Well here we are, the end of 2009, it has been quite a year in all aspects of the world. Keep in mind that this is just a list and is one person's opinion, so feel free to agree or disagree at will. One thing I will say about 2009 is that though there were some great releases and amazing songs released nothing has truly blown me away in 2009. In years past I have listened to such records like Blitzen Trapper and LCD Soundsystem so much that I wore the discs out and had to purchase new ones. Not one release this year has given me that feeling. So while we honor 2009, I for one am especially looking forward to the possibilities of 2010. After this post, I will post a holiday gift to you, a mixtape of the best tracks from each of these albums. Then we will take a break till New Years when I will post the albums of 2010 that I am most looking forward to. Then we will venture off into the (hopefully) wonderful year of 2010. Until then, enjoy the list and please please please, if you like a record that you see here, buy it. Support these artists. Cheers.
1. Wilco - Wilco (The Album)
Yup. Surprised? I am picking Wilco (The Album) as my favorite album of 2009. Usually, when picking these lists the album that I listen to the most each year ends up being my favorite record. However, when I looked at my Itunes play count I realized I have listened to our #2 album the exact same amount of times as this. This was a tough decision, and I have thought about it for a long time and I'm confident with my choice.
Compared to Wilco's dense catalogue of albums this one stands somewhere between Sky Blue Sky and A Ghost Is Born. While Wilco may not be on par with their previous masters of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Being There. However, what they have accomplished with this disc can be considered a victory for this band.
Wilco are no longer the youngsters they were when they first started. Jeff Tweedy has salt and peppered hair and many of them are fathers now. While they are not considered a bunch of old farts, being a dad rock band tends to lose a bit of sex-appeal.
So, what Wilco decided to do was stop trying to be an esoteric group of mysterious artists, take the eclectic sound they have built and hone it on a well-thought out and complete sounding record. Thus Wilco (The Album) came to be, a record that showcases their different styles that they have been experimenting over the years.
Yes, I will admit there are a few slower tracks on this album and when we look back on the legacy of this band tracks like "Country Disappeared" won't come to mind. However songs like the bittersweet folk collaboration "You And I" with Feist, or the richly textured "You Never Know" and the head rush of "Bull Black Nova" these are all songs that will rate as some of Wilco's best work.
This band has been around for a long time, and it's shocking to hear that as influential as they are "You Never Know" is their first certifiable radio hit! Wilco are the very definition of an underrated band, and it's when quality albums like this go unrecognized is what poisons the recording industry. People need to wake up and recognize this Chicago band, and give them the credit that they deserve.
2. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest
This album was so close to being #1 on my list. Grizzly Bear has done everything right. They have a vast expansive sound, and they seem experimental yet very grounded. From the album art to the pitch perfect harmony to the hazy keyboards, this album is drenched in mysterious beauty.
Grizzly Bear also may possibly be the breakout band of the year in the indie scene. They have gone from being on an indie label and a supporting act to having Jay-Z attend one their shows and then release a statement about how Indie-rock will usurp major label Hip-Hop (read that statement here). Grizzly Bear even managed to get former Doobie Brother Michael McDonald to re-record one of their songs.
All of this buzz has to come from something right? It's because Veckatimest is a richly textured and perfectly executed album. While this album may not be my favorite album of the year, it is certainly the most essential of the records I have picked on my list. Why? Because these guys like so many other popular indie bands working today are making rock and roll cool and interesting again, which is something that the 1990's severely lacked (thank you Fred Durst). Rock is coming back my friends, it may not be Led Zeppelin, and it may not be Talking Heads, but bands of the 2000's have certainly proved their worth by creatively crafting unique sounding music.
3. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion / Fall Be Kind
This has been Animal Collective's year. Merriweather Post Pavillion has earned the #1 spots on Spin Magazine and Pitchfork as well as getting some shout outs from Rolling Stone, as well as the countless amount of blogs just like this one. This album totally deserves whatever praise it's getting, because Merriweather is top notch work, and is Animal Collective's most accessible and mature album to date.
However, it's my #3 because I have one problem with it. Animal Collective have traded in their animalistic tendencies for a more cohesive and collective sounding album. Their whoops, their hollers and screeches are a small part of what made up Strawberry Jam and Sung Tongs but are an important part at that. While I love what these releases have to offer, I hope that they put more of their tenacity into future releases.
That being said, "My Girls" "Brothersport" and "Guy's Eyes" are some of the best work Animal Collective has put out. Later on in the year they released Fall Be Kind a slightly murkier sounding EP, that was better than most of the LP albums any other band has released this year.
What amazes me about Animal Collective has barely been around for a little over a decade, yet there are many fledgling bands out there that are making waves in the scenes that list Animal Collective has a primary influence. That's mainly because Panda Bear, Avey Tare and Geologist are psych-pop geniuses and are expanding their genre into new frontiers with every album.
4. The Flaming Lips - Embryonic
The Flaming Lips are the modern day chameleons of rock. They started off as a noise punk band, transitioned into a clearer big riffed guitar sound, then drastically became the positive vibe tripped out highly theatrical pop band that made them heros at music festivals and New Years Eve parties around the world. Then this year, they did it again with their double-LP Embryonic. This reinvention is without a doubt their most daring. Albums like Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots and The Soft Bulletin are what made them the most popular. So for them to create this harsh-sounding murky album places The Flaming Lips at a risk of losing some of their not-so longtime fans. However, Embryonic will be a joy to true Flaming Lips fans as well as roping some new groupies in at the same time. This album is bombastic, and a lot for your headphones to handle, but damn is it experimental bliss at its best. For the first time in a long time The Flaming Lips sound like they're actually a band again playing in a room together rather then just layers upon layers of digitally enhanced tracks. Embryonic at it's best is The Flaming Lips taking you on a psychedelic adventure. Strap in.
5. Raekwon - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt. II
This album has been a long time coming for Wu-Tang Clan fans, but it is worth it in every way. This album is raw, angry and everything that Hip-Hop should aspire to be. Many critics are calling this the best rap album in years, and they may be right. Pt. II could be considered a Wu-Tang album since every surviving member is featured on it. This album is layered with the beats that made Wu-Tang famous, and even has their famous kung-fu sound bites thrown in the mix. Rap is not really my expertise, although I have found myself listening to it more this year than in years in the past, but even I can appreciate Raekwon's achievement with this album, because he has simply made the best Wu-Tang related album since Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).
6. Neko Case - Middle Cyclone
This girl has got a lot of soul, and is an extremely talented songwriter. Middle Cyclone is a big achievement for her. She creates catchy songs with vivid lyrics ("This Tornado Loves You") and even has the balls to have the last half of her album be 30 minutes of field recordings of wilderness. Any alt-country fan will enjoy this record, or even if your not I still highly recommend this disc.
7. The Antlers - Hospice
For a relatively unknown band to release a dense and well put together concept album like Hospice is a huge achievement. This album is ambient and highly anthemic at the same time. Not to mention this album deals with some weighty issues such as death, and mortality. Hospice shows a great deal of range from the peppy "Two" to the beautifully sad "Kettering."
8. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's A Blitz
When I had heard that art-rockers Yeah Yeah Yeah's were going to be adding synths and making a more danceable album than previous records I at first was skeptical. However, surprisingly the synths adds to the highly political message of songs like "Head's Will Roll" So, to Karen-O and co. I am sorry. I will never question you again.
9. The Low Anthem - Oh My God Charlie Darwin
Another unknown band propelled to moderate recognition by music blogs, God bless you Internet, for without you I would have never heard of The Low Anthem. This Americana roots band from Rhode Island really impressed me with their 2009 release Oh My God, Charlie Darwin. Part Avett Brothers, part Tom Waits, this group is very eclectic. They show much variance between the loud brash songs ("The Horizon is a Beltway") to the bittersweet folk tunes ("Charlie Darwin"). If these guys keep on producing albums of this quality, you will hear about them a lot more.
10. The Love Language
One of the big trends of this year was this really lo-fi homemade sounding indie rock. Bands like Girls and Wavves rose to prominence. I cannot stand either of those bands nor most of that genre. The singer for Girls' voice annoys me, where as I find Wavves practically unlistenable. There is one band however in this un-polished lo-fi genre that I do enjoy. The Love Language. Their debut has not been as critically acclaimed, but I feel they outshine Girls or Wavves in all respects. Their songs, while are definitely DIY, are highly enjoyable. Songs like "Lalita" and "Providence" show a lot of depth for a band whose genre is fairly new. Like most fledgling genres of music, only 2% of the bands actually survive to have long careers. Let's hope The Love Language are one of them.
11. Foreign Born - Person to Person
Los Angeles group Foreign Born create a record with a very Southern California feel to it. Go figure. Songs like "Vacationing People" and "Early Warnings" are the kind of light-hearted fun rock that will get stuck in your head.
12. Dark Was The Night
It's a sad fact, but it's true, most charity compilations suck. Dark Was The Night however does not. Why? First of all, the curators of the compilation are members of The National, which makes it instantly better. Secondly, most charity compilations feature a bunch of leftover songs from bands that seem half-assed. Not this one. DWTN was able to get some of the best collaborations in indie rock that a person could have dreamed of: Ben Gibbard & Feist? Conor Oberst & Gillian Welch!? These are fantasies come true. While this compilation makes money for a good cause it also does something else. Like Woodstock before it, this compilation defines a generation. Featured on this record are some of the best artists of recent times. This record serves as a great foray into discovering the greats of recent times. Where else are you going to find Bon Iver, Arcade Fire, Antony, Beirut, Spoon, My Morning Jacket and Sufjan Stevens among others all conveniently placed on one record? This is the compilation that all compilations should aspire to be.
13. Mos Def - The Estatic
The king of Alternative Hip-hop returns with his strongest release to date. I wish artists like Kanye West would listen to what Mos Def has been creating and take after it. He has a strong message and is putting unorthodox beats behind them. Tracks like "Quiet Dog Bite Hard" is proof of this.
14. St. Vincent - Actor
She may seem cute and innocent, but make no mistake this pretty girl can shred the hell out of a guitar. What I love about St. Vincent is she puts out this facade of being this naive little thing, yet as her songs progress she lets loose and catches the listener off guard. Take the slow build on "Black Rainbow" or the Dinosaur-like guitar stomp of "Marrow." She has a ways to go before she creates a masterpiece, but Actor is a step in the right direction.
15. Atlas Sound - Logos
If all of the songs on Logos were as good as my favorite song of the year "Walkabout" is, then this album would easily be #1 on my list. Deerhunter member Bradford Cox puts out his latest experimental solo disc under the name Atlas Sound and creates a dense yet surprisingly simple album. There are quite a few songs on here that are worth one listen and that's it, but the highlights such as "Shelia" and "Quick Canal" carry Logos.
16. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros
This group of desert hippies from Los Angeles create an album that has a few truly great songs on it. The lovely "Home" as well as the bouncy "40 Day Dream." Don't get me wrong, there are a fair share of forgettable tracks, but like Atlas Sound the great songs make up for it.
17. Dinosaur Jr. - Farm
When Dinosaur Jr. released their 2007 comeback record Beyond it was called a triumph. However, with Farm they have solidified themselves even more as a still relevant band. Quite honestly, this 80's band ages like wine, the older they get the better their music becomes. Farm is loud, rocking, and my favorite Dinosaur Jr. Record to date.
I don't know what it is about 2009, but I have been listening to a lot more rap this year than in years past. Blakroc is rock group The Black Key's rap-rock experiment. They lay down simple beats to allow artists like Mos Def, Jim Jones, Raekwon and RZA to do their thing. The last time I heard of a rap rock group it was Linkin Park and Jay-Z and that just makes me cringe. This album is simple, honest and very well executed.
19. Yo La Tengo - Popular Songs
How do they do it? Seriously, how does Yo La Tengo stay so damned consistent? With each record they continue to amaze me. There is absolutely nothing new with this disc. They don't try any sort of branching out of any kind, instead Yo La Tengo stick to their formula and deliver a precise and solid record.
20. Vetiver - Tight Knit
This record I could see boring some people. It is very slow and veryhowever considering what kind of band Vetiver is trying to be, this is an accomplishment for them. There is no doubt that Tight Knit is a slow burner that gets better with each listen.
21. The Devil Makes Three - Do Wrong Right
This Americana/bluegrass group has put out one of the most intelligent records of the year. Along with stellar musicianship, the subject matter of this record is highly diverse. From questioning love to religion this record will keep your toes tapping and your mind wondering.
22. Megafaun - Gather, Form & Fly
Pseudo-Appalachian bluegrass and folk group Megafaun releases their debut LP with an album rich in texture and experimentation. This album swells like the ocean sometimes even, it's hard to explain but you will just have to buy it. Also, go see these guys live, they put on a pretty damn good show.
23. Mastodon - Crack The Skye
I am not a big Metal fan, however even I could not ignore the achievement that Mastodon has accomplished with Crack The Skye. This album stays heavy while at the same time constantly switching gears and keeping the listener engaged. Plus the concept for this album is just insane!
"There is a paraplegic and the only way that he can go anywhere is if he astral travels. He goes out of his body, into outer space and a bit likeIcarus, he goes too close to the sun, burning off the golden umbilical cord that is attached to his solar plexus. So he is in outer space and he is lost, he gets sucked into a wormhole, he ends up in the spirit realm and he talks to spirits telling them that he is not really dead. So they send him to the Russian cult, they use him in a divination and they find out his problem. They decide they are going to help him. They put his soul inside Rasputin's body. Rasputin goes to usurp the czar and he is murdered. The two souls fly out of Rasputin's body through the crack in the sky(e) and Rasputin is the wise man that is trying to lead the child home to his body because his parents have discovered him by now and think that he is dead. Rasputin needs to get him back into his body before it's too late. But they end up running into the Devil along the way and the Devil tries to steal their souls and bring them down…there are some obstacles along the way."
I mean how is it even possible to cram all that into the lyrics of one album? Though I must admit, when I finished listening to Crack The Skye none of that came to mind, instead I was trying to recover by having my ears blown by one of the best Metal records I have heard in years.
24. Bombadil - Tarpits and Canyonlands
Though I am pretty new to this band, this has to be one of the most fun records I have heard this year. They remind me of Man Man, The Avett Brothers and Beirut all at the same time. Songs like "Otto the Bear" are the kinds of songs you want to drunkenly sing with your buddies while clinking your mugs in the air.
25. Best Reissue: The Beatles Catalogue
Who would have thought that in 2009 Beatlemania would continue to exist? But on 9/9/09 the fandemonium of The Beatles roared back to life by the reissuing of their entire catalogue as well as the Rock Band Beatles video game. Whoever re-mastered this did a stellar job. Having listened to The White Album and Abbey Road I can say these records do sound a lot better. McCartney's bass in particular sounds a lot more defined and powerful, as does Ringo's drums. What this re-master has done has taken some of the best music ever recorded and given it a fuller sound.
BEST CONCERTS WE HAVE SEEN THIS YEAR:
1. BON IVER - HOLLYWOOD FOREVER CEMETARY
2. MONOTONIX - THE SMELL
3. WILCO & GRIZZLY BEAR - UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA
4. MEGAFAUN & BOWERBIRDS - THE RHYTHM ROOM (AZ)