Favorite Albums of 2009

My favorite LPs of 2009. I excluded EPs for simplicity. I was going to link some of the highlighted tracks, but I’m sure you can find most of them on hype machine.. If you want any of the albums here, email or IM me and I’ll have a mini-listening party with you.

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20. jj – n*2

Seems strange for a Swedish pop act to be anonymous. Thought that was a dubstep thing. Maybe anonymity the next big thing; sort of a “fuck you” to the  hyper-connected movement. It’s a great idea when every other band can’t step off a tour bus without tweeting about it. The artwork on the other hand is…less than a stroke of genius. The blood and the pot leaf definitely wouldn’t get my attention in a record store. Fortunately, it’s totally misleading. It’s really just a great, straightforward Swedish-pop album in the vein of Jens Lekman, Air France, Tough Alliance, etc. If you’re a fan of that scene, this won’t disappoint.

Highlights: “From Africa to Malaga”, “Masterplan”

19. Discovery – LP

Five years from now, I might say I like this album more than the Vampire Weekend debut. Keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij deserves more credit for his contributions to VW, and this album should get him some much of that deserved attention. Its fun, nerdy, cool and charming in all the ways the Vampire Weekend debut was, but without the “Ivy-Leage snob” element. Just two music nerds making music in a bedroom . A better style, imo.

Highlights: “Orange Shirt”, “So Insane”

18. Yo La Tengo – Popular Songs

Another solid YLT album. Seems like they could keep up this pace forever. The great thing about YLT albums is you’re never sure what type of song is going to be next, but you know it will be YLT, so you’re guaranteed some minimum level of quality. And if you don’t like it, chances are, the next song will sound totally different. All the YLT style staples are here: the playful / silly song, the open ended / “druggy” song, the power pop song, the intimate / romantic song. It’s nice to know you can always depend on these guys.

Highlights: “Nothing To Hide”, “More Stars Than There Are In Heaven”

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17. The Field – Yesterday and Today

Yesterday and Today feels like an “in between” album in many ways, as the title might imply. Though its running time is fair for an LP, its only six tracks long, and one of those tracks was released as an early single, so really, more like five tracks by the time it came around. More than an EP, but not really an LP. It toys with a more organic sound, with  Battles’ drummer John Stanier jamming on a few tracks, but doesn’t embrace any new direction. Transition albums like this are important though, and there are some very rewarding moments here. From Here We Go Sublime is an extremely difficult album to follow (it might be in my top 10 of the decade), but Yesterday is about as good as a sophomore slump can get while still qualifying as such. The early single, “The More That I Do”, sounds like a cut from From Here, as do most of the album’s best moments. Like From Here highlight, “A Paw In My Face”, Wilner takes the smallest samples of a great pop song and transforms them into a completely different creature. This time, instead of guitar samples from Lionel Richie’s “Hello”, it’s small vocal samples from Cocteau Twins’ “Lorelei”. Yesterday will definitely keep me happy while I wait for LP3.

Highlights: “The More That I Do”, ” Yesterday and Today”

16. The xx – xx

I started listening to this album while on a late 90’s melodic rock / math rock binge, so it fit right in there pretty well. The best thing about this album is how fresh they manage to make hand claps, drums, and a clean guitar sound. It’s also one of the few albums I like that can be correctly described as “sexy,” without  a danceable beat or overwhelming studio tricks. It was a little underwhelming at first, but after a few listens, that becomes one of its most endearing qualities.

Highlights: “Heart Skipped a Beat”, “Stars”

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15. …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead – The Century of Self

I think these guys play a lot of RPGs. At the very least they’re fantasy nerds.Their struggle as of late has been finding the appropriate balance between their passion for epic fantasy and epic rock. So Divided was a little more fantasy than I would have liked, and the Festival Thyme EP made me fear the worst. The album art alone made me suspect that they’d hung up the guitars, only finding time for rock between Final Fantasy quests and Harry Potter viewings. Then The Century of Self came along and peace was restored to the galaxy once again. If  you had any doubts about their ability to melt faces post-Festival Thyme, they were squashed within the first thirty seconds of “Isis Unveiled,” And again on “Halcyon Days.” And again on “Ascending.” Their best album since Source Tags, imo.

Highlights: “Isis Unveiled”, “Halcyon Days”

14. Fuck Buttons – Tarot Sport

I feel like a “fucking hipster snob” when I tell people I like this band. There really isn’t much you can do for someone that doesn’t immediately like this sort of thing (other than tell them to get really high). Tarot Sport has made it a little easier to digest/ defend these guys thanks to its better sense of focus and slightly more traditional structuring over its predecessor, but probably not much. As someone who likes this sort of thing, its everything I could have hoped for in a sophomore effort. Looking forward to an even more accessible LP3.

Highlights: “Surf Solar”, “Flight of The Feathered Serpent”

13. Basement Jaxx – Scars

Basement Jaxx are one of those acts that can stay innovate by staying the same. Their style never really stopped sounding fresh and interesting, and thankfully they acknowledge that here. Hate it when great bands get experimental in their later years and  face plant. It’s definitely front loaded, but it’s got a first half that’s better than 90% of the albums that came out this year. The first five or-so songs are everything I could want from a new Basement Jaxx album. Would definitely be in my top 5 if it were solid through and through.

Highlights: “Raindrops”, “Feelings Gone”

12. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

Definitely their best album. Seems like it came out more than a year ago now. The hooks here never get old, and it’s about 75% solid. The pop album for every type of music fan.Pretty amazing how popular this album was and still is while managing to avoid backlash. My only gripe is that I can’t hear “1901” without thinking of that Cadillac commercial now.

Highlights: “Lisztomania” ,” Lasso”

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11. Fleeting Joys – Occult Radiance

I downloaded this album on accident. It was labeled on Sordo as “New MBV Album 2009.” I thought I’d stumbled upon one of the biggest leaks in recent history. I downloaded and listened to the whole thing in one sitting, and I have to admit, by the end I still thought it was legit. No small feat for a totally obscure band. I wish Kevin Shields would do a “shout out” on the first track because this band definitely needs and deserves it. It has some incredible moments that stand shoulder to shoulder with the best of MBV. It’s biggest fault is that at times it tries too hard to get those Loveless Signature Guitar Sounds™ and comes up short, but when it manages to pull it off, it sounds like heaven . I would happily trade a couple of tracks here for some tracks on Loveless. All in all, it’s a really great shoegaze album and worthy of a lot more attention than it’s received so far.

Highlights: ” The Good Kind of Tomorrow”, “You Are The Darkness”

10. Zomby – Where Were U in ’92?

My introduction to dupstep was Burial’s Untrue, as I think it was for a lot of people. Zomby would probably be a better introduction to the genre. It’s not creepy and bleak like Untrue. It’s the fun side of dubstep, which seems to be more inline with the majority of dubstep artists. Something about this album makes it sound like it was made in about an hour or two as a quick mix to play at a club later that night, which is a large part of it’s appeal. You can imagine it being played in underground clubs pretty much anywhere in the world. When someone asks me “what is dubstep, exactly?” I send them “Tears In The Rain” and they say, “oh, now I get it.”

Highlights: “Tears In The Rain”, “Euphoria”

9. Neon Indian –Psychic Chasms

“Chillwave” seemed like it was really going to take off this summer, but now almost six months later, this is the only “chillwave” album I still listen to (insert Washed Out pun here). I think this will be the album of the “chillwave” movement in the indie history books. It’s introverted, nostalgic and fun at the same time, which is pretty rare. It suits a variety of moods and purposes, which should keep me listening to for quite a while. Hope we get more “chillwave” of this quality soon.

Highlights: “Should Have Taken Acid With U” , “Psychic Chasms”

8. Major Lazer – Guns Don’t Kill People…Lazers Do

The spiritual sequel to Kala. On some days I think it’s better than Kala. I really like the Switch / Diplo team. Diplo on his own can get a little repetitive with his signature beat he tweaks for just about everything he produces, but Switch really adds a third dimension to his raw/ amateur production style. It has a sense of humor and cinema that serves it well. Most of the guest vocals are great. Best dance album of the year.

Highlights: “When You Hear The Bassline (feat. Ms Thing)”, “Pon De Floor (feat. VYBZ Kartel)”

7. Bibo – Ambivalence Avenue

I can’t believe how diverse this album is while still managing to sound cohesive. This guy is seriously talented. Within one album he can move from Flying Lotus-esque beats to melodic, guitar driven, late 90’s ballads without sounding like two different artists. Just about every recent popular movement in indie music can be heard somewhere here. Most of the tracks are really hard to talk about using only two or three genre labels. Definitely a unique album I’ll be listening to for a long time from now. One of the most exciting new artists to make it big this year.

Highlights: “Lover’s Carvings”, Fire Ant”

6. The Pains of Being Pure At Heart – The Pains of Being Pure At Heart

What an embarrassing name. I didn’t want to like this band, but after you give them a chance, you really have no choice. Every song is solid pop in the vein of early MBV and other shoe gaze bands. I really can’g believe this album came out in 2009. It’s probably the closest I’ll get to my dream of being born 10 years earlier so I can experience that first wave of shoe gaze bands as they arrived. Best straight up pop album of the year.

Highlights: ” Young Adult Friction”, “Stay Alive”

5. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest

Wasn’t a huge fan of the first album. It seemed like a bunch of pretty ideas that never went anywhere. I think they decided to meet me half way on Veckatimest. It seems to have more direction and really focuses on the strengths of Yellow House. As a casual fan, I couldn’t ask for anything more from a sophomore effort. Next time around they can consider me a serious fan.

Highlights: “Two Weeks”, “Cheerleader”

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4. A Sunny Day In Glasgow – Ashes Grammar

The first time I heard “5:15 Train” from their debut album, Scribble Mural Comic Journal, I was hooked. The album itself, however, seemed like a scattershot of possible directions the band might pursue. Ashes Grammar, as it turns out, is exactly the direction I’d hoped they would choose. It so effortlessly does what so many dream pop bands try to convey through hours upon hours of  guitar feedback and studio effects. The best and worst thing about Ashes is that the whole is greater than the sum of it’s individual parts. Aside from a few stand out tracks, Ashes demands that you take the full journey from start to finish to enjoy most of its tracks. It’s always a commitment, but when you have time for it, it’s a great escape. Just realized how trippy the album art is when you stare at the text for a while. 😮

Highlights: “Shy”, “Passionate Introverts”

3. Pictureplane – Dark Rift

“The dark rift is a name for the central-most plane in our galaxy. It’s called the galactic center or the dark rift. The dark rift is actually this finite line within the center of our galaxy that our Earth travels through every 26,000 years. It’s a grand cycle of our Earth passing through the center plane. The Mayans talked about this a lot. 26,000 years is a long-count cycle to them. It represents world age changing into the next age, basically. A lot of scientists are talking right now about what will happen when we pass through this central plane because it really interferes with the gravitational forces on our planet.” – Travis Egedy (Pictureplane), on the concept behind Dark Rift

This album is disorienting (like the above explanation) and probably isn’t for everyone. On first pass, I found it slightly monotonous and cluttered, which is what most reviews seemed to say about it. I stuck with it though, because I loved “Goth Star” and “Trance Doll.” After a few passes it reveals it’s intricate complexity and opens up like the big bang. There are so many awesome vocal samples and bedroom beats to be found, it really feels like a galaxy you could explore forever. The most underrated album of the year, imo.

Highlights: “Goth Star”, “Trance Doll”

2. Japandroids – Post -Nothing

If you’ve only listened to this album at what you might call a “comfortable volume,” you haven’t really listened to it. This band makes me remember why I mowed all those lawns and washed all those cars to buy my Fender Strat. It perfectly captures the angst of being a young adult. Most of the tacks are heavy on the delivery and light on the lyrical content, but occasionally, the two are balanced just right and manage to produce some seriously awesome moments. “Young Hearts Spark Fire” and “Sovereignty” really nail it. The drums and guitar are so massive that at times it feels like the guys can barely hold on to their instruments, like gigantic machine guns on auto-fire. When they manage to take control and aim at the same target, it’ll get your blood going.

Highlights: “Young Hearts Spark Fire”, ” Sovereignty”

1. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavillion

Not sure what to say about this album that hasn’t already been said. For blurbs, see: the Internet

Highlights: “My Girls”, “Lion In A Coma”

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Favorite Albums of 2009

  1. Sam

    10. The Thermals – Now We Can See
    9. Polvo – In Prism
    8. Condo Fucks – Fuckbook
    7. Delorean – Ayrton Senna EP
    6. Washed Out – Life of Leisure EP
    5. A Sunny Day In Glasgow – Ashes Grammar
    4. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
    3. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavillion
    2. Japandroids – Post-Nothing
    1. Pains of Being Pure at Heart – s/t

  2. patrick

    WHERE IS SUNSET RUBDOWN###########

  3. Who used to be your superhero when you were a child?

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