Top 10 Albums of 2009

At long last, 2009 draws to a close. I spent more time paying closer attention than I ever have to the music scene, and it turned out to be a great year! For the first time, we’re not limited to a ‘Top 5’ configuration because of how damn efficient I was listening to new stuff. Beyond that, I even have a few honorable mentions that didn’t make the cut for various reasons.

Honorable Mention: The Temper Trap – Conditions

This one I just stumbled upon a little too late. Which is sad, because so far I’ve really enjoyed it. There’s a healthy dose of synth, and the vocalist has a really distinct style. That said, the songs do tend to blend together after the first six or seven tracks, but that’s probably more of a function of my lack to time spent listening than any real criticism of the work itself.

Honorable Mention: Sunset Rubdown – Dragonslayer

Oh Sunset Rubdown; a band that is totally incapable of doing anything by convention. Which is great, but it still takes some getting used to. Dragonslayer, at a meager 8 tracks, still comes in at nearly 50 minutes long, which should give you some idea as to the average length of one of these tracks. ‘Idiot Heart’ was a favorite of mine over the summer, and I’ve recently been pretty impressed by ‘You Go On Ahead (Trumpet Trumpet II)’, which sounds like someone threw the New Pornographers and an old-school NES into a blender. Fantastic!

Honorable Mention: Tegan and Sara – Sainthood

I kinda had forgotten about Tegan and Sara. I had a friend that really liked 2004’s So Jealous, which I in turn heard a few tracks from, but nothing nearing major interest. A month or two ago, I had the fortune to hear the first single from their 2009 effort, title ‘Hell’. The verses of that song have one of the best melodies I’ve heard all year, and I was really taken by surprise at how much I enjoyed the record in its entirety. Getting random tracks from this album stuck in my for days on end quickly went from annoying to fun.

Honorable Mention: Editors – In This Light and On This Evening

I mentioned it in one of the first Music-Only posts starting this summer, and it’s worth saying again: I love the Editors. An End Has a Start essentially got me through the Spring 2009 semester, and I was quite pleased with The Back Room which I purchased this summer. Imagine then my excitement when I heard they were releasing a new album this fall! Imagine my confusion then when I encountered the record itself though… As I mentioned in the post about it, it isn’t bad. Just strange. And not strange-like-Radiohead-strange… strange like who-there-thought-this-was-a-good-idea-what-happened strange. In all honesty, it really did grow on me; I never thought I’d get to the point where ‘Raw Meat = Blood Drool’ would be a favorite track, but nonetheless it is.

It was a really close race between In This Light… and the No. 10 record, and I wasn’t sure how to break the tie until I was doing a little research on an Editors track that finally tipped the scale. Great record, but boy do I have some issues with this band. (Article to be Published Jan. 1, 2010).

Now, on to the full list:

10: The Sounds – Crossing the Rubicon

Mentioned above, this was a close one. Besides the aforementioned tie-breaker though, this was a really great record in its own right. I’d heard a track or two of some of the Sounds earlier work back in high school, but as with Tegan and Sara, nothing that really drew me in. They’re a fun Swedish dance-pop group that you can move to, and they really stepped up to the plate this year. Whether it’s the pulsating drive of the first half of the album, or the more sentimental, less electronic second half (which I was far too harsh on in my original review), transitioned to with the ethereal title track placed smack in the middle of it all, this album has a lot to offer.


Beatbox
[ mp3 ♫ ]

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9: White Lies – To Lose My Life

What a dreary record, but how I love it so! A delightful iteration of the Joy Division-inspired, Interpol-perfected sense of musical dread infused with the subtlest of New Wave influences is a something fantastic. Sure, when White Lies falls flat, they fall hard: the two or three songs I don’t care for on this record are pretty bland, but the rest is so good that you get over it pretty quickly. They also did a terrific job balancing the album so that there were some big, powerful, driving tracks right up until the end. This is so lacking in a lot of the music I encounter that I’ve got to tip my hat to the group, and say ‘congrats!’ to a terrific album.


Farewell to the Fairgrounds
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8: Franz Ferdinand – Tonight: Franz Ferdinand

I am really glad Franz Ferdinand hung in there. Released in late January of 2009, I was worried that I would mentally associate this record with 2008, and it would not receive its proper standing in the 2009 list. True to form, as I was compiling this list, I had to dig deep to force myself to remember that this album belonged with the rest of the year, and I dedicated two full listenings to reacquaint myself with the material. With that said, I’m proud to see this oddly self-referentially titled third effort by Scottish boys Franz Ferdinand clock in at No. 8. This was welcome follow up to their past album, You Could Have It So Much Better, which had most of its success hitched to the single, ‘Do You Want To.’ Instead, Tonight is a far more consistent record, certainly having the single-status of ‘Ulysses’, but also packing power throughout with tracks like ‘Bite Hard’, ‘Can’t Stop Feeling’, and the acid-trip retooling of ‘Lucid Dreams’. The lattermost was a bit of a disappointment at first, having heard the original single version of the track already, the new version seemed an unnecessary departure. In context though, it all works very well in concertation.


Bite Hard
[ mp3 ♫ ]

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7: Wild Light – Adult Nights

Proof that touring works as far as getting your name out there, I first head Wild Light as they opened for the Killers, mentioned in a post over the summer. This was, far and away, the most-listened to album of 2009, with my playcounts well into the 40s for the entire album, and upwards of 70-some-odd for ‘Call Home’, my favorite track of the year. Why then, is this listed so low, at No. 7? I guess I’m waiting on a few things. First, that has got to be more than just a flash in the pan. As a person that cares about music, and someone that has a real loyalty to the groups he likes, consistency is a big issue for me. I like Wild Light because they made a great record that largely is based upon existing musical elements: Throaty vocals about the trials and tribulations of life and love, backed by solid melodies and consistent rhythm/bass. As much as I enjoyed the music of this album, I’m waiting to see if they’ve got what it takes to keep it up, as well as carve out their own niche.


Heart Attack
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6: Stellastarr* – Civilized

This album really meant a great deal to me. Stellastarr’s past record, Harmonies for the Haunted was a big part in the beginning of my serious interest in music, and to this day is something I still hold dear. How do you follow that? Especially after a longer-than-average hiatus of four years? Forced to tone down their vocalist for health reasons, the band responded by amping up everything else. The guitar melodies are clear and distinct from song to song, with some of the boldest bass lines I’ve heard in a while. They also keep the album interesting with the bizzarely-narrated into of ‘Prom Zombie’, and finish up with the Harmonies-nostaliga-invoking ‘Sonia Cries’, which I really appreciated. A solid record that shows this band still has a lot of fight in them.


Warchild
[ mp3 ♫ ]

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5: Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

The gentleman of Phoenix have been slowly but surely working their way onto the alternative music scene, beginning their career predominantly over in Europe, but eventually working their way to international fame and the Grammy-Nominated Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. The thing that you’ve got to admire most about this record is the craft that went into it, as well as the range the songs span. Opening with the radio-friendly ‘Listomania’, and the Cadillac-commercial-branded ‘1901’ starts things off right, with mellow ‘Fences’ bringing us to what you’d have to call the opus of the tracklisting: ‘Love Like a Sunset’. If you were only looking for one reason why Phoenix deserves to be on this list, this song is it.

The tones and slow strings ease you into the song, slowly building to the midpoint, where the synthesizer is introduced and the pacing slowly climbs to the climax of the song. The last quarter is a total shift from the earlier ideas, seeing the first introduction of vocals, wrapping it up with a quiet, heart-felt conclusion. This song forms the keystone of the record, transitioning into the latter half with the peppy ‘Lasso’, as well as my personal favorite: ‘Rome’. I’m ashamed Phoenix has gotten this far unnoticed by myself, but they made one hell of a record to catch everyones attention.


Love Like a Sunset
[ mp3 ♫ ]

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4: We Were Promised Jetpacks – These Four Walls

The second Scottish band on the list, Jetpacks dropped a huge debut record with These Four Walls. With a sound entirely in contract with Franz Ferdinand though, their sound is a slow, lilting march, evoking imagery of cold nights and dreary days populated by work-weary people. In it all, though, there’s a spark of hope. That’s the best way I could think to summarize this really unique construction of sounds. Especially creative tracks include ‘A Half Built House’, which is aptly titled: strained effects reminiscent of radio transmissions from the 60s with a strange non-sequential countdown-like sequenced narrated in the background and some mechanical sounds really make you think of something under construction. Normally, that’s bad news, a song sounding half-done, but it works into the rest of the album here seamlessly. Another great one is the penultimate track ‘Keeping Warm’, which is a textbook epic-build to round out a great collection of songs.


Keeping Warm
[ mp3 ♫ ]

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3: Passion Pit – Manners

It seems a little silly that I should have so little to say about an album that ranked so highly, but the simple fact is that Passion Pit put out one of the most truly original albums I heard all year. ‘Little Secrets’ is as infectious as any pop song, and three times more interesting to listen to. The remainder of the tracks showcase a definitive style all their own, and it would be fair to expect big things from this Boston-based group in the future.


Little Secrets
[ mp3 ♫ ]

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2: Florence + The Machine – Lungs

It was stressed many times in the entries about Florence, but bears repeating: her voice is a force to be reckoned with, and The Machine does her full and requisite backing service. The prominence of strong rhythms (‘Drumming’ being an eponymously good example) and along with the vocals would seem to pigeon-hole the group into one type of song, but a wide spectrum of songs are found, beginning with the explosive and fun ‘Dog Days Are Over’ all the way to the heartfelt and keening ‘My Boy Builds Coffins’.


My Boy Build’s Coffins
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1: Metric – Fantasies

I raved about how good it was this summer when I saw them in concert and bought the record, and they had the staying power to last through the year. Metric had the best effort of 2009. Emily Haines and her crew have been perfecting their music for the better part of the last ten years, notably with Old World Underground… of ‘Combat Baby’ fame, finally arriving at this present album. The work certainly shows high degree of craftsmanship and attention to detail from the technical end, but also benefits from a very emotional quality that is uniquely Metric. I earnestly wish that I could say that this record defined the collective result of the pop music of the last decade, but I can’t. It’s a snapshot of what ‘pop’ music still has to offer, if its handled by real artists , and we can only hope that it’ll help serve to define the next decade of pop music.


Gold Guns Girls
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So that’s all for 2009! Hope everyone enjoyed it. Feel free to shoot me an e-mail about your favorite albums of 2009, or just leave a comment in the related blog post. If Ian ever sends me a list, I’ll get his up online too.