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The playground.

I wished 2009 were a good year for music (see lists for 2007 and 2008). This year saw the return of many of my favourite bands, but none of them topped this list. I think we have pretty much established that expectations, no matter how high, could certainly kill – we could but hope that the disappointment would not be so dismal for anyone else to figure out that that odd mushy thing on the floor was, in fact, a rather dejected-looking brain.

Thankfully, in this desert of a year, we were bestowed a few rare gems anyway.

I should’ve made it matter.
Veckatimest.Grizzly Bear
Horn of Plenty (2004), Veckatimest (2009)
#1, #2

I did not think I would be as enamored as Grizzly Bear’s Vecktatimest as I was; the band’s previous album Yellow House, though present in many best-of lists for 2006, had sounded like one long and tiring endless lullaby to me (to which I could find reason only with “Knife” and “On a Neck, On a Spit” – I wonder why?).

Not so with Vecktatimest, however; no other new album I listened to this year kicks off as strongly as this one – album opener “Southern Point” is truly the best track a band could ever dream to start with. It then marches onwards with much glee and pomp to the poppy and fun “Two Weeks” (with, predictably, a weird accompanying music video to boot).

The band’s latest album comes with arrangements so intricate, and with sounds so delicate; each track seems to have been effortlessly stamped with its own little oddities and strengths. There is the chorally-rousing “Cheerleader” with its distinctive staccato beats, and the brooding and mellow two-key beginning to “Foreground” that draws the album to a slow finish, like a pining lover standing at the edge of a cliff.

And so, because I found this such a fantastic album, I went back in time and dug up the band’s debut studio album Horn of Plenty. It seemed like familiar territory and had more in common with Veckatimest than Yellow House ever did – like an unpolished diamond that had yet to find its shine back then, but a diamond nevertheless.

But Veckatimest was the ace in the hole that made me love the band all the more.

Favourite tracks: “Cheerleader”, “Southern Point”, “Two Weeks” (Veckatimest); “Disappearing Act”, “A Good Place” (Horn of Plenty)

So we meet again.
Declaration of Dependence.Kings of Convenience
Declaration of Dependence
#1, #2

They are not just good at gingerly plucking at the strings of a guitar; they do equally well in tenderly tugging the strings of your heart. And so the Kings of Convenience makes a quiet comeback with Declaration of Dependence – complete with irony in album title and all – thankfully living up to the expectations brought upon by its excellent predecessors.

The familiar hushed vocals coming together in perfect harmony, when backed by the simplest of musical instruments, has proven yet again to be a foolproof recipe for success for this Norwegian duo. The songs here are modest yet affecting – the tunes are deceptively simple and hauntingly calming, and the words are bound to speak and paint colours to even the barest of souls.

The album opens with the heartfelt melancholia that is “24-25”, before giving way to the charming and fun first single “Mrs Cold”. Other highlights include the bossa nova tinged “Freedom and Its Owner”, which somehow never fails to stir up visions of brilliantly sunny days by the beach, and the breezy, hair-in-the-wind-like “Boat Behind”.

This is indeed a beautifully-crafted piece of work, lovingly nurtured and gently coaxed into growing in you – it will lend a sprightly gait to your walk or etch a permanent smile on your face – long after you have pressed the stop button and taken the disc off the player.

Favourite tracks: “Freedom and Its Owner”, “24-25”, “Mrs Cold”

The almost-theres:
The Century of Self / Festival Thyme… And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead #
Black Swan, Athlete #
The BBC Sessions, Belle and Sebastian (2008) #
Midlife: A Beginner’s Guide to Blur, Blur
For Emma, Forever Ago, Bon Iver (2007) #
Sound the Alarm, Howie Day #
Kingdom of Rust, Doves #
In This Light and On This Evening, Editors #
Vapours, Islands
Battle Studies, John Mayer
No More Stories/Are Told Today/I’m Sorry/They Washed Away/No More Stories/The World Is Grey/I’m Tired/Let’s Wash Away, Mew #
No One’s First and You’re Next, Modest Mouse #
The Rhumb Line, Ra Ra Riot (2008) #
The Script, The Script (2008) #
Strict Joy, The Swell Season
Conditions, The Temper Trap #
Wilco (The Album), Wilco #
The XX, The XX #

Also listened to:
Logos, Atlas Sound
LeftRightLeftRight, Coldplay
The Hazards of Love, The Decemberists
Tonight, Franz Ferdinand
The Midnight Organ Fight, Frightened Rabbit (2008)
Draw the Line, David Gray
Embryonic, Flaming Lips
Phantom Punch, Sondre Lerche (2007)
Journal of Plague Lovers, Manic Street Preachers
Team Boo, Mates of State (2003)
Years of Refusal, Morrissey
Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, Phoenix
Elephants… Teeth Sinking Into Heart, Rachel Yamagata (2008)
Volume One, She and Him (2008)
Up to Now, Snow Patrol
Which Bitch?, The View
Popular Songs, Yo La Tengo

This pretty much sums up my listening habits for the year:

My top ten most-played artists for the past year, as recorded by last.fm.

Details of this entry.Tuesday, December 29, 2009, filed under Reviews.
This entry is open to comments.
Recent tracks played are displayed on Last.fm.Freedom and Its Owner, Kings of Convenience

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