Monday, November 23, 2009

Favorite Albums, 2009 Edition

2009 was a great year for music. I feel pretty confident in saying that there were far more good-to-great releases this year than any of the past few years. This may be the reason I'm having so much trouble slotting my top 10-15 albums released in the past 12 months. Hell, as I type this I'm listening to the Phoenix album again to make sure I give it a fair shake. My list just isn't falling into place like it normally does. I think I have my top album of the year, maybe, but the rest just seem like a clusterfuck of really good albums that I could pull out of a hat to populate slots 2 through 15 (yes, I just now decided I'm going top 15 this year).

But back to my number one album of the year. Making this year even more convoluted is that my real number one, fave release (it's not an album, per se) is not eligible for top 15 album consideration because it's a compilation. Dark Was The Night is comprised of mostly original songs and covers, but it is a compilation, and since I routinely rail against people who include compilations, best-ofs, greatest hits and soundtracks in their top albums of year or favorite albums of all time (gasp), I'll have to exclude this exquisite collection of songs from the following proceedings. On to the list!

15. Julian Casablancas - Phrazes for the Young
Everyone's going electro nowadays. Guitars are going the way of the dodo, being replaced with MacBook Pros and all manner of knobs and switches and other newfangled gizmos. So it was no surprise (mostly) to read about the voice of the Strokes' solo effort wanting to "capture the catchiness of modern music." While T-Pain doesn't guest on any of the tracks, a lot of synths and drum machines do. I can't honestly say this is a good album, but I do enjoy it (mostly). Who knows, maybe I just needed to hear Casablancas' lazy, disaffected, monotone croon.

14. Atlas Sound - Logos
Much more of an album than Bradford Cox's last solo effort, which I like. Plus, the songs are just better. A few great tracks like 'Walkabout' and 'Quick Canal' (both of which feature guest vocalists) and a bunch of solid mellow songs to keep 'em company.

13. The Antlers - Hospice
The Antlers are fairly mellow, but they do get a little more 'up in yo grill' on some tracks, and I like that (see: Sylvia). Where The xx is quintessential chillwave, The Antlers are much more earnest and sincere and depresssed, but still pretty chill.

12. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
This album kicks off with a bang with Lisztomania and 1901 and then settles into a nice little electro-pop album. Nothing quite recaptures the energy and urgency of those first few tracks, even though the album is solid, top-to-bottom. Plus, they're French. I have a strict 'no Frenchies in the Top 10' rule.*

11. Elvis Perkins in Dearland - Elvis Perkins in Dearland
Two Clunkers (serious clunkers, thus capital "C") really keep this from becoming just a gem of an album. Still, Mr. Perkins delivers some very nice singer-songwriterish tunes with the same melancholy feel as 2007's Ash Wednesday.

10. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - The Pains of blah blah blah
An excellent poppy shoegaze album. Problem is, there's 10 songs and you only really need listen to 5, maybe 6 of 'em. I know that's just how the shoegaze thing works, but all these songs are played at the same exact tempo. Wait, this is suppose to be an album I like, right?

9. Sunset Rubdown - Dragonslayer
Easily my favorite record of theirs. Songs range from the epic-sounding opener 'Silver Moons' to the straight forward rock of 'Idiot Heart' to the synthy pop of 'Paper Lace.' And of course all with Spencer Krug's trademark urgent yelp, which is front-and-center on this album.

8. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
I'm not really an AC fan, at all, so I wasn't anticipating this release like so many were. The release (or leak, really) of this album and Veckatimest reached Twilight-like hype and OMGishness in the not-so-underground indie rock world, enough to make one sick, really. These albums are not going to cure cancer or bring about world peace. Anywho, long story short - I relented and listened...and it's pretty good. Especially 'Summertime Clothes.' World peace is just another AC release away.

7. The xx - The xx
Much like vampires, chillwave is sweeping the nation. It isn't always enough to keep my attention for an entire album, but I don't know if there's a better (or chiller) stretch of music released this year than the three tracks that mellowly kick this album off - 'Intro,' 'VCR' and 'Crystalized.' For lack of a better description, The xx is like an aural chill pill. Take one and call me in the morning. Because you will sleep soundly.

6. Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca
This album wasn't immediately one that I liked. At first (second and third) listen, the arty songs seemed buried in tempo changes and an over usage of vocal harmonies. But a few listens in, the songs started to take shape for me. And they are some really great songs. Now, I can't imagine it without the aforementioned tempo changes and vocal harmonies.

5. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz
I almost forgot about this album. Not good, huh, considering it's my fifth favorite album of the year. But here's my positive spin: I forgot about it because after a few listens it became just another YYYs record. Which is a good thing. Because I like them.

4. Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career
Not sure if anyone writes better semi-sweet, semi-depressing pop songs than Tracyanne Campbell. Even when she's singing about young lovers madly in love this thing in her voice is telling you "it won't last." Quite a feat, and she pulls it off time and time again with wit and charm to spare.

3. The Thermals - Now We Can See
I may have this album too high. Thus, I will give it a listen now. This album explores death from the perspective of someone who's already lived and is now reflecting on a life of wastefulness, greed and selfishness - a pretty cool concept, when you think about it. Not as immediately catchy as 2006's excellent The Body The Blood The Machine, but very tight and full of simple yet memorable hooks. Verdict: #3 it is.

2. Girls - Album
I like a bunch of different types of music. And by "types" I don't mean genres. I'll try to explain. I like fast, aggressive music. I like slow, pretty, heartfelt music. I like guitar and bass. I like electronic beeps and blips. But perhaps the type of music I like best is music with attitude. Not trumped up, 'look at me' attitude. I'm talking about the kind of attitude that says 'FU, I don't give a shit what you think.' You either have it or you don't. There's no faking it. Well Girls has it. And they have a debut album full of garagey riffs and mid-tempo rockers that touches an occasional bluesy vibe. And they have plenty of attitude.

1. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest
The hype machine rarely gets me going nowadays. I like new music just fine, but if I get to a new release within the first month or so I'm normally pretty OK with that. So when the Veckatimest hype vortex started swirling all around me, I initially resisted. I enjoyed Yellow House just fine, but found it a little too sprawling and sparse for my taste, so while I was intrigued for the new Grizzly Bear release, I wasn't salivating like Pavlov's Dog with details like track lists, album art, etc. But for some reason, when news of the leak hit the internets I got ahold of my downloading partner in crime and put him on the case. I HAD to have it. I was completely entangled in the Veckatimest web. Now, the trick was to see through it and judge the music for what it is. The music is beautifully crafted, meticulously played and performed - damn near perfect chamber pop. My aforementioned partner in crime uses how much he listened to a particular album to help decide where it should go on his list. Well, there wasn't an album that even came close to getting as many complete listens for me as Veckatimest. Damn hype.

*Daft Punk, notwithstanding

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