It’s that time again. 365 days have passed. That means we all have to think about what’s happened in the last 365 days, and which of these things were the best.
The format remains unchanged. One winner of each category of Denby interest, along with shoehorned-in honourable mentions. And now we begin.
Oddly, 2009 was a year of not really listening to much new music, and generally missing deadlines for any music-related stuff I wrote. But it strikes me just now that a couple of really exceptional albums came out last year.
The record I’ve been listening to a lot today is Bears by Sam Isaac. Sam’s a top bloke who’s worked really hard over these last few years, touring like an absolute bugger. He’s come a long way since he played at the venue I ran, CJ’s Music Bar, back in 2006. (Yes, I used to run a music venue. There’s a whole heap of past you could tap into if I let you.) He was playing then as tour support for Luke Leighfield, but I remember being astonished by Sam’s stripped-bare acoustic sound, and we stayed in touch until he became all famous and that. His record, predictably, loses a lot of that charm. It’s horrifically over-produced. But it’s still neat, and filled with glorious personal pop-tunes (many are filled with actual people’s names). And it namechecks the “level complete” sound in the Mario games. I mean, that’s got to be worth a mention, right?
Jesca Hoop‘s second album, Hunting My Dress, is really good. I’ve reviewed it for The Line of Best Fit, and assume the resulting words will be appearing on the site soon. It’s rhythmic and pondering and driven by big beats and soaring melodies. It’s among the most creative yet instantly accessible records I’ve heard in ages.
But then, the same could be said of Grammatics‘ self-titled debut, which came out at the start of the year and absolutely blew me away. Grammatics have been knocking about on the Leeds scene for ages, and Owen, their singer, is one of those guys I have a drunken natter with if I see him out and about but don’t really have much to do with other than that. So that’s two possible conflicts of interest on this list. But if I’d never met this lot, they’d still have made my album of the year. Grammatics is an absolutely astonishing debut, one that dives confidently between radio-friendly pop of the highest calibre and the darkest and most obscure of indie soundscapes. To see them doing so well in 2009 was wonderful. But I still feel there should be more of a buzz. This is a record that received 9 and 10 out of 10 scores across the board, nearly, yet still didn’t propel them into the limelight quite as much as it should have. The album is on Spotify. You should listen immediately, then straight afterwards, run out and buy ten copies.
Crikey. This one’s sometimes a really easy category. Other times it’s not. This is one of those times. There has been no anthem this year, no song that has been always in my mind and always shouted in the middle of the night in some stupid bar. I know what I’m about to write as the winner, but I don’t know about runners up. Okay. Let’s try this.
Florence and the Machine‘s Dog Days Are Over was a really great song on a very mixed album. And… oh, man, turns out Grammatics re-released Shadow Committee this year! I totally didn’t know that! And that’s totally worthy of a runner-up place.
The winner? Black Eyed Peas with Boom Boom Pow. Yeah. It’s been that sort of year. One of the year’s great memories is being hideously drunk at the Thought Bubble festival, in a casino on the outskirts of Leeds, dancing with games-journo-colleague Phill Cameron and a delightful-friend-of-a-delightful-friend, and someone – possibly Gillen, possibly not – drops Boom Boom Pow, and it simmers and simmers and then… Here we go, here we go, satellite radio, all gettin’ hit with the BOOM! BOOM! When a song makes you dance like that, it has to be a winner.
COMPUTERISED ELECTRONIC VIDEO GAMES
Runners up: Machinarium by Amanita Design, for its absolutely delightful artwork, astonishing emotive capabilities and the wonderful way in which it integrated its hints system into the game. I consider 2009, while generally not fantastic for games, to have contained about three games that have been absolutely outstanding, and could well have been top of the pile any other year. That Machinarium isn’t my favourite game of the year is, in some ways, quite saddening, because it totally deserves it.
There’s also Red Faction: Guerrilla by Volition, which might sound like a crude choice, but seriously, check this shit out. I’m going into some camp of some sort of the surface of Mars. I have to blow up a building. I get there, and suddenly and entire army is on my back. The fuckers. I start shooting, but I run out of ammo. Shit, forgot to stock up. Right. What to do? Well, I have some remote charges. I start throwing them blindly, ducking between cover, in some sort of terrible moment of desperation. I hit the detonate button. One of the charges had stuck to a giant cooling tower. It slowly collapsed. Onto the building I was to destroy. And blocking the path between the army and me. I jumped into a jeep and drove off. That didn’t happen to you. That’s why Guerrilla is so awesome.
But. This year, Spelunky reached Version 1.0. And… well, you’re just going to read this. Because I’m kind of writing-ab0ut-Spelunkyed-out. But it’s quite the thing that a small freeware indie game, in a year of such astonishing blockbusters, emerges as easily the finest game of 2009.
I haven’t even thought about this category until right now. Christ. What came out this year?
A quick ask-Twitter moment seems to reveal that I didn’t see any of the good films this year. So I guess I’m going to have to default to District 9, which was great but in many ways flawed, and not do any runners-up. Man. I feel ashamed.
Thing is, all the films I was looking forward to last year turned out to be really disappointing. The Firm stands out as the major oh-god-it’s-terrible moment of 2009. I’m usually a sucker for superviolent social stuff. But The Firm was just terrible, in so many ways. It fucked up literally everything that’s usually so cathartic about that sort of piece. It had pretty much no redeeming qualities.
Apparently Moon, Fantastic Mr. Fox and Synechdoche New York were all awesome. I wish I’d seen them. But this year was more a discovery one in film for me. I watched a hell of a lot of old classics. I watched loads of stuff that Ladyfriend was astonished I’d never seen, and we talked about it in so much detail. J.D. sat me down in front of a few pieces of brilliance, I think. But they’re all things released well before 2009.
Favourite film I watched for the first time this year? Persepolis, without a doubt. But a couple of years old. New year’s resolution: I will watch more new films this year. Y’know, ones that are actually decent.
A SENTIMENTAL P.S.
2009 has been a rather mixed year. My mum commented a couple of weeks ago that it had been shit, and that she couldn’t wait for 2010. Which struck me as silly. Yeah, a couple of really awful things happened. People who know me, or people who read this blog generally, will know my aunt died after a thankfully relatively painless battle with cancer. People who know me really well will know about another thing that I’m totally not going to mention here. But at the same time, it’s also been a year of astonishing highs. It’s been the year that people started to pay me to write about stuff: the start of my career proper. It’s been a year in which I’ve met the most fantastic, wonderful people I could ever hope to meet. That the list of tremendous people I’ve finally put name-to-face with in 2009 includes Phill Cameron, Greg Giddens, Oli Wilkinson, Kieron Gillen, Mathew Kumar, Ste Curran, Simon Byron, Will Porter and Alec Meer, that other new people I’ve had the pleasure of spending unfortunately tiny amounts of time with include Si Wharton and Bekki Tordoff of Thought Bubble fame, and that I feel I’ve gone from vague pal to proper friend with Rose McMahon, Karla Guedes, Cat Karr, J.D. Richardson and… well, I’m sure there are more, who’ll be offended I didn’t mention.
Man. You can tell there was some beer left in the fridge, no?
Christ. Let’s put a stop to this.