Julian’s Top Albums of 2009


I don’t know about anyone else, but I always have such trouble drawing up any kind of comprehensive list for the year’s end, because invariably at least half of my favorite records of that year end up being ones that were released in times previous. HOWEVER, fortune smiled upon me in 2009, as a good number of my favorite bands put out albums over the past 12 months, and lots of other good shit happened as well. So here we go.

10. Fuck Buttons – Tarot Sport. This one is kind of a surprise to me to be honest; I somehow avoided listening to it until the last two months or so of the year. There are just so many SOUNDS on this album- it’s like macaroni salad, except instead of pasta, vegetables and a bit of mayo, it’s a bunch of fuzzy/sharp/thumping noises. Every time I put this shit on it just puts me into this ridiculous kind of trance-state where I barely even notice the time passing- only realizing that >10 minutes have gone by in the blink of an eye when I realize a track is coming to a close.

9. Volcano Choir – Unmap. I think Justin Vernon kind of shocked everyone with this release- and I’d never heard of Collections of Colonies of Bees before, but man do I want to check them out now. As soon as I heard the first minute of this album I knew I would dig it- chopped up, copy-pasted half-finished guitar lines skittering all around beeping that sounds almost accidentally left-in, backed up by whooshes of zillion-part falsetto harmony. Perfect example of a record that sounds like its cover looks- which means really good.

8. Tegan and Sara – Sainthood. The Con was an album that defined my summer of 2007, so I was pretty pumped for new T&S from the start. I knew they’d be taking a new approach to songwriting with this album, but that still didn’t prepare me for the first song on this record. Arrow was one of those songs that made me simultaneously think ‘Holy shit, this is Tegan and Sara?’ and ‘Holy shit, this is Tegan and Sara.’ The sisters Quin have here managed to broaden their sonic palette without sacrificing the twinge of honest simplicity that makes their music so endearing- the fact that they can produce a song like Arrow and a song like Northshore and put them on the same album makes me love the shit out of them.

7. Lymbyc Systym/This Will Destroy You – Field Studies. So here’s a nice little kickback- an album that I would never have discovered were it not for this blog.  I know, I know, it’s an EP so it technically doesn’t belong on an ‘albums of the year’ list, but whatthefuckever. I’ve heard many people dismiss TWDY as being standard-fare crescendocore post-rock and their electronics as forced and hokey, but screw them. In their two songs on this split, they managed to encapsulate the two poles of their sound: delicate, click-clacky drum machines backing floating, delicate guitar lines, and maximum-density torrential downpour guitar noise rockouts. Lymbyc Systym was the dark horse for me on this album, and holy shit did they deliver. Processed Spirits is probably the last thing I’d have ever imagined if you asked me to describe modern instrumental/post-rock music before hearing this EP, but god damn is it one of the best things I’ve ever heard.

6. The Temper Trap – Conditions. So I loved the shit out of (500) Days of Summer, more than I loved almost any movie after seeing it once. In fact, one of the only things I love more than this movie is delay. And this album has a lot of delay. Sweet Disposition (track 3, featured in the aforementioned film) opens with a cascading wall of guitar that sounds just as transcendent and glorious as the amber lens flare over Zooey Deschanel’s head it’s synched up with. And then this guy starts to sing. Holy god, what a freaking falsetto. Yeah, make snarky reference to the 90’s U2 influence all you want, but everything about this album absolutely glows to me.

5. Regina Spektor – Far. I’ve been a pretty big fan of Regina for the past three years or so, but Begin to Hope never really clicked with me for some reason. This album TOTALLY made up for that lack. The arrangements here are simply fantastic- even though piano is clearly at the fore of every song, they never end up having quite the same texture. This album is a perfect case study for why having multiple producers can sometimes be a really really good thing- maybe you want one song to have a string quartet, one to have David Byrne noise samples and a third to have a vocal effect that sounds like the synth line from Dire, Dire Docks in Mario 64.

4. Brand New – Daisy. No, this wasn’t the life-altering album that The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me is and was, but thanks to my experiences with that record, I was able to convince myself to give what was initially an unimpressive record time to bloom (no pun intended, though I kind of like it nonetheless). If Devil and God is the wintry sound of desolation, isolation and hibernation, Daisy is an autumn- but not the beautiful, colorful season that first comes to mind. This record is the sound of things dying, withering, excoriating and igniting. The more dead and dismal it grew outside, the more welcoming the nasty, abrasive buzzing and screeching of Daisy became.

3. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion. Even in the midst of the psych-folk forest spirit journey era of their career, Animal Collective always insisted on having more in common with electronic music than any other  genre, and I guess they finally proved that point with Merriweather. Taking their liquid soundscapes and uniquely horizontally-minded musical constructions and moving for the first time in years back to almost exclusively knob-turning and SP-404 prodding, Animal Collective have miraculously managed to make a record of ‘outside music’ (to loosely quote the band’s reasoning for the title and cover [they’re leaves, I guess]) out of entirely artificial components. Not to mention making one of the year’s biggest indie crossover hits while still being the aural equivalent of staring at a swirly, naturey optical illusion and tripping into space.

2. Passion Pit – Manners. Passion Pit is just plain fantastic. Pitchfork said it perfectly when they described each of this band’s lines having been designed for ‘maximum melodic impact’- this shit just makes you grin. Combining a veritable cacophony of buzzy and sweet synths with the most improbably enjoyable voice in recent memory, Passion Pit have probably made the single greatest summertime driving album ever. Even after hearing the song get the shit hyped out of it, hearing Little Secrets for the first time still made my jaw drop-no album this year has made me crank my car’s stereo as high, and no band has done more to convince me that seat dancing is more important than safely driving.

1. The Dear Hunter – Act III: Life and Death. Most anyone who knows me could have easily guessed this would take the top spot- for me, they’re basically the perfect band. Act III had a considerably different effect on me than TDH’s previous two records, because it was their first new album that had come out since I’d gotten into the band. In that respect, I knew that it wasn’t going to instantly blow my mind the way Act I did when I first heard it- I’d already acclimated  myself to The Dear Hunter’s (ridiculously variegated) sound, and though they could still wow me, they couldn’t surprise me in the same way the first impression did. In some ways I was right, and in many ways I was very wrong. Suffice to say that this album is about as much of a grower/slow-burner as a roman candle- I heard it and loved it, but a few listens later, the wick burned all the way down, and this record just fucking ate me alive. Act III is almost a full 20 minutes slimmer than its predecessor, and yet it feels like just as much of a journey, covering the same astonishingly diverse range of sounds, jumping from crushing latin-twinged prog rock to bluegrass more effortlessly than most people switch breakfast cereals.

All things considered, 2009 was probably one of the best years for music I’ve had since I started listening to shit that couldn’t be found on video game soundtracks and in anime openings.

– Julian


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: