Numbers 18 to 10

Just outside the top ten we find ourselves in some fine company. From the Arctic Monkeys grown up rock, 'Humbug', Florence and the Machine's chart slaying 'Lungs', US indie supergroup Monsters Of Folk (don't worry, the name is tongue in cheek) and Luke Vibert's ambitious 'We Hear You'.

Read about our Album of the Year, Animal Collective's 'Merriweather Post Pavilion', HERE. Then read about the rest of the albums that make up our Top40, the top ten HERE, into the twenties HERE and finally from 30 to 40 HERE.

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Arctic Monkeys 'Humbug'

Gaining confidence with every roll of the dice, Arctic Monkeys’ third outing, ‘Humbug’, appeared as their most accomplished long-player to date. Whether that was to do with the consolidation of their relationship with long-time producer James Ford, or perhaps the addition of co-producer and all round musical powerhouse Josh Homme, is unclear, but what is without doubt is the impressive evolution of one of this country’s most precious assets.

The underlying darkness of ‘Humbug’ was unsettling, and Alex Turner’s caustic bites didn’t help matters. “We needed to have a shake up and be out the comfort zone,” Alex Turner told Clash about the genesis of the album. As such, it became a refined widescreen landscape of psychedelic proportions, borne from sessions in Homme’s Californian desert studio, that played with the senses and demanded your attention.

Inspired by the guitar work of Hendrix and the harmonies of Cream, ‘Humbug’ heralded a number of gems - first single ‘Crying Lightning’ an effortless jewel, ‘Cornerstone’ a flawless tale of Turner’s unwanted intrusion, and unyielding closer ‘The Jeweller’s Hands’, a masterpiece of modern psych.

‘Humbug’ expertly demonstrated the range and scope of the Arctic Monkeys, which means that what comes next is anyone’s guess.

Words by Simon Harper

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Nathan Fake ‘Hard Islands’
(Border Crossing)

2009 was the year that Nathan Fake stepped up and raised his game, attracting a great deal of deserved attention from both dance-heads and other musos after releasing ‘Hard Islands’ in May. Short (six tracks), sweet and superb, the album combined big slabs of acid techno with dreamy electronica, resulting in a record that was simultaneously accessible yet fully belting, with a delightfully wonky tinge to the whole thing.

Fake played an intelligent move with ‘Hard Islands’, combining territories he had explored separately in previous work - the Boards Of Canada-shoegaze of ‘Drowning In A Sea Of Love’ mixing with the harder, beatified edge of the ‘Watlington Street’ EP. The resulting record hit the spot perfectly, finally unearthing Fake as a considerable talent to a wider audience and also creating one of the electronic albums of the year.

Fake then took his techno-electro hybrid on the road with a series of live shows (including a blinding album launch party at London’s Corsica Studios), displaying his aptitude as a live practitioner as well as studio producer. 2010 will no doubt see Fake continue to impress, with new material said to be on the horizon.

Words by Matthew Bennett

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Lusine ‘A Certain Distance’
(Ghostly International)

Continuing to build on an already impressive reputation and back catalogue to match, electronica mastermind Lusine (Jeff McIlwain) received yet more justified acclaim during 2009, after the release of his superb album, ‘A Certain Distance’, on the ever-impressive Ghostly International label.

Blending a pop ethos with suggestions of lush soundscapes and an ambi-disco backbone, the record was a superior and hugely refreshing lift compared to much of 2009’s electronic output, offering something more rewarding and infinitely more enticing than yet another electro record.

The album’s Eno-like warmth and exquisite production meant that ‘A Certain Distance’ was – quite simply – seven tracks of joy, with each listening revealing something new and fascinating, while the tone of the record also capitalised on territory explored by McIlwain in previous release ‘Language Barrier’, as well as being influenced by his filmic work.

Speaking of which – McIlwain also found time during 2009 to score the soundtrack to crime drama film ‘Linewatch’ (the third film he has worked on), as well as playing a mass of live dates, including at Decibel Festival – an electronic music and arts event in his hometown of Seattle. A busy man, clearly, but with a talent like Lusine’s it would be criminal not to keep working just as hard throughout 2010.

Words by Tristan Parker

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Luke Vibert ‘We Hear You’
(Planet Mu)

Taking too much of a step back in dance music can instantly relegate you to irrelevance. Dance heads only value certain historical moments, most of which may be obscured by the biased blur of hedonism.

Thus, traversing a condensed set of historical references whilst simultaneously leaping forwards is fucking tricky. Yet Mr. Vibert managed exactly that with ‘We Hear You’.

A lesser producer may have well self-lobotomised with the ambition of this album. But, as an advocate of library music, pioneering rave, faithful Cornish acid, electro, IDM, drill and bass, dubstep or just plain old avant-garde tunage, Vibert gets his head higher by standing several rungs above the norm up the dancefloor ladder.

Blending some delightfully fresh yet old crate-dug samples (that would make even Coldcut reach for their glasses) with morphing drone-step before deploying well heeled acid house loops from yester-millenium, Vibert treads a high-wire far above many people’s record collections.

His sleight of hand is by introducing his songs within well-versed structures, delivering at points Kraftwerk sweeps, near exhausted Chicago loops or older Ninja Tune sample stitching. But he’ll then inject liquid, elongated and morphing basslines that reveal the rest of his hand to be peppered with half-step rhythms, thrilling unpredictable textures or recklessly futuristic percussion. In more conventional words screamed across a packed dancefloor then quickly lost to the weekend: FUCKIN’ AMAZING!

Words by Matthew Bennett

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Monsters Of Folk ‘Monsters Of Folk’
(Rough Trade)

Like an Americana wet dream, Monsters Of Folk provided another of the year’s hot supergroups, bringing together four American indie icons and consolidating their talents onto one incredible album.

Those responsible are Conor ‘Bright Eyes’ Oberst, Jim ‘My Morning Jacket’ James, M Ward and Oberst collaborator Mike Mogis. Each has a pedigree in crafting outstanding country soul and distinguished rock, so it would make sense that pooling their talents would find them in the upper reaches of this chart.

Their self-titled long-player has roots stretching back to 2004, when the quartet performed together and vowed to record something for posterity. Sessions took place in Malibu and Omaha in between day jobs, and five years later we got fifteen tracks of rustic beauty.

Mogis shines throughout - his instrumentation painting myriad landscapes across an already vivid canvas, while James remains a captivating voice in the few songs he leads. When ‘Monsters Of Folk’ is put on the stereo, you’re immediately transported to a blissful pastoral place, soothed by the dreamy harmonies and sounds within. In this post-Fleet Foxes boom, where Grizzly Bear have thrived, these Monsters stand out from the folk crowd - their name clearly imagined with tongue in cheek - and are devilishly good.

Words by Simon Harper

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Florence And The Machine ‘Lungs’

If you haven’t heard of Florence Welch, it is likely you have been either asleep for the past twelve months or are from some other galaxy far, far away. That is because, while everyone in this list has prospered in 2009, Florence Welch unapologetically grabbed this year with both hands and dragged it at a colossal speed into her wonderfully unhinged world.

Since her debut single ‘Kiss With A Fist’ (and no, it’s not about domestic violence) was released in late 2008, the gothic redhead has been propelled into the limelight faster than her bruised calves and scuffed platforms could take her.

Florence’s debut album ‘Lungs’ perfectly showcased everything that is so insatiable about this fearless siren. Released in February, it is thirteen tracks of juxtaposition. Pain and vulnerability in their most brutal form collide seamlessly with underlying resilience and great inner strength. She is a montage of passionate contradictions; something which makes Florence impossibly endearing. This organic formula works so well that ‘Lungs’ sold over 100,000 copies in the UK and found itself at number two in the Top 40 for over a month.

Florence spent the summer on the festival circuit, wowing packed tents as she climbed the tent support poles and clambered unafraid onto sound systems. Performing like her life depends on it is something that is as innate to Florence as her astounding vocal prowess and something she continued into the autumn, with her UK ‘Lungs’ tour, enlisting the help of The XX.

Yet, having truly conquered her homeland, it seems our indie pinup has further plans of world domination as she packs up her lace playsuits and vintage dressing-up box and embarks on tour in Australia and Japan for the New Year.

Rocketing across seas like a flame haired meteor; whether it’s the way she eccentrically flounces around the stage, the way the her shrieks rattle your rib cage, or whether it’s the way her lyrics articulate all the words you could never find, it is nigh on possible not to be seduced by Florence Welch. But it’s hard to see who would try and fight.

Words by Laura Routledge

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Yacht ‘See Mystery Lights’

YACHT are Jona Bechtolt and Claire L Evans. This is their first release under pioneering dance-punk label DFA. And DFA’s appropriation of the Portland duo has definitely earned them yet another gold star for effort.
The duo have joined the stellar line-up of artists putting Portland on the musical map. But what’s their secret? “There’s definitely an attitude of doing as much as you can, with as little as possible,” says electronics wizard Jona Bechtolt.

“I think traditionally the North West has had very little resources for artists and musicians. It’s not like in LA when you just waltz into some major record label. It’s been doing everything for itself, and everyone’s been doing everything for themselves, for over thirty years. Bands that are from Portland, I don’t think that their mentality has ever really gone away.”

The Shins, Gossip, Modest Mouse, all of these names are now synonymous with that little known US town, but what’s the definitive sound of Portland? “It’s all punk music, but not punk music in the way that you think of pins through your ears and wearing traditional garb,” says Bechtolt.

“It’s punk in this way that’s transcending fashion or style, its punk from the heart. The Pacific North West is really true to that spirit of punk. It’s so deeply ingrained in people that live there or have grown up there, we feel guilty about not bringing our own coffee cups to a coffee shop as we don’t want to waste anything. It’s this weird mentality of being almost like grass root hippies or something.”

Jona and Claire met in 2002, when they were playing on the same bill at an LA show. Previously a solo artist, Bechtolt has made music under the YACHT moniker since 2003. It was only last year that he joined forces with Evans to write album ‘See Mystery Lights’. And this unstoppable pair won’t be sailing off into obscurity any time soon.

Giving Jona Becholt’s bedroom beats the recognition they truly deserve, ‘See Mystery Lights’ is a shining ray of hope for agoraphobic whizz kids everywhere. So, when it comes to YACHT, perhaps two heads are better than one...

Words by April Welsh

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Phoenix ‘Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix’

Referencing two classical composers on their latest album, Phoenix use elements of both to create something rather special. The elaborate flair of Mozart, twinned with the vivaciousness of Liszt, produces a sophisticated pop record that is as deep and interesting as it is fun and evocative.

‘1901’ was the lead single, released as a download prior to the parent album, which caught the ears of every self-respecting music lover in 2009, and was immediately championed as a watermark for all those glitzy indie-pop bands who continue to strive for that perfect song. It was heard at every party upon release, and subsequently ‘Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’ became the party that everyone was invited to. Released in May, it was a stunning, shimmering summer soundtrack.

Soaked in synths and dripping in harmonies, each track provided its own little ray of sunshine. ‘Love Like A Sunset, Pt. 1’ is as gorgeous and blissful as it sounds, while ‘Lisztomania’ captures the irrepressible nature of its namesake – who should be proud of the tribute – and was endearingly improved with YouTube’s unofficial ’80s accompaniment; a video mash-up of The Breakfast Club, Pretty In Pink and Footloose.

Slinky, sexy and synthy, Phoenix know good pop.

Words by Simon Harper

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Fever Ray ‘Fever Ray’
(Rabid Records)

Another triumph for the female artist. But Karin Dreijer Andersson’s ethereal voodoo call is truly in a league of its own. Haunting, mesmerising, enchanting, downright terrifying, there are superlatives aplenty to describe her sound. But in the same bewitching breath, there is also something very down to earth about this striking Swedish lass and mother of two. Taking a break from brother-sister project, The Knife, to go it alone, Karin Dreijer Andersson - AKA Fever Ray - released her eponymous LP earlier this year and has not looked back since.

‘Fever Ray’ is an album ripe with contradiction: a dramatic musical masterpiece about the realities of daily life. Just note the seething irony of track ‘Seven’ - “We talk about love, we talk about dishwasher tablets”. And Fever Ray’s live shows are an exercise in full-on theatrics, as the Lady Macbeth of the Scandavian leftfield takes to her stage with much aplomb each time. Cue: masked mystique, spooky projections and a good dose of melodramatic splendour.

Laden with plucky staccato beats, eerie radiophonic soundscapes and flickering percussion, Fever Ray’s debut offering takes you on a rich journey into the murky underworld of intelligent electronica. Power of voodoo, who do…? Fever Ray do.

Words by April Welsh

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Read about our Album of the Year, Animal Collective's 'Merriweather Post Pavilion', HERE. Then read about the rest of the albums that make up our Top40, the top ten HERE, into the twenties HERE and finally from 30 to 40 HERE.

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