Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My Top 20 Favorite Albums of 2009

In Order Numerically,

20) Blakroc , Blakroc

The Black Keys are cool. And this proves they are even cooler than I thought. We saw them play the Roots Picnic this Summer in Philadelphia, and it makes me wonder if this whole project started there, perhaps with help from Questlove. Questlove, its almost official, is the center of the music world, he knows and seems to be friends with anyone. That being said, this is a latecomer, hence the high number here, but it is way good: RZA, Raekwon, Mos Def appear on here with the Black Keys as a backing band. Some of their best stuff involved Nicole Wray and they way they make a background beat straight from Booker T. combined with something from a 70's blaxploitation soundtrack. It works, her doing a song with Jim Jones sounds like Shane MacGowan singing with Kirsty MacColl, beauty and the beast. And, frankly, I probably wouldn't listen to Jim Jones on a solo record, but it all seems to work here. This one of the better rock/rap collaborations you are likely to hear, I guess the Black Keys just know how to lay down the good beats.

19) Passion Pit , Manners

Cambridge, MA's native/favorite sons. Seems like a novelty act at first, but in the end, Manners is as catchy as the best electronic dance-rock, as trippy as the best psychedelia, as colorful as the best club music gets, most importantly, as heartfelt as the best indie rock gets.

18) Doomriders , Darkness Comes Alive

This shouldn't work out as well as it does, but this is probably the best intersection of metal, hardcore, and classic rock that anyone could have come up with.

17) The XX , XX

Promising debut albums are a dime a dozen; fully formed ones are much more rare. It’s entirely possible that xx is the most perfectly realized debut since Is This It, a perfect combination of sparse electronic-y (sort of) instrumentation and a strangely sexual vibe.

16) Deerhunter , Rainwater Cassette Exchange (ep)

Bradford Cox and his pals in Deerhunter can't stop making new music. And what may be tiring for them is good for the rest of us. Case in point: this five-song EP. Cox, in a Pitchfork interview, professed his love for Animal Collective and Rainwater Cassette Exchange definitely has a bit of that dubby, underwater lilt perfected by those dudes.

15) MC Paul Barman , Thought Balloon Mushroom Cloud

Definitely his best stuff since Its Very Stimulating. It includes some stuff that has been sort of floating around for a while (like his collaboration with DOOM, Guacamole, which is awesome by the way) After a bit of a layoff he just seems to have returned to form with his unique wordplay and spacey out-there subject matter (back to back he has songs that are anti-circumcision and about AIDS) Its really no wonder he is such good friends with DOOM and Michel Gondry, they share the same sort of strange aesthetic.

14) We Were Promised Jetpacks , These Four Walls

I saw these guys at Great Scott and I was surprised at the crowd they pulled in. First off, it was packed, originally I thought it was for The Twilight Sad who were headlining. But a good chunk of the audience left after they played. And not to mention the seeming frat boys that were standing besides Lee and I. We both agreed we definitely did NOT have a finger on the pulse anymore. Also, its funny to see such beautiful singing coming out of a man (boy, really, man their young) that looks like he just punched out of some factory in Edinburgh. The Scottish scene (its the new Canada!) continues to produce youngsters who love noise, hard drumming , and vocalists who switch easily from talking casually to screaming passionately about something that happened to them when they were young(er). Fans of The Twilight Sad and Frightened Rabbit will likely find them pretty familiar. That doesn’t make These Four Walls any less good.

13) Cut Off Your Hands , You & I

It has a sort of late 80's, post punk, feel to it. I might have ditched the two acoustic songs, they don't add much, but I think this a good start to something good from these New Zealand youngsters. Sad, though, how everyone is a youngster to me these days.

12) Jay Reatard , Watch Me Fall

Jay Reatard kind of caught me surprise. I feel like I slept on him for the whole decade and then discovered a gem our of nowhere. Now I know him as a catankarous garage rock dude who gets into fist fights with his band and his fans. But he does raise a beautiful ruckus-garage rock with a sweet sensibility and a foul mouth, with just a smidgen of a new wave influence.

11) Future Of The Left , Travels With Myself And Another

Spawned from the ashes of McLusky, no band sneers as well as Future of the Left. There’s plenty to like on Travels With Myself And Another, even as it pummels. There’s insane glee in Arming Eritrea and and hearing You Need Satan More Than He Needs You is like watching a black comedy in song form. A band that can make nastiness this much fun and catchy and maybe even danceable, in a herky-jerky way is a rare thing that should be cherished. Even if the word "cherished" would get you kicked out of the Future Of The Left clubhouse.

10) Mos Def , The Ecstatic

From what I wrote previously: "For the past decade, Mos Def has tried experimenting with a variety of different ideas and styles, from his abandoned Black Jack Johnson Project band among others. Most everything he put out has been hit or miss at best, leaving listeners to say, "Well, at least he's trying something new." But this album is the return to form that people have been waiting for, wiping the slate clean and showing the youngsters how it's done. Finally, it's nice to have him back."

9) Yeah Yeah Yeahs , Its Blitz!

At 41 minutes, It’s Blitz! is a short, adventurous record that feels like two EPs-one filled with soft-core melodies and orchestral pop, and one that wants to rock, kind of softly like a Debbie Harry song/album. But it works as a whole in a way that maybe it wasn't supposed to.

8) ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead , The Century of Self

To be perfectly honest, Trail Of Dead really haven't put out a bad album this decade. The absolute apex, to me, was Source Tags and Codes, of course, and it has to be hard to not only evolve and make something as amazing as that, but also, in a sense, to duplicate that success. But then again, I am quite sure Trail of Dead aren't basing their music making out of what pleases me. I will say that even though they still are who they are, each album definitely has a different feel to it, also hard to do but also an important distinction. In Century Of Self they make a righteous noise, once again, and it works out pretty perfectly. Almost. But when they let loose and use that quiet-loud structure to that insanse works so very well.

7) Sunset Rubdown , Dragonslayer

Who knows what's going to become of Wolf Parade? Both of their albums this decade were great, this one edging out At Mount Zoomer by the slimmest of margins. And with the awesome Dragonslayer, who knows. Sunset Rubdown might replace Wolf Parade as Spencer Krug's main band. The amount of thought and effort put into the album-the track list says there are only eight songs, but there are at least twice as many terrific melodic morsels bundled up inside each one. Krug’s miniature prog-rock epics have never been more accessible or listenable

6) The Twilight Sad , Forget The Night Ahead

One of the (many) things I like about this new brood of Scottish bands is the fact that when they sing you can actually recognize their Scottish brogues. I don't know why I find that so appealing. An album of dark, brooding, swirling tales of despair. Yes, this album is an epic downer, but it's also smart and musically rich. They still make an epic noise with their quiet-loud to explosive song structure. Seeing them live it will blow you away with not only how loud they can get but also how invested they are in the music. How much it means and effects them.

5) White Rabbits , It's Frightening

There weren’t any new albums from Spoon or The Walkmen, in 2009, which left it to White Rabbits to hold it down for sophisticated, soulful rock. To put it more clearly, Fort Nightly was awesome and It's Frightening is even better. Their best move might have been having Britt Daniel help with the producing duties, but still it works, super well.

4) Raekwon , Only Built For Cuban Linx Part II

For years, Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt II was the hip hop Chinese Democracy a buzzed-about, troubled project whose prospects of actually being released seemed to grow dimmer by the day. Raekwon surprised everyone by dropping a Cuban Linx sequel worthy of the original. It’s an ambitious album lousy with story-telling detail, great production from the likes of J Dilla and Pete Rock, and plenty of showcases for Raekwon and Ghostface Killah's amazing chemistry. Clocking in at over 70 minutes, it seems like its too much of a good thing, but people into hip hop who were looking for a return to Wu-Tang's golden age aren't complaining.

3) Animal Collective , Merriweather Post Pavilion

Like I said before: Sort of like Sea Change, this album is both a leap forward for Animal Collective, but also an aberration in their catalog. Merriweather Post Pavilion, oddly, their most accessible album without really trying - accessible in only the most inaccessible ways, strangely danceable while being miles away from being any sort of regular dance album. Animal Collective, and this album in particular, is going to be pored over, dissected, and perhaps obsessed over for a long time.

2) DOOM , Born Like This

Not touching the heights of Madvillain but I mean thats unfair, few things will scale those heights. Perhaps the rawest DOOM has sounded in a long time. Probably his best full album in 5 years. Yeah thats about right. His voice seems raspier than before, which gives it that extra push into antagonistic malice. Its a borderline comic book reboot of the nut as we know him. The complex rhymes, and truth flipping are still DOOM's lyrical catalysts, but this time he takes his persona and takes the sort of sci-fi, true-crime trappings and put its it through a sort of ringer of surreal dementia.

1) Japandroids , Post-Nothing

This fought tooth-and-nail with DOOM for the number 1 spot (because, well its DOOM, at the top of his game, or near it...), and in the end these young Canadians won the battle. Its rare when you can hear a band putting its absolute all into the making of an album, but its almost visceral here. The eight songs come and go in less than 36 minutes, with little opportunity for Post-Nothing to sag. Huge, propulsive, hooky songs like Young Hearts Spark Fire and Heart Sweats show Japandroids at their best. You've rarely heard just two people rock this hard, and make this much joyous noise. They play, particularly live, like their lives depend on them. Their joy in making the music is infectious. I also think they and Ghostface and Raekwon should go on tour and call it the "BFF Tour", because these guys LOVE eachother. For a two man band, they sound fuzzy and different enough to, in a sense, create their own sound from whole cloth without aping other two-man acts. Because of the this infectious joy, it also makes their live act that much more awesome. Goodness all around.


  1. very good list here. couple of things i need to check out too. i only heard that Blakroc album recently and i was surprised at how good it is.

    also, BFF tour is excellent. i would be first in line for that show.

  2. I think the thing about Blakroc is that it LOOKED like it was going to be good. But I think it actually surpassed my expectations. These sorts of hybrids don't work out well usually, but this is really good. But since I just got into it before the end of the year, thats why it resides in the #20 spot.