Friday, July 30, 2010

Top 10 Albums of the Year 2009

So I guess this is the last one. Even though I just did this list like 8 months ago, things have changed and even since I made this top 10, things might have changed a little bit more. Whatever, this is what I'm going with - it's what I'm satisfied with. Sometime after this, I might do like an overall top 10 without the reviews, perhaps. Probably not though. Hey, blog time.

10. Ryan Leslie - Ryan Leslie / Transistion
(Universal Motown)
Rank in 2009: 24

Ryan Leslie's debut albums are two of those few pop albums that with every subsequent album seems to reveal more to me than the previous listen. They are not a particular deep duo, sure - lyrically, they are definitely straight-forward - even if you DO try to decipher "Gibberish". But his production, taking cues from all the big name producers of hip hop and r&b of the last 5-10 years seems to grow constantly. His singing has grown on me, and his hooks have revealed themselves to be just outrageously addicting. I can't count the number of times I've started singing "Diamond Girl" or "You're Not My Girl" out of the blue - and these aren't songs still on the radio. I can't really decide between the self-titled record and "Transition" - they both have high points, they both have low points - the production is always top notch and reminds us of things we have heard before, while still retaining a unique "Leslie" sound - a sound of now. Ryan Leslie succeeds as an r&b singer and performer for exactly these reasons. There is no doubt the man is talented, but he's not trying to completely change the game, he's not trying to innovate too much - he's using his skills to finely tune the genre. We can hear his influences all over the place - but more than any other singer out there right now - Ryan Leslie reminds me of what made much of the r&b of the 90s so damn exciting.

9. Hudson Mohawke - Butter
Rank in 2009: N/A

I gave this album a lot of chances in 2009. I would download, delete and repeat over the course of a couple months. I tried to find something interesting, but couldn't. I didn't get the little hype the record received and thought that the record was just too incoherent to work. Then I heard "FUSE" outside of the context of the record and became obsessed. Without trying to connect it to the rest of the record, I noticed what a monster of a track that was - I then followed up by listening to "Rising 5" and becoming obsessed with that and before long, along with my current fascination with the LA-based Brainfeeder-esqu electronic music scene, I turned around on "Butter" - and it has become one of the most listened to records in both in my headphones and in my car over the last 6 months. And somehow I'm understanding the album. I still understand how I could view it as a mess, but what a fun and funky mess it is. The album goes all over the place - but if you don't get it, don't understand people who enjoy it - the odds are you aren't playing it loud enough. This album bumps like few albums can and like few albums will. Incredibly fun and dense record, I'm glad I gave it the chances I did.

8. The Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca
Rank in 2009: 7

It's still hard for me to reconcile the fact that I enjoy a Dirty Projectors album so much. I mean for the two releases that I knew of them, they might have very well been my most hated band that regular people actually enjoyed. I didn't understand their different time signatures, the bullshit that Lonsgtreth was putting into songs, the singing - nothing. Somehow it all changed with "Bitte Orca". Sure it's cleaner, louder, prettier. But it is still the Dirty Projectors. The album is great, with some of the most inventive pop songs I can think of. The obvious highlight is "Stillness is the Move", which was likely the best song of 2009 and one of the coolest pop songs of the entire decade. Listening to it now, it hasn't worn thin and still grooves super hard. My most listened to track is the almost-too-hilarious "Two Doves" which is achingly beautiful yet warrants the game of making up nonsensical lyrics to accompany it. I don't love all 9 tracks, but I do enjoy and appreciate them all. If nothing else, the band is a success for turning my opinion on them around and for leaving me for something to look forward to in the future - something that should be very special.

7. Junior Boys - Begone Dull Care
Rank in 2009: 16

What was initially a disappointment from one of my favorite music acts of the 00's, has since turned into a record that keeps growing on me and has become one of my favorites of 2009. It's not quite as immediate as "Last Exit" or "So This Is Goodbye" and the songwriting might not quite be up to par, so this album alienated a lot of fans, but the groove, the dance factor and the beauty of Greenspan's work is still there and it's still really good. You can't listen to this and think "hey this song would be great as a single" or just point out the one that would work in the club. If nothing else - this album blends together almost too well. It's like one really good song upon first listen, but repeated listens, under the right atmosphere reveal an album that is just about the equal of their previous releases. However you slice it, if you slagged the record when it came out - give it another spin - it keeps getting better.

6. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Rank in 2009: 8

At this point, one thing is certain about the state of pop music. Any year in which Phoenix is set to release a new record, we can be absolutely sure that said record will contain at least two of the best and catchiest songs of that year. Opening "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix" with the behemoths that are "Lisztomania" and "1901" was a dangerous thing for the band to do do you follow up pop perfection? Sure the rest of the record doesn't hold a candle to those two tracks, but they are all exceptional. Even the five-and-a-half minute long instrumental is invigorating. The album blends and moves along better than any of their previous albums, a complete vision of how to make excellent pop music in this decade. It's a joy to listen to, almost impossible to dislike and a true vision in a stale landscape of music that contains little sounding like it. Here's to hoping Phoenix stick around for a long time - they might very well be our most important band. Serious.

5. Mos Def - The Ecstatic
Rank in 2009: 4

Let me say this flat out: I may very well like this album better than "Black On Both Sides". Furthermore, I probably would consider this in the top 10 hip hop releases of the decade. No one expected a record this fucking awesome from Mos Def in 2009. Everyone just wants to write him off as a singing goofball. On "The Ecstatic" Mos has proved that he in fact one of the best rappers there is, he knows the best producers and he can do a simple, no-frills album and make it good. What do you need to know about this record? Spacey, vintage sounding samples. Mos just spitting all sorts of nonsense. Short songs, minimal guests who come correct when they actually appear. The best record to play in your car. This is the album lots of people have been wanting Mos Def to create from day one. It's unfortunate that some of those very same people still don't consider this album great. It's everything good about hip hop, too hard to criticize.

4. Mountains - Choral
(Thrill Jockey)
Rank in 2009: 2

Mountains have been one of my favorite ambient acts of the last few years primarily because the music they create straddles the line between organic and inorganic sounds better than anyone. Sure there is lots of electronic distortion inherent in their compositions, but the way it is executed somehow seems like it would be appropriate soundtracking a rainy day in a cold cabin. It's warm, almost human. "Choral" is their best album yet, and far and away the best experimental / drone / ambient album of 2009. Sounding like a mixture of Eluvium's earlier ambient soundscape work with the guitar work found on some of Robert Fripp's ambient recordings, Mountains have created something special. It's not entirely new, but it is done with precision. They don't build huge crescendos or create loops of the sort that will make you weep, but they do relax you, and they do make you marvel in their beauty. There is acoustic instruments, washes of synths, darkness, lightness, and everything sounds clean without being overproduced or going on for too long. A beautiful record from beginning to end and almost the very best record of the year.

3. The-Dream - Love Vs. Money
(Def Jam)
Rank in 2009: 3

The-Dream has written and produced some of the biggest songs of the last 3 years. Most notably he is the man behind the powerhouses of "Umbrella", "Single Ladies" and "Touch My Body". The dude can write a song. Apparently he can write an album too, because his second full length "Love Vs. Money" is the best r&b/pop record of the last 10 years. I can understand that The-Dream hasn't really blown up as a solo artist. He's not a good looking dude, he doesn't really have a good voice, his songs are somewhat bizarre, and to be honest most songs on this album don't really sound like they should be singles. However, the 2-3-4 punch of "Rockin That Shit", "Walkin on the Moon" and "My Love" should have occupied the top 3 spots on the Billboard charts. "Love Vs. Money" is easily my most listened to record of the 2009. It's silly, it's weird to like male r&b, but The-Dream is making music in a genre that hasn't had anything remotely this good in a long long time. Also, let's be truthful: this is an ALBUM. This isn't a typical r&b album, this is really thought out. It builds, it has song cycles, it fades, it's basically perfect.

2. A Sunny Day In Glasgow - Ashes Grammar
(Mis Ojos)
Rank in 2009: 5

Anyone who doesn't hear the sonic brilliance in this record is just deaf. That's the only explanation I can come up with. It's all over the place, it's loud as fuck, it's dreamy, it rocks, it grooves. This is the sound of a band picking up the pieces after sort of falling apart and making a record that collects and these different sounds and influences and somehow makes a fucking near masterpiece. I can barely contain my love for this record and the band members and what they are trying to accomplish - pushing and blurring the limits of shoegaze, dream pop, psychedelic and nearly venturing into trip hop. Just a band that is the right amounts of a lot of different styles and one of the best bands going right now. And they're young, they're still nearly rookies. I'm prepared for something truly special next.

1. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
Rank in 2009: 1

"Merriweather Post Pavilion" is Animal Collective's best record.

"Merriweather Post Pavilion" is the best record of 2009.

"Merriweather Post Pavilion" is the best record of the 2000's.

I didn't think I was going to say that. I didn't think there was going to be a record better than "Kid A" or even "The Blueprint" - but MPP is the record to defeat other records. All hype aside, all backlash put away - the album is a masterpiece and every time I start to feel I overrated this record, all I have to do is put it on. A masterpiece. A masterpiece. Take that.

K, Have fun!