Old habits die hard, and I still look to the album as the definitive way to present music. Here are my favourites for 2009. The first five are equal number one, the rest are equal number 2. I reserve the right to amend this if anything else occurs to me or takes my fancy.
Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion. First and foremost, it's pop music, that simple appeal of rhythm and melody, stripped of the pretension other styles (rock, jazz) are susceptible to. The vocal arrangements here are great, too: harmonies, counter melodies and rounds, harking back to the Beach Boys and others. They're not great singers, but their vocals are a standout. The word 'experimental' is often a bit meaningless. The earlier AC albums I heard sounded ramshackle to me because of it. Experimentation is pared back here, and they've gone for more structure. But the all-important non-conformism of their old work remains in place. No-one else sounds like this. As a lover of electronic music I like their instrumentation, which really stands out in an American band. And I like to pick the different influences of the two songwriters in the band, like analysing Lennon and McCartney's styles. I can't wait for the new Panda bear solo album, he's my favourite.
Girls - Album. They came across as misfits with gifts for melody and several classic pop and rock styles.
Fever Ray - Fever Ray. Throughout the year they gradually revealed themselves the worthy successor to the Knife.
jj - no 2. Utterly beautiful electro-acoustic summer pop. Why are they not on the critics' lists?
Patrick Wolf - The Bachelor. Talented poetic brat would be out of sync in any era. To me that emphasises his originality. The title track was a nice take on the new folk zeitgeist.
Muse - The Resistance. They manage to be modern and plunder classic rock at the same time. I love Matt Bellamy's virtuosity.
Fuck Buttons - Tarot Sport. It sounds like old school techno with heavy doses of minimal. They don't make 'em like this any more.
Bob Evans - Goodnight Bull Creek. Just great songs that make you love pop music the way you did in your teenage years.
Gui Boratto - Take My Breath Away. He adds songcraft to electronic music without spoiling its simplicity and sweet repetition.
Mew - no more stories. Being Danish makes them outsiders. Despite some stylistic pointers, they are not prog rock. There's too much pop in there, and thrilling, emotional melodic and lyrical twists they get away with.
Decoder Ring - They Blind the Stars and the Wild Team. The rest of the world could be forgiven for thinking they're 5-10 years too late with the whole post rock thing (Mogwai, Tortoise, Godspeed You Black Emperor) , but the Australian widescreen mood makes this really special.
I might add the Horrors, The Big Pink, and The Flaming Lips to the list after I've had time to listen to them more.
Older albums I loved in 2009:
Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
Bon Iver - For Emma Forever ago
Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
Cocteau Twins - From Lullabies to Violaine