morgan geist

2009: The Best of the Year

BlackPlastic tends to vary its approach to the inevitable end-of-year wrap-up a bit each year. Sometimes we do a full detailed breakdown of the best albums and compilations, whereas other times it is less formal summary of all that was good in the past 12 months. 2009 will be treated using the latter approach - this is partly in reflection of the quality of the year but it as much simply a reflection of the way BlackPlastic feels like tackling it this year. Lists are unimportant and to stick to them can constrain what needs to be said.

2009 was not quite the same vintage as 2008 in BlackPlastic's opinion (for more on 2008 see here, here and here) but it did have some absolutely fantastic music all the same:

One of the great things about end of year reviews is that they afford BlackPlastic the opportunity to go back and comment on albums we unfortunately missed at the time. No record from 2009 deserves that more than Girls' first album. Entitled, erm, Album, it was one of those records that sounds like a compilation tape from a mate with impeccable taste. The style is inconsistent but the passion and inventiveness of the tunes more than make up for it. Many have said that the production of this album is somewhat vanilla, classic as opposed to contemporary, and as such this is a record all about the tunes. BlackPlastic doesn't buy that - frankly it just sounds too 2009 for such twaddle to wash. Yes, it may contain classical styles but they have been applied with a modern sensibility and there are hints of too many times, styles and genres for this album to be anything but modern. Track to check: 'Lauren Marie'.

One of 2009's surprise highlights was The Horrors' sophomore album, Primary Colours. Channelling Joy Division and Can what it lacked in originality it made up for in quality of execution. Check: 'Sea Within a Sea'.

Showing off David Sitek's production skills even more than the Yeah Yeah Yeah's rather ace It's Blitz!, one of 2009's best débuts came from Telepathe in the form of Dance Mother. Abstract, dubby and ambient yet accessible and infectious. Check: that sublime production on 'Chrome's On It'.

Junior Boys' third album is perhaps a tricky one to love - it feels like a streamlined version of their precious two. Yet listening to Begone Dull Care it is clear this is a duo at the top of their game - streamlined is actually refined, for nothing this year boasted as much brains, as pure a vision. Frankly it is the best intelligent dance album since Morgan Geist's Double Night Time. Check: 'Parallel Lines'.

And if the Junior Boys refined then the Dirty Projectors' let the chips lie where they fell. Bitte Orca built on previous album Rise Above by growing in every conceivable direction. It still sounds simultaneously timeless and unapologetically futuristic. Check: the R&B anthem 'Stillness Is The Move'.

Another one of those records that got away - Desire's II has only just found its way onto the BlackPlastic stereo but the slightly sinister vibe and dark take on Italo ensures it'll be on rotation well into this year. If you listen to just one track make it the emotive ballad that is 'Don't Call'.

Also dark but without the retro edge was Telefon Tel Aviv's Immolate Yourself. It's been years since BlackPlastic has heard IDM that packs such a punch. Sadly band member Charles Cooper died soon after finishing this album. Rumour has it that his death may have been suicide. Listen to 'You Are The Worst Thing In The World' and it almost feels as though the pain of his passing has infected the songs.

Heart stoppingly beautiful at times, no record made BlackPlastic laugh and almost cry at the same time as much as Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard's 'Em Are I. Check: 'Bugs & Flowers'

Two albums that managed to get BlackPlastic really gurning again: Nathan Fake's Hard Islands and Fuck Buttons' Tarot Sport. Making trance music sound like rock music flicked our switch. Check 'Castle Rising'and 'Olympians' respectively.

Overlooked by practically everyone else but saving a special place in our hearts is The Juan Maclean's The Future Will Come. It may not quite match the heights of 2005's 'Dance With Me' but it is still the best realised concept album from 2009. Check the muted brilliance of 'Tonight'.

It is seriously over-hyped and they were dangerously close to becoming 2009's Burial (stylistically coming off somewhat like the indie equivalent of Burial, too): the XX. Yet they still managed to tug on our heart strings on debut album XX. The atmospheric melancholy and loneliness is one thing but the XX never shine more than when the vocals demonstrate their heart, as on 'Heart Skipped a Beat'.

Some music does it for BlackPlastic simply by being incessantly joyful. That is the case for Passion Pit's Manners - not since Architecture in Helsinki released an album has anything sounded quite so ridiculously happy. Check 'Little Secrets'.

Barely scrapping into 2009, Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavillion is probably the oldest album on this list yet it is still very nearly took the top spot. From the ecstatic opening of 'In The Flowers' this was an album to lose yourself in. Dizzyingly creative and heart-warmingly joyful, it is telling that it has all but made us forget band member Panda Bear's almost as good solo album, Person Pitch. Most people will recommend 'My Girls' as the top tune but they are wrong - it has to be that delirious opener.

Snuck in at the other side of 2009, Lindstrøm & Christabelle's Real Life Is No Cool is this list's newest album. And glorious it is too, a sunny slither of disco perfection that turned out to be Lindstrøm's career highpoint to date. Check 'Keep It Up'.

Before the wrap with the album of the year a couple of compilations and a reissue deserve a mention.

The reissue is the Units' The Early Years of the Units 1977-1983, a set that proves there were legitimate challengers to Devo's creative dominance of the post-punk period. Seriously - this shit is essential, the cream from one of the best periods in music.

Compilation number one is Jay Haze's Fabric 47, which frankly came out of nowhere and blew BlackPlastic away. By the time this eclectic set arrives at the exclusive hip-hop track 'Something To Say' by Rockey that closes the album we were head over heels. Pure class.

Our other favourite compilation is Phoenix's Kitsuné Tabloid release. After a balls out start from Digitalism, Phoenix took the Tabloid series in a much, much more interesting direction. Featuring barely any tracks from recent years it instead manages to introductive the listener to some gems they won't know as well as reintroducing some they will. It also serves as a perfect autobiography for the band and, more to the point, sounds utterly gorgeous all the way through.

No contest for album of the year though. On BlackPlastic's first few listens it was great... A perfect fit like your favourite jeans. Yet it just got better and better. And better. No album kept us coming back quite like Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Performed live it is even better and it is telling that almost every track on the album is on the set list for the recent tour.

Putting your finger on what makes Wolfgang... so great is tricky, but BlackPlastic will try:

Producer Philippe Zdar (of Cassius) manages to distill a great band into a phenomenal one. Each track is so incredibly tight that it sounds like a band being covered by robots, in the best possible way. And at the same time Thomas Mars' vocals give the whole album a sense of urgency and vitality that most bands can only dream of. If they called it quits now Phoenix would still be one of the best bands of the last decade. Here is hoping they continue being fabulous.

BP x

Five Electronic Albums of the Year

Putting together these lists is always exceedingly difficult. Usually just remembering every record of note from a year is a challenge in itself but to pick just a handful and bestow some sort of special honour on those is practically impossible, this year more than most. For this year has seen some utterly fantastic records. 2007 was a great year due to a few select releases whereas 2008 had a massive breadth of fantastic releases.

A few that deserve mention that fail to make our list: The sophistication of Morgan Geist (and Junior Boy's Greenspan's) sophisticated Double Night Time. Midnight Juggernauts' Dystopia, which successfully paints another chapter in mixing rock music with dance. Metronomy's beautifully wonky Nights Out, a criminally overlooked pop re-birth. Gang Gang Dance's Saint Dymphna didn't even get a BlackPlastic review (we struggle to catch them all) but trust us - it barely misses out getting in our top five, as do the similarly unreviewed Third by Portishead and Los Angeles by Flying Lotus. The Presets grew to be more than just an also ran with Apocalypso - showing a new level of emotion that was missing off of their debut. M83's ode to Donnie Darko teenage kicks, Saturdays = Youth was another terrific addition to Anthony Gonzalez' cannon - it may lack Before The Dawn Heals Us' more ecstatic moments but it did demonstrate an growing level of focus and a refinement of the overall sound.  Hercules & Love Affair's eponymous album has been credited with the rebirth of disco - BlackPlastic isn't sure that has actually happened but that's nothing to do with the quality of this album, which has a level of maturity and sophistication that should ensure it a place in your collection next to Morgan Geist's 2008 album. Hot Chip failed to make the list, possibly purely due to their own desire for experimentation - in places Made In The Dark matches anything the group have previously released, it just suffered for being unfocused (but hey, focusing IS difficult in the dark).

So here is what DID make the list:

 

5. Hlllyh - The Mae Shi

Not a perfect record by any stretch, but that is the point in the Mae Shi.  Much to the bemusement of his companions BlackPlastic had the luck to catch them live earlier in the year and it was an unfocused, chaotic mess.  And it was fantastic.  Hlllyh is a record that does everything at once and just about makes it work and for that it deserves applause and love.  It's a rambunctious, noisy, angry-punk-pop-hippie-love-in and it gets a big hug from us.

 

4. Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles

As BlackPlastic suspected back when it was reviewed, Crystal Castles' debut was an album that gets better with repeat listens.  Lonely, cold and yet never anything other than totally, uncompromisingly experimental, Crystal Castles have pushed the envelope for all those within the chiptune genre.

 

3. Friendly Fires - Friendly Fires

A record that is already seemingly suffering from the "Oh I'm slightly embarrassed I got so excited about that one" treatment for some journalists: Fact magazine's songs of the year list contained a snide comment about this album's failure to 'save indie dance'.

BlackPlastic loves Fact but to that we say a big "fuck you" because this album is so platinum-five-stars it's not even funny. If it has failed to set the world alight it is the failure of Fact, BlackPlastic, music publications everywhere and the general public at large for choosing some talent-less twat off X-Factor EVERY SINGLE TIME. It certainly is not a reflection of the ten gloriously produced punk-funk house-jams hear: this is a record to skip a heart beat too.

 

2. Fantasy Black Channel - Late of the Pier

Like waking up from a 70s slasher porn flick nightmare Fantasy Black Channel sounds like Bowies' imagined future.  The sound is far more cutting edge than the Klaxons managed on their debut and yet it is filtered through a glorious haze of thick chunky basslines from the aforementioned decade that just make it sound sexier than their contemporaries.  By the album's close, Fantasy Black Channel should have you on your knees with a lighter in the air.

 

1. In Ghost Colours - Cut Copy

If, for some reason, you are in any doubt as to what makes Cut Copy one of the best acts of our time go and grab their superb So Cosmic mix (alternative link) and, if you can't wait, scan forward to 29:30, where they mix Fleetwood Mac's 'Never Forget' with Lifelike's 'So Electric' and create a hands-in-the-air-tears-in-my-eyes anthem that deserves it's own release, the warm electronic waves of Lifelike's tracks gradually surrounding Stevie Nicks' vocals in a beautiful swell.  It is this mixture of old and new that makes Cut Copy so utterly charming, their ability to combine seemingly disparate sounds into one fantastic piece of music, and in the hands of the DFA's Tim Goldsworthy this ability truly shined.  Just check the glorious combination of the shoe-gazing guitar line of 'So Haunted' with the floating-in-space chorus and the final New Order-esque outro.

What's more, In Ghost Colours is a beautifully sequenced album. Ditch the bonus track bundled with the UK CD version and you have a record that fits together just perfectly, tracks bridged with a series of not-inconsequential interludes.

Cut Copy's debut, Bright Like Neon Love, was a fantastic record.  That In Ghost Colours represents a complete step change in everyone's perceptions of their abilities is a testament to the record: You won't hear a better collection of electronic pop songs from 2008.

 

BP x