This is, of course, misnamed. It’s not a collection of my favourite Christmas songs but the ten best listens of the year, released this year.
That last criterion has left me a bit short of material this year because I’ve not actually bought as many CDs as in previous years and some of them are not 2009 vintage.
One of the best purchases of the year is Lamb’s Best Kept Secrets: the best of Lamb 1996-2204. But it’s four years old so doesn’t count. It's British drum n' bass at its best. i can't understand why they are not huge.
I also don’t think I can count the 2009 remix of King Crimson’s In the Court of the Crimson King. I only bought it because I haven’t got the album on CD in any of its remixes, though I confess I cannot tell the difference between the latest twiddle of the knobs and one done in 2004 that accompanies the CD I bought. It remains seminal and wonderful, however.
But there is a live album in my selection, recorded in London in 2008 and containing material stretching back to the mid-60s. But it only came out this year.
So here they are in alphabetical order (with a little note on why I love them)
Athlete Black Swan. This album is so much better than the critics said it was. It contains a couple of Joel Pott’s best songs to date – namely, Black Sawn Song and Rubik’s Cube – and is altogether lovely.
Leonard Cohen Live in London. This is a recording of his storming gig at the O2 last year which I wish I’d been at. It is simply one of the most beautiful and moving things I’ve ever listened to. I went to sleep with it filling my ears when I was on my own in Sri Lanka this summer. Every song is brilliant. The playing is tight and inventive. It demonstrates Cohen to be not only a survivor but one of the top song writers of his generation.
Editors In this Light and on This Evening. Again, an album a bit savaged by the critics. But I reckon it’s their best to date. It’s full of angular synthesisers. At times you get the impression it was precision engineered on a lathe. But the lyrical content is full of elliptical emotion. The stand out tracks are Bricks and Mortar, the Boxer and the visceral Eat Raw Meat=Blood Drool, but there isn’t a duff song in the collection
Fever Ray. I discovered this self-titled debut via a free download of a live version of most of it via the Guardian (so, thanks for that…). Fever Ray is Karin Dreijer Andersson, one half of Swedish band, the Knife. With lines like ‘when I grow up/I want to be a forrester/run through the moss in high heels’ and ‘accompany me by the kitchen sink/we talk about love, we talk about dishwasher tablets, illness/and we dream about heaven’ what’s not to like? It’s set to a wash of rubbery percussion and growling electronica and is as great in the car as it is on the iPod.
PJ Harvey & John Parish A Woman A Man Walked by. Polly Jean is incapable of producing a dull track and with her long time on/off collaborator, Parish, she serves up a collection of reflections on love and life that are by turns gossamer light and gut-wrenchingly heavy. It’s not her best work, but it still knocks most other artists’ output into a cocked hat.
Imogen Heap Eclipse. Great tunes, interesting lyrics, neat arrangements. Like a number of others in the list, it’s full of washy synths and layered vocals. There’s a depth to the song writing lacking from some of her contemporaries. It’s a delightful confection.
Jars of Clay The Long Fall back to Earth. Liquid, on their eponymous debut album, remains one of my favourite songs. But some of their output since has been a tad bland. Not this, however. Coming hard on the heels of the return to form Good Monsters, this album is even better. Great songs, great playing and its lyrically more inventive and poignant than anything else they’ve done. Stand out tracks are Weapons, Headphones and Hero. Christian music as it should be.
Moby Wait for me. What’s not to like – Moby’s back in his bedroom, playing pretty much anything and everything, inviting a few friends to do guest vocals? It’s his best collection since Everything is Wrong in my opinion. Pale Horses, Study War, Walk with Me and Hope is Gone are the stand-out tracks on an album of shimmery, laid-back loveliness.
Timariwen Imidiwan: Companions. Wafting in from the desert, the Taureg tribesmen’s third album is their strongest and catchiest to date. Driven along by the guitar and guttural vocals of Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, who writes everything, this is probably like nothing you’ve ever heard before. And don’t worry that you won’t understand a word of it, just dance along.
U2 No line on the Horizon. Yeah, I know it’s a bit predictable and I know we all love to hate Bono. But I reckon that this is the Irish fab four’s best album to date - better even than Achtung Baby. Full of inventiveness and instrumental dexterity (as you’d expect), it’s also got some great songs on it. Moment of Surrender, White as Snow and Cedars of Lebanon are the stand outs for me. But I love it all.
If I had to pick a best album of 2009 from this lot, I’d be hard pressed to choose between Leonard Cohen and Fever Ray but would probably tip my hat to the former just because of the delight he’s brought to my life for 40 years.
It’s great that one of you has already made suggestions of other tracks and albums. Please feel free to comment and tell me what you’re favourite listens have been this year – I still have a Christmas list to compile!