Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Best Albums of 2009

It’s that time of year again: When I tell you my favorite albums from the past 12 months, and you tell me that you’ve never heard of any of these people!

(Note: This is not to be confused with our controversial list of the best albums of the ‘00s).

Obviously I didn’t get around to hearing every single album released in 2009, and obviously I have a certain taste, so if there is an album not mentioned here that the people simply MUST know about, tell us about it in the comments section. And, as always, please excuse the whiteness of my picks.

10. The Decemberists: The Hazards of Love Indulgent and nonsensical? You bet. Initially disliked and dismissed by yours truly? Oh yeah, totally. More satisfying and likeable upon further listening, especially when taken on its own merits rather than compared to the band’s previous work, to the point where I have done a complete 180 and included it among the best of the year? A doy!

9. The XX: xx An album full of songs this restrained and yet so sexy could only be made by the British. London-based The XX’s spare arrangements and entwining male and female vocals have a way of sneaking up on you, luring you in with their tentacles of deceptively simple bass lines and keyboard beats. Let them.

8. Neko Case: Middle Cyclone With her tales of untamable animals and heartbroken weather patterns, Neko Case bouys her reputation as a force of nature, and reminds everyone how awesome she is, as if we’d forgotten. And no, she didn’t make the list just because she’s a ginger. (Although it certainly didn’t hurt).

7. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart If The Onion was going to invent a precious little shoegaze group that indie rocks fans were predictably fawning over, it would probably have a name like "The Pains of Being Pure at Heart." So believe me when I say I didn’t want to like this band. And yet.... So maybe I'm a lemming. But hey, if being a lemming means I get to listen to this catchy, lo-fi fuzz pop which conjures up images of those few teenage moments when you didn’t feel crawling into a hole and dying and actually enjoyed being young, march me toward the cliff.

6. Antlers: Hospice The most depressing album of the year was also one of the most beautiful. God, that’s such a “music writer” thing to say. Sorry. But hear me out: As the title suggests, Hospice is an album about dying, in all its shapes and forms. It’s dark and moody, but in the midst of all, there are glimmers of … not hope exactly, but perhaps catharsis. Death may be sad and scary and disquieting, but it’s also the only time we’ll ever really let go.

5. Dirty Projectors: Bitte Orca “Arty,” “experimental” and “weird” are three words that come to mind when describing the Dirty Projectors, but by borrowing from the best parts of the Talking Heads, Led Zeppelin, the Velvet Underground and …. pretty much every other band you’ve ever heard, the bizarre stew somehow comes out charming and fun. You just might have to give it a few listens.

4. Grizzly Bear: Vekitimist A band that makes cabin-in-the-woods folk learns how to rock a bit, and explores a dark side. Haunting harmonies and freaky keyboard flourishes help this record defy the “acoustic band” label.

3. St. Vincent: Actor John Mellencamp once said that aside from Joni Mitchell, there are no female artists. I’m not sure where Mr. Our Country gets the authority to declare artistry, but I’d like to give him a copy of Actor, the latest album by Annie Clark, a.k.a. St. Vincent. “Singer/songwriter” doesn’t begin to describe her complicated, intricate songs that are also somehow highly listenable. Clark plays every guitar, piano, clavieta and xylophone you hear, and tops it off with her Disney princess voice to create something you’ll probably never hear in a Chevy ad, but won’t ever want to take off your iPod.

2. Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion For years now, the members of Animal Collective have been making lush, textured music that’s equally inspired by late ‘60s psychadelia, late ‘90s electronica and the entire catalogue of Brian Wilson. On Merriweather Post Pavilion, the band pulls their eccentric creation out of the fringes, creating something that music fans who don’t buy everything on vinyl despite being born after the invention of the CD might want to explore. It’s accessible, yet fascinating. It came extremely close to being my No. 1 of the year, but …

1. Phoenix: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix Every song sounds like a hit. Not a note is wasted. The dance floor sheen would have been an overproduced wasteland in lesser hands, but here it’s the sound of a great band just nailing it, over and over again. The second track’s appearance in a car commercial couldn’t even make me hate it. That’s unheard of. Best of the year.


steckarrr said...

we share three best-ofs, you will know which ones soon enough...

by the way, is it just me, or it POBPAT's "This Love is Fucking Right" about incest? It's so catchy though.

red said...

My top 5? So glad you asked!

5. Metric Fantasies
4. Ben Folds Acapella Album
3. Lily Allen It's Not Me, It's You
2. Kelly Clarkson All I Ever Wanted
1. Phoenix Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

McGone said...

Hey, I got a kind-of-sort-of shout out in the Neko Case write-up!

I should clarify - I was just making an obvious Gingers reference to her and Jenny Lewis in that "Best of the '00s" post you and Red did. In fact, "Middle Cyclone" would be on my own personal Top Ten (maybe Top Five even) list if I still had my own blog. It's a damn good album.

Jon said...

I have honestly never heard of a single one of these. I'm so uncool.

Liz said...

I almost DID give you a direct shout out, McGone, but couldn't figure out how to directly link to a person's comment :)

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I'm pretty sure it's about incest. Actually, a bunch of lyrics on that album sound pretty messed up when you think about them. "Tenure Itch" for example.

On the other hand, "Come Saturday" is about how Kip is sad that his girlfriend lives 80 miles away, so some of it is as innocent as it sounds.

Weird mix.

words...words...words... said...

I've never heard any of these, and I've never heard OF four of them. But I think we have very divergent tastes, too.

However, Neko Case would definitely be in my Top 10 Music Babes in any era.

Garney said...

Sorry Liz, but I hated the new Decemberists album.

Overall this was a pretty weak year for new music I think... or else I just wasn't listening in the right places. There are a few you listed that I haven't had the pleasure of experiencing but hear only raves about (like Animal Collective) but for what it's worth these were my favorite albums of 2009:
10. The Swell Season - Strict Joy
9. Wilco - Wilco (the album)
8. Franz Ferdiand - Tonight!
7. Alexi Murdoch - Towards the Sun
6. The Lonely Island - Incredibad
5. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest
4. White Rabbits - It's Frightening
3. Lily Allen - It's Not Me, It's You
2. Julian Casablancas - Phrazes for the Young
1. Cage the Elephant - Cage the Elephant