Blah! Blah! Blah!’s Top 25 Albums of 2009

January 7, 2010

If you’re reading this, you cared or were interested enough to read beyond that first post, which was merely a boring “hello” and an introduction to what will hopefully become a long running blog. I apologize for the long delay since that initial post, as I know of one you has complained that I was “slacking”. This shall not happen again.

2009 was a refreshing year for me, especially after the rather dull 2008, which was a year of hardships, disappointments, and not a lot of great music. This year was different, better, more exciting!!! Over the next few posts I’ll look back on 2009 and some of the best music, movies, TV series, and things I experienced. We will begin with a look back at the 25 albums in 2009 that I view as my personal favorites. The thing about these types of lists that seems to annoy most people who read them is that they come off as kind of preachy, so I emphasize that these are my personal favorites and that in no way am I trying to say that these are THE BEST albums. I just suggest you give them a whirl.

25. CASS MCCOMBS – “Catacombs” (Domino)

Although I am not familiar with Cass McCombs’ previous work, Catacombs has won me as a fan. In this day in age, music in the classic “singer/songwriter” style is really hard to find appealing, as a lot of it has been done over and over again so many times. However, this record does truly stand out from many others of its kind. McCombs is a very clever songwriter, penning very catchy tunes with a lot of lyrical depth that manage to be quite uplifting while maintaining a certain aura of melancholy. A great example is “The Executioner’s Song”, which is a tender ballad about loving your job, which in retrospect is quite grim considering the title.

24. PASSION PIT – “Manners” (Frenchkiss)

Michael Angelakos, the main man behind this electro-pop outfit started Passion Pit when he decided to record some songs as a Valentine’s Day gift to his girlfriend. The songs ended up being so good that he turned what was a solo project into a full band, just like what Ed Droste did with Grizzly Bear years back. After an EP, last year’s Chuck of Change, the band unveiled Manners. This record is just one feel-good tune after another, and the cheesy, 80s synthesizers only heighten that sense of bubbly happiness.

23. ST. VINCET – “Actor” (4AD)

St. Vincent is an extremely imaginative songwriter and musician. On her second album, each song is nothing like the one before it. Although there is really no comparison in terms of music, St. Vincent reminds me of Beck or Prince in their early days in that her songs seem to be able to go in any direction and remain tight and focused.

22. VOLCANO CHOIR – “Unmap” (Jagjaguwar)

Volcano Choir is a collaboration between Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and Milwaukee post-rock band Collections of Colonies of Bees. As someone who has yet to really delve into For Emma, Forever Ago, Bon Iver’s 2007 debut, this my introduction to Vernon, and from what I understand, this is miles away from what he does as Bon Iver. This is highly experimental music, much in the vein of Steve Reich, and at times Sung Tongs-era Animal Collective, and like that record, it maintains an accessible feel amongst the avant-garde swirl of guitars, off-kilter rhythms, and left-field vocal harmonies.

21. jj – “jj no. 2” (Sincerely Yours)

jj are electronic pop group from Sweden and apparently not too much is known about them, but what can be said is that they create wonderful electronic pop music. I hear a slight influence of everything from contemporary hip-hop to afro-beat throughout this record, but it ultimately sounds very unique and refreshing.

20. LILY ALLEN – “It’s Not Me, It’s You” (Regal)

As with the case of a lot of UK pop stars, Lily Allen is huge over in Britain, and although she receives a lot of press in North America, she’s a lot more under the radar on our side of the pond. On arguably the most poppy album in this list, It’s Not Me, It’s You, her sophomore, and according to Lily herself, her last album, Allen pours out the hardships and woes of experiencing stardom at age 22 over a rather diverse set of impeccably produced tunes, covering all kinds of musical ground from power pop to country-tinged folk to 1940’s-style lounge jazz. If this actually is the last record she ever puts out, it’s a damn shame because I see a lot of potential in Lily Allen.

19. ANTONY & THE JOHNSONS – “The Crying Light” (Secretly Canadian)

The Crying Light is one of those albums that is extremely depressing and rather uplifting at the same time. Antony Hegarty has a voice that isn’t exactly joyful, and songs like “Her Eyes Are Underneath the Ground” and “Epilepsy Is Dancing” aren’t ones you’d play to brighten your mood after a funeral, but the intensity of this music can take you through all kinds of emotions, both happy and sad. This listener found himself smiling more than often than moping.

18. SONIC YOUTH – “The Eternal” (Matador)

With each successive album, Sonic Youth continue to astound me with their consistency, and how they’ve been able to remain relatively consistent for nearly 30 years at this point. I hate to make it sound like Sonic Youth have become the Rolling Stones of indie rock, but the Rolling Stones made their last great album 15 years into their career (1978’s Some Girls). Sonic Youth are still making great albums, and not only that, their music still sounds important and of the times. The Eternal finds SY still evolving after all these years, and at this rate, it seems like they could continue until one of them keels over and dies onstage. I think I’ve heard Keith Richards say that about the Stones in an interview before, but I’m not sure…

17. CYMBALS EAT GUITARS – “Why There Are Mountains” (Memphis Industries)

This past Christmas, I had a discussion with my uncle about how each decade seems to bring on a revival of music that was popular two decades earlier. As we enter the 2010s, it seems inevitable that there will be a 1990s revival of some kind, and if there is any album that came out this year that may be a foreshadowing of that revival, it’s Why There Are Mountains. Cymbals Eat Guitars (….god, I fucking hate that name…) shamelessly draw inspiration from such 90s greats as Pavement, Built To Spill, and Archers Of Loaf and write tunes that would have fit in great on Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain or There’s Nothing Wrong With Love.

16. DINOSAUR JR. – “Farm” (Jagjaguwar)

It’s rare that things like this happen. When bands break up and then return years later with a comeback album, we have to face that they are usually pretty fucking terrible. However, in 2007, Dinosaur Jr. returned in their original three-piece incarnation (J. Mascis, Lou Barlow, and Murph) and released Beyond, one of the better comeback albums ever made. Now, they’ve unleashed Farm, which is even better. I think it’s safe to say that these songs can stand up against anything they did over 20 years ago.

15. GRIZZLY BEAR – “Veckatimest” (Warp)

This was the grower album of the year for me. Although I still don’t find it to be as truly great as a lot of other people do, this album and I have come a long way since we first became acquainted. On the initial few listens, with the exception of “Two Weeks”, one of my favorite songs of the year, I found Veckatimest to be very boring and couldn’t figure out what all the glowing reviews were about. However, after a few listens, it all began to make sense and the warm, haunting sounds of Veckatimest began to soothe my soul. This is easily the best thing Grizzly Bear have done. It was great to see this album in the Billboard 200, mostly because it proves that we can still reach points in music history where a band like this one, one that did not have a lot of major promotion or commercial airplay before or after they made this album, can sell as many records as someone like Lady Gaga, who it seems you can’t go a whole week without hearing about.

14. WAVVES – “Wavvves” (Fat Possum)

Over last year, Nathan Williams, the man behind Wavves, has made quite the spectacle of himself. Looking past his breakdown at the Barcelona Primavera Sound Festival, and the scuffle he got into with that one guy from Black Lips, Wavves has put out the next great entry in the catalogue of recent lo-fi enthusiasts. Wavvves fluctuates between incessantly catchy, punky surf-rock tunes and electronic experimental tracks, both of which are equally fuzzy.

13. BLACK DICE – “Repo” (Paw Tracks)

Black Dice are one of the most interesting bands of the last 10 years. To illustrate my point, simply listen to their 2000 release Black Dice #3, and then listen to this album. It’s hard to believe you’re listening to the same band. What has happened in between those two albums is slow, steady evolution, with each record a little more accessible than the last while still building on what they had already done, much like their friends in Animal Collective (see #1 album of 2009). Repo finds them at the end of their evolution from a hardcore-influenced noise band to an electronic-influenced noise band. There is also a definite hip-hop influence in Repo as well, which is something new for Black Dice. In an interview with BBC Collective in 2007, Black Dice member Aaron Warren stated, “Mainstream hip-hop still has the most interesting sounds sonically for pop music that’s out there, and still continues to be, as I see it, the dominant pop idiom worldwide for young people”. That statement is definitely echoed in a lot of the music on Repo.

12. DAN DEACON – “Bromst” (Carpark)

With Bromst, Dan Deacon has proved himself as probably the most inventive creator of electronic music today. Amidst the constantly building loops, mallet instruments, and player pianos, it might be easy to get lost amongst the montage of sound. The good thing is that these songs allow themselves to breathe, which just might this album’s saving grace. There is so much going on throughout these songs, yet it all flows beautifully. This is definitely a much denser listen than 2007’s fantastic Spiderman of the Rings, but it’s just as fun to listen to.

11. MOS DEF – “The Ecstatic” (Downtown)

It seems fitting that in 2009, Mos Def would release the best album he has done since Black on Both Sides, which was released exactly a decade earlier. The Ecstatic seems to be Mos Def saying, “I’m still here, motherfuckas!” That’s definitely a reassuring thing to know, as the two albums released in between Black on Both Sides and The Ecstatic were both rather underwhelming. I was beginning to think that Mos Def was getting too involved in his acting career. The Ecstatic shows Mos Def back in top form, spitting potent rhymes over beats from producers such brothers Oh No! and Madlib, along with Mr. Flash and the late J Dilla.

10. RAEKWON – “Only Built For Cuban Linx… Pt. II” (Ice H20)

I don’t know how long it has been since it was first announced that there would be a sequel to Raekwon’s 1995 classic Only Built For Cuban Linx…, but it was worth the wait. Although not quite as good as its predecessor, Linx II is a fucking great album, and easily the best hip-hop record of the year. Unlike the original album, where Wu-Tang mastermind RZA handled all the production, Raekwon employs the services of a variety of producers, including Dr. Dre, Pete Rock, J Dilla, and of course, RZA. I think one of the most significant things about this album is that it shows how strong the Wu-Tang legacy remains after over 15 years.

9. GIRLS – “Album” (True Panther)

Although the album title leaves much to imagination, the music makes up for it. Album, the debut from San Francisco’s Girls was an immediately likable record for me. It’s the kind of record that could have come out any time over the last 45 years and sounded modern, but at the same time, this record would have never been made if it hadn’t been for those 45 years of music…guitar music to be specific. There are so many comparisons that could made, so I won’t even begin to start. The one that has been the most thrown about is the Elvis Costello comparison, as at points on this album, the similarity between singer/guitarist Christopher Owens’ voice and that of the bespectacled icon is uncanny. Beyond the comparisons, this is simply a great “album”, no pun intended!

8. JAPANDROIDS – “Post-Nothing” (Unfamiliar)

The only Canadian act to show up on this list, Japandroids have proven that at the end of the decade, bands with two members, one on guitar and the other on drums, are still cool. Post-Nothing only contains eight tracks, but each of those tracks is full of poppy energy. These songs feel like anthems. One of them truly did become an anthem for me, and it happened during the listen in which Post-Nothing first clicked with me. I was on a Greyhound bus, coming back to London from Ottawa this past July. I was listening to “Sovereignty”, the second last tune on the album, and there was one line that struck me: “It’s raining in East Vancouver, but I don’t give a fuck because I’m far from home tonight.” Now I don’t know if it was because they were referencing a Canadian city, but for someone like me who doesn’t get out of their hometown very often to be sitting on a bus, coming from one end of Ontario to the other, back to my hometown, hearing that particular line struck a chord. When you’ve been in the same place for a long time and you get away for a bit, what goes on at home doesn’t seem to matter when you’re far away from home, and sometimes returning home can be very depressing.

7. TIMES NEW VIKING – “Born Again Revisited” (Matador)

My favorite album of 2008 was Rip It Up, the third album from Columbus, Ohio noise-rockers Times New Viking.  It was odd that particular album ended up being my favorite. When I first heard it in January of that year, I thought it was a damn good album, but it never occurred to me that it may end up as my favorite. 2008 was kind of a crappy year for music, and as I wrote in a review for that album on music-nerd website RateYourMusic, it seemed fitting that my favorite album of the year was one that sounded nothing like 2008. Well, 2009 was a much better year in music, and as you’ll read later, there were a few albums that came out that immediately sounded like contenders for album of the year, but that’s not to say that Born Again Revisited, Times New Viking’s fourth record wasn’t among the years finest. This band is simply incapable of writing a non-catchy tune and the soup of tape hiss and distortion surrounding the melodies doesn’t change that. If Times New Viking can remain this constant and consistent with their music, their bound to be come the Guided By Voices of our generation.

6. tUnE-yArDs – “Bird-Brains” (Marriage)

I heard nothing else like this in 2009, and possibly ever. Bird-Brains, the debut from tUnE-YarDs, the alias for New England musician Merrill Garbus, is a consistently adventurous and rewarding release that never seems to lose creative steam over it’s 40 minutes. Garbus seems to have a fascination with room tones, sped-up tapes, and recordings of children’s voices/screams, and combined with the irresistibly catchy songs that she has written, Bird-Brains is easily the most original sounding album of the year. Not to mention that voice! Not since Joanna Newsom has there been a voice so distinctively different and unique. I will be following that voice wherever it decides to grace it’s presence in the coming years.

5. YACHT – “See Mystery Lights” (DFA)

It’s no surprise that my favorite dance record of the year was released by DFA, as that particular label has released some of the best in dance music over the last 10 years. This is YACHT’s first album on DFA and it seems to have brought out the best in them. For a band that performs their live show with only microphones to a pre-recorded backing track, they sure make up for it with the music they make. See Mystery Lights sounds like Roxy Music jamming with T-Pain and Timbaland, meaning that there are a lot of elements of glam rock flirting with sounds most commonly heard in mainstream hip-hop…an odd mixing of sounds, but one that works wonderfully nonetheless.

4. ATLAS SOUND – “Logos” (Kranky)

Over the last three years, Bradford Cox, the man behind Atlas Sound, has become one of the most recognizable faces in indie rock. Along with his band Deerhunter, he has created some of the best records of the last decade, and Logos, the second release from Atlas Sound, his solo project, is the best thing he’s done yet. Warm, intimate, and cuddly are the best words used to describe Logos. If you listen to this album in the dark with headphones, it almost seems like Cox is right there in the room with you, and in the case of “Walkabout” and “Quick Canal”, so are Panda Bear and Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier. “Walkabout” itself is my favorite song of 2009. Even after six months I still can’t seem to get enough listens, but then again, that’s the case with the whole album. Logos is most rewarding with repeated listens, as I guarantee you’ll hear things the second time around that you didn’t hear the first time.

3. DIRTY PROJECTORS – “Bitte Orca” (Domino)

In June of this year, I attended the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee. Over the course of three days, in the hot and humid weather, trudging through mud, I got to see about 15-20 acts. The first of those was Dirty Projectors, and to be completely honest, none of the bands I saw afterwards even came close to how amazing they were. You can watch me witnessing this amazing performance firsthand in the YouTube video posted below (I’m the guy in the navy blue shirt in the bottom left corner who’s bopping’ his head cause the music is so goddamn awesome!). With the exception of the fantastic single “Stillness Is the Move”, it was in this performance that I heard most of the songs from Bitte Orca for the first time. When I eventually heard the album in its entirety shortly after my return to Canada, it’s no surprise that I immediately became obsessed with it and began listening to it endlessly. It’s one of those albums that is so good that hearing one second only adds to anticipation of hearing that next second. It flows great, it’s mind-bendingly original, and it serves as a reminder that there are still avenues of songwriting and musicianship that can be explored without a trace of redundancy.

2. THE PAINS OF BEING PURE AT HEART – “The Pains of Being Pure At Heart” (Slumberland)

One of my favorite times of year are those few weeks that can occur any time between March and April where it starts getting really nice and the transition between winter and spring is nearing it’s completion. The knowledge sets in that you will no longer have to walk through that shitty wet snow that is so common in late winter, and you can smell the nice weather coming your way. Well, in 2009, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart was the soundtrack to that time of year, and you know what, it was the absolute perfect soundtrack. The waves of happiness and optimism I felt whenever I listened to it then are now permanently etched into this reverb-soaked pop gem whenever I listen to it now. I could throw this record on in my darkest hour and it would still cheer me up. As for the music itself, if you like reverb-soaked, shiny, 60’s-influenced rock from the late 80’s and early 90’s…or maybe if you just like great pop music, you’ll love this. So this coming March or April, whenever you can see that spring is starting to beat the shit out of winter, throw this album on your Mp3 player, (or Discman, depending on how technologically advanced you are) and take a walk. I think you’ll find it’s the perfect soundtrack.

1. ANIMAL COLLECTIVE – “Merriweather Post Pavilion” (Domino)

Merriweather Post Pavilion was released six days into 2009. In many of the glowing reviews the album received worldwide, it was called the album of the year, which is truly ridiculous when you consider that there were another 359 days to go before the year was over and at least another few thousand albums to be released. Despite that, on those initial listens, at least for me, it just felt like it was already the best album of 2009. Maybe it was because Animal Collective is my favorite band of the last decade or maybe it was just because I had heard most of these songs for the first time in 2007 when they were played live. I really don’t know, but whatever it was, over the next 359 days, I didn’t hear an album that was better than this one. I’ve been following this band’s evolution for years, and it’s astounding how far they’ve come musically. There still just as experimental as they always were, but they’ve found a place in which they can apply that experimentalism in a very accessible way; that is why this album was so successful. In many ways, Merriweather is just as experimental as 2004’s Sung Tongs, but Sung Tongs was done in such a way that it was only going to work for a certain audience. Merriweather Post Pavilion, on the other hand, is crafted and presented in a form that is more appealing to a mass audience. The funny thing is that I’m sure Animal Collective never intended to come out that way. They’ve just let themselves evolve to this point. As a result of this evolution, Animal Collective is at a peak creatively and successfully. Wherever they choose to go from here, whether it be on to further masterpieces or perhaps flops, I will always have Merriweather Post Pavilion, along with their previous four albums, to remember them as the most furiously experimental, interesting, and my personal favorite band of the 2000s.


One Response to “Blah! Blah! Blah!’s Top 25 Albums of 2009”

  1. Caitlin Says:

    What a surprise that Animal Collective would be number 1… so predictable!! 😉 Also disagree with the Dirty Projectors… I tried to listen to that album on my way to work and had to turn it off half way through song 3. It was making me want to kill people. I can’t stand the lead singers voice. I disagree with most of these albums (which won’t surprise you), but they are very Colin and I am not surprised that they are your top 25.

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