30. The Low Anthem – Oh My God, Charlie Darwin (Bella Union)
From Rhode Island comes another find for Bella Union, with memorable album title to match.
Oh My God, Charlie Darwin slots The Low Anthem snugly alongside labelmates Fleet Foxes, with vocals that swoop from falsetto harmonies to subterranean, Tom Waits-like depths.
WHAT WE SAID: “A remarkable collection of quietly assured songs; tracks such as To Ohio or (Don’t) Tremble leave an imprint long after the last notes have drifted away. Like Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago this is a simple album which holds many rewarding and beautiful pleasures.” – Darren Lee
29: Annie – Don’t Stop (Totally)
Anne Lilia Berge Strand’s route to market with Don’t Stop was fraught with drama. At various points Girls Aloud, Alex Kapranos and Xenomania were all involved in its gestation… and then she parted company from Island before it was released.
Fast forward a year and it finally sees the light of day. Just as well she didn’t stop, for this is superior electropop in the Saint Etienne mould.
WHAT WE SAID: “Don’t Stop is one of the best pop albums of 2009. Fingers crossed we don’t have to wait four years until the next one.” – Michael Cragg
28: Andrew Bird – Noble Beast (Bella Union)
Bird’s first album for new label Bella Union took him further away from his earlier incarnation as a virtuouso violinist and moulded him into an increasingly exceptional all-round songwriter.
His fourth album was released right at the start of the year but has endured to deservedly finish in our top 30.
WHAT WE SAID: “An album that slowly reveals itself, Bird’s music is sonically adventurous and richly layered. There’s all manner of good things going on.” – Natasha Tripney
27: St Vincent – Actor (4AD)
Multi-instrumentalist Annie Clark’s second album was written on GarageBand, giving those of us who potter about on it much food for thought.
Juxtaposing sweet harmonic vocals with distorted guitar and crunchy production, Actor is a rich experience that never wears out.
WHAT WE SAID: “An unpredictable and addictive record which should cement St Vincent’s burgeoning reputation as an unnaturally talented songwriter.” – Christopher Monk
26: The Prodigy – Invaders Must Die (Take Me To The Hospital)
Prior to this release on their own label, The Prodigy had become something of a one-man concern.
Now with vocalists Keith Flint and Maxim back in the fray, the old fire has been restarted with an album to stand alongside anything they’ve made.
WHAT WE SAID: “Invaders Must Die sees The Prodigy returning to what they do best: hard, aggressive dance music that is guaranteed to grab a crowd by the throat and force them to move.” – Ian Roullier
25: Neko Case – Middle Cyclone (ATO)
With tales of twisters in love and a packshot picture featuring Case brandishing a sword, this was an album out to make an impact.
Her fifth album and first in three years reminded of her work with The New Pornographers, but it also reminded of her talent for lyrical ambiguity.
WHAT WE SAID: “Recorded partly in a barn filled with abandoned pianos at Case’s Vermont farm, a sense of isolation runs through the album, and a bucolic tone is added by the backing of birdsong and chirruping frogs caught accidentally on tape – and by the 30 minute frog and cicada chorus at the end.” – Peter Hayward
24: School Of Seven Bells – Alpinisms (Full Time Hobby)
Any Secret Machines fans mourning the departure of band lynchpin Ben Curtis would be pleased to discover his new project, with sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza, was a sit-up-and-notice debut.
Words like ‘ethereal’ and ‘beguiling’ dared to break cover in descriptions, but for once they were justified.
WHAT WE SAID: “Gorgeous harmonies are sung as if from afar, while behind the scenes an array of shimmering colours work their magic.” – Ben Hogwood
23: The Duckworth Lewis Method – The Duckworth Lewis Method (Divine Comedy)
Out of contract and between The Divine Comedy albums, Neil Hannon teamed up with compatriot Thomas Walsh for a concept album dedicated to the gentle art of cricket.
Richly realised storytelling and melodious hooks abound in the world’s first cricket pop album.
WHAT WE SAID: “A concept album about cricket? Before you sigh deeply at the thought of an album played out over five days, with intervals for lunch, tea and cucumber sandwiches, fear not. With not a dot ball or an overthrow, The Duckworth Lewis Method is an unqualified success.” – Ben Hogwood
22: The Flaming Lips – Embryonic (Warner)
Wayne Coyne’s giant hamster ball routine remains, but that’s about all that’s novelty where the Oklahoma psych-rockers’ latest is concerned.
An epic, sprawling double album, Coyne admitted that Embryonic was less focused, but it sounded all the more adverturous for it.
WHAT WE SAID: “Watching The Planets finishes the album in glorious style, a seemingly unstoppable force that drives The Flaming Lips towards the closing moments of their most challenging, awkward, engaging and creative work for years.” – Sam Shepherd
21: Wilco – Wilco (The Album) (Nonesuch)
When a band decides to make their seventh album self-titled, the signs are they’re getting close to confirming an identity.
Such is the case with Wilco, crowning a busy year with this collection of melodic gems, sensitively delivered by Jeff Tweedy.