Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Black Sheep's Top Albums of 2009

Merry Christmas, Black Sheep readers. I wish you all a safe and happy holiday season and much prosperity in the new year. Every year at this time, I take a quick break from movies (very quick, trust me - I'll be back in the theatres on Christmas Day) and take a look at my favorite albums of the year. Music has always been my first love but I don't usually write about it because I find it exponentially harder to pinpoint just what it is I love about it and then put that into words. No offense to movies, of course. Still, just in time for the holidays - and just in time for any last minute shoppers looking for a quick stocking stuffer - I have compiled a list of albums that have stayed with me from the moment I first listened to them until today. Each one is there for a different reason and they certainly are an eclectic bunch. The one thing they share in common though is my deep appreciation for them. This year would not have been everything it was without them. They are ... in the order in which they are listed in my iTunes library ...

BON IVER - For Emma, Forever Ago

I can't believe I'm cheating on my first selection. This album was actually released in 2008. To be fair though, it was the first album I bought this year. I think maybe I bought it on the first even. It came recommended and rightfully so. I don't pretend to understand everything this eccentric singer sings about but his creativity is so vast that I have been in awe of it ever since I first listened to it. It is mostly quiet but aggressive when it should be and whenever I think back to the brief few days in January where I got to sit on a beach in Mexico, I will think of "For Emma, Forever Ago". This beautiful album and the sounds of the waves in the background was like heaven to me.


I have not yet figured out how to fully wrap my head around the incredible artistry of this breakout album. I'm not sure why it's called "Lungs" but it takes the breath right out of you when you hear it. It's a rock/blues party and lead singer, Florence's incredible voice just sends you to places you didn't know existed. You can hear Natalie Merchant or Sarah McLachlan in the layers of her voice but she brings a flavour all her own that just makes it near impossible for you not to belt away with her. Past that, the music itself is so jubilant at times, so dark at others and always played with such incredible urgency. You don't know where you've been when you finish listening but you know you want to go back.

KELLY CLARKSON - All I Ever Wanted

In my entire lifetime, I think I have seen one full episode of "American Idol". I was not there for the initial rise of Kelly Clarkson. I was there for her global explosion though. And, sadly, I was also there to watch her plummet from the pop consciousness. "All I Ever Wanted" is a near-perfect return to fame. Decidedly more pop than her previous foray into rock, Clarkson seems completely in control and completely aware of how much she is being controlled. The cover is so sugary but the expression on her face almost suggests she knows how bad it is. This is what she's being forced to do, people. The music though is where she shines. Yes it's pop but it's also damn good pop.

LA ROUX - La Roux

The moment the very first beats of "In for the Kill", the first song on British hipster, La Roux's eponymous debut start, she does exactly what the chorus promises. She's going in for the kill; she's doing it for the thrill. She's hoping you'll understand and not let go of her hand. Trust me; you wont. La Roux's voice is this tweaked out girlier Enya-esque experience, only it's all natural; no voice layering here. It just resonates and carries you with it. And with beats as danceable as these, "La Roux" is one of the most listenable and easily enjoyable albums of the year.

LILY ALLEN - It's Not Me, It's You Me

I must have missed the Lily Allen boat. "It's Not Me, It's You" is not her first album but it is certainly the first I ever heard. I like this girl's spunk! The way she tears down her men is appalling at times but her voice is just so British and cheeky that you can't help but love her all the more for her attitude. When she is not complaining about the boys, she is going off about how everybody is on drugs or about whether Jesus is thin or financially secure. Essentially, she is singing about how everyone and everything sucks on top of bouncy beats. Her directness is refreshing, especially when it is served on top of such a pop bed.

MARIAH CAREY - Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel

Ok, so I'm a big Mariah fan. That doesn't mean I always love her albums. And I wouldn't push this one on you if I didn't think it was one of her best. They say the album is dead but "Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel" proves that theory wrong. Sure, it has a super lame title; I've come to expect these things from Mariah. That said, I don't think she has ever released an album this consistent in both tone and temperature. Lyrically, she is having a lot of fun wrapping that voice around plenty of what can only be called Mariah-ism's ("He's all up in my George Foreman," comes to mind). Vocally, she couldn't be in better shape and I heard colours in there that I feel like I never have before. I was turned off on the first listen but I think that was more shock than anything else. Definitely imperfect but also definitely angelic.

PIERRE LAPOINTE - Sentiments humains

J'adore Pierre Lapointe. Il est tellement ... hot! I can easily say that "Sentiments humains" is Lapointe's best work to date. This is saying alot considering how incredible and diverse his previous two albums were. With this one, he strikes the perfect balance between all his influences - French folk, electronic, rock, classical, musical theatre, opera and of course, pop. His passion is so moving, so engaging that I've actually seen people tear while listening to it. Yes, it is dramatic but it is deservedly so. He earns every indulgence because he delivers consistently with his perfectly trained and perfectly pitched voice and his beautiful, delicate poetry. Encore, Pierre, je vous adore.


I had heard of Regina Spektor before this year but never really came upon her music. Then this year, two of her songs from years past were prominently featured in (500) DAYS OF SUMMER, which you probably know, I loved. Then I saw her on "Saturday Night Live", singing the song "Eet" off her latest album, "Far". She was just this tiny little thing with thick black hair, sitting at a big ol' piano and losing it on this song. She sang it perfectly but the sounds coming out of her mouth were like nothing I've ever heard before. They were primal. She sat there at that piano in New York City, reached through my television and grabbed onto my soul with her passionate performance. I've got all of her albums now.


I had the distinct pleasure of seeing The Swell Season a little while back when they were touring to support the music from the film, ONCE. True artistry and genuine emotion was what I saw on that stage. Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, the lead vocalists, are such tender and appreciative people and all of their warmth emanates from the music they create together. They are no longer romantically linked but you can still feel their strength and bond in their music. Past that, it was a great relief to see that songwriter, Hansard, had more to him than what he showcased in the movie that brought them to fame. "Strict Joy" is insightful, personal and set to a perfectly melodic acoustic backdrop.


This last album is completely unexpected for me. I used to listen to The Tragically Hip back when I was in college. My friends really liked them and so I bought into it but I never really got into it as much as they and so many others did. Suffice it to say, I stopped listening to them ages ago. With "We Are the Same", The Tragically Hip have matured ... or maybe I have. Lead singer, Gord Downie seems to be more direct than I remember him. He challenges his listeners with his lyrics and genuinely feels as though he has great sympathy for anyone who can relate to what he's singing about without being the least bit pitiful. It's still Canadian rock but it is also a very welcome return.

And seeing as how it isn't really an album, I just want to give a quick shout out to Lady Gaga's EP, THE FAME MONSTER. Released as an accompaniment to her crazy huge debut album, THE FAME, this EP showcases just how far a pop star can go in a very short time. Most of her work here is so much bigger, so much more brave that it makes her catchy hit singles from the last year seem miniscule and safe in comparison. I'm not sold on her intentions yet but I respect her artistry and her courage to be so different in a world that rewards conformity - the pop world, that is.

Thank you for indulging my musical musings. Feel free to share some of your favorite albums from the last year too. I would love to know. Be sure to check Black Sheep throughout the holidays for plenty more film reviews to come. Don't eat too much and don't drink and drive. Be good to each other and to yourself. Season's Greetings ...

1 comment:

Paula Lago said...

Merry Christmas too!! Great selection of music!!! really great.
read you soon then!!!