Friday, February 12, 2010

Best albums of 2009

So this is super, super late. I was just not going to do it, cause what’s the point of listing my favorite albums of 2009 when we’re already in the second month of 2010. But I’ve done a list for the past two years, and I’m a sucker for personal traditions, so I’m posting this anyway. Here are my favorite albums of 2009. I was going to go through and rate and pick just a top ten, but I decided to include all of the potentials. It was a banner year, and I think that everything on here really deserves its place. So without further ado, my top albums of ’09:

Merriweather Post Pavilion – Animal Collective: Ummm. Seriously, no contest. Call it fate or destiny, or just being super awesomely talented and foresighted and wonderful, 2009 belonged to Animal Collective. I don’t know if I can say anything new or insightful that hasn’t been said already on possibly the most praised album of the year. But I think congratulations are in order for the members of Animal Collective. You confounded expectations once again.

Embryonic – The Flaming Lips: I just said that 2009 belonged to Animal Collective, and I stand by that. But The Flaming Lips owned my 2009. According to, The Soft Bulletin is my number two album of all time, and that’s only since having it last March. From discovering and cherishing Transmissions from the Satellite Heart, Clouds Taste Metallic, and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots over the course of the year, in addition to seemingly endless repetitions of The S.B., 2009 was like a year of preparation for Embryonic’s release in the fall. And Embryonic delivered on its release. It was a new direction and a new sound coming from the Lips, one that was both a throwback grab-bag of the tricks they’ve been honing for the past twenty five years, but at the same time a completely new sound and a new direction. I’m so glad I discovered the wonders of the Flaming Lips last year. Embryonic capped off not just one but two amazingly creative and successful decades for the Lips, and clearly they’re far from done.

Veckatimest – Grizzly Bear: Another pretty obvious pick, but for good reason. On Yellow House, Grizzly Bear showed their expertise in writing and playing graceful, swelling melodies that could also wander. The songs fleshed themselves out so naturally it underscored the effort with which it was clearly made with. They took their time in delivering the truly grand moments of the album. Veckatimest tightened the nuts and bolts of Grizzly Bear’s sound. Everything was sharper, more focused, and bigger. They still get in their wandering moments, but the album is filled with many grand, emotional statements as well. It’s Grizzly Bear’s most poppy and satisfying effort so far, and I really look forward to hearing where they go from here. I was kind of lukewarm on them before this past year, but now they’ve joined the ranks of my all time favorites.

Manners – Passion Pit: Passion Pit pretty much came out of nowhere for me. I hadn’t heard a lick of the Chuck of Change EP, had no idea about the bliss of “Sleepyhead,” or about PP’s uncanny way with melody and swirling, blissful electronics. I downloaded Manners on the advice of a friend that it would be 2009’s “summer jam album.” There’s not a single dull moment on the whole thing, and I must say I’m pretty much endlessly excited about anything they’ll be doing in the future. I just hope that it wasn’t a fluke that they could follow up a charming, happy and snappy debut with a full length album with just as much wonder and giddy joy they seem to imbue in everything they do. Their live show even stood up to the tremendous hype.

Logos – Atlas Sound: My appreciation of Bradford Cox and his many musical talents has skyrocketed over the past year. I became engrossed in Deerhunter’s Microcastle/Weird Era Continued double LP from 2008, as well as the later-to-be-listed Rainwater Cassette Exchange EP. His solo project, Atlas Sound, was no exception. Cox’s 2008 debut as Atlas Sound (he certainly had a busy year) was a slow grower on me, but Logos I adored almost immediately. “Walkabout” is an obvious choice; it’s sunny and upbeat, and it features the always fabulous Noah Lennox (Panda Bear), an obvious inspiration for and acolyte of Cox. But the rest of the songs are just as good. “Quick Canal” is rich and textured, and the fact that he got the singer from Stereolab, one of his heroes, makes it even better. The overall standout for me though, is definitely “Shelia”. It’s simple, beautiful, and another shining example of Cox’s ability to take simple melodies and lyrics and make it into something that’s more than the sum of its parts. He has a clear and obvious talent, and with every move he makes, I’m excited to hear what he does next, as a solo artist, as a part of Deerhunter, and anything in between.

Psychic Chasms – Neon Indian: This was one was a sneaker too. I enjoyed Neon Indian’s cartoonish, acid trip, warm melodies almost at first listen, but I didn’t realize how much I was listening to it until months later. Over the fall and winter it became my daily go-to album for my trip to work each morning. I’d usually get through the first eight songs or so, and it gave each morning a more colorful and bright outlook.

Album – Girls: I’m still a little surprised that I like this. Somehow I wasn’t turned off by the lead singer’s voice. Where it seems like it should have been whiny and obnoxious, it instead gives the music an endearing quality. Especially when he starts to belt out “Laura”. For me, Album coasted in initially on the strength of that song alone; it’s easily one of my most favorite of 2009. But the veiled melancholy and raw emotion present in the startlingly strong debut are what’s kept me coming back.

It’s Blitz! – Yeah Yeah Yeahs: That this album even exists makes me happy. I’ve said it before, but the YYYs could have been a horrible kind of one-trick pony, but through their hard work they’ve become a force to be reckoned with. An electro touch may seem an obvious move, but it was a smart one nevertheless. It’s Blitz! works to meld their simple rocking beginnings with the stronger songwriting present on Show Your Bones. But it also manages to be more upbeat and flat-out fun than anything they’ve issued so far.

Bitte Orca – Dirty Projectors: Another one that I’m surprised that I still like. Despite the loads of critical acclaim, I didn’t find anything particularly spectacular about Bitte Orca. It’s not an album I ever put on repeat, but nine months later, I’m still listening to it on a semi-regular basis. I’m finding that the appeal of Bitte Orca is that it continually sounds fresh. There’s nothing stale or repetitive about the album. The vocal harmonies are still impressive, the arrangements still sound avant-garde and unexpected but not belabored and awkward. It’s not nearly the rush of Manners, Embryonic, or some of the others on the list, but it continues to surprise me how rich this album is.

I’m Going Away – The Fiery Furnaces: Just as The Flaming Lips and Animal Collective were the major stand outs of the spring and summer, the fall brought me into the world of the Fiery Furnaces. One of the most consistently awesome bands out there, I’m Going Away showed the Furnaces finally easing into a more relaxed atmosphere. Up till this point, they’d been operating on the aesthetic first fully realized on the nearly flawless Blueberry Boat; lots of abrupt segues, lyrics all by Matt, and crazy bleep-bloop electronics. On I’m Going Away they finally take a little breather and deliver a rich album of relaxed musings and more personal lyrics by Eleanor (whose lyrics we haven’t heard since Gallowsbird’s Bark). It would be difficult to mistake their sound for anyone else’s; it still undeniably Fiery Furnacey. But the Fiery Furnace sound is why I fell in love with them. They know how to write a strong melody, and, as always, they sound confident throughout. It’s a great listen and pretty much solidifies my love of all things Fiery Furnace.

Don’t Stop – Annie: At first I was a little disappointed in this release, but after such a long wait, and after being misled so many times as to it’s final release, my expectations had dropped somewhat anyway. Inititally I think I was most turned off by that weird song about breakfast. But I’ve come to adore this album just as much as my beloved Anniemal. She’s definitely still got it.

Two Suns – Bat for Lashes: I would never have believed Bat for Lashes could come out with anything this good. Based on Fur and Gold, I assumed she would continue to put out the occasional good single (like “What’s a Girl to Do?”) but mostly lukewarm album material. Two Suns was such a tremendous leap of growth it just had to be put on the list. I’m still not the biggest fan of her sound overall; it’s a little too mellow and sleepy for me, but Two Suns keeps it moving at a beautiful, consistent pace. Her vocals are graceful; she compliments the music, and it compliments her.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart: So precious. I wrote this album off during its first few months of release because the preciousness didn’t meld with the lo-fi , shoegaze aesthetic very well in my mind. But I gradually came to enjoy it more and more, and at this point it’s definitely earned its place among my top picks of the year. It’s full of sweet love songs and teenage reminiscence; how could I say no to that?

Actor – St. Vincent.: I guess one of the pluses of making this list now, rather than in December is that I can add this album to the list. I downloaded it soon after it came out last spring, but didn’t listen to it until last month. It was a pleasant surprise. I had been expecting something totally different from the songs I heard. As an artist who started out as part of several ensembles, she’s definitely starting to break out and become a force in her own right; it’s made her one to watch out for.

Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome – Maria Bamford: By far the most enjoyable album of work from my favorite comedienne. On Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome she relates some of her most vulnerable and personal foibles, but still with the same gusto (and even more voices). It’s raw. And it makes the jokes hit even harder than usual. Because of her life and her personal struggles, her humor has an insight that could only be related through someone struggling with that kind of depression and OCD. She’s made a living out of coping with her eccentricities and demons. It’s so personal, and so effing hilarious. I don't usually find women comedians all that funny; not because I don't find women funny, but because the women I do find funny don't seem to have stand-up careers (even my love of Sarah Silverman has cooled a little). But good Lord, she really might be the most hilarious person I've ever listened to.

It’s Frightening – White Rabbits: Initially I was underwhelmed by this as well, but not so anymore. After watching their breathtakingly awesome live show opening up for Vampire Weekend, I returned to give the album another try. It’s definitely very Spoon-ish (possibly because it was produced by Britt Daniel), but still very White Rabbit-ey. The two sounds (and probably many common influences) work very well together. It’s a little darker, but a bit more cohesive in some respects. When I listen now, I can see the piano keys pounding, and the humongous drum section. It’s not often than I get into a band more because of seeing a live show, but White Rabbits definitely stood out more than I'd have ever expected because of theirs.


Fall Be Kind – Animal Collective: I was so excited to hear that Animal Collective would be capping off their banner year with new material which I could obsess over. Fall Be Kind picks up right where MPP left off. The momentous, gorgeous melodies are all there (“What Would I Want? Sky”), along with the droning, reverbing guitars (“Bleed”), the unique rhythms (“I Think I Can”). The pan flute sounding jig at the tipping point of “Graze” shows them still shrugging off any worries of being labeled nerdy. I really can’t do enough to praise them. All of their work is fantastic, and this was no exception.

Rainwater Cassette Exchange – Deerhunter: I’m glad this came out last year because I’m glad to have a reason to list Deerhunter on here. The band’s collected works had a far larger impact on me this past year than they did when their major LPs were being released in 08 and 07. But R.C.E. made just as much of an impact as the others, despite being far too short for my liking (I want as much Deerhunter as I can get). The title track is a welcome break from their usual shoegaze, and seems to collect a lot more from the influences heard in Bradford Cox’s work as Atlas Sound. The rest isn’t too much of a departure from their double LP, but it's undeniably a Deerhunter release, and that alone is almost more than enough for me to love it.

Ayrton Senna – Delorean: Great beats and sunny melodies abound, even though I usually can’t tell what they’re saying. But I’m sooooo excited to hear any more work they have coming out in the future. I love EPs that give the listener a sense of potential and eagerness for the possibilities of the artist. Delorean wasn’t even a blip on my radar until this, but I will definitely be listening to whatever they have coming next.

All Night – Annie: I think I can credit her EP release at the same time as Don’t Stop with keeping me interested in her new work. While I was still on the fence about the LP, I was definitely in a dancing mood when listening to this EP. After playing out this, I was more prepared to move onto the LP. It gradually transitioned me into her new work, and I’m grateful for that.

Hopefully I'll get around to posting my favorite songs of the year soon.

1 comment:

Jessica said...

I just love the way you write! I have this new love for Passion Pit. They are so awesome!! I'll have to check out some of these others!!!