2009 was a fairly deep year musically, even if nothing leapt out for me as being incredibly outstanding. Some years, it seems utterly obvious to me from the moment I hear it what my favorite album of the year is going to be. Other years, the assembled list of albums I’ve listened to seems impossible to organize hierarchically; in fact, this year I almost considered ditching rank entirely and merely listing albums in categories (older folks, newer artists, growers, etc.). Anyway, without further waffling, here’s a list:
- A.C. Newman Get Guilty
- Neko Case Middle Cyclone
- PJ Harvey & John Parish A Woman a Man Walked By
- Robyn Hitchcock & the Venus 3 Goodnight Oslo
- Seeland Tomorrow Today
- St. Vincent Actor
- The Mountain Goats The Life of the World to Come
- Why? Eskimo Snow
Some reliable favorites there…but I’ll note that Hitchcock is once again on a hot streak: I probably listened to that album more than any other this year. This was the year John Darnielle’s Mountain Goats clicked for me (aided by an illicit download of an unavailable item that came with a ton of other stuff: take that RIAA…because of this download, I bought two other Mountain Goats albums which I probably would not have otherwise). Both the St. Vincent and PJ Harvey & John Parish albums rose quite a bit from my initial estimation of where they’d fall in the rankings, the PJ Harvey in particular making a huge impression on me as I relistened to it while putting this list together. Yoni Wolf’s Why? put out two fine albums this year: I give a slight edge to this one. (updated: As Aaron implies in the comments, I’m wrong here. I think I mislabeled their 2008 Alopecia – a fine album as well.) Wolf’s hip-hop background makes his lyrical approach different from the generally indie-rock background of most of this music (to clarify: Why?’s music has now moved almost entirely over to the vicinity of indie rock), and the density and cleverness of his language really ought to inspire sometimes lazy indie lyricists to amp up their efforts…
- Charlotte Hatherley New Worlds
- Dirty Projectors Bitte Orca
- Fever Ray Fever Ray
- Grizzly Bear Veckatimest
- Phoenix Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
- Yo La Tengo Popular Songs
I will notice that female artists made a very strong showing this year: half of the top albums listed so far are by women or feature female players in key roles. And not just as singers: I’d say Harvey, Hatherley, and Annie Clark (St. Vincent) are three of the finest guitar players working today.
Anyway: I wasn’t sure at first whether Dirty Projectors’ work was really this good or whether its innovation and sheer jaw-dropping factor (yes, they are singing those parts, live and in real time) was covering up some deeper deficiencies. The more I listened, the more I doubted that: these are good and affecting songs as well as being strikingly arranged and performed. The Yo La Tengo album is similar to their last few, in that it sort of sneaks up on you: you think it’s just a typical competent YLT album, relatively middling…until one of its songs comes up in shuffle, and you realize, first, that you recognize it and know it more than you thought, and second, that it’s a really good song. When that happens with song after song, you realize the band has snuck another really great album past your initial impressions.
Next Next Favorites
- Adam Franklin Spent Bullets
- Animal Collective Merriweather Post Pavilion
- Anton Barbeau Plastic Guitar
- Circulatory System Signal Morning
- John Vanderslice Romanian Names
- Polvo In Prism
Vanderslice’s track record over the past several releases is strong enough that the quite good Romanian Names counts as a bit of a dropoff: its subtler textures may improve its standing with more listens. (That happens a lot…) The Animal Collective album was, of course, one of the most hyped releases of the year: sure, it’s good, and I like it better than the sometimes overly formless stuff that preceded it…but it isn’t the cure for cancer. Polvo’s comeback record was way better than I would have guessed (I’m one of the few who thought their seeming swansong Exploded View was a bit bloated and disappointing) and might even sound better the more I listen. Barbeau’s been on a hot streak in the last few years, but the latter half of this one tails off a bit. Circulatory System’s Signal Morning is definitely an album; it’s hard to excerpt sensibly, but overall its panoramic psychedelia is entrancing.
Amazing Baby Rewild; Bob Dylan Together Through Life; Deastro Moondagger, Doug Gillard Call from Restricted; Engineers Three Fact Fader; Future of the Left Travels with Myself and Another; Githead Landing; Morrissey Years of Refusal; Skates & Rays You Are My Home; Sparklehorse/Danger Mouse/David Lynch/et al. Dark Night of the Soul; Tegan and Sara Sainthood; The Felice Brothers Yonder Is the Clock; The Flaming Lips Embryonic; The Sky Drops Bourgeois Beat; The Starlight Mints Change Remains; Wilco Wilco (The Album)
Andrew Bird Noble Beast; Brendan Benson My Old Familiar Friend; Jay Reatard (R.I.P.) Watch Me Fall; Maximo Park Quicken the Heart; Mission of Burma The Sound the Speed the Light; Peter Bjorn and John Living Thing; The Church Untitled #23; The Dodos Time to Die; The Minus 5 Killingsworth; The Young Fresh Fellows I Think This Is It
As I said: it’s a pretty deep year—we’re down to about 40 now, and these are still pretty strong.
There were some disappointments, though (aside from some titles above that weren’t as good as I’d hoped): Echo & the Bunnymen The Fountain (blah); Editors In This Light and On This Evening (synth sounds don’t suit); Elvis Costello Secret, Profane & Sugarcane (just haven’t got it…yet?); Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs Under the Covers Vol. 2 (great selection of songs, but near-karaoke in terms of reimagining them); Peter Holsapple & Chris Stamey Here and Now (just didn’t click); The Fiery Furnaces I’m Going Away (I think they do “complex” better than “more or less straight”).
Stuff I haven’t listened to enough to form a proper opinion but which are likely quite fine: A Sunny Day in Glasgow Ashes Grammar; Allyson Seconds Bag of Kittens (songs by Anton Barbeau); Atlas Sound Logos; Califone All My Friends Are Funeral Singers; David Bazan Curse Your Branches; Joe Henry Blood from Stars; Robert Pollard Elephant Jokes; Sunset Rubdown Dragonslayer; The Clientele Bonfires on the Heath; Throw Me the Statue Creaturesque; Tris McCall Let the Night Fall.
Anton Barbeau Plastic EP; Deradoorian Mind Raft; Destroyer Bay of Pigs; Superchunk Leaves in the Gutter; The Joy Formidable A Balloon Called Moaning; The Mountain Goats & John Vanderslice Moon Colony Bloodbath.
Most Ridiculously Charming Video
This has to go to Milwaukeean Pezzettino, whose “You Never Know” presents her scampering about NYC with videographer in tow (sometimes literally)…her album Lion is more interesting than the music in this video, though, which is a bit…minimal.
Album Cover of the Year – or Decade – or Forever
Neko Case’s cover for Middle Cyclone. I will brook no argument on this one.
The Pollard Prize
Named, of course, for Robert Pollard and commemorating busiest artists of the year. Pollard himself is always on this list: this year, four studio albums, two under his own name and two with Boston Spaceships; one live album with Boston Spaceships; work with Cosmos (with Richard Davies), and the Circus Devils…I’m probably missing something, like another GBV “Suitcase” mop-up collection or something. I’m exhausted just writing this. Anyway: The Fiery Furnaces released two albums, or one album twice: I’m Going Away itself, plus reimaginings of several tracks by each Friedberger alone. Anton Barbeau released an album and an EP under his own name and wrote, produced, and played on an album by Allyson Seconds; and Scott McCaughey was all over the place: as part of Robyn Hitchcock’s Venus 3, as a live player with R.E.M. on Live at the Olympia; and as main band dude with both the Minus 5 and the Young Fresh Fellows.
Robyn Hitchcock’s I Often Dream of Trains in New York is a live rendering of his classic album, with excellent performances and rearrangements; R.E.M.’s Live at the Olympia is a comprehensive overview of their entire catalog with fiery and engaged performances suggesting Accelerate was not a fluke (the performances actually predate the recording of that album, but the live album was released in 2009). The Australians, at least, were able to get hold of Wall of Voodoo’s classic first album Dark Continent; the bulk of the Kraftwerk catalog was reissued in a wonderful box set (with hopes that their obscure, out-of-print earliest stuff may have a follow-up set of its own)…oh, and some band from Liverpool had its catalog revamped: you may have heard of it.
Next up: a playlist.