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Friday, December 11, 2009

The Top 15 Albums of 2009

#15. Tegan and Sara: Sainthood - Tegan and Sara's best album is still 2007's The Con. I doubt many people in the know would argue this point. Still, Sainthood does have its moments; like the punk rock influenced "Northshore," or the delightfully catchy "Alligator." I'm still not sure what "Alligator Tears" are, but I can manage without. Look, the bottom line - whether you like Tegan and Sara or not - is that Sainthood beat out a lot of great albums to make it to this list. Respect.

#14. Muse: The Resistance - Seems as if Muse peaked way back on 2003's Absolution, because every subsequent album has been worse than the one before it. That's not to say that The Resistance is awful; it's just the band's worst. Somewhere along the line the band fancied themselves a poor-man's U2 and decided to write songs almost exclusively about conspiracy theories and government coercion. Small doses, guys. Small doses. While The Resistance does suffer much from the weight of its own bullshit, it's still the best mainstream rock album of the year. Easily.

#13. Headlights: Wildlife - Headlight's second album was a critical success even though I found it miles behind their debut. On their third album, Wildlife, the Champagne, Illinois trio recaptures the charm of Kill Them With Kindness while staying true to the sound that they established on Some Racing, Some Stopping. Sticking with the lo-fi, indie pop/rock mood, Wildlife is a definite improvement and shows the band maturing into their own unique sound.

#12. Julian Casablancas: Phrazes for the Young - Even though the second half of this album drops off in quality, the first half more than makes up for it. Casablancas has always been a great vocalist and songwriter, and Phrazes for the Young is the perfect outlet for his creative talents. I totally dig the heavy-handed synth stylings of this album, as well as his ability to blend that with his staple rock sound. It's definitely not an album for everybody, but surely every will find at least one song that they can admit to liking.

#11. Monsters of Folk: Monsters of Folk - If there is one piece of criticism that I could level on this album, it would be that there are just too many songs on it. Most of those songs, mind you, are great, but as an album, the whole thing simply falters under the weight of its own aspirations. "Dear God," "Say Please," and "Man Named Truth" are all instant classics in the indie world, and whether or not these guys ever get together again is irrelevant. They did it once, and it worked. For that, they deserve a bunch of credit.

#10. Clues: Clues - Clues' debut is a strange thing. Some songs, like "Remember Severed Head" or "Ledmonton" are instantly catchy, and accessible. And then there are other songs that seem to be purposefully difficult ("In the Dream"). It's not the easiest thing to sit down and listen to, but I'm glad I did; because after I got over the weirdness and difficulty of songs like "Perfect Fit" I discovered that Clues is actually one hell of an album, especially for a debut! No, I'm still not sure why "Remember Severed Head's" lyrics are recycled on "Cave Mouth," but I also don't care. Both songs are awesome! Just like the album, itself.

#9. Passion Pit: Manners - Passion Pit's debut LP is a hit or miss affair, for sure. One good song, one bad, two good, one bad, etc…The great thing about Manners is that the good songs completely negate the few that are a little rough around the edges. By this point, I've already named "Little Secrets" as my favorite song of 2009, but there are other great tracks on here as well. "Let Your Love Grow Tall," "Eyes as Candles," and "The Reeling" stand out as some flat out amazing tunes. If it weren't for the few duds, this would easily be a Top fiver.

#8. The Bird and the Bee: Ray Guns are Not Just the Future - B&B's debut wasn't all my friends made it out to be. With that in mind, I reluctantly checked out Ray Guns and was surprised by how awesome it is. I seriously jammed out to "Love Letter to Japan" for weeks before I decided to move on to something else. I'm a dude, people. That's something! Beyond that though, Ray Guns is stacked full of great tunes that don't get old, and other songs that reveal their greatness over time. If you haven't checked this one out yet, do yourself a favor and snag a copy. You won't regret it!

#7. Discovery: LP - LP sure has its flaws. But as difficult as it can be, it's also incredibly rewarding. It's a quaint little record filled to the brim with relentlessly catchy songs. The only one that really doesn't do a thing for me is "Carby," but hey, it's not really all that difficult to hit the skip button is it? This one got ripped pretty hard by the critics, and I can see their collective point despite my obvious affection for it. It's a download first, buy later, for sure. Just be sure to give it a fair shot. You may be surprised.

#6. St. Vincent: Actor - Is there any denying that Annie Clark is one of music's most-talented females? Besides the fact that she's making some of the most inventive and awesome songs out there, she's also doing so with a grace and style that is completely unique to her. While I still feel that her debut has more staying power than Actor, her 2009 follow-up still packs one hell of a punch. I've been re-listening to it for the past week now and, whoah, it's just fantastic! St. Vincent is officially my favorite female artist at the moment, and Actor is officially the best female album of 2009!

#5. The Flaming Lips: Embryonic - When Embryonic came out, it quickly made it to the top (#1) spot on my Most Disappointing Albums list. How it made its way up to the #5 album of the year is a long, strange tale. Well, not really. Essentially it boils down to this: I kept listening to it. My first 2 times through I was completely dumfounded and upset that it didn't sound like any of their last 3 records. I was pissed, to be honest. As I kept listening, however, I eventually set aside my preconceived ideas about what a Flaming Lips album should sound like. It was only then that Embryonic revealed itself as an amazingly complex and meaningful album. Wayne Coyne has seemingly let the darkness creep over him, and it shows in both his lyrics and the musical compositions that surround them. I can understand why people would be turned off by this album, really. But I'm glad I decided to tough it out and figure it out. It truly is one of the year's best.

#4. Wallpaper: Doodoo Face - I got my hands on Wallpaper's T-Rex EP in the summer of 2008. I was still listening to it in the summer of 2009, right around the time I found out that Ricky Reed was releasing a full-length album. I was pumped. I spread the word - the Gospel of Wallpaper , if you will - to all my friends, and played for them the songs I had. By the time Doodoo Face came out, I was set up for disappointment. But Wallpaper didn't disappoint; in fact, they exceeded my expectations! I was expecting another synth-heavy, collection of short 'n sweet pop songs. I got the heavy synths alright, but the saxophones, trumpets, female vocals, and funk influences came as a complete surprise. Doodoo Face sounds like a silly album, and at times it can be. But it's also one of the most impressive debuts of recent-memory, and something that I'll be listening to until the next LP drops!

#3. Dirty Projectors: Bitte Orca - Most albums that I listen to take time for me to get into. This is true for pretty much every album on this list, with the exception of a few. One of those exceptions is Bitte Orca. This album was my first run-in with Dirty Projectors after reading about the band for some time. I was instantly captivated by all the things going on at any given moment. Even now, I'm still amazed by some of the harmonies and guitar riffs that seem too complex to be written, but too perfect to be improvised. It is a very impressive album, and probably the one I've listed to with the most consistency since its release. Is it one of the best of 2009? Easily. It can also be considered for one of the best of the decade!

#2. The Decemberists: The Hazards of Love - Forget the mixed reviews and the haters! The Hazards of Love is a beautiful and affecting piece of art. If there's any knock against it, it's that it can't really be listened to one song at a time. It's something that must be digested as a whole. That's important, because in an era when much of the music industry seems to be about the single, Colin Meloy & Co. have created the exact opposite! When it is experienced as it is meant to be, you'd be hard-pressed to find an album more poetic, more astounding, or more poignant in 2009!

#1. Loney, Dear:  Dear John - In 2007, Loney, Dear's Emil released his U.S. debut, Loney, Noir to much acclaim. It was this blog's #4 album of that year, and I was still listening to it when Dear John released early this year. Dear John is one hell of an album! Every song helps to create an atmosphere of doubt, regret, and depression that is both haunting and refreshing. Even the album's more upbeat tracks are tinged with the sentiments that make the rest of the album so dark. Hopefulness, an idea that was prevalent on his last record, has largely been dismissed on Dear John, and while I'm normally a guy who is into pop music (see the rest of this list), there is something about Emil's music that speaks to me as an individual.

Dear John is more than just the best album of 2009, it is one of the best male solo albums of the last decade; easily comparable up against Sufjan Sevens' or Conor Oberst's best work. Loney, Dear doesn't get the same kind of press coverage as those two dudes, and it's a shame, because when it comes to writing powerful, deep, meaningful songs, he blows Sufjan out of the water and gives Oberst a run for his money. Without question, Dear John is the #1 album of 2009. It is a perfect record, and one that I will never take for granted.