Brian B.’s Favorite Albums Of 2009


i know i used this image last year. suck it!

I’d be hard pressed to call 2009 an overall ‘good’ year for me. Let’s call it a dynamic one; lots of things were in flux throughout the year, both physically and mentally, highs and lows abound. It was a fitting end to the decade I’ll tell my kids I grew up in. As I look back over the last 10 years of my life, all of the spaces left blank and unanswered questions leave me feeling a vague trepidation for the decade ahead, in which I’ll be forced to reconcile all of my problems and ticks and idiosyncrasies in order to finally become my own person. Hopefully, the caliber of music that helped me throughwill continue into the next decade.

This little website that I devote a few hours a week to is nowhere near where I would like it to be yet, but I think I’m starting to feel out the path. Thanks to anyone who has visited or left a comment or enjoyed something they discovered on here. I hope you’ll keep checking up on us. I’d also like to thank Brian, Steve, Julian, and Dave for signing on to help me out around here every once in awhile. I really love this group we’ve created, and I’m confident that we can do some neat stuff on here if we really put our heads together. Love ya’ll.  With that, here’s a list of twenty albums released in 2009 that I particularly enjoyed.

#20 | Woods – Songs Of Shame

I was already fairly sick of the whole lo-fi resurgence that swept the nation by around early May. Too often, it treated the technique with too heavy a dose of eye-winking irony and self-awareness to merit any real praise. Woods perhaps gained notice because of this lo-fi wave, but they separated themselves quickly by writing great songs and using their recording techniques to tie the entire package together, rather than for a quick hype cash-in.

#19 | The Dear Hunter – Act III: Life And Death

While my tastes may not always align with those of  Casey Crescenzo and his brainchild, I always have to give respect to The Dear Hunter for being one of the hardest working and most talented bands touring today. Watching this project grow from laptops and hard drives to harps and mainstage festival appearances, with all the friendships made and great times had in between, has been one of my favorite personal journeys of the past decade, and Act III is a great milestone in that. Watching such a talent unfold and discover himself is enlightening at times, frustrating at others, but always absolutely captivating.

#18 | Black Dice – Repo

I had attempted numerous times to get into Black Dice’s earlier work, but never managed to break through the grime and disorientation and find the treasures hidden within. Repo showed me that I was fighting the entirely wrong battle; the disorienting grime and nihilistic disregard for any conventional aesthetics were the treasures hidden within. Repo reminds me of a sort of Wall-E of noise rock; using a filthy, desolate, garbage ridden backdrop to tell a fairly intricate story.

#17 | Castevet – Summer Fences

Whenever you make a big jump in your life, there’s always that period of vague disappointment and confusion immediately afterwards. Why don’t I feel completely new and refreshed? Why haven’t my problems disappeared? It was this feeling that followed me into a basement the first time I saw Castevet after moving to Chicago, and I haven’t felt it since. Seeing this band live and hearing their music confirmed to me that any city producing bands as fiery and passionate as this is good enough for me.

#16 | Atlas Sound – Logos

Whether he likes it or not, Bradford Cox seems to be becoming something of a sage for many of the disaffected, musically aware masses. As Deerhunter and now his solo project Atlas Sound continue their rise in profile, the gleefully transparent and self-deprecating Cox stands at the center, not-so-quietly stirring the shit and opening up uncomfortably wide in interviews and on album covers alike. It’s clear that Bradford has plenty to say, and the command of songwriting displayed on Logos makes me all the more eager to listen.

#15 | White Rainbow – New Clouds

2009 was the year I fully immersed myself in the world of ambient and drone music, and while I hungrily lapped up any release I could find under the tags, only a few made a solid enough impression to crack my top list. New Clouds distills all of the experience Adam Forkner has gained from his own projects and working with various other great artists into a gorgeous, long-form stream of conciousness.

#14 | Fuck Buttons – Tarot Sport

While Fuck Button’s follow-up to Street Horrrsing didn’t chart as high as it’s predecessor did on last year’s list, it was nevertheless a succesful change of direction and a great listen. The blistering menace of their debut has been replaced with something decidedly more upbeat and strange. While many of the same perverted synthesizers that gave Street its distinct flavor are back, they’re coupled with four on the floor bass pulses instead of pulverizing drones. Put this on and let Fuck Buttons throw you the weirdest dance party of 2009.

#13 | Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

From Saturday Night Live to those Cadillac commercials, Phoenix was nigh-inescapable in 2009. Luckily, the sounds that filled the airwaves were some of the best-crafted pop music of the past decade. The arrangements were tight as a drum, the production was shimmering, but it wats their sheer pop songwriting skill that earned the French band their biggest year ever.

#12 | Do Make Say Think – The Other Truths

Removed from the blistering crescendos and digital delay pedals of many other bands sharing the post-rock tag these days, Toronto mainstays Do Make Say Think nevertheless turned up the volume on their latest release. Recorded live with few overdubs and little editing, The Other Truths is the most emotionally transparent and sonically interesting record of their long career. Few bands have been this successful at translating the positive energy that’s created when you get a bunch of talented musicians in one room and just let them play.

#11 | Here We Go Magic – Here We Go Magic

Definitely my sleeper hit of the year, I had no idea what to expect when I first listened to songwriter Luke Temple’s Here We Go Magic project. Upon hearing the quiet acoustic guitars and hushed vocals, I wasn’t immediately impressed. But for some reason, the record kept finding it’s way into my rotation, and I’m glad I ended up giving it the time it deserved. The hypnotic, mantra-like song structures, attention to detail, and swirling ambiance make this much more interesting that your average folk record.

#10 | Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion

2009 was almost unquestionably the year of Animal Collective. Merriweather Post Pavilion was released at the beginning of January, and we haven’t stopped hearing about it since. I was never able to ‘get’ Animal Collective before this album, despite multiple attempts to get into them, but this album opened my eyes to their idiosyncratic charm. While I didn’t find this album as overall satisfying and consistent as some of their past records, it earns its spot on my top 10 for the wide impact it had on the world of independent music; music that was wholly unlike anything we had heard before, yet still united music fans of all stripes. Animal Collective have been the pre-eminent experimental band of the decade, and watching such a unique, creative band carry the flag for so many people makes me very excited for the upcoming decade in music.

#9 | Passion Pit – Manners

In a year where cerebral music like Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear ruled the critical roost, it was sometimes a relief to bask in the unadulterated pop glow of Manners. This album basically defined my summer, and there was rarely a time that one of the many bangers on here wasn’t blasting out of my speakers. Seeing them live at Lollapalooza was also quite a treat, despite a few vocal problems. Passion Pit’s rise to fame has been quite quick, but these songs are no flash in the pan. While many of their electro-pop contemporaries can suffer from as overly-hushed sentiment or ironic posturing, Passion Pit let it all hang out and leave no sound or hook unturned. Absolutely massive pop songs with quite large hearts as well.

#8 | Thrice – Beggars

I honestly thought I had grown out of Thrice. Though they were one of my favorite bands throughout much of my teenage years, I found the overbearing elemental theme on the Alchemy Index too forced and uninteresting. They sounded like a band struggling for ideas for a world slowly starting to forget about their brand of rock. With this in mind, I approached Beggars with low expectations, anticipating the same indifference on my part. Luckily, Beggars is free of any gimmicks and melodrama of their past records, and the best album of Thrice’s career. With a wide range of influences, an intimately raw sound, and some of Dustin Kensrue’s most thought-provoking lyrics yet, Beggars was a wonderful, reassuring reminder from a close friend who never really left my side.

#7 | Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca

One warm, midsummer’s eve, I sat underneath the intertwining metal beams of Prtizker Pavilion in Chicago’s Millenium Park with a group of my friends. As the Dirty Projectors played onstage, I saw children, newlyweds, kids, adults, white, brown, and black alike dancing and enjoying auteur Dave Longstreth’s complex, meandering pop songs. It was a great signifier of the age we live in, where major labels and media outlets are no longer in control of the music that we’re exposed to, making it so much easier for the true talents such as Dirty Projectors to reach a wide audience. After that, every time I listened to Bitte Orca‘s beautifully fragmented and meticulously arranged pieces, I was reminded of that warm night I spent with close friends, watching the ability for truly great music to bring together so many different types of people.

#6 | Nosaj Thing – Drift

Last year, Flying Lotus put L.A. back on the map, and finally exposed America’s most fertile, sonically interesting electronic music scene. FlyLo’s Los Angeles was quite the introduction, and Nosaj Thing’s (nee Jason Chung) debut expands the definition of this new SoCal-based future-hop with its own distinct approach. Unlike the hazy murk of Flying Lotus’s LP, Chung utilizes bright, shimmering synths coupled with the stumbling, off-kilter percussion trademark to the scene. Chung’s brand of hip-hop influenced electronica couldn’t have been released in any year other than 2009; glitzy and glowing masking a darker, drugged paranoia underneath.

#5 | A Sunny Day In Glasgow – Ashes Grammar

The number 5 wild card trend continues! For two years, an album made such an impact on me that it rocketed it’s way directly to the number five, despite its recent discovery. Last year, Flying Lotus’s Los Angeles took that spot, and this year it’s Ashes Grammar. I was instantly captivated by this warm cloud of sound, with ephemeral hooks and other sonic treasures hidden in the mist, practically begging for constant, repeated listens. Its so exciting to hear a band so fully realized and aware of their strengths only two albums in, and Ashes Grammar constantly rewards. Ashes Grammar‘s consistent aesthetic and unique structure make it this fuzzy, womb-like world of its own that can be pretty difficult to return from sometimes.

#4 | Bibio – Ambivalence Avenue

I was all but ready to write Bibio off as a one-trick pony. His trademark format; manipulating lo-fi folk and field recordings into collages was fairly interesting, but after three consecutive albums consisting of this, it got stale. When Ambivalence Avenue dropped this summer, I was stunned by the absolute about-face the artist took. While some of the touchstones are the same, heavy doses of funk and left-field hip hop prop up all of the previously quaint-sounding samples. The album covers more sonic ground than anything else released this year, with light acoustic ballads on one track, menacing glitch-hop the next, and spritely pop the next. Ambivalence Avenue shows the incredible things that happen when you finally break out of your shell.

#3 | Tim Hecker – An Imaginary Country

Montreal composer Tim Hecker became one of my all-time favorite musicians over the course of 2009, and this album was my first exposure. The scope of all of Tim Hecker’s work is breathtaking, and that trend continues on An Imaginary Country. His trademark glitches and drones map out an ephemeral sonic world, with the geographical features described in the track titles as clear as if you were seeing them with your eyes. Hecker staked out his territory as a pioneer of electronic music this decade, and I couldn’t be more excited to see what he continues to discover in the next one.

#2 | Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest

I did not like this album at all the first time I heard it. The quiet, dense meanderings within convinced me that all of the hype and adoration it received was merely trickle-down from the music cognoscenti and all of those reliable hop-ons. But one autumn day, “Ready, Able” came on my shuffle and it just worked; Edward Droste’s lilting vocals, the delicate arrangements and vague sense of forboding matched the fall atmosphere so perfectly. After that, Veckatimest finally began to reveal itself to me. In a year where lo-fi and carelessness were championed as musical assets in indie circles, it was reassuring to see an album so meticulously crafted and worked over rose above all. Rest assured, in ten years when Grizzly Bear is one of the biggest bands in the world, people will look back at Veckatimest as the turning point.

#1 | Emeralds – What Happened

So here it is; the ultimate album in a year that saw more musical innovation than any before it. What Happened wasn’t my most listened to album of the year by any stretch, but it was the album that fundamentally changed the way I look at and interpret music. Never before would I have been able to be so moved from such long-form abstractions, but my hometown heroes managed to weave an entire universe from myriad oscillations and waves of sound. What Happened opened up an entirely new realm of sound for me, inspiring me to look at both past and present for the artists who inspired them and their contemporaries today. In a year that saw so much change and tumult in my life, being able to be comfortably isolated in the distant oasis of these sounds kept me level and inspired me in many ways. Desolate and awe-inspiring, Emerald’s What Happened was my favorite album of 2009.

I hope you all had a great decade. Thanks for reading.

Brian B.


2 Responses to “Brian B.’s Favorite Albums Of 2009”

  1. thenoiseis Says:

    a good list brian.

  2. max Says:

    aww man grizzly bear?

    Aside from Grizzly Bear at #2, I approve

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