Local: Sarah Blasko – As Day Follows Night (‘All I Want’)
I’m a long time fan of Sarah Blasko, so for her third effort I didn’t just hope for a good follow up to 2006’s What The Sea, Wants The Sea Will Have, I expected her to deliver. And of course she did not disappoint. Teaming up with the right producer has brought the best in Sarah, her singing at its most confident and compelling. It’s the right sound with the right songs for the 2009, As Day Follows Night is blessed the perfect flow and rhythm from start to finish. I truly hope that this album will be the vehicle that proves to the world that Blasko belongs in the best class of modern singer songwriters with Feist, Emilliana Torrini, and Regina Spektor. Hard to believe but when I saw her perform this album in July this year she made these songs sound even better, she was in full command of her stage and the audience. Sarah has come a long way from the once shy and reluctant singer on guitar I once saw at the Annandale Hotel just before her Prelusive EP came out. Congratulations to Sarah on this wonderful album.
International: Neko Case – Middle Cyclone
I was travelling through the United States and Europe for a few weeks in March and April, saw a lot of cool young bands in Austin during SXSW and throughout Los Angeles, New York, but none of them had quite the effect on me as Neko Case’s Middle Cyclone. I admit to not knowing much about Neko beyond this release, but it provided the perfect soundtrack for my journeys, and up until now I still listen to it whenever I hit the road. There’s something about her voice, full of wisdom, stories and characters that gives me a lot of distraction and escape from the boring parts of travelling. Whenever I hear these songs I feel like I’m in a bar somewhere in middle America, overhead fans, daytime heat, whisky on hand. Why that gives me comfort, I don’t really know, perhaps I should find out soon.
Local: Aleks and the Ramps – Midnight Believer (‘Circa 1992 Ideas’)
I was a bit hesitant about this album because the band had a bit a hype amongst the Melbourne set and I felt like the bandwagon had perhaps passed. But then I had to review it for The Vine and was greeted by what turned out to be my favourite Australian release in what was incredibly strong year for local releases. Midnight Believer is an album that charms you immediately with its pop hooks and then keeps you coming back for more thanks to an endearingly uncalculated wtf-factor. Each song covers multiple styles without feeling like superficial genre explorations, and the lyrics are similarly attention deficit and attention grabbing. From the awkward office romance segue in ‘Circa 1992 Ideas’ to the feisty male/female exchange in ‘Whiplash’ and that computerised spoken word break in ‘Weather Patterns,’ it’s comfortably quirky without keeping the listener at arms length. This is an album that’s both complex and easily digestible, fun but not stupid. Not entirely without it’s less successful moments, but even they have something interesting to note and are more than outweighed by album’s overall success. It was a tough call, but Midnight Believer was the one that has brought me back the most over the last seven or so months.
Hon. Mentions: Seekae (Reissue), The Mint Chicks (NZ), St Helens, Songs, Philly Jays, Batrider (NZ), The Rational Academy, No Through Road, The UV Race.
International: Fever Ray – Fever Ray
This was even harder to pick than best Australian album but I have to go with Fever Ray if for no other reason than because it was simply the album I listened to the most throughout the year. I actually prefer this project to Karen Anderrson’s more famous other band, The Knife, because of it’s minimalist approach and emphasis on atmosphere. I’ve never heard an organ used to such great effect, and the creepy vocal manipulations she’s been experimenting with on previous Knife albums have never sounded more appropriately haunting. This is an album that never peaks above mid-tempo yet never loses your attention, with its dark, brooding vibe clashing well with lyrics about having a green thumb and dishwasher tablets. I went to Europe over their northern summer and managed to chase down a Fever Ray live show twice and it was great – basically the exact same as the album but with added smoke and lighting + a Nick Cave cover. Totally worth it.
Hon. Mentions: Bibio, A Sunny Day In Glasgow, Animal Collective, Telepathe, Girls, The Horrors, The Sandwitches, Fuck Buttons, The xx.
It’s always tricky to choose an album of the year, even when my choices are limited to music from this little island at the arse-end of the world. So, these are the Australian releases of 2009 that I listened to ad nauseum:
Favourite: Eleventh He Reaches London – Hollow Be My Name (‘Hollow Be My Name’)
Hon. Mentions: The Gifthorse , Cam MacKellar, Skinny Jean, Hunz.
Favourite: Capital City – Keep It Stupid Sucker (‘I’ll Never Get Out of this Girl Alive’)
Capital City are one of WA’s least prolific bands, with Keep It Stupid Sucker being the second album they’ve recorded in their 9 years together, but it’s been well worth the wait. It’s snarling punk rock vitriol is best blasted into your auditory nerve at maximum volume. Cracker album, cracker band.
Hon. Mentions: The Sugar Army, Karnivool.
Favourite: Crayon Fields – All The Pleasures of the World (‘Mirrorball’)
Hon. Mention: The Devoted Few
Favourite: Jonathan Boulet – Jonathan Boulet (‘Community Service Announcement’)