Hey, look at that – we’re still alive! Complete truth: I meant to post this a good week earlier, but was having server troubles.
2009 was a rough year, personally, for your poor webmistress, but it would take quite something to stop the compiling of year end lists. Though, 2009 wasn’t such a competitive year for music, either, since this list wasn’t the battle it was last year. No agonizing “I can’t believe I have to leave this out!” cut offs, no close calls. Just 10 (… 11) albums that seemed to be the only things worth gracing the computer/car/iPhone speakers with. Some of our regular year-end features might be absent (most notably, concerts & songs), but in their stead you will get the all too epic decade-end list (to follow this one shortly). That’s not such a bad trade-off, right?
10. (tie) Dan Auerbach, Keep It Hid
The Black Keys front-man didn’t necessarily break new ground on his solo effort. If you didn’t know any better, one could listen to this and think it was a wimpier Black Keys album. That said, it’s also just plain ridiculous how many worthwhile songs Auerbach can pull out of his hat. The songwriting on Keep It Hid is in no way any lesser than the Black Keys’ best efforts. Tell us, Dan, does the well ever run dry? Read my full review of this album on Pop Dose.
10. (tie) Dodos, Time To Die
The third effort from the Dodos is a little more subdued than Visiter, the album that put the bay-area outfit on the critical map, but that’s not always a bad thing. Time To Die is more edited, making it feel tighter but also less demanding, at times. Still, the Dodos’ robust pop is absolutely irresistible.
9. Kurt Vile, Childish Prodigy
For awhile, Kurt Vile was one of those names – a name you recognized, but it seemed like just those jerks at loft-parties trying to one-up each other were talking about him. Then came Childish Prodigy, and Vile’s relentless east coast touring schedule, and it got pretty hard to ignore the guy… and who would want to? Vile’s warm and delicate melodies are contrasted with his deep, almost drone-like (but not emotionless) voice. Childish Prodigy is ever present – put it on and he forces you to pay attention.
8. Akron/Family, Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free
The eccentric trio throw down funky jams across the spectrum on their fifth full-length – from soft folk through freaky noise through dance beats and electronic grooves. Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free is a statement of a diverse unity. Read my full review of this album on Popdose.
*7. Dirty Projectors, Bitte Orca
History is littered with examples of intellectual curios who needed someone to bring them down to earth. As it turns out, what Dave Longstreth, manwondergenius behind the Dirty Projectors, really needed was a couple of talented babes to help translate the circus in his head into something people could really listen to. Many of us thought he had struck gold with Rise Above, his re-imagining of Black Flag’s Damaged, but then “Stillness Is The Move”-driven Bitte Orca dropped. Sure, it’s not for everyone, but neither is sushi. Or foreign films. Or morning sex. Some people just don’t know what they’re missing.
*6. Wild Beasts, Two Dancers
Imagine if your strongest feelings of love, lust and sadness were put into satiny, crisp, dark pop songs, only escaping in growls, yelps and hoots, like a cross between Interpol, David Bowie & an orgy. What you might conjure up would sound a lot like a British foursome known as Wild Beasts. If that doesn’t sound appealing, you could probably skip this one (but, honestly, how could that not sound appealing?).
**5. The Jobz, S/T
Sometimes you don’t need to write tons of drafts for something. Sometimes the words land exactly as you mean them to. Sometimes you’ve listened to something so much that it becomes ingrained in your memory, in your soul, in your heart. It becomes your secret identity, your late-night confession, the album you wrote but never wrote. I wrote the one-sheet for the Jobz, and I wrote it more quickly than any record review I’ve ever written. (That’s also the only time I’ve been asked to write a band’s promotional material and have accepted.) Sometimes you are taken over by something you fully trust in, and there’s no need to second guess it: This goes as much for my response to the Jobz as it does to the band’s acerbic, infectious garage rock.
4. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, It’s Blitz!
It says something about the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ output that I can write a review about how I don’t like It’s Blitz! as much as I like Show Your Bones, and yet, they still easily make it in my Top 5 of the year. Read my full review of this album on Popdose.
3. St. Vincent, Actor
Zooey Deschanel is supposedly the queen of the indie sweethearts, but can we please give that title to a wide-eyed brunette with some actual talent? Like, say, Annie Clark, known to the music world as St. Vincent? She’s sugar sweet, sour sharp, and could stand head to head with any male indie guitar virtuoso you could throw her way. Read my full review of this album on Popdose.
2. Neko Case, Middle Cyclone
If this list had been about the most personal albums released in 2009, the albums that told the story of my year, my life, Neko Case’s Middle Cyclone would have filled spots 1-10. Case’s thick skin laced with tenderness, and cynicism laced with hope spell out my battles almost as well as anything I could have written on my own. That note aside, Middle Cyclone is easily Case’s warmest and most personal release, despite the tough-girl cover. Read my full review of this album on Popdose.
*1. Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavillion
Go ahead. Laugh, roll your eyes, feign shock that I picked the same #1 that nearly everyone else did. But goddamn it, there is a reason why this album got to so many people, why people declared it the album of 2009, then other people back-lashed the hell out of it, then it turned out to be the album of 2009, anyway. For years, Animal Collective hinted at their soft, poppy underbellies, and Merriweather Post Pavillion finally saw them shedding their obligation to their dissonant reputation and making themselves a legit pop album. But it’s more than that. They not only let us into their pop psychology, but their day-to-day lives, as well, with tales of lust for their wives, obligations to their children and curtailing their desire to run away from it all. Sometimes personal growth reflects the growth of a community, and Merriweather Post Pavillion did just that. Which is exactly why this blog has shit on AC before, but this year, we’ve giving them what they’ve earned. Read my full review of this album on Popdose.
Top 3 Albums Everyone Else Liked But I Didn’t
(Or: The time of year when I stop biting my tongue.)
(Or: I never said I’m not an asshole.)
3. Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix: It isn’t so much that I didn’t like this album as I found it unimpressive after you got past “Lisztomania” and “1901.” Those songs are great. The rest of the album? Meh. Dear Phoenix, here’s a tip: Don’t put your best two songs as the first two songs on an album.
2. Grizzly Bear, Veckatimest: Snooze-fest, 2009! (Minus “Two Weeks.”) Don’t come at me with your arguments of subtlety this and headphone album that. It’s boring, that’s what it is. They’re a decent live band, but there are albums much more worthy of your headphones and your careful consideration.
1. The XX, XX: You know what your brain does to try and protect your body from harm? It gets you to fall asleep. I’d construct my argument against this completely over-rated, completely uninteresting album, but I fell asleep when someone put it on the stereo 5 seconds ago.
*Disclosure time: You may remember that a few months ago, I mentioned that I got hired by Domino. Well, I am soon to be no longer employed there. Both the Animal Collective & Dirty Projectors albums were released before I worked there. Only the Wild Beasts album was released while they were giving me a paycheck. So, if that makes you uncomfortable, just pretend it’s not on the list, and you’ll still have a nice, round number of 10 albums from me.
**Disclosure time, again: I personally know The Jobz. As in I sometimes talk to, hang out with, and drink beers with them. If you are of the opinion that being friends with someone renders you incapable of being legitimately critical of them, feel free to have a chat with the people I know whose requests to review their albums I’ve turned down/ignored.