December 16, 2009

The Top 50 Albums of 2009

50 is superfluous. And yet 50 fills up pretty fast. Especially in 2009, a generous* year that saw strong releases come from all directions; some trails familiar, others totally blazed.

More importantly, 50 stays for anyone in search of a lead (and yeah, because "people love lists"). A friend told me that he test drove all of last year's countdown, album by album. So I wouldn't want to withhold that extra 35 from him.

50. The Mountain Goats - The Life of The World To Come
49. Dan Deacon - Bromst
48. Music Go Music - Expressions
47. Zola Jesus - The Spoils
46. HEALTH - Get Color
45. Mountains - Choral
44. Bibio - Ambivalence Avenue
43. The Dodos - Times To Die
42. Passion Pit - Manners
41. Ducktails - Landscapes
40. Handsome Furs - Face Control
39. Nite Jewel - Good Evening
38. Here We Go Magic - Here We Go Magic
37. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros - Up From Below
36. Blank Dogs - Under and Under
35. Micachu and the Shapes - Jewellery
34. Ganglians - Monster Head Room
33. Kate Simko - Music From The Atom Smashers
32. Matius Aguayo - Ay Ay Ay
31. Wild Beasts - Two Dancers
30. Cymbals Eat Guitars - Why There Are Mountains
29. Hildur Guðnadóttir - Without Sinking
28. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz
27. tUnE-yArDs - BiRd-BrAiNs
26. Memory Tapes - Seek Magic
25. Cass McCombs - Catacombs
24. Julianna Barwick - Florine
23. Antony And The Johnsons - The Crying Light
22. Real Estate - Real Estate
21. Sunset Rubdown - Dragonslayer
20. The Antlers - Hospice
19. St. Vincent - Actor
18. White Denim - Fits
17. Neon Indian - Psychic Chasms
16. Fever Ray - Fever Ray

15 The Flaming Lips - Embryonic

An utter mess, Embryonic restored The Flaming Lips as the most fearless ‘megaband’ around (edging out Radiohead only for the fact that the Lips have ‘failed’ before). It's 70 minutes long. It feels more like 90. Seemingly wherever possible, something was off; something was blitzing the easier listen (and harder is sometimes more fun).

Drums exploded, planets aligned, harps bled, and the ego was dead...this wasn’t a dose of serotonin; this was aggressive therapy.

14 The xx - The xx

How it unfolded from the buzzworthy summer debut attached to “four 20-year-olds from South London who make predominantly slow, furtive pop music, mostly about sex”, to this intense and mature, space-out staple of the fall, is one of those questions that if explored, might risk snapping me out of it.

13 Smith Westerns - Smith Westerns

As previously stated, this was unbridled youth in a box; endearingly bratty, surprisingly nostalgic and insanely replayable, the clear standout in a busy and somewhat indecipherable year for garage pop.

My question to anyone surprised by Smith Westerns’ alleged misbehavior on tour: have you listened to this album?

12 Pictureplane - Dark Rift

Dark Rift earned every mention it got here (even if S&S is the bumbling mascot Pictureplane never asked for). It kept a mystical and rather profound aura throughout, which you don't often see in electronic music. And instead of going up high with all these concepts for us to marvel at, Dark Rift was always within a dance party's reach. 60+ plays and counting. If only iTunes kept track of reality shifts and glitter...

11 Atlas Sound - Logos

If this is the last of its kind (not likely), so be it. Bradford Cox giveth enough. If this particular dream-movement ends tomorrow, we’ll at least be left with Logos. If it's possible to think of it separately, and not as another thread in what seems like an endless string of progression, Logos might shine brighter. In other words, play this for me in 2006, and I'll grab you by the shoulders and ask who, what, where, and how.

10 Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

Wolfgang’s first three tracks, arguably the most carefree 12 minutes of 2009, cast such a shadow over the rest of this thing that it must have been a deliberate move. Especially coming from Phoenix, a band that’s been pumping out solid pop albums since Passion Pit was in middle school.

“Love Like Sunset” starts a very worthwhile second act - an act secretly responsible for sending the ridiculous phrase Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix to the top of just about everyone’s list. You have singles albums. And you have album albums. Rarely do you have both.

09 Night Control - Death Control

It's not hard to picture Chris Smith in his ‘bedroom’ for long stretches of time, recording what would become Death Control, without the faintest idea of what it might turn out sounding like. It makes sense then to learn that it's actually 10 years of experimental work, very selectively sewn together. A few seams are showing. It's better that way, like one of those rad quilts.

One minute he’s as soft as velvet (underground), the next he’s completely imploding under warm fuzz-droned feedback, and another he’s ripping solos that sound like "Neil Young waking up in the morning."

08 Grizzly Bear - Veckatamist

They assumed their role as Valedictorian of the chamber pop/harmony class of the late 00s, and you can't hold that against them. Not when their speech was this beautiful. Hype hangovers are dangerous. Let's not forget for every "Two Weeks" and "While You Wait for Others", there's an "I Live With You" about to erupt, a "Ready, Able" primed for hypnosis, and a delicate "Foreground" opening for all to get lost in.

07 Circlesquare - Songs About Dancing and Drugs

My most isolated relationship this year, Songs About Drugs and Dancing lived inside a pair of headphones. Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, the excerpt that initially baited me rang truer with every listen:
"The whole record feels like you went out clubbing and partying and there was a big rush of sensations and you stayed out very, very late and then all your friends went home, and now you're back at your laptop with a midi board, and maybe the sun is coming up, and you should drink some water, and all the loud pulsing sounds, the firebomb bass and siren swirl, are still echoing somewhere in the back of your skull."

06 A Sunny Day in Glasgow - Ashes Grammar

Giving writers no choice but to pull words like 'angelic' and 'ethereal' out of retirement, Ashes Grammar buried anything in its path with bliss. It also appears to be one of the most unblurbable forces I've ever encountered. Truly something meant to be felt in your core.

05 Fuck Buttons - Tarot Sport

P90X Extreme Home Fitness DVDs run for approximately an hour - you start with a 10 minute warm up, then a 40 minute space mountain climb, then a triumphant climax (sometimes greeted by a marching droid army of drummers with shooting stars overhead), then you transcend the physical world, and end with a cool down. P90X Extreme Home Fitness DVDs have a "music off" feature which allows you to supplement with your own musical preference.

04 Built To Spill - There Is No Enemy

This band should have no enemies. Plenty of 20-somethings not knowing as much as they should about the band's discography (myself included), but certainly no enemies, no one hastily rejecting what they do hear. Built To Spill make guitar driven, like it on your first listen-love it on your 15th, indie rock songs. Does their lack of colorful sub-genre hyphens therefore make them colorless? Not when something like There Is No Enemy can fill your living room with swirling riffs, over and over, and never go bland.

03 Girls - Album

Whether the notions of sunshine, love, drugs, heartbreak, hitch-hiking, sheltered upbringings, ambiguous kisses, a mythological San Francisco, gutter punk, "Earth Angel", "Heal the world", Buddy Holly, Elvis, The Beach Boys, Costello, Cobain, Sonic Youth, Guns and Roses... were embedded in the music itself, the way it was presented, or in our own projections onto it, is irrelevant. These songs, these direct and refreshing expressions of simple emotion, are really fucking good.

Perhaps 2009's most lasting imprint will be seen in the way its two most significant releases crossed art-house arrangement with downright catchiness. These mass indicators of the avant-pop shift were celebrated for achieving that long-desired balance. Which is exciting and all, but on a personal level, they land where they do on this list because I also dug them the most. Crazy when that happens.

02 Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca

In some impenetrable talent bubble, Bitte Orca sounds as though it was envisioned by aliens. They came down, interpreted modern music and responded with their own gorgeously bizarre version of it.

Dave Longstreth (genius, composer, not alien) made an invitation out of a formerly intimidating off-kilter style. And the ladies vocally stole the show. I'm still in awe.

01 Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
[No more runnin says my mind]
[Some kind of magic in the way you're lying there]
[If I could just leave my body for the night]
Merriweather Post Pavilion was human nature. Over ten years ago, I found these intangible, indescribable sonic and lyrical connections in OK Computer, which very well might be the founding moment of an impossible search for a similar feeling (as seen in this here music obsession). Not for a similar kind of record (we've seen plenty of those) but for a similar reaction to one. This delivered, in it's own way, Animal Collective's way - a distinct brand which fascinatingly continues to evolve at will.


* the hypothetical honorable mention never looked so good. If there's one more to add it's Bill Callahan's Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle - falling in love with it, as of yesterday. And there were too many excellent EPs this year - including one wouldn't be fair to all. Ambient/instrumental/minimal electronic releases could fill a list of their own as well (a few made this one) - still figuring out how to measure those outside of their context/genre. Lastly, what were your favorites? There are so many gems out there, I'm just one dude with a blog.


Smolin said...

Excellent list, definitely nailed most of these on the head - and yet, I feel like a "I like girls" should have been in there.

Anonymous said...

Great list but missing the best of the year, Minster Hill's "Capturing Clouds in a BOttle" and the great new Orange Peels "2020"

Sutton said...

Thanks for the tip. I haven't heard either of those.

Ian said...

I love Built to Spill at number 4. Bold choice, but right on target.

Anonymous said...

smith westerns "misbehavior" was blown out of proportion for rock blog gossip's sake, they're a bunch of lil angels IRL

Jessica Sutton said...


Yeewuz said...

Great list. It's tough to disagree on something so subjective but you were pretty much right on course with this one.

Ben said...

how bout Bear in Heaven? playing with cymbals eat guitars at the echo on Mar24 if my recommendation isn't reason enough

Sutton said...

Dig both bands and the venue, so yes, I'm game. *Beast Rest Forth Mouth* almost made the list. "Lovesick Teenagers" is so good (should be on the Best of Songs for sure). It was a late addition to the party and I didn't make enough time to consider.

shewritesforher said...

Oh, Dave Sutton: you are fantastical.
I attempted a Best-Of for the student paper, got horrifically flustered, and took refuge in your list instead. Thanks for being consistently awesome, every year. You enlighten my musical horizon.