Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Best Albums of 2009

Events beyond my control have prevented me from posting this Best Albums of 2009 list sooner, including an unexpected snowstorm yesterday that practically paralyzed the city of Portland and the surrounding areas for a period of five hours. Aside from taking over five hours to get home, I feel very fortunate that I managed to escape the snowstorm unscathed. However, the main night that I planned on working on this post was last night, so that means that I will just get this one in just before the new year.

Towards the end of October, I realized that I had barely listened to any music that was actually released in 2009. With this in mind, I began to compile a comprehensive list of albums that peaked my interest, as well as several albums that I purchased throughout the year. This list was largely assisted by the plethora of music blogs out there including Butter X Face, Terminal Boredom, Weekly Tape Deck, Better Than Sex and Swan Fungus. In addition, I mined the Pitchfork guest list and Rate Your Music's Best of 2009 list for the remainder of my list. After compiling a list of choice selections, I began the painstaking process of listening to each album on this list. Even though I started off with 265 albums, I managed to whittle this list down to the fifty that I am featuring today.

Before I present this list to you, I wanted to briefly say a few words about the caliber of music that was released this year. Those of you who have been checking out the blog since I started it can attest to the fact that my lists from previous years have been much shorter. This is primarily because I have felt that the quality of music released in previous years has not been as innovative or groundbreaking as that of 2009. While my 2009 list is longer, the reviews will be more like quick takes to give you a general idea of the style of the music. This list is numbered, but the numbers have nothing to do with which ones were rated higher. My hope is that you find out about some artists and albums on this list that you like.

It is my pleasure to unveil my list for the Best Albums of 2009 to you.

1) Thee Oh Sees- Help- Psychedelic, stomping garage rock with infectious melodies that will get stuck in your head for days.

Listen: Meat Step Lively and Can You See

2) Cyne- Water From Mars- Inventive production coupled with amazing rhymes make this one of the best hip-hop albums I've heard in quite some time.

Listen: Awakening and Cise

3) Shogun Kunitoki- Tasankokaiku-
Shimmering synth and organ jams that fit the mold of electronic drone as well as progressive post-rock.

Listen: Montezuma and Tropiikin Kuuma Huuma

4)Arrington De Dionyso- Malaikat Dan Singa-
More rabble rousing from the prolific front man of Old Time Relijun, but all of the lyrics are sung in Indonesian this time around. Mind blowing stuff!

Listen: Mani De Malaikat and Nana Bersembunyi

5) Grass Widow- S/T- Astoundingly inventive songs featuring catchy three part harmonies that will send chills up your spine. This is quite honestly my favorite album of the year.

Listen: To Where and Out of Body Experience

6) Lhasa- Lhasa De Sela- I can't believe this one slipped beneath my radar as I'm a huge fan of Lhasa's previous output. This time around, Lhasa sings in English, and the songs have a more noirish feel to them. The entire album is amazing, and the sparse instrumentation fits Lhasa's voice like a glove.

Listen: Love Came Here and Fool's Gold

7) Broadcast and the Focus Group- Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age- The title pretty much says it all, but I will throw in that this is a complete 180 from the more accessible pop structures on the band's last record Tender Buttons.

Listen: The Be Colony and I See, So I See So

8) Doom- Born Like This-
Doom brings his A game here- definitely the most esoteric samples and whacked out production since Madvillain.

Listen: Gazillion Ear and Cellz

9) Factums- Flowers- Experimental lo-fi electro-garage nuggets featuring the lead singer of The Intelligence. Twenty-two songs in under 45 minutes makes this one of the most sprawling albums on the list.

Listen: Gold and See Inside

10) The Necks- Silverwater- One track that changes directions more than a drunk person driving on the autobahn at midnight. Utterly captivating drone-jazz that rewards patient listeners.

Listen: Silverwater

11) Akron Family- Set 'Em Wild Set 'Em Free- Jazz, noise, folk, electronic and tribal chants are all represented on this record. Everything but the kitchen sink indeed.

Listen: Everyone Is Guilty, They Will Appear and Last Year

12) Amen Dunes- Dia- Lo-fi psychedelic fever dreams inspired by Syd Barrett.

Listen: Amen Dunes and Two Thousand Islands

13) Alela Diane- To Be Still- Flawless album of gentle folk and country sung by one of the most enchanting voices to emerge from the free-folk underground.

Listen: White as Diamonds and To Be Still

14) Antipop Consortium- Fluorescent Black- The boys from the Antipop gang are back with one of their best albums yet. Hyper-speed rhymes and dazzling production make this a can't miss album.

Listen: Lay Me Down and Timpani

15)Atlas Sound- Logos-
More of the same from Bradford Cox's side project Atlas Sound. More catchy and accessible than the first album, but the songs are stellar. The eight-and-a-half minute song Quick Canal with Laetitia Sadler from Stereolab will put a permanent smile on your face.

Listen: Walkabout and Quick Canal

16) Blank Dogs-Under and Under-
Music by and for people obsessed with the music of Joy Division and New Order.

Listen: Night Night and Open Shut

17) Built to Spill- There Is No Enemy- Epic guitar solos, dark lyrics and a more upfront production make this a Built to Spill album that will appeal to old and new fans.

Listen: Life's a Dream and Things Fall Apart

18) Bygones- By- I don't know what to say about this record other than it is the most challenging and complex album I have heard all year. Metal, math-rock, noise, stop-start rhythms and catchy melodies are all present and accounted for here.

Listen: Cold Reading and Spray You With Your Own Trip

19) Califone- All My Friends are Funeral Singers- The latest from Califone is a combination of all of their strengths- alt-country melodies, electronic textures, ramshackle instrumentation, and fantastic rave-ups.

Listen: Funeral Singers and Salt

20) Cate LeBon- Me Oh My- Recalls the sound of Cat Power, but it really sounds like a more psychedelic Nico with blistering guitar solos on a couple songs.

Listen: Terror of the Man and Burn Until the End

21) Christmas Island- Blackout Summer-
Catchy, noisy songs that evoke the heyday of Flying Nun era pop such as The Clean.

Listen: Blackout Summer and Red Island

22) Daughters of the Sun- Rings-
A sound that evokes Animal Collective without resorting to a mainstream sound. Tribal, ethereal and crushing at the same time.

Listen: Himalaya and Rings

23) David S. Ware- Shakti- Mesmerizing free jazz that is easy on the ears and complex at the same time.

Listen: Crossing Samsara and Shakti

24) Diminished Men- Shadow Instrumentals-
Creative intrumental surf rock with a film-noir feel to it.

Listen: Douse the Glim and Pantomime Magic

25) Dirty Projectors- Bitte Orca-
It has topped most of the lists this year and with good reason. This album almost captures the unbridled enthusiasm of the band in a live setting.

Listen: Temecula and Useful Chamber

26) Do Make Say Think- Other Truths- Four songs that each encapsulate what this band is all about- quiet/loud dynamics, thundering percussion and fascinating post-rock textures.

Listen: Do and Say

27) Gay Beast- Second Wave- The sonics contained within this record will melt your brain and then sell it to the drug dealer on the corner.

Listen: Beach and White Diamonds

28) Group Bombino- Guitars from Agadez Vol.2- Phenomenal and awe inspiring music from the other side of the world.

Listen: Imuhar and Kamoutalia

29) Han Bennink Trio- Parken- It's Han Bennink for crying out loud. Nuff said!

Listen: Music For Camping and Isfahan

30) Harappian Night Recordings- The Glorious Gongs of Hainuwele-
Spooky experimental trips through the mind of a lunatic on his way through the depths of hell.

Listen: Siyah Hashye and Taqsim

31) Hawk and a Hacksaw- Delivrance- Jeremy Barne's latest magnificent take on classic Gypsy music features a full band from the Middle East.

Listen: Foni Tu Argile and The Man Who Sold His Beard

32) Intelligence- Fake Surfers
-Surf, electronic and garage rock are the main touchstones on this fantastic record from Seattle's Intelligence.

Listen: Moody Tower and Universal Babysitter

33) Jack of Heart- S/T-
Psychedelic garage rock that evokes the spirit of classic garage while keeping one foot planted in the future.

Listen: Ponytail and Petrus Complains

34) Jack Rose- The Black Dirt Sessions-
Easily one of the greatest free-folk and fingerpicking guitarists in the world, and this was the last record released before his unfortunate death a couple weeks ago.

Listen: Cross the North Fork and The World Has Let Me Down

35) Kid Koala- The Slew-
A perfect blend of songcraft, rare samples and scratching from the master Kid Koala.

Listen: You Turn Me Cold and Wrong Side of the Tracks

36) Magik Markers- Balf Quarry- A more accessible noise/psych album with more attention paid to the songcraft, but no less powerful or amazing than their previous records.

Listen: 7/23 and Don't Talk in Your Sleep

37) Mary Halvorson and Jessica Pavone-Thin Air- Stunning experimental folk album filled with haunting melodies and Mary Halvorson's fantastic guitar playing.

Listen: For You Or Them and Sinking

38) Mulatu Estatke and the Heliocentrics- Inspiration Information Vol.3-
Classic Ethiopiques style groove mixed with the Heliocentrics brand of electro-jazz.

Listen: Cha Cha and Esketa Dance

39) Real Estate- S/T-
Dreamy, slow paced tunes for those days where you just like to wander around and go nowhere.

Listen: Black Lake and Suburban Beverage

40) Squarepusher- Solo Electric Bass 1- Live concert featuring electronic virtuso Tom Jenkinson playing solo bass. This record doesn't really get cooking until the fourth song, so you will need to be patient for the payoff.

Listen: Seb-1.06 and Seb-1.05

41) Staff Benda Bilili- Tres Tres Fort-
In the vein of Orchesta Baobab and Buena Vista Social Club; featuring amazing guitar solos and undulating rhythms.

Listen: Moto Moindo and Je 'taime

42) Sun Araw- Heavy Deeds- Sprawling wah wah jams with droning organs and heavily phased vocals.

Listen: Heavy Deeds and Get Low

43)The Flaming Lips- Embryonic-
Their best album in years because they brought back the guitars and started tripping out on the psychedelic effects again.

Listen: The Sparrow Looks Up at the Machine and Powerless

44) The Fresh & Only's- S/T-
Garage rock tunes that are so damn catchy that I couldn't erase them from my memory if I wanted to.

Listen: Feelings In My Heart and The Mind Is Happy

45) The Mantles- S/T- More greatness from the Siltbreeze label that is one of my favorite discoveries this year. Catchy, simple tunes with darkness pervading underneath the surface.

Listen: Disappearing Act and Don't Lie

46) The One Ensemble Orchestra- Other Thunders
- Less experimental than Daniel Padden's other project Volcano the Bear, but this is great noise/avant garde with a middle eastern feel on a couple tracks.

Listen: The Beacon and The Vapour

47) Wooden Shjips- S/T-
Long, droning psychedelic songs with amazing guitar solos and vocals that sound like ghosts trapped in the machine

Listen: For So Long and Down By the Sea

48) Trad Gras Och Stenar- Hemlosa Katter (Homeless Cats)- I never reached the third track on this album as I kept repeating the first two tracks over and over. You might do the same.

Listen: Punkrockarn and Folkets Lok I Obeveklig Rorelse

49) Wetdog- Frauhaus- Sounds like a demented cross between Erase Errata and the Breeders. Absolutely essential!

Listen: That Man Delivers Papers, Long Time to Go and Lower Leg

50) Vivian Girls- Everything Goes Wrong- A more fleshed out garage-rock record than the first one featuring more engaging melodies and a bottom heavy rhythm section.

Listen: Walking Alone at Night and Out For the Sun

I hope you have enjoyed reading through my Best of 2009 list and listening to the tunes. I would love to hear what your favorite records are for 2009.

See you next year!