Let’s talk 2009 in albums

Eventually! It was a long way with this post – I started writing first reviews when I was skiing in Italy in late December, then I wrote another bit in Poland, added a little tiny bit in Sweden on New Year and then wrote nothing for a month – but for last two weeks I tried to finish it off here in Scotland (you know, the more you delay doing something, the harder it is to make yourself actually do it). So it’s quite an international post, I shall say.

Before you get to know my personal ranking of 2009 albums, you should know that my main criterion while writing it was the role of the album played in my life last year. Generally, it was a great year for me: lots of ideas and action, not just passive dreaming, so I was looking for music that was fitting it this mood somehow, enhancing it even more. For example, I am aware of Fever Ray self-titled album being better than Ciara’s in probably every way, but it just didn’t have any impact on me last year. I’m quite sure that there will be time when I truly feel Fever Ray album (which, by the way, I really like) and call it a masterpiece, but this time simply didn’t come in 2009.

2008 was all about debuts and discoveries, 2009 was mainly about returns of some of my favourite artists. However, two new artists to me (one with her debut, actually) made it to my top 10.

In this post you will find my top 10 albums of 2009, as well as other good albums worth mentioning and total disappointments. Enjoy!

Oh, and just so you know – there’s gonna be a huge change taking place on my blog this week… It will arrive together with my post about Imogen Heap’s gig I attended a week ago. Get ready for the re-invention!…

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So here are my top 10 albums:

10. Ciara – Fantasy Ride

Okay, maybe this isn’t the most abmitious album to start with but it is so much fun! ‘Love Sex Magic’ and ‘Work’ are simply amazing urban/pop/dance tunes. I didn’t expect anything more than average from Ciara after her previous album and it felt great to get surprised that much. Collection of ultra commercial hits made especially for my pleasure. I appreciate this. This was once a case with The Pussycat Dolls – they were a perfect product: their first album was made exclusively of hits, they were sexy, they were great dancers, they had nice videos. With Ciara’s new image you get everything in one person: she’s never looked better, actually she may be the sexiest performer in the music business right now (‘Love Sex Magic’ and ‘Work’ music videos prove that just fine). I’m tired with all these new starlettes emerging each day, they seem so… recycled. Ciara is a proper made superstar with a pinch of genuine talent (she is an amazing dancer). I’m buying her new image, new videos, new album – these are highly and purely entertaining products and I’m buying that.

Songs to check out:Love Sex Magic‘, ‘High Price’ and ‘Work’:

9. Florence + The Machine – Lungs

This album wasn’t such a revelation for me, but I’ve found myself attracted to it at some point. Florence has an extraordinary voice and I like it a lot. Musically, there’s a lot of drama and a lot of dreamy mood. Fine, but the further in the album, the less distinctive it is. I guess you get used to it too quickly. Still, I enjoyed it a lot. And she reminds me of Kate Nash sometimes – obviously, Florence has a more powerful voice, but you have to admit that in ‘Girl With One Eye’ she sings in Nash’s manner, period. Oh, and the album has a nice cover.

Songs to check out:Rabbit’s Heart (Raise It Up)‘, ‘Girl With One Eye‘ and ‘Dog Days Are Over’:

8. The Bird and The Bee – Ray Guns Are Not Just The Future

Let’s face it – this album is not as good as their debut LP, but it’s still charming. Greg Kurstin creates close-to-perfection clever little pop and Inara George contributes with her sweet warm voice on top of these catchy melodies. They are not revolutionary. However, there are moments when all I need is a stream of nice heartwarming cosy songs and I usually type The Bird and The Bee in my iTunes then. One click and the world is a nicer place to live in. Good tunes.

Songs to check out:Witch‘, ‘Meteor‘ and ‘My Love’:

7. Röyksopp – Junior

Well, I expected something better than that. Röyksopp are ‘eating their own tail’ as my friend say. For me, they didn’t go anywhere since the last album. I wanted them to show me some new places, but they showed me around the same yard as before. It’s not that bad though as The Understanding is a great one (especially the bonus CD).  Anyway, I was quite disappointed initially. However, the album grew on me and I ended up listening to it quite a lot, even though it was just a filler. When the first single ‘Happy Up Here’ was released, I hated it and I still do. I always start listening to the album from the second track. ‘Happy Up Here’ is so plain, there’s nothing to it. How could anyone make it  a leading single – I’ve no idea, but he or she (or them) was so wrong. ‘Girl and the Robot’ is a successful electropop attempt, but then again – it was not what I once loved Röyksopp for. It also turned out that I had too big expectations for tracks featuring Karin from The Knife: ‘This Must Be It’ is a good one, but ‘Tricky Tricky’ is usually skipped by me. So how does it come that Röyksopp made it to my top 10? Thanks to Lykke Li and Anneli Drecker. Lykke Li’s child-like vocals were haunting on ‘Miss It So Much’ and my favourite (what a pity it was a Japanese bonus track only!) unfriendly and dark ‘Were You Ever Wanted?’. Anneli’s airy vocals suited the duo’s cooler landscapes, like in ‘You Don’t Have a Clue’. I also was quite sentimental with ‘Röyksopp Forever’ as it reminds me a lot of Rondo Veneziano that used be played in my home in my early childhood years… To sum up: not the most innovative stuff from Röyksopp, but it’s still a pleasure to listen to them, and I’ve found something for me in it after all.

Songs to check out:Were you ever wanted‘, ‘Röyksopp Forever‘ and ‘This Must Be It’:

6. Peaches – I Feel Cream

I have never expected myself to have such a blast with Peaches. She always seemed too hardcore for me. On I Feel Cream she was far more eatable than I could imagine. Actually, she was delicious. On this album she worked with great electro magicians like Simian Mobile Disco, Gonzales and Soulwax. You can hear it. She balances between electro, dance and punk energy. I usually listen to the album from the first to the last track, which is not happening that frequently these days. Trust me, this album is a wild ride, so if you are electro-hungry this is what you should be listening to.

Songs to check out:Mommy Complex‘, ‘Lose You‘ and ‘I Feel Cream’

5. Annie – Don’t Stop

I discovered Annie in April on Popjustice when they wrote about her ‘Anthonio’. This track was a masterpiece to me, even though I wasn’t too keen on Annie and her voice back then (yet!) – as you may remeber. At first, I thought of her as ‘Scandinavian Kylie’ but I listened to her Don’t Stop album in November, eventually. And that was it. I’ve fallen in love right there and then. Annie’s music is sometimes described as indie-pop, and I think there’s much to it as her music is lighthearted, cheerful and extremely catchy, but it lacks the ‘product’ commercial value. Annie once said that she wants to make pop, but it’s not that easy to make songs that are pop and don’t sound cheesy. It seems that Annie does her best, because she is admired from Popjustice to… Pitchfork. Her debut album Anniemal from 2005 (which is amazing too! I saw a sticker on the cover with an extract from a review saying that this album is like ABBA songs remixed by Daft Punk) had 8.8/10 on Pitchfork and her single ‘Heartbeat’ from that album was announced the song of the year on that website (to compare, Fever Ray got 8.1). That was quite a surprise for me, because Pitchfork praises indie artists but I’ve never seen a pop record being reviewed so well! Don’t Stop is more electropop that its predecessor and it was scored ‘only’ 7.2, and other sites gave it highly favourable reviews too. When it comes to pop albums, I listen to them ‘from A to Z’ really rarely – I just loop my favourite songs. Since this album is made from good songs only, it was on repeat in whole. Oh, and it’s worth mentioning that she works closely with Richard X (who produced ‘Anthonio’ and ‘Songs Remind Me of You’, and most of her debut album), and on this record she also collaborated a lot with Xenomania and Paul Epworth. Great team. And Alex Kapranos from Franz Ferdinand plays the guitar on ‘Loco’ and ‘My Love is Better” – just so you know. I wouldn’t exaggerate saying that Don’t Stop is one of the most pleasurable pop records in years. Listen to it obligatory! And then, when you fall in love with it, get a deluxe edition of the album that includes All Night EP with ‘Anthonio’ – my #3 single last year, but according to my last.fm statistics it’s definitely #1 – and other four good tracks on it.

Songs to check out:Anthonio‘, ‘My Love Is Better‘ and ‘Songs Remind Me of You’:

4. Basement Jaxx – Scars

I was really excited about this one. Not only because Jaxxes are always creative and crazy on their albums – although this would be a reason good enough – but also because of the guests: Santigold, Kelis, Yoko Ono (I don’t listen to her, but come on, Basement Jaxx and Yoko Ono sounds more than interesting), and my favourite Sam Sparro. News on the guests kept me getting more and more thrilled. When I heard ‘Raindrops’ (featuring Felix from Basement Jaxx himself), an euphoric song with a love theme that later became my summer athem, I reached the highest levels of joy. And I was yet to see them at Open’er Festival! Anyway, the didn’t disappoint me. Perfection is something I got used to with Basement Jaxx. So why isn’t this album higher? It doesn’t really work as a whole for me. I don’t really know how to put it – I like each and every song, but as a whole the albums seems a bit uneven… Still, we’re talking ‘extremely good’ and ‘very good’ differeneces, so it’s not a big deal, is it? It was a nice surprise when they released another little album later in 2009 – Zephyr. I don’t really have strong feelings for this one as it’s more ambient and downtempo, and it’s not what I love Jaxxes for. Or maybe I just haven’t listened to it that much (I listened to it a couple of times in full…). It’s good though, so it’s definitely worth giving it a try.

Songs to check out:Raindrops‘, ‘Saga‘ and ‘Feelings Gone’:

3. Lily Allen – It’s Not Me, It’s You

When you combine Lily’s cute voice and brilliant, not-so-cute lyrics (on the other hand – have you ever heard somebody singing to f*ck off in a cuter way than she does?) with Greg Kurstin’s ability to create one of the best electropop out there, you end up with a winning record, i.e. It’s Not Me, It’s You. If I was to choose a #1 single of 2009 for me, it would be ‘The Fear’ with no doubt. It’s perfection. Lily comments on the state of UK (but not only) society in such an intelligent way, always tongue-in-cheek, always smart, and Greg makes you hooked on it for ages (and I’m still not bored with this one) thanks to catchy melody and loads of tiny details in music that you may even not be aware of, but you just know it’s the highest level of production. And this is the case with the rest of the tracks. Lily made a great choice collaborating exlusively with Kurstin. I really hope that Lily wasn’t serious while saying that she’s quitting the music industry…

Songs to check out:Everyone’s At It‘, ‘Fuck you‘ and ‘The Fear’:

2. Jessie Evans – Is It Fire?

Is It Fire? was the hottest album of 2009 for me. Jessie Evans is a charismatic singer, but her greatest talent is hypnotizing with her sax – for me, this is what mattered on the album the most. She teamed up with Toby Dammit who knows how to fill drums with pure fire. As a result, we got the album bursting with life and passion; the album where melodies are in a thrilling dance with rhythm; the album that makes you wanna go to sun-burnt Mexico and breathe the hot dry air feeling the fire in you lungs… Think mysterious/nostalgic/dance vibes of Hercules and Love Affair in a latino version with a pinch of electronica. This album got me ready for hot summer adventures in February already (actually, it’s a year since the album was released). You should check out live performances on Jessie’s YouTube channel – her on-stage energy and image makes it all complete. She’s a woman made of blood and silver! And answering the question in the album’s title, I have no doubt: yes, it is hell of a fire!

Songs to check out:Is It Fire?‘, ‘Ninos del Espacio‘ and ‘Blood and Silver’

1. Imogen Heap – Ellipse

I guess it’s no surprise here. Since summer 2007 this album has grown to become a part of me thanks to Immi’s vBlogs on YouTube, 12seconds, Twitter, Vokle and more vessels of the online body of Heap. I feel like I know this album more than any others. Spacy emotional landscapes of songs capture bits and moments of not only Imogen’s life but my own as well. Can music be more than that? Each piece of Ellipse is an amazing history: from big and tiny dramas through tounge-in-cheek stories to almost metaphysical journeys. You find it all here. One of the dearest albums of my life.
The idea of putting an instrumental CD in a special edition of Ellipse was brilliant (I love Immi even more for spoiling us) – it’s a totally different experience to listen to tracks without vocals because you can focus exclusively on Imogen’s production and sound engineering then (and as you probably know if you visit this blog from time to time, she won the Grammy Award for Best Engineered Non-Classical Album for Ellipse!). Get it here, it’s a real treat!
Seeing Imogen’s gig in Glasgow a week ago was one of the most engrossing musical experiences of my life – I just burnt to ashes, went to the musical heaven and reborn more complete.
The Masterpiece.

Songs to check out: ‘Aha!‘, ‘Canvas‘ and ‘First Train Home’:

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There were some other great albums that didn’t make it to my top 10 for various reasons:

Tim Exile – Listening Tree
I listened to this album for the first time when I was on a late bus from Edinburgh to Glasgow, I guess it was a late Autumn. It was an extraordinary experience. The stuff that Tim does on his songs is exciting and disturbing at the same time. There’s no way you will stay indifferent. No way. It was something new, something fresh. I was stuck on a few songs on repeat. So why isn’t it in my top 10? I feel like I haven’t given the album enough attention yet. I still haven’t cracked a code with this one. It’s  complex, it’s mysterious. There’s much more to discover, I know that. I’ll let you know when I see the full glory of Listening Tree.
PS. I saw Tim Exile at Imogen’s gig – he is a GENIUS. The stuff that’s he did there… Mind-blowing! I will tell you all about it soon (look for a post about Immi’s gig – arriving this week!)

Fever Ray – Fever Ray
Now this album is really good. It works as a whole. I find Karin a bit weird, but I like her. Airy, mysterious mood is something I’m usually into, but somehow it wasn’t the case with this one. I mean, I like the songs and I listened to the album a few times, but to be honest, I just think that last year I wasn’t in a kind of mood for such experience really. I guess I will call it a big thing one day though.

Lady Gaga – The Fame Monster
If I saw any kind of appreciation of Lady Gaga on my blog a year ago, I would rather decide to close it that to let this happen. Anyway, she convinced me with ‘Bad Romance’ – it’s divine in its badness: all that cheesy stuff like ‘rah-rah-ra-a-a, roma-roma-ma’, out-of-nowhere French lyrics or the ‘walk, walk, fashion baby…’ bridge – it’s like David LaChapelle’s photographs – they often show ridiculous or ‘rotten’ situations in a kitch, over-the-top style and that’s why they are so damn perfect. Trashy, brain-eating pop is what she does, and she does it well. And she made her first good video eventually! It was a blast – one of those gigantic-productions that you can hardly come across these days… I’m talking ‘Bad Romance’, obviously. She’s getting somewhere.

Gossip – Music For Men
Good stuff. They added some electronica to their music, and that’s fine with me. Still, their biggest trump (maybe not the best choice of words…) is Beth, and it’s hard to look beyond that. As I said, good stuff – but not a thriller for me.

Bat For Lashes – Two Suns
I love ‘Daniel’ – probably my #2 single in 2009. Its vibe, its haunting melody, Natasha’s voice, the music video – each dimension of the song was thought-through carefully and makes a complete piece of art. There are a few more songs that I like on the album: ‘Glass’, ‘Pearl’s Dream’ and ‘Sleep Alone’. Maybe ‘Two Suns’ too. But the rest of the material doesn’t really appeal to me. When it comes to Bat For Lashes, I like only bits and pieces.

Tiga – Ciao!
A decent portion of electro for people who don’t spend every night partying. So they can catch up. I like 6 out of 11 tracks which is not the best score, but still it’s more than a half! At least these 6 tracks are truly brilliant, including hilarious ‘Shoes’ with a terrific music video (just look below).

Ebony Bones! – Bone of My Bones
The problem I have with Ebony Bones! is that she sounds like a crossover between M.I.A. and Santigold (I adore them both) for me… But it doesn’t really work. All I always remember about the album are three outstanding songs (‘The Muzik’, ‘In G.O.D. We Trust’ and ‘When It Rains’) and the rest blends into an energetic pulp in my memory. I just can’t find nothing more to her music. It’s quite good only.

Shakira – She Wolf
I never really liked her hits and her voice annoyed me. However, when she teamed up with The Neptunes and went into electropop, she turned out pretty much listenable. Not the best entertaining album ever, but quite a decent one. I enjoyed it in the background from time to time.

Agnieszka Chylińska – Modern Rocking
A very controversial album back in Poland. Agnieszka Chylińska was a rock icon for many years (remember that post?), but on this album she turned into… a glamorous electropop diva! Hell of a shocker! Just compare one of her old music videos (again, just click here) with the one promoting the album (it’s here) to get the picture… Obviously, plenty of people hated her for that and said that she sold herself, but to me – even though the album is average – it was all she’s always been about: don’t giving an ish about other people’s opinion. That’s her genuine attitude. She felt like making a dance record, so she made one, period. The track below is one of the best ones on the album: sounds like Deep Dish’s ‘Flashback’ mixed with game-like sounds from Crystal Castles.

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However, there was a couple of serious disappointments in 2009:

Simian Mobile Disco – Temporary Pleasure
Their debut album was a killer. Smashing energy throughout the whole album. Temporary Pleasures lacked that energy and charisma; despite a bunch of promising guests – Beth Ditto from Gossip, Jamie Lidell (actually, the song featuring him is the only one that I really like), Alexis Taylor (from Hot Chip) and Telepathe – the album is nothing but boring. And making electro boring is a disaster.

Black Eyed Peas – The E.N.D.
This may not be a band that I’m a big fan of, but over the years they provided quite a lot of hits that I enjoyed. I expected nothing more, but a few follow-ups. ‘Boom Boom Pow’ was quite interesting, so I listened to the album. And I’ve found nothing more worth attention there. Again – boring.

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That’s it, bravo for all of you who got that far! I’m looking forward to your comments!

    • magda
    • February 16th, 2010

    bravo for me! 😉
    czekam na Bogusława aż wróci do domu, więc zabijam czas Twoim postem
    a na poważnie: na temat prawie każdego albumu z dziesiątki narzekasz albo się asekurujesz, dziwne, nie? ;P
    i albumy spoza Twej szacownej dziesiątki znajduję znacznie ciekawszymi
    noo..poza Agnieszką i Shakirą (odkąd nie tarza się na stole w pomidorach z Alejandro, straciła w moich oczach)


  1. e tam, przesadzasz. jedynie przy Royksopp dałem upust swoim ambiwalentnym uczuciom. naprawdę nie zauważyłaś, że nad kilkoma albumami się rozpływam całkowicie?

    czyli aż tak źle z naszą kompatybilnością nie jest, bo te albumy spoza dziesiątki też mi się podobają (tak tylko piszę, jakbyś nie była tego pewna przez moje narzekanie i asekuranctwo)

    miło, że zajrzałaś! mam nadzieję, że Bogusław wróci trzeźwy i nie będzie burdy. pamiętaj, zawsze możesz go udobruchać czipsami albo mną nastraszyć 😉

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