2009 Year in Review
Our Favorite Albums
Introduction by Ben Allen & Matt Ashworth
After compiling our list of “most listened to” albums of 2009, we made a couple of interesting observations,
The first is this: many of our favorite 2009 releases came from bands we’ve known and loved for years. Sonic Youth, the Flaming Lips, Dinosaur Jr. and Polvo have rocked our Indie socks since high school; Wilco and Neko Case have been part of our consciousness for almost as long,
Does this mean we’re getting old and out of touch, unable to relate to the new breed of musical forbearers, we wondered? Or did the bands we picked years ago simply produce more compelling music than their younger contemporaries in 2009?
The answer, most likely, is “yes.”
The second observation was this: the 2009 albums we liked by new bands weren’t necessarily the ones you will see gushed about in the blogosphere over the next few weeks. Grizzly Bear, BLK JKS and the Cave Singers earned a few votes from our staff, but not enough to make the top 30. And the much-lauded Animal Collective album, Merriweather Post Pavilion, just snuck in at number 24.
So what else floated our collective boat?
Well, WHY? released a heart-breakingly beautiful, “musically transitional” album. They’ve almost fully evolved into a weirdo indie-pop band after starting as a bedroom-confessional white boy hip hop solo act. Girls were a fun new discovery (the band, not the gender), releasing a record filled with songs that all sound familiar without being too derivative. Kid Cudi gave hope to popular hip-hop; The xx showed that 20 year-old British kids can simultaneously channel New Order and early Brian Eno; Future of the Left finally lived up to expectations after emerging from a disbanded McLusky; and the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach snuck in a surprise solo album, filled with soulful songwriting.
Time will tell if any of these artists will last as long as the elder statesmen who flank them on this list, or if any of their releases will emerge as “classics.” In the meantime, here are thirty records our contributors enjoyed this year.
30) Mike Snow – Mike Snow
29) Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca
Experimental art rock from Brooklyn. What’s not to like?
28) Japandroids – Post Nothing
26) Blakroc – Blakroc
25) Visqueen – Message to Garcia
One of the best local releases of 2009, this is catchy, straight-ahead rock n’roll that entertains from the first track to the last.
24) Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavillion
23) Girls – Album
A rock solid debut from the San Francisco band. Imagine a couple of hipsters taking a bunch of pills, then trying to recreate Pet Sounds, all the while drawing inspiration from the many women coming in out of their lives.
22) Mos Def – The Ecstatic
21) Fever Ray – Fever Ray
The female half of electronic Swedish sibling duo The Knife stays weird and theatrical on her first solo release.
20) WHY? – Eskimo Snow
The sound of a band finding itself. Singer Yoni Wolf wallows in sorrow on his most confessional, intimate recording to date.
19) The Swell Season – Strict Joy
The gorgeous melodies that made Irish musician Glen Hansard and Czech singer and pianist Markéta Irglová critical darlings on the Once soundtrack are just as strong here, on their first official release as “the Swell Season.”
18) Passion Pit – Manners
For those who miss the Bee Gees and needed a new falsetto hero, Michael Angelakos and crew fill that inner void.
17) Iron & Wine – Around the Well
The Florida singer/songwriter’s first collection of B-sides and rarities, but hopefully not his last. Working with our own Sub Pop records, Sam Beam has released some of the best recordings of the past decade.
16) Tegan & Sara – Sainthood
The Canadian twin Sisters edge closer to greatness with their sixth studio album. A return to a more raw sound after the slick 2007 release The Con.
15) Polvo – In Prism
North Carolina’s finest reunite to give us the Polvo album fans have always wanted, one where you can understand at least half the lyrics.
14) David Bazan – Curse Your Branches
Another longtime Nada favorite, David Bazan is the artist who gave us the epic, desperate Pedro The Lion classic Control. Curse Your Branches shows he can do happy as well as sad.
13) The Raveonettes – In and out of Control
The Danish Duo continue to make futuristic music in the present. This is their most genre-bending release since 2003’s Chain Gang of Love.
12) Them Crooked Vultures – Them Crooked Vultures
What do you get when you add one rock god and two rock demigods and give them the cool moniker “Them Crooked Vultures?” A seamless album that personifies pure rock in its true essence.
11) Dinosaur Jr. – Farm
Indie rock pioneers record their ninth album for fantastic indie Jagjaguar, home of other Nada favorites like Black Mountain and Bon Iver.
10) The xx – The xx
This gorgeous, whispery debut from Britain’s latest “it” band lives up to the hype.
8) Wilco – Wilco (The Album)
After a more experimental approach to their last few records, Jeff Tweedy and Co. eased back into what they do best: alt-country, Americana, and neo-folk all blended seamlessly and perfectly delivered.
7) Sonic Youth – The Eternal
Marked the noisy guitar gods’ return to an Indie label (Matador), as well as one of their most accessible recordings in years.
6) The Flaming Lips – Embyonic
A psychedelic, spacey, sprawling mind fuck of an album, in the best possible sense. They completely shunned the accessibility of their last few records and released a double album of utter weirdness.
5) Neko Case – Middle Cyclone
Strongest songwriting yet from one of our longtime favorites.
4) Future of the Left – Travels with Myself and Another
Manic energy meets clever, cheeky writing meets pummeling rhythms. Yum.
3) Kid Cudi – The Man on the Moon: End of Days
Who knew Cleveland would be the place where the new mesiah of hip hop would emerge from? Smart, cynical and hopeful lyrics pepper a engaging soundscape that can deliver chills. A rare feat amongst today’s popular hip-hop artists.
2) Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz
Karen O takes a half step back and lets her band breathe. They respond with less guitar, more synth and their best album to date.
1) Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
French band Phoenix has come along way since they formed to be the backing band for a remix of Air’s “Kelly Watch the Stars” single. In 2009 France adds “Brit pop” to the list of things they can do as well or better than their UK neighbors.
Also receiving votes: Atlas Sound, “Logos”; Baroness, “Blue Record” Bat For Lashes, “Two Suns”; Big Business, “Mind The Riff”; Bill Callahan, “Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle”; BLK JKS, “After Robots”; Built to Spill, “There is No Enemy”; The Cave Singers, “Welcome Joy”; Clutch, “Strange Cousins From The West”; Cursive, “Mama, I’m Swollen”; Editors, “In This Light And On This Evening”; Grizzly Bear, “Veckatimist”; Idlewild, “Post Electric Blues”; The Lonely Island, “Incredibad!”; The Lonely Forest, “We Sing The Body Electric!”; Matthew Ryan, “Dear Lover”; The Obits, “I Blame You”; Patterson Hood, Murdering Oscar”; Pearl Jam, “Backspacer”; Raekwon, “Only Built for Cuban Linx… Pt. II”; Steve Earle, “Townes”; St. Vincent, “The Actor”; Tom Russel, “Blood and Candle Smoke”; Tom Waits, “Glitter and Doom Live”; Tortoise, “Beacons of Ancestorship”; The Twilight Sad, “Forget The Night Ahead”; Weezer, “Ratitude”; Wild Beasts – Two Dancers