Monday, December 21

Albums Of 2009 - No. 5 to No. 1

5. The Maccabees 'Wall Of Arms' (Fiction) - You've still the squally guitars and Orlando warbling like he's about to cry (in a good way), but this sophomore endeavour also puffs a whole lot more than (albeit rather absorbing) tales of a Clapham swimming pool. Now they're slicker, there're pensive touches on the deceased, and it picks itself up and drops itself down just when it feels right. Whereas 'Colour...' felt in some ways like a band in discovery, throwing together all they had, this is an album. An album that really, in a time of never-ending electro posses vying with each other for some clunky sampler on eBay, completely stands on its own. The equally resplendent 'Love You Better' and 'No Kind Words' aside, 'Can You Give It' has an as-one roar to knock the stuffing outta Bunk Moreland. 'William Powers' mounts on a Herculean strain of munching strings just yearning for a run of sell-out stints at Brixton Academy. And 'Bag Of Bones' is 'Toothpaste Kisses' mark two, only even more divine. Yes, they've grown up. Yes, they've matured. And yes, this is one of the year's finest.

4. Florence and the Machine 'Lungs' (Island) - Well then. Florence Welch. A histrionic go-thinking hitmaker residing in her own G-darn dignity. Or, a niggling pest ate up by a yearning for fake flowers and empty birdcages. Tough to call really, one can deftly come away from her live show supposing both. On record though, notably this - her Paul Epworth ('Silent Alarm'/'Intimacy'/'Everything Is New')-produced debut, it all most definitely dwells in the former. 'Lungs' really shines out almighty because of its majestical tunes and Welch's chin-dropping chords, and not the need of some irksome props. Singles besides, 'Howl' is Winehouse minus the fag breath, plus some pop-screeching strings. 'Girl With One Eye' is sassy, brassy and cat-fighting hysteria. And the finale cover of 1991 dance track 'You've Got The Love' is, albeit disposable, one last cast-back of Welch's categorical prowess. So, a word to the womenfolk seemingly suffocating the good music at present - this is the album you wanna stare up to.

3. Manchester Orchestra 'Mean Everything To Nothing' (Canvasback) - Music and football rarely fraternise. Sure, there's New Order's only ever No. 1 single - the one that has its thunder mostly stolen by the dexterity of John Barnes. There's the fact that Noel G pines for Man City only decides to escort his kid to Arsenal every other week. And Robbie Williams is, of course, the majority share-holder in Port Vale. But sometimes, just sometimes, the pilgrimage of an album can be likened to that of a football match. Last Saturday, Manchester United were two-nil down at half-time to Tottenham - 45 minutes later and the world champions were celebrating a 5-2 victory. This album, technically Manchester Orchestra's third, is pretty much asleep for the first few tracks. No decent hooks, overly drawn-out blathering, zany drips and drabs that make little sense. Then, like they've just been on the end of some stentorian time-out verbal hiding, they're outta the traps with deep-fried alt.pop anthem after sweett n' delicate beauteous ballad after hip-bopping crowd-splicing ditty. Sure, it might be more 'economical' to grab the whole thing off iTunes for £7.99, but pick out the last seven for £5.53 and you're looking at way better value.

2. Wave Machines 'Wave If You're Really There' (Neapolitan) - If the thought of yet another Wii-possessed electro clan fills you with more fury than Alice Glass devoid of her morning blood-shot espresso, Wave Machines may just be the whizzes to save your spirit. Stationed at the fore of Liverpool’s artsy underground, they fashion their ‘sound’ inside a disused church loft by day and perform behind masks of their own faces by night. Sure it all seems about as screwy as some pious Rob Zombie fan club, yet this debut album is one bountiful grab bag of Beta Band-mannered thrums, superhuman psych pop elation and Travis Bickle-type slurs on humanity. Heck, ‘Punk Spirit’ is charged on enough emotion-bottling to make you weep. Then come the Hot Chip-fired bleep bops of ‘The Line’ to let out the tension. Damn bizarro but doubtlessly glorious.

1. Mumford & Sons 'Sigh No More' (Island) - Folk, Wikipedia will have you known, was devised circa the mid-19th century as somewhat of a pastime for the working classes. Ironic then, that south-west London's reawakening of the breed some years back is about as working-class as Lady GaGa is plausible. Not that social stratum has a thing to do with Mumford & Son's long-expected debut record. Well, sure The Enemy wouldn't name their next shipment of Undertones covers 'Sigh No More', but it skilfully embraces the sorta wholehearted schmaltz and despair each and every one of us naturally endures on occasion. And that is what makes these albeit faintly rekindled chord marches from the 1800s/'Harvest'-era Neil Young so fresh and appealing.
In 'The Cave', band leader Marcus Mumford's anguish and persistence to "find strength in pain" are doused with pure sincerity. Heck, come away from it short of a Kleenex wetter than the Yangtze and count yourself soulless. 'Winter Winds', though, prides itself on alike neurotic-about-love sentiments but via what sinks in as the thewy banjos and organs of a Leonard Cohen-staunch orchestra. Heartening, to put it mildly.
Good M&S devotees will already be wise to the staggering 'Roll Away Your Stone', 'White Blank Page' and the timeless euphony, buoyant refrain and gutsy drift of 'Little Lion Man'. All of which makes 'Thistle & Weeds' so much more stupefying. "Spare me your judgements and spare me your dreams, 'cause recently mine have been tearing my seams... Rain down, rain down on me," a forsaken Mumford whispers over an almost as-solitary guitar line. Again, it's his/their lost-yet-dogged thinking that prolongs 'Sigh No More'. Discounting the existing hyperbole of electro to boot, this bears on every era since the Mesozoics were knockin' about. It's real, it's honest, it's just wondrous.
Later comes 'Dustbowl Dance', whose poignant keys and piecemeal build into a 'Fix You'-kinda mélange marks the LP's strongest track. Closing is 'After The Storm', in which Mumford declares, "And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears... With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair". Whether or not the latter ditty is a direct allusion to Florence Welch's tresses it's hard to confirm, but really this track is the only fitting way to finish off proceedings - Utter optimism.
So then. Minus one or two obscure and unforgivable remarks of "God", Mumford & Sons have simply made one of the most exquisite records of the decade. The biggest occurrence to supervene on pop music in the year 2009? This is it.