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Not The Best, But My Favorite Albums of 2009

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Is there anything worse than "Best Albums Of" lists? Especially a personal list, and especially a personal list from an amateur (i.e. not a professional music reviewer).

But even those are pretty terrible. You might have heard me say before that music criticism is the lowest form of writing. I believe this. As in, lower than sex toy instruction booklet writing. I hate it. Why? Because most music criticism is simply a game of trying to come up with the wildest metaphor that could possibly still be thought of as describing something audible. For instance (and I'm making this up) "The Pencil Cup's new album, Erasered Our Lives Away, is filled with synth-dreamy riffs of pop ice cream cones melted over the rusted train tracks of Johnnie Eisenhower's twice distorted vocals." Bluagh! Blaugh! Blaugh! [Me vomiting.] If you've read indie music reviews, you know that's not far from the truth.

Anyway… all that is said just to properly relate to you, the reader, that I acknowledge that my opinion is worth nothing, and that the following list is merely of my favorites, and by no means implies that these were the best albums of '09. How could anyone make that claim? I could name for you ten consensus favorites of the year right now that I haven't heard (and so aren't on this list), but even if you have the time and money to listen to every noteworthy CD that comes out, the more music you listen to, the less time you have to let each album gestate. And it seems to me that the best songs of any album don't usually reveal themselves until around ten listens. I also read quite a few lists this year that were basically any ten albums from Pitchfork's Best New Music page. Great albums to be sure, and I'll admit that I found my #10 and #1 albums on that very site, but if you don't have one CD in your top 10 that's not on this list, what is the point of making the list in the first place? Just link to that page and let the people decide!

Here are my FAVORITE albums of 2009:

10. Tie – Bitte Orca by The Dirty Projectors, Vecktamist by Grizzly Bear, and Hospice by The Antlers

These are three great albums that have all received critical acclaim across multiple sites, so I grouped them together and won't say much. I didn't love any of them, but enjoyed all of them, and who knows which ones will grow on me in the future. I would like to give special notes to The Dirty Projectors' beautiful "Two Doves" and the amazing power behind the chorus of The Antlers' "Sylvia." The latter of which will make a great music cue to whichever filmmaker gets to it first. Check them out for sure.

9. Time To Die by The Dodos

Man, was this album a disappointment. If you want to hear The Dodos at their best, listen to their last album, Visiter. My favorites off that one, especially "The Season," are filled with these amazing screams and ringing tribal drums that, not unlike "Sylvia," make me want to rip off my shirt, pick up a blunt object, and run into battle. Time To Die, while a completely solid album (I listened to it at least three times straight through when I first got it), lacks any of that energy, and doesn't really replace with anything but solid songwriting. According to my iTunes, I've listened to it just at the requisite ten times so far, and I couldn't tell you one song that really jumped out at me. Still very much worth listening to, and perhaps even it hasn't been given enough of a chance. The songs may very well still find their way into my heart.

8. Music For Men by Gossip

Just a really fun album from a really fun band. For reasons you can read about anywhere, their sound has evolved in a great way since their earlier, more purely punk albums. Music For Men has one of those sounds that people tend to make up hybrid names for, but I'll just call it Dance, because that's what it makes me want to do. It also doesn't hurt that Beth Ditto is amazing, and amazingly hot. No, I'm not being ironic. Yes, I do have a huge crush on her. In fact, that's a lot of the reason I first started listening to their music. Too bad she's a lesbian!

7. Bright Works and Baton EP by Cast Spells

I originally came across this band from a download called Blalock's Indie Rock Playlist. Even out of like 50 songs, "Potted Plant" stuck out to me as a gem. I bought the EP on iTunes as soon as it came out, and it was well worth it. And good news! You can listen to the entire thing for free right here!

6. Hold Time by M. Ward

I had heard the name M. Ward for a couple years, but never gave him a listen until She and Him's Volume One. I only moderately liked that one and initially didn't love this CD, but kept coming back anyway for a few great songs, mainly the opener, "For Beginners," but also "Fisher of Men" and "Shangri-La." I should have followed to my own 'ten listen rule' advice, because the album as a whole is solid as hell. And what can I say? I'm a sucker for Christian imagery.

5. Merriweather Post Pavilion by Animal Collective

Like The Dodos' Time To Die, to have this band this low on my list is kind of a burn. I love Animal Collective, and I love this CD, yet it didn't reach me like either Feels or Strawberry Jam had originally done. I have to be honest, part of the reason may be that this was in a large way Animal Collective's breakout album, in that every music magazine was already questioning whether it was the best of '09 all the way back in January, and that every wannabe hipster and their grandma was talking about how much they loved it in each other's facebook statuses.

Still, much of the reason for that was that this was Animal Collective's most accessible album to date, and again like Time To Die, it squandered my affection in the abandonment of a few good screams. Highlights include the consensus favorite "My Girls" and the much underrated "Brother Sport" which actually surfaced during the Strawberry Jam days on YouTube in an amazing live video. (Why I have I not seen them live yet!? They've come to LA like three times since I've been out here, and I always find out too late like some tool.)

4. Songs In the Night by Samantha Crain & The Midnight Shivers

In full disclosure, Sam is a friend of mine, but I genuinely tried to place this album objectively, and it won't matter anyhow when she blows up completely huge in a few years . "Get the Fever Out" was my most listened-to track of the year by a wide margin, "Scissor Tales" is toe-tappin' goodness, and "Bullfight" is one I continue to give back-to-back listens. I've seen Sam evolve as a songwriter over a good six years or more, and she continues to get better and better. 

3. Set 'em Wild, Set 'em Free by Akron/Family

I was very surprised that this one didn't appear on more top ten lists. It seemed to have quite a bit of buzz when it came out, and it's a great album.

2. Jewellery by Micachu and The Shapes

Wow, what a fantastic and weird listening experience this one is. I found it at the bottom of an iTunes 'spotlight on indie' list earlier this year and was completely sucked in. Unfortunately, I am at a complete loss for words as to how to describe it. Pitchfork, which I was pleasantly surprised to see give it a spot at 28 in their top 50, uses words like 'atonal' and 'lo-fi textures' (huh?) to describe it, so I don't have much hope, but more revealing is the fact that my very favorite song on the disc, "Sweetheart," is only 53 seconds long. "One of the decades most atypical collection of pop tunes" indeed. Just go find the single, "Golden Phone," and listen to it.

1. Bromst by Dan Deacon

Bromst has the unique and unfair advantage of me finding it's predecessor, Spiderman of the Rings, at the same time, and deciding to go ahead and group it in together as one listening experience. Since it's my list, I can do whatever the hell I want. Like Jewellery, Bromst is basically a bunch of weird shit mixed into songs that sounds really cool, and Dan Deacon is one of the best at it that I've heard, so he takes my top spot for the year.

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About GarrettFBaker

  • http://sterfish.blogspot.com Sterfish

    You hit on a lot of the reasons why I also name my favorite albums of any given year as opposed to “the best albums of any given year.” I have nothing against “best of” lists but for me, it doesn’t feel quite right for me to call something the best when there’s a lot of music I might like that I’ll never get to listen to.