Sunday, December 20, 2009

Top Albums of 2009

I don't think anyone outside of Goldman Sachs would argue that 2009 was about as crap as they come. Crashes, layoffs, a prez that misplaced his balls—it can only go up from here. Bad as it was, there was some pretty good music to get us through it. These were the ten albums I dug the most. Some of them topped other lists, others only topped mine. Given the chance, I feel like they could top yours too. Enjoy!

1. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros "Up from Below"
The flower children rediscover guitars and songs. It's been years since I've heard a band play such good tunes with such abandon. They sound like they climbed down from the Hollywood Hills with some songs and instruments they found out in the desert. They're what the Arcade Fire would sound like if they were from LA. They're what the Polyphonic Spree would sound like if they thinned their herd a bit. They're what the Brian Jonestown Massacre would sound like if they tried harder. The fact that they might end up killing someone just makes them that much more exciting. "She got jumper cable lips/She got sunset on her breath/I inhaled just a little bit/Now I got no fear of death." "40 Day Dream", "Up from Below", "Home", "Desert Song"—these guys are for real. I'm shocked this album didn't end up on more year-end lists, honestly. 'Cause they's at the top o' mine!

2. Grizzly Bear "Veckatimest"
The east coast answer to the Fleet Foxes. Gorgeous, meticulous production and incredible harmonies. For all the hype that comes out of Brooklyn it's crazy encouraging to hear a band that actually lives up to it. Bonus points for a mid-year Michael McDonald cover of "While you wait for the others" that was almost better than their own.

3. M. Ward "Hold Time"
An appropriate title for an album that could have come out any time in the last 40 years and been just as good. A killer voice, incredible songs and production that's so analog you can practically hear the dust coming off his equipment.

4. Animal Collective "Merriweather Post Pavilion"
Like a seven layer dip of delicious, delicious tunes. Vocals on top of overdubbed vocals, keys, beats, loops, chimes, bleeps, bloops, stuff clanging together—you name it. It worked. By summer it had become my soundtrack. And it's still going strong.

5. Camera Obscura "My Maudlin Career"
Gone were the frumpy grandma clothes and sad-sack lyrics of their prior albums. Not sure if they just grew up or finally got to that place where they're happy in their own skin. Or maybe they started spending time somewhere besides dreary Scotland. Whatever it was, something happened. By the time you get to the eighth track and Tracyanne begins repeating "this maudlin career has come to an end/I don't wanna be sad again" you can't help but believe her.

6. Monsters of Folk "Monsters of Folk"
So three overly talented dudes get together for a "super group" album. As good as Jim James, M. Ward and Conor Oberst are, we've been down this road before. Only this time the road led to headphone gold. The formula seemed to be "take three guys who with their bands have turned out some of the best albums of the decade and let them make one together." Well, color me still listening like a motherfucker.

7. The Raveonettes "In and Out of Love"
My friend Josh said he never got into the Raveonettes since their songs all sound alike. I suppose there's some truth to that but I think that's why I like 'em. They simultaneously sound like motorcycles and subways, switchblades and super 8's, alleyways and open highways. A guitar, a bass, a snare and a tom. That's it. That's the recipe for everything they make. And it all sounds alternately like a fistfight or a joyride.

8. Matt & Kim "Grand"
I feel like this album came and went kind of quick with the hipster set. But to me it sounded like some lost gem from the 80's. All tinkly keyboards, overly energetic faux-british vocals and New York imagery. In many ways it seemed to sound like 2009.

9. U2 "No line on the Horizon"
I've loved U2 since I could hear. Granted, I came of age during the glory of their 80's rein. So I was bound to be disappointed eventually. But I still saw the genius in "Achtung Baby" (just listen to Edge's solo on "The Fly) and gave "Zooropa" and "Pop" a chance. Then again, the 90's were a weird time for all of us. But in 2001, they seemed to rediscover their mojo. I don't know that this one supplants "All that you can't leave behind" as their best-of-the-decade but (if you skip "Get on your Boots" and "Stand-up Comedy") it's a solid outing with some of their best playing in years. The Edge apparently took Chuck Berry's whole "playing a guitar just like he's ringin' a bell" thing seriously.

10. Tie: Passion Pit "Manners" and Phoenix "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix"
These spent a fair amount of time on heavy rotation in my house this past summer. Then you couldn't go anywhere or watch TV without hearing them. That's the reason they're both not ranked higher. Or alone. Still solid though.

Here's to 2010 and new LP's from Spoon, Vampire Weekend, Beach House, Shout Out Louds, and a possible new Arcade Fire.

Merry Christmas. And God bless us everyone.


Blogger minus five said...

oh thank the good lord you posted this. i've got some I-35 driving to do between Austin and Oklahoma City. I had a feeling if I got stuck with the radio or with my dad's wife's visor stash of South Pacific and Patsy Cline, I was going to have to kill myself.

8:31 PM  
Blogger Howard Hill said...

And thank you for still reading. This was the fall that wasn't but I figured I should close the year with something. Good luck on the 35 drive!

2:25 PM  

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