wears the trousers magazine


best of 2009: readers poll results #10-1

At last, here are the ten albums you voted for in the highest number as your favourites for 2009. Happy New Year from all at Wears The Trousers!

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10

Alela Diane
To Be Still

[Names; February 2009]

What we said then: To Be Still is the kind of album that communicates directly with the hindbrain, directing you to the nearest couch, bed or convenient corner; once there, your instructions are to daydream, to ruminate through long-forgotten memories, or just to stare off into the middle distance… Alela Diane is truly the real thing: a singer-songwriter of immense talent, overflowing with creative ideas and real vision.” ••••½ Scott Sinclair

What we say now: She’s come a long way from the low-budget days of her early self-released albums Forest Parade and the later-reissued masterpiece The Pirate’s Gospel, and we’re thrilled to see Alela Diane finally breaking even and earning her dues. To Be Still saw Alela move away from the sparse folk of earlier efforts to a fuller band sound, a successful evolution that helped her transition from underground acclaim to more mainstream pastures, as evidenced in her well-received slot on ‘Later…with Jools Holland’. A bold and beautiful effort.

Download: ‘The Alder Trees’, ‘The Ocean’, ‘White As Diamonds’

9

Soap&Skin
Lovetune For Vacuum

[PIAS; April 2009]

What we said then: “[Anja] Plaschg is clearly not a happy bunny. She’s dark and twisty in a way that is at once both alienating and deeply fascinating, and the very same can be said of her debut album, Lovetune For Vacuum. It’s a listening experience that is, at times, almost painful. While you might not listen to it much, you will find yourself thinking about it a lot. It is, in equal parts, a mix of Stina Nordenstam’s darker days, Karin Dreijer Andersson’s, um, days, and the orchestral sensibility of Sigur Ros. Which is to say it is a very, very good, if intense and frequently scary, record.” •••• Scott Sinclair

What we say now: That the year’s most riveting debut came from an 18 year old Austrian solo artist operating under an occultish pseudonym and bearing a shoulder-chip as massive as her ferocious talent seems entirely fitting. Soap&Skin’s Anja Plaschg drew us into her claustrophobic musical world with all the calm inevitability of a black hole, exacting her volatile moods with an alien degree of precision, a terrifying musical maturity and a killer instinct for melodic thrills and spills. Cold, chilling and absolutely brilliant.

Download: ‘Extinguish Me’, ‘March Funébre’, ‘Spiracle’

8

PJ Harvey & John Parish
A Woman A Man Walked By

[Island; March 2009]

What we said then: “A more cynical ear might accuse Harvey of trying too hard, of over-reaching in the performance stakes, but she’s too switched on for that. She’s aware of inviting claims of contrivance with these theatrical songs, but insists it doesn’t feel like she’s acting. Whatever your interpretation, it’s clear both parties have a deeper understanding of one another’s music than any outsider could ever hope to comprehend, a synergy that has only strengthened over the 20+ years of their acquaintance.” ••••½ Alan Pedder

What we say now: It is sometimes hard to work out whether this is really a fantastic record or whether it is just so wonderful to have PJ Harvey around doing something, anything, being a national treasure and all. It’s certainly a powerful album, and sits very (un)comfortably next to Dance Hall At Louse Point as an equally dark and at times downright mental (witness ‘Pig Will Not’) collection of folksy, bluesy, but also very English tales from the crypt. The moody starkness can be quite exhausting, making this an album not one that we’ve reached for on a regular basis, but A Woman A Man Walked By is still completely in a league of its own.

Download: ‘April’, ‘Black Hearted Love’, ‘Sixteen, Fifteen, Fourteen’,

7

St Vincent
Actor

[4AD; May 2009]

What we said then: “While there’s no doubting the intelligence, craft and sheer damned inventiveness of Actor, you wouldn’t describe it as an album that touches the heart. On most of these songs, [Annie] Clark favours an arty distance that precludes emotional involvement, and, amidst the instrumental riches, her vocal approaches seem somewhat less varied than on Marry Me. These qualities ultimately conspire to make Actor an album that is likely to stir up feelings of admiration rather than love. Even so, it’s an original, exciting and impressive record that is sure to rank among the year’s best.” •••• Alex Ramon

What we say now: St Vincent rounded out 2009 with her reputation as one of indie rock’s most captivating live performers in an unassailable position, the songs from Actor really coming alive in the concert setting. What at first might have seemed overwrought and calculated on record became thrilling and instinctive when revisited, finally doing Annie Clark’s ambition justice, and it deservedly became one of the year’s most celebrated albums and a popular pick for other ‘best of 2009’ roundups.

Download: ‘Actor Out Of Work’, ‘Marrow’, ‘The Neighbors’

6

Yeah Yeah Yeahs
It’s Blitz!

[Polydor; April 2009]

What we said then: “Swinging in on a colossal mirrorball that aims to pulverise Lady Gaga and a whole array of posers that have sprouted up weed-like in their absence, It’s Blitz! is pure disco demolition. Out goes the guitar-led jittering and in come chunky retro synths that evoke everyone from Georgio Moroder to Erasure. It’s a bit like listening to the first two albums with a belly full of something terrifically illegal, as though Donna Summer had grabbed the trio by the hand on a Blonde Ambition tour past the post-punk guitar and the crack of the snare, and off out into space.” ••••½ Chris Catchpole

What we say now: This year Wears the Trousers watched with sad curiosity as It’s Blitz! failed to get the commercial reaction it deserved. It seems that despite being lavished with praise upon release – not to mention a receiving a Grammy nomination – it hasn’t shaken dancefloors around the world in the way it could or should have done. ‘Zero’ alone deserved to be huge. People everywhere should have been climbing ladders to the sun. Maybe they were just too busy watching ‘The X Factor’. Shame. Amazing album though.

Download: ‘Heads Will Roll’, ‘Soft Shock’, ‘Zero’

5

Neko Case
Middle Cyclone

[Anti-; March 2009]

What we said then: “Recorded in transition between Tucson and a barn on Case’s new farm in Vermont, Middle Cyclone feels like a record that has gone the distance in development. It wears its influences on its sleeve, bringing rolling country ditties, folk-ish ballads and touches reminiscent of ’60s girlgroup pop to the table. While Case’s voice has never been as spectacular an instrument on record as it is seen live, she’s intimate enough with it to extract the maximum amount of sweetness and huskiness. Paired with her witty, disarmingly intelligent lyrics, the effect is devastating.” ••••½ Scott Sinclair

What we say now: The critical acclaim that surrounded Neko Case’s 2006 album Fox Confessor Brings The Flood rolled over in a big way for Middle Cyclone, which made a spectacular top-five debut on the US Billboard album chart off the back of yet more gushing praise. We were among those swept off their feet by the album’s breathtaking scope and emotional density, not to mention its occasional perfect pop moments, and the effect still hasn’t worn off. Middle Cyclone deals in fluid poetry and a loose, organic beauty that can’t fail to stir the heart, and a top five placing is justly deserved.

Download: ‘Middle Cyclone’, ‘Prison Girls’, ‘This Tornado Loves You’

4

Fever Ray
Fever Ray

[Rabid; January 2009]

What we said then:Fever Ray is a beautiful, often breathtaking, album that starkly contrasts with the commercial electro-pop that 2009 seems destined to be known for. In reality, Dreijer’s cabalistic opus won’t present a sales rival to the likes of the much over-hyped Little Boots or Lady Gaga, but those with an ear for finer things should seek out a copy without hesitation.” ••••• Simon Christopher

What we say now: Fever Ray went on to become one of the year’s most critically acclaimed albums as musos fell over themselves to try to capture Karin Dreijer Andersson’s seismic fusion of weird domesticity and sinister electronica in a flurry of adjectives. A bit like that. But the Knife frontwoman’s solo project isn’t quite so easy to pin down, and it’s this indefinite, ambiguous quality that gives this album a totally captivating mystique. Accompanied by some of the year’s creepiest videos and a rapturously received live show, Fever Ray wowed and astounded in all kinds of ways.

Download: ‘Seven’, ‘Triangle Walks’, ‘When I Grow Up’

3

Florence + The Machine
Lungs

[Island; July 2009]

What we said then: “Perhaps it’s the impassioned vocals, or something primordial in the drumming, but these songs are big, attention-hogging things that can’t be left alone – and this is what makes Lungs such a satisfying listening experience. It grabs you and completely draws you in. Air-drumming is inescapable… Lungs is such a bewilderingly accomplished, confident and riotous debut that questioning the likelihood of a follow-up is redundant.” ••••½ Daniel Clatworthy

What we say now: Complex, strange and almost intoxicating, a full listen to Lungs is akin to stepping through the looking glass to a world of loss, love, death and violence. On reflection, however, it’s fair to say that this album would have been closer to perfection had Florence chosen to relegate ‘Kiss With A Fist’ and ‘You’ve Got The Love’ to B-side status as their inclusion does not sit well alongside the immense size and scope of each and every other song. Minor flaws aside, it’s still hard to believe that Lungs is a debut album. There is an intelligence and composure here that is wildly inspirational – qualities that managed to ensure that those of us that couldn’t bear the hype around this band earlier this year have been completely won over.

Download: ‘Dog Days Are Over’, ‘Drumming Song’, ‘Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)’

2

Regina Spektor
Far

[Sire; June 2009]

What we said then: “While the tone is no less authentic than in either 2006’s Begin To Hope or 2004’s Soviet Kitsch, it has been shorn of some of its roughest edges; for better or worse, [Far] is a more aerodynamic vehicle for her talents. Maturity manifests itself differently for everyone and Spektor, it would seem, wants to seize the soapbox, to speak with purpose while she still has an audience.” •••• Nick Christian

What we say now: Regina Spektor fans turned out in their scores to secure the mistress of quixotic and quirky piano-pop a high placing in our poll, but it wasn’t quite enough to get her to the top. Far has taken a bit of a bashing from some critics and lapsed Spektor fans alike, but for all its detractors, at its heart remains Spektor as the same unique and prodigious musical changeling we first fell in love with five years ago.

Download: ‘Blue Lips’, ‘Dance Anthem Of The ’80s’, ‘The Calculation’

1

Bat For Lashes
Two Suns

[Parlophone; April 2009]

What we said then:Two Suns is astoundingly perfect. A natural progression from the tribal warmth and gothic acoustics of its predecessor, it explores the ego and heart with astral-bound synths and out-of-body melodies stretching like glittering constellations across each song. If Fur & Gold was a forest-bound adventure, Two Suns is a shamanic journey through desert and sky, delving into the progressive/destructive worlds of spiritual consciousness and physical desire.” ••••• Charlotte Richardson Andrews

What we say now: Although Two Suns saw Natasha Khan miss out on the Mercury Prize for the second time, it continues to be lauded as one of the year’s most original releases. The star-spun clash between Khan’s volatile alter ego Pearl and her earthier Bat For Lashes persona produced an album that earned unanimous praise from all quarters and a huge commercial hit in lead single ‘Daniel’, whose ‘Karate Kid’-inspired video went on to earn a nomination in the Breakthrough Video category of the MTV Video Music Awards. An epic work, expansive in scope and magnificently executed, Khan set the bar to stratospheric heights, and in an age where female artists are still afforded less than equal visibility on year-end best-of lists, the across-the-board success of Two Suns is well worth celebrating.

Download: ‘Daniel’, ‘Good Love’, ‘Pearl’s Dream’

* * *

Additional commentary by Charlotte Richardson Andrews (#10, #1), Chris Catchpole (#8, #6, #3) and Alan Pedder (the rest).

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