Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Electro-Pop
Part 2 of my year end lists. Here are the albums I enjoyed the most this year. I'm not a critic, I'm a fan. So I don't claim these albums are the "Best" of 2009; they're just the ones I liked best. Click play to rock out. If you like what you hear, click the album title to go to the albums' lala page where you can listen to the whole thing and buy the mp3 album.
Joy - Phish
OK, there's nothing groundbreaking here. But here's what you get: ten painstakingly well-crafted songs, Trey singing in tune, and the return of Phish. The title track's chorus sums up the album, Phish's relationship with their fans, and hell, maybe even the quartet's entire career: we want you to be happy/don't live inside the gloom/we want you to be happy/come step outside your room/we want you to be happy/'cause this is your song too. This is your song too!
Them Crooked Vultures - Them Crooked Vultures
By far the heaviest thing on this list. I'm still a fan of some solid hard rock, there just isn't much good stuff getting made these days (where have you gone, Soundgarden and Rage Against the Machine?). Them Crooked Vultures proves that you can still make a killer heavy album that is commercially relevant, even if it took three of the best rockers in the game to pull it off.
No One Loves Me And Neither Do I
I and Love and You - The Avett Brothers
Folk rock goodness. The Avett Brothers signed a major label record deal and brought in the legendary Rick Rubin to produce their new album. The result is a set of heartfelt lyrics, perfectly produced and sung by guys who can really belt it out. Aside from Kick Drum Heart, the band kinda pushed their punk leanings aside, but this fact doesn't detract from a fantastic album.
And It Spread
Kick Drum Heart
Humbug - Arctic Monkeys
An awesome left turn from these British bad boys. Darker, slower, more brooding than their first two albums. The musicianship is still perfect though, which is the secret behind the Monkeys' don't-give-a-shit appearance. And Alex Turner's cockney's sneer is in full force here, even if he's not quite as mad as he used to be. Millions of dollars will do that to you.
Animal - Miike Snow
A lot of fun. Probably too simple for music critics to embrace, but just what I'm looking for when I'm ready to have a good time. Animal, Silvia, and Black and Blue all could've been in my top ten songs. Let the electro-pop begin!
Seek Magic - Memory Tapes
My "thank Pitchfork!" album of the year. So obscure I never would have found it without the help of the snobs over on Wabansia Street. Memory Tapes is electro-pop, but much more dense and exploratory than the rest of the stuff I heard this year. Davye Hawk weaves just enough of a common thread through each of his tracks to keep things cohesive while still exploring multiple styles within one song. Amazing.
xx - The xx
I like the term art pop for this hard-to-define album. It's miles away from what I normally listen to, but it's too good to be ignored. The vocal interplay is great, the simplistic arrangements are incredible and the overall sound is unique. Not bad for a bunch of 20 year olds. Sexiest album of the year.
Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix - Phoenix
Phoenix takes The Great Leap Forward. Every song is perfect, and the first two songs are so perfect it's not even fair. Thomas Mars' vocal inflection and delivery lends a uniqueness to each note that I really enjoy. Replay value x1000. I'll still be listening in a decade.
Love Like a Sunset
The Satanic Satanist - Portugal. The Man
Critics like to talk about albums where ever note sounds as if the band agonized over until it was just right (with Grizzly Bear's Veckatimest being the poster child for this). But what about when a band makes an album that streamlines and distills their earlier work down to its essence, to the point where not a single note is wasted? That's what you hear when you listen to The Satanic Satanist: a band the used to really stretch out and jam on their albums has decided to tighten up, crossfade the tracks, give it to you straight, and maintain the album's momentum so that when it ends you sigh and say, "I'm really glad I listened to the whole thing."
Work All Day
Manners - Passion Pit
If you don't like falsetto, I'm sorry. Rob, Kevin, and I decided we liked Passion Pit somewhere back in February, and I was eagerly awaiting their debut full-length album when it dropped. I wasn't expecting it to be so polished, for them to sound like a band, not a talented guy in his basement. Layers upon layers of sound to the point where each song sounds like a celebration. And it is: Manners is my favorite album of the year because it makes me smile and want to listen to the whole thing again each time I hear it. From the bounce of Little Secrets to the Longing of Til Kingdom Come to the incomparable Sleepyhead, every note is affected with so much, well, passion, that you just can't ignore. My favorite album of 2009.
Probably harder to pick these twenty than the top ten. In no particular order:
Veckatimest - Grizzly Bear, Cosmic Egg - Wolfmother, The Resurrectionists/Night Raider - Crippled Black Phoenix (Pink Floyd rides again), Noble Beast - Andrew Bird, Cage the Elephant - Cage the Elephant, Farm - Dinosaur Jr. (I Don't Want to Go There is the guitar solo of the year), Horehound - The Dead Weather, Blakroc - Blakroc, Us - Brother Ali, The Blueprint 3 - Jay-Z, Attention Deficit - Wale, Only Built for Cuban Linx Part II - Raekwon the Chef, Bromst - Dan Deacon, Ambivalence Avenue - Bibio, Ad Explorata - Sound Tribe Sector 9, No More Stories... - Mew, Real Estate - Real Estate, The Resistance - Muse, Keep it Hid - Dan Auerbach, Tonight: Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand
And because I don't like everything, three albums that critics loved and I didn't:
Embryonic - The Flaming Lips
If you can, listen to this album all the way through and then immediately put on the Lips' album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. You'll understand why I don't like this disc.
Bitte Orca - Dirty Projectors
A couple of good tracks, but nothing that's worthy of inclusion on best of lists.
Merriweather Post Pavilion - Animal Collective
Sorry guys. It's just noise to me.
Happy New Year!