Finally! After three weeks of serious (perhaps WAY too serious) of deliberation, I bring to you, my top albums of the year. 2009 was a great year for music, there was no shortage of spectacular material in the LP and EP format. Some bands managed to pump out multiple great releases while many other broke through in 09′. I battled with myself for a long time about whether to separate EP’s from LP’s and in the end I decided not to, because there were only a few EP’s I would put on my list, so I left them in, but with alphabetical listings instead of numeric. The whole system is pretty easy. In retrospect, I wish I’d started with the bottom and as you scrolled down the numbers got smaller, so it would be..you know.. a surprise. But alas, it is all typed and their is NO way I’m going to go through that headache. The first two wouldn’t/shouldn’t be a surprise anyway. So without further ado, here it is:
The Top Albums of 2009
#1 – Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion
Without a doubt, Merriweather Post Pavilion is the best album of 2009. The margin of victory is so high that the battle was never what’s the best album of 2009, it was, what is the best album AFTER M.P.P. This album is a master piece in every sense of the word. Each song is beautiful, destructive, over the top, minimal, catchy, abrasive, poetic, dark, and dreamy all at the same time. It is the ability of this bands members to harness and control all of these things within a single record that make them so great. M.P.P. is the album Animal Collective was destined to make. It is the album that everyone knew they would eventually make, from Spirt They’ve Vanished… to Strawberry Jam. They have been traveling up until this point, and this album is the product of pure and genuine humanity. It is an album that manages to harness a feeling, and encapsulate those feelings so strongly that you can’t help but smile at the depth. Each listen is unique and moving. My Girls is easily the best song of the year, and Brother Sport, Summertime Clothes, Taste, and Daily Routine are all in the top 20. This album is disarmingly good and could very well ruin music for you, but it won’t. Instead it will compel you to delve into the onion that is Animal Collective. Good luck pealing back all the layers, there is nothing more fun in all of music.
#2 – Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca
In any other year, this album would be a runaway number 1. Dirty Projectors, have finally peaked with an absolutely wonderful album. Bitte Orca is incredibly interesting, more so than almost any other album on this list. It features the most original song structure, lyrics, harmonies and music of any of their albums, a clear step forward. The album has no dull moments and swings and swells with absolute perfect timing. The voices will lure you like sirens into what I imagine is some sort of creepy cult-like musician circle where lead singer Dave Longstreth teaches you the ways of the upside down guitar and harmonizing with three beautiful women. Never since The Beatles or CSN has anyone harmonized so beautifully. Each song will take you down a separate fork from the main album trail, eventually creating some sort of antler on a crazy mythical beast, no really. Bitte Orca is an amazing journey, and when Dirty Projectors invite you to follow them on it, you must not refuse.
#A – Animal Collective – Fall Be Kind EP
Fall Be Kind EP is further testament as to the absolute and soul crushing power that Animal Collective wields. Proving that even though the 3 (or 4) of them are amazingly talented by themselves, together they are more than the sum of their parts. All five tracks are solid and placed in relation to each other perfectly, as only a few bands can do. Each track segues into the next naturally and at the perfect time. Avey Tare’s vocals play and meddle in the morning light as the songs rise and Panda Bear crushes the last 8 minutes with a epic and bombastic rhythmic assault of the psyche. These gentlemen can do no wrong.
#3 – Wavves – Wavvves
It’s been one hell of a year for Wavves mastermind, Nathan Williams, or as we refer to him around here, Nathan Wavves. He went into a drug/technical failure induced rage at the Primevera Sound Festival, his drummer quit and he got in a verbal and physical altercation with fellow indie rocker, Jared Swiliey from the Black Lips. He then got a new (more talented) drummer, and had Jay Reatards old band join his. He’s built as many bridges as he’s burned and his music is all the better for it. Wavvves is an amazing piece of lo-fi genius, crushed out as only a southern California surfer punk could. Nathan Wavves writes and sings about the things we all wish we had the guts to. Getting high, being lazy, skateboarding, having fun, partying, love, angst and so much more. Nathan sings about being a teenager with a sense of hedonistic abandon that only a teenager could possess. He is perhaps one of the most authentic band leaders around. All of his songs are gritty and poorly mastered, but not to such an extent that he is not understandable. Its amazing how beautiful a song like Beach Demon can be as bar chords are strummed through layers of fuzz. Wavves is already working on new material, and I have every confidence it will be just as ballsy and direct as this batch of songs is.
#4 – St. Vincent – Actor
With Actor, Annie Clark has created the most balanced release in recent memory. This is an album of juxtapositions. Annie Clark’s honey drenched voice is enough to lull the noisiest into bliss. Each song seems to start one way and end another. Clark uses the songs as a means of figuring things out, and like real life, it is never so black and white. The Strangers, the albums first track is not only the perfect beginning to an album, but is a microcosm of these juxtaposed elements. Soft and melodic gives way to noisy and quick and sometimes back again. These are the things that keep the album interesting from front to back. The drumming through the album is phenominal, almost bordering on lazy at times, yet it fits the music so perfectly. The more Ive listened to this album the more Ive genuinely fallen in love with it. There were few moments more beautiful or engaging than this album in 2009. Each time Clark’s beautiful voice fades in over orchestral piano or plucked guitar I forget and when the song inevitably explodes I am surprised every time at just how well it works.
#5 – Neon Indian – Physic Chasms
Just in time for the end of summer comes the greatest sun music of the year. Neon Indian and his style of music (commonly called glo-fi) is all the rage in the indie world. Fuzzed out guitars, heavy and wet percussion and crooning are all commonplace on this album. The songs fly by and it’s hard not to at least pump your fists while listening to it. A couple of the songs are even reminiscent of the late great Michael Jackson. The album will rope you in from the opening intro/track, AM/Deadbeat Summer. Featuring a great hook and a thin distorted guitar line this track foreshadows to all that you’ll find in the next 45 minutes. The album features no truly weak moments, and the hook simply pile on and pretty soon you wont be sure which song you’re humming, but you’ll know its a Neon Indian song. This album presents us with a great debut and is a promise of great things to come.
#6 – Grizzly Bear – Veckitamist
Perhaps the most beautiful album of 2009, Grizzly Bear have broke new ground in the realm of chamber pop. It’s difficult not to like these four gents. Their voices are amazing, and they harmonize like nobodies business. The album is great from start to finish, barely weakening for a moment. Two Weeks, the albums first single is one of the best songs of the year and the last song, Foreground, is chilling to the bone and features a perfect melodic arrangement and vocals that have Jeff Buckley turning in his grave.
#7 – Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
It’s hard to be catchier than these guys right here. Wolfgang… was a perfect follow up to, It’s Never Been Like That. 1901 is my second favorite track of the entire year. lead singer, Thomas Mars, is constantly meandering through lyrical wordplay that sounds as if someone much smarter than myself were simply musing all of their thoughts out at once. One can only be jealous at just how well it works. Phoenix haven’t lost as step with this release, featuring 4 or 5 of the catchiest songs released this year.
#B – No Age – Losing Feeling EP
No Age are so freakin good. What else can I say? They have been pumping out quality material for a few years now and this EP is no slouch. Each track is perfectly set amongst the others on this four-track release. This EP is as gritty and chaotic as ever, No Age aren’t going anywhere, thank god.
#8 – Japandroids – Post-Nothing
Remember that punk-rock album you were going to make with you best friend freshman year? Member how you were just going to lay it all out there? You were going to growl, chant, scream, sing and bumble your way through 8 to 10 tracks of lo-fi awesomeness. The bad news is that most of you missed the boat, and your punk rock dreams died. The good news? Japandroids (awesome name) didn’t only jump on the boat, but they grabbed the helm. This album flat out blew me away. 8 tracks of fuzzed, yet melodic chaos. They remind me of really really early Pavement, when Gary Young was doing handstands instead of playing drums and the band always sounded one step away from falling apart, but somehow they never did. Instead they were defined by this slacker attitude and lazy approach to (especially live) music. The chaos always resolves and it adds a another layer to the music. Japandroids have found a way to capture that same chaos. I can’t wait to here there subsequent releases.
#9 – Atlas Sound – Logos
Bradford Cox manages to always keep me guessing. Atlas Sound’s first album wasn’t a huge draw for me to check this one out, but Deerhunter’s Microcastle forced me to listen to Logos and I’m glad it did. Logo’s is convoluted and complex. Cox layers his voice over loop upon loop creating a large yet lackadaisical sound. Cox just sounds free. This is the album he wanted to make. The title track is features a couple drum kits playing over each other and Walkabout, featuring Panda Bear is one of the years best tracks.
#C – Small Black – Small Black EP
These Brooklyn glo-fi rockers burst onto the scene in October with their self titled EP. If you dig Neon Indian then Small Black is right up your alley. The EP consists of five chilled/fuzzed out tracks, soaked in reverb and distortion. This small collection of catchy tunes features no weak tracks. The second track, Weird Machines, is absolutely amazing. Every time I listen to this EP, I run it through twice. I can’t wait for their debut LP.
#10 – Mos Def – The Ecstatic
This album easily could have been so bad, but instead, it was so good. Nuff said? Naw. This album signals a return to form for Mos Def. 1999’s Black on Both Sides is without a doubt one of the best hip-hop albums of all time. Mos Def has an original voice and is remarkably intelligent. On top of his rhymes, his flow is nothing to be messed with. The Ecstatic took an approach similar to Madvillian’s album, short, fast, stream-of-conscious rapping. It worked well for Doom and Madlib, and it works just as well for Mos Def. The Ecstatic closes with an in your face rap attack by the man himself, signally that he is indeed back to stay.
#11 – Why? – Eskimo Snow
“This is the least hip-hop of anything I’ve ever been apart of,” said lead singer Yoni Wolfe of the newest Why? LP. He couldn’t be more correct. This album is much different than any of its predecessors, but it holds a new and interesting place in the Why? catalog. It stands well next to Alopecia, and Elephant Eyelash, especially the first two tracks, which form an epic beginning. The ending is haunting and melodic, similar to the beginning. The album is well balanced and Yoni’s lyrics are always amazing.
#E – Deerhunter – Rainwater Cassette Exchange
I could be easily ostracized by the indie community for these next words: but I do believe this is the best Deerhunter release. It just sounds more focused than anything they’ve done before. Whether you think that’s a good or bad thing is totally up to you. Bradford Cox’s voice meandering in an out of the melodies which have never sounded so congealed.
#12 – Andrew Bird – Noble Beast
When did Andrew Bird do something bad? It’s hard to fathom. All of his efforts in the last decade have been revolutionary, sincere, beautiful, complex and just downright impressive. He puts on a live show like no person on earth can. Noble Beast features some of Bird’s best tracks to date and though it does have a few songs that might be throw aways, the ones that are good, are so good that you forget all about them. Bird is a man that understands how an album should be structured, and it is with good faith that I say he has all of his songs in the right places.
#13 – DOOM – Born Like This
MF Doom (or DOOM or King Geedorah or Madvillian or Dangerdoom or Viktor Vaughn or…) is the most consistent hip-hop artist of the last 15 years. His “bad” releases are better than most rappers best releases. DOOM’s flow is always out of control and more often then not he’s rapping over his own beats. Born Like This, aside from being a great name for an album, is a step back into the limelight for DOOM who’s been dormant a year +. Born Like This features some great beats, so great guest spots (Wu members galore) and of course, DOOM himself, the always entertaining lyrical acrobat. One of the albums best moments is the DOOM produced, Yessir! featuring Raekwon on vocals. It’s an amazing, dark beat with Raekwon’s signature stylings. This album is definitely a keeper.
#14 – The XX – XX
What’s so great about this album is the dangerously clean guitar sound that leads each song. The effects are few and far between on this record and it gives The XX a unique sound in a scene drenched with look-alikes. There love fueled rock tunes provide a nice balance between rock and ballad and will have you coming back for more.
#15 – Raekwon – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…Pt II
If you like cocaine or just raps about them, its hard to beat a Raekwon album. The Wu-Tang great is nothing short of spectacular on his “follow-up” to 1995’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… hands down one of the best rap releases in the last 20 years. Raekwon, unlike many rappers, isn’t showing his age. This album comes complete with Dilla beats, quality guest spots and of course, skits.
#16 – Real Estate – Real Estate
This is what Pavement would sound like if “Range Life” was an indication of their overall sound. I hesitate to make too many Pavement references, but what can I do? Perhaps the only fault of Real Estate’s debut self titled LP is that the first track, Beach Comber, is so damn good, that it makes the rest of the album seem a little drab. Once you’re able to get over the awesomness of the opening lyric, “what you want is just outside your reach” you’ll find that this is an enjoyable and possibly light listening experience.
# 17 – Cymbal Eat Guitars – Why There Are Mountains
Cymbals Eat Guitars are doing some very interesting things. This album features some amazing moments, moments that seem too good for such a young group. However this album has fallen all the way to #17 because there are also some weak moments. There are some moments where lead singer, Joseph D’Agostino’s voice sounds too forced, and too strained, perhaps even weak. The band typically sounds strong and exhibits elements of Wilco, Pavement, Sonic Youth and The White Stripes. This album is a great and energetic listen with amazing dynamics and unique song structure. This band has a bright future.
#18 – The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart
Someone’s been listen to their 80’s shoegaze, and its this great young band. Sounding like a mix of The Jesus and Mary Chain and New Order, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart have presented us with a catchy batch of guitar driven, rock oriented shoegaze. The first track, Contender, will draw you in and the album lives up to every promise made in those first three minutes.
#19 – Wilco – Wilco (The Album)
Wilco have taken a gigantic step in the right direction. After what can only be described as a disappointing showing with 2007’s, Sky Blue Sky, Wilco have returned to a more interesting and less predictable incarnation of themselves. If this progressive recession continues their next album should be even better. Tweedy’s lyrics are song structure are as solid here as anywhere else.
#20 – Matt And Kim – Grand
A catchy little indie-rock record featuring unorthodox song stylings and great percussion. The main instruments, keyboard and drums, help create a unique debut album that will leave the listener waiting for their next batch of indie-pop gems.
#21 – J. Dilla – Jay Stay Paid
It’s hard to go wrong with Dilla. May his seemingly bottomless beat bank be just that. “King” is an instant classic.