A Year in Review: The Best Albums of 2009.

Change happens every year; at least, the hope for change, anyways. Tastes in music, fashion, heck, even desserts, go out with the bathwater, for sure. And 2009 was no different. Despite that, as Pulp and Circumstance began carving a list of not only the latest, but greatest, on the year in instrumentals, the exhaustive endeavor didn’t take shape in the expected ways humble blogger came to know. And find comfort in.

And what a relief that is. While some of my favorite outfits of all time came out with records this year–and anticipation bore high in its regard–these tried and true desires failed to make the jump, live up to the snuff, meet the grade, cut the mustard.

Surprised and intrigued by the potential and creative energy that may come out of a collaboration from my beloved Jarvis Cocker and Steve Albini proved to be a bit too messy of a pairing; some of the slicing, jarring brilliant guitars Albini has made himself famous for were lost on those bundles of Jarvis wit, leaving P&C feeling underwhelmed when the ear couldn’t cut through the clash of string to find the hum of humor; despite this, I can make the declaration, here and now, that “I Never Said I Was Deep” can be hailed as one of Mr. Cocker’s greatest ballads of all time, competing neck and neck with “Help the Aged” (fights commence? duke’s up.).

The Arctic Monkeys, who have smashed everything to bits in the last four years and blasted onto my radar with nary a single bit of disappointment, also failed to create the tingle of vinegar on tongue with Humbug, a descent effort with a few standout tracks (“Potion Approaching”, “Cornershop”). Perhaps here I can admit that I’m clouded by all the vapidness surrounding the boys in band in 2009–including a new take on commissioned cars delivering Louis Vuitton trunks and the sudden urge to become standard with the live encore. A saving grace? The brilliant beyond belief 2009 cover of Nick Cave’s “Red Right Hand”….bah humbug Arctics, it didn’t pummel you to greater heights this year.

That being said, there were a few quiet records that got quite a bit of nervous attention from P&C, including one half The Mars Volta’s Omar Rodriguez Lopez quietly subduing and seducing with Old Money, a record I nary talked about in this space and regret all the while, as I flipped to it many a time like daily bread for its astounding guitars and the oft odd-ball introduction of dub-inspired drums and various sonic explosion.

Of course, Camera Obscura had a rousing record with My Maudlin Career, and an even better live gig to boot despite the pall over the air, as it was the day in which the legendary King of Pop passed on, and they hadn’t yet perfected a cover of “Thriller”.

Speaking of a thrill, there’s the downright resurgence of my beloved Mos Def on Ecstatic, featuring a whole handful of grand rhymes like on “Quiet Dog” (featuring a deliciously well-placed opening from Fela Kuti), proving that he hasn’t lost it despite some skepticism in the past handful of years.

But nothing could matter more than the fact that Bradford Cox put out an album with his project Atlas Sound that I didn’t have to warm up to; adoration happened pretty much at first blush despite my, welp, borderline lack of love for the musician in previous work. I did say change happens every year, right?

Of course, some standouts needs nary an introduction; I dare any reader out there to stumble upon a blogger or music aficionado that didn’t grow week at the knee for The Antler’s hauntingly cold, beautiful, and horrific record Hospice, or the surprise and odd intrigue of Dirty Projector’s Bitte Orca; oh, and of course, you can’t mention all this Brooklyn without sputtering awe for Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest.

And despite all that blither about the polished and produced It’s Blitz from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, I’d have to declare here it might be there best effort ever (save for the pure gold of breakout “Maps”), making it clear, that this year, it was all about New York bands–Brooklyn to be exact, from Grizzly Bear to Dirty Projectors, to even Mos Def.

The surge is pleasing…for sure, and the proof is in the New York pudding: why can’t I stop spinning “Empire State of Mind”?

Without further babble, get lost in New York as a New Year’s resolution…if you can’t make a trek to the city, welp, then gorge on these bands for good measure…

(Note: I’ll podcast up tunes from my favorite albums and post them here in the coming days) 

Mentionable Honors:
Omar Rodriguez Lopez – Old Money
Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career
Jarvis Cocker – Further Complications
Discovery – LP
Mos Def – The Ecstatic
St. Vincent – Actor
Antony and the Johnsons – Crying Light

Doom – Born Like This (Lex) 

Despite a name change, Doom failed to miss a step with his gritty and absolutely lyrically inspired albeit dark record absolutely wowed me after a ton of quiet. With beat help from the likes of Madlib and J Dilla, this record really stands out as a testament to the type of rhyming Doom is capable of; it’s filled with quite a haze and his raspy rap does all that fog some serious justice. The album is so good, it feels nearly criminal. With guesters from the beloveds Raekwon and Ghostface, the record gets pummeled into a monumental place, though it certainly didn’t need it.

Simian Mobile Disco – Temporary Pleasure (Wichita) 

Of course, the highly anticipated sophomore release from my favorite UK duo couldn’t have been filled with any more pleasure; but it certainly isn’t temporary. Boasting what I’d like to describe as “lasting” quality, the record features a number of indie greats, like Chris Keating of Yeasayer fame, Jamie Lidell, Telepathe, and the loverly Beth Ditto of The Gossip. And while you may think these two firebrands could overshadow the demure James Ford and Jas Shaw, rather, they take the album from brilliant cock and lock to cock, lock, knock, and gusto. Beth Ditto is magical on “Cruel Intentions” and Keating whet everyone’s desires with the early drop of “Audacity of Huge”, an absolute banger. But it’s the less buzzed about tracks, like “10,000 Horses Can’t Be Wrong” and “Synthesise” that fill the space with what we first buzzed about regarding SMD: an attack, a sustain, a decay, and a release.

PJ Harvey and John Parish – A Woman A Man Walked By (Island) 

P.J. Harvey barks. Yes, like a dog. Literally. I mean “ruff!” fucking, “ruff!” on this record. While the collaboraton betwixt Havey and Parish didn’t receive as much chatter as I thought it might in 2009, the record is pretty brilliant, really. Course, I’m biased to most work of the beloved P.J. (when can I be her muse?), but it’s the bark like a dog out of nowhere on “Pig Will Not” that had me spinning uncontrolled. I can remember as clear as day the first time I heard the bark; out for a drive with my good friend and oft P&C contributor Esteban Miguel, I knew I could count on him to behold the latest and greatest from Ms. Harvey in his car stereo. And so we drove, and we listened, and he failed to tell me that yes, in fact, he had taken a back and forth gander through the record before we met up…and yes, she barks. He let me wait for it. And when it hit, we nearly went off the road in laughter. Car filled with fog. Thank you P.J. It could only come from you. Of course, while thanks to the ruff “Pig Will Not” stands out, there’s plenty of chugging, grunging epic guitars from Parish on tracks like “Black Hearted Love”; and there’s all that broken-hearted, tangled, messy love and desire a la Harvey on favorite track “April”.

Ruff.

Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino) 

Easily considered the best album of 2009 by many a blog and music rag, Animal Collective has never failed to impress this here humble blogger and beyond. And while it isn’t featured as prominently on this here list, it can’t be denied that the album is pretty damn near brilliant, and, welp, addictive. The longest record of 8 yet released (clocking in at a whopping 55 minutes), it features a definitive change in style for the band, most notebly attributed to the absence of Deacon and the influence of Panda Bear’s baroque pop see on his solo outfit Person Pitch (which made a top record of 2007 by P&C). While at times the record could feel as if too much reverb abounds, the texture created is magical and evokes great warmth, something previously missing from this here collective.

Florence and the Machine – Lungs (Island) 

This year, for P&C, it was all about soulful musical food. Enter a one Florence Welch, who embues her brand of indie pop with nothing but the aforementioned, creating these highly textured and absolutely addictive, albeit angry yet angelic, tracks that P&C could not stop repeating in 2009. Particularly great for a cathartic car ride of varying length, Florence and the Machine created some serious luster on Lungs; it is impossible to ignore tracks like “Kiss with a Fist” and “Dog Days Are Over”, try as you might. Of couse, we have the beloved James Ford of SMD to thank for the brilliant production. Honestly, has anything he’s ever done turned to shit I ask? Florence, of course, helped, I know.

Bat for Lashes – Two Suns (Parolophone) 

Is there anything Natasha Khan didn’t do on this record, save for actually creating Two Suns? I’ll admit that I absolutely adore Bat for Lashes but shyied away at first from this here record strictly for fear of cover art confusion. It felt cheesy. Boy, did I have “don’t judge an album by its cover” fever, for a frenzied fever evolved after finally spinning Two Suns. Or maybe it was jut the heat these two suns blasted at me upon spin. It’s brilliant, really. To counteract all the desert baby spirital luster that has made Khan a name for herself, Two Suns introduced a well-placed alter ego in the form of a blond vixen, self-absorbed and downright out for blood. Yum. I want to be in your dream everyday, Pearl, so thanks.

Atlas Sound – Logos (4AD) 

While I can declare with confidence here that I’m no diehard of Bradford Cox or his much hyped band Deerhunter, his solo work in 2009 with Atlas Sound really caught my attention when all I wanted to do was avoid, avoid, avoid. Perhaps it was all those guest appearances that got me noticing in the first place (Noah Lennox of Animal Collective and Stereolab;s Laetitia Sadier), and what with all the drams and contro Cox blabbedy-blabbed back in 2008 when he accidently dropped the beginnings of Logos, it’s damn near crazy this made my Top 12. Favorite track includes the brilliantly haunting “Sheila”.

Marina and the Diamonds – The Crown Jewels EP (Neon Gold) 

This discovery came thanks to the wonderful musical wonder Nialler9, who introduced this here blog to one of his latest female addictions, and boy george, thanks for that. Welsh-born, London-based, Marina Diamandis proves that yes, females prevailed this year. The entire EP takes off from where “Obsessions” left us off, with more pop, more grand ballads, and plenty of riding a new wave. She’s probably the hottest bit to come out of UK this year, if not on a more grand scale. Standout track “I am not a Robot” has certainly made its rounds this year and it certainly deserves more than a passing movement. 

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Its Blitz! (Interscope) 

This oft know for gritty New York musical style just got a little super glam. And it’s polished silver and gold. Honestly, I thought the greatest thing about Karen O was how sexy she made grunting and growling seem to be; who knew she was even sexier when she took to singing a la femme all demure on tracks like “Skeletons” and “Hysteric”. It makes “Hyperballed” look well…hyper. Karen O is an absolute goddess and boy has this trio created absolute blitz in 2009. Facing an upward battle from the starting gates after a massive leak of the record, it received all of the first half of 2009’s well-deserved buzz, but that buzz has ceased to fade come December. It’s filled with gorgeous, layed sound, harmony, and a decidedly ungritty sheen that I thought was beyond O. Beyond O, is right, if you get what I mean.

Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest (Warp) 

The brilliantly sunny pop derivation the band has taken really owned up and moved out of that Yellow House and into something even more pallatial. The record, an interesting collection of tunes, claims a pretty brilliant wafting theme throughout most of the tracks–something P&C has assumed relates to love and people and that untouchable space betwixt. Think of that theme, literally, on glorious tracks like “Two Weeks”, “Fine for Now”, and “Southern Point”. There’s more, too. And it’s those pop elements that really heighten the listening space of this here band, really. The pop elements on previous records, while strong, were shadowed by all sorts of obscurity and strung out bits–lacking in tight melody and a charming vocalplay that make certain pop imbued tracks that much more delicious. Guitarist Ed Droste made no lies when he declared the band was “in a poppy place”.

The Antlers – Hospice (FrenchKiss) 

Who knew an album whose theme is such darkness could provide such musical en-light-enment in 2009. Brooklyn certainly has reigned supreme, and that is certainly and most definitively true of The Antlers latest release, Hospice, which is based around a dying young woman in a hospice and those who tended to her and said goodbye. It’s haunting, for sure, but it envelops you in something so charming you can’t resist a moment of it. Certainly, their first stab at concept album is splendid, for sure, and they should try this whole thing again. It’s real, raw, abrasive, stunning, soul stopping and all the rest. Standout tracks include “Two”, “Bear”, and “Kettering”, for the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. I didn’t say it wasn’t bleak…
Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca (Domino) 

I have been projected, heaved, thrown, blasted and impaled upon this dirty music, for sure. Clearly, in my humble, the most intriguing, mind-blowing, and genre bending record of 2009, The Dirty Projectors absolutely wowed P&C with Bitte Orca, a play off the German words for “bitter” and “killer whale”. Deadly, indeed. Humongus, like a whale. Filled with haunting, layered vocal harmonies that seem out of this world and flipped to repeat as if it were coming from a machine (its not), this Brooklyn-based outfit created some sort of magic this year. What Dave Longstreth managed to achieve by adding new members is this advanced song writing; without abandoning their avant aesthetic, the projectors managed to meld together traditional modes of song writing with their downright weird, and what came out was indeed mind blowing. Impossible to describe, you’ll just have to take a gander yourself. Think of it like this: you fill your throat with a whole boat load hit of helium, and you try desperately to slowing release but it never quite reaches height. In a good way. Standout tracks include “Useful Chamber”, “No Intention”, the soul bending “Stillness is the Move” and the heart wrenching acoustic number “Two Doves”.
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