I wanted to marinate on my picks for 2009 for 6 months, but it was really closer to a year. In that time there was surprisingly little change. Better late than never, eh?
There are 41 albums. Try not to worry about it. You'll also notice I use these words a lot: "Pacific Northwest," "Psychedelic," "Mathy." Try not to worry about that either.
41. Rick Ross
- Deeper Than Rap
Rick Ross is not deeper than rap. This was just a terrible, terrible year for hip-hop. Thus this stupid, stupid collection of wonderful top 40-ready megahits looks even sweeter by comparison. Nothing here quite reaches that level of “Billionaire” brilliance, but “Maybach Music 2” comes close in its shocking display of appalling braggadocio -- plus it features nearly every living rapper. The few MCs who were not featured on “Maybach Music 2” appear elsewhere on this album. If your brain is wired to respond favorably to the indulgences of pop music, you will love this album.
Incidentally, I have a question for the American youth: has Springsteen’s place as “The Boss” yet been relinquished? If so, I know a rapper who would very much relish that title.
40. Camera Obscura
– My Maudlin Career
This is the worst Camera Obscura album, but it still manages to evince a certain impossibly bittersweet ephemera. The title track lends us such a moment: a reverby piano tinkling golden light across a corridor of wistful memory.
– Cathedral With No Eyes
This treads a pretty perfect line between noise rock and noise, juxtaposing all the extremity with interludes of soft electronica pitter-patter. Would probably rank much higher if there were just a little more of it. The track names are also perhaps my favs of the year, though they hint at a concept album structure that only appears to me viscerally.
Bonus: Lucky Dragons remixed the title track and turned it into a reggaeton club banger – why do they keep doing that?!
(Takeuchi Denki) -- SHY!!
If ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION, with their flawless idiot-pop-punk sound, are the Japanese equivalent of Foo Fighters, then surely Takeuchi Denki are the Japanese equivalent of Weezer. Thick, heavy guitars propelled with an uncompromising pop momentum, sweetly desperate vocal delivery, ringtone-ready climaxes on every single song – all the selling points of post-Pinkerton Weezer without Rivers Cuomo’s moronic lyrics (or maybe these Japanese lyrics are equally stupid – how the hell should I know?)
Come to think of it, the frontman does deliver a few English-language lines, like “You should be my girlfriend!” So yeah I guess they are exactly the same as Weezer. But in a wonderfully banal way.
37. Oh No
- Dr. No’s Ethiopium
Let me get this out of the way: this is not on the same level as the Oxperiment. However, Oh No is still one of the most inventive hip-hop beatsmiths currently in the game, and this is a stellar collection. These beats sample African music exclusively, and sound like more mature iterations of the ones found on Exodus Into Unheard Rhythms – and I guess that’s what they are!
36. Orca Team
– Orca Team
Orca Team’s pop gems have a very distinct beauty that is only partially evident on this record – some of the idiosyncracies seemed to have gotten lost in the recording process, but what remains is still warm, reverb-soaked beach pop with the most delectable basslines of the year. This album, like the summer, goes by too fast!
I almost forgive Merril Garbus for leaving Sister Suvi because this stuff she’s doing on her own is so fascinating! The ukelele, the distant drums, the garbled vocal samples – she makes one wonder why these gorgeous sounds are not pop music staples. While I am not in love with her voice as much as everyone else seems to be, she remains one of my favorite lyricists (“tiny teenage cocks”!) in any genre.
– Two Sunsets
Well it finally happened. Scotland and Japan apparently couldn’t settle the argument over who retained the rights to the monopoly on precious pop music, so they sent forth their cutest bands to wage a musician’s war of adorability. Instead, these two groups reconciled on their own and essentially formed a pair of wonder twins, together comprising an enormous reserve of snuggle tune potential. The rest of the world knew it was doomed even before these cuddle rabbits released the prettiest, most precious piece of music ever conceived.
33. Midwest Pen Pals
– Inside Jokes EP
How many emo bands strive for the level of tangible contemplation that MPP evince in every measure? The intimate nostalgia on display in these scant 16 minutes are enough to establish a group’s sincerity for its entire career. To seal the deal, these dudes got a keen ear for mathy hooks.
32. Sore Eros
– Second Chants
Pretty sneaky way to make a beautiful record: write instantly gratifying pop songs and bury them over layers and layers of synth washes, ambient drones, and blissful vocals. But to fully appreciate the lush majesty present here, you have to listen again and again and again. You’ll find this process to be its own reward.
31. Moon Runners
– Full Enough
The dudes in moon runners have an uncanny knack for song-sealing riffs that sound familiar upon first listen. As such, one listen of this “alternative & punk” album will forever cement it somewhere in the recesses of your mind. That spot should be a landmark: the historic collision of college rock and skater jams that retains its heaviness despite its sunny-day pop imperative. Californian genre with Pacific Northwest swagger.
30. Sister Suvi
– Now I Am Champion
All it took was two excellent anthems (“The Lot” and “Claymation”) from this otherwise mediocre album to earn it a place on this list. That’s how good those songs are. So what.
29. Asa-Chang & Junray
This is Asa-Chang’s most accessible and most eclectic album to date. The songs run the atmospheric gamut; tones of somber menace, folky whimsicality, and upbeat pop are all touched upon. But the strangest victory occurs in the meditative solitude of the first track: a man speaking in time with his footfall, building cautiously to a twist ending. Also appreciated are the sketches of songs that serve as interludes between the attitudes of this schizophrenic trip.
28. OGRE YOU ASSHOLE
The first track and the last track of this album are as close as OYA has ever come to reaching the zenith of their first album. The final song in particular, with its Built To Spill style lachrymose guitar riff, is perhaps the most gorgeous piece they’ve ever constructed – even at nearly nine minutes the bliss never fades.
27. The Pains of Being Pure At Heart
– The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Remember when that EP dropped and we all thought these guys were going to change the landscape of shoegaze? What was up with that? This record is cute, and so is the singer.
– Let’s Build A Roof
The genre of this album is “cozy.” I believe it was recorded under a rug. Listen to it with your happy families.
What am I supposed to say about this album? It sounds very Canadian and it’s kind of hard to tell what is going on, but it still appeals to those basic rock impulses. It’s so colorful, so rich, and yet so bland. Aggressively artistic aesthetics, but grounded in convention. It’s way more fun to listen to than talk about.
24. Fever Ray
– Fever Ray
Thank God for Karin Dreijer Andersson. She brought spookiness back into fashion, validated downtempo pop music, rejected the traditional trapping of the Swedish indie chanteuse, and essentially kickstarted interest in witch house. I don’t know if it’s just because she’s really trying to channel that Charles Burns vibe or what, but this album sounds impossibly Pacific Northwest. Similar climates I guess?
23. Wolves in the Throne Room
– Black Cascade
Speaking of specifically PNW spookiness, these blacked out motherfuckers did it again. I often feel alienated by the attitudes and priorities of black metal, but Wolves always resonate with me. It could be that Olympia mystique, or it could be that they are really fucking good.
– Super Roots 10
Another psychedelic masterpiece from EYE & co. This would be way higher on the list if it wasn’t just the same (excellent) song remixed four times. That said, it’s a remarkably fluid and varied listen for what it is.
21. Gun Outfit
– Dim Light
I wish Gun Outfit had been there for me in high school when I discovered punk. Think how much happier I’d be now. The truly remarkable thing about this album is how mature it sounds: it’s got the swagger of a veteran band, and the production is tight.
20. The xx
Top 40 R&B sure is doing a lot of freaky things to a lot of people. I’m drawn to the hush, but more enticed by the chutzpah of the too-brief intro track. Hope they expound on that for their next effort.
– Thank you arms and fingers
Did post-hardcore die? The death of post-hardcore seems pretty relevant to my life all of a sudden. Well, that will have to wait. This album is so fucking sick. This band channels that house show energy better than anybody. It’s a great balance of math and pop. Favorite dudes to come out of the PA renaissance.
18. MF DOOM
– Born Like This
This album was not the culmination it could have been, but tracks like “That’s That” masterfully echo both the lyrical prowess and enigmatic emotive qualities of Doomsday. I sure hope “Batty Boyz,” a work of hyperbolic homophobia, is meant to be satirical.
17. world’s end girlfriend
- 空気人形 O.S.T.
Though he’s made his name in glitchy post-rock, this soundtrack to Air Doll is the most complete and affecting music I’ve ever heard from WEG. I don’t want to see the film; I don’t want any connotation in my mind when I hear these heartbreaking sounds. “道” is one beautiful minute.
16. Desolation Wilderness
– New Universe
There sure was a lot of transcendent lushness this year. Count this among the rare albums that utilize wall-of-sound production to constitute an idiosyncratic sonic world. So few bands deserve that genre tag: “dream pop.” I love that when I listen to this album on iTunes, Destiny’s Child comes up next. I usually just let it happen.
15. Daniel, Fred & Julie
– Daniel, Fred & Julie
Okay, so normally a cover album of old, classic folk songs is something I’d enjoy sparingly. I’d listen to it on a rare night when I’m reading or drawing or something, and I’d enjoy immensely in those instances. But when it’s Fred Squire and Julie Doiron of Eric’s Trip, it is, for some reason, I can appreciate the beauty at any time. Never have I heard two guitars and three voices used so gorgeously.
14. Cold Cave
– Love Comes Close
After a string of delightfully dark singles, Cold Cave came kinda pop on their anticipated debut. And there are some insidious cuts on here, but it’s the unashamed anthem “Life Magazine” that reaches the loftiest point, bringing a certain maturity to the field of possible O.C. Soundtrack music.
13. Dirty Projectors
– Bitte Orca
Still one of the most exciting experiments of the human voice.
12. Animal Collective
– Merriweather Post Pavillion
This is the only way it could have gone. AC defined this decade, and they end it with radio-friendly coalescence of all their influences and protégés. This album is a synecdoche for the state of psychedelia at the time: riding a wave of resurgence that ultimately culminated in its adoption by Top 40 pop in the coming months. They got a lot of flack for abandoning some of their more esoteric leanings, but it makes sense: a truly unbridled manifestation of the consciousness is necessarily accessible. After all, we are surrounded by pop and we are human.
11. Hex Dispensers
– Winchester Mystery House
I wish the perceived stigma of party punk -- that of frivolity and tackiness -- would buzz off. Everything the HD do is immediately accessible, and has a beer-drenched thoughtfulness that seems nigh unattainable by younger, hipper punks.
– Tight Knit
Tight Knit is Vetiver’s strongest effort yet, offering an ideal balance between refined folk tropes and a quietly progressive new agrarian romanticism. They’ve built their reputation on slow, ethereal songs, but some of these are real head-nodders.
9. Tea Cozies
– Hot Probs
It’s ridiculous how little attention Tea Cozies get. They, more than any of their contemporaries, have perfected that garage-girl sound, and they live in a city (Seattle) that should be especially receptive to that vibe. “Corner Store Girls,” a more explicitly girl-group throwback jingle, is not the best representation of their sound, but it is likely the catchiest song of the year. Most of the other tracks are like a Rose Melberg project with slightly up’d punx.
– Upper Air
Ol’ B-Birds have set the bar on baroque-folk a little too high. Country twang, accordion dolor, romantic lyricism, emotive vocals … This record is sort of a synthesis of everything interesting you could do with an acoustic guitar band. I am so glad that this album features more female vocals than their debut.
7. Le Loup
I guess Sam Simkoff discovered Animal Collective or something. There’s a tribal psychedelia at work here that blends impossibly well into an array of already impressive country-folk jams. This album is so emphatically different from their 2007 debut (in terms of both sound and production) that he really ought to have changed the band name. The only thing Family and The Throne… have in common is how unique and beautiful they are.
6. Bill Callahan
– Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle
I consider this the best lyric of the year: “The leafless tree looked like a brain. The birds within were all the thoughts and desires within me.” I also consider Callahan the most eminent genius in folk(?!) music.
5. Talbot Tagora
– Lessons in the Woods or a City
So apparently Talbot Tagora is, in their limitless sonic exploration of what post-punk never was, Chris Ando’s idea of a joke. This is the most idiosyncratic punk sound to ever come out of the Northwest, and this album, for its niche constituency, is destined to be a classic.
4. Molly Nilsson
The vague genre sometimes confusingly referred to as “pop wash,” which includes artists like John Maus and Bubonic Plague, has reached an undeniable zenith with Nilsson’s brilliant sophomore album. Her distinctly apathetic voice belies a profound emotional depth and intimacy, and, when coupled with her lo-fi synth beats, evinces a zeitgeist you never knew existed. This is what pop stars always should have been.
3. Shabazz Palaces
– Shabazz Palaces
/ Of Light
Much respect to any artist who counts Soulja Boy as an influence. Ishmael Butler, in seeking to define a more relevant manifestation of rap music, accidentally united radio-ready snap music with bass-heavy boom-bap to create the most original and psychedelic hip-hop to emerge in years. These two EPs (the latter of which is better), demonstrate an eclectic and flexible lyricism, and an experimentalist imperative that raises the bar for underground MC’s across the country. This envelope shoulda been pushed long ago.
2. Lucky Dragons
– Rara Speaks
I had the same dilemma in 2008: how to place Lucky Dragons on an ordered list of best music? The nature of their tunes is so bizarre, so fresh and free, that no other artist really makes sense in context. Rara Speaks, right from the magnificent first track (perhaps my favorite LD track yet), is enormously enjoyable. I just really have no idea why.
1. Mount Eerie
– Wind's Poem
Phil Elverum is channeling something truly profound here. He’s always had a mystical relationship with nature, and that intuition must have tipped him off to the state of the world in the coming months: things got darker, scarier, more intense. Beneath the furious winds there is still a tranquility, a resolutive recursion that speaks on a cosmological level. We are reminded of the link between the humble stone and the universe is. Perhaps it’s just Elverum’s (in)famously extreme honesty, but I have experienced moments in which this is the only album that truly makes sense.