Top 10s for 2009: It's a Trap!
Avi Roig, Editor-in-Chief
10. [ingenting] - Tomhet, idel tomhet ()
A record that is expansive in sound, but still very direct in feeling. [ingenting] aimed for the stars with this one and nailed it.
09. Agent Side Grinder - Irish recording tape/The transatlantic tape project ()
Enjoyable as separate entities, though far better when considered as a matched pair. This band has not only mastered the sound of old-school industrial, they can also write great catchy songs (see: "Irish recording tape") and create engrossing abstract soundscapes ("The transatlantic tape project").
08. Pistol Disco - Evergreen ()
This group gets better and better with every release and now, with the addition of live drums, they've soared to new heights of brain-roasting awesomeness. Listen LOUD!
07. The Bear Quartet - 89 ()
A no-brainer. Still reigning as Sweden's best band.
06. The Fine Arts Showcase - Dolophine smile ()
The rawest of breakup records, the grandest of pop. Gustaf Kjellvander's defining moment as an artist (thus far).
05. Wadruna - Runaljod - gap var Ginnunga (/)
Pure pagan beauty, performed in the old ways to appease the old gods. If you don't like this, you're no fan of Scandinavian music.
04. Björn Kleinhenz - B.U.R.M.A./Head held high on fearsome pride (///)
Another twofer, except this time I've listened to all these songs on shuffle so many times I can't separate them anymore. 2009 was the year that Björn Kleinhenz dedicated himself to his art 100% and it shows. I always have high expectations for his work, but these two records blew me away.
03. Samuraj Cities - Mixed up record collections ()
The music reflects the title; a brazen mix of different sounds and ideas, leading the way for the future of Swedish indierock. Sometimes it's a noisy mess, but that's also what makes it so great.
02. David Åhlén - We sprout in thy soil ()
Devotional music is incredibly powerful when performed with such fervent conviction and grace as this. There is a new strain of inspirational music coming out of Sweden right now and its artists are creating some of the most exciting music I've heard in years.
01. Elmo - Once ()
Far and away my absolute favorite album of 2009. Elmo takes the melodramatic teen-angst pop of Broder Daniel and ups it to near-farcial levels of hysteria, but they never ever falter. When frontman Magnus Ekelund said that this was the "ultimate Elmo album", he was telling the absolute truth. You can't go up from here.
2009 was a very good year for music and there are many worthwhile albums that didn't quite make the cut. Here's 5 more in alphabetical order:
Pintandwefall - Hong Kong, baby! ()
Thåström - Kärlek är för dom ()
C.Aarmé - World music ()
Turboweekend - Ghost of a chance ()
Dear Euphoria - Heal my violence ()
Heard too late
These records would've made the list if I had properly heard them at their time of release:
The Scrags - s/t ()
Dead Letters Spell Out Dead Words - Lost in reflection (///)
Tyrant - The rebirth (reclaim the flame) (/)
01. Samtidigt Som - Flykt, kärlek & broderskap ()
02. jj - jj n° 2 ()
03. Fever Ray – s/t ()
04. Lorentz & M.Sakarias - Vi mot världen ()
05. Frida Hyvönen – Silence is wild ()
06. Maskinen – Boys II Men ()
07. Taken By Trees – East of Eden ()
08. Körsbärsfettera - Alla ska ha linne (self-released)
09. Sad Day For Puppets - Unknown colors ()
10. Christopher Sander - Hej hå! ()
01. Montt Mardié – Gloria
02. jj – Are you still in Valda?
03. Anna Järvinen – Äppelöga
04. Samtidigt Som – Tienes mi corazón
06. Maskinen – Pengar
06. Alexis Weak – Disney på is
07. Lorentz & M.Sakarias - Unicorn
08. Christopher Sander - Fattig bonddräng
09. [ingenting] – Halleluja!
10. Makthaverskan - German boy
01. Moritz von Oswald Trio - Vertical ascent ()
While technically hardly a Scandinavian album (percussion is handled by Finn Vladislav Delay, electronics and programming by German techno- and dub-mastermind Moritz von Oswald plus modular synths by German Max Loderbauer), I just can't not list this record here. For me, it's this year's equivalent to last year's highlights by Auton or Viktor Sjöberg New Jazz Ensemble: A demanding record that pulls you in with its hypnotic patterns and movements, makes you smile at its more obvious moments, and makes you miss it when you're without the beautiful gatefold vinyl and a record player.
02. Kings of Convenience - Declaration of dependence ()
I was looking forward to this album and the accompanying gig this fall. The gig did not disappoint -- like always, Erlend still wants to own the stage while Erik charmingly stresses his storytelling-skills and seems to divide his time between his baby and the gym nowadays. But the album surprised me at first. Judging from the last record, I had expected more sixties pop and less starkness and quietude. But I like how this album is less easily had, doesn't let the listener in as easily, but will grow on you nonetheless.
03. [ingenting] - Tomhet, idel tomhet ()
This records sees [ingenting] exchange the more obvious references in their music for more subtle nods to pop music's giants paired with impressively direct lyrics and straight-to-the-point arrangements. If maturity didn't have such negative connotations, one could call the album just that. And "classic" of course, like 80's indiepop is classic, or Sibiria and Vapnet maybe, though in more cynical ways than this record. It seems only fitting that [ingenting] chose to finally drop those "nothing"-puns from their album titles.
04. Frida Hyvönen - Silence is wild ()
I've always been unsure about the reference points of year-end lists. Is it calender years or more likely personal years? I'm in favor of personal, so I list this album because to me, despite technically being from 2008, it's really a 2009 record. Somehow, the album's full potential -- its melodies, its power, and most of all, its soul (in the secular, Phil Spector meaning of the word)---had passed me by until I saw Frida and her bandmates play live in Berlin in the spring of 2009. So I'm only making up now for not listing it in 2008.
05. The Whitest Boy Alive - Rules ()
A friend of mine once compared TWBA to IKEA. They make highly functional music that's devoid of any ornaments and goes straight to the point. And like IKEA-furniture, TWBA's music works extremely well for its purpose: I've seen them play in a gallery's shopwindow for more than 1000 dancing people gathered in the February-cold street before them, and their songs never fail to fill any indie-dancefloor. I guess I'd rather have IKEA than the "next big thing" from England then.
01. [ingenting] - Dina händer är fulla av blommor
From the first time I heard this song when [ingenting] performed it on Nyhetsmorgon, I was struck with its directness, the way it seems to speak to every single listener. I really like how non-cynical popmusic can do that sometimes!
02. The Fine Arts Showcase - Friday on my knees
It's great how Gustaf and his bandmates deconstruct this song about two-thirds through, dropping riff and chorus for 120 gloomy seconds of noisy guitar and bass, only to shortly resurrect it all before the end. Who needs radio-oriented hits when we can have this instead?
03. The Radio Dept. - David
Yet another year without an album by The Radio Dept. And still I consider them my favorite Scandinavian band. I'm left hoping the new album will sound more like this single and less like its unfocused b-sides. Still, allowing myself a nostalgic moment, they most probably just won't make another "Lesser matters".
04. The Whitest Boy Alive - 1517
We all need our functional dancefloor-fix from time to time, don't we? Especially when it's this well-done.
05. Kommun - Death of a CEO
I've been looking forward to the Kommun-record ever since the people behind Vapnet and Sibiria announced that, since everyone was making "serious" Swedish records now, they'd make a "non-serious" English record instead. And while I haven't fully connected with the album yet, I can't really escape this deeply political singalong about a businessman's afterlife.
Less obvious non-scandi mentions (besides those Grizzly Bears, Animal Collectives, and Pains of Being Pure at Heart): My friend's sister's project Music for Your Heart, Brooklyn's giddy Uninhabitable Mansions, the new Au Revoir Simone record, that Thom Yorke song on the "New Moon" Soundtrack (less movie, more music), and finally moving to and living in Phnom Penh.
01. [ingenting] - Tomhet, idel tomhet ()
It was always going to be difficult to follow up "Mycket väsen för ingenting", and for a while I thought that this one fell short. The one day it clicked, I could not even compare the two. This is another stellar release for the band.
02. The Bear Quartet - 89 ()
A triumph, but honestly I did not even expect less. The Bear Quartet have returned in the only way they could -- a bludgeoning, brooding album that closes their decade of output by making the audience reconsider what The Bear Quartet is once again.
03. Markus Krunegård - Prinsen av Peking / Lev som en gris dö som en hund ()
I try to imagine what pop music in English would sound like if we had an artist like Markus Krunegård. But then I realize that the industry here is exponentially more vapid, someone like Markus would be swept into the corners of dimly lit rooms, never to see his due.
04. Asha Ali - Hurricane ()
Three years after her magnificent debut, Asha Ali gave us a devastating album of loss and internal strife. This album is so personal and fragile it must have been difficult to release it.
05. The Fine Arts Showcase - Dolophine smile ()
Another album of loss, but with a very different approach. Gustaf Kjellvander gives us an outside view of the degradation of his relationship, which is always quite to difficult to do. However, in typical TFAS fashion, he succeeds greatly.
06. Pistol Disco - Evergreen ()
Falling into the category of noise and shoegaze, which I've been listening to a lot lately, Pistol Disco reach amongst the highs. Put this record on and just ease your mind, and it will take your imagination places.
07. Kristofer Åström - Sinkadus ()
A new Kristofer Åström album always yields quality. This time, he has rotated three backing bands on record, and it adds so much to his already well-honed songwriting craft.
08. Jonathan Johansson - En hand i himlen ()
What a way to start a career. Jonathan Johansson created one of the better pure-pop albums of the year.
09. jj - jj n° 2 ()
Another very good debut, and another very good pop album. jj borderlines on twee, yet mixes soft beats and great vocals.
10. Montt Mardié - Skaizerkite ()
David Pagmar keeps getting more bombastic with each release. Top-notch songwriting and arranging keeps Montt Mardié fans guessing where he'll take his sound next.
01. Peter Bjorn and John - Stay this way
02. Elias and the Wizzkids - Mr. Right Guy
03. Montt Mardié - Bang bang (An echo in Warsaw)
04. Asha Ali - The contract
05. The Bear Quartet - Northern
06. Ingenting - Lång våg
07. Markus Krungegård - Prinsessan av Peking
08. The Fine Arts Showcase - London, my town
09. Kristofer Åström - A song for while I'm away
10. Markus Krunegård - Kär i en borderline