played album in 2009.
Recommended track: No Escape
Buy the Identity mp3 album from Amazon
Buy the Identity CD album from The Burning Shed
Already mentioned in more depth elsewhere in my blog, 2009 saw the release of a wonderful debut album from Laura Groves aka Blue Roses. An act I’m hoping to see live again in 2010 (I saw a woefully short Blue Roses show live at an Apple Store event in London during the Summer).
First Frost Night from the recent Does Anyone Love Me Now? Digital EP shows a real progressive feel seeping into their music.
Look, I didn’t mention Kate Bush!
Recommended track: I Wish I…
Blue Roses website
Buy the Does Anyone Love Me Now? Digital EP from Amazon
Buy the Blue Roses album from Amazon
Released in 2008, but only noticed by me in 2009, so included here, the album Rook from Texan band Shearwater is a delicate collection of songs driven by rich strings and piano mixed with acoustic guitars and lots of references to birds (band member Jonathan Meiburg is a graduate student in ornithology).
Singer Meiburg definitely has a hint of Mark Hollis in his vocal style, so a band that fans of later period Talk Talk will probably appreciate.
Recommended track: Leviathan, Bound
Buy Rook at Amazon
Again, a 2008 release, but one I stumbled across in 2009 thanks to the wonders of Youtube. I was aware of Butch Walker’s previous band, Marvellous 3, due to the power-pop anthem from 1999, Freak of the Week (a fair-sized hit in the US that I heard when on holiday in Florida).
I found clips of Walker performing songs from his solo albums, often alone with just acoustic guitar or piano, sometimes with a full band, but always entertaining. What sold it for me was solo version of Passed Your Place, Saw Your Car, Thought Of You from 2008’s Sycamore Meadows album.
From reading reviews, Butch Walker is not critically acclaimed in his native USA, but when did that ever matter? Yes, his songs are often very sentimental, but again, when did that ever matter? I’ve quickly snapped up his entire back-catalogue (at least the ones that I’ve managed to get from the US, I’m a couple of EP’s and a live DVD short of a full collection), and there are some real gems to be found. Mixtape from 2004’s Letters album is a career highlight, and one of the best rock songs about unrequited love.
You gave me the best mixtape I have
Even all the bad songs ain’t so bad
I just wish there was so much more than that
About me and you
Walker is a very traditional performer, which, again, is not a criticism, and he seems aware of rock history whilst knowing how to knock out a great song, so expect nods to some of his idols in live performances. Either solo or with a full band, Walker seems to put 150% into every live performance (he reminds me of a mid-period Springsteen in this regard).
One of my most played artists of 2009, and someone I hope to see live for the first time in 2010, if he heads over to the UK to tour his next album.
Recommended track: ATL from Sycamore Meadows
Some become lovers because of the sex
And some, you know, they just become friends
In our case, we just became bad at it all
And never got good at it again
Buy Letters at Amazon
Buy Sycamore Meadows at Amazon
Butch Walker website
The part Swedish, part US band Miike Snow have released one album to date, and a clutch of classic singles. For the fact-fiends reading this blog, the Swedish contingent in the band were responsible for the Grammy winning Toxic by Britney Spears.
I was lucky to be able to see one of the bands first live performances when they played at the iTunes festival in the summer of 2009 at London’s Roundhouse. The recent single Silvia was a highlight of the live show, and is also a centre-piece on the studio album.
Maybe I’m a little odd, but if a group like 10CC formed today, I think they would sound like Miike Snow. Too much modern dance music has disposable lyrics, with songs that are little more than icing sprinkled on a beat, but Miike Snow songs would work just as well in an acoustic environment, as they are strong enough to survive without the studio trappings.
Recommended track: Burial
At your own burial, don’t forget to cry
At your own burial
Looking at my 81st birthday, everyday this body goes to waste
Remembering how I would raise an army when we went back to your place
Buy Miike Snow at Amazon
Miike Snow website
Others on the Kinski radar in 2009
Marina and the Diamonds
One of my favourite songs in 2009 was the perfect pop of I Am Not a Robot.
With a debut album, Family Jewels, on the horizon, one to watch in 2010.
Marina & the Diamonds website
Buy Marina & the Diamonds at Amazon
Former Love & Money singer James Grant released the album Strange Flowers in 2009, unfortunately to little fanfare. It’s an amazing album, full of finely crafted songs, the highlight for me being the 9 minute plus bluesy My Father’s Coat.
In a stall in the marketsquare
I saw his old threadbare mohair
And I choked out the oath in my throat
Stood staring at my father’s coat
Buy Strange Flowers at Amazon
Cumbrian band Wild Beasts second album, Two Dancers, includes When I’m Sleepy… , which evokes the spirit of the late, great Billy Mackenzie.
Watch the Hooting & Howling video.
Buy Two Dancers at Amazon.
Rickie Lee Jones
The latest Rickie Lee Jones album, Balm In Gilead, was released late in 2009. Opening track Wild Girl is a personal favourite, and has a lovely Steely Dan feel to the arrangement.
Wild girl in a red dress
Come on, speak up, say yes
This thing that makes you beautiful
Never comes out of a jar
Soundtrack King Jon Brion appears with Rickie on the track Bonfires.
Buy Balm In Gilead at Amazon.
McAlmont and Nyman
The Glare is the first (and hopefully not the last) collaboration between former Bernard Butler cohort David McAlmont and composer Michael Nyman.
Apparently a musical match made via Facebook (how 21st Century) the album is made up of Michael Nyman compositions turned into songs (and with lyrics added) by David McAlmont, all dealing with “The Glare” of being in the media spotlight.
So from Berlusconi, assisted suicide (the extremely moving Friendly Fire) to ‘drug mules’ In Laos, its a wonderful concept that sends you rushing over to Google to research the stories that inspired the non-judgemental lyrics.
I had a second, a single chance
To let the cameras see my face.
I hoped then I would make the news
And I prayed that you’d be tuned in
The Glare Dossier – The stories that inspired the songs.
Buy The Glare at Amazon.
Releases I’m looking forward to in 2010
Memories Of Machines – Warm Winter
The forthcoming collaboration between no-man’s Tim Bowness and Nosound’s Giancarlo Erra. Highlights included the slow-burning At the Centre of it All and the perfect-pop of Before We Fall. Memories of Machines website
Delphic – Acolyte
A band that I first came across as support to Bloc Party in 2009.
Sounding like a 21st Century New Order, forthcoming single Doubt is the song that should give the Manchester band their first hit in 2010.
Buy Acolyte at Amazon.
Peter Gabriel – Scratch My Back
The next Peter Gabriel album is released in February of 2010, and will consist of twelve cover versions of songs by artists such as David Bowie, Elbow, Bon Iver, Radiohead, Paul Simon, Talking Heads and The Magnetic Fields, recorded using just orchestra and voice.
Buy Scratch My Back at Amazon
The next EP from Bristol’s Hazel Mills should be released in 2010.
Butterfly, the first Hazel Mills EP, was released more than two years ago now, so new music is long overdue.
Hazel Mills website.
A new album from Canada’s Stars, titled The Five Ghosts is due in June 2010.
The last Stars release was the Sad Robot EP in late 2008.
Favourite songs of 2009
Catherine A.D. – Carry Your Heart
And as I fall from hope to here with your heart on my back
How did we get here? With your heart on my back…
And with your blood still on my tongue and words that can’t be undone
How do we get to carry our hearts?
Miike Snow – Burial
Marina and the Diamonds – I Am Not a Robot
James Grant – My Father’s Coat
The Decemberists – Annan Water
Grammatics – Inkjet Lakes
Blue Roses – I Wish I…