Friday, 27 November 2009

Culturedeluxe's Top 50 Albums of 2009

2009 may have seen X-Factor and its derivatives crowned by the musically-impaired and cash-greedy alike as "the nation's favourite" but, for those of us who scratched the surface (or in some cases dug deep), there were as rich a pickings as any year previously.  To this end, eleven of our finest scribes put their collective heads together some weeks ago and delivered our definitive Top 50 albums of the year.  If you've yet to hear any of them then get yourself to your favourite record shop / download outlet now and listen with confidence.
1. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - 'The Pains of Being Pure at Heart' (Fortuna Pop)

Despite various screams of 'hype' directed at a certain large US indie music website in January, those that had heard their early singles knew that The Pains of Being Pure at Heart's adorable retreading of shoegaze-era indie was difficult, nay impossible, not to fall in love with.  The musical equivalent of flicking through a new acquaintances record collection and finding you like every single disc - best friends from that moment on.
2. The Horrors - 'Primary Colours' (XL)

Nobody gave them a chance.  To come back from their NME-hyped beginnings and a disappointingly sketchy debut album?  To shake off their unpopular garage rock sound and fully embrace full-blown krautrock-driven psychedelia?  Well, they did and to often startling effect leaving detractors the world over eating their words while uncontrollably nodding their heads.  As Dr Foster put it in our May review: "to make your second LP sound brilliant be sure to record a really shit debut."  Wise words indeed.
3. Bat For Lashes - 'Two Suns' (EMI)

Natasha Khan released her second album this spring to press adulation and an appreciative fanbase alike.  Although not always as immediate as her debut 'Fur and Gold', the end result was altogether a more mature and cohesive affair.  Interest escalated this autumn as 'Two Suns' became the bookies favourite to scoop this year's Mercury Music Prize, only to be beaten at the final hurdle by the inferior 'Speech Therapy' by Speech Debelle.
4. Animal Collective - 'Merriweather Post Pavilion' (Domino)

Simply picking up 'Merriweather Post Pavilion' and examining the disorientating front cover was enough this year to warp your mind - and this was before we'd managed to prise out the CD and start playing it.  The noughties' answer to the Beach Boys produced their 'Pet Sounds' this year coupling the unexpectedly warm, yet unhinged pop of 'Summertime Clothes' and 'Bluish' with the deranged ramblings of 'Lion in a Coma'.  Quite simply a knowingly abstract group at the height of their powers allowing them to quite rightly cross over into the lives of others.
5. The Duckworth Lewis Method - 'The Duckworth Lewis Method' (1969)

The only thing more surprising than England's Ashes win this summer was this delightful collection which arrived out of mid-wicket with a well-oiled bat and a glint in its suprisingly Irish eyes.  The Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon and Pugwash's Thomas Walsh joined forces, took their name from a confusing mathematical routine for deducing target batting scores and wrote an album around the concept of cricket.  From 'The Coin Toss' through the batting order to 'The Nightwatchman' and 'The End of the Innings', this collection never once failed to charm and never more so than the wonderfully whimsical and witty 'Jiggery Pokery' which reminded a nation how much Mike Gatting hates Shane Warne.
6. Florence & The Machine - 'Lungs' (Moshi Moshi)

Florence and her machine topped many "one to watch" polls this January and even picked up a Brit Award in recognition of this fact, but we had to wait until the summer to find out if the debut LP would justify the column inches. Happily, for many Culturedeluxe writers, the collection delivered all the promise and more, from the scintillating sounds of early single 'Dog Days Are Over' to a much-heralded run through the old Candi Staton standard 'You Got The Love'.
7. The Lions Constellation - 'Flashing Light' (BCore Disc)

While American acts such as Ringo Deathstarr and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart jumped on the UK-fuzz guitar retro bandwagon, Spanish act The Lions Constellation scored a point for Europe with a collection of modern-day, psychedelic shoegaze. Proof positive that 2009, for those of us who looked outside the Top 10, was actually more about resurrecting the spirit of Kevin Shields and Jim Reid than Howard Jones and Gary Numan.
8. Mos Def - 'The Ecstatic' (Downtown)

A decade since last being musically relevant and as far away from his Hollywood career as you can imagine, Mos Def returned in 2009 free from major label shackles and with a refreshing new experimental attitude. Production from Stones Throw stalwarts MadLib and J Dilla threw psychedelia and Middle Eastern and Latin grooves into the pot making this one of the most interesting and best hip hop albums in an age.
9. The Phantom Band - 'Checkmate Savage' (Chemikal Underground)

Glasgow's The Phantom Band, famed for playing surprise gigs under various names, finally decided on a fixed moniker in 2009 with the release of their spellbinding debut LP. Healthy portions of classic rock mixed with titillating electronica and, oh yes, the occasional doo-wop solo, to provide one of 2009's most interesting mixtures. While the nation lapped up the mediocre Kings of Leon, here were a band doing essentially the same thing but at an astronomically higher level.
10. Saint Etienne vs Richard X - 'Foxbase Beta' (Saint Etienne Fanclub)

Self-confessed lover of all things retro, Richard X was let loose on Saint Etienne's 1991 debut in its entirity. Thus 'Foxbase Alpha' evolved with measured subtlety to 'Foxbase Beta'; bolstered with a noughties dancefloor sensibility while retaining its old-school feel and original sass. Here Richard X gave everyone a lesson in remixing with due care and love for the source material.
11. Emmy the Great - 'First Love' (Close Harbour)
A very assured debut from Ms Moss and her varied collection of "borrowed" musicians. 'First Love' was at least two years in the making but, due to taking time over her art, this love will not be her last.
12. The Prodigy - 'Invaders Must Die' (Take Me To The Hospital)
Leaving an even bigger gap between albums than that between the huge 'Fat of the Land' and the disappointing 'Always Outnumbered...', Liam, Keith and Maxim took a leaf out of the stadium dance of Pendulum, reverted to their rave roots and were soon back at the top of the charts and many festival bills.
13. Sky Larkin - 'The Golden Spike' (Wichita)
Leaving their native Yorkshire for the Seattle home of their grunge heroes, 'The Golden Spike' saw Sky Larkin's native grit and energy transformed into full-on, driven college rock. With American acts paying tribute to British guitar legends all over the place, here was one band doing the opposite to great effect.
14. Howling Bells - 'Radio Wars' (Independiente)
Delivered two years after their debut, this Australian four-piece introduced a poppier and simultaneously grandiose element to their sound with the results sometimes mellow, sometimes enthralling but always entertaining.
15. Fuck Buttons - 'Tarot Sport' (ATP)
While their debut 'Street Horrrsing' was justifiably acclaimed, it was a mere hint towards where these two Londoners were going with their sound. With legendary producer Andrew Weatherall on board, 'Tarot Sport' is one of the most rivetting rides you'll take all year - sometimes like witnessing an Andes pan pipe band caught in an electrical storm.
16. Passion Pit - 'Manners' (Columbia)
Slammed perhaps unfairly into a large sack marked 'similar' along with Little Boots and Empire of the Sun, Passion Pit managed to push the US dream pop envelope handsomely in 2009 thanks largely to the distinct vocals of Michael 'helium junkie' Angelankos.
17. Sub Focus - 'Sub Focus' (Ram)
Following the slightly cheesy lead of Pendulum, 2009 was the year that drum 'n' bass returned to the nation's consciousness with a bang. Sub Focus aka Nick Douwma proved on this self-titled effort that he isn't afraid of delivering a big sound that snatches influences from all over - be they italo-house, dubstep, breakbeat rave or straight out of Pendulum's own book cf. 'Rock It'!
18. Future Of The Left - 'Travels With Myself & Another' (4AD)
Despite being considered "too heavy for indie fans, too indie for metal fans and too mental for everyone else", Future of the Left combined natural aggression with good humour to bring a broad smile to the face of every one of their niche market - and many more otherwise.
19. The Cave Singers - 'Welcome Joy' (Matador)
Gruff, gravelly, Gram Parsons-esque alt. country came this year from Matador's Cave Singers and a self-referential album title. Taking blues as a starting point and working in the finer points of various musical cultures, they produced one of this summer's most well-rounded LPs.
20. The Raveonettes - 'In And Out Of Control' (Vice)
Having long since perfected their blueprint of "somewhere between Phil Spector and the Jesus and Mary Chain", The Raveonettes followed up the disappointing 'Lust Lust Lust' by injecting some much needed pop sensibility back into their record. The likes of 'Bang!' saw the Danish duo at their most accessible yet.
21. St. Vincent - 'Actor' (4AD)
Picture Emiliana Torrini getting together with Modest Mouse, throw in a lot of fuzzy bass and the occasional abrasive guitar and you're nearing 'Actor' by former Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens collaborator Annie Clark. These warm, fuzzy, lo-fi sounds backed up by a full orchestra led to many falling in love with St. Vincent this spring.
22. Fukkk Offf - 'Love Me Hate Me Kiss Me Kill Me' (Coco Machete)
One of our hot tips in January delivered one of the best dance albums of the year this August when Bastian Heerhorst's potty-mouthed, rave-obsessed act took the sound of sweaty Hamburg dance clubs direct to your living room and then refused to leave until the early hours of the morning.
23. The Soundcarriers - 'Harmonium' (Melodic)
Just as Stereolab called an "indefinite hiatus", Nottingham's The Soundcarriers made themselves available to step into their elaborate footwear. 'Harmonium' seemed less a tribute to the lesser-used instrument than a nod towards krautrock, 60's psychedelia, Lee Hazlewood and obscure library music.
24. Andrew Bird - 'Noble Beast / Brilliant Creatures' (Bella Union)
Likened to Mercury Rev's timeless 'Deserters Songs', 'Noble Beast' became Andrew Bird's fifth album and brought his unique combination of out there jazz and modern rock to a greater audience. The instrumental 'Brilliant Creatures' was a purely voluntary joint purchase which many salivating fans took up.
25. Doves - 'Kingdom of Rust' (Heavenly)
The ever-dependable Doves released their fourth LP after a brief break and announced with it a love for Vangelis and Kraftwerk which was reflected in the album including the giveaway track 'Jetstream'.
26. We Were Promised Jetpacks - 'These Four Walls' (Fat Cat)
The improbably named Scots released their debut LP a full six years after forming at an Edinburgh high school wearing the influences of labelmates Twilight Sad and Frightened Rabbit squarely on their sleeves - not to mention their shared love of Scots heroes Biffy Clyro.
27. The Qemists - 'Join The Q' (Ninja Tune)
Described by Andy J back in February as a contender for album of the year, 'Join the Q' makes it through its sheer disregard for genre - mixing rock, metal, breakbeat, hip hop, drum 'n' bass and a rare vocal from Faith No More's Mike Patton into an eclectic mix.
28. Wild Beasts - 'Two Dancers' (Domino)
With the dust from the release of last year's 'Limbo, Panto' barely settled, the Lake District's finest upped the stakes considerably with a smart, bold and ingenious piece of work. That's before you even consider Hayden Thorpe's unique and impressive falsetto.
29. Monsters of Folk - 'Monsters of Folk' (Rough Trade)
The oxymoronic name aside, what isn't there to love from a band featuring members of Bright Eyes, My Morning Jacket and M.Ward? This late addition to the year's albums prove there can be truly great output from the rather sadly resurrected concept of the supergroup.
30. Broken Records – 'Until the Earth Begins to Part' (4AD)
This Edinburgh band have gradually worked their way up through various competitions, showcase sets and limited edition singles releases. In 2009 the seven-piece released their debut album through the respected 4AD label bringing their upbeat and decidely Celtic take on the indie-folk sound to a greater audience.
31. Blakroc - 'Blakroc' (V2 / Co-op)
Former Roc-A-Fella Records co-owner Damon Dash is the mastermind behind this rap-rock collaborative LP. The featuring artists read like a who's who of credible hip hop with everyone from Pharoahe Monch and Mos Def to Q-Tip and the Wu-Tang Clan lending vocal support.
32. Filthy Dukes - 'Nonsense In The Dark'
London three-piece Filthy Dukes achieved that most difficult of things this year - a credible electronic dance album which stands up over the course of two sides of heavyweight vinyl. Whether the punchy Depeche Mode pop of 'Elevator' or the chilling soundscapes of 'Somewhere at Sea', the music remained multi-dimensional.
33. The Protagonist! - 'Pink Fuzz!' (Stroboscopic)
Never let it be said that we don't look after our own at Culturedeluxe. Late 2009 saw the release of our popular scribe Keith Haworth's first outing as The Protagonist! and his first appearance in the end of year poll voted for by "his peers".
34. Paul Steel - 'Moon Rock' (Raygun)
Although recorded and readied for release by his former label, the fiercely pop-orientated Fascination who apparently wanted to market Steel as a new Mika, 'Moon Rock' sat on the shelves for two years before a labelless Steel decided to release it himself. We're glad he did as sugar-coated pop and extravagant pomp hasn't sounded this good since Freddy Mercury's heyday.
35. Luke Haines - 'Achtung Mutha / 21st Century Man' (Fantastic Plastic)
At the turn of the year the former Auteurs frontman was touring the nation's bookshops confounding listeners with his self-effacing charm punctuated by caustic passages of his book 'Bad Vibes'. Returning to the studio for a double LP, he prove that neither his lyrical ability nor his ear for a tune have left him.
36. Bell X1 – 'Blue Lights on the Runway' (ADA)
County Kildare's finest survived the loss of founder member Brian Crosby and released their third LP this year which impressed fans on both sides of the Atlantic, not least fans of US TV show 'One Tree Hill' on which the track 'Light Catches Your Face' made an appearance.
37. Fanfarlo - 'Reservoir' (Raffle Bat)
More than yet another ensemble folk-rock band with ambitions of being the next Arcade Fire, Fanfarlo coupled their mature, multi-instrumental sound with the incredible offer of downloading it for a mere dollar from their website - now that just makes great financial sense!
38. The Dead Weather - 'Horehound' (Third Man)
Or the latest in a very long line of Jack White-led supergroups. Where the Raconteurs lacked a certain ardor, the introduction of Alison Mosshart from The Kills and Queens of the Stone Age guitarist Dean Fertita gave The Dead Weather the bite that some of White's previous dalliances have lacked.
39. The Xcerts – In The Cold Wind We Smile' (Xtramile)
Proving that the Granite City has, and always has had, more to offer than Annie Lennox and The Shamen, and that Aberdeen's proximity to Scandinavia does indeed have an effect on the hardness and the severity of its music. The XCerts' debut channelled the band's live aggression handsomely, often showing off a surprisingly tender side too.
40. Juliette Lewis - 'Terra Incognita' (ADA19)
Now officially Lickless and somewhat short on Hollywood roles, Lewis teamed up with a new producer (The Mars Volta's Omar Rodriguez-Lopez) for an album heavily-influenced by the best of recent alternative rock.
41. Philip Jeays - 'London' (
To some Philip Jeays is a natural successor to Jacques Brel and the smoky solliloquies and string-laden laments of 'London' only serve to back this up. For an act best appreciated live, this record does stand up well to repeated listens.
42. Bronnt Industries Kapital - 'Hard for Justice' (Get Physical)
Sadly an extracurricular project with little fanfare, this collaboration between Gravenhurst's Nick Talbot and Guy Bartell was both one of the most interesting and intelligent collections of music to be released this year. With reference points as far-removed as Kraftwerk, Roy Budd and The Strokes, this was a krautrock-soaked collection to keep returning to.
43. My Sad Captains - 'Here & Elsewhere' (Stolen)
With a winning combination of Wilco-style country rock peppered with volcanic bursts of noise, My Sad Captains helped fly the flag for a muted London indie scene in 2009 with a sound often beautiful, often melancholic but always enjoyable.
44. Moderat - 'Moderat' (BPitch Control)
After taking an unusual seven year break between their first EP and this debut long player (due to arguments over how they should sound during which they split back into ModeSelektor and Apparat), Berlin's Moderat finally unleashed this accomplished IDM debut this year.
45. We Fell To Earth - 'We Fell To Earth' (In Stereo)
Featuring former man from UNKLE Richard File and former Queens of the Stone Age / Mark Lanegan collaborator Wendy Rae Fowler, this debut album cleverly saw dance and rock music clashing to great effect. Using the drums as a lead instrument, this record frequently brought back flashes of Portishead at their best - praise indeed.
46. Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - 'Beware' (Domino)
The prolific Will Oldham struck again in March, this time in an unusually upbeat mood. Layer upon layer of lush instrumentation provided a fitting backdrop to Oldham's rootin' tootin' songwriting with impressive choral swoops and pedal steel.
47. Arctic Monkeys - 'Humbug' (Domino)
The former chart-toppers entered the "difficult third album phase" with both confidence and a new celebrity producer Josh Homme. Not as immediate as either of their first two offerings, 'Humbug', for those who let it, was instead a work full of majestic subtlety and stands up with their best work - albeit after three or four listens.
48. The Twilight Sad – 'Forget the Night Ahead' (Fat Cat)
The stock of Kilsyth's finest continues to rise with a real progression from their 2007 debut on this sophomore LP. Exploring darker themes and experimenting with atonal soundscapes, 'Forget the Night Ahead' was lauded by pretty much everyone who heard it.
49. PJ Harvey and John Parish - 'A Woman A Man Walked By' (Island)
Long time collaborator John Parish was given equal billing again for the sequel to the pair's 1996 LP 'Dance Hall at Louse Point' on an album surprisingly described as a low key "diversion" for Harvey. Conversely it became one of her most enchanting and beguiling releases in recent years.
50. Music Go Music - 'Expressions' (Secretly Canadian)
Disco became achingly cool for the first time ever this autumn with a record which owed a real debt to the glitzy late 70's boom of Abba, Blondie while simultaneously throwing in the classic songwriting sheen of Neil Diamond and James Taylor. Very much a fun record at a time when the whole damn world needs cheering up.
Bubbling Under
51. Julian Casablancas - 'Phrazes For The Young'
52. Them Crooked Vultures - 'Them Crooked Vultures'
53. Baddies - 'Do The Job'
54. Darker My Love - '2'
55. B>E>A>K - 'B>E>A>K'
56. Titus Andronicus – 'The Airing of Grievances'
57. Royksopp - 'Junior'
58. Willie Isz - 'Georgianvania'
59. Dirty Projectors - 'Bitte Orca'
60. The Von Bondies - 'Love, Hate and Then There's You'
61. The Galvatrons - 'Laser Grafitti'
62. Clint Mansell - 'Moon OST'
63. The Juan MacLean - 'The Future Will Come'
64. Camera Obscura - 'My Maudlin Career'
65. The Silent League - 'But You've Always Been The Caretaker'
66. Major Lazer - 'Guns Don't Kill People Lazers Do'
67. Rebotini - 'Musical Components'
68. Miike Snow - 'Miike Snow'
69. Two Fingers - 'Two Fingers'
70. Euros Childs - 'Son of Euro Child'
71. Grizzly Bear - 'Veckatimest'
72. Air - 'Love 2'
73. The Phenomenal Hand Clap Band - 'The Phenomenal Handclap Band'
74. Jahdan Blakkamoore - 'Buzzrock Warrior'
75. Boys Noize - 'Power'
76. Morrissey - 'Years of Refusal'
77. The Last Dinosaur - 'Hooray! For Happiness'
78. Ryan Driver - 'Feeler of Pure Joy'
79. Seasick Steve - 'Man From Another Time'
80. Isis – 'Wavering Radiant'
81. Dizzee Rascal - 'Tongue 'n' Cheek'
82. Mastodon - 'Crack The Skye'
83. M.Ward - 'Hold Time'
84. Version Big-fi - 'Crux/Dub Collide Hybridize'
85. The Slew - '100%'
86. Felix - 'You Are The One I Pick'
87. There Will Be Fireworks – 'There Will Be Fireworks'
88. Venus International - 'Pléyades'
89. The Cribs - 'Ignore the Ignorant'
90. Revolting Cocks - 'RevCo. Sexo-Olympico'
91. Bob Dylan - 'Together Through Life'
92. Sean Bones - 'Rings'
93. Steel Panther - 'Feel The Steel'
94. Cornershop - 'Judy Sucks A Lemon For Breakfast'
95. Andrew Weatherall - 'A Pox On The Pioneers'
96. British Sea Power - 'Man of Aran'
97. The Little Kicks – 'The Little Kicks'
98. Cats On Fire - 'Our Temperance Movement'
99. Raekwon (ft Ghostface Killah) - 'Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt II
100. Heads We Dance - 'Love Technology'
The Roll of Honour (Former Winners)
2008 - Eine Kleine Nacht Musik - 'Eine Kleine Nacht Musik' (Modular)
2007 - Justice - '†' (Because)


  1. Interesting and varied list. I'd put The Phantom Band as my number one, followed by Wild Beasts, Broken Records and you have Animal Collective right where I'd put it. It's great to see The Phantom Band in your top 10 though, as I think theres is an album wich is being over looked by a lot of people making these top 50's. I heard a blog rumor that they are making an appearance at South by South West wich has got me quite excited because I go every year!


  2. Sky larkin shoulda been higher, but it's a good list