Saturday, January 02, 2010
there are way too many 'best of 2009', 'best of the decade' music lists all over the internet at this time of the year. they all vary depending on personal taste. i decided it would be rude not to create a list of my own; my list would be even more self-indulgent and not confined to music released in 2009 (or indeed the 2000s for that matter).
you may be familiar with the fact that i'm a bit of a last.fm freak, finding perhaps too much enjoyment in seeing lists and statistics related to my own listening habits. well anyway, here is a list of my most listened-to artists of 2009 (complete with ramblings about each artist). (oh, and the picture above has very little to do with the list - it's just a photo i took sometime in the last few years of a hercules (i think) nz airforce transport doing circuits over tauranga at dusk.)
1. massive attack. predictably, as they are hands-down my favourite 'group'. they push music boundaries while combining some of the best things about human existence: mood, electronics, samples, art, the uk, spoken word, collaboration, bass, and beats that tick along about the same rate as a resting heartbeat ('womb tempo' we'll call it). my one criticism is that they could afford to lighten up a bit at times - their earlier material had more lighter moments.
massive attack stormed back into the public eye this year with the release of their 'splitting the atom' ep. great stuff. my most played track of 2009 came from that release, but it wasn't the title track. it was a remix of a track called 'psyche' featuring martina topley-bird. new album coming in 2010.
2=. rhian sheehan. it feels good to have a new zealand artist this high up my list - and it is position well deserved. known for his ambient soundscapes, samples and field recordings, sheehan took these elements to their best possible conclusion this year with the release of his album 'standing in silence'. he stripped most of the beats out of this project and let the atmospherics talk. in the process, he played directly into my tastes - creating a beautiful album that reminds me of the best of the likes of múm.
2=. mogwai. like massive attack, another perennial favourite of mine. the scottish post-rockers didn't release a new record this year (2008's 'the hawk is howling' is their most recent). but their material is just so strong. to my mind, you could chuck out all post-rock and just keep mogwai and be pretty happy (you would also need to hang onto your sigur ros and radiohead). i also discovered at some point that it was possible to edit text with their music playing in the background while i worked, so they got a fair few plays this year.
4. cassettes won't listen. the work of indie electronic artist jason drake of new york. i still haven't pinned down exactly why i like this stuff so much. but i suspect it's the catchy hooks. also drake is very generous - he gives a lot of his stuff away. over the course of the year i collected a fair bit of his back-catalogue and rarities. 2009 was also the year in which he released 'into the hillside' - a rather fetching instrumental album with some excellent tracks on it. new album coming in 2010.
5. deastro. another generous indie electronic artist - this time it's randolph chabot of detroit. this year he released his second full album 'moondagger', but this fact seems to have escaped my attention (mainly due to it not appearing on emusic, where his superb debut 'keeper's' was championed). it must have been the free stuff that he gave away that kept my listening rate up. i really like his music - (sometimes quirky) electro-compositions that verge at times on the anthemic with an apocalyptic edge. i shall now go and attempt to remedy my oversight regarding his latest album.
6. m83. anthony gonzalez of france. amazing electronic-post-rock soundscapes morphed into 80s-tinged synth-pop in 2008 with 'saturdays = youth'. this album still has moments of his atmospheric greatness, but i personally prefer his more abstract stuff. once again a rather nice sonic background for my editing work.
7. zero 7. zero 7 at number 7. zero 7 of england released a new album this year, 'yeah ghost'. my like of the band stretches back to their first album and i have most of their music in my library - this fact combined with the new album, kept rotation high in my listening habits. i have to be honest and say that i really haven't given the new album much of chance and need to investigate it further before delivering my considered opinion on its merits. my feeling at this stage is that it isn't their greatest work, but thanks to their talent still rises above a fair bit of stuff that other artists release.
8. roots manuva. british hiphop. this man is a true innovator in the british music scene. the way he combines inner city attitude, intelligent and cleverly-written lyrics, with cutting edge electronic music (with a dub bedrock) make me all weak at the knees. 'cool' seems to seep out of all the cracks. i'm also fascinated with the christian themes and self-critique that comes out in the music thanks to his pentecostal up-bringing. manuva has a fascinating love-hate relationship with the things that shaped him as a child and it runs head-long into the lifestyle he has more recently indulged in as a rapper. his latest album 'slime and reason' (2008) sees him older and disenchanted with the lifestyle but still trying to reconcile all the pieces.
9. vangelis. and now to the grand-dad of electronic! casting your eye back up this list you will see at least two acts (m83 and sheehan) that would seem to exhibit hallmarks of this man's influence. i'm sure the others on the list would acknowledge his greatness also. the greek vangelis (aka evangelos odysseas papathanassiou) is probably most famous for the 'chariots of fire' theme. my listening revolves around his soundtrack to 'bladerunner'. a three-disc collectors edition of that soundtrack keeps him as a strong presence in my library, and he also finds himself in the same category as m83 and mogwai for providing a soft bed for me to 'recline on' while doing my editing work.
10. efterklang. the sole representatives of a strong 'viking' presence in my music library. i was somewhat surprised to find them in the top ten (rather than, say, sigur ros or múm) but 2009 was the year in which i discovered the danes and downloaded all three of their available albums. i don't know how to describe their sound: sonic soundscapes, choirs, electronics, folk instruments. the whole thing exhibits a particular arctic quality. in the last month i added 'performing parades' to my collection - a rather nice collaboration with the danish national chamber orchestra.
so there we have it. oh, and happy new year. it's 2010.