Well, this is it. My top ten favorite albums of 2009. There was so much great music this year that it feels strange to narrow it down to so few albums. I really did love each of these though, and I hope you do, too. Let me know what you think. I probably won’t be blogging too much until 2010, but I can’t wait to hear what happens next year.
I’ve included my favorite song from each album, unless it was on my Favorite Songs list, in which case I’ve included a different favorite.
10) Yeah I Know – Darlings Darlings are charmingly adolescent. They’re like that adorable kid you used to baby-sit, but who you know is going to grow up to be really attractive. With lines like “We can do things to each other,” and “We’ll get fucked up in the park/And we’ll get fucked up in the dark” scattered throughout Yeah I Know, there is something innately raw and youthful about these songs. They give a pretty great picture of what it feels like to be a twenty-something in New York, as well, with songs like “Eviction Party.” I think they capture something innate about the spirit of Brooklyn right now. Then you get a song like the title track, “Yeah I Know,” that’s so full of ecstatic songwriting ideas, and sublimely mature for such a young band (and it’s even better live). This is a great, fun album, but I’m even more excited about it because of what it signals for this band’s future.
9) Ducktails – Ducktails Matt Mondanile has put out so much music this year. This self-titled Ducktails LP is probably the most concrete chunk of output, but I’d really like it to represent everything Ducktails has put his name on in 2009. From splits with Julian Lynch to tapes to work with Real Estate, Mondanile has created a wonderfully unique soundscape and new musical sensibility. It’s so calming and peaceful without being too easy to accept. Ducktails is swirly and complicated and totally satisfying.
8 ) Here We Go Magic – Here We Go Magic This album deserves to be on any top ten list based on the strength of “Tunnelvision” and “Fangela” alone. While those tracks circulated around the internet quite a lot in early 2009, Here We Go Magic somehow didn’t get the kind of buzz that other bands have garnered in 2009. I believe this is due to Luke Temple’s maturity as a musician and songwriter. These songs age well with repeated listens. Temple’s been around forever and is finally getting the recognition he deserves. This album is full of serious compositions, wonderful and bewildering- not the kind of thing that’s easily hyped. Instead, this album is solid and stable, steeped in talent and vision, and will be a work to remember for years to come.
7) Hospice – The Antlers This is the saddest album I’ve ever heard. A year ago, The Antlers were another Brooklyn Antlers band, one that I frequently mixed up with Crystal Antlers and in turn, Crystal Stilts. A year later, I doubt anyone will make that mistake again. Dubbed as one of the best albums of 2009 all the way back in January by NPR, Hospice is stark and honest, a frank take on death and mortality, especially from a young person’s point of view. Hospice feels like an accomplishment, one that must have been difficult to produce. I saw The Antlers play it, front to back, at Union Hall earlier this year. I’ve seen the band several times since then, but I particularly remember Silberman’s a cappella vocals at the end of that Union Hall set for “Epilogue.” That’s when I knew how truly good this album is. What a talent. My only worry about Hospice is that it’s so well-conceived, that the extremely talented Silberman will have a difficult time ever creating anything better. I’m not the only one to be struck so starkly by the Antler’s live show. I’ve heard others complain that the album sounds like it’s too muted compared to the sound of the songs live. I think, though, that this only adds to the beauty of Hospice. Suffocating, choked, and dying. The whole thing is so despairingly gorgeous. Truly one of the most remarkable works of art produced in 2009.
MP3: “Bear” – The Antlers
6) Real Estate – Real Estate I feel the same way about Real Estate as I do about Ducktails. This band really created a sound this year, something that didn’t exist before they started doing it. Plus, they’ve done it with two guitars, bass, and drums- a remarkable feat at this point in rock and roll’s history. It’s less that I love this album, and more that I love all of the output from Real Estate that’s been floating around the internet all year, much of which did find its way onto this release. An immensely talented group of young men. Not only is Ducktails a side project, but so is Alex Bleeker and The Freaks, another band that I bet you’re going to pay attention to in 2010. I’d like to crown all the boys in Real Estate champions of 2009.
5) Songs of Shame – Woods Maybe it’s because one of my favorite tracks off of Songs of Shame is “Rain On,” but this is the perfect album for a rainy day. There’s just enough melody to ground all of the psychedelic noodling, and it holds together because all of it is so pretty. Tapes and old microphones and beards and guitars all add to Woods’ homey aesthetic. There’s a reason why I put Woods and Real Estate next to each other on both this list and my Favorite Songs list. They’ve both cultivated, in different ways, a laid-back, quiet rock sound without being too much like that lost 60s band from way back when. I don’t know, I just really love this stuff.
MP3: “The Number” – Woods
4) Smith Westerns – Smith Westerns Young, overconfident, gritty, naive, celebratory, excited, already jaded. These are all the things a good punk record should be, and the Smith Westerns deliver all of this on their debut self-titled lp. Boys and girls and girls and boys, I had to exercise a lot of control so that this wouldn’t be the only album I listened to throughout the month of November. I’m astounded that these guys are only seventeen years old, but at the same time, no one older could have made such a confident, brash, excellent album.
3) Post-Nothing – Japandroids The title really says it all. Post-Nothing. Don’t call them post-punk, post-noise, post-Pavement. Japandroids know that they sound like a lot of things that came before. In a year that truly did mark the evolution of what indie music means with the enormous proliferation of genre-bending electronic acts like Animal Collective, Japandroids put out a rock and roll album. And while it might not be a huge step forward for music like the aforementioned band, it’s no less good or important. The urgency of the vocals and drumming were unparalleled anywhere this year, and few bands put out an album with so much energy and rock and roll grit. While the Smith Westerns take their burgeoning boy/girl crushes with the humor of a teenager, Japandroids take their crushes a little more seriously, a little more urgently. Just like this style of music we love, they’re getting older and maybe wiser, and feel the impending sense of time. You can hear all of this in their songs. In the end, it makes my heart feel good. Let’s go French kiss some French girls.
2) Wavvves – Wavves Amidst the sudden rocket to fame, amidst the drinking and the drugs, the breakdowns, the backlash, the broken arm, and the bar fights, Wavves put out this album. It’s easy to forget the music, in light of all of the hype-inducing antics. Let me illustrate this clearly. I know the number rankings aren’t ultimately important, but Pitchfork gave Wavvves a higher ranking than it did Jewellery. But Jewellery made it onto their 50 Best list, and Wavvves did not. After all of the furor (that Pitchfork largely created) over Wavves this year, it’s become gauche to include Nathan Williams in your best of 2009, or possibly to even admit liking him at all. Well, I don’t care. I stand by my convictions that when you cut out all of the other bullshit, you’re left with a fantastic, innovative lo-fi album. Wavves was one of the first of the whole “lo-fi” craze this year, and frankly, I don’t think anyone does it better than him. If there’s a better representation of contemporary suburban kids’ existential angst than “So Bored” in music, literature, or art, I haven’t heard, seen, or read it. With his “ooos” and “waas,” Williams also creates a wonderful pop tension above his difficult, scuzzed out guitar. Lest we forget the more experimental tracks on Wavvves – while other lo-fi artist like Times New Viking incorporate the pop into their noisy songs, Williams actually divides noise and pop into two different types of songs on his album. There’s “Goth Girls,” “To the Dregs,” and “Killr Punx, Scary Demons.” Then there’s “So Bored,” “No Hope Kids,” and “Gun in the Sun” – Ramones-worthy punk janglers. There’s a wonderful logic to structuring an album in this dual way, one that says quite a lot about bedroom music versus live shows (one of the main tensions of Wavves’ act), and it really sets this album apart for me.
Sometimes it may be difficult for an artist to get themselves heard if they’re not getting hyped by the proper sites. But we’ve reached the other end of the spectrum, where it’s sometimes difficult for an artist to get heard once they’re in the hype machine. It’s challenging, but we need to put our notions about Wavves aside and stick to the music on this one. When you subtract how popular or hated or obnoxious or overexposed Wavves might be, you’re left with one hell of an album.
1) Jewellery – Micachu and the Shapes Jewellery is the most original, unique record to come out in 2009, hands down. Micachu and the Shapes are an androgynous female-fronted band of twenty-two year olds banging on beer bottles and home made guitars, who play completely bizarre Waitsian ditties with more dark humor than a Poe short story. Maybe it’s because they’re British and didn’t tour in America as much as other bands this year, but this is another album that escaped the hype machine. Pitchfork gave them an unbelievably low review the first time around, but did indeed include the album in their Fifty Best list. I honestly can’t understand how this album, with its stunning originality, wasn’t in the top ten. For starters, they are straight-up weird. For being so strange, it’s a remarkably versatile album. “Golden Phone” and “Calculator” are two of the catchiest songs of the year. Jewellery can be dark and scary, or fun and lighthearted, depending on what mood you’re listening in. They’re also one of the few indie bands that have really incorporated electronics with guitar-based tunes in an exciting, creative, new way. The first forty seconds of “Just In Case” are a great example. It’s still, vaguely, rock and roll, but the electronics combined with the home-made guitar make sounds that are totally new. It might all be a little too wacky for some to take seriously, but to my ears, Jewellry is absolutely delicious and refreshing, and will certainly be one of the coolest, most interesting artifacts of 2009.