I always feel a twinge of regret when I buy an album that's a year or two old and it becomes a favourite. I'm thrilled, obviously, but part of me wishes I had been able to rave about it at the time. Seeing that the Horrors excellent new album will be released today reminds me that I missed their sophomore release and thus missed celebrating it on time. I love doing year-end reviews because I like putting artists on pedestals. I like heaping praise at their feet. I hope that they find these words and know that they have fans eagerly awaiting what they do next, each new direction, each change of instrument. So I feel silly showing up late to the party, but I guess late is better than never. So, here are ten albums that would handily have made my best of 2000-2009 if I'd thought to include them/heard them in time. I try to explain why they didn't make the cut (I know, excuses, excuses) and celebrate what makes them so amazing. Please, please, please go out and buy these albums if you don't have them.
⁃ This album(s?) has some of Cave's best songs and some of the Bad Seeds greatest arrangements. I've long had a weak spot for Cave's black lyricism, his tales of murder and sin, but his compositions don't always present the greatest accompaniment. There's such a thing as too weird and bleak, after all. But Orpheus delivers compositions that tow the line between creepy and unforgettably catchy. There's "Fable of the Brown Ape" as the standout of the former and the awesome "Spell," "Supernaturally," and "There She Goes My Beautiful World" in the latter. There are love songs, rock songs and fittingly a few murder ballads that spell out the best of Cave's many sides. And then there are the soaring rockers which make this a record I can't help but spin every now and again.
Portishead - Third
⁃ I chalk this, like so many of these, up to just not having heard it yet. Because if I had, it definitely would have made the list. There's a lot to praise here, but to keep it fairly concise, I'll just say that loneliness and paranoia are tough to reproduce using musical instruments and a voice, especially when they seem to be effortlessly producing the best album of their career and aiming more at aloof and mysterious. They achieve all four and that's a testament to the harmony the members of Portishead work in. One of those albums that builds up phantasmagoria in your mind's eye after just a few seconds of any given song.
The Horrors - Primary Colours
⁃ Doing a stylistic 180 can be tricky. You risk alienating your fans and never getting back to the foothold you'd managed with whatever you'd become known for. The Horrors did such a tremendous job convertng themselves into potential one-hit wonders into the most vital band in England that I often forget they were once a swamp-blues band staffed by kids who dressed like The Cure. And apparently, on their latest, they've done it again. What a difference an album makes. Primary Colours proved they weren't a fluke but indeed one of the most powerful new bands on earth. Fusing elements of My Bloody Valentine and The Stone Roses with 60s Brit Pop, The Horrors have a sound that will trip a lot of wires in your brain that tell you you're listening to a classic and long after you've thought of the things it maybe reminds you of, what will linger is the astonishing production that's essentially the sonic equivalent of Christopher Doyle's cinematography, the haunting songcraft, and the overwhelming feeling that The Horrors are the coolest band alive.
J. Tillman - Vacilando Territory Blues
⁃ Some artists need less than a minute to capture your heart. Coldplay managed it on the title track of their first album. Thanks to those 46 seconds, I'll listen to everything they put out even they start to match the pomposity of their heroes, U2. The same can be said of "All You See," the 48 second opener of Vacilando, the first of two great albums the multi-instrumentalist put out in 2009. In those few seconds he demonstrates his knack for melody, his ability to nearly force you to tears just by harmonizing with himself, and his command of production. The four-track scratch of the opener doesn't ever return, but it so fits the first yawn of the piece, like a breeze carrying over waves into the porch of a beachfront cabin where sleeping lovers awake. That the song that follows is "No Occasion" is almost unfair. How could anyone write songs this good and have the audacity to put them NEXT to each other? Anyone who knows anything about my films knows that Tillman's music is beyond important to me. If you want to know why, here's where you dive in.
Sparklehorse - It's A Wonderful Life
Lily Allen - Alright Still/It's Not Me, It's You
Feu Thérèse - Feu Thérèse
Guillemots - Through The Windowpane
⁃ I...ok, the reason I didn't consider this at the time is because a few of the songs are too aimless and feel more like jubilation given aural form. The sort of thing that you could see ewoks dancing too. Those things aside, I really should have just put this on here because it has a few of the best pop choruses ever written. "Made Up Love Song #43" is just the kind of thing lovers embarrass themselves saying to each other, it's first love, it's wonderful. I love its earnestness, I love the creeping happiness that overtakes you as it goes on. I love the bouncing bass, skittering drums and jangling guitar that support Fyfe Dangerfield's voice. How has the man not been called out for how fucking beautiful his voice is? Nevermind that he's written "Trains to Brazil," which ought to go in the national registry. It ought to be played in town squares. It ought to replace the bible. "Trains To Brazil" is all anyone needs and I'm convinced that it's powers fall no shorter than ending famine and world hunger if applied liberally to any crisis. The song is amazing. It's unbelievable. And then there's the album closer. While it's half the kind of nervous thing that Dangerfield usually pens, it shifts midstream and becomes the biggest, cutest, most lovable chorus in the world. "Sao Paolo" might be my favourite song if "Trains to Brazil" weren't already it. (note: I say this about a lot of songs, but these two are very near the top). Listening to the banging around of percussion that accompanies the shift, it's a little like hearing a closet full of toys come to life. The whole album is like a child's dream of first love, so why not? Leave your cynicism behind and let the record rock you to blissful sleep.
LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
⁃ I have no excuse for not including this in my best of the decade. It does everything I love; it bounces and clicks like post-punk, wails like Bowie, beeps like dark wave, clangs like a kitchen come to life, and it's catchy as all fucking get out). You don't need me to tell you why this is brilliant, but I'll just say it's the one dance record that people too awkward and terrified to dance actually own. I'd wager that James Murphy has inspired more people to get a keyboard and a drum machine than all of the 80s combined. Getting sucked into one of LCD's grooves is one of the best ways to kill six minutes. Seeing this band live is something I will never forget. Hearing their albums is thankfully something I will always be able to do.
Loose Fur - Born Again In The USA
⁃ I don't know how this slipped by me. I've been listening to this album since a week before it came out (record store clerk). It's got the chewiest rock riffs of the decade, a spirit of inventiveness and improvisation and the shitkicker attitude of the best 70s cockrockers, but delivered through everyman Jeff Tweedy's beautifully wounded whisper. You might not buy him as the dick at the bar sitting hitting on your sister, but his guitar sells it well enough. He and Jim O'Rourke are a couple of goddamned phoenixes on this album. Glenn Kotche's drumming is unflashy, monochromatic even; or more precisely that muted grey/green that shows up in early 70s movies. But he's so assured and proficient that he never wastes a measure. He gets a bunch of those noise breaks that Wilco does so well in the middle of "Wreckroom" and then falls right back in line. O'Rourke's singing is pretty stunning. His few songs are well taken. His "Answers to your Questions" smacks of the late 60s California folk scene, but has something timeless in its woe. Those songs were all hope and sunshine. Those things are here by virtue of the arrangement and the beautiful lapsteel solo, but O'Rourke doesn't let them escape without clouds overhead. He does sombre well. But he also leads a rocker with the best of them. "Stupid as the Sun" is fucking boss. One of the most fun aspects of this record is trying to figure out which of the two six string dynamos is playing which lick. The game and the record never get old.
Sparklehorse - It's A Wonderful Life
⁃ Death fascinates me more than it should. Case in point, everytime a well-known artist dies, I tend to dig deep into their catalog and try to figure them out. It happened when Clarence Clemons died. Though looking back on my first flirtation with the E-Street Band, there was already something legendary about the man. He was bigger than life and so when he died, I changed very little about the way I perceived him. Mark Linkous is someone I can't quite accept as being dead even though his entire body of work seemed to come from beyond the grave. He was singing on borrowed time. Indeed without watching Guy Maddin's expressionist music video, it's tough not to picture Linkous singing the title track of his magnum opus standing in his own grave. Many singers whisper better than they sing; Linkous split the difference and held the world captive in doing so. "Gold Day" is almost a taunt in its simplicity and beauty. The optimistic flute that opens it gives way to the mournful strings and definitive drums. He'd like to be with us, but the world is full of walls and limits and the man responsible for these arrangements was too beautiful for us. His last project was held up by red tape. All he wanted was to make music but his depression and an unfair establishment kept him from doing it. I've been obsessed with It's A Wonderful Life since his death because it feels so much like a confession and a eulogy in one aching statement, a musical Morvern Callar. I never knew him but I miss him.
Lily Allen - Alright Still/It's Not Me, It's You
⁃ I have to confess that were it not for a spread in Q magazine in which Lily Allen appeared scantily clad with a pair of leopards in late 2009, I wouldn't have bothered with her music. Thank christ for leopards. Chris Blasucci had tried to get me into her but I wasn't having any of it. She was popular, thus she was meritless. But then I read into her. She had issues, she was a tabloid mess, she had had several abortions, she'd had a shit childhood. How much of that was true I have no clue, but it painted a picture of a fighter. Her lyrics confirmed as much. Taking on shithead ex-boyfriends and chronic one-night-stand artists, drugs, religious fanatics and retarded presidents, ungrateful lovers and trashy overnight sensations. She rebelled both against the people taking pictures of her and god himself. She wasn't afraid of anything and she wasn't taking any of your shit. Does it help that this scrappy warrior delivers this message from behind one of the cutest noses on earth and swathed in hooky Madchester hooks? Yes it does. But it's her pragmatism and realist lyrics. She doesn't deal in absolutes or rhetoric. She never repeats the words of her peers and forebears. I'd like to hear Madonna or Britney Spears say "I've spent ages giving head," or all but namecheck the US president and then call him a racist and an idiot. She had a song called "Fuck You" long before Cee-Lo. Lily Allen's looks/hooks are probably a hindrance for many people as they were for me initially, but the music speaks for itself. There are songs I like better than others, and my ideal album draws from both her debut and her sophomore effort, but she has a voice. And I anxiously await the next thing it says.
Feu Thérèse - Feu Thérèse
⁃ Going to Canada was the best thing to my musical sensibility since getting a job at a record store. Making Superconnected led me to follow connections I hadn't been aware of, discover new voices like Andre Ethier and Julie Fader, and to always keep an open mind when a side project emerged. On a total whim I bought several records by Constellation band Fly Pan Am and their artier side project Feu Thérèse. Good choice. I like Fly Pan Am, a lot, and while I enjoy delving into their soundscapes when I have the time, when I want sneering rock music that seems furiously yet coolly played at a concrete wall, Feu Thérèse is my drug of choice. With a remarkable beat that recalls a more experimental Steve Shelley, keyboards soar overtop of what could be guitar and bass and the odd smoky vocal. I don't like to pick it apart because I enjoy the mystery. It's quintessential art rock and the less you understand the easier it is to nod your head to the beat. I love this record because it simultaneously tears the roof off the image of gallery openings and manages to remain as elusive and wretchedly beautiful as a modern art masterpiece. It also rocks pretty hard.