Friday 8th January: Surprisingly (for me, anyway, when I came to count them up) I increased my CD collection by 66 in 2009, bursting through 500 in total. The additions include a number that were bought as birthday and Christmas presents and five EPs. Of the sixty-six, only twenty were actually released during 2009.
Earlier in the year my work location changed to one much nearer one of York’s HMV stores and, I admit, I probably visited it too many times, taking advantage of their “2 for £10” offers to buy a wide variety of music, covering Gabriella Cilmi at one end of the spectrum through to Iron Maiden at the other. During these trips I managed to buy the complete back catalogues of Seasick Steve and Muse (both added to later with their respective 2009 releases) and all but one of Sigur Ros’s albums. Another interesting and very cheap purchase was the first five albums from Steve Vai, in one handy slipcase. These latter show that the barriers between eccentricity, craziness and genius are very thin indeed.
I was also fortunate that one of my friends was willing to take a chance with gift purchases. She may not have realised at the time but the albums she bought me by Magenta, Galahad and Mermaid’s Kiss (again, the full back catalogue of the latter) were all by bands that I had heard of but not actually heard. Magenta’s Live at the Point is a superb live album. Galahad’s Empires Never Last took a little bit of getting into, being a bit more prog-metal than the usual stuff in my collection, but has definitely whetted my appetite for more of this sort of music. The only thing I knew about Mermaid’s Kiss was that they had supported Breathing Space a couple of times but, since, I have yet to find any band in the Mostly Autumn “family” that I didn’t like, I thought they were worth a punt. Being honest, the debut album (cunningly called The Mermaid Kiss Album) is a little weak (not bad, just not brilliant) but with the Salt On Skin EP the band’s sound started to take off. I enjoyed Etarlis, their second full-length album, with a concept of two girls finding a fantasy land under the Welsh hillsides, so much that I ended up playing it through three times without pause.
Sadly, none of the above are eligible for my top five of 2009. I’ll come to them shortly but first a few that just missed out…
Muse’s The Resistance was about as hyped as any album released in 2009 could be but, for me, it just failed to live up the hype. Yes, it showed the band in full Queen mode, which I enjoyed, but the much-anticipated three part symphony which concludes the album didn’t do it for me. Maybe it will grow on me with future listening.
Hope & Social released their debut album, Architects of This Church, and The Yards their final album, Imperial Measures, in 2009. Both were the best examples of the bands’ output (remember H&S were, previously, Four Day Hombre) but neither managed to make my final five. Also just outside was Working On A Dream – Bruce Springsteen’s latest and, in my opinion, best release since The Rising.
So, after much waffle, here are my favourite albums from the last twelve months.
Fifth place goes to Below The Radar, the second album from Breathing Space (OK, third if you count Breathing Space by Iain Jennings). Although much more guitar-driven than I was expecting and without the diversions of John Hart’s wind instruments this has turned out to be Breathing Space’s best release to date. The usual heartfelt and emotion-filled lyrics vie with some superb instrumental sections to produce a very strong album.
At number four we have Porcupine Tree’s The Incident. This is not an easy album to get into and I only bought it because of the hype surrounding it and the very cheap price I managed to get it for. In this case, however, the hype was worth it. While I haven’t listened too much to the handful of tracks on the second CD, the 55 minute concept of The Incident itself is strangely enjoyable in a twisted sort of way (after all, it is about the effects of a traffic accident…) This is the first Porcupine Tree album in my collection and I can safely say that it will soon be joined by others.
Third in line is Parade’s debut album, The Fabric. Almost certainly one of the best debut albums I have come across, I had no hesitation in buying this after seeing Parade live in December. Not quite prog, not quite pop and not quite a mixture of the two, The Fabric is very enjoyable and much easier listening than The Incident. Chris Johnson has pulled together a talented group of musicians and written, produced and released a stunning album that shows just how talented he is himself. Brilliant vocals and superb music with a great variety of styles almost made this my top album of the year. It was only let down by some strange noises on one of the tracks, which put me off slightly as they sound too much like distortion. (The first time I heard them was in the car and I thought I had a problem with one of my speakers…) Well, that and a couple of even more stunning albums…
Last year, Visionary Position by Panic Room topped my list. This year they released the equally as good Satellite. Another mixture of superbly written and excellently performed songs, from the crazy-old-woman story of I Am The Cat to the SFnal Dark Star through the brilliance of the title track (well, OK, there is one slightly duff lyric in that song) and Freedom To Breathe (a song which may well make me think twice before attempting to chat with Anne-Marie Helder again…) this is an album that was only enhanced by hearing many of the tracks live during the band’s first ever gig in York. Panic Room remain one of my favourite bands and were within a whisker of being in top spot again. Then, very late in the year, along came….
The Whirlwind, third album by prog super-group Transatlantic (Mike Portnoy from Dream Theatre, Neil Morse from Spock’s Beard, Pete Trewavas from Marillion and Roine Stolt from The Flower Kings). Again this was an on-spec request and was, surprisingly, bought for me by my Mum (which means it must have been stocked by HMV…) It sounds so much like a concept album but I can’t work out what the concept is, nor could I find out when I tried internet searches. At various times it sounds like Pink Floyd, Deep Purple and Yes but at the same time it is very fresh and original. This is the closest thing I have heard for a long time to the classic version of progressive rock from the seventies. Shared vocals and some incredible musicianship instantly propelled this to the top of my CD acquisitions of last year and means that this album is very highly recommended.