Before anyone moans, this is not intended as a comprehensive tracks of the year list - more to highlight some tracks from albums I didn't include, as well as some great stand along EPs and singles....
Fleet Foxes – Sun Giant EP
‘Sun Giant’ was our first introduction to this outstanding band, their gorgeous vocal harmonies and skilled arrangements. ‘Mykonos’ is one of my favourite songs of the year, superior to anything on the album.
Three Trapped Tigers – EP
Hailed by me (and others as well now I’m pleased to report) as the best new band in Britain, I had tipped Three Trapped Tigers for big things in 2008. Progress has been a bit slower than I’d anticipated – but we did get this extraordinary, meticulously composed EP. It’s austere in its artistry and construction, but also compelling and vibrant in its impact. Surely 2009 is their year.
Bjork – Nattura
One of her weirdest songs to date, and that’s saying something – there’s something very discomforting and uneasy about this. It is, of course, also brilliant and among the most daring records of the year.
Estelle – American Boy
What a superb pop song this is – one where the melody travels well away from the beaten track. Attention might have focused on Kanye’s guest appearance, but the major personality here is Estelle herself.
Alexis Taylor – I Thought This Was Ours
His debut solo album seems deliberately ramshackle, but there’s a sense for me that this only serves to obfuscate just how superb a songwriter he can be. This is as beautiful a song as he’s composed – at once affecting and elusive.
Micachu – Lone Ranger
Micachu – Golden Phone
One of the discoveries of 2008 – a composer-in-training and also a superb songwriter full of unusual and novel ideas, demolishing boundaries and preconceptions. Now attached to Matthew Herbert’s Accidental label, there should be a debut album in 2009.
Animal Collective – Water Curses EP
Pretty much picks up where ‘Strawberry Jam’ left off, but is much more than a set of off-cuts or rejections. It’s sophisticated, dense, stimulating music in its own right. The new album promises to be the first delight of 2009.
Jeremy Warmsley – How We Became III
Download only release – lo-fi electronic indie production with a great vocal arrangement, built from samples and snippets of other tracks. A tapestry of great imagination.
Drive By Truckers – The Purgatory Line
I couldn’t get in to ‘Brighter Than Creation’s Dark’, not least because it was simply far too long. This track stands out though – a tortured tale of unrequited love, delivered in a very haunting manner by new member Shonna Tucker. This strong female presence does something to undercut the boorish masculinity that often seems to put me off this band.
Snoop Dogg – Sensual Seduction
‘I’m gonna take my time…’ OK – so the thought of Snoop taking his time is perhaps not terribly pleasant – but this masterpiece of parodic R&B remains one of the highlights of the year, perhaps matched only by….
Flight of the Conchords – It’s Business Time
The flipside of the above and utterly hilarious.
Mystery Jets feat. Laura Marling – Young Love
It describes the excitement of young, careless love with sensitivity and knowing insight and is, in its own strange way, a statement of maturity.
David Byrne and Brian Eno – Poor Boy
If the first half of Byrne and Eno’s album is slick and overly polite, it hits superior heights towards its conclusion, particularly with this unexpected slice of rhythmic urgency.
REM – Supernatural Superserious
I might well be the only person who thinks this rather obvious, good intentioned single is the best thing on ‘Accelerate’ – but Michael Stipe does this sort of lyric so well, and it’s really the only song on the record that really speaks to me personally.
Coldplay – Viva La Vida
I genuinely like this song. No, really – I genuinely think the main reason that so many people are suing Chris Martin for plagiarism over it is that they want to lay claim to its universal, highly touching melody. It’s by far the best thing the band have produced to date.
Sam Sparro – Black and Gold
Some of the album was Prince-lite, but this slinky single remains one of the pop highlights of the year. Sparro is not afraid of ridicule, and could therefore yet become a major pop personality.
Noah and The Whale – Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down
Noah and The Whale – Mary
They made some mis-steps with the album in the end – some of the rattle and clatter that made them so idiosyncratic had been muted, and a couple of the tracks were overly twee. Perhaps the end result on the whole was actually a bit too dour – but these songs still suggests there’s plenty of potential in this band.
Bruce Springsteen – The New Jersey Devil
Bruce as Tom Waits-meets-Muddy Waters for Halloween? Truly terrifying.
David Byrne and Brian Eno – The Lighthouse
This was Byrne and Eno at their most atmospheric and alluring. It has a mystery that the weaker tracks on the album sorely lack.
Mystery Jets – Two Doors Down
Another stupendous pop song, with moments of unironic 80s worship.
A Grave With No Name/Natural Numbers – Split Single
Home-produced distorted reveries from London and Bedford, Indiana. Apparently this will appear in physical form on a cassette (!!) next year, but it’s currently freely downloadable from the Meal Deal records blog (http://www.mealdealrecords.blogspot.com).
A Grave With No Name combine an obvious love of The Microphones, Dinosaur Jr., The Lemonheads and My Bloody Valentine. It’s therefore slightly inward-looking, making a virtue of Alex’s vulnerable, shaky vocals. But it’s also got a strong beating heart and a pop sensibility beneath the swathes of noise. I particularly like the starkness and honesty of ‘Underpass’.
I find the two Natural Numbers selections less approachable, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. They sound intentionally ugly, but there’s a real prettiness and beauty underlying it all if you’re prepared to persevere. Unbelievably, Natural Numbers is a 13 year old boy.
Zenith – EP
Something promising here - a duo project from vocalist Sam Hudson and musician/producer John Tierney mixing bucolic folk, warm keyboards and synths and quirky electronics. It’s a bit gentler and smoother than that implies though, and may therefore have mainstream appeal. I must admit I can’t really appreciate the more conventional, rockier ‘Fallen’, where the duo sound less comfortable but the warmth and presence of the rest of the EP is richly satisfying.
Sparks – Lighten Up, Morrissey
This seems almost so obvious that I’m surprised it’s the first time Sparks have done it. It’s the story of a guy suffering because the object of his affections can’t rid herself of her love for Morrissey. Characteristically wry and knowing writing, predictably pompous music - dependably brilliant result.
M83 – Couleurs
This dense, hypnotic creation provided the bridge between the new, nostalgia-tinted M83 and their earlier shoegazer-inspired reveries.
Sons and Daughters – Darling
I can’t say I’ve really thought that much of Sons and Daughters before – in fact, I found their dark, brooding set in support of Nick Cave at Alexandra Palace a few years ago rather contrived. This is rather fantastic though, with one of the best choruses of the year and a new twist on that Motown stomp so beloved of modern rock groups.
MJ Hibbett and The Validators – Do The Indie Kid
Triumphant, good, old-fashioned proper indie with observational wit – splendid fun.