1. David Sylvian, Manafon (Samadhisound): If ever a record felt like a culmination of a life’s exploration, this was it. In positioning that striking voice and those disarming lyrics in an avant-improvisational setting, with some top class collaborators, Sylvian truly reached a new frontier, with this, the year’s best. Where can he go next? I for one can’t wait to find out.
Moritz von Oswald Trio, Vertical Ascent (Honest Jons): It took me quite some time to appreciate just how good Vertical Ascent actually is, but with each play, new layers of rhythmic and textural fascination were revealed to me. Vertical Ascent is a welcome return to health and form for the peerless Moritz von Oswald, featured here with Max Loderbauer and Sasu Ripatti.
3. The Necks, Silverwater (ReR): Impetuous it may be to put a record only released a few weeks ago so very close to the top of the pile, but Silverwater has all the hallmarks of a classic. Australian trio The Necks added to their trademark none-more-patient sound with kosmiche keyboards and guitar, but retained and built upon their intuitive sense of dynamics. The results were truly magnificent.
4. Bill Orcutt, A New Way To Pay Old Debts (Palilalia):
This was another stunning comeback which sailed into the top twenty, this time for the long-time-missed Bill Orcutt (of Harry Pussy fame). Orcutt’s solo demolishment and reconstruction of the (four-string) guitar resulted in the most outrageously thrilling record of the year. Given the justifiable demand, a hasty repress was required of this too-limited release.
5. Leyland Kirby, Sadly The Future Is No Longer What It Was (HAFTW): If there was an award for longest track titles or for most confusing format of the year Kirby’s triple double set Sadly The Future Is No Longer What It Was would have been a shoo-in. Happily these many many words and sides also contained some of the most heartbreakingly beautiful work of Kirby’s career.
6. Peter Wright, Snowblind (Install): After an inordinate delay, Wright’s Snowblind finally made an appearance. The cause of the delay still baffles: this was the pick of the albums Wright released this year, and probably even of his career. This incredibly ambitious work spread all manner of highly atmospheric ambient and harsh noisescapes across its two discs.
7. Broadcast and the Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults Of The Radio Age (Warp): The idea of pairing Broadcast with the music and/or visuals of Ghost Box co-founder Julian House (with his Focus Group) was a good one on paper, and also on stage. Happily, the album also surpassed all expectations with its intoxicating collage of brightly-coloured retro-cinematics.
8. Sunn 0))), Monoliths and Dimensions (Southern Lord): With strings and brass mixing with black metal vocals and huge walls of guitar, this latest salvo from Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson could have been an unholy and unlistenable mess. Not so. All those elements combined to produce a layered work of extraordinary power, with the trombone of Julian Priester transporting it heavenwards.
9. Eleh, Homage To The Sine Wave (Taiga): Just who is the mysterious Eleh? And how can he make so much out of seemingly so little? “Volume Reveals Detail’ proclaim the records, and this was no exception: a hypnotic trip into the microscopic qualities of sound itself. Getting your head into the prescribed position to get the most of this required a tape measure and perhaps some gymnastics.
10. Kevin Drumm, Imperial Horizon (Hospital Productions): The follow up to last year’s Imperial Distortion mined similar ground to similar chart-bothering effect. Imperial Horizon is all shadows and reflections, with little hard surface, but may well be Kevin Drumm’s minimalist masterpiece. Its one track stretched on and on, but even the slightest shift in its deep drones was hypnotic in its power.
11. Scott Tuma and Mike Weis, Taradiddle (Digitalis): From the hazy fragments of Tuma’s guitar (Tuma’s Not For You was one that should have made last year’s list, to be honest) and Weis’s percussion, these two fashioned their own dreamlike soundworld, a mix of deep, swirling, blurry atmospheres and strange emotions. This LP was the pick of another great year for the Digitalis label.
12. Hildur Gudnadottir, Without Sinking (Touch): This was an album which seemed to touch the hearts of those I enthusiastically recommended it to this year. And there were quite a few. It was a record seemingly unlike any other Touch release, but on Without Sinking, Gudnadottir’s cello seemed to illuminate a sky full of wondrous cloud formations.
13. Emeralds, Emeralds (Gneiss Things): Not ones to willingly court the notion of selling any records, this limited edition CDR from the hypanogic front-runners Emeralds became a marginally less-limited LP run, bringing this stunning set of mind-expanding kosmiche to a (slightly) wider audience. Those failing to secure a copy should check out What Happened from earlier in 09.
14. Monolake, Silence (Imbalance): Given that it wasn’t released until December, Monolake’s Silence will probably have missed the boat for most other year-end lists. Shame on them. Don’t miss out: Silence built effortlessly on Polygon Cities with a collection of rhythms and sounds that were put together with a perfectionist’s ear. Sonically, nothing was sharper.
15. Alva Noto, Xerrox Vol.2 (Raster-Noton): The second of Carsten Nicolai’s five (five!) planned Xerrox volumes contained some surprisingly powerful emotional themes, but you had to wade through layer upon layer of uncompromising electronic noise to reach them. As ever with Nicolai, your efforts any efforts thus expended were well rewarded in the end.
16. Daniel Higgs, Hymnprovisations For Banjo With Piano AND Raindrops (iDEAL): That lengthy title tells you everything you need to know about this album from ex-Lungfish member Daniel Higgs, other than its absolute genius. The expected, experimental and wholly excellent banjo expositions were supplemented by ghostly gamelan-like piano and Scottish storms.
17. Black To Comm, Alphabet 1968 (Type): Alphabet 1968, the remarkable new work by the Dekorder label’s Marc Richter, set the seal on a stunning year for another label: the thoroughly rejuvenated Type Records. It ran the gamut from Gas-aping rhythms to the murkiest of drone, but somehow it retained a compellingly cohesive feel. His best to date, I thought.
18. Isambard Khroustaliov, Ohka (Not-Applicable): Since the last Icarus album Sylt, the projects of Isambard Khroustaliov (better known as Sam Britton) have taken him further and further out into more abstract compositional and improvisational fields. His new album Ohka is the culmination of that journey, a fastidiously-constructed and starkly monochrome collage of the classical and the electronic.
19. Tara Jane O’Neil, A Ways Away (K): Songs. Yes, proper songs. In my end of year list. Truth be told, there was much more to this album by Portland, Oregon’s Tara Jane O’Neil than initially met the eye. It took those songs, a beautifully-voiced hushed folk music as a starting point for its exploration into some much darker instrumental territory. A real tonic.
20. Ben Frost, By The Throat (Bedroom Community): Building on his last release The Theory Of machines, sonic terror Ben Frost upped the horror ante with the dark cinematics of By The Throat. Who else in 2009 managed to make a bass sound like a baying pack of wolves? No-one. In the list it goes.