Monday, December 14, 2009

[BEST OF 2009] The top 10 albums of 2009

blog 2009/12/14 - [BEST OF 2009] The top 10 albums of 2009

We're here!  Finally, the money shot.  The goods.  The blow-off.

And while this list doesn't have much in the way of hierarchical order, I just have to declare

Dirty Projecors - Bitte Orca

It really had to be declared.  Simply the bestest.

The top 10 albums of 2009

Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca
Antony & The Johnsons - The Crying Light (& Another World EP)
Bat For Lashes - Two Suns
The Antlers - Hospise
Brother Ali - Us
Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest
Ohbijou - Beacons
The XX - st
VA - Dark Was The Night
And So I Watch You From Afar - And So I Watch You From Afar

Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca

A master can take a genre and see all of its tropes, conventions, structures and cliches for what that they are.  They see to the core of the concepts at play, and with their insight can snip through them uniformly, leaving staggering patterns where once expectations were.  And with the master's strokes, the honeycombed remains congeal and have their own internal logic, bringing together a hole that builds on all of the component pieces and reveals a whole new way of doing things.
Bitte Orca is the most accessible pop album that the Dirty Projects have released, but it is tops for its ability to seduce even the fans of only the poppiest rock and the edge-sitting hipsters alike.  It has pop structures so clever they become avant, and has avant structures so delightful, they become pop.
There is no other album of 2009 that I can continually listen to and be startled and overjoyed towards.
It will continue to reveal itself to you, and it only gets better and better.

Antony & The Johnsons - The Crying Light (& Another World EP)

There is a pastoral wisdom in Antony's voice, an ancient light that is evoked through the delicate inflections.  When this came out in January, it immediately inspired a prediction that it would be in the top, and it is a true testament to it's quality that 10 months later, it is still in regular rotation here.  This is not music for the immature.  This is music for the gloriously wounded, the optimists that are old beyond their years, and the poetic survivors.
I almost never couple in an EP, but really Antony has done EPs so perfectly over his career, that this one is no exception.  It is essential listening.  If you are a fan, you should track down all of the EP bonus material, since there are ample rewards.   But more specifically, how can one live without a song like Shake That Devil?  It is truly one of the most sublime singles of the year.
Antony is truly one of the greatest musical gifts the world has.

Bat For Lashes - Two Suns

Bat For Lashes have such a fully formed gem with Two Suns.  Building with what at a glance is a synthpop legacy, the composition itself actually owes more to mid-90s Sonic Youth and Mogwai than any Ladytron revival.  There are no toss-aways, and no pieces that don't work as part of the entire construct.
This album is an epic emotional adventure movie, with all of the grit and cynicism of adulthood recontextualizing what was once an innocent paradise.
I hereby declare you an emotionless automaton if this album doesn't spin you with a sense of wonder.  I'm throwing down that Moonchild gauntlet right now.
I only wish pop albums could all be constructed like this, but I'd be so terrified because so many would try... and so many would fail.
Why don't you do what you dream?

The Antlers - Hospise

The beauty of death can often startle us.  Beyond the juvenile gothic obsessions, death plays a foundational role in the artistic languages since the beginning of time.  But to not address death directly, to instead focus on the avenues and rituals of death, is to pay contemporary respects and deal with the modern day alienations head-on.
Most people don't have the happiest memories from hospitals, but the important emotions swirling around those institutions are vital to our experiences.  They evoke our most fragile emotions.  To call this album "brave" is to understate the success of it's execution.  This album is evocative genius.
It at times unfolds like a prayer, or a codeine induced haze on a gurney.
It sometimes reveals itself like a vivid recollection of past relationships.
But it always feels like the inevitability of our situation is upon us, and we quiver at that beautiful might.
Like the new Mountain Goats album, this record addresses the pain and confusion that our inevitable brushes with cancer will stir.  Through desire for transference, complex grief, and the transference that catches us unaware, a narrtive is built that perhaps could have passed by in an instant.
For me, this album is 2009's Black Sheep Boy, by Okkervil River, another masterful encapsulation of a focused thread of our human condition.  This album stays confined within hard walls instead of being free travelling, but the achievement is similar.

Brother Ali - Us

Brother Ali is going to save hiphop or destroy it, depending on what your perspective is.  Here the bar has been raised to such an extreme that naysayers will dismiss it entirely, and fans will just not be able to bother with the bullshit anymore.
Brother Ali throws it down:  Fuck you and your shitty politics.  No wait, not just fuck you, I'm going to rhyme circles around your unschooled ass, too.
The beats are tight, with masterful production of in-studio musicians, all looped up and tightly controlled.  There isn't an less-than-masterful moment behind the boards.
But the magic of the music also perfectly matches Ali's near-perfect cadence mastery.  His voice is still rich and buttery, and the years of road-wear only weaken his voice when he's reaching for the most heart-felt sentiments.
Heart-felt?  Yeah, there's another part of it.  He continues his inner explorations, and finds new ways to express the beauty and complexity of our interactions in this world.  Everyone's going blah blah blah Raekwon this year, but fuck Raekwon pretending to be all ghetto-games and revelling in misogynistic characters.  I can't be bothered with a rapper that is voer 30 year olds that still wants to rhyme like a 17 year-old.
Instead, Ali flips lyrics about the joys in working hard and finally buying a home for his family.  Of mourning lost friends.  Of  woman who is dealing with sexual assaults.  Of the intersections of alienation between children of divorced parents, immigrant children, and a young gay man in a religious household.  Of loving so much, you are ready to let them leave you.
And of course, there is ample braggadocio and ample exhibition to validate it.
Brother Ali makes so much of the 2000s rapper facades just plain embarassing.  But the bar has been raised so high, most lesser rappers will probably just ignore it.

Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest

You just can't deny this album, and you will be listening to it 5 years from now.  There's the Fleet Foxes charm, the Brian Wilson writing, and even that Animal Collective shamble-tinge that just makes it a total package.
But Grizzly Bear aren't some new band out to prove themselves to the world, this just cements their accolades.
Pop music will owe much to this album for years to come.

Ohbijou - Beacons

Epic folk.  Does that exist as a term?  Because here it is as an album.  Swells of sound and immensity of vision that far outstretch what might at first glance only seem like a normal folk record.
There are incredible depths of sound to be plumbed here, and epic indeed is the brilliance and emotion of this fine fine record.  Preciousness of voice is measured with waves of strings.  The seduction of the lyrics is matched perfectly in time and mood.
2007 gave us Acorn's wonderful Glory Hope Mountain.
2008 gave us Rae Spoon's perfect SuperiorYouAreInferior.
2009 it is Ohbijou as the best band Canada has to offer.
People of the world:  take notice.

The XX - The XX

People attend concerts by The XX and huddle forward, straining to hear it all, like the story I heard of a Glenn Branca show where they played with maximal intensity, but without any amps plugged in.  There is intensity in that strain.
Channeling a smokey 60s Nico and a demeanour like we just peeked in to their diaries, The XX just astound with their simple songs, subtle delivery and altogether infectious aural experience.
This is Kim Gordon on a good day, the 60s with better production values, and pretty much the best possible result of an aimles and angsty post-college world.

VA - Dark Was The Night

I'm going to start this just by listing who is involved.  If the person is more famous for a band they lead, I will list that band instead of their name.
Dirty Projectors, Talking Heads, The Books, Jose Gonzalez, Feist, The Postal Service, Bon Iver, Grizzly Bear, The National, Yeasayer, My Brightest Diamond, Kronos Quartet, Antony & The Johnsons, The Decemberists, Iron & Wine, Sufjan Stevens, Spoon, Arcade Fire, Beirut, Sharon Jones, Buck 65, The New Pornographers, Yo La Tengo, Cat Power, Andrew Bird, Blonde Redhead, Broken Social Scene, Bright Eyes.
How's that for a lineup?  Pretty much the best thing ever, that's how.  And it's good, too.  This collection is a marvel of curation, with so few toss-offs, as you would expect from a comp like this.   Almost every brings their A-game here.  There are only 3 real duds, like Iron & Wine's tragically stunted entry, Sufjan's far-too-long epic (that is wonderfully remixed by Buck65 later in the set) and Spoon's odd surf-pop, but that's 3 out of 31 tracks!
And if axe those three, and then you are arrange the playlist and put the instrumental tracks at  the end, like the Kronos Quartet and Riceboy Sleeps, you pretty much have a perfect snapshot of all that is perfectly right about indie music in 2009.

And So I Watch You From Afar - And So I Watch You From Afar

There are oh so many "post-rock" albums released each year, and often without a voice to distinguish them, they get lumped together and are half-forgotten.
It takes so serious chops to get to the top of the pile.  It takes fight!  It takes vigour, valour, and something else related to norse vikings, I am sure of it.
Whatever it takes, And So I Watch You From Afar (ASIWYFA, uggh) have it.  There is an equal amount of drive, guitar bravado, pulsing drums and sheer momentum at play here that it just kind of seduces you.  You sift through my post-rock collection and you say "ahhh, yes, this is the one."
There's the mathematical ingenuity of The Battles, the tribal prog of Fuck Buttons, and a sense of scope that would equally entrance a fan of the Kranky label as well as a fan of Dragonforce.


And So I Watch You From Afar - I Capture Castles
And So I Watch You From Afar - These Riots are Just the Beginning
And So I Watch You From Afar - Tip of the Hat, Punch in the Face
Antony & the Johnsons - Another World
Antony & the Johnsons - Epilepsy Is Dancing
Antony & the Johnsons - Shake That Devil
Bat For Lashes - Glass
Bat For Lashes - Pearl's Dream
Bat For Lashes - Siren Song
Brother Ali - Babygirl
Brother Ali - Breakin Dawn
Brother Ali - Fresh Air
Dirty Projectors - Cannibal Resource
Dirty Projectors - No Intention
Dirty Projectors - Stillness Is The Move
Grizzly Bear - Cheerleader
Grizzly Bear - Fine For Now
Grizzly Bear - Two Weeks
Ohbijou - Black Ice
Ohbijou - Cannon March
Ohbijou - Intro To Season
The Antlers - Bear
The Antlers - Shiva
The Antlers - Wake
The XX - Islands
The XX - Shelter
The XX - Teardrops
Antony and Bryce Dessner - I Was Young When I Left Home
Dirty Projectors and David Byrne - Knotty Pine
Buck 65, Sufjan Stevens and Serengeti - Blood, Pt 2
The Decemberists - Sleepless
The National - So Far Around The Bend

That's it, that's all!  THIS IS THE BEST OF THE BEST!  Get grooving.

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