JUICE got together with a bunch of artists, musicians, designers, friends and fire starters to pick out the gems from the sh!t. It wasn’t easy – egos and eardrums were attacked by arguments and cottonbuds – but after much debate here’s the countdown to the best albums of 2009. Turn volume to 11, please.
TEXT BEN LIEW, KEVIN YEOH, MIRANDA YEOH, MATT ARMITAGE, ALIA, ETHAN CHU, CHRISTOPHER UJINE ONG, CHOOEE, DILL MALIK, WORDSMANIFEST, NOH, ALTIMET, JEROME KUGAN, MAK WAI HOO, DJ GOLDFISH, DJ GANJAGURU, DJ VICTOR G, RUEBNI KARUNAKARAN, JESSICA TAN.
THE BOY LEAST LIKELY TO
THE LAW OF THE PLAYGROUND
TOO YOUNG TO DIE
Marching out of the English countryside on a quest to turn our frowns upside-down are twee pop duo The Boy Least Likely To. Composer/multi-instrumentalist Pete Hobbs and lyricist/singer Jof Owen are back with the follow-up to The Best Party Ever. With a pocket full of sunshine, The Law of the Playground is like Sesame Street visited by The Flaming Lips. The band has described their music as ‘country disco’ but JUICE prefers to think of them as ‘kid-rock’ (hyphen and pun intended). This adventurous album opens innocently enough with an invitation to ‘Saddle Up’. Next thing you know, you’re ‘A Balloon on a Broken String’ not attached to anyone or anything. With a little bag of marbles and a catapult, The Boy Least Likely To sticks up for the little guys on ‘Every Goliath Has Its David’. If there’s one thing TLOTP teaches us, it’s to make lemonade when life gives us lemons. BL
Epic but not boring. Big but not stupid. That pretty much sums up the latest eponymous release by Secret Machines. Trance-like arena rock anthems that test the limits of your speakers are prevalent here, with explosive drumming that anchors chunky power-chord guitars and dark electronic flirtings. Part Bowie and part BRMC, the album closes with ‘The Fire Is Waiting’, an 11-minute theoretical big-bang that will leave you stoned till your mom calls you down for dinner. BL
Swedish electronic band Little Dragon’s self-titled album was a breathtaking affair, simultaneously upbeat and experimental. Still very much an insider secret, the quartet’s follow up Machine Dreams, continues the ascending trajectory and light airy beats. Lead vocalist Yukimi Nagano’s haunting vocal matches the dreamy music doodles that Machine Dreams crafts and the occasional jazzy swing and trip hop sensibilities have found fans in soul and hip hop lovers too. From the chirpy ‘Runabout’ and ‘Swimming’ to the chilled ‘Thunder Love’, this is one easy going album that’s hard not to like. KY
DAY & AGE
The Vegas stadium rock band that needs no introduction teams up with producer Stuart Price (of Madonna’s Confessions fame) for their 3rd album. Day & Age clearly shows how much things have changed since 2004’s Hot Fuss. After dropping the ridiculous moustache, Brandon Flowers and co this time launch into experimental orbit with saxophones, steel drums and Afrobeats in addition to their trademark big synths. BL
WARNER / DOMINO
Arctic Monkeys exploded on the scene with Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, the fastest-selling debut album in UK chart history, back in 2006. Their follow-up Favourite Worst Nightmare did not do so well commercially but fans generally preferred it to their debut due its harder sound. Now comes the all-important 3rd – the album where you show everyone that you’ve grown up. Tricky part is: how do you keep from isolating old fans? Well, in the case of the Arctic Monkeys, just get 2 respected and iconic producers/musicians to turn up the dial. Humbug was produced by Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme and Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford (who also plays drums for The Last Shadow Puppets). Apart from having these 2 giants on the mixing boards, the band also travelled to the desert of California to record with Homme and to NY City for Ford’s expertise. The result of this cross-country recording spree is a psychedelic-laced “experimental” album. BL
I might be crushing a little bit here, so that’s bias, right? But nah, this album, although produced and released under a foreign label, showcased the growth and effortless maturity of a local talent who I think would not have been able to shine as brightly and as freely would she have stayed only in Malaysia. I was astonished to see this Kokokaina person on YouTube doing her thing a few years ago, and with this album as Zee Avi she’s lost none of her raw emotive expression; in fact, the polished production values only brought out the intimate, I’ve-got-a-secret-to-tell-you quality of both her voice and lyrics. Sungguh best. WordsManifest
FEED US WITH YR LOVE
Four sweet guys from Ipoh + a lot of “lepaking” = an overdue debut album. Slacker attitude aside, the boys have actually been gigging for sometime (even strengthening ties abroad in Indonesia and Spore), but have been overshadowed by more productive and media savvy local acts. Feed Us Yr Love is a lo-fi power-pop outing that’s mixed nicely enough for you to enjoy without thinking about the production. Frontman Jay’s naÃ¯ve lyrics might repulse Oxford professors but will probably charm squeaky indie-girls. BL
SING ALONG TO SONGS YOU DON’T KNOW
I quite like mÃºm’s Sing Along to Songs You Don’t Know. The whole album is quite whimsical, child-like, happy but not to the point of being annoying. Love the layers of sounds they have. Takes you to a whole new world (well, not really new la) inside your head and it looks like a pretty English garden. I love the song ‘Sing Along’ when it goes like “You are so beautiful to us, we want to lock you in our hearts”, it’s so freaky I want to sing it to a little boy in shorts on my lap. Oh yes. Dill Malik
WALL OF SOUND / ASTRALWERKS
If Melody AM was bright and pop-ish and The Understanding dark with addition of vocals, then fans will be delighted to know that Junior is a mix of both. Royksopp has called up the likes of Swedish counterparts Robyn, Lykke Li, Aneli Drecker, and Karin Dreijer-Andersson (of ‘What Else Is There’) to help out. The guest spots make Junior a delight to listen to, where each track is placed perfectly to become one cohesive album. Watch out for Senior, the darker counterpart for Junior that will be out end of 2009. MY
Phillipa “Pip” Brown, the soaring multi-instrumentalist from New Zealand known as Ladyhawke, packs a glitter-blinding blast from the past with her eponymous debut album. In the wake of recent grrl power soloists like of Santogold, Lykke Li and Ida Maria, Ladyhawke deconstructs the 80s, churning out modern melodies and supercatchy choruses, underscored by big beats that come thundering down as funky guitars and synths make way for Brown’s sultry vocals. On ‘Love Don’t Live Here’, she takes notes from Fleetwood Mac and proves that cheesy love songs can make for wondrous club anthems just by adding some groove. But while Brown may sound dangerously close to Starship at times (intro to ‘Back of the Van’), her simple yet attention-grabbing lyrics bring us back to noughties reality. And she balances this playful irony with quasi rock-dance tunes and nu-rave-ish spunk (‘Paris Is Burning’). Time to dust off the old eight-track, clubland’s got a new super-heroine. BL
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