5. Fanfarlo – Reservoir
‘I’m A Pilot’ is the perfect microcosm of the album as a whole. Brooding, marching, subtle, yearning epic, uplifting and rousing. Arcade Fire and Beirut comparisons are obvious but that doesn’t diminish the impact the album has. Reservoir is a remarkably solid 11-track album. Look out for them in Ireland in the new year.
4. Mos Def – The Ecstatic
The Ecstatic is the renaissance of Mos Def as a rapper after ten years of ever-increasing mediocrity. Mos takes a global view with instrumentals from Oh No, Madlib, J Dilla, Preservation and Mr. Flash and a memorable appearance from Slick Rick on ‘Auditorium’. The result is a fired up MC clearly relishing twisting words to beats once again.
3. Major Lazer – Guns Don’t Kill People… Lazers Do
Switch and Diplo’s digital dancehall project is a futuristic twist on that great Jamaican genre imbued with flavours of baile funk, hip-hop, and the global soundclash of modern dance music. Guns Don’t Kill People.. showcases some of the best dancehall MCs around like Turbulence, Mr. Lex, Ms. Thing, Mr. Vegas, Jahdan Blakkamore. In the Santigold-featuring ‘Hold The Line’, the pure Eurodance pop of ‘Keep it Going Louder’ and the dancefloor-slammer ‘Pon De Floor’, Major Lazer also delivered three of the best tunes of the year.
2. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion
An uncompromising joy, Animal Collective’s eight album sees them in uncharted territory but anyone following the form of their most recent albums won’t be too surprised. Despite the immediate joy of tracks like ‘My Girls’, ‘Brothersport’ and ‘Summertime Clothes’, the band’s experimental touches remain resulting in MPP coming across like a 21st century Beach Boys record but with added yelps, squelches and “boing” noises.
Merriweather is also the first AC album to put melody at the forefront and what a knack for it they have. Panda Bear and Avey Tare’s vocal relationship helps define and refine the album’s strong danceable electronic aesthetic with some necessary humanity, as they share vocal focus and harmonies. Both men have distinctive and contrasting singing styles, yet the variance between them is crucial to the bristling energy of this record. When they align, it can be glorious. And they so it it so frequently here that it’s an out and out celebration.
1. Grizzly Bear – Vecktimest
Grizzly Bear first came to attention with the release of Yellow House in 2006, an album of flighty atmospherics and choral vocals. While not for everyone, the reaction set them on a path from the pastoral surroundings of that titular house to an island off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts which informs the title of their 2009 album. They must have picked up some magic dust on the way too as Vecktimest shines brightly with pop melodies and dreamy group harmonies.
The quartet of Ed Droste, Chris Taylor, Daniel Rossen and Chris Bear deliver 53 minutes of sublime, bright and spatial music on Veckatimest. It might be folky in nature but these are big dynamic productions, brimming with gargantuan-sounding crescendos and lovely lilting quiet moments, while stile managing to effectively avoid the quiet-loud-quiet-loud convention that so many bands fall prey to.
While there are standouts: the summery piano-pop of ‘Two Weeks’, the taut ‘While You Wait for The Others’ and the dizzying multi-part opener ‘Southern Point’, what makes Veckatimest a must-listen for 2009, is the all encompassing atmosphere soaking the record imprinted by four very talented musicians.