The Real Best Albums of the Year

New Music Critic IZZY WILSON gives us the REAL best albums of the year.

2009 Albums Florence Izzy Mumford Music White Lies Wilson XX

If, like me, your winter “vacation” hasn’t been filled with trips to the family chalet in Val, ( I don’t say this disparagingly I’m actually very jealous) then you will have found it hard to ignore the fixation on best albums of the decade, best albums of the year and all that. If, like me, you actually have some taste in music, you won’t have been impressed by 2009’s winners, although I’m not gonna lie, I do love Su-Bo. Wild Horses. What a cover. Sooo it seemed only sensible to compile a list of my own. See what you think, then ridicule me if you so wish.

1. Florence and the machine – Lungs
2. Mumford and Sons – Sigh No More
3. The Big Pink – A Brief History of Love
4. The xx – XX
5. White Lies – To Lose My Life

1. Florence and the Machine – Lungs

I’ll be the first to admit that Florence really pissed me off at first. Florence this, Florence that, I’m so alternative, I wear flowers in my hair, Camden is the best bla bla bla. Whenever “Dog days are over” came on the radio or “Kiss with a fist” was played in a bar I would turn it off or complain about the fuss everyone was making. However, I will also be the first to admit I was completely frikkin’ wrong. “Lungs” as my number one will perhaps displease some/most people as I understand she’s not to everyone’s taste, including the likes of NME, due to her slightly annoying interviews and let’s face it anyone who gets that much hype starts to grate, but it is a fucking good album.

Florence manages to keep a balance between the airy fairy twinkly bits and heartbroken lyrics of tracks like “Cosmic Love” and “I’m not calling you a liar” and the soaring crescendo filled tracks “Rabbit Heart” and “Drumming”, the former of which got me into Florence in the first place, the latter of which centres on a pretty exact feeling of being in love. This sincerity makes it obvious she’s written these songs from her heart and only makes me love her more. Plus, you just can’t deny that when Florence interweaves her lyrics with harps, strings and drums it sounds pretty beautiful, perfectly done in “Howl” which not only makes you want to sing but as soon as the drums start at the intro you heavily anticipate the chorus, which never ever disappoints me.

I gave “Lungs” my number one spot with trepidation, but re-listening just now reminded me how amazing it actually is, as long as you ignore the cynical guy on your shoulder telling you to hate it.

2.    Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More

Oh god. How do I express how in love with Mumford & Sons I am? Like most other people I loved “Little Lion Man” the very first time I heard it, and I never tired of Radio 1 playing it relentlessly. It reminded me of an early Kings of Leon before they sold out to big stadium anthems, when they were long haired hillbillies with guitars and beautiful songs. I say that although Mumford and Sons are made up of St Paul’s and King’s College boys, but nobody cares, because the heady folky guitar and barn – dance style choruses are just great. There is a perfect mix of folky sweet strings culminating in banjos and horns but none of it feels unnatural as every song is beautiful and warm and just as catchy as the next.

 “Sigh No More” is a ridiculously good debut album, and really did it for Mumford & Sons allowing them to rise out of their group, with Noah and the Whale and Laura Marling being almost as good but not making quite as big an impact. The band have shown with “Sigh No More” that they know how to write good songs that will go far but also that they have something they want to write about and feelings they want to sing about. The former takes shape in songs like “Winter Winds”, which was such a big success with the whole “Get Winter Winds” to number one thing (Good Job on Rage by the way!) and you can see why. “Winter Winds” was and still is the song that’s getting me through the cold winter months. Their thoughts and feelings, which every good folk artist should have many of, shine through in the really very very sad songs like “I Gave You All”,  “White Blank Page” and “After The Storm”, all of which I can’t really listen to if I’m in a good mood as they direct my thoughts to the harder things in life. Still, that’s no bad thing, and if you’re ever feeling slightly indulgent or in need of a reminder about the beautiful things in life, this is definitely the best album for it. 2009 wouldn’t have been the same without it.

3. The Big Pink – A Brief History of Love

Track 3, “Dominos” has been everyyywherrrre, on shitloads of adverts and all those television channel montages of the past year, but it annoys the hell out of me. It’s probably one of my least favourites on the album, but I do like how it sounds a little Mancunian, kind-of “The Music”-esque. “Velvet”, now that is awesome, and pretty much sums up what’s so great about The Big Pink. They are soulful, chilled out, rocky, dirty, beautiful and anything else you could want in a band. They draw pretty much all their inspiration from love and the lyrics are like poetry. “Velvet” is one of those songs that makes you want to sit in a room with people you love, turn it up really loud, take drugs, and have sex.  Seriously if you haven’t heard it, do it, but play it loud.

As soon as I played Track 1 all I could think was “The Jesus and Mary Chain” so I listened to Just Like Honey and The Big Pink do to me exactly what they do, only TBP turn me on a bit more. They are heavier than JAMC, with grungy industrial choruses which make you think of leather, darkness and the kind of love which makes you suicidal, but this doesn’t mean that vocals from a few different girls seem out of place, they only add to the beauty of it all, especially when Valentine Fillol Cordier joins in with the title track, resulting in an achingly correct account of a break-up which is pretty hard to listen to all the way through. “A Brief History of Love” is an album that you can reminisce or make memories to and if you don’t feel a whole load of emotions when you listen to it then you are most definitely dead inside, or you’ve never really been in love.

4. The xx

For me it’s been a while since I’ve loved anything as chilled out as this that isn’t acoustic guitars like Bon Iver or Elliot Smith, but this album is divine. It’s not too poppy, it’s not too pretentious, there’s not really anything I can compare it to. Again they were hyped, and again the hype was right, but this was also one of the most unique albums of 2009.  XX is one I can listen to from start to finish and there are highs all the way through. “Crystallised” is gorgeous, gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous with a bit of an edge, “Island’s” has a bit of a Fools-goldy tempo to start and the smooth, sweet dialogue that follows is a perfect soundtrack for walking…anywhere, whilst dreaming about somewhere/something else. There’s a sexy feeling to the album, one you can imagine seducing someone to, with synth and drum beats making appearances the whole way through giving it another dimension rather than just silly little love songs about missing someone. It feels as though the band have just sat in a room and tried to make gorgeous sounds and then added their feelings on top. Listen to “Shelter” and hear how the instrumental bits between her sad words completely relate and kind of make you feel the same. If chilled out stuff really isn’t your thing, you won’t agree, but hey it’s also a great album for a comedown, I imagine.

5.White Lies – To Lose My Life….

So family ties may make me biased to some extent, but that only forces me to be more objective and having been to about 10 of their gigs, including one in Cambridge, I feel perfectly placed to criticise. Not that there is anything to criticise…To Lose My Life is one hell of an album and one which I don’t think got enough praise.

The album is up-lifting, depressing, exciting, emotional, and filled with gorgeous and deep lyrics and ideas. The stupidly good melodies and meaningfulness of most of the choruses for example, “Lets grow old together, and die at the same time” from the biggest track on the album “Death” is proved by the entire crowd singing the words back to the band at pretty much every gig I’ve been to.

This rather romantic lyric is kind of misleading though, with most of the songs littered with dark images of suicide, ECT therapy for manic depressives, deceased lovers and breakdowns. The content of Charles Cave’s lyrics and the melancholy tone in his voice puts this album in the same field as stuff by Nick Cave, Echo and the Bunnymen or even a bit like Ian Curtis. It’s not all doom and gloom though with the drums in tracks like “Farewell to the fairground” adding a slightly dancey edge to some bits. Takes a while to get into it and really really appreciate how good it is, but it should definitely be on every top 10 list of 2009.

Very very veryyy close runners up (Maccabees should really be joint 5th)

6. The Maccabees – Wall of Arms
7. The Prodigy – Invaders must die
8. The Horrors – Primary Colours
9. The Arctic Monkeys – Humbug
10. Noah and the Whale – The First Days of Spring

Disagree with Izzy? Leave a list of your favourite albums of 2009 in the comment section. Leave your real e-mail and if we like your suggestions we'll contact you about reviewing for The Tab.

Alternatively check out Senior Music Critic George Osborn's round-up of albums from 2009 here.