Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Best Albums of 2009

If you are a fan of the Chicago Cubs or Bears, 2009 has been an insufferable year. After a swift exit from the '07 and '08 playoffs, the Cubs made us long for the chance to witness another three game sweep by gimping their way to a surprisingly respectable looking record of 83-78. Well, at least they're not the Pirates.

Conversely, 2009 was an incredible year for music. Animal Collective's demographic spanning triumph, Merriweather Post Pavilion dropped on us before January was over, with critics and fans alike pre-maturely hailing it as the album of the year.

Bookending their successful year, Animal Collective released the chilling five song EP Fall Be Kind digitally in November. Between these two releases the music community was treated to French indie rockers, Phoenix's most popular album to date (though not as good as 2006's It's Never Been Like That) with Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.Released on the same day, Grizzly Bear followed up their critically acclaimed Yellow House with the delectable ear candy of Veckatimest. An impeccably crafted collection of songs.

These were just a few of the highlights of 2009. For the rest, here are my favorite albums of the year:

25. Vitalic - Flashmob

24. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz!

23. YACHT - See Mystery Light

22. Deastro - Moondagger

21. Passion Pit - Manners

20. Atlas Sound - Logos

19. Handsome Furs - Face Control

17. Bear in Heaven - Beast Rest Forth Mouth

16. Micachu and the Shapes - Jewellery

16. HEALTH - Get Color

15. Silversun Pickups - Swoon

14. Fever Ray - Fever Ray

13. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

12. the xx - xx

11. Girls - Album

10. Bibio - Ambivalence Avenue

9. Dan Deacon - Bromst

8. Animal Collective - Fall Be Kind EP

7. White Rabbits - It's Frightening

6. Neon Indian - Psychic Chasms

5. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

4. Washed Out - High Times/Life of Leisure EP

3. Fuck Buttons (sorry Mom) - Tarot Sport

2. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest

1. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion

So yes, after being dubbed "album of the year" back in January, I still think Animal Collective delivered the year's best record. It is nearly impossible to pick between Veckatimest and MPP though, to be honest. Overall I was more impressed with Veckatimest, but that can be explained by fact that I was not a huge Grizzly Bear fan going into the album and was simply blown away, combined with my incredibly high expectations for Animal Collective.

Veckatimest stands apart because of its amazing instrumentation and attention to detail. The way the music flows and the perfection of its players will send shivers up your spine; the climaxing crescendo of "I Live With You," or the impossibly catchy harmony of "Two Weeks," to a seesaw of guitars trading places with the quiet peacefulness of "Fine For Now," the list is endless for what makes this album so good. However, from beginning to end I still preferMerriweather Post Pavilion.

Animal Collective created songs on MPP that are infinitely repeatable. "Summertime Clothes" is a joyous and surprisingly radio-ready jubilance of life. A recurring theme on this album and a large part of the band's progression is the deep, consistent bass that anchors this song. Grungy guitars give way to synths that bounce from ear to ear like Pong on crack as Avey Tare sings of sneaking out in the middle of the night with his lover, "when the sun goes down we'll go out again!"

Opener, "In The Flowers" sets the stage with synths gurgling to life, soon joined by a slightly haunting piano. Tare then sings softly for two minutes about seeing a "dancer in a field who was high from her movement" until at 2:31, the bottom of the song drops out as your speakers are pummeled with a thumping bass line that coalesces with simmering synths to ride the song home. The puzzled half-smile one will wear after hearing "In The Flowers" melts into a state of euphoria as Noah Lennox, aka "Panda Bear," begins the opening lyrics of the glorious "My Girls." This is simply a song that not one human being on Earth would not enjoy. There are many Animal Collective songs that are loved by fans but would be hated by 9 out of 10 listeners. This, however, is not one of those songs. Catchy as hell, pleasing to the ears and impossible not to tap your toes to, "My Girls" is the song of the year.

The rest of the album features the most gorgeous AC song to date, "Bluish" while also boasting the grooving "Lion in a Coma" as well as standout and perfect album closer, "Brothersport." Innovative as ever, and their most accessible album yet, Merriweather Post Pavilion is a natural and welcome progression for the band. That accessibility, however, may be the only gripe one may find as there is no "Grass" or "For Reverend Green" on this album, two of my favorite and, to some degree, more abrasive AC songs. It's a small quibble though, given the quality of the new material. From start to finish, Animal Collective consistently deliver on Merriweather Post Pavilion; not one song is a misstep. Download this now, if you do not have it already.

Nearly as unique sounding as Animal Collective, each of Dan Deacon, Micachu and Bibio released incredibly strong albums featuring multiple standout tracks. As far as debuts go, and there were a multitude of good one's this year, a band can't do much better than the xx or Girls who released vastly different sounding but equally easy to enjoy LP's. Continuing the theme, Karin Dreijer Andersson released her debut as Fever Ray, icily distilling the sound of her other band, The Knife, into a brooding yet pleasing collection of songs. Later in the year, Alan Palomo released Psychic Chasms, the Neon Indian debut that will hook you with one listen. Horribly named The Pains of Being Pure at Heart similarly released a debut filled to the brim with late 80's/early 90's sounding indie pop goodness. Finally, the sophomore effort of Fuck Buttons, Tarot Sport, was one of the most cohesive and alarmingly attention grabbing albums I've ever heard. A truly great year for music.

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