Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My Favorite Albums of 2009

2009 is finally coming to a close. Too bad. I liked it. There was an alarming number of good albums released, and life has been pretty enjoyable. Win-win. Anyways, let's get to that alarming number of good albums.

Coming into the year, I (and many others) knew I (they) would love the new albums from Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, and, most of all (for me at least), Dirty Projectors. This turned out to be the case, as all three artists delivered great albums. But, fortunately, a ton of other artists stepped up to the plate and made amazing albums, too. No real trend emerges on my list, other than quality. There's Reich-ish electro-pop, sludgy psychedelia, garage-country, noise covered dance, etc. You get the point. Here's the list.

30. Zu--Carboniferous
29. The Juan Maclean--The Future Will Come
28. Oneida--Rated O
27. Dream Colour--Spiritual Celebration
26. Tyondai Braxton--Central Market
25. Ganglians--Monster Head Room
24. YACHT--See Mystery Lights
23. Flaming Tunes--Flaming Tunes
22. The xx--The xx
21. Girls--Album

20. Atlas Sound--Logos
19. The Fiery Furnaces--I'm Going Away
18. Sunn 0)))--Monoliths and Dimensions
17. Dam-Funk--Toeachizown
16. Jim O'Rourke--The Visitor
15. Bibio--Ambivalence Avenue
14. King Midas Sound--Waiting For You
13. The Sandwitches--How To Make Ambient Sadcake
12. Micachu--Jewellery
11. Bat For Lashes--Two Suns

10. Antony & The Johnsons--The Crying Light
I was nervous upon my first listening of The Crying Light because it sounds so similar to its predecessor. But you know what: its predecessor is pretty darn amazing. On Light, Antony's voice, which is certainly the center of attention, sounds as good and emotional as ever and maybe even more polished. The album doesn't necessarily offer anything new, but it's good music. And good music is always welcome at Il Buono.

9. Raekwon--Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Pt. II
Chastise me for including the obvious hip-hop album. Go ahead. But the bottom line is OB4CL2 has the gotten the attention it has because it's a truly special hip-hop album. It's awesome because it sounds like vintage Wu-Tang Clan (thanks to the many Wu guest appearances) which is always a good thing, but it sounds current. And not current in that it abuses auto-tune and whatnot, but current in that it's crisp and relevant.

8. Broadcast & The Focus Group--Investigate Witch Cults of The Radio Age
I was a little thrown by the "& The Focus Group" part seeing as I don't know who The Focus Group is, and I tend to stray from collaborations. (I don't know why. I just do.) But this album is thoroughly Broadcast-ish. It's a messy collection of psych-pop songs that's even more experimental than their other work. Witch Cults breezes through a whole bunch of songs without the listener realizing what's going on because it's all so hazily blissful.

7. Grizzly Bear--Veckatimest
I think anyone that is reading this is pretty familiar with Veckatimest. It was a big album in sales (it debuted at #8 on the charts), in hype (if you used the internet this year, you read about it), and in aspirations. The aspirations are the part I care about. This album is carefully calculated and rehearsed to be beautiful. And it is beautiful. On no other album released this year is the musicianship so crisp and the effort so great, and that's refreshing to hear. It had a lot of hype, and it delivered.

6. Sun Araw--Heavy Deeds
An album that kind of came out of left-field for me, Heavy Deeds has turned out to be one of my most listened to albums in recent memory. The idea behind the music isn't especially original: long, sludgy, psychedelic songs heavy on wah and chanting. But, for some reason, it sounds like basically nothing I've heard, new or old. It's certainly heavy, as the title suggests, but it's also very warm and personal in an otherworldly manner. Heavy Deeds is modern psychedelia done right--an epiphany, of sorts.

5. Fuck Buttons--Tarot Sport
When I was listening to Street Horrrsing a lot last year, I really liked it, but I thought that maybe it was trying to hard to maintain a shred of accessibility. Maybe it'd be better if Fuck Buttons just decided to stick to making harsh noise. Well Tarot Sport kinda proved me wrong. Rather than become more experimental, Fuck Buttons became more accessible--my fear--and it turned out to be a great success. Tarot Sport is still filled with spiky electronics and primitive noise, but it's also a ton of fun. It's really a dance album--and a darn good one at that.

4. Fever Ray--Fever Ray
Fever Ray a.k.a. Karin Dreijer Andersson (sp?) from The Knife sounds quite similar to The Knife. Coincidence? I think not. Problem? Definitely not. She follows The Knife's Silent Shout, a certified classic, with a batch of tunes similar in approach but different enough in sound to make Fever Ray worth your time. It's less icy and more natural than Silent Shout, and Karin's voice is even more in the forefront. Is it better than Silent Shout? No. But it's close, and it makes for both a great companion piece to its predecessor and a great standalone record.

3. Dan Deacon--Bromst
Bromst is the sound of Dan Deacon growing up, which I'm sure wasn't easy for him. Part of what made his previous music so great was its childishness and recklessness. And while Bromst isn't short on chipmunk-esque vocals and wacky electronic noise, it's also chock full of sophisticated compositions. Taking cues from Glass, Reich, and the like, Deacon composes long and thoughtful pieces of music. And many of the tracks are just that: pieces, rather than songs. Bromst is a bona fide work of art in which Deacon phases, programs, pulses, and, most importantly, dances his way into genius status.

2. Animal Collective--Merriweather Post Pavilion
If I claimed that Veckatimest was over-hyped, what could I possibly say about Merriweather Post Pavilion? Well, for starters, I'm kinda glad it's so popular. It has made the band that I've loved so dearly for so long stars of one sort or another, and I think that's pretty cool for them. That said, musically, it is not the second coming of Christ that many blogs would like you to believe. It is, however, the second best album of 2009 and probably Animal Collective's second best album. MPP takes the popiness hinted at on Strawberry Jam and makes it a priority, as many of its songs are catchy and accessible by AC's standards. I don't think I really need to say much. I think you're all aware of this album and its greatness.

1. Dirty Projectors--Bitte Orca
To say that this was my second most anticipated album of 2009 would be an understatement. It was my first most anticipated album of 2009. And it didn't disappoint. Coming off the decidedly more rock-ish Rise Above, Dave Longstreth and crew created a very rock/pop-ish album in Bitte Orca. And while increasing accessibility is not always a good thing (see Atlas Sound: notice the slip from last year's ranking?), it is in the case of the DPs. David Byrne said something along the lines of, "Dirty Projectors sound like people making pop music who have never heard the form," and I think that's a pretty brilliant critique. Bitte Orca is a scattered, experimental mess rooted in pop music. Its songs are both catchy and mindblowing. And most importantly, with Bitte Orca, Dave Longstreth solidifies his place in the pantheon of songwriters/composers.

That's what I think. An important note: the Il Buono readers' choice for best album of 2009 is Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion. It received 40% of the vote. (Veckatimest and Bitte Orca each got 20%, as did "Other". Unfortunately, whoever said "Other" failed to say what that "Other" is.) So there you have it.

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