Favorite Albums 2009

My take on the best albums of 2009. Post a comment and tell me what I missed. No, really. I’ll spend the winter listening to reader’s recommendations and even reviewing a few as the cold Chicago winter weeks slowly tick away.

1. RURAL ALBERTA ADVANTAGE – Hometowns
I read this on Pitchfork’s list of honorable mention albums (a classification I found pleasing, since it’s always so damn satisfying to have a favorite album not worthy of top 100 consideration in Pitchfork’s eyes):  “…unvarnished vocals, rickety orchestration and good ol’ fashioned heartland yearning…the sparest of songs are where Hometowns hits the hardest.” I guess that’s why they get paid advertisers and if you’re reading this you’re probably just my mom (hi, mom) – because I couldn’t have described this album better myself. I guess the difference is it hit me in just the right spot. Thank you, Canada.

2. THE XX – the XX
First ever album for this band out of south London hailed so frequently this year as brilliant, flawless, etc. – so I’m already sad about whatever crappy sophomore effort they rush to put out next year. Here’s something pretentious Cokemachineglow wrote about it: “…the album’s explication of its own interest in contrast and conversation is perhaps its greatest virtue.” I have no idea what that means. So think of XX as sort of easy to swallow dreamy teen melancholy that’s not as nearly as annoying as you’d expect.

3. THE AVETT BROTHERS
– I and Love and You

The Onion: “Shamelessly sentimental, effortlessly beautiful songs in a warm, inviting mellow rock package.” Me: Gorgeous songwriting. Dry, intimate, warm. These guys have been around a while, I’m told, and have just recently gone major label. I’m looking forward to digging into their catalog later this winter. Seems a perfect pastime for the harsh bite of my cold Chicago winter.

4. PHOENIX – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
A Versailles-based band’s take on NY garage rock with a major 80’s synth-rock ring to it. Sounds great beginning to end…and I’m doubly impressed that to me, these guys just seem to keep getting better with every new album (vs. my prediction for XX above).

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5. GRIZZLY BEAR – Veckatimist
I hate Grizzly Bear. I really do. Never got it. Just sounds, texture and words that, to me, never came together. Oh I’ve got buds who’ll say this is just more evidence of how shitty a judge of truly good music I am. But hey, that’s this music blog’s point of difference – I embrace my shitty. Funny thing is, whenever an artsy indie band only the top 1% of the most seriously snobby indie snobs can get into finally comes out with something I actually like, those 1%’ers are quick to tell me that said album is said band’s worst ever. Didn’t happen this time. Even the Grizzliest of Grizzlies are spinning this one with the vigor of a screen door in a cyclone.

6. ANIMAL COLLECTIVE
– Merriweather Post Pavilion

I hate Animal Collective (see Veckatimist review above except replace sounds, texture and words with odd sounds, strange texture and inaudible words and Grizzliest of Grizzlies with Animal-est of Animals). Honestly, Veckatimist and Merriweather Post Pavilion do truly stand out as almost unbelievably ahead of their peers in ways you won’t miss on even a first listen. In my opinion, they deserve they every bit of the 2009 love they’ve gotten.

7. YEAH YEAH YEAHS – It’s Blitz
Let it be known that I am in love with Karen O. It’s Blitz is equal parts finesse and grind like only the YYYs can do for me. It’s intimate but it’s glamorous. It’s dancy but it’s badass. It’s so Karen O.  Congratulations YYYs, you’ve proven to be one of the best bands of the 2000’s with another excellent album. If you don’t know their whole catalog, you can go all the way back to the 2002 EP and you’ll find the goods every step of the way.

8. YACHT – See Mystery Lights
Sometimes called a feel-good party rocker for indie dance nerds, See Mystery Lights harkens a summer time feel no matter what time of year you take it for a spin. It’s the 2009 version of 2008’s instant hipster classic from Hercules and Love Affair. I’m in Love with a Ripper, Psychic City and Summer Song are Yacht at it’s techno-poppy best.

9. REGINA SPEKTOR – Far
I’m bracing for the backlash on this one. Not because it’s not a beautiful album, but BECAUSE it’s a beautiful album, I guess. This isn’t normally my cup of tea. The edge I look for when I settle into my earphones comes from a much different place than I’m used to finding it. Regina’s music is eccentric and tempestuous…I was suddenly and very oddly drawn to it – start to finish – from the very first listen.

10. GIRLS – Album
Lust for Life (first track) is an instant classic in my mind. New Music Express: “…genuine dropouts, bona-fide freaks.” NYTimes: “…devastatingly fresh reframing of the pop songbook.” Described as heartbreaking, elusive, fascinating. A big-hype band for 2009 mostly worthy of it’s high praise.

THE NEXT 10

11. Japandroids – Post-nothing
12. Real Estate – Real Estate
13. Wilco (the Album)
14. Andrew Bird – Noble Beast
15. Pearl Jam – Backspacer
16. Decemberists – Hazards of Love
17. Camera Obscura – Carried to Dust
18. Fuck Buttons – Tarot Sport
19. Metric – Fantasies
20. St. Vincent – Actor

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12 responses to “Favorite Albums 2009

  1. This is a really great blog, I’m enjoying the run up to Christmas with a bit more time on my hands to browse the net and your site is one I intend to visit again soon. In the olden days we would chill out with a read of the daily paper, now I really think people should take an hour out of their day to read some random blog posts and expand their knowledge on new and fascinating subjects. Keep up your writing.

  2. Well done, Jason. I haven’t heard most of this stuff yet. I listened to a rural alberta advantage song for the first time last week and thought, “crap, this could be my favorite thing in years”. So I’m hopeful.

  3. love the raa. earnest is the new ironic. and unless i’m mistaken, i introduced you to them. no?

  4. good call on real estate.

    always look forward to the list. thanks for doing it.

  5. well played. you always cover the bases. i’m down with this line up for 09.

  6. Pete: yes yes yes…was wondering if you’d call me on the RAA tip. thank you my friend. i hear they’re coming jan 16. trying to buy some tix today.

    Jimmy: ugh – the dreaded “…cover the bases” slam. if it feels that way then i can only imagine what schmidt will say when he gets a hold of this. pearl jam? regina spektor? he’s going to crucify me.

  7. i’m seeing them on the 14th at a small bar in milwaukee. why the hell aren’t they more popular? they’re still playing the same venues they played a year ago, despite tons of kudos from critics. maybe your mention will push them over the edge.

    didn’t see you at the xx show…

  8. You missed Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros “Up from Below”. (Awesome live too.) Dan Auerbach’s “Keep it hid” is a gem. The Cave Singers “Invitation Songs” is great. Jay-Z “Blueprint 3”. And the “Them Crooked Vultures” album. That is all.

  9. High fives and gold stars to you on this, Jason. This keeps me anchored in the land of techno and yodeling.

  10. Top 5 Albums from 2009 for me (in order): The xx, The Pains of Being Pure At Heart, Phoenix, The Antlers, Washed Out.

  11. As you know JD, chasing around my three shorties leaves me little time for musical exploration these days. Your RAA ranking and reco was so intriguing I downloaded it straight away and it is now in major Ipod rotation. In fact, “Don’t haunt this place” with it’s firecracker percussion juxtaposed against melancholy strings and glee club harmonies – is my new fave, The kids even get down to it during pre-dinner dance party. Good call.

  12. Nice list, dude.

    Take another listen to the Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Curious to see if this one gets added.

    And I like about half of the Bat for Lashes record – doesn’t deserve to be on your list, but it is something I hope you listen to (or already have).

    Other than that, Micachu and the Shapes, Antlers, Julian Casablancas, and Bill Callahan are all records I enjoyed at some point this year.

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