[No, Grizzly Bear isn’t featured.]
So, as we inevitably tumble towards the end of the year, it seems appropriate to follow everyone’s lead and present my top 10 records of ’09. Apologies all around.
10. Pink Mountaintops – Outside Love
Thom swore that if “Outside Love” didn’t end up on an end of the year list, he’d take his own life, and rightly so. “Outside Love” is an album of grand emotion and sweeping sonics. It’s all big, fuzzy, bearded love songs, presented without pretense. Honestly, it’d have a place here if it were just the opening track eleven times over.
9. Girls – Album
For an album so poorly titled, it comes as a pleasant surprise that every song is so wonderfully constructed. This is pop music at its finest, heralding the arrival of a damn fine songwriter. All the songs, from the effervescent opener “Lust for Life” to album high-light “Hellhole Ratrace” are sunny and layered. Songs that want to be listened to, not merely heard. I don’t know if I could ever live in L.A., but Girls make me want to try.
8. Various Artists – Dark was the Night
Easily the greatest charity compilation ever, Dark Was the Night is an exceptional representation of the state of independent music. Curated by the Dessner brothers, the album is a mixture of unreleased originals and well-crafted covers from indie luminaries, including Sufjan Stevens, Sharon Jones, and Antony Hegarty. Stand-out tracks litter the album, which, at thirty-one tracks, feels neither bloated nor vainglorious. A huge “fuck yes” to Yeasayer’s “Tightrope”, The Dirty Projectors “Knotty Pine” and Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings “Inspiration Information”. Here’s hoping this wasn’t simply a one-off collaboration between the Dessner’s and Red Hot.
7. Sunset Rubdown – Dragonslayer
I want to write music like Spencer Krug. I’ll never be able to. This is what drives my badness. Dragonslayer is a stand-out album in a career of stand-out albums, and further proof that Canada is a cold, poutine-filled, musical heaven (see also: #10, #6, #5, this.)
7. St. Vincent – Actor
St. Vincent’s first album, Marry Me, is, ostensibly, named for a line from Arrested Development, as if I needed another reason to love Vincent front-woman Annie Clark. Actor, Marry Me‘s follow-up, is a dark album wrapped in a joyous package. Clark’s delivery is equal parts resigned sigh and cynical kiss-off, and the album’s music matches her passionate loss of passion. Gorgeous and moving, playful and painful. Babysit me!
6. The Rural Alberta Advantage – Hometowns
A lot has been made of Rural Alberta Advantage’s similarities to Neutral Milk Hotel, and that’s fair. RAA has a similar vocal delivery and an equal affinity for songs driven by fuzz-fueled acoustic guitars. But, RAA are their own entity, and Hometowns is more than an In the Aeroplane Over the Sea… clone. The strongest example of RAA’s brilliance is “Don’t Haunt This Place”, which is a showcase of everything the band does well: soaring dual-harmonies, frenetic drumming, and lyrics that are emotional without tumbling into self-pity. Hometowns may also have the strongest three closing tracks in recent memory.
5. Destroyer – Bay of Pigs
The title track from this EP is, hands down, my favorite track of the year, and, possibly, my favorite Destroyer track ever produced. It’s seventeen layers of awesome, from Bejar’s slurred delivery of the opening lines, to the songs stomping, glittering, disco guitars. It also solidifies Bejar’s ability to talk about characters you don’t know, and make you feel like you’ve known them for years. His obtuse lyrics should be inane, but are written and delivered with such talent that they become a part of you. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve walked down the street mouthing the words “haven’t seen you for ages, I still fly into rages at the mention of your name. Christine White!” Badass.
4. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion
A lot of publications are calling this Animal Collective’s best, but that accolade belongs to 2005’s Feels. This record, however, is Animal Collective’s most joyful. And, that, in and of itself, is something to behold. From the ecstatic orgy of noise that comes around the two-minute mark of “In the Flowers” to the entirety of “My Girls”, it’s clear that Avey Tare, Panda Bear and the rest have found something worth holding onto. This is music as exaltant therapy, and it’s a beautiful thing to be a part of.
3. The Mountain Goats – The Life of the World to Come
A concept album based around select verses of the Bible that’s inspired me to compose a concept album based around the fact that John Darnielle is god.
2. Thao and the Get Down Stay Down – Know Better, Learn Faster/Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career
The two best break-up albums of 2009. Thao’s third album is funny, furious and damn sexy. Starting with the spare threat of “The Clap” (there’s a terrible joke in there, but I’m not going to take it) and expanding ever outward with a collection of songs both wistful and vengeful, Know Better, Learn Faster lives by the motto “Sad people dance too.” But, the real sting is in Thao’s lyrics, and the real groove is in her delivery. Take note of “When We Swam” and “Goodbye, Good Luck”.
My Maudlin Career finds Tracy Ann and company continuing the soulful grooves of Let’s Get Out of This Country. The entire album could’ve been produced in the early sixties, as it floats along on lush string lines and Tracy Ann’s always astounding vocals. I could listen to “French Navy” until my ears burst, or, at the very least, until my twenty-five percent hearing loss expands to a full-blown hearing deficiency.
1. The Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca
If it were possible for man and music to wed, I would marry this album. Barring that legislation, I’ll simply have to settle for marrying everyone involved with it. Bitte Orca is a masterpiece, an album that will live on long after its contemporaries have faded away. It is the sound of popular music upended and pushed forward. Longstreth, Coffman, Deradoorian, et al. have gelled into a group so technically astounding that it’s breathtaking, literally, to see them perform their musical acrobatics live. Was there a better pop song this year than “Stillness is the Move”? Was there a better rock song than “Cannibal Resource?” All signs point to no. I’m down on one knee, Dirty Projectors. Your move.
Well, that’s that. This list will, doubtless, change tomorrow. But, as of 6:51 am, December 22nd, these are the top ten albums of 2009.
-Miles(hould get more sleep)