Monday, December 21, 2009

Top Ten Albums of 2009

2009 has been a great year for music. So much so that I felt like writing something, and it's been a long time since that's happened. Since I'm a bit rusty in the process, it seemed easiest to put together a Top Ten list. But in doing so, came to discover that it was pretty hard to whittle it down. After some deliberation, and some tweaking of the last few spots, I came up with a list I'm pretty happy with. I'm a little embarrassed by how closely the end result resembles NPR's All Songs Considered "Listener's Choice" (man, how old am I?) or Paste Magazine's Top 25 of 2009, but in all honesty, I wrote this list prior to seeing either.

First, some honorable mentions:

The Avett Brothers - I and Love and You (I didn't hear this until just this last week, and I love it.)

Various Artists - Dark Was The Night
(I've always ruled out compilations in my year-end lists, but this is a great collection, especially songs from The National, Yeasayer, and the Dirty Projecters/David Byrne. Plus, the proceeds benefit HIV/AIDS research and awareness, so buy it if you can.)

Bon Iver - Blood Bank EP (EPs don't count either, but this is another great 4-song output from Justin Vernon if you're into falsetto wuss-rock, which you know I am.)

Now the list:

10. Discovery - LP
Side project of a few members of Ra Ra Riot and Vampire Weekend, I gave this repeated listens over the summer and really enjoyed it. Favorite songs: The opener, "Orange Shirt" and the Jackson 5 cover of "I Want You Back"

9. The Very Best - Warm Heart of Africa
Radioclit, a group of London producers, teamed up with East African singer Esau Mwamwaya, after visiting his second-hand furniture shop down the street from their studio. The result is a fun listen, even though I don't understand most of it. P4k describes accurately as "infectious dance-pop, the result of a free exchange of Western and African sounds." Favorite songs: "Warm Heart of Africa" and "Chalo"

8. Yeah Yeah Yeah's - It's Blitz
Lead singer Karen O's voice is addicting; I listened to this a lot over the summer and it's perfect for running to. Favorite songs: "Soft Shock" and "Runaway" (they almost used this in a 'Chicago 2016' promo, which would've been perfect, but the editor had to cut it because it wasn't recognizable enough.)

7. John Vanderslice - Romanian Names
This one hasn't been mentioned in any year-end lists I've seen, but it's kept its appeal for me since its release. Unique and a little rough around the edges on a few songs, I first started listening to it during a trip up to Wisconsin back in April, and it's still as catchy as it was then. Favorite songs: "Sunken Union Boat" and "Carina Constellation"

6. Passion Pit - Manners
From Paste: "Lead singer Michael Angelakos and his merry sidemen play with a verve that traces back to disco; Passion Pit’s falsetto vocals sound like Bon Iver being sampled and sped up by Kanye West." I don't know if that's exactly how I would describe them, but you get the point. Favorite songs: "Sleepyhead" (even though it was kinda ruined by that Palm Pre commercial) and "Moth's Wings"

5. The Antlers - Hospice
Be forewarned, this entire album is an ode to a friend dying of cancer. If that sounds depressing, well, it is. And yet, the whole thing is very listenable and engaging (if you're in the mood for it). It also falls into that falsetto, wuss-rock category I referenced for Bon Iver's EP, but that's part of why listening to such sad-bastard music like this is tolerable. Favorite songs: "Kettering," "Two," and "Epilogue"

4. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest
"Two Weeks" might be my favorite song from this year. This album was pretty omnipresent in critical circles, perhaps just a little bit less than Merriweather Post Pavilion, but much more deservedly so, in my opinion. It's not available on Lala, unfortunately, but if you missed it, you can listen to previews here:

3. Neko Case - Middle Cyclone
Something about Neko Case's crooning and the occasional twangy guitar just lures me in. I could've done without the 30 minute closing song of nothing but crickets, but there's even something charming about that, too. Favorite songs: "I'm An Animal" and "This Tornado Loves You"

2. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
A French group known for making incredibly catchy pop-rock made the year's best album if you're into incredibly catchy pop-rock. Favorite songs: "1901" (also kinda ruined by a commercial for Cadillac that was aired during every TV timeout of every football game played this year) and "Girlfriend"

1. Andrew Bird - Noble Beast
I could start by arguing that this was a critically under-appreciated album (as was the bonus album Useless Creatures), but nevermind. Andrew Bird, as a sheer performer, is at the peak of his career. So he doesn't really need the critical acclaim or affirmation of his work -- something goons like Jim DeRegatis can't seem to appreciate. I was at that April show at the Lyric Opera House, and was just blown away by his stuff. For a sample, check out the joint session he performed with St. Vincent in September. Though the lyrics are a bit arcane ("Effigy" comes to mind) and he sometimes relies on alliteration for alliteration's sake, you have to be willing to look past that. Noble Beast, start to finish, is arguably his best release. Favorite songs: "Masterswarm," "Not A Robot, But A Ghost," and "The Privateers."