Monday, September 28, 2009

Best of 2009 (National Albums)

Well, it's that time of year when National Publications start publishing their list of best albums of 2009 (and the decade) with 3 months left before New Year's Eve. Well, I'm impatient too- so here is my list of the best albums of 2009 (I'll do national releases today and local releases tomorrow):

1. Two Suns - Bat For Lashes

I thought Bat for Lashes' debut, Fur & Gold, was a good but uneven album with two amazing highlights- "Trophy" and "What's A Girl to Do." Two Suns manages to be much more consistent throughout, held together by a loose but effective theme of dual nature. I love when artists indulge in their dark sides and "Sirens Call" is a perfect ballad for a femme fatale. The guys from Yeasayer also bring their shamanic bass and drumming to songs like "Sleep Alone". But Two Suns truly earns it #1 placement on the strength of its bookends - opener "Glass", which sounds like the movie theme to an unmade Fantasy Epic. On the closer, "The Big Sleep", Natasha Khan holds her own with the godlike genius of the reclusive Scott Walker.

2. Preliminaires - Iggy Pop

Most people grimaced at the idea of Iggy Pop making a jazz album when information first leaked about this peculiar release. The truth is that Preliminaires is far more influenced by French Chanteuse, and Iggy Pop takes his place among the United Nations of gravel-voiced lotharios like Serge Gainsbourg and Leonard Cohen. The songs also incorporate the sounds of New Orlean Jazz ("King of the Dogs" - a worthy sequel to "I'm Your Dog"), spoken word (Iggy Pop turned me onto French writer Michel Houellebecq through "A Machine for Loving" in which he quotes directly from the authors' novel "The Possibility of an Island"), and the token hard rocker ("Nice to be Dead"). Iggy Pop's best album since Lust for Life.

3. Actor - St. Vincent

A more accessible (and overall more satisfying) take on the Dirty Projectors off kilter beats and arresting female vocals. This is a fun and sonically interesting album, but its Annie Clark's ability to write immediately catchy but enigmatic lyrics that make this sophomore effort so winning. All the tracks are great but I particularly love "The Strangers", "Marrow", and "Laughing with a Mouth of Blood". Good year for second albums by female artists.

4. Merriweather Post Pavillion - Animal Collective

I've had a difficult relationship with Animal Collective- I usually love at least one song from each of their albums, but taken as a whole they are just too sonically relentless. In fact, up until Merriweather Post Pavillion, my favorite Animal Collective related release was Panda Bear's Person Pitch. However, Merriweather Post Pavillion manages to be both sonically adventurous and a great pop album (highlights including "Summertime Clothes", "Lion in a Coma", and "Brothers Sport"). I think it also helped that I first experienced the album on vinyl in manageable 3-song portions. The psychedelic optical illusion cover art is also best experienced in this large format.

5. Bitte Orca - The Dirty Projectors

Dirty Projectors is another band that often works best in small doses, but managed to pull off a great, cohesive album in 2009. They got off to a good start this year by collaborating with David Byrne on the kickoff song from Dark Was the Night (which would probably be my album of the year if I was including compilations). They then updated Talking Heads' epileptic funk for the 21st century with the incredible "Stillness is the Move". They also managed to rewrite "These Days" ("Two Doves") and create a future a capella classic (Cannibal Resource).

6. Down With Liberty... Up With Chains! - Chain & The Gang

I never heard of Ian Svenonius until my band, Panda Bandits, was invited to open for his latest project at SPACE. This "D.C. Legend" manages to be rocking, stylish, funny, and political in equal measure. But most of all, this is just plain fun music. My favorite is "Deathbed Confession"- a great concept, a great story, and a great chorus all rolled into one. In concert, Mr. Svenonius would stretch out the songs with long commentaries, observations, and witticisms, but the songs on the album still holdup without their in-the-moment preludes. Definitely my favorite new discovery of the year.

7. Tight Knit - Vetiver

So far Vetiver's best album has been last year's covers album, Thing of the Past. When Andy Cabic isn't interpreting other people's songs, his own songwriting can sometimes lack variety. But I can't complain too much when that style of writing creates so many awesome, laidback tunes, and he always manages to pull off at least one full blown classic (in this case, "Another Reason to Go"). The band is also consistently tight and Cabic has a killer voice. A great album to listen to while driving around and looking at the autumn foilage. Vetiver's show at SPACE in 2008 was a concert going hightlight, and I'm sad that they skipped Portland on their latest tour.

8. It's Not Me, It's You - Lily Allen

My guilty pleasure, I suppose. I've fucking loved Lily Allen ever since downloading "Smile" as iTunes free "Single of the Week". Perhaps its my innate love for rebellious girls and most things British, or just because Allen's songs are really catchy and fun. Sure, her lyrics are sometimes beyond terrible, but I can't resist the overall impact of "The Fear", "Everyone's At It", and "Fuck You". I also like that she believes God's favorite band is Creedence Clearwater Revival- a good guess.

9. Further Complications - Jarvis Cocker

Speaking of things British, the former lead singer of Pulp released his second solo album this year. I don't like it as much as his first (simply titled Jarvis) or pretty much anything he did with Pulp, but I love this man and can't be objective. All in all, I wasn't a fan of Steve Albini's production which buries one of my favorite voices in too much alternative rock sludge. But Mr. Cocker's famous wit is still there on songs like "Leftovers", "Fuckingsong", and the title track.

10. Veckatimest- Grizzly Bear

I'm still not sure if I've listened to this album enough to fully appreciate it. I didn't get into any of Grizzly Bear's previous releases (although I do like their contributions to Dark Was the Night), but this is an undeniably beautiful album. I also have the feeling that if I keep listening something will suddenly click into place and its full majesty will reveal itself to me. Don't disappoint me Grizzly Bear!

Album that hasn't been released yet, but will almost certainly make the list:

What Will We Be - Devendra Banhart

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