Monday, December 21, 2009

Best Albums of 2009

Here's my 20 picks from 2009. While this hardly includes every album I enjoyed, the cream rose to the top. The defining factor to every album on this list is consistency. This year saw Sufjan Stevens, the master of the album as a concept, complaining that he didn't even know what the point of the LP as a musical format was anymore. All the more reason to salute those who are keepin it alive.

20. Amy Milan - 'Masters of the Burial'
  • A very pretty folk record which finds itself close in nature, but a little more breathable than her first.

19. Mos Def - 'The Ecstatic'

  • Some really original sounds in a time when hip-hop can struggle to stand out

18. Dead Mans Bones - 'Dead Mans Bones'

  • Where did this one come from? Completely original atmospherics.

17. Andrew Bird - 'Noble Beast'

  • This record didn't have the easy accesibility of 'Armchair' or 'Eggs' so it was easy to toss off. A few listens reveal yet another great release from one of the technically best musicians performing.
16. Bowerbirds - 'Upper Air'
  • An album that stays in the same vein as their last, yet improves on it in everyway. A very enjoyable listen.
15. Yo La Tengo - 'Popular Songs'
  • This one bothered me for awhile, mainly because I wasn't a fan of the single, and some of the songs sounded like phoned in genre experiments. But hey, it grew. A lot. Not to mention the 30+ minutes of the final three cuts are great.
14. God Help The Girl - 'God Help The Girl'
  • If you're a sucker for Stuart Murdoch's wry lyrical style, here he's in a form not heard since 'Lazy Line Painter Jane'.
13. The Fiery Furnaces - 'I'm Going Away'
  • This one also needed to grow on me. At first I was shocked by how not ridiculously shocking it was. Eventually I just liked it for what was there. The full cover version the band did of their own record, 'Take Me Round Again', is pretty quality too.
12. Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson- 'Breakup'
  • Actually recorded before the She & Him record and the terrible Johansson debut. Which is interesting because this one is good. Thanks Pete.
11. Atlas Sound - 'Logos'
  • One of the most accessible ambient pop based releases I've ever heard.
10. Portugal. The Man - 'The Satanic Satanist'
  • How did this one slip under the radar? Good rock records like this are to few and far between.
9. Charles Spearin - 'The Happiness Project'
  • This album is built off the melodies of conversational speech. While this could be gimmicky, as a post rock record it manages to run through more genres and styles than most, and do it all pretty well.
8. John Frusciante - 'The Empyrean'
  • Yes, this is what he quit RHCP for. No, you've never heard anything like it. Yes, it's worth a listen.

7. Sunset Rubdown - 'Dragonslayer'

  • This is progressive rock in the 21st century. Not to worry, King Crimson would approve.
6. Cymbals Eat Guitars - 'Why There Are Mountains'
  • Large, bashing, crashing, jangly, epic indie rock. Turn it up.
5. The Antlers - 'Hospice'
  • A masterful blend of post rock, ambience, and singer song writer aesthetic, centered around a storyline of a child with cancer. I put on this album while hanging out with my girlfriend once and got really depressed. She was confused.
"Two", 2009

4. Here We Go Magic - 'Here We Go Magic'
  • This was the big surprise of the year for me. I'm always amazed when simple elements are arranged in new ways to blow me away. I haven't yet found a word which accurately describes what genre this falls into.

"Fangela", 2009

3. Clay Nightingale - 'Clay Nightingale'

  • A record for all the lost 20-somethings out there. Lyrically this blew me away. "Last Paycheck" was on our Best Songs List, but here I'll give ya something a little more to the point: drinking, friends, music, and road trips. Somehow they make it sound epic though, not juvenile.. hence geniuses.

"How We Outdrink The Silver Pines", 2009

2. Dirty Projectors - 'Bitte Orca'
  • One word for every performance on this album: virtuosic. The vocal chops here make me drool. Maybe not the most representative Projectors tune below, but probably the prettiest.

"Two Doves", 2009

1. Madeline - 'White Flag'

  • I can't rave enough about this album. Have a listen for yourself.
"Jive Talkin", 2009

How did I feel overall about this year? Well, some of my favorites let me down. The Flaming Lips, for instance. I loved the 'Priest Driven Ambulance' stuff, but 'Embryonic' was not a return to the zany brand space rock before 'Soft Bulletin'. It was a high polished musical farce. The studio obviously has become a crutch for these guys, and writing more dense and muddled songs doesn't distract from that. Well, it does for the critics. I love Built to Spill, but the guitars on 'Enemy' just don't have the raw kick I felt from 2006's 'You In Reverse'. Wilco went further down the alt contemporary road but still penned a few good tunes. Other albums I was looking forward to but didn't love: A.C. Newman, Circulatory System, Howling Bells, Le Loup, Monsters of Folk, and the Pink Mountaintops. I'm not necessarily saying not to listen to these records, just check out the 20 above first. 2010, lets go.

(Sidenote: Next year are we allowed to say oh-ten? Or would that only be applicable if we had this year said oh-oh-nine? Do we just have to say, ten? Cause I don't think I can handle that.)

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