Best Albums of 2009 (#10 -#1)

yeah yeah yeahs

10. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz!

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs have extracted the essence of 80s synth-pop and refined it by blending in their own arty garage-punk sound and seasoning it with shoegazing swirls and buffing it up with glossy production. The songs pulsate with jagged hooks and sharp, danceable rhythms while Karen O’s crystalline voice and sexy snarl is the nectar that sweetens this winning formula. It’s Blitz! expands the Yeahs’ sound with more sophisticated songwriting that’s polished with a hyperized, electric sheen. The upbeat tunes have a swagger and punch that’s greater than the sum of their parts while the slower tracks come brilliantly alive with sweetly chugging guitars, dazzling synth chords and hooky choruses. It’s Blitz! is packed with a distinctive, slick neo-new-wave sound that is so full and rich it begs to be blasted at full volume over and over again! – Matt the Raven

dinosaur jr

9. Dinosaur Jr. – Farm

I can’t even begin to explain how awesome it is to have Dinosaur back in action with the original lineup. I know you’ve all heard about how this is supposed to be the way that these things should work out, but seeing it in action – more importantly hearing it on Farm – is flooring. J Mascis cranks the guitars to eleven and grinds out catchy nuggets of noise pop like “Pieces” and “Over It.” Just as impressive is the quality of Lou Barlow’s tracks on here, “Your Weather” and “Imagination Blind” are some of the best songs he’s written since Sebadoh’s Harmacy.  I laughed out loud the first time I saw the ridiculous weed monsters on the front cover carrying children through a fog of ….well…you can use your imagination. Rather than playing Bug to Beyond‘s You’re Living All Over Me, Farm ups the ante proving once and for all that old adage about getting better with age. – Joe Davenport

st vincent

8. St. Vincent – Actor

Those unfamiliar with St. Vincent’s Annie Clark before 2009 were presented with a remarkable album to chew on. Unfairly overlooked after 2007’s outstanding Marry Me, Clark was just one of many artists who fully broke onto the seam with an album that conveyed all of her strengths into one heaping ball of magic: Disney-inspired, orchestral and downright superb, Actor made sure there was no way we could overlook the beautiful Annie Clark. Her voice is a special gift, ornately wrapped in a sly combination of high, controlled pitches and sexy, sultry sounds. “Actor Out of Work” presents her guitar-shredding musicianship and “Laughing With a Mouth of Blood” finds her morbidly sneaky to the support of gleaming percussion and lavishly swirling strings. When you’re able to keep everyone at your beck and call and, even more impressively, do so at your own discretion – unfiltered, unchanged, unmasked (as noted on her open outlook on the cover) – then you know you’ve achieved greatness. Foreboding, with a continuous amount of pressure, there is also a calculated amount of excellence brimming at the sides of Actor. – Bryan Sanchez

bibio

7. Bibio – Ambivalence Avenue

Let’s get all of the redundancies out of the way: Bibio’s Stephen Wilkinson had a banner year. While his first album, Vignetting the Compost, was an impressive portrayal of lo-fi in the summer, and his most recent output, The Apple and the Tooth, was still one of the better electronic releases, there is something jubilantly exceptional about Wilkinson’s best album of the year, Ambivalence Avenue. Further smudging the line between hip-hop and electronic music, Wilkinson goes one further and blends both aspects into Ambivalence Avenue. There’s still quite a bit of ambience and atmospherics hidden deep within the cavities but what surprisingly works for Wilkinson is his crafty way of melding big, booming beats with splendid samples. “Fire Ant” is a fine addition to Warp’s catalog; it’s wrapped in a lush amount of female vocals, stuttering stomps and bumping forces. And elsewhere, on the melodically dazzling “Lovers’ Carvings,” Wilkinson finds time to paint a loving picture of a couple carving their initials into a tree with a shimmering guitar before justly adding snare taps, hand claps and his own fitting singing. It was with Ambivalence Avenue’s head-nodding, headphone-wearing luster that we all fell in love with Bibio. – Bryan Sanchez

atlas sound

6. Atlas Sound – Logos

The second album from Atlas Sound, the solo project of Deerhunter frontman and guitarist Bradford Cox, is a magnificent blending of space-rock and dream-pop with a delicate balance of indie-rock experimentalism, swirling dream-pop melodies and hazily, percolating atmospherics. With waves of layered guitars and a whirlpool of echoes and snappy rhythms, the songs on Logos can be overflowing with thick and complex guitar swirls or awash in soft and airy synth lines. There are moments of pure pop bliss as well as opportunities for daydreaming. From the pensive strums and squelchy electronics of opener “The Light That Failed” to the fading guitar squalls of the closing title track, Logos is filled with dreamy space-rock that glistens and shines as much as it snaps, crackles and pops. Mostly though, this ethereal mix of multi-layered and textured dream-pop is frothing with jangly and heavily reverbed guitars, amid shoegazing drones and electro-style beats, that displays Atlas Sound’s sense of adventure and pop experimentation while providing the listener with countless entertaining spins. – Matt the Raven

EMBRYONIC TRAY

5. The Flaming Lips – Embryonic

How many times can you go back to the well before it runs dry? Apparently there is a spring in Oklahoma that runs deep enough to feed endlessly into The Flaming Lips’ canon of classic albums. Embryonic marks their second triumph this decade after Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots. When it was released this fall, it provided a reason not to give up hope after the disappointing At War With The Mystics. Here the band takes a turn away from the futuristic pop of past efforts toward a mishmash of krautrock and space-age psychedelic electronics brandished with a tendency to experiment that this works highly in favor of these compositions. Add to that an instantly iconic and awesome album cover (possibly the year’s best looking one) and you’ve got yourself another winner. Embryonic is may easily their best album next to The Soft Bulletin and its mythic status. Let’s hope they can keep this momentum going for another decade. – Joe Davenport

phoenix

4. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

I remember seeing Phoenix at the Austin City Limits Festival and being awestruck with their energy. Not only did they play as many songs as they could but they played with the kind of intensity that bands with something to prove perform with. And the thing is, Phoenix has been a band for quite some time now, with or without Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix; they had nothing to prove. But forget all of that for a moment because nonetheless, they bestowed an album that borders on being downright perfect. The singles are everything yes, but everything from the song selection, to the seamless sequencing to the overall sound is splendid. If you’ve ever gotten the chance to sit down and take in “Love Like a Sunset,” parts one and two, in their all-encompassing selves then you know what musical radiance is; enchanting, startling and superb, Phoenix didn’t have anything to prove and still, they delivered a marvelous achievement. At that aforementioned performance, Thomas Mars continued to thank the crowd for coming out: “We’ve never played to a crowd this big before, thank you so much!” he would say in between almost every excellent song. No, thank you for making such uplifting, absolutely enriching and outstanding music, don’t ever stop. – Bryan Sanchez

grizzly bear

3. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest

If you were one of the rare few who waited until release day to listen to Veckatimest then you were resoundingly rewarded. An album that both excites and intrigues with its exceptional musicality, features two of the best lead singers currently making music and furthermore, is easily one of the most gorgeous works of music created in the past year, Veckatimest is truly something special. After the brooding and spectral radiance of Yellow House, the Brooklyn band took a clear turn with their Friend EP. Showcasing orchestral variations and four-part harmonies, Grizzly Bear has delved into a new realm many bands will never view. “Ready, Able[‘s]” ending is, without a doubt, an unforgettable musical experience and the album’s two closing songs – the calamity and clash of Daniel Rossen’s “I Live With You” and the solemn magnificence of Ed Droste’s “Foreground” – are what make Grizzly Bear unlike any other band. Their two lead singles that premiered more than a year ago on late night shows are obvious champions but it’s the aesthetic experience of Veckatimest that make it an absolutely stunning display of beauty. – Bryan Sanchez

neko case

2. Neko Case – Middle Cyclone

Those towering, amazingly dazzling pipes, her gift at combining metaphors with vivid imagery, her especially blissful instrumentation…in short, Neko Case is a jack of all trades. With a solo career that now carries into two decades, there’s really nothing she can’t do. And if you ever came across her fans then you’d realize that each and every single one of them has a different favorite album by her. Middle Cyclone is not only an album that holds its own against her immense catalog but it rightfully belongs in any music catalog. The self-titled track finds her in enlightening openness as she sings with the support of her acoustic guitar, chiming bells and again, that voice. But what really encapsulates you into another joy is the rousing opener, “This Tornado Loves You.” To the support of driving drums and propulsive guitars, Case takes the roll of a vicious tornado that will tear everything apart in complete destruction to get what she wants. And yet, she sounds beautifully sincere when she sings, “I miss…how you’d sigh yourself to sleep.” When the tornado is that beguilingly lovely, she can destroy whatever she wants to get to me. – Bryan Sanchez

animal collective

1. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion

Maybe Feels had the best songs, maybe Strawberry Jam was the most volatile, but Merriweather Post Pavilion found Animal Collective unearthing their most complete, most rewarding album to date. “In the Flowers,” “My Girls,” “Summertime Clothes,” and “Brother Sport” stood out, but each song connected with a transcendent flow and atmosphere that made Merriweather an aquatic dream. Relative to each album’s greatness, Strawberry Jam, Sung Tongs, and Feels could not match the consistency of MPP, which made it such a great front-to-back listen. The album, however, was not just one long drone, but instead, a collage of exuberance, anxiousness, wooziness, and daydreaming. Merriweather is immensely textured and dense, captured from samples, amazingly arranged in a cohesive melody. Avey and Panda harmonize better than ever on the album, supplementing each other’s brilliant melody, with another brilliant melody. You can imagine how that must sound. Panda and Avey let you dream with them on “Daily Routine” and “Bluish,” but let you celebrate with them on “My Girls,” “Brother Sport,” and “Summertime Clothes.” Electronic arpeggios, watery undercurrents, and that infectious boom-bass tie all of the songs together into one trippy, entrancing, and total sunburst of an album. Animal Collective spent the entire decade establishing their brilliance, and with Merriweather Post Pavilion, they left no doubt who was on top. – Bradley Hartsell

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