Full disclosure: I did not listen to every album released in 2009 that I wanted to hear. In the interest of even more disclosure, a lot of year end lists have only added to my list of things I want to hear. I don’t mean to complain (it’s the type of thing that my mom calls a “good problem.”) but it is a tad tougher hearing new music now. I could start pirating things but I feel morally opposed to that unless there is a physical CD hanging around in, say, a radio station studio and adjoining board room and it just happens to end up having its information copied onto my laptop computer’s hard drive. I mean, sometimes things just happen!
Given all that though, ten top albums was tough for this year. I tried using my Last.fm to figure out what my top ten albums were, but my top two albums came out in 2008 (Three guesses who they were by). So, I’ve been listening to stuff from 2009 on loop in order to figure out which things I like more than other things. Again, good problems! The solution to my (good) problem was to make a top 20 list instead.
Anyway, to the (first 10) albums. . .
#20 – Owen – New Leaves
When I was in Vienna, I went to see Owen (Mike Kinsella) play. He and his wife were really nice. They were also upset they would not be able to take in the sights of the city. But yeah, Mike Kinsella is really nice and offered free beer but then he had to take that offer back because the beer was not his.
Kinsella admits to using more open tunings and simpler time signatures now in his old(er) age. New Leaves may be his most consistent release. The songs are direct and folky but Kinsella still has his bite and wit. The last line (“You’ll spend your whole fucking life walking”) of the opening titular track is highlighted by a slightly dissonant piano chord. It’s one of the few times I remember an Owen song that doesn’t use an acoustic guitar to make its biggest points. Kinsella’s instrumental expansion shows that still has a lot of good ideas floating around.
#19 – The Very Best – Warm Heart of Africa
Esau Mwamwaya and Radioclit crafted an expansive set of pop songs on Warm Heart of Africa. While many bands have recently brought African elements into rock music, the Very Best borrow from and give to a wide array of genres. Warm Heart of Africa is probably the best pop record of the year.
#18 – Andrew Bird – Noble Beast
I wonder if Owen Pallett and Andrew Bird have ever met. I mostly wonder this because I hope they got into a violin-looping duel similar to the Karate Kid/ Steve Vai duel from the movie Crossroads
I hope that happened between Andrew Bird and Owen Pallett. Y’know, with violins.
#17 – Cymbals Eat Guitars – Why There Are Mountains
Cymbals Eat Guitars are from Staten Island. Y’know what else is from Staten Island? Angelina (“I’m a bartender; I do great things) and the Staten Island Yankees (They have an ambidextrous pitcher on their roster).
But yeah, Why There Are Mountains is a big rock record. They got a bunch of comparisons to 90’s rock bands, but I am pretty sure these guys were six when a bunch of those bands were around. I guess they did research! Research = good rock record!
#16 – Matt & Kim – Grand
I think its a pretty big cliche to use the phrase “mature” in music reviews. So, I recognize it sounds silly to say that Grand is Matt & Kim maturing. Their energy is matched now by their song-writing ability. Grand expanded the scope of what Matt & Kim songs were without sacrificing energy. Lyrically, they moved from summarizing things like 5K races to contemplating daydreams and what they say about our lives. Some of the songs on Grand could almost be considered sad in tone which is a far cry from their energetic live persona. However, the band has the charm to pull it all off.
#15 – Passion Pit – Manners
Passion Pit is huge now. Like, really fucking huge. This past summer, Passion Pit opened for Phoenix for some sold-out shows at Central Park. Then, they played a big venue with Phoenix for a December radio show. Passion Pit comes back to headline in January another big venue for a set of dates that are all sold out. People love to dance. Passion Pit’s big hooks border on the epic at times. People love the hooks and they love the epic. So, there’s reason that Passion Pit is really fucking huge.
#14 – Dan Deacon – Bromst
A friend of mine used to talk about Dan Deacon a bunch (before Deacon moved to Baltimore) and just go on about what a cool, nice guy he was. Bromst gave me the impression of Deacon that my friend’s glowing portrayal of him always did. He’s got a lot of crazy ideas and a lot of fun ways to share them. Deacon blew my mind with the bass sounds on “Woof Woof” and the player pianos at the end of “Slow With Horns/ Run For Your Life.” Thanks, Dan!
#13 – Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion
I guess this album is significant because it made me listen to Animal Collective finally.
#12 – Discovery – LP
For a while, I had a bunch of preconceived notions about Ra Ra Riot so I did not listen to their music (WHAT A MISTAKE!). Of course, when I heard about the Discovery album, I had the same preconceived notions (AM I HUMAN OR AM I PRECONCEIVED NOTIONS!). When I finally listened to it, I realized Discovery (Wes of Ra Ra Riot and Rostam from Vampire Weekend) was just trying to do their thang (Their thang = fun). It’s an album of shimmer and sugar. It’s accessible to a degree that some find annoying. However, I find it nice so I am putting in on this list and that is that and DANCE.
#11 – Beirut – March of the Zapotec/ Realpeople – Holland
This pick is interesting for me as an American. It’s a bit of a catch up pick since I was late on the Beirut train (but not on the BEIRUT TRAIN, y’know what I mean boyz!). Also, the EP does have two different feels between the Holland stuff and the March of the Zapotec stuff. Also, its an EP not an album. The horns on March of the Zapotec call back to the darker sounds of Gulag Orkestar. The mostly electronic arrangements on the Holland half show Condon’s song-writing power transcends trumpet and ukulele. The mix of all traditional folk instruments and the electronic mindset on a track like “The Concubine” points to the interesting places Beirut will continue to go as Condon becomes older and (it almost saddens me to say this) better. Zach Condon, ladies and gentlemen, killing it as always.
NEXT TIME: 10-1! Excitement!