Thursday, December 17, 2009

Best Albums of 2009

25. Yo La Tengo - Popular Songs
24. Franz Ferdinand - Tonight
23. The Antlers - Hospice
22. Real Estate - Real Estate
21. Andrew Bird - Noble Beast
20. Julian Casablancas - Phrazes for the Young
19. Japandroids - Post-Nothing
18. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz
17. The Flaming Lips - Embryonic
16. Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse Present: Dark Night of the Soul.
15. Destroyer - Bay of Pigs E.P.
14. Volcano Choir - Unmap
13. Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career
12. Bonnie "Prince Billy" - Beware
11. Dark Was the Night

10. The xx - The xx I feel horrible about this band. I'm enraptured with this album, but I just haven't given it enough time to really know whether I love it for the right reasons. It's minimalist and sweet that rare combination that might explain why I always want the album on. It's been a busy couple weeks with this album, here's hoping that I'm able to give it more.

9. Atlas Sound - Logos Where Deerhunter alternated between blissed out ambient passages and quick-focused guitar assault, Atlas Sound alternates between blissed out ambient passages and multi-layered pop. Hell, there is even a totally appropriate Panda Bear cameo. It's not quite as mysterious and engaging as Deerhunter, but it's often more immediate and satisfying. The perfect mid-day, sunshine record.

8. Dirty Projectors - Bitte OrcaHere's another band I never listened to before this year, and I'm wondering what was my problem. Bitte Orca is so crammed full of ideas, it's hard to figure out exactly where you stand. One minute they are all calm and beautiful, and then Stillness is the Move comes on and I might as well be listening to the best R n B song of the year.

7. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus PhoenixI've known about Phoenix for a while now, but I always thought of them as some watered-down version of the Strokes. All plastic and polished instead grit and unwahsed hair. But I suppose that's kind of the point. While the Strokes have spent the past five years trying to do anything but play together, Phoenix have been refining their craft. It's a surprisingly varied album, one that feels just as comfortable with pop-rock as they do with ambient passages.

6. Bibio - Ambivalence AvenueThis is one of those albums that I had on constantly this year, and though I know none of the track names, I can safely say I've listened to it more than any of the albums on the list.

5. Handsome Furs - Face Control Forget the Wolf Parade reunion. Spencer Krug may get all the love, but my favorite songs on Wolf Parade's debut album were almost all sung by Dan Boeckner. While Krug trips up his tongue with David Bowie-like inflections, Boeckner is all fury. That fury turns to lust here, as Face Control's 12 tracks showcase his unrelenting snarl, the kind of rock voice everyone secretly wishes they could conjure up when singing in the shower.

It's almost embarrassing how good he is. He sings behind a drum machine and blaring synths, and yet comes out looking cool. It helps that he is such a thoughtful writer of melodies, giving his voice the change to raise and fall with dramatic tension. Usually its just falling, but he'll occasionally pick himself off the ground and toss off some beautiful passage. Just when you think the nights gone wrong, something rescues it all.

4. St. Vincent - ActorOh the way her voice seems to tickle my spine! How does she do it? Actor plays out like one of those beautiful glass ornaments, all shimmering and spotless, with jagged edges that cut your finger just when you aren't paying attention. It's dramatic and dangerous, the kind of album that too many indie-albums don't have the nerve to do.

Greg Kot from the Chicago Tribune described it best when he called these songs mini movie soundtracks, filled with sweeping orchestration, and yet never content to stay in one place for too long. Songs take unexpected detours, starting off innocent and then veering into some unplanned tunnel. Each listen brings up some emotion that I had planned on. And, completely off the train of the thought, I love how she seems to be playing her guitar with a pair of scissors.

3. Girls - Album I detested this album after a few listens. The nasal voice, the lo-fi production, all rang as false to me as Wavves haircut. But once I was able to visually place Elvis Costello's head on top of Christopher Owens, it all made sense. I'm not much interested in his background in cults and as runaway, but I am enthralled with the emotions he is able to focus in these bursts of melody. The songs all start off as sad sack tales of kids without a place to turn. Dude can't even afford a pizza and a bottle of wine in Lust for Life, and yet they dress it up with doo wop cooing, and surf guitar. Rock n Roll is the product of the young, and it seems as if he just couldn't figure out any other way of getting this off his chest. It's accidental and mythical, the kind of album that makes you so insanely jealous because he did it so easily.

2. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - The Pains of Being Pure at Heart / Higher than the Stars E.P.It took me a while to figure out whether I really liked TPoBPaH or just the nostalgia that they flashed in front of my eyes. Their style reads off like a direct riff off my Facebook wall. I mean, come on. It was like shoegaze filtered through "This Charming Man" with Belle and Sebastian vocals and nary a slow song in the bunch. It's all one big giddy sugar rush. For the first half of the year they were my guilty pleasure. I knew their best parts were ripped from better bands, but why argue with something is so much fun?

The real turning point for me was the Higher than the Stars E.P. The title song rides the wave of synths, while the drums seem never to hit the ground, tickling your inner ear lobe like a sped up drum machine. It's all glittering lights and the feeling of watching Manhattan unfold in front of you while you sit in a happy drunken stupor in the back of a cab. This one, nearly perfect song made me question every song on their debut. I picked it apart and began to notice their unique take on the past, and their strides to release their influences and create something new. Shockingly, this album that I had tossed off as innocent and naive, started sounding like one of those debuts from a band about ready to really shake things up. I have high hopes.

1. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion / Be Fall Kind
It's not quite fair. Within the first week of 2009 I knew what would be the best album of the year. How could you not be sure about this album? It's accessible and yet still wild, a perfect distillation of Panda Bears Beach Boys-like drone and Avey Tare's impeccable knack for erratic and original melodies. It's spontaneous and focused, the kind of album you were never quite sure they'd be able to make.

I suppose I should be astonished that so many other albums made a play for the top. But none of them quite had the timeless quality that Merriweather exhibits. Like LCD Soundsystem's Sound of Silver, it seems to have always been hanging out on the record shelf. And just to add insult to injury they tossed off Be Fall Kind, which is the darkness to Merriweather's summer day. It's as bewildering as the best parts of Merriweather, and shows that Animal Collective aren't quite done with the surprises.

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