20 Pleasant Albums from 2009

BEHOLD, MORTALS:
20 PLEASANT ALBUMS FROM 2009

Read on, swine.

This post originally led with a really long rant about how silly “BEST OF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” lists are, which would then blossom into succulent irony as I present my top 20 albums of 2009, but…

These twenty albums I’ve selected aren’t ranked in any way and will thus be presented alphabetically. Accompanying each entry will be a YouTube link to a sample song for your perusal and voracious enjoyment. Go!

ANAMANAGUCHI – “DAWN METROPOLIS”

(Listen to Tempest, Teamwork, Triumph (At Sea))

Your old Nintendo (you know, the one you got in 1985) got knocked up, hard, by metal horns-worthy dance rock. Behold the loinspawn.

ATLAS SOUND – “LOGOS”

(Listen to The Light That Failed)

This replaced Animal Collective’s “Merriweather Post Pavilion” on my original list, for a couple of reasons. Having just heard Merriweather, blasting in its full hip grandeur, at a clothing store today, I decided – God damn it – enough was enough already. On “Logos,” Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox nails the ambient, shoegazey psychedelia that Animal Collective has often teetered towards even if they generally stick closer to the, shall we say, bouncier side of things, and he does so with about a million times more subtlety and wit than the Collective, which has become the blasé critics’ darling of 2009. To a more refined music critic, comparing Atlas Sound and Animal Collective may be an apples and oranges scenario, but the two don’t feel so far removed to me, and after all the bluster of Animal Collective’s ’09 releases (January’s “Merriweather” and last month’s “Fall Be Kind” EP), I’m not ashamed to suggest they take a break. To me, “Logos” is a far more cohesive work, and it offers the brand of warm complexity that Animal Collective often excels at but failed to champion this year.

I mean, listen, Animal Collective’s albums were good. But I can’t help but feel that they’re also tremendously obvious now; nothing on “Merriweather” or “Fall Be Kind” is nearly as interesting to me as their work on past albums like “Sung Tongs.” For those who like that kind of music, Atlas Sound is far more worthy this time around. In my opinion.

BARONESS – “BLUE RECORD”

(Listen to A Horse Called Golgotha)

Full-on sludge triumph metal. This is what Hercules would listen to as he massacred the Gorgons, assuming that Hercules was the sort of person that would retire to the pub afterwards and baste, like, five bar wenches. You are implored to witness the poetry in motion that has birthed such lyrics as “‘Flesh is weak!’ and my lip needs a meal.”

BEAR IN HEAVEN – “BEAST REST FORTH MOUTH”

(Listen to Lovesick Teenagers)

This, to me, feels like a darker, more cynical exercise in the sort of indie dance rock that’s just so in these days. It’s got some wicked album art, too. That’s extra points.

DINOSAUR JR. – “FARM”

(Listen to Pieces)

“Farm” feels, in many ways, like a wormhole back to the heyday of 80s and 90s alternative rock, which is tremendous. Tracks like “Pieces,” “Your Weather,” and “Said the People” all but assail you with their deadweight brilliance, and though the in-betweens are occasionally less than phenomenal, this is pretty much the best new album from twenty years ago money can buy.

DIRTY PROJECTORS – “BITTE ORCA”

(Listen to Useful Chamber)

I had my doubts about this album until pretty recently, actually, but I’ve come to really dig its cozy brand of, what, bubbly tribal indie experimental rock? I totally lack the vernacular to talk about these sorts of things with any real authority and I might as well be pulling hip buzzwords out of my ass, but the Dirty Projectors really are deserving of such an amalgamated description. Hard to put your finger on but pleasantly familiar all the same, “Bitte Orca” takes great twists and turns but nonetheless has a sound all its own.

FEVER RAY – “FEVER RAY”

(Listen to I’m Not Done)

Vorpal electronic pop ambience to give you the heebie jeebies. The dark, magnificent thing starts with Karin Dreijer “Fever Ray” Andersson’s creepy ass all but bellowing “This will never end cause I want more, give me more, give me more,” and you just kind of get that after a minute or two.

THE FLAMING LIPS – “EMBRYONIC”

(Listen to Watching the Planets)

Absolutely exceeded my expectations. This is probably the first time I’ve ever unquestioningly accepted the phrase “acid drenched” in reference to an album, and it’s also the first time I’ve been completely enthralled with a Flaming Lips record from start to finish. Fuzzy, trippy beyond all belief, and, well, about as transcendent as Wayne Coyne will probably ever be. Those more accustomed to “Fight Test,” “Yoshimi,” “Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” et. al. have levied complaints against “Embyronic,” criticizing how noisy it is, but they’re totally missing the point. This, to me, is The Flaming Lips at their finest.

FUCK BUTTONS – “TAROT SPORT”

(Listen to Surf Solar)

Fuck Buttons’ “Street Horrrsing” was my favorite album of last year. This follow-up feels a bit more focused, and it capitalizes on what I’d consider a recent indie rock movement towards music that could, in theory, be played in a club (perhaps on an alternate Earth wherein mainstream pop radio is spinning this stuff and not Lady GaGa), but it’s still suitably, excellently cerebral and suffocating in the best of ways. This is music that hits you with a huge sonic tidal wave, relentlessly.

ISIS – “WAVERING RADIANT”

(Listen to Stone to Wake a Serpent)

While the likes of Baroness, Mastodon, and Kylesa dominated my thirst for hard-hitting, supercharged progressive metal in 2009, Isis’ “Wavering Radiant” is in a different sort of category for me, and I like it even more than “Blue Record,” “Crack the Skye,” and “Static Tensions” in some ways. This is an album that – and I apologize for how pretentious this is going to seem – builds soundscapes for the listener to inhabit, and it’s thus affecting in a completely different way. Ebbing and flowing with tremendous force, “Wavering Radiant” is an album not just to hear, but to experience.

JAPANDROIDS – “POST-NOTHING”

(Listen to Heart Sweats)

I was unfairly pessimistic about “Post-Nothing” before I gave it a fair shake – it’s kind of a stupid band name, and yeesh, that smarmy cover. But hey, the guys rock. Layered and crunchy in a way I hadn’t expected, this was among 2009’s most pleasant surprises.

KYLESA – “STATIC TENSIONS”

(Listen to Scapegoat)

Kylesa is among the most versatile bands currently making rounds in the indie metal circuit, and they’re in top form on “Static Tensions.” A little bit punk, a little bit sludge, this is a headbanger’s delight. They spent a chunk of 2009 opening for Mastodon, but it’s not too hard to imagine a world where the opposite could’ve happened.

MASTODON – “CRACK THE SKYE”

(Listen to Divinations)

I guess this is Mastodon’s foray into more mainstream-friendly progressive metal. Markedly less aggressive than any previous effort (indeed, this is a downright demure album compared to Remission), this is, in some ways, a more mature venture from the Atlanta rockers. It’s cohesive in a way that even Leviathan isn’t, much leaner than the mega layered Blood Mountain, and, well, it’s just a different sort of Mastodon. I love it, personally, though still find myself hoping that their next album might contain something a little more, shall we say, “Blood and Thunder”-esque.

RUSSIAN CIRCLES – “GENEVA”

(Listen to Fathom)

Downtrodden instrumental metal (from the Windy City!) that’s a pretty good contender for least happy thing of the year. Put this on while you’re winding through a cold cityscape on public transportation and feel the grime.

SONIC YOUTH – “THE ETERNAL”

(Listen to Sacred Trickster)

I liked this album a lot when it first came out, but it’s hard not to feel a slight sting when you see Goo in your music library and remember that this is the Gossip Girl-guest-starring Sonic Youth that’s rocking out with a grande soy latte in tow. Still, there’s fun to be had here, and no need to worry:  mainstreamified or not (and forget anyone who actually gives a hoot about that), Sonic Youth’s still going to make mom shake her head when you pump the likes of “Anti-Orgasm” through the floorboards.

SUNN O))) – “MONOLITHS AND DIMENSIONS”

(Listen to Big Church (Megszentségteleníthetetlenségeskedéseitekért))

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THEM CROOKED VULTURES (SELF-TITLED)

(Listen to Mind Eraser, No Chaser)

Them Crooked Vultures has been defined on Wikipedia as a “rock supergroup,” and with a line-up of long-locked rockers who’ve done time for Led Zeppelin, Queens of the Stone Age, Nirvana and Foo Fighters, I’m not about to argue. Met with something of an uneven critical response, you need only know that this debut effort is probably excellent to get most varieties of inebriated to, and, well, hard rock has never asked for a better qualifier than that.

WAVVES – “WAVVVES”

(Listen to Beach Demon)

I waited to make this list until I had heard this album, and I’m glad I did, because it is fuckin’ siiiiiick son damn. It’s frenetic, noisy, gritty, dance-y, garage-y, and most other adjectives that them hipster kids love these days. Frankly, If I had to choose a best non-metal album of the year (and what a TASK that would be), this would probably be it; it’s trendy but fresh, rockin’ and cantankerous but not grating, and, well, it’s plain awesome. True, everything from the album cover art, the tongue-in-cheek title, the very genre to which it belongs (the titanic “indie rock”) feels very Urban Outfitters-approved, but the entire product is unflinchingly genuine and deserves – at least! – a listen.

THE XX – “XX”

(Listen to Crystalised)

Here’s a band with heart. Says Pitchfork, “the xx are four 20-year-olds from South London who make predominantly slow, furtive pop music, mostly about sex,” and that’s pretty good; most every second of this album feels smokey, in that dim boozed-out lounge sort of way, and I could probably see sharing a bottle of red wine with my girlfriend while “Crystalised” seeps out of my speakers. No matter the case, this is an easy-to-digest album (my mom’s the one that turned me onto it), but, you know, in the best of ways.

YEAH YEAH YEAHS – “IT’S BLITZ”

(Listen to Zero)

And so, in 2009 the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have brought us disco punk. That’s something. I distinctly remember the first time I heard “Zero,” turning to
my friends and basically asking, “what are they doing?” immediately assuming that the new direction would spell disaster for the popular
“art punks” (cringe). Then the album came out, it clicked, and lo it was good. It’s slightly uneven (“Dragon Queen” is voraciously disco
ball friendly while “Dull Life” belongs on 2006’s “Show Your Bones”), but nevertheless it’s among the most fun albums to make the rounds
this year, and it’s good to see that Karen O and co. can innovate while so successfully keeping their spirit. That’s props, Ms. O.
So. That’s it. Them’s the twenty. And what a twenty they are! Above you’ll see how Last.Fm has tracked my music listening habits over the course of the past twelve months, which might give you some idea of what I found most pleasing in 2009. Or it might just show you that after my friend Dan brought the Pixies into my life, my iPod became a much more, ahem, homogenized place. Who knows! Hope you enjoyed, homies.
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