Best Albums of 2009

* Please note this list has how been superseded by the one on the Best Albums of the Years page *

Embarking on another list such as this, i’m reminded again of what i think of as “Paul Morley’s Dictum”; in his superb book Words and Music he writes of the provisional nature of all “best” lists, describing how they could (and perhaps should) change, perhaps quite radically, from day to day. i think he’s absolutely right, and there are many albums released in 2009 that i haven’t heard, so feel free to treat the following as the gospel truth with a pinch of salt. Put it this way, it’s true now, at the end of the year, and that’s perhaps as good as anything else. There really has been a dazzling display of imagination and innovation this year, of which these forty are, in my view, the best.

40 | IAMX – Kingdom Of Welcome Addiction
While this album doesn’t live up to the unbridled brilliance of Chris Corner’s first two albums, it continues his wildly enthusiastic explorations of the darker side of humanity’s psyche. The triple-metres are present and correct once again, adding to the unsettling quality of these melancholic laments. Corner’s voice is as rapturously lovely as ever, able to make even the less effective songs engaging, and giving the album as a whole an aching beauty.

39 | Röyksopp – Junior
Röyksopp’s newest creation is a jaunty reworking of synthpop styles and motifs from the 1980s, finished off by a collection of first-rate female vocalists. What’s particularly impressive is their ability to fashion complex and interesting songs out of highly simple ideas, such as “Tricky Tricky”, which works like a passacaglia, gradually accumulating layers and variations. But the most successful track is “The Girl and the Robot”, a wailing complaint that pays overt homage to The Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me, Baby?”. Röyksopp have proved that to make good ‘retro’ music is to do something very much more than rely on mere pastiche.

38 | Daisy Chapman – The Green Eyed
It’s been good to see Bristol-based Daisy Chapman’s profile grow considerably through 2009, aided in no small part by this, her second album. i was fortunate enough to work with Daisy on The Green Eyed, transcribing the string quartet music, although i kept a certain distance so as to appreciate the songs on their own terms. Overall, the album is both an extension of her earlier work as well as something of a departure, one that was perhaps inevitable as she took over lyricist duties from her former partner. The impassioned melancholy that she embodies so readily now has a sizeable glint in its eye and a distinct decadent twist, her songs now infused with elements from cabaret. The success varies (the cover versions of “Umbrella” and “Ring of Fire” don’t work particularly well) but at their best are superb, with “Just Give Up, Jessica” the standout track.

37 | Leyland Kirby – Sadly, the Future Is No Longer What It Was
Best known for his work under the pseudonyms The Caretaker and V/Vm, James Leyland Kirby has reverted to his own name for this, his most ambitious release to date. Spanning three CDs and nearly 4 hours, this is perhaps the ultimate expression of Kirby’s preoccupation with wistful melancholia, the music sliding around over foundations that do not feel in the least bit secure. The highly evocative track titles (“The Beauty of the Impending Tragedy of My Existence”, “A Longing to Be Absorbed for a While Into a Different and Beautiful World”) flesh out the emotional detail in each of Kirby’s heavily-laden soundscapes; the pain is all too apparent, but there’s much beauty too.

36 | Chihei Hatakeyama – The River
2009 has been a productive year for Hatakeyama, with four releases under his belt; The River is especially notable, a triumph of modern ambient featuring some of his most mesmeric music to date. Each track is allowed space to grow and develop, adding to the hypnotic potency of this album. It’s music laden with poignancy—such as the dark “A House In The Fog”— but one that frequently ascends into the light; the airy textures of “Light Drizzle” and “Twilight Gloom” (something of a misnomer) are simply gorgeous.

35 | The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble – Here Be Dragons
Following their remarkable eponymous first album and two teasers earlier this year (the Mutations EP and Tribute to Moondog single), this was, for me, one of the most highly anticipated of this year’s releases. It didn’t quite live up to my (probably, too high) expectations, but it finds the ensemble casting their work into forms as moody as ever. Lengthy melodies slowly unravel from dense textures, passed from instrument to instrument in a deep velvet klangfarbenmelodie, occupying structures that shift and reform around them. This is fin de siècle jazz from a club situated on the edge of the world.

34 | Oneohtrix Point Never – Rifts
On the one hand, Rifts is a demanding listen, and not simply because its 27 tracks explore a series of cool, electronic façades for over 2½ hours. Often, a track will set about establishing its identity, only then to disintegrate into something entirely different (“Learning To Control Myself” is a good example of this, as is “Emil Cioran” which effectively works in the opposite direction). But for all its demands—and, to some extent, its inconsistency—this is a rewarding listen, each and every track a sonic sculpture fashioned with intent, plastic but solid nonetheless.

33 | Imogen Heap – Ellipse
Singers don’t come much more distinctive than Imogen Heap, whose curious, quirky alto voice seems audibly to jolt whenever she leaps from low to high. Moreover, the production values of her music are very high indeed, packed with subtleties of detail that take numerous listens to take in; her last album, Speak For Yourself, exemplified this, and Ellipse takes this further. In fact, Heap’s imaginative scope seems to have expanded massively, in part drawing on the soundworld from her collaboration with Guy Sigworth, Frou Frou, as well as (especially on the album’s best song, “2-1”) the gritty kind of beat complexes Mark Bell devised for so many of Björk’s songs, and even the hectic cut-up pace of Emilie Simon; it’s a wonderfully rich and eclectic selection.

32 | Carl Sagan’s Ghost – Behind Clouds
Carl Sagan’s Ghost is the project of one Daniel Davis, who has brought out a number of releases this year. He’s capable of tapping into some really lovely textures, which he allows to develop over lengthy time-spans. Behind Clouds is, i feel, his most successful, conjuring up a vast soundworld with layers of perspective; one really can focus on different elements in the material and feel them to be at different depths or distances, which heightens the experience considerably. Clearly a talent to watch, with the surprising added bonus that all his output is available free of charge (here); his latest album, At the End of it All, is also well worth a listen.

31 | Chubby Wolf – L’Histoire
Thus far, this is the only full-length album from the late Danielle Baquet-Long’s solo venture, but husband Will informs me there are numerous completed pieces approaching readiness for release, so hopefully 2010 will bring more from this much-lamented talent. The album contains a similar austerity to Meandering Pupa (one of my Best EPs of 2009), despite the generally longer track durations; if anything, there are not more ideas at play, they’re simply given more time to present themselves and penetrate deeply into our consciousness. The gloriously-named “Oh, And How It Was Stunning; Writhing” is perhaps the finest example, an impeccably timed and executed exercise in transcendent stasis. A profoundly intense, meditative album, it yields much, much more on repeated listenings.

30 | Asher – Miniatures
Much of Asher’s prior output has left me unengaged and disinterested, but this two-disc release is something else entirely. At a first listening, it might almost appear as though Asher’s involvement is minimal, even superfluous, as one aged piano loop after another comes and goes, each ravaged by the detritus of time. But the choice of loops and, indeed, their juxtaposition reveal a deft hand, one that has positioned these pocket-sized vignettes with utmost care. This is music yellow with age, a wistful, nostalgic evocation of a time long past, present only in the briefest of fragments; in all sorts of ways, it’s a beautiful album.

29 | Florence and the Machine – Lungs
For once, my taste seems to overlap with other critics; Lungs is a startlingly impressive début from Florence Welch. The first thing that strikes one about her voice is its versatility and raw power; while capable of great delicacy (she can ‘float’ her voice beautifully, perhaps a throwback to her choirgirl days), it’s in her whoops, snarls and howls that her musical personality finds clearest definition. The songs are a diverse mixture, hard-edged but not oppressive, compulsive with a slightly languid energy—indeed, “Blinding” paints her as a latter-day counterpart to Morrissey, drawling with attitude. A superb release, of which the soaring, spine-tingling anthem “Cosmic Love” is surely its finest moment.

28 | Supersilent – 9
While it’s a difficult if not impossible task to know what to expect from Supersilent releases, this ninth album is seriously surprising. A change, though, and a radical one at that, was always going to be necessary without Jarle Vespestad’s wildly complex rhythmic contributions, and the remaining trio have bravely consigned themselves to Hammond organs for the duration, improvising shapes and textures that are distinctly suggestive of things otherwordly. By turns soft and shrill, deep and booming, it’s a brilliantly successful experiment, with “9.3” particularly evocative.

27 | Bat For Lashes – Two Suns
While her previous album, Fur and Gold, was good, Natasha Khan’s latest release outclasses it in almost every way (and without a doubt, should have won this year’s Mercury Prize, particularly as the shortlist—as it usually is these days—was so mediocre). Her singing sounds both more emphatic and more versatile, able effortlessly to coax with a whisper or howl with abandon. And the songs themselves are striking, both in the way their respective narratives unravel, as well as the timbrally imaginative wrappings within which they’re contained. Khan’s voice brings to mind many other singers, but somehow defies them all; she is utterly distinctive, and the pairing of the final track, “The Big Sleep”, with Scott Walker is one of the most rapturous duets in recent times.

26 | Tor Lundvall – Sleeping and Hiding
“Sleeping and Hiding” is an apt description for the general tone of Lundvall’s work, seeming ever to lurk within shadows, introverted and solemn. He’s a master of the nocturnal, and this album inhabits a decidedly vivid late-night world, with a suburban melancholy (think Burial without the shuffling beats); opening track title “City Rain” sums it up perfectly. Each successive track doesn’t so much unfold as dive straight into a deep, dark pool of sound, as potent as opium smoke, underpinned—or, rather, transfixed—by slow, steady pulses and omnipresent drones. “Midnight Ride” is Lundvall at his utter best, softly evocative of Portishead, the gentle dissonances causing an exquisite shimmer at the heart of the music.

25 | Celer – Close Proximity and the Unhindered Care-all
Released in the last couple of months, Celer’s latest album is rather too fresh in the mind for a fully-rounded assessment; first impressions count, though, and immediately it’s a work demonstrating impressive rigorous control over its undulations. This is no surprise; Celer demonstrate time and time again their ability to allow—to some extent at least—the sounds with which they’re working to guide the creative process. The three track divisions are mere markers amidst more numerous passing elements. Some contain recognisable sources in the field recordings (walking feet; a rather vocal argument; birdsong); this anecdotal aspect lends the work an interesting perspective, although what serves as foreground or background is left nicely ambiguous.

24 | Operations – You and Atomic Warfare
Chris Anderson’s latest release is also his most sonically varied. Each track is named after an atomic bomb test, but the tone of the material seems more concerned with after-effects than the raging power of the detonations themselves. Draped in a sparse, even desolate landscape, melodic fragments loop and drift incongruously among the dark haze (most poignantly in “Teapot”), like a broken radio in an equally broken world. Glowering above (or is it below?) is an ominous, omnipresent ambience that proves increasingly unsettling as the album progresses, culminating in the contaminated texture of “Dominic II”. Anderson has certainly succeeded in making one of the year’s most eloquent and thought-provoking releases, the glimpses of beauty powerfully transcending their harrowed context.

23 | Lustmord – [ B E Y O N D ]
The dark lord of ambient has spent much of this year revisiting his 2008 album [ O T H E R ]; two albums and two EPs have remixed and reworked that source material, with [ B E Y O N D ] containing the most consistently successful material—better, it could be argued, than the original album. Brian Lustmord’s music is usually so serious, so intense, that it can be difficult to take (or, as in Lustmord Rising, become unintentionally funny), but he gets it spot on in this series of remixes; it’s all as pitch black as ever, but with a gentleness that makes it less intoxicating, even rather relaxing. “Trinity”, at the dark heart of the album, is one of the best tracks; the mixture of sporadic deep beats and bells (all heavily muted) above the soft, distant ambient drapery is entrancing.

22 | Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto – utp_
With Insen and Vrioon, the Noto-Sakamoto collaboration has created a sublime synthesis of piano and electronics, and it was inspired to expand the idea to larger forces, courtesy of the ever-adventurous Ensemble Modern. The result, utp_, is actually a cooler affair than either of those earlier releases; at first it seems rather stiff, but quickly loosens up into a complex intermingling of sounds that achieves that most difficult thing: blurring the distinction between electronics and live instruments. The two “Particle” tracks are a case in point, the plethora of microscopic sounds blending into a diverse but consistent granular soup. Elsewhere the division is more apparent, but things never seem forced; “Transition” is one of numerous high points, a gorgeous chorale of shifting chords.

21 | Venetian Snares – Filth
Reviewed back in March, this album has done much to restore my faith in Aaron Funk’s ability to maintain a coherent and consistent approach in his work. It’s not just the track titles (e.g. “Labia” and “Chainsaw Fellatio”) that betray Funk’s ongoing creative case of Tourette Syndrome; the music has a blissfully playful quality that knows no limits. The beloved 7/4 time signature is omnipresent, but with new blood in its veins, and whether he’s tickling our ears or bludgeoning our brains, Funk is demonstrably back at the top of his game.

20 | Polly Scattergood – Polly Scattergood
In a year that saw “artists” such as Lady Gaga and La Roux pick up plaudits for noisy, noisome posturing, far more impressive for its fragile understatement was this first release from Polly Scattergood. For all her lace-like charm, Scattergood’s lyrics suit her voice down to the ground, quietly bewailing and lamenting their lot, the songs of a bruised soul. As i mentioned back in April, the opening song “I Hate the Way” is the most imaginative, but the album as a whole is strikingly diverse, at times simplistic (the childlike piano stylings of “Poem Song”), at others more grittily adult (both tone and lyrics of “Bunny Club”), but always courageously and movingly honest.

19 | Ambrose Field – Being Dufay
My first encounter with Ambrose Field’s music was back in the mid-1990s, at a conference in Birmingham where he gave an illustrated lecture about his impressive electroacoustic piece, Undercurrents. His latest work is a setting of vocal fragments by Guillaume Dufay (performed by former Hilliard Ensemble tenor, John Potter), about and under which Field weaves a gentle supportive ambient cloud. The electronics seem to both reinforce and diffuse the tonality in Dufay’s beautiful melismas, embellishing them with the lightest of touches. Field’s ear for striking and delightful sounds is as sure as ever, and it’s heartening to hear cutting-edge electronics used in a classical context without the brash pretentiousness that seems so prevalent at the moment. A seamless synthesis of old and new, it’s nothing short of a masterpiece.

18 | Tim Exile – Listening Tree
In a world that now seemingly boasts as many genres as there are composers, it’s encouraging that Tim Exile staunchly avoids such bland categorisation. The man leaps between stylistic gestures with the agility of a gazelle, never resting long enough for the music to compartmentalise itself. His is a kaleidoscopic kind of electronica, nourished and perfected through improvisation, and many of the tracks on this album possess a meandering quality that pulls the listener along wherever the material wishes to go. This kind of eclecticism can prove irritating, but Exile’s brilliant control of structural unfolding—even if it’s being created on the fly—is unwavering, and there’s logic aplenty amidst the mayhem.

17 | Celer – Compositions For Cassette
Caught as we are in the grip of such ubiquitous digitalia in the world of music (and exemplified by Tim Exile), it seems almost radical for Celer to turn their backs on it completely for this release. This music was made using analogue cassette as its means of recording at every stage; the duo proudly declares their “hope to demonstrate an admiration of experimentation through a single recording medium…”. The ghostly, quavering music is a poignant, nostalgic evocation of a time now distant, afflicted (blessed?) with hiss and other random irregularities that are an inevitable concomitant of the tape recording process. It’s yet another example of the sheer imaginative breadth this pair have brought to ambient music.

16 | Anduin + Jasper TX – The Bending Of Light
The pairing of two such artists was always going to result in a highly concentrated music, and The Bending Of Light demonstrates that from the outset. The drones are delicious, drawing the listener in like a sonic black hole, while impossibly low frequencies envelop and couch the ears. Despite its relatively brief duration (a little over 34 minutes), the music is wide and expansive, ultimately sounding very much longer. It’s such a fruitful partnership, one can only hope they’ll collaborate again on further releases.

15 | Nynke Laverman – Nomade
Some albums you just don’t see coming, and Nynke Laverman’s latest release is just such an album. While her previous work explored a variety of folk and world music idioms in a fairly humdrum manner, from the outset Nomade grabs one by the scruff of the neck and enters entirely different territory. Her Fresian lyrics and accent infuse each song with a distinct, ‘other’ quality, enhanced by their strange, even surreal accompaniments, combining a fascinating array of instrumental and electronic textures. Standout track is the opener, “De ûntdekker”, the pulse stomping and marching as Laverman soars, twitters and trills overhead.

14 | NQ – Like Styrofoam, Bleeding
It’s not been the most interesting of years for netlabel Distance Recordings, but they’ve redeemed themselves with this, their latest release. Nils Quak’s album is a riveting work of electronics, combining ambient, noise, drone and electroacoustic elements. The way one sound succeeds another, emerging into the foreground until the next replaces it, is thoroughly engaging, aided in no small part by Quak’s wide sound palette. Every track is like a miniature epic, ending seemingly light years from whence it began. It’s surprising that such an accomplished album should be available free, but it is, here.

13 | Alva Noto – Xerrox Vol. 2
This is one of those albums you want never to end. Few artists handle electronics as well as Alva Noto; and when he turns his gaze away from beats and pyrotechnics, he creates some of the most luscious sonic landscapes ever made. His second Xerrox outing incorporates an amazing display of styles and ideas; warm ambient drones dissolve into noise only to be reborn as slow crescendoing chords and throbbing bass pulses that glitch, quiver and bristle. Carsten Nicolai is a composer of breathtaking brilliance, and this is without doubt one his finest albums.

12 | David Sylvian – Manafon
Song has been undergoing something of an overhaul in the last few years. Joanna Newsom expanded its durational and poetic scope in 2007 (Ys), while Scott Walker did necessary but unspeakable things to it in 2008 (The Drift); this year, the most radical re-thinking of what song can be has come from David Sylvian. On the one hand, this album doesn’t entirely succeed simply because of the creative division at the heart of the work; Sylvian brought in some of the most innovative improvisers in the world to create textural backdrops, but created both the lyrics and his vocal tracks totally separately, after the event. But the results overcome this issue, often brilliantly; Sylvian’s postmodern crooning in front of such a complex reredos is simply stunning.

11 | Hecq – Steeltongued
Ben Lukas Boysen’s work as Hecq ranks among the most innovative and ingenious electronica by anyone. His innate understanding of pace and mood, combined with his astonishing ability to bring together the pointillism of beats and omnipresence of ambient in a seamless synthesis, make every release a joy to behold, and never better than on this album. Of Steeltongued, Hecq has said that it “feels like the whole beat-science cant go any further for me – i wanted to take a (probably final) shot at it and get as much as i can from it”; if so, it’s hard to conceive of a more accomplished swansong to the world of beats than this, perhaps the most joyously brilliant work of IDM ever created.

10 | Dragonette – Fixin To Thrill
i wrote at length about this album back in October, and it just gets more and more impressive on repeat listenings. Very few bands can achieve, let alone sustain, this level of exhilaration in their work. The album captures a wide variety of moods, from the brilliant and breathless to episodes of quieter intensity. Dragonette are fortunate to have such a superb singer in Martina Sorbara, who’s able to take her voice, effortlessly, in such a multitude of directions without ever sounding forced or uncomfortable. This absolutely ecstatic release is, in my view, the indisputable pop album of the year, if not the decade. It’s still not yet easily available in the UK (why?!), so Amazon.ca continues to be the place to go.

9 | Richard Skelton – Landings
This is the year when Richard Skelton’s music has finally registered in my consciousness, and as i’ve been slowly catching up with his output, i’ve found myself drawn ever deeper into his strange yet familiar music. Emanating from grief (the loss of his wife a few years back) and intimately interconnected with the Lancashire landscape, Skelton’s work seems to sidestep the intellect and burrow deeply into one’s emotions, pulling them, massaging them, aching them. Landings (recently reissued, accompanied by a book of prose and poetry) typifies his style, the incessant string gestures—despite their subsequent (but imperceptible) digital manipulations—projecting an ancient and noble demeanour.

8 | Clouwbeck – Wolfrahm
Richard Skelton almost has as many artistic guises as releases, and this is only the second time he’s donned the Clouwbeck moniker. Once again, strings predominate the textures, but Skelton is prepared to take his source material into new and arresting territories. Somewhat shorter than Landings, this album comes across with more intensity and urgency, despite the prevalence of more gentle ambient episodes. There’s a sense of the instruments playing as though their lives depended on it, a soft but ferocious outpouring that, undoubtedly, says more about loss than words ever could.

7 | SoiSong – xAj3z
Following last year’s outstanding EP qXn948s, Peter Christopherson and Ivan Pavlov have taken their SoiSong project into more upbeat and immediate territory here. While in some ways one misses the amorphous beauty of that EP, the ingenuity of ideas is highly impressive, as is the completely unexpected unfolding of each track. The artificial voices from Christopherson’s Threshold HouseBoys Choir return, but in a more engaging sonic environment, and bestowing a weirdly dated quality on this otherwise utmost modern music. Such paradoxes abound with SoiSong, strangeness and beauty evident in equal measure, the one unifying element seeming to be the audible influence of Peter Christopherson’s adopted home of Thailand.

6 | Steven Wilson – Insurgentes
Technically, this album saw light of day in 2008, but it wasn’t available to the world at large until this spring, and Wilson himself clearly regards it as a 2009 release; hence its inclusion here. This is, very simply, one of the finest experimental rock albums ever made, with a breadth of creative imagination and technical expertise that are simply amazing to behold, listen after listen after listen. More importantly, it goes way beyond Wilson’s other work, bearing only passing resemblances to either Porcupine Tree or Bass Communion, the avant-garde textures at times redolent of Scott Walker, they’re that good. A glut of redundant rock bands should take note: this is what music can be; this is how far behind you really are.

5 | Robert Henke – Indigo_Transform
While, to my mind at least, Henke’s Monolake project seems to have reached a creative impasse (Silence may have amazing production values, but what exactly was the material trying to do or be?), his solo work continues to beguile and entrance like never before. Both the texture and delivery bring to mind—forgive me—Jean Michel Jarre’s “Waiting for Cousteau”, but Henke’s treatment of stasis, punctuated with water droplets and a profoundly deep, tolling bass, is way more engaging, utterly hypnotic.

4 | irr. app. (ext.) – Kreiselwelle
For the last eight years, Matt Waldron has been engaged in, beside other things, a large-scale triptych of works associated with Wilhelm Reich. Following Ozeanische Gefühle and Cosmic Superimposition, this is the final instalment, and while a number of sound elements betray their connection to those earlier releases, for the most part it comes across as a very different entity. Waldron’s use of anecdotal sounds always lends a vividness to his sonic creations akin to Dali’s realism, and the result is often no less surrealist. Kreiselwelle (‘spiral wave’), though, finds Waldron in a decidedly un-absurd mood, the layers of material evolving gradually with few abrupt shifts, and the result is weighty and mesmerising.

3 | Bass Communion – Chiaroscuro
Steven Wilson’s Bass Communion project has gone a long way to revivify and re-imagine the hackneyed ambient model. This is one of his most intense releases (even more so than 2008’s Molotov and Haze), featuring two canvasses, one large, one small. Both are absolutely riveting, the former laden with nervous vibrato that causes the undulating texture to ripple and shimmer, the latter’s delicate tracery giving way to a seething morass of spellbinding complexity. Music like this has few parallels, and it’s arguably Wilson’s finest creation to date. His control and technical aplomb are nothing short of astounding, highlighting his status as one of the most brilliant, genuinely talented musicians working today.

2 | Peter Wright – Snow Blind
Following his really rather average An Angel Fell Where The Kestrels Hover earlier in the year, this album is a bolt from the blue. Caught betwixt two worlds, one all curves and contours, smooth and inviting, the other coarse and abrasive, clipped and distorted, Wright’s vision is shocking in its clarity and devastating in its realisation. This is an album that seems to exist in the wake of some vast deluge, crying out into the darkness, disoriented and desperate. It’s deeply moving to hear music emerge—as it only can—from such a wasted context, whether it’s the heroic attempt to rebuild a melody from sonic rubble (“Follow The Leader”) or the stuck-in-a-rut despair that is nothing less than abject (“The Distopian National Anthem”). Ambient noise has rarely received such mature and cogent expression.

1 | Celer – A Breeze of Roses / Brittle / Engaged Touches / Fountain Glider / In Escaping Lakes / Poulaine

To say that 2009 has been Celer’s year is to invite mixed feelings; after all, Will Long’s wife and musical collaborator, Danielle Baquet-Long, passed away in July, bringing Celer’s future activities to a close. Yet already, Will and Dani’s legacy is already beginning to assume monumental proportions; a startling 16 new releases were issued this year (11 albums and five EPs), proof positive of the quantity of work the duo has created. But it’s the quality of so many of these releases that is most meaningful; time after time, Celer find new ways to occupy us, never repeating themselves, inventing and re-inventing their ideas and methods in a panoply of creativity that is nothing short of breathtaking. Hence why the no. 1 spot in this year’s list must go jointly to no fewer than six of their albums, each of which has played a unique part in expanding Celer’s orbit and deepening the impression they make; these albums are not merely excellent, they’re essential.

All six testify to the fact that Celer play at their best in long, extended durations where ideas can evolve and flourish at leisure (another 2009 release, Capri, suffers from its division into “bite-size” portions, although last year’s Nacreous Clouds proves this needn’t be the case). As usual, though, these large-scale canvasses are (with the exception of Brittle) divided into distinct areas of activity, each bleeding and morphing into the next with infinite grace, even stealth. The multiplicity of sound sources, cited on each release, are fodder for Will and Dani’s frenetic creativity, only on occasions—most noticeably on Fountain Glider and Engaging Touches—being heard for what they are. Both noise and rich tonalities coexist in Celer’s music like nowhere else, the one complementing the other, with nothing ever sounding out of place. This is no mean feat, a marvel for the ears that, despite the slow steady motion, is no less able to surprise: the moment, around two-thirds through Breeze of Roses where the faint ringings are unveiled to be deep cathedral bells; the second part of Engaging Touches, where the initial cycling waves yield into a timbrally-lush chord that looms out of darkness; the opening of Fountain Glider, that quickly disintegrates into heavily distorted cabin noise. These are just a few meagre examples of the kind of delights that are contained in these large works, which together comprise over 300 minutes of the most intense, challenging and uplifting material released this year; Celer truly are the masters of modern ambient music.

In the wake of such glowing admiration, it may seem surprising, even churlish, to attach a caveat, and quite a severe one. i’ve mentioned it before and i’ll do it again, more forcefully this time: i believe it militates against the quality of Celer’s music to have so much of it released in such a short timespan. Few artists can ever have amassed as many as 16 releases in a single year, and with very good reason; it detracts from the significance and appreciation of individual achievements when they’re being whisked off the production line as quickly as that. Theirs is music rich and complex in character, like the proverbial good wine, and such things should be savoured, not quaffed. That Celer’s fans (obviously, i include myself in that group) are enthusiastic for more—particularly, no doubt, following Dani’s death—is understandable, but if we have any respect for Dani and Will’s work, we’ll allow it to come in its own good time, giving us and the music itself some time to reflect and, indeed, some breathing space. i love Celer’s music, and to say i’m looking forward to hearing more is a huge understatement—but i can and i will wait; in all truth, i want to wait. In the nicest possible sense, i hope that 2010 brings significantly less from Celer, so that we can enjoy it all the more, for many years to come. Music this good deserves nothing less than our complete attention and our utmost respect.

Posted on by 5:4 in Best of the Year
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6 Responses to Best Albums of 2009

  1. Abelian

    Hello, excellent list. I feel somewhat of a duty to explore the stuff on it I've never heard about, having found somebody who loves Celer at least as much as I do. Great reviews, and I agree with your sentiment about slowing down the veritable flood of Celer releases that as been going on. Each is to be savored.

    I would really appreciate if you could help me getting my hands on some of their rarer stuff. I doubt I have anything of theirs you don't, but maybe you'd be interested in a lossless rip of the Mane Blooms 7"?

  2. Eleventhvolume

    Phew – such an eclectic list! I believe I've heard only about 25% of the music listed so there's definitely some things to check out, thank you. I share your love of UTP though haven't found myself returning very often – to my surprise – to Xerrox vol2. That may be because of my general love of beats over ambience I guess. Oddly enough for such a lover of The Drift, I haven't found myself listening to Manafon that often either whereas I remain a huge fan of Secrets of the Beehive. Celer are a welcome new discovery through Will's contact on Hard Format, I'll be listening to them more in 2010.

  3. Abelian

    Nice blog and beautiful 2009 list. I've been listening to loads of Celer, it's really tragic what happened – but at least there's lots more material yet to be released (more than 20 albums).

    Cheers

  4. dreams-dxt

    even a year after 2009 I still investigate your list!

  5. 5:4

    @dreams-dxt i'm glad! • Although, it does seem *such* a long time ago… • The 2010 list is more-or-less sorted; tune in at the end of the month to find out what made the grade :)

  6. Pingback: Mix Tape #16 : Vox Masculus (In Memoriam Ian Curtis) | 5:4

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