Top 20 Album of 2009


#20. Fever Ray – Fever Ray

“if i had a heart i could love you
if i had a voice i would sing”

Have you heard of the Swedish electro-duo The Knife?  That’s what this is, just under a different name.  Well, that’s not exactly true.  This is the solo project of Karin Dreijer Andersson, the female half of The Knife.  But it’s not really that solo, as her brother, Olof, contributes quite a bit.  Anyway, enough about The Knife.  This is Fever Ray and it’s awesome in a dark, ambient, Swedish way.  I’m not a huge fan of electronic music but I am a huge fan of dark music and this album creates an atmosphere that is dark and scary but soothing at the same time.  (on a sidenote check out the videos…they are as good, if not better, than the music itself)

#19. Handsome Furs – Face Control (indie rock)

“All we want, baby, is everything”

Side-projects are now commonplace.  If you aren’t a member of at least 3 separate bands then you must be lazy.  The members of Wolf Parade are not lazy.  Handsome Furs might not be the best spin-off this band has spawned but it is the sexiest.  Dan Boeckner will never have the talent Spencer Krug has but he does have a hot wife and she can play synthesizers and they can make some hot music together (and simulate having sex with each other on stage).  This album is in my Top 20 not because it’s ground breaking or amazing in any way…it’s here because it’s fun.  It’s a party album.  I will always regret missing this show at Larimer this year.  It sounds like I missed one hell’va performance!

#18. Deer Tick – Born on Flag Day (alt-country)

“I could drink myself to death tonight
Or I could stand and give a toast
To those who made it out alive
It’s you I’ll miss the most”

I imagine most people will either love or hate this album.  Under the covers it’s just your basic alt-country album with a little rockabilly thrown in; that is until John McCauley’s voice comes alive.  His voice is unique to say the least but it is also the main reason I am drawn to this Rhode Island-based band.  Listen to ‘Easy’ and make your decision based on how you feel after that.

#17. Iron & Wine – Around The Well (folk)

“He kissed her once as she leaned on the windowsill
She’ll never love him but knows that her father will
Her fallen fruit is all rotten in the middle
But her breast never dries when he’s hungry

This is a collection of b-sides, covers and throw away tracks from Samuel Beam aka Iron & Wine.  The fact that he had 23 songs of this quality just laying around shows that he is one of the truly gifted singer/songwriters of our time.  There is not a bad track in this collection.  To say this album is mellow is like saying Quentin Tarantino films are violent…kinda goes without saying.  I just don’t have the words to explain how Samuel’s whispered vocals should put you right to sleep but somehow grab your attention and don’t let go. You’ll just have to listen for yourself.

#16. The xx – xx (post-punk)

“And I can draw the line on the first date
I’ll let you cross it
Let you take every line I’ve got
When the time gets late”

I shouldn’t like this album as much as I do.  It was written, performed and produced by four 20 year olds.  It is very simple.  It sounds like it could have been released in the 80s.  But there is just something about it.  It’s addictive.  It gets in your head and doesn’t leave and that’s not a bad thing.  I have always had a thing for the whole male/female back-and-forth vocal thing…like Stars.  This band reminds me a lot of Stars.  Anyway, check em out.  They have already lost one member and are now a trio.  Hopefully the rest of them can keep it together and prove this album wasn’t a fluke.

#15. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz (indie rock)

“Flow sweetly, hang heavy
You suddenly complete me”

Not really fair to keep calling Yeah Yeah Yeahs indie.  They have become a mainstream sensation.  Luckily this has not changed them.  Karen O has become a household name without losing her appeal.  She has been busy this year with the new album, touring non-stop and the Wild Things soundtrack.  This was the first YYYs album I liked on the first listen.  Sure, some of the songs have been played out, but this is still one of the best albums of the year.

#14. Lightning Dust – Infinite Light (indie folk)

“I woke up to my favorite song
A song about heaven and where we went wrong

Amber Webber has the best female voice in music today.  I can’t explain it in words, you just have to hear it.  The first time I noticed her was at a Black Mountain show in San Francisco a few years back.  I didn’t even like Black Mountain but just went because it was a dead night and I needed something to do.  It ended up being one of the better shows of the year because of her haunting vocals.  The problem with most Black Mountain songs is that her voice is hidden in the background.  It’s almost used as another instrument.  With Lightning Dust, one of her many side-projects, her voice is center stage.  Love this girl and this is not the last time you will here about hear on this list.

#13. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion (experimental)

“With a little girl, and by my spouse
I only want a proper house

I just want four walls and adobe slabs for my girls

The album of the year by almost every critic, website and blog out there.  I tried my best not to buy into the hype, but my problem is I had bought into it before it existed.  ‘Feels’ is still one of my favorite albums of the decade and AC released it about 3 years before the Internet exploded with AC praise.  Then came the anticipation of seeing them live.  I was so excited when they came around for the ‘Strawberry Jam’ tour even though I didn’t care for that album.  But they disappointed live.  They were just bad.  So I was going to make my stance and leave this album off my list for the year…but I couldn’t.  No matter how much I try to deny it, this is a great album and it never gets old.  Sure, it’s repetitive and I’m sure some of you might not get it, but this is their masterpiece.  ‘MPP’ is their ‘OK Computer’.  ‘Feels’ is more fun to listen to, just like ‘The Bends’ is, but ‘MPP’ will live on for the 00’s like ‘OK’ did for the 90’s.  And the fact that the lead single, ‘My Girls’, relates to my life so much this year makes it all that much better.

#12. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – Beware (singer/songwriter)

“God love us as we lay in puddles of our own.
Our qualities will raise us in a light that blinds our mothers.”

The best country album this year was put out by a guy who doesn’t consider himself country.  Will Oldham aka Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy has put out 9 studio albums, 5 live albums, 2 compilations and 14 EPs in the past decade.  That’s a lot of material in a very short time.  And while most critics agree that nothing has stood up against his 1999 classic ‘I See A Darkness’, I would have to disagree.  Yes, ‘I See A Darkness’ is still his best album, but I think his work in the 00’s has been pretty amazing as well.  A good number of his albums have been on my Best Of lists but ‘Beware’ is his best of the decade.  Will has always blended country into his music, but he has completely given in to that country urge on this album and it works for him.

#11. Baroness – Blue Record (sludge)

“save your breath
this may be the last
there is no novelty left on the earth”

There were two albums this year that brought me back around to metal…this is the first one.  I was a huge metalhead in the late 80’s. Iron Maiden, Megadeth, Metallica, Ozzy and of course all the hair metal bands.  But after Metallica released the black album in ’91 and metal started changing I ventured on to other things.  Turns out I have been missing out.  Over the past decade some talented musicians have been making some hard hitting modern metal that makes the stuff I used to listen to seem mellow.  Saw these guys live a month or so ago and they killed it!

#10. Mastodon – Crack the Skye (progressive metal)

“I was standing staring at the world
And I can’t see it”

I realize that I have only included the two most hyped bands in the genre on this list…but Baroness and Mastodon were just the most approachable bands.  I have a feeling they are going to lead me back down that dark path and I will have a special list for metal next year. (thanks Chang!)  I am still not sure which album I like best but I have been listening to Mastodon for quite a bit longer so I gave ‘Skye’ the lead here.  Mastodon is also the easiest to listen to for those of you who aren’t into metal.  The theme of the album is insane (too long to go into here) and they did acid for a year or something to write it…but anyway, check it out even if metal isn’t your thing.  These are some talented musicians.  And if you do like it, work your way into their older stuff, it’s heavier and even better.

#9. Japandroids – Post-Nothing (noise rock)

“Let’s get to France
So we can French kiss some French girls”

This is my No Age of ’09.  Two guys from Vancouver, B.C. making messy, noisy, ear splitting goodness.  The difference between these guys and No Age is they lean more toward their ‘garage’ and less toward their ‘noise’ tendencies making their vocals much more comprehensible.  I think they strike the perfect balance and have made a near perfect album.  Another band I’m sorry I missed at Larimer this year.

#8. Jaydiohead – Jaydiohead/Jaydiohead: The Encore (mash-up)

“From my Blueprint beginnings
To that Black Album endin’
Listen close you hear what i’m about”

“I’d really like to help you, man
I’d really like to help you, man”

I don’t think Jay-Z is the best rapper alive.  I don’t think he even comes close to the legends I grew up on.  The majority of the members of N.W.A and Wu-Tang, 2Pac, Biggie…even the G-Funk pioneers kill most Jay-Z rhymes as far as I’m concerned.  And over the past decade I think Eminem, Kanye and Lil’ Wayne have done more for hip-hop than Jigga.  I guess that’s just my opinion though because it seems to be the consensus that Hova is the CEO of hip-hop.  Well, whatever.  Screw the masses. It took Max aka Minty Fresh Beat aka Jaydiohead to bring me around to Jay-Z.  By mixing Jay-Z’s rhymes over Radiohead songs he completely changed the way I hear these songs.  I know it’s not really fair to put simple mash-ups this far up in my Best Of list…but it’s just that good.  I probably played these albums more than any other single album this year.

Song & Cry link

#7. Tom Waits – Glitter and Doom Live (experimental)

“I’m just another sad
Guest on this dark earth”

This is the only album on this list I don’t recommend you listening too.  Not unless you’ve already spent years exploring Tom’s songs and are ready for a journey through his most difficult work.  This is Tom at his most experimental.  This is harsh Tom.  Even when he goes into his back catalogue, his piano ballads, they sound like they are being perform in a twisted fun house at midnight in a abandon carnival.  If this were a DVD and you could see this performance I would say sit down and watch it now!  I was at 3 stops on this tour and it was amazing!  Even to the non-Tom Waits obsessed person.  But without the visuals this is only for hardcore Tom Waits fans. If you are not one of those, go get ‘Closing Time’, ‘Rain Dogs’ and ‘Mule Variations’ to get a taste of Tom in the various stages of his career.

#6. Dan Deacon – Bromst (electronic)

“And so my ghost, it leaves my home
But not for long because it’s cold where it goes”

I read a lot about Dan Deacon in ’07 and ’08.  He was always popping up in articles about Girl Talk and the whole experimental electronic scene.  He was always portrayed as some kind of LSD taking, mad scientist, electronic genius.  Then there was the youtube video ‘Drinking Out of Cups’.  This all sounded interesting but I didn’t really like his music.  It was all Woody Woodpecker crap over simple keyboards, etc.  Then ’09 came along and he released ‘Bromst’ and I saw him live.  That changed everything for me.  His live show is part comedy, part performance art, part concert, part rave and a whole lot of chaos and audience participation.  He is a rock star of electronic music and this album is the equivalent of a stadium-rock in it’s genre.

#5.Leonard Cohen – Live In London (singer/songwriter)

“Well my friends are gone and my hair is grey
I ache in the places where I used to play”

I might be biased because I grew up on Leonard Cohen and I finally got to see him live this year.  The man is 75 and still sounds perfect.  He runs on and off stage, tells jokes about his age, his medication and his time as a monk.  He performs for hours on end.  He is a living legend.  I can’t say he’s the greatest living artist, because in my book that title is still held by Tom Waits, but damn Leonard is a close, close second.  This album includes material from his entire career and what an amazing career it has been!  Even if you are not a fan, give this album a chance and I’m betting you will be.

#4. Lucero – 1372 Overton Park (alt-country)

“me and my friends we might not look like much
but we got the time and we know when to push our luck”

This Memphis-based band has been around since 1998 and I just discovered them this year.  What a shame!  They are my new favorite band.  This is their 8th album and I am going to spend the next year or so working through their back catalogue because I saw them twice this year and they did a lot of old stuff and it all sounded as good, if not better, than what’s on this album.  These guys remind me of Gaslight Anthem a little but more like a mix between Social D and Bruce Springsteen.  Ben Nichols’ voice sounds like he smokes 3 packs a day and it’s awesome!  The band plays their heart out like the best bar bands.  And they have a horn section.  Put this all together and mix it with some whiskey and you’ve got yourself a party!  There just aren’t enough bands like this anymore.

#3. The Antlers – Hospice (indie rock)

“So there’s no open doors and there’s no way to get through,
there’s no other witnesses, just us two.”

I have to thank Ken for making me come back to this album.  I loved the songs ‘Two’ and ‘Bear’ but the rest of the album was boring on the first listen and I moved on.  Ken talked me into going back and led me to discover one of the best albums of the year.  This is a haunting, depressing story of a man watching a loved one die from bone cancer.  He sits by the hospital bed through all the gory details even though the patient begs him to leave.  It’s a story of undying love, loneliness and fragile life.  It is also best experienced through headphones.

#2. Sunset Rubdown – Dragonslayer (indie rock)

“So this one’s for the critics and their disappointed mothers
For the cupid and the hunter shooting arrows at each other”

Spencer Krug is not only the most talented half of Wolf Parade, I also believe he is the next Thom Yorke or Kurt Cobain.  I know that’s a bold statement but I believe it to be true.  He is redefining how music sounds with his unique voice, experimental style and prolific output.  Just like the other misunderstood genuises not everything he puts out is good, but it is all important.  He actually just released some type of ‘marimba and shit-drums’ EP today under the name Moonface.  I can’t even keep track of how many projects he has going at any given time but I do know Sunset Rubdown is the one that puts out the best music.  I was very partial to ‘Shut Up I Am Dreaming’ but after a full year of listening to, putting away and coming back to ‘Dragonslayer’ I now believe it’s his best output yet.  I never understand what the hell he’s singing about, but it doesn’t really matter because I enjoy every word of it.

#1. Pink Mountaintops – Outside Love (psychedelic)

“And if I could find your heart
I would pull it from your chest
And smash you with my fist
Til it was beating”

It’s the year of side-projects and Amber Webber!  I never thought I would be naming a psychedelic album with a romance novel on the cover as my Album of the Year…but here it is, The Pink Mountaintops!  Another Black Mountain spin-off.  Amber Webber has caught me again.  Although she is not center-stage on this album, her presence makes it.  This is just a big album.  Huge sounds, sprawling atmosphere, dark lyrics that are as funny as they are disturbing.  I was hooked when I heard ‘Vampire’ and knew this would be my Album of the Year by the third listen.  I can’t wait to see what the Black Mountain Army put out in the next decade because they have already created three classics in just two years.

Here’s to a new year and new decade of music!

  3 comments for “Top 20 Album of 2009

  1. Mel
    January 13, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    Kevin, I love your blog. And The XX are catchy – I like Crystalised. Thanks for all of the good info!

  2. Billy
    December 30, 2009 at 7:28 am

    Kevin, This looks awesome. Can you do this for food and drinks too?

    • December 30, 2009 at 10:24 am

      Sure Billy…here you go.
      Chipotle for Tacos
      Jimmy’s Wings for Wings
      Large Marge for Cheesesteaks
      Stoli for Vodka
      Jameson for Whiskey
      Water for hangovers

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