It’s here! It’s here! It’s the Top Ten Albums of 2009 list, something that makes me almost as excited as this video does.
For this year’s list, I followed TK’s lead and posted a link to each album on lala.com. That way, you can listen to each album in its entirety and decide for yourself. If you don’t have that kind of time, I’ve also linked to the “must hear” tracks on YouTube so you can get the concentrated experience. (“Must Hear” tracks with asterisks are live versions that may differ from the studio version. They’ll still give you an idea.)
Have opinions, lists of your own, or general observations? Drop them in the comments! This is my interpretation of 2009 in music. We’d love to hear yours.
This is your last chance to make predictions about CK's top ten...
SO! Without further ado…
THE TOP TEN ALBUMS OF 2009:
10. Girls – Album
It seems like they’re pulling off what Glasvegas tried to do last year: 50’s/60’s pop song structures, nasally emo vocals, and songs about heartbreak. Except that where Glasvegas seemed a little contrived and overproduced, Girls are delightfully lo-fi. This San Francisco-based band with the wild backstory has scored with this debut, a jangly breakup album with a big, big heart.
MUST HEAR: “Lust for Life,” “Lauren Marie”
9. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Like many albums this year, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix was a grower for me. I’m not sure why; the first two tracks (“Lisztomania” and “1901”) are two of the catchiest radio singles in years. You’d think that would be enough to hook even the most reluctant of listeners, but apparently it didn’t work on me. Well here I am to make my amends. This French dance-pop quartet is making smart, fun music that is becoming more and more ubiquitous as their appeal is being discovered.
MUST HEAR: “1901” “Love Like a Sunset Parts I and II*” “Lisztomania”
8. Passion Pit – Manners
When “The Reeling” hit, I went nuts. I watched the video over and over, getting myself hyped for the release of Manners. When it actually hit, I listened to it religiously for about a week and then put it on the shelf. When I started compiling this list, however, Manners made a resurgence. The energy coiled into each song, coupled with pulsing synths and Michael Angelakos’ helium-tinged voice, caught my ear and refused to let go, just like “The Reeling” did on its original release. Anywhere else, the inclusion of the PS22 chorus may sound cloying, but for Passion Pit, it fits right into their modus operandi.
MUST HEAR: “The Reeling,” “Little Secrets”
7. Matisyahu – Light
As I compile this list each year, I learn more about my musical taste. I pick up little tidbits of information that may be apparent to others, but completely unconscious to me. One thing that I picked up this year is that I’m a big fan of music that is just plain joyful (see Passion Pit, above). I love to hear bands or artists who have a light inside them (see what I did there?). Matisyahu, of course, is full of pure joy. We’ve known that since the beginning, but on Light, he refines his sound and finally ditches that reggae nonsense. Matis is exploding into full hip-hop/pop/R&B mode here, experimenting with elements such as samples, acoustic guitars, and children’s choirs. 2006’s Youth was a solid album with a few great songs, but it was the product of an artist finding his way around a recording studio. On Light, however, Matisyahu has put together a cohesive set of songs that capture the energy, freedom and jubilance of his live shows.
MUST HEAR: “One Day,” “On Nature”
6. Weezer – Raditude
Okay, hear me out. When evaluating a new Weezer album, I think it’s important to forget about all of their previous records. Yes, the blue album was a great singles collection. Yes, Pinkerton is one of my favorite albums of all time. But we have to forget about those, just as we should forget about how the green album was a middling comeback and how Maladroit lived up to its name. We have to recontextualize Weezer with every release. If we don’t, then we have no chance of appreciating what they are now. That being said, there is an entire generation of middle-schoolers who are going to forever remember Raditude in the same way I remember Blink 182’s Enema of the State. Yes, there are some pretty ridiculous lyrics. No, it probably won’t be remembered as an all-time classic. But what do you expect from Weezer? I know that I expect crunchy guitar lines, catchy hooks, and songs that I can’t get out of my head. Raditude delivers on all three counts.
MUST HEAR: “Tripping Down the Highway,” “(If You’re Wondering if I Want You To) I Want You To”
5. fun. – Aim and Ignite
It’s very difficult to write a review of Aim and Ignite without mentioning The Format, so I won’t. When The Format broke up in 2008, I lamented the fact that we wouldn’t have any more catchy-as-all-get-out pop-rock songs anchored by Nate Ruess’ voice. When news of fun.’s creation started circling the internet, I couldn’t believe it. Ruess is back? With members of Anathallo and Steel Train? Even though debut single “Benson Hedges” was superb, I decided to wait until I had heard the full album before making a judgment. These things usually have a way of not working out. So on further review, does Aim and Ignite live up to Interventions & Lullabies or Dog Problems? The answer is a resounding “yes.” Although it’s almost an entirely different band, this is a spiritual successor to those two records. Ruess and crew have become more daring with their songwriting than on The Format’s records, incorporating strings, horns and pianos into nearly every song. A gospel choir even makes an appearance. When I go see a band live and there are a whole lot of instruments on stage, I know there’s a great show in store. fun. is putting on a great show with Aim and Ignite, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.
MUST HEAR: “All the Pretty Girls,” “Barlights,” “Benson Hedges”
4. U.S.E. – L O V E W O R L D
Seattle-based dance party collective U.S.E. (the United State of Electronica) is back with their first record since 2004’s self-titled release. For U.S.E. fans, this has been as highly anticipated as the Star Wars prequel trilogy was. However, unlike The Phantom Menace, LOVEWORLD surpasses its predecessor by leaps and bounds. U.S.E. has always been a fantastic live band, and LOVEWORLD harnesses that energy. The title is appropriate; this album is as full of exultation and freedom as, well, falling in love. Make this record part of your world.
MUST HEAR: “River of Love,” “K.I.S.S.I.N.G.”
3. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion
Okay, okay. This album has been sufficiently talked up by seemingly every critical outlet there is. But despite its critical acclaim, it didn’t blow me away immediately. I loved 2007’s Strawberry Jam, and Merriweather was a huge departure. It seemed that on Strawberry Jam, the two main songwriters (Panda Bear and Avey Tare) shared nearly equal time and made a delightfully weird little album. However, after the release of Panda Bear’s 2007 solo album, Person Pitch, it seems as if Panda has taken the pants of Animal Collective and put them on for good. Whereas Strawberry Jam was driven by being weird, Merriweather is driven by fluidity. Over time, I’ve come to appreciate it more and more for what it is: a fun pop album with the underlying weirdness that makes Animal Collective who they are.
MUST HEAR: “My Girls,” “Summertime Clothes,” “Brothersport*”
2. The Antlers – Hospice
Hospice is a concept album about a man (the singer) working at a hospital, falling in love with a cancer patient, marrying her, and then watching her ultimately succumb to the illness. If that sounds heartbreaking, well, it is. This album is not for the faint of heart. It’s alternately delicate and hideous and terrifying and gorgeous, a dizzying cycle of ups and downs that mirror the ups and downs of caring for someone. I can’t help but think that this must be the sort of album that Arcade Fire was trying to make with their debut, Funeral. It has the power to completely devastate you emotionally, and yet, there is some very important catharsis going on here. As overwhelming as the album can feel at times, it ultimately makes the listener glad to be alive in this messed-up world we share.
MUST HEAR: “Bear,” “Wake”
1. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca
On previous albums, it seemed as if band leader Dave Longstreth was throwing random notes and lyrics to the wall to see what would stick. On 2007’s Rise Above, though, Longstreth and the Projectors began to stumble into greatness, especially with the title track. Most of the album was pretty tough to stomach, but it did show signs of things to come. Those things came to fruition on Bitte Orca. The chaos of previous releases is still here – see moments in “Useful Chamber” or “The Bride” for evidence. But the difference here is that those are departures from the norm. The majority of the album is smooth, shiny goodness. Check out the female-fronted funk of “Stillness is the Move,” the sweetness of “Two Doves” or the optimism of “Cannibal Resource.” Listening to this record over and over this year, I have been struck by the consistency. Even if the entirety of each song is not gold, there is are moments on every song that win me over. There is such a long line of things to love here: vocal harmonies, complex guitar lines, emotional honesty, intricate lyrics, an overall tone, songs that flow into each other, a definite beginning, middle and end, the ability to grow on a listener… I could go on. I loved this album when I first heard it, and I love it even more now. It’s not the easiest record to get into, but if you’ve listened to this record and thrown it aside, I hope you’ll give it another chance. Bitte Orca has opened up on further listens for me, revealing more and more with each spin. It’s intricate, it’s experimental, and it’s ultimately rewarding.
MUST HEAR: “Stillness is the Move,” “Cannibal Resource,” “Two Doves”
CK's 2009 album of the year: Bitte Orca by Dirty Projectors