Dec 22, 2009

Best 50 Albums Of 2009

So, how was your 2009? Did you find what you were looking for? Was it rewarding? For me, it was. Simply because the search for new experiences always is. Whether it is a piece of music, a cinematic wonder or a work of art I find there is always something fulfilling in the search. Then if the search is fruitful it feels like bliss. Happily for me 2009 felt like a good year for music. In some ways better then 2008, but only time will be the true judge of that. In compiling my list I discovered a few things. There were only two truly landmark albums. Two albums that will immediately find a spot on my all time list. But after that there was plenty of quality. Records that ranged from good to very good to excellent. I also noticed that my list is very North American centric (what's new). But I can only call it as I see it. So minimal UK music. I did like albums from The xx and Mumford & Sons and one or two others, but not enough good music is coming from Britain at the moment. Only two Australian albums found a spot too, but there were several releases I enjoyed. Such as Dappled Cities, Whitley, Songs and Bridezilla. But I just couldn't find a spot for them. But they shouldn't feel too slighted as I couldn't find a spot for these following artists either. The Mountain Goats, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, Elvis Perkins, Ganglians, Dan Auerbach, Alela Diane, Langhorne Slim, Lotus Plaza, Califone, Harlem Shakes, Eels and HEALTH. All released albums that I enjoyed in part, but what can you do?

So what else was there? Some artists stepped outside of their bands and released fine albums. Paul Banks, Dan Auerbach and Alec Ounsworth all did this with tremendous results. Some albums that were majorly hyped I found myself struggling to enjoy entirely. "Bitte Orca" had its moments, but I just couldn't last the distance, whilst the debut album from Girls was a very uneven experience. Some other albums that I just couldn't connect with were ones by Phoenix and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Both had highly acclaimed releases, but they just didn't do it for me. Oh yeah, you can add Wavves to that list too. I was disappointed in the second album from Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson. His debut was quite remarkable, but his second just felt a bit flat. On the other hand I did enjoy the revival of some veteran players. The Flaming Lips and Built To Spill both showed that they have plenty to offer with superb albums released. Even Wilco stepped up to the plate with a better release then was maybe expected. But at the end of the day it's all subjective. You can only listen to a finite amount of music and then figure out what made a connection. Well, these are ones that connected with me.

1. Dragonslayer-Sunset Rubdown
This album still astounds me upon every listen. It might even be Spencer Krug's finest work yet, which is saying something. From the first sip of "Silver Moons" to the last drop of "Dragon's Lair" this is a work of rich complexity. And it flat out rocks as well, which combines perfectly with the emotional artistry of Krug. Lyrically dense and meaningful, musically melodic and near perfect, I can not find fault with this album. We are honoured by his presence.
MP3: Idiot Heart

2. Veckatimest-Grizzly Bear
This sublime album thoroughly deserved every single plaudit that came its way. Building upon the success of "Yellow House" the band from Brooklyn delivered an exquisite and glorious piece of music. What amazes me about this album are the complex and rich layers on show. Hours can be spent enjoying and discovering the subtleties on display. Perfect for any time of the day too. The harmonies of Droste and Rossen are a sheer joy too.
MP3: While You Wait For The Others

3. Other Truths-Do Make Say Think
I love, love, love this album and I think it is vastly under rated. No band in the world can make a guitar sound quite like Do Make Say Think can. That is, perfect. They somehow manage to impart a vulnerability and almost human emotion to each guitar chord. Four songs presented as part of a suite, the band has never sounded better. Few do.
MP3: Make

4. Bromst-Dan Deacon
This album graduated Dan Deacon from party starter/animal to musical deity. "Bromst" is still full of fun, but here we are also given a genuinely moving experience. Music swings wildly from silly to profound. From simple to complex. If you previously dismissed Deacon as the man with the banana iPod then listen to this wonderful album.
MP3: Snookered

5. Enemy Mine-Swan Lake
It would be near impossible for me not to like an album that combines Krug, Mercer and Bejar. But honestly, this is a great album. The most surprising part is that Bejar is perhaps outshone by his illustrious partners. Krug of course provides considerable emotional nourishment, but Mercer delivers the blows that absolutely crush the heart.
MP3: Spanish Gold, 2044

6. Middle Cyclone-Neko Case
Somehow, just somehow my love for Ms Case just grew even stronger. This album is tender and touching in just so many ways. You can feel the amount of care that went into the making of this superb album. If you want to experience authentic and real songs about love and nature, then pick this album up. Neko Case has never sounded better!
MP3: People Got A Lotta Nerve

7. Merriweather Post Pavilion-Animal Collective
This is a great album, but it still falls short of their masterpieces such as "Feels" or "Sung Tongs". I think I prefer that more tribal, organic feel that they had. But this is still pretty great. It hit me at the transition point of "In The Flowers", it still blows be away. Add in "My Girls" and a few other gems and you can see the reasons why Animal Collective are perhaps the most important band of the last decade.
MP3: My Girls

8. The Hazards Of Love-The Decemberists
Without doubt the most under valued release of 2009. When I first heard the thrilling "The Rake's Song" I knew I was in for something special. Despite getting a critical hammering I was not to be disappointed. As a point of difference this band should be applauded. For creating music that is ambitious and complex they should be loved. Well, I do.
MP3: The Rake's Song

9. Face Control-Handsome Furs
I defy anyone not to enjoy this album. I think it is truly impossible. Urgent and energetic the combo of Dan and Alexei gave us music suitable for all occasions. Even if I think "Plague Park" is a better album, this just might be a more enjoyable one. Closing track "Radio Kaliningrad" is near perfect. The most intelligent fun you will have this year.
MP3: Radio Kaliningrad

10. There Is No Enemy-Built To Spill
This album gave me immense joy. I was hugely pleased and surprised that one of my favourite bands of all time could still bring it. This powerful album still has that trademark BTS guitar work, but the songs are a definite return to form. They are languid and strong, emotional and heartfelt. Full of scope and ambition. Doug Martsch, I salute you.
MP3: Life's A Dream

11. Gather, Form & Fly-Megafaun
This release is nigh impossible to classify. But that is probably a good thing. This album is genreless and totally original. At times dark and stormy and at others gentle and pastoral, this albums has countless delights and secrets. Harmonies are just superb.

12. Eskimo Snow-Why?
This artist has had huge play with me in the last month or two. This companion piece to "Alopecia" displays another side to the writing skills of Yoni Wolf. Still grounded in hip hop, "Eskimo Snow" sees Wolf expand to be a complete and compelling songwriter.

13. Skin Of Evil-Blackout Beach
Carey Mercer is definitely one of kind. This January release had considerable staying power, a testament to Mercer's talents. Dramatic, wounded, sad and totally unique this album is a rich tapestry of the human condition.

14. Intuit-Ramona Falls
These Menomena boys are very talented. Brent Knopf, one third of that band, released a solo debut that was intoxicating, exciting and irresistible. He seamlessly blends the human and the electronic for an album that I listened to endlessly with great pleasure.

15. Embryonic-The Flaming Lips
One of two albums in 2009 that took me forever to get my head around. Still probably haven't. But I can report this. The Flaming Lips are back. A dense, sprawling crazy album that is perfect on headphones. Wayne Coyne is to be treasured. One of a kind.

16. Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free-Akron/Family
An engaging and original piece of work. Harmonies abound, fused with chaotic and crazy guitar. This album could also be gentle and totally relaxing. Being reduced from four to three, they barely missed a step, still producing an original and single minded sound.

17. Real Estate-Real Estate
Had me hooked from the opening bars. If not totally original, this New Jersey band made up for it with songs of pure clarity. Melodies, my favourite thing, flow easily hear creating some of the best sounds of the 2009. Perfect for a summer day. Or any day for that matter.

18. …At The Moment Of Our Most Needing-Rock Plaza Central
This record wanted me to yell and scream. Feel and connect. Strongly literate and directly emotional, Rock Plaza Central are probably the best band you know the least amount about. A superb modern combination of rock, folk and country sounds.

19. Clues-Clues
In which Alden Penner stole the limelight from the other Unicorn. I was a bit disappointed by the Islands album this year. But not Clues. This album was totally compelling and overflowing with pop tunes that were built to excite.

20. Wind's Poem-Mount Eerie
Yes, you guessed it. The other album that was difficult to digest and comprehend. But it's Phil Elverum after all. A heavy slab of music that was threatening and challenging and yet still found space for the quiet little details that only Elverum delivers best.

21. Songs Of Shame-Woods
Another winner for Woodsist. This album is dripping with lovely melodies and sweet tunes. Folk rock hymns for the twenty first century.

22. Outside Love-Pink Mountaintops
A bold and robust album, revealing a gentler side to the members of Black Mountain. Slowly droning guitars and ethereal vocals make for a winning combination.

23. Mo Beauty-Alec Ounsworth
Definitely a winner here. Ounsworth went to New Orleans and returned with an album full of soul and passion. Variety was the key here.

24. Tarot Sport-Fuck Buttons
A gentler and more elegant version of "Street Horssing", but just as compelling. Most eletronic music leaves me stone cold. This does not.

25. Colonial Drones-Hallelujah The Hills
This band reminds me of the great bands of the nineties. Their sound is forthright and robust, full of fury and intelligence. Anthems for this decade.

26. Logos-Atlas Sound
A definite grower that gave me more with each and every listen. Bradford Cox is a unique songwriter. Having Panda Bear join the party didn't hurt.

27. Get Guilty-A.C. Newman
A killer opener meant this album was a constant revisit in 2009. Carl Newman can write pop hooks in his sleep. Let's hope he continues to.

28. Years-Years
Ohad Benchetrit crafted an elegant and cultured album, full of delicate touches. Expressive and experimental, the guitar work was stately.

29. Vacilando Territory Blues-J. Tillman
The Fleet Foxes drummer gave us two albums in 2009. Both were good, but this was better. Lilting and refined. "James Blues" was a stand out.

30. I And Love and You-The Avett Brothers
This album will finally get an Australian release in February, 2010. About time, these bluegrass boys craft country beauty like few others.

31. All Is Wild, All Is Silent-Balmorhea
A sleeper of a record. Well, I slept on it anyway. Sumptuous and deliberate, I have a feeling that this album will only better with time. Very imaginative.

32. When The Devil's Loose-A.A. Bondy
Another fine example of that genre named 'Americana'. Bondy is producing music of a high quality, gritty, substantial and easy to love.

33. Apple's Acre-Nurses
A strange concoction of pop and absurdity. High pitched vocals and original rhythms combined for music that simply made me happy. Totally infectious.

34. My Son's Home-The Roadside Graves
You might have gathered by now that I have a soft spot for authentic country/folk. This band do it as good as anyone. Fun and also moving, this is a beautiful album.

35. Belly Of The Lion-Ola Podrida
David Wingo records in hushed tones and quiet reflections. His music is soothing and gentle, perfect for the end of the day when quiet is needed.

36. These Four Walls-We Were Promised Jetpacks
Inevitably they are compared to Frightened Rabbit, but this Scottish four piece have their own identity. Their debut was brash, frenetic and full of promise.

37. Worldwild-Pterodactyl
The music was intense, frenetic and possessed unique time changes. It also contained rich and interesting melodies. A very rewarding album.

38. Julian Plenti Is...Skyscraper-Julian Plenti
Now this was a pleasant surprise. After Interpol disappointed with their previous album my expectations were low. But this was actually very good.

39. Unmap-Volcano Choir
An unusual collaboration, but it worked. The atmospheric noodlings fused quite well with Justin Vernon's high pitched reed. Elegant and subtle music.

40. Yours Truly, The Commuter-Jason Lytle
Well it does sound like a Grandaddy record, but it's still a good record. Lytle does what he does very well. That is create eerie soundscapes.

41. Upper Air-Bowerbirds
Not a totally consistent album, but definitely an interesting one. Contains some gems that are beautiful and compelling, especially "Northern Lights".

42. Wilco (the album)-Wilco
They will probably never produce an album like "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" again, but they are in a different place now. But this album is solid through out, a good listen.

43. Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle-Bill Callahan
One of this era's best songwriters produced another album of well written and intelligent songs. This man always gives us interesting and vital work.

44. Noble Beast-Andrew Bird
See above. Andrew Bird just doesn't do 'bad'. The man is a great talent, whose albums always prove to be thoughtful and also very soothing.

45. Time To Die-The Dodos
A totally different beast then last year's "Visiter". They seemed to tone down the drumming, making for a quieter album. Still very good though.

46. Psuche-Psuche
My favourite Australian album. Why? Because this was extremely inventive and desirably imaginative. Each track is a little adventure in itself.

47. Rain Machine-Rain Machine
Kyp Malone's solo adventure was very satisfying. His voice is the main reason. It imparts a huge amount of soul and wisdom. A record to sink into.

48. Threadbare-Port O'Brien
Port O'Brien continue their development as an exciting and very talented act. Of they continue to produce music this good then their audience should keep growing.

49. Wooden Arms-Patrick Watson
This album definitely grew on through out the year. Whilst not totally consistent I was able to find some real quality shining through here.

50. Jonathan Boulet-Jonathan Boulet
My last album to add to the list and this one surprised me. I instantly fell for the insanely catchy melodies and the imagination on display.

3 Comments:

  • At December 23, 2009 , Blogger James said...

    Alright Wayne - glad you included Tillman, Bondy, & the RSGraves. You should check out the Simon Joyner album from this year since you're into the raw Americana of those guys. That made my top 10.

    Dan Deacon @ #4! Hell yeah!

    I think I may be warming up to Dragonslayer too. Haven't loved Krug in a while, but DS is an album I can sink my teeth into - have to listen more.

    This is pretty comprehensive, and what a great year for albums. Nice work my friend.

     
  • At December 24, 2009 , Anonymous Bill said...

    great list, love the DMST so high! That's awesome. And there's actually a few albums on there that I haven't heard so now you've given me stuff to check out.

    And of course I agree with your #1.

     
  • At December 25, 2009 , Blogger lisa1964 said...

    the Andrew Bird CD was terrible.....very disappointing....woeful lyrics on many tunes

     

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