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Top 10 Albums of 2009

10. Animal Collective
Fall Be Kind EP [Domino]

With apologies to the Collective's LP earlier this year, the "m'eh"-worthy Merriweather Post Pavilion, Animal Collective released their most distinctive recording at the end of 2009. Following their usual pattern of feature album / EP of songs that didn't make the cut, the Fall Be Kind EP is worth the price of admission for the single "What Would I Want? Sky", a beautiful combination of Panda Bear's newfound love of sampling and Avey Tare's newfound lyrical and vocal clarity. They've come along way since their high water mark of Sung Tongs, that 2004 avant-folk masterpiece of theirs, and sound a lot more like every other band, but this EP reminds us that, even if they're a little less weird, they can still be adventurous and catchy at the same time. [Qualler]

9. Yeah Yeah Yeahs It's Blitz! [Interscope]

I listened to the first half of this album at least 20 times in 2009. That is truly awesome. Karen O and those dudes were able to beat out the strong competition of NPR for control of my car stereo. In real life, Karen O is kind of short. I saw her in concert. She's also kind of the best. Keep on rocking, YYYs! [Sean]

8. Paramore Brand New Eyes [Fueled By Ramen]

Brand New Eyes - by the siren Hayley Williams and some dudes - is the first commercial album I've bought since 2003. That includes digital music, which I would download legally if I downloaded it at at all. I'm just not that into songs, so it takes a special something to perk my ears. That something usually involves breasts and marginal talent; however, Paramore vindicates my vice by offering some real talent (I think). Sure, the second half of the album is uninspired, revealing more than ever the band's tendency to over-repeat the same lines of chorus instead of attempting alternate rhymes. Yet the first half still resonates, with the second single "Brick By Boring Brick" boring into my brick head days after I last heard it. One day, I'll fall in love with an emo punk girl, and we'll listen to Paramore all night long. It will be weird for my gf to listen to her own band, I guess, but, you know, love is weird that way. [DoktorPeace]

7. The Fiery Furnaces I'm Going Away [Thrill Jockey]

The siblings Friedberger described their latest LP (and, amazingly, their sixth album since 2003) as their homage to television theme songs from the 1970s (WKRP in Cincinnati, Welcome Back Kotter, etc.) What one can take away most from that statement is that the music on this album is their most, shall we say, accessible since their first album Gallowsbird Bark. Thankfully, the easy-listening nature of this record doesn't detract from their biggest gift: hyper-literate melodies. Standouts like "Charmaine Champagne" (which might be their most catchy song since "Tropical Iceland") and "Cups and Punches" bring the smiles without detracting from the fact that this is, indeed, a Fiery Furnaces record. In this day in age, familiarity is comforting. [Qualler]

6. Phoenix Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix [Glass Note]

According to my local indie rock station, Phoenix is the best new band of 2009. New band? What about those three earlier albums of theirs? Those were great. This fourth one brings you more of that same greatness. Great enough for a Cadillac commercial. The perfect dance-pop record for your drive to work. [Sean]

5. The Wooden Birds Magnolia [Barsuk]

Andrew Kenny is the quietest rock god that has ever lived. He whispers instead of wails, he soothes instead of jars, and he smirks instead of scowls. And yet, the power his music has over me is not dissimilar to the kind of unyielding adoration a teenage girl has for your archetypal axe-wielding sex machine frontman. From his days in the much-missed American Analog Set to this, the Austin native’s brand new outfit, the gentle strum of simple chords and lilting hesitance of his cherubic croon is more hypnotic and rewarding to the soul than any brash and jagged exercise in rawk. The delightfully dusty, bare, and refined take on the old Amanset sound, showing that maybe, just maybe, Kenny has gone through so much just to start up a new project where he finally has found his voice. [Chris]

4. P.O.S. Never Better [Rhymesayers]

Stef Alexander (aka P.O.S.) hails from Blogulator hometown Minneapolis, MN, and his latest album takes less than a minute to reference the "Minnesota snow" in the opening track "Let It Rattle". Alexander's punk roots (he's also the lead singer of Minnesota-based punk band Building Better Bombs) filter through the rest of the record, from the propulsive (and aptly titled) "Drumroll (We're All Thirsty)" to the jittery sing-along "Goodbye". I guess you could say that this hip-hop record is popular with the Blogulator crowd because of its local pride, but you'd be selling it short by assuming that. [Qualler]

3. Kill The Vultures Ecce Beast [Self-Released]

Minneapolis has been the go-to place for independently-minded and independently-financed hip hop for a long time now, but the nationwide access understandably can only go so far: at first Rhymesayers (Atmosphere, Brother Ali) got all the buzz and now the spotlight’s turning to Doomtree (the crew of P.O.S., who has publicly said “I learned to rap from [Kill The Vultures’] Crescent Moon”). And while I love many of these artists, I think the much more contemplative and modestly brilliant hip hop release from Minneapolis (and across the country) comes from the duo Kill The Vultures. The cinematically jazzy riffs that back the dark and despairing rhymes are almost as genius as the more in-your-face intellectual/emotional verbiage, constructing a cohesive and eternally moving background, bringing hip hop back to a place it hasn’t been in so long: a solemn corner of the room where put down people lament the woes of living in the city. [Chris]

2. Japandroids Post-Nothing [Polyvinyl]

And sometimes you just gotta rock out. No one did that better this year than Canada’s Japandroids, whose raucous debut is about as fun as rock music can get with only three instruments: a guitar, a drum kit, and a pair of vocals straining from underneath the volume to be heard and felt. This is not to say we should commend every band that yells emotively over fuzzy chords and rollicking drum fills, but when a band comes along and does this with pointed earnestness and honesty, that’s when the consumption of rock becomes more than just swelling passion and ego posturing. It becomes an aural feast that compels and excites, breaks hearts and bobs heads like no one’s business. Let’s just hope that the duo doesn’t trade in the vehemence for watered down “maturity” or amped up “ferocity”, because neither would be true to the invigorating sounds of Post-Nothing. [Chris]

1. Bat For Lashes Two Suns [Astralwerks]

I didn’t think much of Natasha Khan upon my initial listens of 2007’s Fur & Gold, but what I did notice was her instrumentation. Though many of the melodies on that album didn’t grab me, the woman clearly knew her away around enough orchestral and electronic flourishes to create a rich and complex atmosphere, something too many artists are afraid to do for fear of losing or straying from their signature sound. Well, London-raised Khan proved she just needed a couple years to train her voice and find a style that matched her outrageous desire for eclecticism, as Two Suns succeeds at both varying wildly from the eerie and gloomy to the bombastic and heavenly on almost every track, all while firmly retaining a foothold on an ethereal quality that makes every song manifestly a Bat For Lashes song. Then again, I proposed to Jerksica at her concert, so perhaps I'm a little biased. [Chris]

P.S. Chris is also counting down his Top 100 Songs of 2009, for those interested, here.

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  1. Blogger qualler | 12:43 PM |  

    You're not biased, Chrispy! Bat For Lashes record was alternately beautiful, haunting, and catchy, all at the same time. Also my personal totes fave of the year.

  2. Blogger chris | 3:10 PM |  

    Thx Qualler!

    A couple anti-Bat For Lashes/Two Suns remarks via Facebook comments for this post...

    "Bat for Lashes bumped my show with the Mountains, so I can't get down with her, but nice list otherwise;)." -Dan C.

    "Bat for Lashes, really? surprising. i much preferred fur & gold." -Anita

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