Top Albums of 2009

Musically, 2009 ended up being an appropriate year to close out a decade without any coherent trend or movement in music. It was an odd year that was heavily front loaded with quality releases and seemed to quickly fall off the edge in the second half, which is represented here in this list.

No. 10
Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca Cover
Dirty Projectors
Bitte Orca
June 9, 2009

I'm still struggling to fully “get” this album. Bitte Orca features complex composition that is skillfully pulled off on all fronts (most notably the guitar work and female background vocals). The music pretty universally feels avant-garde and at times that oddness can be grating. However, Dirty Projectors deserve some measure of credit for doing something different, and doing it well. I just remain undecided on whether or not what they're doing is worth listening to. A year from now I'll end up either regretting having included this album at all or wishing I'd placed it higher.

Highlights: Cannibal Resource, Stillness is the Move

No. 9
Dan Deacon - Bromst Cover
Dan Deacon
March 24, 2009
Carpark Records

Dan Deacon creates songs by taking layers of noise, random bleeps & bloops, and woody-the-woodpecker vocals and somehow gives us inventive electronic music that feels surprisingly epic in scope and is often undeniably fun.

Highlights: Build Voice, Red F, Snookered

No. 8
Neko Case - Middle Cyclone Cover
Neko Case
Middle Cyclone
March 3, 2009

Not sure what to say about this one. Neko Case's vocal ability is undeniable (a fact that clearly doesn't escape her) and on Middle Cyclone she's doing her alt-country thing as perfectly as she usually does it. Chock-full of quality songs, each of which is a perfect vehicle to showcase her extraordinary voice.

Highlights: This Tornado Loves You, People Got a Lotta Nerve, Magpie to the Morning

No. 7
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz Cover
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
It's Blitz
March 9, 2009

It's Blitz finds the Yeah Yeah Yeahs giving us an album heavily tinged with 80s new wave. The writing is stronger and more consistent than ever and their ability to stray from the standard verse-chorus-verse song structure at just the right moment keeps things interesting.

Highlights: Zero, Dragon Queen, Hysteric

No. 6
Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
Animal Collective
Merriweather Post Pavilion
January 6, 2009

Animal Collective has always seemed to be a band that receives far more credit than they deserve simply based on the fact that their music is “spontaneous” and “different”, which for me has always translated into something largely unlistenable. With Merriweather Post Pavilion they finally manage to marry their idiosyncrasies with quality music.

Highlights: My Girls, Guys Eyes, Daily Routine

No. 5
Sunn O))) - Monoliths and Dimensions Cover
Sunn O)))
Monoliths and Dimensions
May 18, 2009
Southern Lord

What you'll find here is a brand of metal that requires a patient listener as it largely consists of slow, deep droning guitars that blend into one another and is largely devoid of rhythm. Patient listeners will be rewarded with striking compositions that are simultaneously sinister and beautiful.

Highlights: Alice, Big Church, Hunting & Gathering

No. 4
Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest Cover
Grizzly Bear
May 26, 2009

I can't help but feel that some of the magic found on Grizzly Bear's last album, Yellow House, is missing here on Veckatimest. Yellow House felt like some previously unexplored musical island whereas Veckatimest mostly feels more constrained and exists within a more common set of musical boundaries. That said, it is nothing short of magical how the band's voices come together to form such perfect harmonies.

Highlights: Two Weeks, While You Wait for the Others, Foreground

No. 3
Emm Gryner - Goddess Cover
Emm Gryner
February, 2009
Dead Daisy Records

Emm Gryner has consistently put out high quality pop music over the last decade or so, but Goddess finds her performing with an edginess not found on her previous efforts. Without a doubt it's a nice, subtle change of pace and it just may be my favorite album of hers.

Highlights: Killing Spree, Young as the Night, Empty Hole

No. 2
Mastodon - Crack the Skye Cover
Crack the Skye
March 24, 2009

Crack the Skye may not have the same relentless fury of Mastodon's first few albums, but it does feature the same exemplary musicianship the band is known for. The guitar work is fantastic and Brann Dailor's astounding drumming is a show stealer. While not as “in your face”, Crack the Skye is just as heavy as anything Mastodon has done before and it provides seven exceedingly well-crafted songs.

Highlights: The Czar, Divinations, The Last Baron

No. 1
St. Vincent - Actor Cover
St. Vincent
May 5, 2009

With Actor, St. Vincent gives us an exercise in contradictions. Just about every song features a level of whimsy reminiscent of old Disney movies which is mixed seamlessly with ominous and menacing guitars. Annie Clark writes with striking clarity of vision and inventiveness, and here she delivers a diverse album that oozes personality from top to bottom. No other album this year blew me away as consistently as Actor and it continues to get better with each listen.

Highlights: The Party, Laughing With a Mouth of Blood, Actor Out of Work