Look. There's about four weeks left of the year. Anything that's released within the next month will not stand a chance to penetrate my consciousness to the extent that an inclusion is warranted within my "best of the year" list. No, it's not too early. And, yes, you guessed correctly. I am commencing my "best of the year" list, right here, right now. The "top 25" to be precise. Run for the hills. I know I would. What's worse than some bloated publication or institution insisting upon the ultimate numerical sequencing of something as personal and subjective as musical taste? I'll tell you: someone with no weight at all behind their position doing exactly the same. Apart from the inclusion of Zero 7's Yeah Ghost, the only thing that seperates my list from any other is the notion that nobody cares what I think. This list is beyond pointless. It shares all of the same "pointless points" as every other list out there but manages to rise above the rest in levels of pointlessness through being born out of so little amount of esteem that it goes as far as insisting that you don't read it. What's the point?
I do this every year. The only difference is that I now have a blog. It feels right. That's it. I'm not doing this for any other reason. In fact, fuck it. The plan always was to do it in instalments - twenty-five albums is quite a lot, my writing's wordy to the point that any messages I could ever have wished to convey are drowned - to do them all in one go would take so long that I'd be forced to assess as to exactly why I'm not chipping away at that novel I'm supposed to be writing. So, five posts, five albums in each, counting down from 25-1. Counting down, yes. Now, reading any list in descending order - no matter what's being listed - adds an element of suspense to any proceedings. I'd hate to assume that anybody would check back religiously in order to find out what this insignificant has placed at the number one spot. Well, in order to dispel any ounce of intrigue which might ever have been born from my ramblings, I'll say it now: my top pick for 2009 has always been Merriweather Post Pavilion by Animal Collective.
See? A safe option to be shared by about 60% of the lists out there. I suppose mine will be a little different in that I've still not heard Veckatamest in full. Aside from that, though, you're about to be treated to exactly the same entrants as everywhere else, albeit in a perhaps slightly different order (and, of course, a solid case for Zero 7's Yeah Ghost). All this coupled with willfully obtuse wordiness and worthiness. If I were you I wouldn't even bother.
I will say this, though - the multitude of lists which sprout up at around this time of year in conjunction with such sprawling and ambitious outputs by the likes of Mew, The Flaming Lips, Mastodon and The Decemberists - well, it acts as reassurance for me that, no matter how hard bands like Ash and The Black Eyed Peas might try, there will always be room for the album. Of course there will. Why try fighting it?
Here we go, then, from 25-21. Check back soon for the rest. Or, don't.
25. Orphan Fairytale - Ladybird Labyrinth
It's ever bit as inadvisable to judge an album by its cover as it is a book. But look into the desperately horny eyes of that terrifying Yoko Ono/Laurie Anderson love-child. In this instance, this is exactly what you get. Things start innocently enough with the alluring "Phantom Shapes" - a drifting ambient piece as floaty as anything from Eno's Apollo Soundtracks. After this things get a little unnerving - "Happy Go Lucky" is a little too close to Aphex Twin's terrifying "Radiator" for comfort.
These opening gambits, however, merely serve to ease-in the listener. That which follows is horrible, absolutely horrible. "Crybaby Needs a Hanky" might last just under six minutes - but those gentle chimes coupled with the hysterical cries of children induce a hellish state of mind in which one feels trapped in a nightmare. What are they doing to those children?! By the next track, however, "Bubble Memory" - these children appear to be laughing at you. What follows is a most disquieting piece in which the rituals of Wickerman are set to the drones of Eraserhead. The closing "Glorious High" sounds like the soundtrack to the funeral of a ballerina who died, at too young an age, of consumption. Horrible stuff.
Ladybird Labyrinth makes the list because it manages to sound infinitely more creepy, disturbing and inhuman than a thousand hours of doom metal without resorting to extreme volumes, uncomfortable frequencies or shock tactics. Be that as it may, I never, ever, ever want to hear it again.
24. Zero 7 - Yeah Ghost
For no reason in particular, I've not invested in any of their post "Simple Things" albums. Said album, however, remains one of my first picks in times of hangover. Zero 7, then, have always been close to my heart.
So there I was, aimlessly wandering the dimly lit corridors of limbo (HMV), when music so divine is piped through the PA that I'm forced to ask the guy at the counter what's playing. "It's the new Zero 7," he says. He looks as surprised as I am.
The song in question turned out to be the closing "All of Us" - which has somehow managed to retain its transcendent, uplifting beauty even after countless plays. Initially, getting there wasn't too easy. The album seems to have been structured like some kind of MP3 playlist; with a diverse range of styles rubbing shoulders with each other united only by a sustained nocturnal feel. "Mr. McGee" and "Medicine Man" attempt a sassy late-night jazz-bar vibe. In "Swing" and "Pop Art Blue" you've got your hushed, chilled acoustics. "Everything Up" supplies the motorik, and in "Ghost Symbol" you get a moody, clipped, slightly unnerving rumble which I believe can be described as dub-step. After a few listens it clicked - it all works - and I realised that here we have one of the most consistently diverse and, for want of a better word, pretty releases of the year. It sparkles and broods.
Zero 7 were part of that wave of downtempo soul which came to be classed as "chillout" music. I can't for one moment comment upon their two previous releases, but with "Yeah Ghost" there's an edge (an edge!) which cannot be ignored. No more "chillout", I'm now happy to refer to this simply as "music" - and it tastes fabulous.
23. Broadcast - Broadcast and The Focus Group Investigate Witchcults of the Radio Age
An absolutely irresistable prospect - our warped, retro creep heroes teaming up with Ghost Box's finest in order to conduct an investigation of witchcraft invoking seances, mirrors, mediums, drugs and group therapy. The results were never going to disappoint, but they were always going to freak somebody out. Late at night, in the dark, on headphones - that somebody was me.
On Geogaddi, Boards of Canada's haunting masterpiece, there are frequent occasions at which all structure and control is apparently abandoned in favour of haunting, drifting, ethereal sound collages - content to just float in space. It's like detuning a radio and accidentally stumbling across a phantom broadcast. You're hearing that which cannot be unheard, but you're too petrified to tune your way back to sanity. Broadcast's latest harbours the same feel, albeit without the clipped rhythms and reassuringly lush soundscapes which served to add a sense of grounding to proceedings for Geogaddi. The effect is one of total disorientation - a seemingly freeform audio nightmare with few distinguishable forms.
So drifting is it - so without apparent focus - that it sounds like - and is - more a soundtrack than a conventional album. But without the accompanying visuals, how does it fare? The only difference is that one is forced to create their own images. Not so much a soundtrack to a film waiting to be made (as such releases are often lazily described), more a soundtrack to a twisted art-circus yet to be summoned from beyond. It doesn't so much evoke the feel of a haunted house as trick you into feeling as if you're own house may be haunted. What is hiding in the shadows?
22. Blk Jks - After Robots
In order to fully understand certain recorded music, it is wholly necessary to witness it live. Leeds seemed like an unlikely venue to host the blistering dub-blues fury of Blk Jks - to entered that darkened room dripping with sound was like finding yourself in a lush, hazy and druggy swamp having just stepped from, well, the streets of Leeds. Like the best live music it was a tangible, palpable presence. You could feel it, you could taste it. The thing that struck me was just how dangerous it seemed to feel. Not threatening, just without grounding. This was music which, it seemed, could go anywhere it wanted without losing its intoxicating allure. I'm getting the most delicious taste in my mouth just thinking about it.
Revisiting the album after seeing them live, one is struck by its tightness. Live, Blk Jks are liquid. On record, they sound so in control of their dizzying whirlwind blues that it's genuinely tense - here's music that could explode at any moment. It frequently does.
Its effect is largely lost in these bleak winter months. I long for the summer, and for a midday festival slot in the scorching sunlight. Next year, I want to lose myself completely in these swamps. Until then, however, we're left with a recorded output which achieves the inconceivably brilliant middle ground between Tinariwen and The Mars Volta.
21. A Broken Consort - Box of Birch
A cursory, half-arsed listen makes it sound like the screeching ambience on which Nick Cave's "Hold On To Yourself" drifts shorn of its accompanying song. At an adequate volume, however, and granted with adequate attention, it sounds like the perfect aural evocation of the English landscape. Lancashire in particular, apparently.
Originally conceived, we are told, as a tribute to a departed wife. Was she, perhaps, a fan of long, solidary walks across such landscapes? Suddenly a signifcant amount of weight is added to these textures. Their effect is devastating.
This music sounds at once ancient and timeless - in these drones we see bleak, windswept hills - ravaged variously by storms, by drizzle, by industrial progress, by battle, by Patrick Wolf's "wired electricity". We see generations of humanity suffering through pointless endeavour whilst the land on which they live remains a grave constant. Listening to this music it's hard not to be made to feel somewhat insignificant - a square mile of field can render one as dwarfed as the entire vastness of space. An impossibly bleak, endlessly moving experience.
COMING SOON - 20-16