Yes folks, after finally getting some time off from my various jobs, I too have cracked and felt the need to produce a list of my top albums of the last year. 2009 was the year I took my first tentative yet clumsy steps into the world of music journalism, writing for the Scotsman newspaper’s Under the Radar blog, covering unsigned and under-represented bands in Scotland.
Those just missing out on the top 10 include Blue Roses, Monsters of Folk, Bowerbirds and my pal from Glasgow going by the name Beerjacket (Although I doubt I make it into his top 10 either).
Here then, in descending order, are my top ten albums of 2009:
10) Nick Cave & Warren Ellis – White Lunar
This superb 2 CD selection of work from Cave and his partner in crime is comprised mainly of selections from film soundtracks, most notably The Assassination of Jesse James and this year’s Cormac McCarthy adaptation The Road. It is a soothing, classically influenced listen and couldn’t be much more different from their previous work on the ear-drum punishing Grinderman. Cave also released another darkly hysterical book this year, entitled The Death of Bunny Munro and his performance at the Picturehouse in Edinburgh was far and away my gig of the year. Proof indeed that no matter the genre, Nick Cave is capable of utter genius.
9) Bombay Bicycle Club – I had the blues but I shook them loose
Summer festival favourites Bombay Bicycle Club produced a really fun album that, whilst it is certainly the most mainstream choice in my ten, does not deserve to suffer simply because it became popular. Far too often people in my line of work turn their backs on a band once everyone else catches on, which seems peculiarly self-defeating if the purpose is to bring bands to a wider audience. 2009 was certainly a great year for these guys and their album managed to be both intelligent and popular. They deserve credit for both.
8 ) Richmond Fontaine – We used to think the freeway sounded like a river
An excess of Kerouac and Burrows in my 2009 reading list fuelled an interest in US west coast alt. country bands; a genre which is still going strong despite the dominance of New York acts on the international scene. Portland band Richmond Fontaine’s 9th record sounds as spare as the pacific coast highways but has moments of homage to the Seattle scene which so flourished in the 90s. It is a classic road album, rich in imagery and full of the kind of storytelling you would expect from lead singer and accomplished novelist Willy Vlautin. Their best album to date, this is an involving and rewarding experience.
7) Withered Hand – Good News
Dan Willson, the man behind Edinburgh act Withered Hand, has been charming Scottish audiences all year with his shy demeanour and wry, quasi-religious pop songs. In September he released the highly anticipated ‘Good News’, to an excitable local scene. He is the classic example of the whole being worth so much more than the individual parts; his voice isn’t great and neither is his guitar playing (Neil from Meursault had to tune his guitar for him at one gig!). However, through a combination of self-effacing charm and lyrics which should be made into a book, Dan has produced a blinding album, aided by the production talents of Kramer, who has previously worked with the likes of Daniel Johnson, Low and Galaxie 500.
What will 2010 bring for Dan Willson? I think he should write a book of children’s stories. Very, very dark ones…
6) Small Town Boredom – Notes from the Infirmary
Paisley’s Small Town Boredom are not in the least the type of band you’d let you would play at a gathering of friends and are not the kind of band you’d feel comfortable passing on to a depressed friend, but whilst their music is what some would unfairly dismiss as depressing, I prefer to think of it as contemplative. The duo have clearly been through some rough times, but ‘Notes from the Infirmary’ finds beauty in adversity and hints towards optimistic times ahead. The tone is predominantly low key but builds to some pretty extreme crescendos, not least on the album’s standout track ‘World’s Most Unwanted’. Never likely to break into the mainstream, Small Town Boredom’s aversion to playing life is also unlikely to endear them to potential new fans. They deserve an audience though and anyone prepared to give ‘Notes from the Infirmary’ a few listens will be richly rewarded.