Stuart's Albums of the Year 2009

Lists are always wrong. I will look back in ten years and be embarrassed about this. Hell, I will look back in two years and be embarrassed. But I don't care. I am so tired of historicism in music. I am so tired of the score card, of the revision, of the "music today sucks, old music for this year is the best and heres why." I am so tired of our feelings right now being cast off. Your right, the trends and obsessions of right now will not last. Like this list we will be embarassed, try to pretend they never happened. But they are all we have right now. Sometimes lack of foresight is a virtue.

So this is a list for right now. This was the year, to me, as it happened. This is the 2009 list for 2009.

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

It’s a tough question. Can amazing songs outweigh blatant un-originality in a band’s sound? Namely, if a band crafts the perfect summer blessed out noisy pop record, does it matter how straight up they rip off, well, everything? I think it does, and yet I couldn’t put this one down. It was summer man, calm down. Let these sweet shoegaze waves wash over you.

19. Kurt Vile - Childish Prodigy

Where the fuck is our aggressive music? Our fucking Rolling Stones, our Stooges? Kurt Vile must have been thinking this too, and he has been working his ass off to change it. With three albums over two years, he gives us something with kick, something with balls. Never is this more evident than on Childish Prodigy. With a glowing low-fi back drop, he comes at you and aims for your throat, and doesn’t mince words in the process. It manages to sound like nothing you’ve ever heard and like your drunk uncle’s record collection at the same time.

18. Port O'Brien - Threadbare

San Francisco’s Port O’Brien released one of the best underrated records last year. Created mostly on a fishing ship in Alaska, they were songs of the cold and lonely sea, and the record failed to make a splash anywhere. Less than eighteen months later they return with Threadbare and, just and inexplicably, it’s getting some well deserved recognition. Here we have some songs that stray from the ocean and seem well grounded in the San Francisco Bay Area, and while listening to it in my adopted home, New York, it never failed to make me homesick. A little bit darker, a little bit quieter, these are songs for a campfire in the redwoods, or for huddling under my blanket with a flashlight and a book.

17. Atlas Sound - Logos

Parker once called Bradford Cox’s main project, Deerhunter, a soundtrack for obsessive pedophiles with lollypops, but in a good way. Cox’s Atlas Sound solo project plays out much the same way but a little sparse, and a little more personal. You get the feeling you’re wandering around in his head, and that maybe his head is a dangerous place to wander in. On Logos we get another piece of chilling insight - it feels comforting, beckoning us to sleep but always with the manically depressed emotions lurking on the sidelines.

16. The Flaming Lips - Embryonic

So, um, The Flaming Lips are back. Party. Though still as catchy and weird as ever, these guys seemed to have rounded another corner in their careers. A bit more crunch, a bit more propulsion, they finally seem to have actually left the ground and are now suspended somewhere in the stratosphere. In fact, it almost seems like The Lips couldn’t contain the ideas that come bursting from their head, one after another, on this album. But seriously, man, that this band has been going for over a quarter century and are still making albums this good…man, your making the rest of the world look bad.

15. Matt & Kim - Grand

It’s been said that “happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” and usually I agree. But these two Brooklynites have crafted their own unique form of fiercely upbeat rock. Unlike most of their peers who seem to fabricate their smiles, as if closing their ears to the world and chanting “I can’t hear you, I can’t hear you”, Matt & Kim seem to almost set themselves in opposition to the world, thinking “if you think you’re enough to bring me down you must be kidding yourself.” This happiness is passionate, it’s in motion, and it’s the most fun half hour you could find all year.

14. Mastodon - Crack The Skye

I’m sorry, is there something more to be said about this album? Because I really don’t think there is. It is so epic that the word epic feels insubstantial to describe it. What? You haven’t bought this album yet? The fuck are you doing with your life, man.

13. Pretend - Bones in the Soil, Rust in the Oil

Post rock seems to hold only one purpose these days: to be beautiful. Weird, considering much of its foundation is built on bands like Mogwai and GY!BE. Pretend’s excellent debut expands the recent range a bit. In fact, this album gives all of post rock a bit of a shove forward. With the brilliant drummer and the occasional cold vocals as the kicker, Adrian and my jaws almost hit the floor the first time we gave it a spin. What right does such a tiny band have to make such big music?

12. Mount Eerie - Wind's Poem

So let’s have a show of hands, who expected Mr. Phil Elvrum’s latest project to go black metal? Yeah, me neither. And I’m not talking a bit sprinkled on the top here, this guy means business. Which is not to say he’s pulling one of those all-so-popular lazy hybridizations (oh, some young upcoming indie band incorporated funk into one of their songs? HOW FUCKING ORIGIONAL). No, this album ends up a benefit to both the genres of black metal and to Elvrum’s lo-fi roots. Stark and cold, he manages to find the balance between epic and emotionally powerful wile never stopping to sound like himself.

11. Bill Callahan - Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle

Bill Callahan has had a long career, both as Smog and under his given alias. But I don’t care. This album quietly walks in circles in such a distinct way that it would be hard for me to believe anything that came before is as good. With some guitars, a cello, a violin, sometimes a piano, Mr. Callahan has crafted something that sounds so classic and so 2009 at the same time. It feels warm, but still extremely difficult. The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle said earlier this year that we’ll all going to brag that we were around when stuff this good was being written. I’m tempted to agree.

10. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

We need pop. It seems to be as vital to us as blood, to once in a while curl up next to a catchy as fuck string of songs. For us divers in the field of music to come to the surface once in a while and take a good strong breath of oxygen. There is no better place than in Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, proving to us, yet again, that instant accessibility and depth can go hand and hand. So, yeah, these songs will get stuck in your head, why would you want to get them out? It’s something you can get, truly, on the first listen, but not tire of after the hundredth. What more can you ask for?

9. Bob Dylan - Together Through Life

When dealing with an artist this old it’s almost impossible to view new work for what it is, without looking through the filter of their past accomplishments. Which is to say, if this was a debut record by a young band it would be hailed by the media as one of the best blues albums released in decades. But since it’s Bob Dylan it got wild unrestrained praise from the rotting corpse that is Rolling Stone Magazine and got nothing everywhere else. No one was expecting this. And yet, here it is man. All the bitterness, all the quiet anger, in all its glory. “Beyond here lies nothing” he says, as if it was just something that is, something undisputable, “nothing we can call our own.”

8. Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca

It’s been a good year for happy, hasn’t it? David Longstreth and co. have pulled another goddamn left turn on us and somehow made, well, a relatively pop record, and inexplicably started selling out shows in the process. Huh. Not to say they aren’t still crazy as anything – this music continues to resemble a small boy grabbing at every shiny object he sees. In fact, under inspection these songs seem almost schizophrenic. David’s shimmering guitar tones jerk up and down the scale, and his lyrics pull references from a hundred thousand different sources, almost randomly. There are still threads of their old experiments, enough to keep listeners on their toes and the tracks off radio stations, but it still somehow remains extremely accessible. And yet this is not just “Dirty Projectors try their hand at pop,” there is something more than that. Is it the hopefulness? The sense of unity? Whatever it is, this band seems to have gone from the teenager with flashing eyes that needs to get his head checked to curious A.D.D. kid you’d want to give a hug.

7. Fever Ray - Fever Ray

Who’d have guessed a member from The Knife would come out with something this... un-fun? Not to mention something this hard to get into. Listening to this on the train home after picking it up at the record store, I thought it was the most boring shit I had ever heard. It took about a month for it to begin getting near-constant repetitions in my cd-player. It’s as dark as you would expect from a Knife member, but much more brooding, kind of crossing the line from party-but-paranoid to lonely-but-paranoid. After a few listens it becomes too easy to fall softly into the pools of minimal electronics and an almost chanting modified voice.

6. Fuck Buttons - Tarot Sport

Triumphant, absolutely triumphant.

5. A Sunny Day in Glasgow - Ashes Grammar

Look I don’t know where to start with this one. It’s kind of shoegazy, it’s kind of poppy, but really, it sounds like nothing else. There are so many layers, so much all-encompassing complexities, and yet it’s so damn enjoyable. And I mean easily enjoyable. And, damn, it is mind-blowing.

4. Sunn O))) - Monoliths and Dimensions

I guess some of the biggest praise you could give a piece of music is “damn, I wish I had done that” but with Sunn O))) its lapsed into a place of “I cannot even comprehend how this was done” Somehow two guys from Seattle cloaked in huge black robes and a small army of musicians crafted something that is actually like nothing before. The strings sound like wandering aimlessly through a dark power plant, and the church choir sounds like raising hell. And though it also can be boring as fuck at moments they are more than made up for.

3. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion

You are of one of three views: 1. That MPP is the most amazing amazing thing ever omg and like it’s all experimentalz and shit and everyone must hear and love this and like you just creamed your pants 2. That this is just over happy cacophonous noise hipster crap with no rhyme or reason 3. That this represents once-great Animal Collective abandoning their fiercely avant-garde sound once and for all in favor of a cheeky, commercial, disgustingly dancy sound, that leaves every moron with an internet connection thinking they are on the cutting edge of experimental music.

BUT, I flowed through every one of these vantage points since the album’s January release, most notably number three, but that doesn’t change the fact: This album is incredible. Almost instantly accessible, and fun, and really… It’s just powerful, it just fucking gets to you. And if you can get past all the intolerable people who listen to it (which is a difficult feat indeed) you’ll find it hard to deny.

2. Japandroids - Post-Nothing

This album has it. The powerful lust for life, virtually absent among music today. The excessive confidence without arrogance. The getting too drunk to care anymore. The chasing girls. The sex. The anger and the passion. The not giving a fuck about what anyone thinks. There are so many bands right now that don’t try anymore, that instead of really putting themselves out there they shield themselves with irony. Bands that use humility so they don’t have to try to create something that really matters. Japandroids get it. And man, we get it too. With this album I find myself at a complete loss for words. I find myself unable to tell you how much it means to me. Thank god for Japandroids.

1. The Antlers - Hospice

There are so many different aspects to look for when critiquing music. You could look at the tones of the guitar, or how danceable the beat is. You could talk about its originality or how vast its influence is. But when it comes down to it the bottom line for all good music is its emotional impact. The Antlers’ break out album Hospice has it all. Well, not a danceable beat but everything else.

Not that it’s all so evident the first time you hear it. But it grows, man, and exponentially. The first time I heard Hospice I thought it was intensely boring. By the third time I had come around and wrote the timidly laudatory review for this site. Within a week I was pushing this band to all my friends, and within a month I was convinced it was the album of the year. I have not turned back.

The Antlers have distilled a unique form of noise pop, quieter than their influences but no less intoxicating. They give you constant streams of melodic drones that a man could drown in. Truly it is something in which you could lose yourself completely. This is only heightened by the circling lyrics about, alternatively, a hospital worker trying to save a bitter, damaged patient, and a depressed man watching his lover slowly lose her life. The album is almost a study in decent, from fighting with the patient in “Kettering” to hearing her call for us in “Thirteen”, we see the doctor pull aside the narrator and tell him to stop trying to save a hopeless case, and we see the narrator try helplessly to forgive himself in the end.

This album, besides for its incredibly depressed aspect, is also as uplifting and straight powerful as the best Beach Boys tracks. It is so much of a masterpiece. It is so intense. It has changed my life.

had a new dream

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