20. tUnE-yArDs – BiRd BrAiNs (4AD)
A typist’s nightmare, Merill Garbus’s fiercely female and maternal debut runs the gamut from Africa to Jamaica via a ’30s barber shop, using anything to hand that will aid the creative process.
What might have been a sprawling, incoherent mess in other hands instead works here quite brilliantly.
WHAT WE SAID: “Far removed from the kind of wishy-washy simple singer-songwritery fare that solo acts are sometimes too prone to produce. Garbus is aided by a remarkable voice, which ranges from intimate and warm to quite astonishingly powerful. Like no-one else very much, but very much herself, it is one woman’s raw, open and compelling testament.” – Jude Clarke
19: Bat For Lashes – Two Suns (Parlophone)
Her debut album was Mercury nominated; Two Suns made it two in a row. Natasha Khan hooked up with Yeasayer and Scott Walker this time.
Somehow all this led to the alter-ego Pearl, a destructive blonde femme fatale representing Natasha’s extreme nature…
WHAT WE SAID: “Natasha Khan is a very talented woman who can write gorgeous, heart-wrenching tales and sing them in a unique and haunting fashion.” – Michael Cragg
18: The Decemberists – The Hazards Of Love (Rough Trade)
Colin Meloy’s 17-track concept rock opera takes a particular corner of English music history centred on Fairport Convention, Hawkwind and ’70s production.
Superior psychedelic folk pop, then.
WHAT WE SAID: “In this age of downloads and single tracks a proper, old fashioned album with a beginning, a middle, an end and a story seems somewhat archaic – a throwback to a golden age the record industry has all but abandoned.” – Jenni Cole
17: Muse – The Resistance (Warner)
Despite our original three-star review, the Devon three-piece’s concept album was a favourite of a good many of our writers. Arena gigs up and down the land suggested it was a favourite with their fans too.
There are obvious homages to the Radiophonic Workshop and Queen in amongst the expected touchstones of Rachmaninov and Chopin. And there’s a symphony for good measure.
WHAT WE SAID: “The album pits the bad men who run the world against a pair of young lovers; with the message that only love can resist the crushing forces of those in power. You’d be well advised to beg, borrow or download a handful of tracks from The Resistance.” – Darren Harvey
16: Portico Quartet – Isla (Real World)
Following last year’s Mercury nomination for their debut album, the quartet found the sequel Isla snapped up with indecent haste by Peter Gabriel’s Real World label. With more instrumental variation it’s a definite progression.
Yet at the centre still is the tropically trancey sound of the hang, rooting the confident arrangements and evocative sounds.
WHAT WE SAID: “This is red wine music, no doubt about it, but red wine music for the discerning indie intelligentsia, perfect for a long night where the only ambition you’ve got left is to sink so far into the floor cushions that you’ll never get up again.” – Jenni Cole
15: Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca (Domino)
Dave Longstreth’s Brooklyn-based experimental troupe continues to reference African rhythms while defying genrefication with Bitte Orca (German for Please Whale), their first album for Domino.
With fans including David Byrne and Björk, Dirty Projectors had the look of a band who’d broken through in 2009.
WHAT WE SAID: “As with a lot of the best, and ultimately most satisfying music, this is an album worth persisting with; clever, original, complicated, sometimes frustrating but more often revelatory, it will, given time, uncover its manifold delights.” – Jude Clarke
14: Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (V2)
Heralded by the singles 1901 and Lisztomania, this album recalled the pop perfection of their debut with slinky basslines, furious rhythmic guitar, warm keyboard washes and Mars’ laidback croon.
It turned out that these French boys’ A-list connections were definitely not all the story.
WHAT WE SAID: “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is a slender, fat-free affair, all Gallic swerve and subtle swagger. This may well be the album to broaden their fan-base wider then the fashionable glitterati.” – Michael Cragg
13: The Big Pink – A Brief History Of Love (4AD)
Robbie Furze and Milo Cordell were burdened by the weight of expectation, but their debut saw it away with the anthemic Dominos and classic-elect Velvet helping to soundtrack festivals throughout the summer.
Even as the album tailed off towards its end, by the close of the year they’d supported Muse on tour and been acknowledged as a triumph of substance over style.
WHAT WE SAID: “Boy, did 2009 need an album like this. A Brief History Of Love’s best moments are the music equivalents of a beating heart.” – Gideon Brody
12: Lady Gaga – The Fame Monster (Polydor)
The Fame Monster was initially set to be a repackaged ‘deluxe’ version of her multi-million selling The Fame debut. But the eight new songs were so strong that they’ve been released as an entity in their own right Stateside, while the UK gets them bundled with The Fame as a two CD set.
Almost every one of them could stand as a single in its own right; all of them show an artist uncompromised in her pursuit of pop perfection and a progression over The Fame’s material. All stopgaps should be this good.
WHAT WE SAID: “Given the strength of these eight stopgap songs – it’s amazing to think they were due to be lumped in on a re-release – Lady Gaga is the real deal. This world and others had better watch out.” – Michael Cragg
11: Arctic Monkeys – Humbug (Domino)
Given their lauded output to date, a new Arctics album always has the Sheffield band’s past to beat. After Alex Turner’s foray into side projects with The Last Shadow Puppets, Josh Homme was brought on board as co-producer and their heaviest album to date was the result.
Turner’s lyrics have evolved too, with tales of street princesses supplanted by poetic imagery.