Top 20 Albums of the Year

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about my Top 20 Synthpop Albums of the Year. Although synthpop is my favourite genre, it’s by no means the only type of music I listen to. Admittedly I’m still mostly an electro-head, but check my CD collection and you’ll also find rock, indie, punk, metal, folk, classical, even a country and western CD somewhere in there too. 2009 has been a fabulous year for music with many highlights. Here are my Top 20 Favourite Albums of the Year (not including synthpop). And Spotify links provided for all but two of them!

20. Moby – Wait For Me

  • Moby’s latest album almost passed me by, but thankfully I gave it a listen. It’s similar to 1999’s Play which is why it’s so good.

19. Lily Allen – It’s Not Me, It’s You

  • Whatever you think of her, Lily’s 2nd album has some great songs on it with some fantastic lyrics.

18. Patrick Wolf – The Bachelor (Battle One)

  • Verging on chamber-pop, Patrick Wolf has had a few albums to date but this is the first I’d heard of him. Reminiscent of Divine Comedy and Nick Cave (with a touch of Sparks), this album’s full of signs and portents, melodrama, and Tilda Swinton as The Voice of Hope.

17. Assemblage 23 – Compass

  • Tom Shear’s Assemblage 23 has been releasing decent electro-industrial albums since 1999. Previous albums Storm and Meta were OK but nothing special, so I wasn’t really expecting too much from this. After a few listens though, I think Compass is Shear’s best album ever: it’s bright and exciting and full of great tunes.

16. Peaches – I Feel Cream

  • This almost made it into my synthpop top 20 but ultimately it crosses several genres (disco, electroclash, pop) so I left it out of that list. It’s Peaches’ best album though I reckon, she taught me a lot.

15. Editors – In This Light And On This Evening

  • Editors‘ 3rd album sees their sound evolving to incorporate analogue synths and Ultravox hooks. Not quite as good as 2007’s gloomy masterpiece An End Has a Start, the first half of this album is still brilliant.

14. Muse – The Resistance

  • The fifth album from Devon’s finest is full of grandiose sci-fi prog-rock. I’ve bought all their albums since Showbiz and this is already one of my favourites.

13. Die Form – Noir Magnétique

  • This one surprised me: these French industrial fetishists have been around for a few decades now, I have a couple of their CDs which I think are worth a purchase for the artwork alone. This new album is their most accessible album yet: I think it’s the best thing they’ve ever done.

12. Mommy Hurt My Head – Mommy Hurt My Head

  • Reviewed on Release Magazine, I checked them out on Spotify and have now listened to this quite a lot. It takes off from where Front Line Assembly’s Caustic Grip left off: it’s about time 90s-style industrial-dance had a comeback!

11. Liquid Divine – Autophobia

  • I found this via a label search in Spotify for Infacted Recordings. Liquid Divine produce intelligent and mature futurepop, featuring guest vocals from Frank Spinath (Seabound).

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10. Mungolian Jetset – We Gave It All Away… And Now We Are Taking It Back

As recommended by tall tall tall on the Human League forum (he called it “super weirdness“), this double-album fuses all sorts of styles and genres with samples and beats that remind me of Trans-Global Underground. It’s difficult to classify: Resident Advisor call it “Disco, House, Techno, Leftfield.” All I know is that the Jetset’s groove is infectious. Unfortunately this album isn’t on Spotify yet, although you’ll find a few of their mixes there.

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09. First Aid 4 Souls – Brutpop

When I interviewed Intrendent from German label Electro Arc, he said he was excited about the label’s forthcoming release from Hungarian band First Aid 4 Souls. I can hear now what the fuss was about: Brutpop is a brilliant album that showcases many talented musicians. It crosses boundaries of dark synthpop, electro-industrial and gothtronica;  there’s a great mix of sounds and the multiple vocalists adds a nice collective feel. Check out the track The Unborn Child – it’s brilliant, one of my favourite songs of the year!

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08. Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma

The godfathers on psytrance return with a brilliant new album. They’ve been moving away from “just trance” for several albums now, losing die-hard psytrancers but gaining a legion of new fans. I felt there was a spark missing from 2007’s Vicious Delicious, but thankfully it’s back here and better than ever. The production on this album is first-class and several rockers on guest vocals (Jonathan Davis from Korn, Perry Farrell from Jane’s Addiction) add extra spice.

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07. Shpongle – Ineffable Mysteries from Shpongleland

From the other side of trance, Shpongle returned after 4 years with an album that returns to the natural psybient sounds of the first two albums. Like the Mushrooms, Sphongle have been evolving their sound over the years: listen to beautiful No Turn Un-Stoned for an idea of how far they’ve traveled.

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06. Combichrist – Today We Are All Demons

A few years ago I was disappointed Andy LaPlegua had wrapped up futurepop band Icon of Coil in favour of his more aggressive venture Combichrist. Not any more though: Today We Are All Demons came out way back in January and I still listen to it loads. It’s loud and brash and a wonderful antidote if you’ve had too much pop. Can’t Change the Beat is my favourite on this album, but there isn’t a single track I skip. It makes for fantastic driving music by the way 😉

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05. The Emperor Machine – Space Beyond the Egg

I blogged about my Discophonic Workshop Spotify playlist a few months ago. At the centre of this is The Emperor Machine, Andy Meecham’s awesome analogue sci-fi moniker that defines space disco with every track. This album sees him add Krautrock and 60’s spy movies into the mix; watch the terrific video for Kananana directed by top animator Cassiano Prado.

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04. Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career

I think it’s the strings that do it for me on this. I wasn’t that impressed by Let’s Get Out of This Country, but this new album on 4AD is sublime. A sentimental streak runs through this album, but it’s balanced with a healthy dose of Glaswegian cynicism. My Maudlin Career sounds like it could have been recorded at any time during the past 50 years: it has a timeless quality that makes me go “ooooh!” Also check out their Christmas song: a cover of the Jim Reeves song The Blizzard.

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03. Skold vs KMFDM – Skold Vs KMFDM

A renewed collaboration between Tim Skold (Marilyn Manson) and Sascha K of KMFDM, I’ve ended up listening to this one a lot more than Blitz, the proper KMFDM release this year. Skold Vs. KMFDM is consistently solid, full and pounding electro-industrial songs.  Although the CD has two versions of every song (a full version and a shorter “theme” version), the Spotify release only has the full versions. No great loss but completists should check out the KMFDM store for the hard copy.

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02. VNV Nation – Of Faith, Power And Glory

I didn’t really rate this at first. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been a huge fan of VNV Nation since 1999’s Empires, but on first hearing this just seemed like more of the same. Softsynth reviewed it and I commented “I’m a bit underwhelmed. The album seems very predictable, it’s VNV-by-numbers and follows a very familiar pattern.” Fast-forward a few months: now I think it’s their finest record ever! VNV Nation have always produced albums that are half-brilliant, half-filler but Of Faith, Power And Glory finally tips the balance: it’s an epic album that’s like a best-of VNV Nation, there’s not a single skippable track.

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01. I Monster – A Dense Swarm Of Ancient Stars

A Dense Swarm Of Ancient Stars is my favourite (non-synthpop) album of the year. This album from I Monster (All Seeing I’s Dean Honer and Jarrod Gosling) is a joy to listen to from start to end but it’s almost impossible to classify the genre. Think vaudeville with psychedelic pop, trip-hop, jazz, R&B, and strange alternate-reality electronica. It mixes 70’s Hammer films with tea on the lawn in the 1920’s. There’s even a little bit of Pink Floyd and The Beatles in there. It’s full of fantastic songs to make you smile, or frown, or sigh, or glance over at your lover to make sure she’s still okay. This is more than an album: it’s an adventure into the weird, like a cross between J.G. Ballard and P.G. Wodehouse. Give it a go if you’ve not heard it: A Dense Swarm Of Ancient Stars is as cool as coconuts! 

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