After two by no means interesting days, finally we arrive at the top twenty. How exciting. Moving swiftly on, then:
20. Passion Pit - Manners
The intial experience was one of mild disappointment. Soon, however, I discovered that it sounds much, much, much better when you're drunk. In my experience I was drunk and alone. It probably sounds even better when you're surrounded.
It wasn't until we reached the Autumn, however, and during multiple walks in the park the spiralling cascades of falling leaves acted in perfect synchronity with the glittering synths which punctuate every single track - only then was the true beauty of Manners realised.
In a year full of outstanding opening trios of songs on albums, Manners probably had the best of the lot. "Make Light" swirls and swings and stomps all over the place. It's the sound of a desperate party enjoyed with friends who you know you may never see again - it's not a celebration, but then it's not a funeral. It's at once joyous and deeply poignant. Next comes "Little Secrets", which for me harbours a wonderful Sesame Street funkiness - it's all innocence and vibrancy and seems to concern itself with one of the biggest of life's adventures - that of growing up. In fact, one thing the music of 2009 has taught me is that choirs of children, when deployed correctly, are anything but cheesey or manipulative.
"Moth's Wings" is huge. I am loathe to use such adjectives as "anthemnic", but nothing else seems to fit. This is the moment in the film about your life at which you ignore all the shit you've been dealt and instead strive to appreciate all the love and joy that can be found absolute anywhere.
It's the sort of album which must be approached in the right context and in the right frame of mind. Saying that, is this not the case for any piece of music, ever? Few releases this year have achieved such a sustained mood of vibrant, lysergic joy. Were I the sort who went out more or who attended a greater number of parties, Manners probably would have fared much higher. As is, though, these past six months I've seldom left the house and I've drunk a seemingly endless succession of hot cups of tea. It only serves, then, as a reminder that there's a whole world out there. Which, of course, is very important.
The only problem is "Sleepyhead". Hearing that for the first time represented one of my only "what the hell is this?!" moments of the year - deeply moved, terribly excited. The version on the Chunk of Change EP delivered, but on the album? All that's changed has been the removal of a single cymbal strike at the point at which we enter the "chorus". Without this one single percussive sound, overall the whole piece sounds comparatively flat. What were they thinking? My theory is that this new version acts as a gift for those for whom notions of "indie credibility" matter. People can say "I preferred the EP version myself" and MEAN it. Thanks, Passion Pit.
19. Years - Years
Known by some as Ohad Benchetrit, or "him from Do Make Say Think and Broken Social Scene". My brother's apparently met him. He signed his ticket with "Hello friendly boat", a subtle reference, no doubt, to "Goodbye Enemy Airship". What a guy.
I heard it described as "Godspeed! You Black Emperor on Prozac", as "Microphones in a funny mood". I usually ignore such tired, lazy descriptions, but a likening to "Four Tet circa Rounds" really caught my eye, and in no time at all, life without this album was inconceivable. Twelve instrumental pieces representing a diverse range of style unified by a cohesive feel of cosy frontier romance. I was always going to give the time of day to an album containing a track entitled "Hey Cancer...Fuck You."
"Are You Unloved" represents an early highlight - over six minutes electronics glitch and bubble, guitars tense themselves, horns bray mournfully. Affairs keep threatening to explode into some kind of hackneyed post-rock crescendo, but never do, and the track is so much better for it, so much more thrilling. Here we have an insight into how 65daysofstatic might sound were they to abandon their unfortunate and apparent love for Pendulum and replace it with a sense of subtlety.
The best moment, though, is the penultimate "Major Lift". Here, as if for the first time, the horns are allowed to soar and everything is let loose. It's as rousing as a biting cold sleigh ride, as exciting as Christmas morning was when you were seven, and endears somewhat like realised fantasies of passionate vows exclaimed in New York's Central Park on a crisp New York winter day. Here, your face is red and raw and you can see your breath before you, but you're wrapped up so warm and feeling so good about everything that, inside, you're glowing.
Post rock side projects, then - Four Tet, Belle Orchestre, Years - here's where the real beauty lies. See also, below.
18. Jonsi & Alex - Riceboy Sleeps
Like, I imagine, a lot of people, I was completely floored by "Happiness", the track included on the brilliant Dark Was The Night compilation. Its frosty ambience, twinkling flourishes and lush, undulating strings - it swallows you and induced a state of acute wistfulness which has not as of yet been lifted.
When I first got it I played it so loud that my disgruntled sister told me to turn down my "church music". In a way, she had a point there, though I wouldn't go as far as to liken it to a "church". Rather, this is music of a purity so otherworldly that it feels ancient, somewhat divine.
Critics scoffed, of course: called it pretentious, meaningless, bloated; joked about how it was like Sigur Ros but even more boring etc. etc. etc. What sad and unfulfilled lives they must lead. Whereas Passion Pit's album I could appreciate as a suggestion that the good times are out there, this I could appreciate as a reminder that no matter what bullshit comes my way, there exists out there something beautiful enough to render such bullshit as meaningless. In short, there's more to life than this endless routine of internet, humiliation, unemployment, tedium, boredom and migraine. There really is. Riceboy Sleeps is music which helps me to care. And I can't be the only one.
17. Dead Man's Bones - Dead Man's Bones
Were I prompted in late October, no question this would have featured within my top ten, perhaps even top five. I had to laugh, actually, when round about this time somebody complained that Halloween was becoming "too commercial"; as if to suggest that in this country it had ever been celebrated in an innocent and wholesome manner.
No, what they probably meant was that Halloween's becoming a bigger deal over here. I can't begin to tell you how happy that makes me. However, one thing I didn't expect was for the trimmings of this particular holiday to become every bit as sacred as those of Christmas. I wouldn't ever consider giving "The Fairytale Of New York" a listen mid-July. Similarly, I can now see myself only ever listening to Dead Man's Bones as we approach the witching hour. Oh yes. Here we have an album so good that I feel it will become ritualistic listening in years to come.
Put simply, it sounds like (and was, apparently, originally conceived as) a school Halloween pageant. It's got it all - songs about werewolves, bumps in the night, ghosts, amateur musicianship, out-of-tune pianos, untrained singing, an avoidance of such staples as electric guitars and, best of all, a children's choir and triumphant cries of "My body's a zombie for you!"
I always knew that it would be something very special indeed. What I didn't expect, however, was for it to be, at times, genuinely creepy. The grave intonations at the end of "In The Room Where You Sleep" sent a very real chill down the old spinal column. Admittedly, it was the same sort of feel that used to be (and still is) felt confronting spectres I know to be fake in theme park haunted houses and ghost trains. But still, were not such reactions treasured, Halloween probably wouldn't be such a big deal in the first place.
Truly brilliant. I know I won't listen again until roundabout October 2010, but that's the point.
16. Girls - Album
I can pinpoint the exact moment at which I realised, when listening for the first time, that I was currently prithee to something very special indeed. "Hellhole Ratrace" was the song, and there was a point at which the tortured, mournful spartan arrangement was all but enveloped by a sweeping guitar crunch which served to bring things to another level entirely. It's a very old trick, but it still works. It's good to know that such things still move me.
Timeless melodies, lazy vocals, whooziness - forty-four minutes and seventeen seconds dripping with yearning regret. It's somewhat like those summer days which are so hot that to simply wander through the city is a psychedelic experience - your mind escapes you, content to drift, and people comment and tut and ask if, you know, are you like, constantly stoned, or something. Not at all! It's just really hot, and I get quite tired.
I suppose a lot of people hear sunsets in these hazy chords. Golden suns setting over Californian horizons, on the beach, with beer and - oh yes - lots of Girls. A nice image, I grant you. A very appealing tableau, I'll give you that. For me, however, it's the sound of four in the morning. Either there's a full moon illuminating all in a deathly glow or my bedroom lamp's struggling to provide adequate illumination. Whatever the case, I'm tired. I'm exhausted. Each successive cup of jet black saccharin coffee makes my mind race faster but my eyes droop heavier. My head is pounding, demanding sleep, but I'm absolutely determined to stay awake. And why? I've no idea. All I know is, to sleep is to surrender.
And that's the appeal of Girls, for me. If I could explain it in any clearer terms it probably wouldn't fare so high in my estimation.
UP NEXT - 15-11