I'd Rather Be Fat Than Be Confused's Top 20 Pop Releases of 2009

on Thursday, 7 January 2010

I won't lie, i have been seriously distracted from pop music, you've probably already realised that by my extensive ambient list of last week. That being said it's hard to deny that there has still been some really great pop music released this year, not much of it revolutionary but pop music is pop music and it's great so why change it??

I wanted to try and add some mp3's but ran out of time. As always you can usually find a track or two on Hype Machine and Elbo, I'm also pretty sure every band in the world has a myspace and they're generally easy to stumble across via google. Purchase wise, Amazon, Norman or Boomkat should sort you out with this bunch.

Happy reading, listening, discovering etc etc etc.

1. God Help the Girl - Stills Ep
A return from Stuart Murdoch and a triumphant one too, anyone who thought he'd lost it was proved wrong, if not by the album then certainly by this fantastic and much overlooked ep. Stuart himself providing vocals on the jaunty second track He's a Loving Kind of Boy, full of Belle and Sebastian panache and an indie dancefloor recipe cooked to perfection. Stills and Baby's Just Waiting are gorgeous slow burners and The Psychiatrist Is In is again so perfectly Belle and Sebastian, the vocal phrases staccato and instantly memorable. A glorious EP not to be missed.

2. Fergus and Geronimo - Blind Muslim Girl
A wonderful pop single, garage greatness and begging to be played continuously come summer or winter.

What Soundsxp Said :
‘Blind Muslim Girl’ is another audacious pop tune approaching the greatness of ‘Harder Than It’s Ever Been’. It’s bubblegum-surf pop, a giddy hybrid of Jonathan Richman and the Ramones, and as perfect as pop music can get. ‘Powerful Lovin’ on the flip is gospel-garage music, accompanied by a charming toy organ sound, showing that Fergus & Geronimo are nothing if not versatile. Their records have been some of the sharpest highlights of the musical year.

3. Lacrosse - Bandages for the Heart
Following on from their 2007 debut and one of my favourite pop records ever, namely, This New Year Will Be For You And Me, Lacrosse delivered yet again, opening the album with two storming tracks, We are Kids and You Are Blind, proving beyond a doubt that this was a band that did not intend to slow down with their delivery of perfect, catchy pop.

There are a few slowies that are still growing on me but the aforementioned openers alongside I See a Brightness and It's Always Sunday Around Here ensured that this album would be played time and time again this year and next year too.

Lacrosse - I See A Brightness mp3

4. The Loves - Three
A band who have always had a place in my heart, and for good reason. Simon Love is some kind of time travelling beatnik genius who writes track after track of fantastic 60's esque garage pop classics. Where to start? The singles One-Two-Three and The Ex Gurlfriend had long since made huge impressions in my record collection. Add to that the awesome Ode to Coca Cola, Sweet Sister Delia and the wonderful stomping cover of You Don't Have To and you have on your hands yet another essential foot stomping, hand clapping, dancestastic release from the ever evolving but ever lovable and reliable Loves.

5. The Cave Weddings - Bring Your Love
Another exceptional 7" that found itself gaining heavy rotation on my turntable this year. A little bit Buddy Holly, a little bit Jonathan Richman, that is with a more perfect voice, dare i say. Delightful stuff.

What Odd Box Said :
Another day, another slice of American garage rock’n'roll. Yet another 7″ record on the increasingly amazing Hozac Records.

The Cave Weddings are a three piece from Albany, New York. But they could be from any town, any time. Especially a dead beat back water town circa 1966. This is a worthy successor to the 60’s sounds brought back into vogue by compilations like nuggets and pebbles. The Cave Weddings provided some driving guitar action on this two track 7″ single. ‘Bring Your Love’ kicks off proceedings and it’s a rollicking ride through 1960’s garage rock sound. The ‘B’ side ‘Let’s Drive’ keeps the 60’s vibe intact – but it hints at a 50’s rock’n'roll heart beating somewhere deep within The Cave Weddings.

6. The Drums - Summertime
Maybe the Drums Lets Go Surfing is this years answer to Young Folks with its instantly lovable whistled melody. Really great fun summertime music.

7. Summer Cats - Songs For Tuesdays
Reminiscent at times of Henry's Dress, for their fuzzy raggedy sounds, Comet Gain and just about anything else great that has happened in the last 30 years noisy indie pop wise. Super and Maybe Pile stand out, though the album as a whole is amazing. Would love these guys to come to the UK.

8. Cats on Fire - Our Temperance Movement
I've never liked The Smiths, that may however be the same as i've never liked the Beatles, cos i'm stubborn and have never let myself get to know them. Apparently Cats on Fire sound alot like The Smiths, the band that is, you arsonists!, and i like Cats on Fire alot. A very strong album with Tears in Your Cup being the cherry on top, one of my most played tracks in 2009.

9. Cheap Red - Cheap Red
Absolutely wonderful to hear something new from Stewart Anderson and Jen Turrell, even better to know that members of Kanda completed the line up of Cheap Red.

From the opening notes of the aptly entitled Let's Start a Riot, with all their Sanddollars charm, it's clear that this is going to be a treat. Unlucky in Love very reminiscent of Kanda with a cup full of Pipas thrown in for good effect. As you'd expect it's a little rough a round the edges but in my eyes all the better for it.

10. Cortney Tidwell - Boys
The Boomkittens waxed lyrical over this one, and rightly so, delicious and dizzying, a whirlwind of honey like pop.

What Boomkat Said :
Courtney Tidwell's self-titled debut remains one of the most played records in our office ever, its bittersweet blend of sugary vocals and a deep sense of melancholy never failing to get a reaction from anyone who happens to be around when its played. This long awaited second album for City Slang should hopefully nudge her beyond her current status as one of the great underrated singer songwriters of her time - its just music made for recognition. The production is crisp and glossy but contained by Tidwell's remarkably evocative voice, a voice that somehow reminds us of The Sundays' Harriet Wheeler or Emiliana Torrini but with a sad, introspective edge. Opening track "Solid State" is just vast in scale, a sun-bleached, countrified ballad washed with sweeping strings and quite possibly the most astonishing vocal delivery from Tidwell yet. Recent single 'Watussi' is up next and changes tempo and colour with a perfectly judged Casio pop burner, complete with a super-addictive, propulsive chorus that you'll find impossible to stop humming after just a couple of listens. "Oslo" is an altogether more introspective number, evoking the memory of Hope Sandoval's incredible "Bavarian Fruit Bread" album with its widescreen, hushed tones - just beautiful music. Yes, it's smart and glossy, but something rings very true about this girl, and besides - anything that makes us think of the Sundays AND Hope Sandoval is an absolute winner in our book so we really couldn't recommend this album highly enough. Buy this album - it's just irresistibly lovely.

11. Micachu - Jewellery
Much hyped by the NME and deservedly so, a real special debut from the elf like Micachu, DIY pop, eccentric and inventive, something that seems to be lacking for the most parts on the pages of the aforementioned journal, a refreshing change.

What Drowned in Sound Said :
Her debut, Jewellery, - delayed from its original release date due to the band shifting label allegiances to Rough Trade – is bursting with leftfield yet accessible ideas that for once avoid mining the increasingly stripped-bare past for their cues. Though for all the talk in the press of this being a pop album, those in search of something fitting the classic verse-chorus-verse mould should beware. Outside of the melodic brilliance of early single ‘Golden Phone’, Jewellery subsists on a heavy diet of scattershot, deconstructed pop.

It may reek of graduate thesis on the page, but what actually transpires on ‘Calculator’ or the stuttering neurosis of ‘Just in Case’ is fractured yet shimmering pop music made for the 30-second attention span generation. Jewellery is, fundamentally, a constant case of musical leapfrog that boldly springs from gleaming melodies and found sounds to sudden rhythmic and stylistic shifts; often within the space of a single track. And it all stems from the brain of a sneering tomboy capable of sending most major label marketing departments running for the hills in screaming terror.

What do you get when you put it all together then? Thrillingly improbable pop made by a grade-A maverick. Three cheers to that.

12. The Long Lost - The Long Lost
It seems forever since i was first completely enthralled by this release. One to keep your hope in true love alive, Daedelus and wife cook up some truly beautiful pop, toy pianos and all, enchanting and charming scarcely give credit to the fairytale beauty of this collaboration.

13. Slow Club - Yeah So
Another band that's been charming our pants off for what seems like forever, he is the genius, she is annoying, but luckily when they embrace in song the results are near sublime.

14. Pastels / Tenniscoats - Two Sunsets
Another meeting of voices, this time the Pastels and Japanese underground legends, the lesser mans Maher Shalal Hash Baz, combined to make some delicate delicate pop music. Song for a Friend was one of those magic moments of the year. Spine tinglingly sparse and equally beautiful.

15. Dreamdate - Patience
Just wonderful, somewhere between Dear Nora, Tiger Trap and the Darling Buds, i think i've said enough.

16. Stolen Hearts - Heart Collector
A very recent discovery but this 3 track single has enough Shangri-La's in the first twenty seconds to guarentee its place in my heart forever, fantastic sixties girl pop, nothing new but still, this kind of pop is rarely done quite so well.

What Fire Escape Talking Said :
Their songs are full of chugging new wave bass, driving guitars and infectious 60s pop. Their favourite records may well be Blondie’s Parallel Lines, the Ramones’ debut album and Spector’s Philles classics.

17. Magic Kids - Good to Be
Garage Pop is rife or so it would seem, yet another great release was Magic Kids Good to Be, can't really put it any better than Boomkat did below. The B Side, Hey Boy being the real star, almost like they should make a musical based around it. Special stuff.

What Boomkat Said :
"Hey boy, where's your girlfriend? She needs your attention." So starts this luminous piece of pop architecture - the work of a bunch of Memphis based youngsters billing themselves as Magic Kids. The verses are sublime early '60s bubblegum with a faintly festive feel to them, but by the time the chorus kicks in, 'Hey Boy' becomes downright majestic, sounding like a pre-pubescent Roy Wood doing his best Phil Spector impersonation, arranging horns, tuned percussion and garagey clatter in a fashion that makes you wish Vivian Girls were more like this."

18. Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca
If only for the quite wonderful accapella explosion half way through Remade Horizon, a special band taking pop to the next level.

What Boomkat Said :
I was beginning to lose hope, I really was. 2009 wasn't shaping up to be a great year for pop music; sure there have been good albums but there weren't many really 'defining' records. Animal Collective had hit us square in the chops with 'Merriweather Post Pavillion' but nobody else had raised their game to meet it - the world was lacking the run of albums it needed to make 2009 'great' rather than simply 'good'. That brings us to 'Bitte Orca', an album which might lack the fanfare of its Black Flag-influenced predecessor 'Rise Above' but delivers sonically on every imaginable level. The band have for me always been 'almost there'; their records have been inventive, original, daring and engrossing, but I haven't found myself going back time and time again. Something about the arrangements maybe stopped me from humming the tracks on the bus, but this is exactly what Dave Longstreth has addressed on 'Bitte Orca'. From the tantalizing first few seconds it's obvious that Longstreth has trimmed the fat without losing any of the creative pizzazz the band is known for; the tracks manage to amaze on a technical level but at their heart they're simple, sing-along pop songs, laden with hooks. It's all too easy to make musical mathematics boring or overly quirky but with 'Bitte Orca' we have balance and for every dangling 7/8 guitar part there's a heart-wrenching vocal line, every production flourish is balanced by pounding beats or heavenly harmonies. The band worried long-term fans when 'Stillness Is A Move' was released as the first single; the track is notable for not featuring Longstreth on vocals (sorry girls), but I find it was the perfect teaser for the album. The song is the definitive realisation of Longstreth's fascination with commercial R&B music - a style he's flirted with for years but until now never really got spot on. 'Stillness...' sounds like Longstreth's take on Aaliyah (RIP), with stuttering Timbaland-inspired basslines and sugary vocal harmonies toying with the senses. The only weakness is that there aren't more tracks like this - but that's hardly a criticism. Each track seems to excel in its respective style, and Longstreth battles with folk, blues and soul, wrapping everything in a hip indie sheen without losing sight of coherence. If you haven't come across Dirty Projectors before, don't worry. If you haven't heard Dirty Projectors before, it doesn't matter - 'Bitte Orca' is the pop album of the year, you won't want to miss out.

19. Bill Callahan - Too Many Birds
How could anyone resist "that" voice. Amazing as ever.

What Boomkat Said :
Bill Callahan's second post-Smog album is arguably a more solid and consistent affair than Woke On A Whaleheart's occasionally sunny, gospel-influenced sounds, harking back to the more authoritative, poetic works of earlier albums. The first line of 'Jim Cain' provides a great introduction: "I started out in search of ordinary things: how much of a tree bends in the wind?" It's a lyric that mirrors Callahan's uncomplicated yet enormously commanding voice, and a sentiment that hints at the kind of teasing enigma residing at the heart of his craft. For an ordinarily very wily, enigmatic artist, a moment of uncommon directness comes soon after: "I used to be darker, then I got lighter, then I got dark again" he intimates, seemingly laying plain his temperament during recent albums - and no doubt prompting many listeners out there to start thinking he's talking about his relationship with Joanna Newsom - yet there's always some doubt as to just how much we can really trust Callahan, and we always half-suspect he's smirking at us through that rich, Johnny Cash-like baritone. After announcing "I dreamed it was a dream that you were gone", lamenting the absence of a loved one, the beautiful 'Eid Ma Clack Shaw' becomes part Kubla Khan, part 'Tribute' by Tenacious D, with Callahan claiming to have later dreamed the "perfect song/It held all the answers" yet having scribbled it down the words read as gobbldigook. Rather than merely reporting this fact, Callahan goes on to transcribe and sing a nonsensical chorus full of meaningless words, though it's all delivered with the same seriousness and conviction heard everywhere else on the album. It's at once beautiful and strangely quite tragic, as if these were utterances from someone floundering hopelessly both in their relationships and their art. On the strength of this resolutely on-form album however, we can conclude that the latter, at least, is most certainly not true at all.

20. The Crayon Fields - All The Pleasures Of The World
We had the pleasure of playing with this band earlier in the year and even though i loved them i never really expected an album as good as this, very sixties sounding and very very good, less garagey than the majority of t60's influenced bands this year, instead more like the Zombies, sweet and harmonious, the opening track especially so.

What Austin Town Hall Said :

In a year that offered lots of mediocre albums, 2009 had so many new records that it was hard to digest them all in due time for reviews. Yet, I always intended to touch on this album, as I’ve loved The Crayon Fields since Animal Bells came out a few years back.

“Mirrorball” made the list of our Top 50 songs of 2009, and it still draws a lot of power, months after it first hit our ears. Singer Geoff O’ Connor has a real breathy vocal projection (like a pop whisperer), one that will recall Colin Bluntstone of The Zombies for many listeners…it’s just one of the many touchstones for the group.

One thing that differentiates the characterstics on All the Pleasures of the World from Animal Bells is that there seems to be a little bit of darkness lingering beneath each of the songs. On Animal Bells, you had songs like “Living So Well,” which were full of sunny beach pop and gang vocal effects, but this doesn’t fit here. On the album’s title track, amidst singing of pleasures, O’ Connor seems sort of resigned to see the pleasures, though not necessarily take part in them. Perhaps the extra layering of instruments has made a more dense soundscape from which the band took off this round (some of the best being from the solid bass work). Just a guess.

When one comes across songs like “Celebrate” you can see how a Clientele reference might creep up in a review, but you might also note that the similarites are existant, yet polarizing. Where The Clientele often feels extremely cold, and their melodies have a sense of brooding danger, The Crayon Fields put a little bit of energy into their artistry. By this I really mean one thing: The Clientele gives you foggy melodies; The Crayon Fields blow the fog away with a touch of beach-side sunshine.

You’ll also find a lot of the guitar-work of Glaswegians Belle and Sebastian lying beneath this album. You can almost pick up on the homage being given in songs such as “Disappear” where there is a hint of swing and sway to the general atmospheric creation. It’s not a bad thing to highlight, as I’m a fan of the former band, which also probably shows why I’m a huge fan of the latter. Really, is there any ground for originality nowadays?

So, here I am, a few months after the release, though you will still find it hard to get a hold of All the Pleasures of the World in the U.S. Be that as it may, you’ll do yourself, and the dollar, justice if you go out to your local hotspot and purchase the latest from The Crayon Fields, and the last one while you’re at it.