I keep a list of everything I’ve bought, seen or listened to in any given year to make it a little easier on myself when it comes to writing those end of year lists we bloggers so love. I do this because it’s hard for me to separate what came out in any given year from what I discovered backdated, which is why although they’ve yet to release any new material my “band of 2009″ will probably be the Gaslight Anthem. I’ve written about them before of course, in a post that continues to attract controversy from people not sure if their little lyrical tributes are homages or rip-offs (I’d go with the former, since it’s so blatant – it’s as if the band’s record collection is so vital a part of their lives that little snippets can’t help but filter through in their music. And who can argue with that?); but the obsession has only grown stronger since a once-doubting Stringer ordered their killer first album and I bought their frankly amazing Senor and the Queen EP.
This weekend, I’ve also been reliving December’s Light of Day London Parkinson’s benefit show, thanks to a recording that popped through my letterbox yesterday from my German friend Claudia. I hope I’ll always be the girl you can hear screaming on bootlegs, even if I’m now old enough to have a 25-year-old younger sibling.
The first quarter of 2009 has brought plenty of its own treasures though, even if this household’s eagerly anticipated Bruce Springsteen album wasn’t one of them. The Hazards of Love, the new album from previous Last Year’s Award winners the Decemberists, was released this week and I’ve had time to give it a couple of spins. It’s a dense record even by the notoriously wordy band’s own standards, and one that calls for repeated listens in its entirety before its story starts to make sense. Something of a “prog-rock opera”, the record tells the story of Margaret and her lover William – to say nothing of the former’s shape-shifting rapist, a forest queen and a cold-blooded rake. Or something. Although featuring great lyrical turns from Shara Warden (My Brightest Diamond) and Lavender Diamond’s Becky Stark as the female characters, it is through the sweeping, epic music that the story unfolds in an album which takes lyricist Colin Meloy’s ability to create a strong album from the most convoluted of story arcs to the next level. Hardly one for the iPod, but worthy of your time nonetheless.
BUY: The Hazards of Love at Amazon.co.uk
From the complicated to the not-so, then: with her sophomore album It’s Not Me, It’s You, Lily Allen has cemented her reputation as my no-bullshit popstar of choice. You’ll have heard lead single “The Fear”, with its cutting denouncement of celebrity culture, as it was number one over here for about nine million years. The rest of the album is just as strong as Lily deals with sex, drugs, God and disappointment in her own inimitable style.
BUY: It’s Not Me It’s You at Amazon.co.uk
“When she was 22 the future looked bright,” Lily sings, and its a sad echo a couple of years on crops up on Emmy the Great’s debut album – released the same day and the recipient of a few more spins around here. My love for Emmy can be traced back to various demos which have been kicking about for almost as long as there was an internet, so the songs which make up First Love already sound familiar. What makes this album a shoe-in for my end-of-year top ten though is that these songs have lost none of the stripped-down hauntedness which made me fall for them in the first place once repackaged for mass consumption. “24″ and the album’s title track display a weary resignation beyond the singer’s tender years, while “MIA” is even more disturbing in its final recorded form. I’ve bought three copies of this record already – both for my own consumption and for various birthday presents – and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
BUY: First Love at Amazon.co.uk
Just arrived is Animals In The Dark by William Elliott Whitmore, a dark, folky record I overheard in Monorail a couple of weeks ago and fell in love with, and one I will doubtless come back to when I’ve had the chance to digest it properly. Today’s final recommendation, however, goes to sometime New Pornographer Neko Case, who with Middle Cyclone has delivered an album of stomping folk-tinged gorgeousness that’s worthy of breaking her to a wider audience. “I’m a man, man, maneater,” croons the songstress on “People Got a Lotta Nerve”, so warmly that you realise you could never resist.
BUY: Middle Cyclone at Amazon.co.uk
Full disclosure: if you do fancy any of these and buy through the links above, I get something like 5p per record sold. Help a starving blogger, go on!