Saturday, 26 December 2009

H-T-A Picks of 2009: Albums Countdown 20 - 11

Continuing the 2009 countdown, here are the ones that didn't quite break the top 10 but that provided a sterling soundtrack to the year nonetheless.


ENTER SHIKARI - Common Dreads

Buy it at Insound!

A sharp assault to the senses, Common Dreads takes the blueprint laid out on their debut and forges it into a fully coherent album with a strong message and dynamic. Or, at least, as coherent as a band as sonically spastic as Enter Shikari can manage to be. Songs like Zzzonked may not resonate to that description, but with standout cuts like Juggernauts and Solidarity fitting in with it the St Albans boys have taken another step up with this energetic, ferocious album.



MP3: The Thermals - Now We Can See

Buy it at Insound!

Not having tuned into this band on their previously lauded album The Body, The Blood, The Machine, I was happy to be introduced with this release. An ostensibly upbeat collection of short indie pop/rock songs, the subject matter powering the music is much more critically minded, covering everything from our mismanagement of the planet to political failings. As such, it operates on many levels and, with tunes as catchy as the title track or We Were Sick, this release provides one of the sing along highlights of 2009.



MP3: Conor Oberst & the Mystic Valley Band - Nikorette

Buy it at Insound!

With his output generally hitting or missing my ear holes over the decade, I approached this release from Conor Oberst and his enigmatically named backing troupe one mp3 at a time. All it really took, however, was the scathing attack of Roosevelt Room to convince me that Outer South was to be a keeper. Added to that, a memorable mix of accessible indie-rockers and country-tinged acoustic tracks combine to make this a particularly fine moment in the songwriter's canon.



Buy it at Insound!

The recent review here covers how this album went from (sort of) zero to hero in my listening over the autumn, so suffice it to say that Hands is a gleaming record that may be particularly polished but in doing so it manages to realise the potential of the many sounds in the head of Victoria Hesketh a.k.a. Little Boots. A more upbeat, pop-sensible set of songs could not have crossed the H-T-A stereo in 2009.


VARIOUS ARTISTS - Dark Was The Night

MP3: Dirty Projectors & David Byrne - Knotty Pine

Buy it at Insound!

Rarely would I find the satisfaction across a whole compilation to include the album in a best of. Dark Was The Night easily bucks that trend, however, with its impeccable indie credible cast and barely a miss audible across the two disc set. With outstanding exclusive tracks from the likes of The National, Bon Iver, and Dirty Projectors (with the legendary David Byrne), this one deservedly received plenty of attention and love this year.


DOVES - Kingdom of Rust

Another that I reviewed not so long ago here, the latest effort from the reliably consistent Doves is, well, pleasantly consistent. Not something one would perhaps consider a list topping quality, but when a band produces songs with the quietly confident beauty of Winter Hill, or the stark power of Jetstream, it's something to be celebrated. Always capable of documenting their native North West with identifiable rock grace, Kingdom of Rust is packed with excellent songs that achieve this time after time.


THE FLYING CHANGE - Pain Is A Reliable Signal

MP3: The Flying Change - Broken Bow

Buy it at Insound!

A couple of entries earlier in this countdown appeared indie artists doing it for themselves, the like of which would have been unlikely to register just a few years ago. The highest position of any of these is reserved for this beautiful, fragile gem of an album. Initially gaining interest from the blogging of Sam Jacobs re. the music industry, it only propelled my respect further to realise he was the creator of some pretty outstanding 'landscape pop' as well. Exquisitely orchestrated from the delicate, minimalist passages of Broken Bow to the light-hearted bounce of If You See Something, every song here is a winner.


FRANK TURNER - Poetry of the Deed

MP3: Frank Turner - Try This At Home

Buy it at Insound!

Despite slowly piecing this one together through streams, live and sample tracks late in the year, it has built a perfectly reasoned case for Frank Turner being one of the finest punk singer-songwriters going. On the back of the hugely strong Love, Ire & Song, this album delivers again with fiery tracks such as Try This At Home or Sons of Liberty, and the more reflective likes of Isabel. On occasion the odd track doesn't fully hit home, yet against the high standards of the best songs it's completely understandable. Another collection of varied songs delivered with true passion and impeccable lyricism.


KATATONIA - Night Is The New Day

MP3: Katatonia - Forsaker

Buy it at Insound!

When you've made as many powerfully bleak albums as Katatonia has in the last decade, it's unlikely that the approach to songwriting or style will change without any indication or notice. So the band continues with Night Is The New Day, never straying too far from the dark, entangled path followed on its predecessor The Great Cold Distance. There can be little criticism of this when the results are so striking, the tracks here amongst the most vital the band has written and the collection of songs as a whole a nigh perfect document of the chosen style and sound. Up there with Mastodon and Tool as a metal band that continues to release consistently excellent material in their area of speciality.


A.C. NEWMAN - Get Guilty

MP3: A.C. Newman - Submarines of Stockholm

Buy it at Insound!

The second of the solo efforts from a New Pornographer in 2009 and one that has had plenty of time to settle in, given the January release. Where Neko Case chose to follow a varied, eccentric route, Carl Newman knocks out indie-pop gem after gem, with the emphasis strongly on melody and lyrical hooks that could bag Moby Dick. Outstanding opener There Are Maybe Ten Or Twelve embodies those qualities and many more to be found upon spending some alone time with this unexpected highlight of my year. A grower with both immediate and long term charms to be discovered. 

Top 10 coming in the next couple of days, then onward to the hotly anticipated works in the pipeline for 2010. Bring it on........

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