Monday, January 4, 2010

TOP 10 of 2009

Disclaimer: Frankly, I don't know why I even make these lists anymore. Probably to retain some semblance of sanity. Maybe I'm egotistical and think everybody should have my personal taste in music (not true). Maybe to share the love. Regardless you'll find my tastes pretty mainstream, plus or minus a few, and I'm not sorry. I know more than a few people would scoff at my exclusion of Andrew Bird's "Noble Beast" from my list of favorite albums, but my reasons are totally personal, and generally "Noble Beast" is an incredible album. Just not one of my favorites for the year. Also St. Vincent should probably have been on there-- I unfortunately just didn't get a good enough listen of "Actor" to tell. Otherwise, enjoy.


10. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart—The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

This debut album blew me away from the moment I first heard it. I have a soft spot for twee, and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart sound vaguely like a happier version of the Smiths. "Young Adult Friction" was my anthem for much of finals week, and was ridiculously college-appropriate (basically it's about hooking up in the Stacks). The album is consistent and flows beautifully between upbeat dance-friendly pop ("This Love is Fucking Right") and slightly slower, electric guitar-driven grittiness ("Gentle Sons").

9. Metric—Fantasies

Say what you will, but this was my favorite Metric album yet. Who doesn't love an album that begins with a song about zombies? ("Help I'm Alive," which begins: "I tremble, they're gonna eat me alive... can you hear my heart beating like a hammer?") Ok, so it's only a zombie metaphor. But this was supposed to be an album without a single song about love or relationships, and frankly it's quite refreshing. My favorite was actually "Gimme Sympathy," the pop-friendly song about getting famous while wanting to remain unknown: "After all of this is gone, who'd you rather be, the Beatles or the Rolling Stones?" Actually, all of the songs on this album are catchy as hell, and the melodies don't sound anything alike. Brilliant.

8. Regina Spektor—Far

Call me biased (people say I look like her, and we share an ethnicity), but I'm a fan. I have a t-shirt now, and you know it's serious when I'm willing to dish out $50 on a ticket to her Radio City concert in October. And didn't regret it, either! A brilliant composer and songstress, Regina created an album no less wonderful than "Begin to Hope" and "Soviet Kitsch". Although I'm not a big fan of her single-- "Machine"-- "Laughing With" made me cry the first few times I heard it, and I could definitely hear much of the Radio City crowd tear up at its conclusion.

7. Passion Pit—Manners

I first heard about Passion Pit not from a radio station or magazine, but by sharing an iPod bud with a suburban teenage flamer on the roof of my friend's boat on the fourth of July. Indeed most of Passion Pit's fans are on the young side, but this "indietronic" pop is catchier than any other electronic music you've ever heard... and certainly one of the most unique. Originally, Passion Pit was some dude named Michael Angelakos, who created the five songs on the EP as a present for his girlfriend at the time. The relationship might not have lasted, but Passion Pit did, and at Lollapalooza they played the most memorable (and exciting!) show I've encountered in the festival's three days. Who knew suburban teens could crowd-surf and stage-dive with such ferocity? Regardless, "Manners" is an incredible compilation in which every song is unique but incredibly upbeat and catchy. My favorites: "Sleepyhead," "Make Light," "Folds in Your Hands."

6. Blakroc—Blakroc

This has been a good year for the Black Keys. Guitarist Dan Auerbach recorded a solid solo album, played at Lollapalooza, and even when you think the Keys are more popular than ever, they record Blakroc--an album (not unlike Ratatat's remixes) that features rappers like Mos Def, Raekwon, and Ludacris, and presents them, supported by Black Keys guitar-drum stylings and electronica, in a way that appears more sincere than most remixes. It isn't a remix album, it's a collaboration, and one of the most original ones I've ever encountered. "Ain't Nothing Like You (Hoochie Coo)" was a hit since its YouTube leak, but all the tracks are solid... especially the concluding track, "Done Did It." Definitely has the potential to be the party record of the semester, if not the year.

5. Lady Gaga—The Fame, The Fame Monster

Don't hate on Lady Gaga; as the New Yorker said, she's smarter than you would think. And a brilliant songstress. "The Fame" was released in 2008, but it really took off in 2009, and was quickly followed by "The Fame Monster," and the incredible single "Bad Romance". Lady Gaga has the incredible ability to write brilliant pop melody after brilliant pop melody, none of which sound anything alike (compare the "Ace of Base"-esque "Alejandro" with "Poker Face"). It also seems that Lady Gaga singlehandedly brought disco back... no small feat. I'm a fan, and I'm not ashamed. I also have a currently festering theory that Lady Gaga has the ability to bring female empowerment and gender equality back to the forefront of American society... but that's an argument for another day.

4. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs—It’s Blitz

Ok, I'm definitely biased. The YYYs are by far my favorite band. Probably ever. Probably more so than the Beatles. So it's certainly surprising that I, unlike many old YYY fans, placed this album as high as I did on the list. Many have criticized them for changing their sound, turning from guitar-based punk rock to electronic indie rock. But I'd argue that this new tendency of the YYYs towards a slightly calmer vibe is no less interesting than "Fever to Tell," their incredible art-punk debut. It also makes their shows more musically diverse. Karen O is as intense as ever, and songs like "Runaway" and "Heads Will Roll" make it a bit of a surprise that the mediocre "Zero" became as popular as it had. My favorite, however, is "Dull Life," a remnant of their older, punker stage-- proving that regardless of their new love of electronica, the YYYs are as hardcore as ever.

3. The Dirty Projectors—Bitte Orca

This album has been surrounded by so much indie rock buzz that I'm loath to discuss about it. It is, however, undoubtedly brilliant, and a smooth compilation. More than anything, it's psychedelic, and experimental to the core. Critics have said that it's impossible to describe, and they would be right. Just give it a listen and you'll see. Listen to "Remade Horizon" on repeat while indulging in that favorite vice (we all have one... or two), and you'll see. Dance awkwardly to the complex catchy-ness of "Stillness is the Move". It's indie at its best, which is to say, really freaking weird.

2. Animal Collective—Merriweather Post Pavilion

It's been said that this album was meant for two things: live performances, and the outdoors. I can't vouch for the live performance (Animal Collective aren't known for their riveting shows, and they were disappointing when I caught them at Lollapalooza this summer), but this was definitely an album for warmth, balmy nights. It was my summer album for a reason. Each song blends perfectly with the next, in animalistic, feverishly danceable glory. The magnetic pull of this psychedelic, trip-hippie album is irresistible. "Summertime Clothes" is a catchy favorite, about dancing around in piles of trash at night. This band genuinely enjoys the things they sing about: splashing your face with cold water during the heat of a summer day, walking around without shirts and socks. Simple pleasures. Beautiful.

1. The Decemberists—The Hazards of Love

Two words: ROCK OPERA. Or more like, folk rock opera, with costumes, and an elaborate plot. When I saw the entire thing performed beginning to end in Milwaukee I was dumbfounded. My hair stood on end. I had one of those rare Stendhal moments in which art affects you like an arrow, or a first love, and you feel genuinely transformed. I'll save you a prolix description of the plot... just know it involves a changeling boy, the queen of the forest, a sweet girl named Margaret who falls in love with the boy, a rake set on destroying all in his path, and even a few ghost children. An epic romance of the 18th century, all in less than eighty minutes. Dangerously ambitions, and the Decemberists pulled it off beautifully, the way no artist of their caliber could. Other Decemberists albums entailed a few select gorgeous melodies; each song was a story in and of itself. The Hazards of Love is something completely different. It has, with time, become my favorite album of the year, even if not a single song stood out as one of my top ten favorites. I loved it all: every folksy, woodsy, cutesy element, and even the gritty guitar in the background. My favorite was the sound of the Queen's voice, and the screeching, ominous rock in the background, veering somewhere between chamber pop and metal. Wow.


10. Airstream Driver—Gomez

9. I Want Some More—Dan Auerbach

8. People Got a Lotta Nerve—Neko Case (+ music video)

7. Sleepyhead—Passion Pit (+ music video)

6. Dull Life—the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (+ awesome fan-made video)

5. Ghosts ‘n Stuff (feat. Rob Swire)—Deadmau5 (+ music video)

4. Bad Romance—Lady Gaga (+ music video)

3. Summertime Clothes—Animal Collective (+ music video)

2. Ain’t Nothing Like You (Hoochie Coo) (feat. Jim Jones and Mos Def)—Blakroc (+ music video)

1. The Stillness is the Move—Dirty Projectors (+ music video)

(Runners up: Stadium Love—Metric, Marrow—St. Vincent, Tenuousness—Andrew Bird)