Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Best Albums of 2009

Hello friends! It's that time of the year again where I write about my 10 favorite albums from the past year. I hope you enjoy them, give them a listen, or at least yell at me for choosing the ones I chose. Enjoy!
10. The Mountain Goats - The Life of the World To Come
If we can get at least one song from either Craig Finn, John K. Samson or John Darnielle every year, then it is a sure-fire victory for the listener. Darnielle reaffirms (again) that he is one of the best lyricists in modern music with The Life of the World To Come by re-envisioning Bible verses into modern stories. Only the song titles, however, allude to the religious text while the songs themselves ("Genesis 3:23" and "Romans 10:9") are among the singer-songwriter's best.
9. Passion Pit - Manners
You can try to act too cool to dance. You can say that the brainchild of Micheal Angelakos is just another retread of '80s new wave and '90s pop. Go ahead. But there is no denying how irresistibly fun Passion Pit's Manners is. Really. "Sleepyhead" still holds up as a blast over a year later, when it first appeared on the Chunk of Change EP, and "Little Secrets" may just be the most fun anyone could have listening to a song all year.
8. Wilco - Wilco (The Album)
With the decade coming to an end and many outlets writing their 'decade best' lists, one album that almost unanimously shows up in the top 10 is Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. In 2009, it's hard to believe that Wilco almost never were after that album; or maybe it's harder to believe the plethora of great songs that Jeff Tweedy is capable of writing. There's a duet ("You and I"), a single ("You Never Know"), a heartbreaker ("One Wing") and, the most important element, fun. A sense of revilitalization runs through every song in a way that shows Tweedy and co. are nowhere near slowing down.
7. Ida Maria - Fortress Round My Heart
Sorry Lily Allen - you've been ousted as my "crush-girl-pop-type-singer*." Fortress Round My Heart by Norway's Ida Maria is the new Alright, Still without all the 'fuck yous.' The singer's raspy, not-always-quite-there howl recalls Exene Cervenka - but with way more vulnerability and way less John Doe-ready harmonies. Punky guitars and poppy structures recall X during their pinnacle, making this album one of the most refreshing of the year.

* - Lily, I'm still really into you. I swear. I loved your album this year, too, but you've got to give it to her. It's Not Me, It's You and Alright, Still are still in my rotation. Promise. Plus, you've got her beat in the looks department.
6. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
To the casual listener - Phoenix came out of nowhere this year after they played SNL back in April (playing 3 songs, might I add). After that, everyone was abuzz about "1901" and the upcoming album. Anyone who had heard the band's earlier output, however, couldn't have been surprised that 2009 was their year. Thomas Mars and crew have been doing this for about a decade now, and it should almost be surprising that it took this long. "Lisztomania," "Rome," and the aforementioned single are meticulously-crafted pop songs from a consistently-excellent album.
5. Mos Def - The Ecstatic
I will be the first to admit, sadly, that I didn't think I would hear another Mos Def song after 2006's New Magic. It seemed like he didn't even care anymore and just wanted to write and act, which I was cool with, as long as I had Black Star, Black on Both Sides and The New Danger. Last June, however, mighty Mos was reborn, putting out an album just as strong as his early work. Mos blends the ramshackled with the aesthetic perfectly alongside his poetry slamming hyperactive flow.
4. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
It would be really dismiss Animal Collective and MPP. It's been out since January, and everyone from Spin to Pitchfork have blown their collective load about this group. This album, however, is the most cohesive and digestible thing that Avery Tare, Panda Bare and Geologist have done to date. Let's face it: Everything else they've done before this (besides "Fireworks" or "Peacebone") didn't really click unless you took hallucinogens or regularly smoke copious amounts of weed. MPP embraces pop melodies and outer-worldly rhythms, turning out future-classics like "Summertime Clothes" and "My Girls."
3. The Thermals - Now We Can See
No, they don't use samples of African noise-pop and mash it with a modern "indie-rock" approach...and that's the best thing about the pop-punk duo The Thermals. Hutch Harris and Kathy Foster (and whoever they decide to tour with) can write 'four chords and the truth' Ramones style pop songs with their eyes closed. Instead of the focus on faith and the apocalypse as on their last album (the equally excellent The Body, The Blood, The Machine), the Thermals look to the future. "Now we can see/Now that the image is strong/We don't need to admit we were wrong," yelps Harris, as if single-handedly apologizing for the mistake of the last eight years. Optimism + pop-punk + lyricism = Now We Can See.
2. The Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca
Thanks to a stamp of approval from David Byrne, the Dirty Projectors were able to make their brilliant enigma Bitte Orca heard by about a million more gushing music lovers this year. These Brooklyn musicians have created a landmark album that will be talked about well into the next decade, thanks to the vocal harmonies of Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian, the intricate and labyrinthine guitar work of singer/songwriter/mastermind David Longstreth, and the overall creativity and originality of the album as a whole. This was the guy that completely re-envisioned Black Flag's Damaged in 2007. Yes, he's got the gift, whether we all get it yet or not.
1. The Rural Alberta Advantage - Hometowns
No, I'm not trying to be a music snob by picking a band that most may not have heard, but instead giving credit where it is due. Nils Edenloff, Amy Cole and Paul Banwatt have created an album that blends everything good about do-it-yourself indie rock, from Big Star to the Replacements to Neutral Milk Hotel. Most notably of the influences is the latter, as Edenloff's yelp often uncannily sounds like Jeff Mangum (in a way that adds a somewhat nostalgic charm). Strong, skittering drums from Banwatt add a sense of urgency to songs such as "Four Night Rider" and "Death Bridge in Lethbridge," the vocal harmonies of Edenloff and Cole in "Don't Haunt This Place" could rank with fellow Canadians the New Pornographers, and songs as touching and excellent as "Edmonton" could help to cement their place as harbingers of a new and exciting sound in music in the decade to come. Hometowns was the gauntlet thrown down by a band ready to breakout - now, please, Rural Alberta Advantage, do not disappoint.

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