Wednesday, December 10, 2008

My fab festive fifteen for 2008

It's been a good year for music. So I thought I'd post my fab festive fifteen - in honour of the great John Peel (but I'm not running to 50!).

For my money the best 15 albums of the year - in no particular order - are:

Goldfrapp Seventh Tree - a wonderful mix of pastoral folk meets chill-out (apparently this was Uncut magazine's album of the year!)

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! - energetic and erudite rock, possibly the best thing he's done, though No More Shall we Part runs it close.

Fleet Foxes - the eponymous debut album is just sublime; CSN&Y for the Facebook generation (though the band has no Facebook or web presence to speak of)

The Cinematic Orchestra Live at the Royal Albert Hall - just plain lovely; music for every mood and all times of the day.

Sigur Ros With a buzz in our ears we play endlessly (it does have an unpronounceable Icelandic title!) - proving that the little island is far better at music than banking, this is an album of soaring anthems, borne aloft on waves of strings and shimmering guitars.

Portishead Third - plaintive, plangent, playful, poly-rhythmic, particularly praise-worthy.

Damon Albarn et al Monkey: journey to the West - like nothing he's ever done before nor anything I've ever bought before. it proves he has ambition and talent in spades.

Yeasayer All Hour Cymbals - cracking debut, full of wonderful rhythms and tunes, as playful as the title suggests it will be.

Toumani Diabate The Mande Variations - Mali's premier kora player with music to transport you to a restful place.

Buena Vista Social Club Live at Carnegie Hall - Cuba's peerless band at the height of its powers; one of those concerts one really wishes one had been at.

Joe Jackson Rain - stripped down (no guitar) to show off not only his fine piano playing but also the best crop of songs he's penned for years.

Nitin Sawney London Underground - the polymath attempts to get to grips with London post-7/7 in a set of intriguing, beguiling collaborations. And he pulls it off apparently effortlessly.

The Last Shadow Puppets The age of the Understatement - side project by Arctic Monkey's front man Alex Turner and Miles Kane that hijacked their lives because it is just so good. 60s flavoured, Walker brothers-infused love songs with bite and wit.

Elbow The Seldom Seen Kid - rightly festooned with praise and prizes (especially the Mercury), 12 near perfect pop songs penned by a lyricist coming to the peak of his powers. They just get better and better.

Amadou et Mariam Welcome to Mali - in which the blind duo from Africa's capital of music build on their wonderful Dimanche a Bamako, with a sublime collection of songs that feature some great guests (including Damon Albarn). So funky, you have to smile as you type when it's on.

David Byrne and Brian Eno Everything that Happens will Happen Today - 25 years after their ground-breaking My Life in The Bush of Ghosts (the album that gave rise to sampling and so much more that has enriched music over the past quarter century) comes an album of ordinary songs. On first listen you think is that it? but repeated listens reveals a depth and intensity to the song craft on display here. it's as near perfect as a pop album can be by two guys comfortable with their own genius.

Mercury Rev Snowflake at midnight - a truly original rock album, a soring journey exploring the possibility of transformation. It's a collection of songs and instrumentals that makes you feel good to be alive.

So, what about the best of the bunch. it's a difficult - and somewhat pointless - choice. But hey, what are end of year charts if not pointless?

I thought of having categories, such as best non-British act (Amadou et Mariam), best album inspired by the shadow of Scott Walker (Last Shadow Puppets), best collaboration (probably nitin Sawney), best live album (Buena Vista social Club), best re-invention of themselves (Goldfrapp), best return (portishead), best Chinese-inspired opera (Monkey), best album by two giant musical geniuses (Byrne & Eno)

But this way everyone wins and you might as just say, these are the best 15 albums I've heard this year (and they are)

but I have to pick a winner and it's Mercury Rev. The record displays such vaulting ambition both musically and lyrically that it transports the listener to a whole new world and makes you see and feel the world you inhabit everyday slightly differently. I love it.

If you're still looking for Christmas gifts for loved ones, you'll not go wrong with any of these. But don't blame me if you - or your loved one - hates them; after all, music is so personal, isn't it.

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