wears the trousers magazine

best of 2009: readers poll results #40–31

Here we go, counting down the 50 albums you voted for in the highest number as your favourites for 2009. Numbers 40–31 right here.

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Tori Amos
Midwinter Graces

[Island; November 2009]

What we said then: “[Tori] Amos has spent a lifetime exploring the perceived divisions between the sacred and the profane, the Christian and the Pagan, or to put it in her terms, “marrying the Marys”. On Midwinter Graces, she takes this preoccupation to its logical (and perhaps most literal) conclusion, stripping back carols commonly regarded as Christian to their pre-evangelised forms, and working in some naturalistically rooted observations of her own… She thinks nothing of editing a lyric or verse here and there to suit her thematic needs, and it’s this return to some of the fearlessness of old that impresses most. And, unlike some of her recent material, there’s never the sense that the message is taking precedent over the music.” •••• Alan Pedder

What we say now: The woeful artwork may have landed her on more than one ‘worst album covers of 2009’ list, but Midwinter Graces has done a lot to reinvigorate Amos’s fanbase. Hell, it even got some glowing reviews from the mainstream music press. The revelation that standout track ‘Winter’s Carol’ is to be the finale of Amos’s next project, a stage musical production of writer George MacDonald’s children’s story, The Light Princess, has perked up interest in the long-promised project. 2010 could be another interesting year to be a Tori Amos fan.

Download: ‘Jeanette, Isabella’, ‘Star Of Wonder’, ‘Winter’s Carol’


La Roux
La Roux

[Polydor; June 2009]

What we said then: “Hello again, 1982. Listening to La Roux’s debut album, it’s as though vocalist Elly Jackson and producer Ben Langmaid have been living in a cultural vacuum for the last 25 years or so. A glossy, almost sonically frigid collection of completely electronic music, it seemingly negates every musical trend than has come between then and now in favour of a sound from an era that grows more remote sounding by the day, encompassing such sonic bedfellows as Japan, Blancmange, Yazoo, Eurythmics, Depeche Mode and David Bowie.” ••••½ P Viktor

What we say now: A surprisingly low placing for this album – are you just all bored of it by now? What is there left to say about La Roux anyway? I can’t think of anything. It was quite good for a while.

Download: ‘Bulletproof’, ‘Cover Your Eyes’, ‘Fascination’


Nellie McKay
Normal As Blueberry Pie: A Tribute To Doris Day

[Verve Forecast; October 2009]

What we said then: “An album of Doris Day covers may sound like a puzzling prospect in 2009, but it makes perfect sense when the tribute comes from someone as oblivious to the demands of modern pop conventions as singer-songwriter and pianist Nellie McKay… Few artists could spin Doris Day’s whiter than white image into an album as intriguing, diverse and wonderfully rich as Normal As Blueberry Pie (and fewer would even attempt it), so it’s a mark of McKay’s imagination and skill that this album is every bit as appetising as its titular dessert… The songs sound rejuvenated and alive without attempting to be especially modern – both normal and exceptional – and it really works.” •••• Matt Barton

What we say now: This Doris Day tribute fits idiosyncratic singer-songwriter Nellie McKay like a stylish glove. Having idolised Day since her youth, and being one of the few people to have been granted an interview with the retired actress/singer, McKay was as close to her subject as anyone could feasibly get, allowing her to not only capture Day’s spirit in brilliantly observed performances, but also to feel comfortable enough to be inventive with them. A tasty treat.

Download: ‘Close Your Eyes’, ‘If I Ever Had A Dream’, ‘The Very Thought Of You’


Hildur Guðnadóttir
Without Sinking

[Touch; March 2009]

What we said then: “Inspired by clouds, [Hildur] Guðnadóttir set out to create an album full of atmospheric tones and a sense of breathing, seeking to incorporate amorphous musical figures. The abstract nature of her compositions is combined here with a subconscious fear of storm and sinister nimbuses, but the breaths are more difficult to find. These pieces are more stifling, like a slow sucking of heavy air molecules rather than airy celestial melodies.” ••••• Tomáš Slaninka

What we say now: Without Sinking is truly an exceptional record. Hildur Guðnadóttir weaves astonishing passages of layered, resonant cello that speaks directly to the heart and the brain, flushing them with a strange and powerful cocktail of ambient sadness and a deeper, more intrinsic melancholy that pulses and sighs. No other instrumental album we heard in 2009 came anywhere near to affecting us in the same way, and obviously quite a few of you rather liked it too. Essential listening? We think so.

Download: ‘Aether’, ‘Erupting Light’, ‘Opaque’


Theoretical Girl

[Memphis Industries; August 2009]

What we said then: Divided leaves no room for doubt that [Amy] Turnnidge is a gifted songwriter with an ear for traditional, high-art pop that she tweaks and customises into something delectably her own. From the symphonic melancholy of ‘Good Timing’ to the catchy, upbeat pop of the title track, Turnnidge should be winning hearts all round. A perfect balance of sunshine sounds and somewhat bitter lyrics keep her vacillating numbers from growing too quaint, adding a shock of realism to a very sweet-sounding album. A strong debut from a determined, versatile young songstress, Divided has all the hallmarks of a hit record.” •••• Charlotte Richardson Andrews

What we say now: While Theoretical Girl has already set to work on her next album, we’re left wondering what might have happened if Divided had been the bigger crossover hit it had so much potential to become. There’s a great deal on offer on this lovely little debut, and Amy Turnnidge has all the requisite individuality and style to stand out from the crowd. If you missed all her recent advent calendar goodies, head over to her blog pronto to snag some festive treats and covers before it’s too late. You can always stash them in your iTunes until next year.

Download: ‘Dancehall Deceit’, ‘Divided’, ‘Red Mist’


Brandi Carlile
Give Up The Ghost

[SonyBMG; October 2009]

What we said then: “Brandi Carlile’s exceptional vocal range just expanded. Third album Give Up The Ghost takes the Washington-born singer-songwriter’s greatest asset and pushes it way beyond its already wide parameters. Still present is her characteristic half-yodel, the way she can leave her voice to slide up or down a scale, knowing she will hit the note perfectly when she gets there. But this time she takes her voice further, stronger, longer, higher. Much higher, actually. Gone are the growls, gone is the angry teenage attitude, and in their place is a calmer, wiser woman, contemplative and full of acceptance, of letting be and letting go.” •••• Sacha Whitmarsh

What we say now: This is a bit of a cheeky inclusion as Give Up The Ghost isn’t officially released in the UK until early 2010, but Brandi Carlile is just too good to leave out at the risk of overlooking her in next year’s roundup. Plenty of you picked this out as one of your favourites, so we know we’re not alone in loving her work. Give Up The Ghost may not be as raw and exhilarating as its predecessor The Story, but it rarely digresses from excellence.

Download: ‘Before It Breaks’, ‘Pride & Joy’, ‘That Year’


A Camp

[Reveal; February 2009]

What we said then: “Revealing surreal allegory just out of view behind the everyday, and animating ordinary images and symbols with delightfully clever finesse, this is pop with content, made indefinably magical through [Nina] Persson’s weary, clear tones. Bittersweet, heartwarming and honest, Colonia is a score of imagination and creative artistry, seasoned with the knowledge of life’s journeys, and yet still exploring with wide-eyed wonder and taking a playful pleasure in the adventures of life, love, politics and emotion.” •••• Charlotte Richardson Andrews

What we say now: To say we waited eight long years for this follow-up to Nina Persson’s ‘solo’ debut as A Camp would be telling a fib; for years she said she’d never make one! When it finally arrived, some people found Colonia disappointing, but to these ears it was every bit as strong as the self-titled. It was a little cheesy in places, admittedly, but Persson’s sweetly careworn vocals subverted that enough for us to defuse any potentially cloying moments.

Download: ‘Love Has Left The Room’, ‘Stronger Than Jesus’, ‘The Crowning’


Erin McKeown
Hundreds Of Lions

[Righteous Babe; November 2009]

What we said then: “Newly signed to Righteous Babe Records, [Erin] McKeown has a witty, imaginative writing style in common with her new label boss Ani DiFranco, and long-time fans will rejoice at the return of her clear and natural alto, a no-frills instrument that brings a wonderfully effective sophistication to her songs. Newcomers, too, will find much to discover in this richly diverse collection that casts McKeown in a range of different guises.” •••• Matt Barton

What we say now: Righteous Babe seems like the ideal home for a creative spirit as restless and innovative as Erin McKeown. She’s established a reputation for bending, fusing and distilling all kinds of musical styles into a whole that is distinctly hers, and Hundreds Of Lions continues this trend with refined panache. Perhaps her finest release to date, it’s a mature and cleverly constructed set that is justly well on its way to being her most commercially successful (in the US, at least). She’s touring the UK with labelmate Anaïs Mitchell in January/February – do not miss this!

Download: ‘(Put The Fun Back In) The Funeral’, ‘Santa Cruz’, ‘You, Sailor’



[4AD; November 2009]

What we said then: “Merrill Garbus is a criminal genius. In tUnE-yArDs, she has created the most frustrating band name to type in the history of the universe, a theme that is carried on into the title of her debut album, BiRd-BrAiNs. Luckily, Garbus is here to show us that even the most sadistic of minds can make the loveliest music. By the time the fluttering ‘Synonynonym’ draws the album to a perfect, gentle close on a quiet and softly sad note, you’ll probably have noted that BiRd-BrAiNs is a satisfyingly disparate listen whose rough, lo-fi charms are unlike anything else. You can hear the care and thoughtfulness that has gone into its making, and if care, thoughtfulness and a good sense of humour are qualities that appeal to you in music, a wander through Garbus’s peculiarly lovely little world comes very highly recommended.” •••• Hugh Armitage

What we say now: We reviewed BiRd-BrAiNs long before the folks at 4AD got their mitts on it to give the album an expanded reissue, but if anyone deserves the attention and indie-cred that working with such an established label entails, it’s Merrill Garbus, and it’s been wonderful to see her get a real foothold. We would have liked to have seen BiRd-BrAiNs much higher in the chart (it’s in my personal top 10), but it’s silly to pretend that the album is everyone’s cup of tea. If you haven’t heard it yet, do give it a chance. Just as Hugh said, it comes very highly recommended.

Download: ‘Fiya’, ‘Hatari’, ‘Whenyoutellthelions’


Emmy The Great
First Love

[Close Harbour; February 2009]

What we said then: “What’s so impressive about Emmy [The Great] is the fact that she’s not a songwriter in the lone-wolf sense that seems to be the norm these days… She’s been incredibly smart with First Love, insofar as she has shown that she isn’t just a lyricist with a good voice. Rather, she’s showing that she can put together different elements to create a distinctive sound. It’s a joyful experience, akin to Architecture In Helsinki in full flow.” •••• Scott Sinclair

What we say now: It took some of us a while to warm up to First Love, largely because the evolution of some of the older songs was a little hard to swallow at first. But, as Scott pointed out in his review, that Emmy has been able to create a distinctive, fuller sound and work it to her advantage is much more impressive than the basic guitar sketches we first fell in love with. And while I don’t think she’s quite nailed the band treatments just yet, a reappraisal of First Love has softened my stance on it somewhat. Looking forward to what she does next.

Download: ‘Absentee’, ‘The Easter Parade’, ‘We Almost Had A Baby’

* * *

All additional commentary by Alan Pedder


3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

tune-yards should have been top 10

Comment by mike

^ this

Comment by Wears The Trousers magazine

yes sorry i see your comment about “what we say now” i was basing my fact on the CD but also was bettered by her live set on Marc Riley show
where her voice sounded magnificent… Much more to come from Merrill me thinks

Comment by mike

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