Top Ten Albums of 2009


16 Dic 2009, 1:48

as reviewed by Pete Bogenschutz

Ah, the end of a decade... It seems as if many musical artists wait to release their magnum opus during the last year of a decade. The most recent example is The Soft Bulletin in 1999, which became my favorite album of the 90’s. Will my number one from this year become my number one of the decade? Well, it’s too early to tell who gets that crown, as passage of time best determines how an album holds up (despite what Pitchfork might think). I’ll try to refrain from saying the typical cliches I usually do in these intros... Such as “it’s hard to pick just ten albums”, or “it was the best year ever”, and what not. But it’s hard not to say these things, especially this year when several bands did in fact seemingly release their “magnum opus”.

10) Travels With Myself and Another - Future of the Left

I can’t help to listen to Travels With Myself and Another and NOT think it’s the Doolittle of our generation. Of course, minus the female vocal interplay. But the rest of the elements are there, a tightly constructed rock-your-brains out disc chock full of witty-yet-smart lyrics. Not only that, but it’s similarly structured to Doolittle; the first half of the album instantly pulls you in with it’s anthems and hooks while the second half, equally as good, is somewhat of a grower. Each one of these songs is like a mini-epic in it’s own right and selecting individual highlights is difficult because of the high stature of this album. “Arming Eritrea”, the massive opener, however, probably will be remembered as Future of the Left’s crowning achievement. Hell, even the song titles are humorous and entertaining (“You Need Satan More Than He Needs You” and “Stand By Your Manatee”, for example). The Pixies have been talking about reuniting and releasing another anticipated album for quite sometime. Even if we never get that, at least we have something as good as Travels With Myself and Another to tide us over.

9) Popular Songs - Yo La Tengo

Taking full risk of sounding cheesy, Yo La Tengo have always had a special place in my heart. Their music is equal parts noisy/experimental and heartfelt. It’s the later point that really draws me in and makes their albums some of the most reminiscently warm music I own. I simply cannot listen to 2006’s I am Not Afraid of You and not be vividly reminded of my life and feelings three years ago when I was compulsively listening to that disc. You could say their albums are like your very own personal time capsules. Popular Songs is no different, an album packed full of irresistibly effecting moments. “Avalon Or Someone Similar”, “I’m on My Way”, and “All My Secrets” do more than just tug at my heartstrings and feel wholeheartedly nostalgic. On the other hand, the more playful moments of the album are pulled off just as effortlessly. “Nothing to Hide” and “If It’s True” are vintage feel-good Yo La Tengo, with some added tricks in the bag. Say what you will about the lengthy trio of songs that conclude the album, as they are equally spectacular (for those that have the patients to explore them), especially “The Fireside”. Yo La Tengo continues to prove they are the perfect band to grow old with.

8)The Blood - Reykjavik!

Admittedly, I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into with this one. Advertised under the category of “Icelandic Pop” in a certain online music store, I was expecting light and airy pop akin to Sigur Ros. The snowcapped mountains on the cover didn’t do anything to deter this notion either (okay, perhaps the graves should have tipped me off). Needless to say, the first listen for me was somewhat of a shock. Reykjavik! makes unnerving, uncompromising, and LOUD indie rock that can only be described as a cross between death metal and dance pop. From the intense build that opens the first track, to the knock your socks off finale, the album is solid and non-stop. Not a second wasted and not one chance to catch you breath. Especially excellent is the ironically named “Kate Bush”, the Modest Mouse-ian (before they sold out) “Aeji Plis”, and the accessible “Campo Veijo 2004”. The entire album, however, is a spiraling achievement that warps your senses. Although it may be a bit too much for some, The Blood is well worth seeking out for those looking for dash of grit and originality in their indie rock.

7) Tarot Sport - Fuck Buttons

Instrumental rock and I have a pretty rocky relationship. As musically diverse as I’d like to think I am, this is one genre that has yet to do much for me (yes, I’m shallow, I need lyrics!). Until, of course, stumbling across this massive gem of an album. Now you could say that I’m on sort of a honeymoon with instrumental rock; experiencing probably the best there is, but I’m sure once I try other bands from this genre I’m sure to be disappointed. However, labeling work of art such as this with a simple title of “instrumental rock” probably makes several Fuck Buttons fans cringe. There are many songs on here which border on the “life-changing” label. “Surf Solar” and “Olympians”, for example, are so delicious they are like sex for the ears. In fact, probably the best musical moment of the year for me is the final minutes of “Olympians” and those breathtaking handclaps. Talk about chills-central! Immense in scope, mind-blowing in execution, and accessible as hell; Tarot Sport is not only is one of the best discs of such a fruitful year but it raises the bar for anything that succeeds it. Natalie Portman’s life would be changed.

6)Dragonslayer - Sunset Rubdown

Dragonslayer, Sunset Rubdown’s third full-length album, is downright shocking. Not because of it’s defiant experimentation or it’s epic sprawl. But because it’s simply accessible and immensely enjoyable (yes, this is a Sunset Rubdown album). Two years ago I got really excited when Random Spirit Lover was released, thinking it was the epitome of modern indie art rock. Truth to tell, that album didn’t age quite so well (more specifically, it’s laborious as hell to listen to). Dragaonslayer, I can say with confidence, will not suffer from that problem. It keeps all the elements that made Random Spirit Lover such an intriguing listen yet brings it to another level. This feels like such an emotionally charged album, unlike the obtuse and overtly abstract Random Spirit Lover. “Silver Moons” and “You Go on Ahead” manage to evoke palatable feelings while “Apollo and the Buffalo” is so freakin‘ catchy you might not be able to stop bobbing your head (again, YES, this is a Sunset Rubdown album). But if you crave the epic-ness of this band, then look no further to marvelous finale to this album: “Dragon’s Lair”. Like the title of the disc suggest, this is one MONSTER of an album.

5) Bitte Orca - Dirty Projectors

The Dirty Projectors’ back catalogue is wonderfully weird and adventurous. However, nothing in that peculiar jungle is nearly as fun and wonderous to listen to as Bitte Orca, one of the most addicting listens this year. If you need any convincing, just listen to the incredible three-peat of songs mid-album; the near R&B stylings of “Stillness is the Move”, the wonderfully executed ballad “Two Doves”, and the epic “Useful Chamber”. This trio of songs is so densely glorious that it would be easy for the rest of album to pale in comparison. However, Dirty Projectors have bookended these tracks masterfully. The opener “Cannibal Resources” is notable for it’s witty lyrics and subtly catchy melody while “Remade Horizon” nearly serves as two songs in one with it’s schizophrenic tempo changes. The male/female vocal interplay helps to keep this forty minute album feeling more like it’s twenty minutes (a great compliment indeed). Also worth noting is the intriguing album artwork, which is probably the best of the year and serves as a great tribute to the high point of this band’s career.

4) The Eternal - Sonic Youth

Sonic Youth have been in an undeniable groove lately. This decade has ushered in some of their most accessible and critically acclaimed music following their (in my opinion) decade long slump since the landmark Daydream Nation. Not only did they keep their streak alive, but The Eternal is Sonic Youth’s best album this decade! A grower for sure, this disk rocks hard; “Sacred Trickster” and “What We Know” are downright swaggering and do more than harken back to the band’s heyday. Even more impressive is Kim Gordon’s insanely exceptional contribution to this album. The aforementioned “Sacred Trickster”, “Calming of the Snake”, “Malibu Gas Station”, and the epic closer “Massage the History” are all probably some of her best contributions to the band’s prolific catalogue. I really thought Sonic Youth would lay an egg with this album, given their tendency to put out great albums in groups of three. Yet The Eternal breaks that bad luck streak and keeps us diehard fans excited to see what else this legendary band has up their sleeves.

3) Actor - St. Vincent

To be honest, I really didn’t think Annie Clark could trump her magical debut effort Marry Me. This probably explains why I hated Actor the entire first month I owned it, but once the expectations diminished and I started to listen to this record without any preconceived notions.... Well, HOLY SHIT! Not only is this album better than Marry Me but it is also a strong contender for best album by a female solo artist for this entire decade. While Actor may not have as many individual standouts as Marry Me, it holds together as one artistic body of work beautifully. The important thing to mention is that this album is an incredible grower and one that is insanely addicting once it gets a hold of you. Jam packed with more than just a dozen memorable moments (the guitar swells from “The Strangers”, the delicately sweet melody on “The Neighbors”, “Black Rainbows” Walt Disney-esq coda, or the deceptively sweet sing-a-long stylings from “Laughing With a Mouthful of Blood”), Actor is a masterpiece that should be remembered generations from now as a defining moment in indie rock. The album is so good that I completely forgive Clark for her contributions to the Twilight soundtrack. If Actor isn’t top ten material for the decade, well, it’s hard to say what is.

2) Merriweather Post Pavilion - Animal Collective

Hype can be a bitch. Released in January, this record garnered so much acclaim it could make one sick of this disc before even hearing it. Critics were already tossing around phrases such as “album of the year” or even “album of the decade”. However, after a listen it was evident that neither of those statements were tossed around frivolously. Merriweather Post Pavilion sees Animal Collective at the top of their already excellent form with an album more sonically airtight than anyone could have imagined. The album’s first half is instantly accessible; opening with the spiraling ambient pop of “In the Flowers” and the irresistible “My Girls” (the feel good song of the year). The second half of the album is more low key, but no less dense and rewarding. “Bluish” is probably Animal Collective’s best ballad, dethroning the amazing “Banshee Beat” from Feels for this title, while the closer “Brother Sport” hits the album out of the park. Merriweather Post Pavilion is an immensely satisfying and dizzying album that pays out rewards ten-fold because of its endless replay value. Throughout most of 2009, I just couldn’t imagine placing this album anything lower than my number one pick of the year. But, as you can see, it fell somewhat short from taking top marks. Read on my friend...

1) Embryonic - The Flaming Lips

Ladies and gentlemen, here we have it: The surprise of the decade. Just when I was ready to give up on the band that shoved me down that slippery slope to indie elitism some eight or nine years ago, they go and turn out possibly the best album of their career (whoa, did I just say that?). I love the Lips‘ catalogue from the 90’s, it’s some of the most refreshingly creative and mind-fucking-jarring music I know. Hell, their 1999 magnum opus The Soft Bulletin is my favorite album from the 90’s. But truth to tell, I lost a lot of interest with the Lips lately (well, the past nine years of their music to be exact). Sure, the much lauded Yoshimi gave the Lips a wider audience... But really, Yoshimi bored me to tears. Then there was At War With the Mystics which was an unfocused conglomeration of decent (just decent) songs. It was to the point that I wasn’t even looking forward to the release of Embryonic. Was I ever glad I was wrong!
The music on this disc is perfectly mirrored by the bizarre album artwork; it doesn’t really make sense, it’s somewhat unsettling, but at the same time you can’t stop listening to it. This music feels like it’s erupting suddenly from a dense wormhole and just like Merriweather Post Pavilion, the album is so brilliantly cohesive it’s as if each track is delicately cut from the same pristine homogeneous cloth. But with that said, this album never feels stale and the long 70 minute running time feels like it goes by in a breeze. Absent from this album are any “Do You Realize” moments that made this band so huge. The closest track, “She Can Be a Frog”, will even likely detract the fair-weather fans looking for another life-affirming moment. What this album does contain is genuine Flaming Lips tracks, as it finally finds the band being true to themselves for the first time in ten years.
Patients rewards those who are willing to put the effort into this album. While it may not seem like it at first, there are hooks abound in this disc. Take for instance the opening one-two-punch of “Convinced of the Hex” or “The Sparrow Looks Up”, which are some of the very best straight out rock songs of the year. The Lips even turn out a couple of the best ballad’s of their career here; “Evil”, “Powerless”, and the somewhat experimental “The Impulse” are all weirdly beautiful and effecting on this decidedly dark album. Even the more far-out moments of Embryonic work wonders, such as the mathematically heavy “Gemini Syringes” and the multiple instrumental interludes throughout. Best of all, however, is the cataclysmic finale of “Watching the Planets” which ends this defining album on a jaw dropping note.
As already stated in the foreword of this list, their 1999 masterpiece The Soft Bulletin is my hands down favorite album from that decade. To think that another Flaming Lips album could end this decade with top marks... Well, if you had told me that a few months ago I would have laughed in your face.


  • bowen77

    Nice! Now I definitely have to check out the new Future of the Left and the new Sonic Youth before I make my own list.

    16 Dic 2009, 10:41
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