2009 has been an interesting year for music, and the biggest year for me, and tomorrow, it comes to a close. After hearing over 150 full-length albums released over the past twelve months, I’ve produced this list of my favorites, in order.
1 Merriweather Post Pavillion – Animal Collective
As cliché as it sounds, I’ve always felt that I was looking for something in music that is groundbreakingly appealing and original to me; An artist to take my number one spot. I just never knew what I was looking for. Animal Collective filled that void and Merriweather Post Pavillion is what started it. I can not recommend this enough – in fact I’m desperate for everybody to hear it. Every characteristic fits perfectly into the album – The Beach Boy vocal melodies (‘My Girls’), the explosions of noise (‘In The Flowers’), the tribal percussion (‘Taste’, ‘Also Frightened’), obscure sampling (‘Lion In A Coma’), the naturismo sounds between songs, the psychedelic freakouts (‘Brothersport’, ‘Guys Eyes’), and the psychedelic chillouts (‘Daily Routine’, ‘No More Runnin’). From the transcendal introduction to the conclusive exclamation, I can not even consider how to improve this record. May it be forever on my shelf as a personal all-time favourite because once again, Animal Collective have reinvented their already-individual sound with what is in my opinion, Animal Collective’s magnum opus to date.
2 Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt. II – Raekwon
Many suspected that as the hype over the last few years built over the prospect of this record, it would become a fabled album that would never be released. Raekwon sufficiently answered the hyped fans with what is undoubtedly the best hip hop record of the year, and even one of the best in the last decade. Although continuing where Pt. I left off 14 years ago, Raekwon’s style has matured, but the record is still abundant in prototypical gangster slang and aggressive rapping about hustling stories, fresh sampled beats and guest appearances from the other Wu-Tang members as well as producers like Dr Dre, Jay Dee, Scream Jones and RZA that makes you come back for more and more of Raekwon’s soulful music.
3 Veckatimest – Grizzly Bear
Veckatimest, named after a New York island, opens like a monochrome Manhattan scene in the 1930s – chilled cigarette-wielding buisness relaxing around a coffee-table or Empire State Building elevator. A jazzy cool song introduces us to Veckatimest, with light cymbal clamour and melancholic hums. Guitars begin to start noodling in a higher tempo before an eruption of abrasive the Hollies-like percussion and overlapping vocals take place. Very exciting. And it doen’t stop there – Ed Droste’s voice speeds up to a loud climax. Then silence interludes us for a split second before those noodling guitars creep back in to finish off ‘Southern Point’. And that’s just the first song. Ranging from solemn dark melodies with lots of signature raspy and reverbed guitar to David Byrne-esque keyboard jingles, Veckatimest is a largely diverse record with no two songs the same, and is capable to captivate most with these refined and genuinely great pop songs.
4 XX – The XX
From what I’ve read, the XX are a band whos been around for a while, although their debut was only this year. They are only 19 and originate from London. After listening to this, I was compelled to hear how young they are. The XX are a band who like to discuss sex and frequently broken relationships in their songs. They use minimalism and modern guitarwork to construct great grooves throughout and they conjure up lucious sparse atmospheres that you’d expect from a dubstep producer, reinforced by a selection of mild electronic beats, claps and drums. Another unqiue characteristic of the XX’s music is theur ability to trade lead vocal positions therefore resulting in two lead singers as such. It is a creative touch as although the XX are not doing anything particularly new, what they do is well thought out and works fantastically which is what has put them so high on my list.
5 Bitte Orca – Dirty Projectors
Dave Longstreth approaches songwriting a little differently than most pop artists. He chose to explore afrobeat and African root music with Talking Heads percussion and polyrhythms and 60’s girlgroup vocals, achieved all within the use of rock instruments. This amalgamation of musical styles as well as wonky basslines, stratchy guitars and flawless vocal arrangements from the girls has made Bitte Orca one of the most original indie records of the year.
6 Ashes Grammar - A Sunny Day In Glasgow
It’s hard to pick out a favourite track from an album where every song has a close relation to the next and it flows all in one go, as described accurately by the BBC as an ‘ambient slipsteam’. The opening two songs revolve around Guillame de Machaut-inspired choiral arrangements as staccatos of merging vocals introduce us into the first ambient-driven shoegaze track. Following this is possibly the most Animal Collective-like song I’ve ever heard that isn’t by Animal Collective themselves, just coated in a shoegazey wash. Bridging from discotheque drumbeats and quirky synths to religious ecstasies with humble whispers, Ashes Grammar is a blissfully dreamy listen that satisfies my ears every time.
7 Beat Konducta Volume 5 & 6 – Madlib
To continue the Beat Konducta series, Madlib produces this ‘tribute’ to the late J Dilla, sampling similarly to Dilla from Yancey’s four ton of vinyl. Madlib’s fusion of soul, jazz, funk and strings is fresh, professional and worthwhile despite the many Dilla tributes and compilations of supposedly unreleased material. The volumes illustrate Madlib’s proclivity for dusted out vinyl as we’ve heard before from his work as Quasimoto. As a tribute to Dilla, the album is riddle with his influence and style, notably the syncopated handclaps to the soul samples. Hip Hop is losing its flavour as the years pass as artists like Madlib show people a new perspective on instrumental hiphop that aid progressing the genre for the better. And frequent listeners of the genre like me are struck into a standstill with another amazing Madlib release.
8 Broadcast & The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age – Broadcast & the Focus Group
This is, in my opinion, the best avant-garde relase of the year. Meant to be listened to as a full album, Broadcast have produced a tripply collective of unrefined psychedelic pop with a prominent musique concrete influence which is apparent with the few mash ups and sound collages thrown in. There’s not much more I can say about this album except grab a pair of headphones and let your mind wander in this stream of realisation music.
9 Album - Girls
Girls have been around for about a year now, but only released their debut a few months ago. The formula here is pretty simple: record '50s-style rock 'n' roll songs in a coarse DIY raw style with lots of reverb. The frontman is possibly the most heartbroken and depressing person I know, utilizing naïve and sugary vocal harmonies of 60s pop and singing about tormenting heartache. There’s a bit of 60s rockabilly here and there as well as traditional lounge tunes in hazy dream-pop coat. It’s the sort of music I really shouldn’t like, but involunatrily, I do.
10 Embryonic – The Flaming Lips
At War With the Mystics was a flop. It was obvious that they had to seek for a new experimental direction for the next record. And this was it. On first listen, I realised that the songs are in a somewhat alternative fashion of psychedelic jams and resonant ambient calm songs. Coyne’s lyrics question humanity, reality, fantasy and vaginas, which is typically the bizarre material you hear on Flaming Lips albums. There are a lot of recurring sonic themes on the album too which is cool, like the angelic scream in ‘Silver Trembling Hands’. This seems to give the album more unity as one. What is most impressive is how the Flaming Lips can continue to release a great, original album after twenty years of producing music. That’s an achievement in itself.
11 Logos – Atlas Sound
Bradford Cox, leadman of Deerhunter and Atlas Sound, is a talented guy. Most overlook this but he vomits out music that he records in hotel rooms and gives them away as free ‘Virtual 7”s’. He regularly produces micromix which he too gives away. And it is usually great material too. But nothing has come close to this. Since Logos leaked a year ago, much has changed. Some new inclusions are the sunshine-drenched pop song ‘Sheila’ which opens with cold solemn Grizzly Bear-esque chords before gleeful guitars and basic drumbeats playfully bounce off cox’s happy vocals. ‘Quick Canal’ is a slightly more patient slower, beautiful track, featuring stunning falsetto from Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadler. But, the most fantastic of all, is the collaborative effort between Noah Lenoox of Animal Collective on ‘Walkabout’ – a Panda Bear-like pop song with Noah’s trademark bellowing vocals and idiosyncratic electronic loops, which the only dissapointment would be to those expecting more of the same. Logos demonstrates Cox’s growth as a musician who is now closer to his artistic peak.
12 Fever Ray –Fever Ray
Fever Ray’s solo debut is a dark, ominous piece of minimal electronica where the vocals are processed through vocoders as the Knife usually does. Opening with the odd synths and haunting piano of ‘If I Had a Heart’, Karen’s lingering moans echo almost silently. In the brooding ‘Keep the Streets Empty For Me’, her solemn singing bounces off gentle electronica, backed by frighteningly sinister strumming. Fever Ray on first listen is incredibly chilling and a little inaccesible but after repeated listens, a soulful, more beautiful side emerges from the record in what is definitely one of the most interesting albums of the year.
13 Wavvves – Wavves
Wavvves could is one of the most exciting things 2009 has had to offer. The album is a buzzing, noisy lo-fi collection of 14 surf-punk tracks, heavy on reverb, with very little care for lucidity or eloquence. And with such rawness, it is difficult to achieve a good album, and few do it well. Wavves is one of those few. Underneath all that noise and smashing into drums are great melodies. They are just bathed in distortion but this is what makes it stand out above A Place to Bury Strangers, Dum Dum Girls, New Times Viking and the like. It’s what makes it one of the most refreshing records of the year.
14 L’autopsie phénoménale de Dieu - Kreng
L’autopsie phénoménale de Dieu is a set of haunting pieces that use different sounds from different genres and cautiously are placed together within dark ambient atmospheres. Kreng dislocates placating sounds from their genre contexts to show their ability to work with eachother of a range of styles, opera, restrained jazz, and dark chamber music. Kreng is bleak and painfully absorbing but a fascinating release nonetheless.
15 Inspiration Information – Mulatu Astatke & the Heliocentrics
2009 has not been a great year for jazz, the dying genre. Inspiration Information is the only jazz on this list. Mulatu and the Heliocentrics is an interesting duo and it is reflected in the music. The former is best known for his amazing Ethiopian jazz from the 60s and the Heliocentrics play more funk based jazz. The combination results in jiving trumpets, engaging basslines, a mix of tribal and hip hop drums and African world music a-plenty. Inspiration Information is a fantastic record and I think it would attract listeners of all genres.
16 Monoliths and Dimensons – Sunn O)))
I admit I don’t listen to a lot of metal or know much about it but Monoliths and Dimensions takes doom drone metal further than what it has ever been before. Their distorted guitars and immense noise is seemingly taken so far that it is ambient and soothing at points. They utilize horns, strings and other orchestral instruments as well as choiral input which is absolutely fantastic. Backed by hoarse, atonal vocals, the music is majestic and proficient and has opened my eyes to a new genre of music which I’m interested in finding out more about. I never thought I’d be saying this about a doom metal record but this is for fans of classical, home listening and ambient.
17 jj n ° 2 – jj
Swedes jj here have produced an enjoyable, electropop record here that I compared to the likes of precedessors Tough Alliance and Honeydrips. Like those before them, jj uses balearic popbeats and dreamy vocals in their music but jj n ° 2 also apply characteristics of RnB and world music into their electronic beats, which is most obvious in ‘Ecstasy’. But the slightly more ghastly pop songs (‘From Africa to Malaga’, ‘Are You Still in Vallda?’) include fluent guitars and a lot more catchiness. Overly, this is a consistent flowing record that may take a few listens but is a great debut. Looking forward to the follow up next March.
18 Get Color - HEALTH
HEALTH is renowned to be a messy band. It should be noted that Get Color is their most accessible and tidyest so far. But it is still messy. I think the thing that put Get Color ahead of similar noise-rock Lightning Bolt and A Place to Bury Strangers was Get Color’s juxtaposition of soft mellow ethereal vocals over the intimidating guitar, loud industrial clatter, and the edgey dance beats. An undemanding formula really but HEALTH make this work fantastically well and deserve to be acclaimed so high up the list.
19 Tarot Sport – Fuck Buttons
Tarot Sport, following their outstanding drone-influenced noise EP last year, is Fuck Button’s pulsing debut album. I admit, since their EP with the slight change in sound, Tarot Sport has not fulfilled its high expectation but regardless, tarot Sport remains to be an excitingly good record. The songs vary from manic tribal epics (‘Rough Steez’) to drugged out disco (‘Phantom Limb’) to fluid minimalism (‘The Lisbon Maru’) to just mindblowing psychedlic electronica (‘Surf Solar’). Sure, we don’t hear the distorted electronic wails that we would find on ‘Sweet Love for the Planet Earth’ from the EP but Fuck Buttons have evolved and implanted their mark on noise techno for future generations of artists to look up to.
20 Yesterday and Today – The Field
Alex Wilner, aka The Field, blew my mind with From Here We Go Sublime, a landmark electronic release and the greatest minimal techno album I’ve ever encountered. Here, he has returned with a less impressive, more chilled and ambient record. Here The Field explores new mediums and instruments – it contains clear singing vocals and drumkits, both of which have never appeared on anything the Field has ever done before. Despite the failure to answer with a second ‘From Here We Go Sublime’, the experimentation has not failed for the Field because Yesterday and Today is still an achievable minimal techno contribution.
21 The True Story of Abner Jay – Abner Jay
Sadly, most of Abner Jay’s life as a musician was by the streets. Wisely, when requested to play a song, he’d require the patrons to pay him first. This heart-achingly beautiful Blues compilation catalogues all of Jay’s greatest material throughout his life, the standout being the self-apologetic ‘I’m So Depressed’. Abner’s music was sublime and his style was original – being a one man band, he played banjo, harmonica, used a bass drum at his foot and sang simultaenously. May he aways be remembered in the archives of Blues history as the inspirational man that he is.
22 City Center – City Center
Animal Collective is probably the most blogged and acclaimed band on the planet right now and many musicians have grabbed their instruments and tried to imitate their approach to neo-psychedlia and the instrumentation involved. City Center is just another one of them. But this one here stands out a little more than most. Blending the styles from every Animal Collective album together and with influence from Caribou, utilitzing raw drums, freak folk, layered vocalisation and fun synths and electronic blips. City Center’s debut is invigorating and vibrant and a personal favourite from the year.
23 The BQE – Sufjan Stevens
One of the most underrated and ignored albums of the year, Sufjan Stevens takes a break from his hefty 50 states project and produces this modern classical experimentation album. As for the music, it is marinated in Sufjan’s gleeful sound and dreamy arrangements. The song ‘Traffic Shock’ introduces us to Sufjan’s expressive electronic side with this oddball, glimmering dance tune. Only a musician like Sufjan Stevens could dedicate a whole record to the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. It’s an impressive effort, but it does not live up to the likes of Illinois or Michigan.
24 God is Saying This to You… – Kurt Vile
Kurt Vile is a talented songwriter and it is apparent on this very touching record. As he strums chords, he sings glumly of isolation and loneliness and other personal issues that connects and relates the music to the musician. Often compared to Springsteen and Syd Barrett, Vile’s distinct sound is a blend of psychedelic folk and garage rock athough God Is Saying This to You… consists of a few interlude-like instrumentals featuring eerie electronic loops and ambience midway through the album. Kurt Vile is still a growing musician and every record he releases documents a sense of artistic maturity with God is Saying This to You… being the most mature of them all.
25 Wind’s Poem – Mount Eerie
Since the Microphones changed their name to Mount Eerie, things have been going downhill. And just when we though Phil Elverum was losing his artistic touch, he comes back with this. Being a frequent listener, Elverum claims this is Mount Eerie’s Black Metal album, which is a huge jump seeing that the Glow Pt.II, one of the best albums of the decade by the Microphone of lucious lo-fi acoustics, was only eight years ago. But on first listen, although there is much drone-esque sounds, I’d still consider it a lo-fi album. And a great one too. Elverum sings about the desire to elude himself as he calls for naturality and depersonalization to the wind and the rivers. Huge, vexing atmospheres usurp lo-fi traditions and thrown them away which presents us with a new beautiful front of Lo-fi.
26 Ducktails – Ducktails
2009 was rich in mostly single artists creating a ripe mix of bedroom psychedlia, lo-fi and dream pop. Some call it glo-fi; others dub it dreamwave, all following the ways of habitually ignored lo-fi band, Ariel Pink & the Haunted Graffiti. Great artists like Toro Y Moi, Washed Out and Ducktails started to pick up attention. Toro Y Moi doesn’t release his debut until next year, Washed Out released one of my favourite EPs of the year and Ducktails released this. Mostly instrumental, this self-titled album is less presentable and untucked than its fellow dreamwavers, with odd woozy sounds and squeaky guitars and LSD in the form of audio. A weird yet remarkable debut.
27 Monster Head Room – Ganglians
Ganglians have had a good maiden year for their music. Their debut EP and album got around the internet quickly and simultaneously and gained considerable attention. Their album, an original take on Pet Sounds-like psychedelic pop sees appearances from some uncanny instruments. Standout track ‘Valient Brave’ opens with harmonizing digiredoos. They’ve simply taken aspects of what has been done before, combine it with their own howls, seagulls and pop upbringing and it works well. I also recommend their self titled EP.
28 A Brief History of Love – The Big Pink
The quintessence that makes A Brief History of Love a great record is the swelling rhythms, the layers of industrial the Downward Spiral-esque guitar blare. The introductory ‘Crystal Visions’ has all the hazy ambience of a Ride or My Bloody Valentine song. The standout track for me was ‘Golden Pendulum’ which messed with my mind – the ear-burning opening guitar screeched voraciously and when it reached its respective peak, the song dived into a typical 4AD indie pop song. I feel the drastic experiment in ‘Golden Pendulum’ sums up what is the fantastic debut album is about - wailing shoegaze guitars with indie pop sensibility.
29 Strange Journeys Volume II – CunninLynguists
The Strange Journey volumes released by underground hip hop group CunninLynguists, both deserve to be on this list. But in all fairness, I must limit myself to choosing the better one. The second delves deeper into Kno’s otherworldly production techniques which can be heard clearly on tracks like the oriental ‘Tear Trax (Cashmere the Pro’ and the soulful ‘To Be For Real’. ‘Heart’ is another definite track of the CunninLynguists’ southern hip hop origins. CunninLynguists have released another passionate record, which is an accomplishment because the first journey was distributed only eight months earlier.
30 LP - Discovery
It was difficult choosing number 30 on the list. Jim O’Rourke’s ‘The Visitor’ should have taken this place. Sure, ‘The Visitor’ theoretically is better but Discovery’s debut appealed to me because it is more fun. Discovery is infectious electropop songs galore here with cheerful Vampire Weekend vocals, jovially bloopy electronics and exultant synthesizers, all within sonic templates. It’s not to be taken seriously or critically, but with bands like Discovery, it’s good to take a break from the heavy material.
There were dozens of fantastic albums this year. Here are some that just skimmed from making the list;
The Visitor – Jim O’Rourke
The Ecstatic – Mos Def
Bromst – Dan Deacon
Apple’s Acre – Nurses
Beast Rest Forth Mouth – Bear In Heaven
Bonfires on the Heath – The Clientele
Three Eps - Shackleton