K’s Top Albums of 2009

Here are my Top 10 albums of 2010. This year’s list seems decidedly “mainstream” compared to the other lists I’ve seen. Nothing particularly surprising if you’ve been reading Drawer B over the course of 2009. I clearly missed out on a lot of great records this year. Looks like I’ll be spending the beginning of 2010 catching up. That Dirty Projectors record is at the top of the list, having made almost everyone’s list this year.

  • The XX – XX
    This is far and away my favorite record of 2009. At first blush I wasn’t particularly keen on the similarity between The XX and Young Marble Giants but after multiple listens I simply fell under their spell and never looked back. I’d been waiting for a new Colossal Youth and The XX delivered in spades.
  • Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
    I don’t care if every track of this album ends up in a horrible commercial, I will always love it unconditionally.
  • Amanda Blank – I Love You
    Better than Santigold? Who cares! Amanda Blank rocks my world.
  • The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
    This album transports me back to a twee adolescence that is far more entertaining than I remembered.
  • Metric – Fantasies
    Metric’s stadium ready record that reminded me why I fell in love with them back when they were featured in that Polaroid commercial at the start of this decade.
  • Bat For Lashes – Two Suns
    Natasha Khan’s voice is haunting and chilling and I can’t get enough.
  • Fanfarlo – Reservoir
    A London-based Swede crafts a pop record that combines a dollop of Beirut and a touch of Arcade Fire with a dash of Neutral Milk Hotel, and flavored with Swedish pop sensibilities. What’s not to love?
  • Julian Plenti – Julian Plenti is Skyscraper
    A little something to whet our appetites for the new Interpol album? I wasn’t sure what to make of this record when I first listened, but over time I found myself returning to it often. Something about Paul Banks’ vocals and lyrics gets under your skin.
  • The Joy Formidable – A Balloon Called Moaning
    An epic record from a welsh band? Indeed. I thought for sure they’d be all over the place in 2009, but alas perhaps 2010 will be their year.
  • Major Lazer – Guns Don’t Kill People… Lazers do.
    I *heart* diplo. This record is so much fun it hurts.
  • Eric Greenwood’s Top Albums of 2009

    1. Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (Glassnote)
    What I love most about Phoenix is its unabashed celebration of pop music. There’s no hidden agenda here. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is a pure pop record. Catchy hooks, big multi-tracked choruses, retro synths, and an almost primal sense of rhythm make this record an undeniably infectious listen. Perhaps, over-played by year’s end, it still takes the cake.

    2. Dirty Projectors, Bitte Orca (Domino)
    I want to hate what the Dirty Projectors do. It’s flauntingly experimental music played with an air of pretentiousness that just begs for someone to take it down a few notches. But I’ll be damned if it isn’t jaw-droppingly good, too. David Longstreth is a musical wunderkind, and he knows it. Despite the complex harmonies, unpredictable guitar runs, and vocal gymnastics, there’s an underlying sense of melody grounded in bare-bones emotion that keeps the Dirty Projectors from pushing its experimental proclivities into an unlistenable domain.

    3. The Horrors, Primary Colours (Xl)
    As an admitted Anglophile, I tend to veer towards the upstart British bands in hopes that they can fulfill the endless promises of hype, even against my better judgment. Such wishful thinking is rarely gratifying, as bands that get plastered on the cover of NME with heaps of praise tend to fall by the wayside faster than I can process. The Horrors, however, might have some staying power, as evidenced by a brilliant sophomore album. The band has outgrown the showy garage punk of its early days with a reinvigorating brand of art punk that stays true to its darker tendencies, while expanding its musical breadth significantly. The Horrors echo great bands (Echo & the Bunnymen, The Velvet Underground, Jesus & Mary Chain) without aping them gratuitously.

    4. The Life and Times, Tragic Boogie (Arena Rock)
    Tragic Boogie is the culmination of Allen Epley’s musical vision for his life post-Shiner. The trio even built its own studio to make it happen on its own terms. The result is a glacial wave of crushing shoegaze that ebbs and flows to extremes. It’s beauty versus noise, where there’s no clear winner. Everything about this record is huge. The guitars are layered so thick that even Kevin Shields would be proud. Epley’s raspy voice hovers over the colossal movements, but the vocals serve as another layer of texture rather than as the music’s guiding force. The album flows better as one piece of music rather than as individual songs because the production is such an integral part of its personality.

    5. Arctic Monkeys, Humbug (Domino)
    Humbug was such a slow grower for me that I almost gave up. The songs don’t jump out of the speakers quite how I expected. Instead, for its third album, the band opted for a much moodier approach. With a steady diet of Black Sabbath and various stoner rock records thanks to producer Josh Homme, the Arctic Monkeys betray their rambunctious post-Libertines flavor of British indie for a much more menacing, methodical style. The parts that rock, rock harder, while the parts that meander show off the band’s new found sense of tension. Unfortunately, Alex Turner’s natural pop sensibilities are sacrificed for this overarchingly downcast mood, but his endlessly witty lyrics keep this record engaging on a level most bands will never achieve.

    6. Polvo, In Prism (Merge)
    As with any reunion of a band I hold in high esteem, I sort of squinted apprehensively when I first heard “Beggar’s Bowl”, Polvo’s first new song in a decade. I quickly relaxed as the song progressed, and by the end I was anxious to listen again. Polvo’s self-imposed hibernation didn’t seem to affect the core if its genius. I’ll even go so far as to say that In Prism is quite possibly Polvo’s best record. How this band can sound tighter, more aggressive, and more experimentally aware after lying dormant for ten years is beyond me.

    7. The XX, XX (Young Turks)
    It’s knowing when not to play that’s the key this record’s surreptitious climb into the collective consciousness of those tuned left of center. There’s nothing showy or gimmicky that sets this band apart. In trying to describe the music, it can sound perfectly adequate on paper, yet when you listen there’s something indescribably unique in the way the male and female voices provide foils to one another. It took me a long time to come around, but it finally clicked, but not because of anything anybody said or wrote. I just had to listen for myself.

    8. Julian Plenti, Julian Plenti Is…Skyscraper (Matador)
    Interpol’s Paul Banks is so pretentious it’s almost funny, yet I can’t get enough of it. What with his kooky solo moniker, the bored-rich-louche cover art, and the promotional pictures of Banks dressed like a hipster dandy, the whole solo album thing seems to be passive aggressively making fun of the listener. But he’s got a voice that I stop everything for.

    9. Lily Allen, It’s Not Me, It’s You (Capitol)
    Avoiding the buoyant ska-inflected pop of her debut, Lily Allen returned as a sleek pop priestess of the dancefloor, which suited her new found fame sophisticate stature just fine. The horns were traded in for synths, as Allen cooed her way through another batch of self-deprecating one-liners that betray her own foibles as much as those of her unfortunate lovers.

    10. Cursive, Mama, I’m Swollen (Saddle Creek)
    Having not one but two career-defining albums (2000’s Domestica, 2003’sThe Ugly Organ) is a burden most bands would never overcome. And some might argue that Cursive still has not. So, while Mama, I’m Swollen is not the band’s masterpiece (that would be The Ugly Organ), it still ranks as a damn good Cursive album. Tim Kasher has grown by leaps and bounds as a songwriter, taking his lyrical devices to new levels of sophistication, but the music has taken a decidedly less aggressive approach. This may displease long-time fans, but I wouldn’t try to top The Ugly Organ, either.

    Close calls:
    Grizzly Bear, Veckatimest (Warp)
    Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, It’s Blitz (Interscope)
    Sonic Youth, The Eternal (Matador)
    Camera Obscura, My Maudlin Career (4AD)
    Dinosaur Jr., Farm (Jagjaguwar)
    *Land of Talk, Some Are Lakes (Saddle Creek) (This would easily be my number 1, if it hadn’t come out in 2008, as I listened to it more than anything.)

    Patrick Wall’s Top Albums of 2009

    When he’s not getting lap-dances, Patrick Wall writes about music with a passion second only to his obsession with making exceptions to his list of exceptions. He is also the Music Editor at Free Times, a contributor to Shuffle Magazine, and a blogger at Weekendsofsound.

    Knee Meets Jerk: In Which a Beleaguered Music Journalist Attempts to Identify Ten Records Released Between December 2008 and December 2009 That Were Better Than All Other Releases in the Same Time Period.
    Listed in alphabetical order. (Results subject to change.)

    BraveYoung, Bloom 12” (The End)
    Like Gorecki writing for Godspeed, BraveYoung’s epic slow jams flow through movements like contemporary classical music and unfold like minimalist masterpieces.

    Nels Cline, Coward (Cryptogramaphone)
    The quintessential guitarists’ guitarist solo record isn’t timid, reticent or soulless, as the title might intimate. Rather, it’s a daring execution of experimental, virtuosic chamber music that’s bookended by electronic soundscapes and centerpieced by the divine, 18-minute “Rod Poole’s Gradual Ascent to Heaven,” in which clanging guitars waterfall in funereal fashion.

    Converge, Axe to Fall (Epitaph)
    Hard, fast and angry as fuck, Axe to Fall is one of the most astonishing displays of hardcore fury in recent memory. I dare say it’s better than Jane Doe.

    Dirty Projectors, Bitte Orca (Domino)
    Dave Longstreth masterminds another exceptional collection of experimental indie rock that simultaneously comforts and confounds. And fuck Rihanna: “Stillness is the Move” is 2009’s No. 1 R&B smoove jam.

    DOOM, Born Like This/Unexpected Guests (Lex)
    DOOM spent the latter half of the decade off the grid, honing his dark, absurdist rhymes. He returned with Born Like This, a rare hip-hop record that’s enhanced by its guest spots (Slug, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, Bumpy Knuckles) rather than bogged down by their largesse. Indeed, Born Like This is a scant, savage record, in which DOOM — who’s never met a line he couldn’t add four more syllables to — never once relents his dominant flow.

    Fast Citizens, Two Cities (Delmark)
    This collective of hot young jazz composers — led this time around by tenor saxophoner Aram Shelton — plays inside/outside jazz that’s heavy on the outside, and the cerebral, avant-garde jazz resulting in the sextet’s group improvisations is nothing short of magical. Once you hear the ascending climax to “Two Cities,” you’ll understand.

    Goes Cube, Another Day Has Passed (The End)
    Whereas most loud-rock acts are either unrelentingly brutal or melodic and intricate — or, too often, simply unfocused and muddled — nuanced and intricate Brooklyn trio Goes Cube manages to be both massively heavy and incredible tuneful, melding Torche’s monolithic sludge, Refused’s manic intensity and careening alt-metal melodies without once sounding contrived.

    Horseback, The Invisible Mountain (Utech)
    Delivered and developed with an assured, deliberate and glacial pace, Horseback’s blackened, droning doom metal delivers thunderous storms of hypnotic and heavy riffs on the first three of its four tracks. But the 16-and-a-half-minute finale, “Hatecloud Dissolving Into Nothing,” is the disc’s real triumph, in which Jenks Miller — Horseback’s only member — reveals the aftermath of the storm as an eerie, ethereally beautiful epilogue.

    Kowloon Walled City, Gambling on the Richter Scale (The Perpetual Motion Machine)
    Loud, primal and unrelentingly ferocious, listening to Kowloon Walled City is like being crushed under the tread of a Panzer tank made of crushing, distortion-soaked sludge.

    Polvo, In Prism (Merge)
    Polvo’s return from its dozen-year exile doesn’t waste time with warm-up laps, pounding you with the snarling, gnarly opening riff of “Right the Relation” right off the bat. And sure, Polvo 2.0 rocks infinitely harder, but still remembers the slinking, pirouetting, tension-ratcheting math-rock prowess that made Ash Bowie and company gods to begin with.

    POS, Never Better (Rhymesayers)
    It’s true: Stefon Anderson’s never been better. And while the term’s mook-rock connotations make it hard to call it so, Never Better is a rap-rock album — an easy and fitting descriptor, given the churlish guitar thuds and doomy bass fuzz of “Drumroll” — that puts Limp Bizkit and its mongoloid cronies to shame.

    Raekwon, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Pt. 2 (Ice H20)
    I never understood why Method Man became so much of a public figurehead for the Wu-Tang Clan, especially when Ghostface Killah and Raekwon were the better emcees. Cuban Linx, Pt. 2 is the Chef’s finest work since Cuban Linx, Pt. 1. “House of Flying Daggers” is the jam of the year.

    Snowing, Fuck Your Emotional Bullshit 7” + Tour Tape (Self-released)
    The spirit of Cap’n Jazz and American Football are alive and well in this Lehigh Valley, Pa., band, the gruff, energetic, sore-throated, free-wheeling math-punk of which has its foot placed firmly on the accelerator. It’s nothing new or wild, but it’s absolutely infectious and affecting. “So I Shotgunned a Beer and Went To Bed,” from the tour tape, might be my favorite song from this year.

    The Twilight Sad, Forget the Night Ahead (Fat Cat)
    Clearer and denser than Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters, the Scottish quartet here refines its Morrissey-via-Mogwai mopegaze into an atmospheric drift. At its core, though, its blunt, emotionally complex Scot-rock, certainly no sunny day in Glasgow, is as rewarding as it is soul-crushing. The epic sweep of Autumns is certainly missed, but only occasionally.

    Honorable Mentions/Apologies To: An Horse, Rearrange Beds; Dan Auerbach, Keep It Hid; Josh Berman, Old Idea; Baroness, Blue Record; Dalek, Gutter Tactics; The Dead Weather, Horehound; Dinosaur Jr, Farm; Justin Townes Earle, Midnight at the Movies; Felt, Felt 3: A Tribute to Rosie Perez; Gold Standard, Gold Standard; Gifts From Enola, From Fathoms; Glorytellers, Atone; Hammer No More the Fingers, Looking for Bruce; Hayden, The Place Where We Lived; Isis, Wavering Radiant; Lightning Bolt, Earthly Delights; Miranda Lambert, Revolution; Mono, Hymn to the Immortal Wind; Mos Def, The Ecstatic; Mount Eerie, Wind’s Poem; Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix; Julian Plenti, is… Skyscraper; Radian, Chimeric; Red Collar, Pilgrim; St. Vincent, Actor; Still Pioneers, 01.28.1986; Sunn O))), Monoliths and Dimensions; Washed Out, Life of Leisure; Why?, Eskimo Snow; The xx, xx; Zomby, Where Were U in ‘92

    Kevin Foster Langston’s Top Albums of 2009

    An infrequent contributor, Kevin Foster Langston has a love-hate relationship with listmaking and damn-near everything else. He longs for the time when vampires weren’t such sissies, Black Eyed Peas were merely a side dish and Auto-Tune was nothing but a function on your car radio. He also thinks Meryl Streep is fugly.

    1. Dinosaur Jr., Farm (Jagjaguwar)
    2. Titus Andronicus, The Airing Of Grievances (Xl Recordings)
    3. Rural Alberta Advantage, Hometowns (Saddle Creek)
    4. Flaming Lips, Embryonic (Warner Bros.)
    5. Japandroids, Post-Nothing (Polyvinyl)
    6. White Denim, Fits (Downtown Records)
    7. The Antlers, Hospice (Frenchkiss Records)
    8. Castanets, Texas Rose, The Beasts, And The Thaw (Asthmatic Kitty)
    9. Fanfarlo, Reservoir (Self-Released)
    10. Them Crooked Vultures, Them Crooked Vultures (Dgg/Interscope)

    Honorable Mentions:
    The Big Pink, A Brief History Of Love (4ad)
    Justin Townes Earle, Midnight At The Movies (Bloodshot Records)
    Here We Go Magic, Here We Go Magic (Western Vinyl)
    Le Loup, Family (Hardly Art)
    The Love Language, The Love Language (Bladen County)
    The Tallest Man On Earth, Shallow Grave (Gravitation)+
    White Rabbits, It’s Frightening (Tbd Records)

    +Released March 2008, but I listened to it a lot in 2009. It’s my list, anyways. Jog on.

    Tug Baker’s Top Albums of 2009

    Tug Baker is the proprietor of the mp3-blog About Today. Tug hearts Tyra from Friday Night Lights. Also, Tug is Team Jacob.

    1. Bat for Lashes, Two Suns (Astralwerks)
    2. jj,  jj n° 2 (Sincerely Yours)
    3. Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (Glass Note)
    4. White Denim, Fits (Downtown)
    5. Grizzly Bear, Veckatimest (Warp)
    6. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, It’s Blitz (Interscope)
    7. Various Artists, Dark Was the Night (4AD)
    8. Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino)
    9. Fever Ray, Fever Ray (Mute)
    10. Dirty Projectors, Bitte Orca (Domino)
    11. Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse, Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse Present: Dark Night of the Soul (Self-released)
    12. White Rabbits,  It’s Frightening (Tbd)
    13. Washed Out, High Times (Mirror Universe)
    14. Jarvis Cocker, Further Complications (Rough Trade)
    15. The XX, XX (Xl)

    Logan K. Young’s Top Albums of 2009

    Logan K. Young is a morally ambivalent freelance writer with a penchant for Disney tween superstars and Jews.

    1. Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (Loyauté/Glassnote)
    2. Dirty Projectors, Bitte Orca (Domino)
    3. Passion Pit, Manners (Columbia/French Kiss)
    4. Nirvana, Live at Reading (Geffen)
    5. Sonic Youth, The Eternal (Matador)
    6. Washed Out, Life of Leisure (Mexican Summer)
    7. Eric Copeland, Alien in a Garbage Dump (Paw Tracks)
    8. St. Vincent, Actor (4AD)
    9. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Up from Below (Rough Trade/Vagrant)
    10. Matt & Kim, Grand (Fader)

    Honorable Mention:
    Jim O’Rourke, The Visitor (Drag City)
    Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino)
    YACHT, See Mystery Lights (DFA)