Wednesday, December 9, 2009

2009 End-Of-Year Celebrations: The Good, The Bad & The James Blunt

And so we come, as we inevitably must, to the endgame. That's right, it's time to hand out a bunch of honourable (and not so honourable) awards to highlight the year in music. And what an interesting twelve months it was...


Lily Allen - It's Not Me, It's You
It's possible that a personality lacking in the sparky joi de vivre of Ms. Allen could have conjured up such a simplistically effective title, but it would be no more suitably fitting as it is with Lily. It's a taster of her forthright lyrics, usually centered around relationships and like the artist herself - it's feisty and empowering, and, well, just plain witty.

Runner Up: weezer - Raditude 


Millionaires - Just Got Paid, Let's Get Laid
Oh dear. Let's pretend for a minute that Millionaires aren't a bunch of disposable girly-girl electro pop brats, done? yeah, the title still sucks right? Well what else would you expect of a group whose debut was called Bling, Bling, Bling?


Oceansize - Home & Minor EP
It's been a damn good year for EPs and even against the stiffest of competition, the Manchester based rock innovators win out. More a brief album than an EP, Home & Minor finds Oceansize pushing the boundaries further on their already indefinable slant on rock. Focusing more on the group's calmer, ambient side it's another brilliant release from a group who simply get better with each passing year.


New Moon Soundtrack

Since I am not a girl in my tweens, I fall outside of Twilight's target demographic. Which makes the respectable roster that New Moon's soundtrack has managed to enlist all the more puzzling, and infuriating. While it's easy to be critical about the movie's Mills & Boone meets vampires premise, it's hard to not sound hypocritical when applauding the artists on the accompanying soundtrack. Whoever managed to convince such heroes as Thom Yorke, Bon Iver, Muse, Grizzly Bear and Death Cab For Cutie to record new tracks is either a genius or has a bank book as large as their contacts diary.



 DJ Hero 
While the idea of frustrated musicians waling away on plastic toys is still a little shameful, the upshot of the whole music game boom is that the likes of Guitar Hero and Rock Band are as much about providing a musical education as they are about a fun simulation of rock star antics. Then along comes DJ Hero, essentially attempting to lure the rest of the market who don't necessarily see the kitsch appeal in obscure 80's metal or 'classic' rock that the Guitar Hero games provide. But the soundtrack, all 91 original mash-ups of it, is likely to stitch them up. Approved by the likes of Grandmaster Flash, DJ Shadow, Daft Punk and DJ AM (R.I.P.), you can't say the developers didn't try to install some talent. The result is a rollicking mix of hip-hop, electronic, R&B, dance and rave all in a palatable, party-friendly mix of few misses, and many many hits.


 Dark Was The Night
Appearing way back in January, this Red Hot Compilation was released in support of AIDS research and curated by The National's Aaron & Bryce Dessner. A great cause indeed, and one you'd be foolish not to support considering the positively star-studded 31 track result. It was also a fitting introduction to some of the year's best acts, including Dirty Projectors, Riceboy Sleeps and Grizzly Bear. The rest was the cream of the crop of the indie world. Antony Hegarty, Arcade Fire, Beirut, Bon Inver, Andrew Bird, The Decemberists, Conor Oberst, Sufjan Stevens, Yeasyaer, My Morning Jacket, Feist... the list is endless, as is the quality.


Foo Fighters - Greatest Hits
While the release of a best of usually marks the end of a band's creative zenith, or a money-making nadir for record companies squeezing the last out of their acts; Foo Fighters' Greatest Hits feels like neither of these and instead like a well-earned celebration of the band's nearly two-decade career. As consistent as the Foos' album catalogue is, this set loses nothing in cherry-picking from their singles. Back to back the ballsy likes of All My Life, The Pretender, Everlong and This Is A Call (to name just a few) reads like a list of FM radio staples.


 Yacht Club DJs
Hailing from Geelong, Yacht Club DJs can best be described as Australia's answer to Girl Talk. And depending on who you're talking to, better as well. The thunderous party that is their live show has all the energy and urgency of a rave, but with the party-centric aim of cramming as many hits into one evening - let alone one mix. Pop, Metal, Glam, Country, not even TV Themes are safe from the all-encompassing concoctions that Yacht Club come up with. It doesn't matter if they're rocking venues from the intimate Ding Dong Lounge to this year's Marion Bay Falls Festival posting - these guys put on a tremendous live show. Just be prepared to lose your shit.


Bon Iver @ The Forum Theatre, 19th January

The greatness of this gig was as much a case of timing as performance quality. Drawing from the majority of For Emma, Forever Ago, it was a resounding affirmation of its status as 2008 album of the year. While mere weeks after its release, the new Blood Bank material was fresh and captivating. In the revered air that Vernon and co deserve, you could most definitely hear a pin drop. Beach Baby and Flume were positively dreamy, while Creature Fear and the closing The Wolves demonstrated the strength of the band that Vernon had built around him to tour the Bon Iver name. Witnessing a solo rendition of Skinny Love in the flesh reaffirms its devastating emotional impact, securing this gig as a hallowed memory.
Runner Up: Paul Dempsey @ The Corner, support from Parallel Lions


Coldplay - LeftRightLeftRightLeft
Designed as a thank-you to the fans, this nine track recording was handed out for free during their current tour and is still available for zero dollars on their website. Even without the allure of its price tag, this would still be a worthy release. Viva La Vida and Glass Of Water are afforded a rawer sound their polished studio counterparts lack, while the likes of Fix You and Clocks remain crowd-devouring favourites. All in all it documents Coldplay in their current guise as a well-oiled stadium conquering machine
Runner Up: Björk - Voltaic  

Wilco - Ashes Of American Flags
At its heart, Ashes of American Flags is a concert movie and a road movie, as it follows Wilco's tour across its homeland doing what they do best. What emerges beneath the well-oiled chassis however is the degradation of the same country they so dutifully entertain. It's in the smaller details, whether its bassist John Stirrat lamenting the Wall-mart-isation of America's heartland or guitarist Nels Cline and drummer Glen Kotche nursing their recurring wounds backstage after a show, all too clear that their ailments may be permanent. Even if the viewer glosses over these subtleties, what remains are the powerfully expressive perfomances. Whether it's any one of Cline's breathtaking solos, the raucous brass band on the balcony of Tippitina's in New Orleans or Tweedy's grizzled stage demeanour, passionate about, and equally charged by, the thrill of the live setting.

Runner Up:  Björk - Voltaic 
The Beatles Remasters
Was it really going to go any other way? As soon as 09/09/09 was earmarked to be the release of the Beatles remasters, it ensured their dominance as best re-issue of the year. Modestly packaged in new digipack sleeves with short docos, the focus here was on the music, and in the end that's what counts the most. Because in the meagre seven years between 1963's Please Please Me to 1970's Let It Be, The Beatles influenced and shaped the musical landscape in a way that still resonates today. 

Runner Up: Radiohead - Kid A, Amnesiac & Hail To The Thief Deluxe Editions


Sammy J - Sticky Fingers
The Conchords may have released another polished set of genre lampoonery, and the Lonely Island may have become ubiquitous thanks to YouTubage, Natalie Portman and the use of T-Pain and a boat - but it was the humble live release of local comedian Sammy J that was hands-down release of the year. Why? well because even when stripped of the flash and glam that make the Conchrods and Incredibad so dazzling, McMillan still has the chops and the writing to impress. Doubly it acted as a culmination of his work as a solo act before moving on to bigger and better productions.


Bloc Party - Intimacy Remixed 
Following on from the same pattern as Silent Alarm Remixed, Bloc Party handed the reins to a bunch of cutting edge bands to re-dress their third album. The likes of Mogwai, Armand Van Helden and No Age can be found among them, but the best were done by up-and-coming acts. Such as Phase One's murky dub-step take on Zephyrus or Banjo or Freakout's drawn-out version of album closer Ion Square. Needless to say, it shows the diversity and versatility of Bloc Party as a band that their blueprints can be distorted into such configurations and still retain their unique touch. 


Michael Jackson
Sure, in the last decade, Jackson's star may have descended in an ever-declining spiral of controversey, strange behaviour and financial difficulties, but it doesn't change the fact that he wrote some killer tunes. Or that there will never, never be another quite like him.


Michael Jackson - Billie Jean
Just think back to June 25th, the day it happened and the weeks that followed. Recall how Jackson's work came pumping from every shop stereo, every car with the windows rolled down and every TV that continued to report on his death. Now remember how good it felt to hear those tunes again, their unique voice, their crisp beats, their familiarity. It could have been any MJ number that sits up there, but I think it's safe to say that Billie Jean had the highest rotation.


Kanye West's invasion of Taylor Swift's acceptance speech at the MTV Awards
Whether he was drunk, high, or just plain being his arrogant self, when Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift's acceptance speech to applaud Beyonce's Single Ladies video he unwittingly immortalised four simple words, "Imma Let You Finish."
The resulting backlash got everyone involved, with thoughts from Pink, 50 Cent and even Hitler. Even Jay Leno grew some balls and got his stab at some serious journalistic integrity by grilling West about what his recently deceased mom would think.
The torrent of spoofs and parodies, most of them distasteful, snowballed into an internet phenomenon, one of which everyone wanted in on the joke. My personal highlight however, was hearing President Obama call Mr. West a jerk. How often does the leader of the free world take time out of his busy schedule to criticise pop stars? not often enough I say.


Paul Dempsey - Bats

You'd be hard-pressed to choose just one great line from Mr. Dempsey's Everything Is True, being that, to quote my original review, "the tally for genius lyrics per second is positively baffling." So it's best just to go with the words that open the album, on the melancholy of Bats; "Come rebuild your memory/with a small mountain of burning leaves/and a swinging wire that slams shut like a guillotine/strum a note up through the wires/to send bats down the river, seagulls around spires/and shred all the twilight, scatter it city-wide." If that kind of poetry appeals, you should hear it with the music. 

Runner Up: Ollie Browne of Parallel Lions - Woven In Time 


Simon Neil
What was originally a novelty award makes a welcome return thanks to the likeable brogue of one Simon Neill. The frontman for Biffy Clyro made no qualms about his Scottish twang and in fact highlighted that fact not once, but twice. Firstly on Born On A Horse "I pronounce it aluminium/cause there's an 'i' next to the 'u' and the 'm'" and then with bonkers side-project Marmaduke Duke's Erotic Robotic with its refrain of "despite the accent we're Scottish" och! of course ye are Neil, ahem, and we wouldn't want it any other way. 


  Chris Cornell - Scream

Poor old Chris Cornell, his reputation as one of rock's esteemed voices has been hard-won but for every career-defining moment (the voice of Soundgarden, filling Zach De La Roch's not un-miniscule shoes for Audioslave) he makes an equally blunderous move. Too often he over-commits himself to strange projects that are either way too out of his league (Bond theme anyone?) or are just plain old bad ideas (his 'serious' cover of Billie Jean). Scream falls into both of these categories, teaming up with producer of the moment Timbaland, Scream is essentially Chris Cornell goes R&B.
It wasn't the most horrendous record released this year, but it was certainly one of the most misguided. As I stated in my original review, it simply ends up in a moon crater-sized no man's land of genre oblivion. Too hip and over-produced for the rock crowd who usually support Cornell, and rock and edgy for the flashy hip-hop and R&B crowd. I wanted to like Scream, I really did, but if the best thing you can say about an album is its segues, then you know something has gone horribly wrong.

James Blunt: NOT the artist of the decade.

Feel free to comment below, and click the tags to see past winners of the coveted The Good, The Bad and The James Blunt awards.


  1. I'm not sure about the wisdom of criticising music on the basis that it doesn't fit neatly into a particular genre. "Scream" may have fallen between 2 stools marketing-wise, but that doesn't mean the music isn't good. A lot of people say that album's ahead of its time. I found that once I got over the shock of how different it sounded, it was as rewarding as any of Cornell's other work with bands or on his own. Lyrics in particular have been unfairly maligned - there's some pretty deep stuff in there.

  2. I'm all for music not fitting into particular genres, hang around for the top 15 albums of the year and you'll see what I mean. But I don't like music that's consciously made with a market in mind, and that's how I feel about Scream. Besides I didn't say it was the worst music this year - just the most misguided.