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Classic Recordings
Robert Altman Week

Thursday
Dec102009

« In Which These Are The 20 Best Albums of 2009 »

The Top 20 Albums of 2009

by ALEX CARNEVALE

By every measure the most important release of this or any other calendar year is the three-disc retrospective of Spiritualized's Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space. In what follows, however, we have confined our selections to original albums released or leaked in the year 2009. Also, we are happy to note that the Grizzly Bear (18 weeks on the Billboard 100) and Animal Collective albums released this year have achieved sufficient notoriety. Please enjoy the best albums of 2009:

20. Adam Franklin, Spent Bullets

Former Swervedriver vocalist Franklin's second album is a shoegaze classic, an album that could have been released in any of the past four decades and still be understood and enjoyed.

"Two Dollar Dress" - Adam Franklin (mp3)

"It Hurts To See You Go" - Adam Franklin (mp3)

"Autumn Leaf" - Adam Franklin (mp3)

19. Bad Veins, Bad Veins

Benjamin Davis and Sebastien Schultz's project achieved early acclaim after a few shows, but their mature self-titled effort is a masterpiece of songwriting.

"You Kill" — Bad Veins (mp3)

"Falling Tide" — Bad Veins (mp3)

"Gold and Warm" — Bad Veins (mp3)

"The Lie" — Bad Veins (mp3)

18. Mewithoutyou, It's All Crazy! It's All False! It's All A Dream! It's Alright

The Weiss brothers tribute to Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, It's All Crazy! is a wild, rollicking record before it turns around for haunting paeans to Woody Guthrie and other more musical inspirations. Weiss' voice is a constantly flexible tool, swinging up for choruses and down to grovel at the altar of something mysterious. A wonderful, impeccably well-rounded 45 minutes of music. 

"A Stick, A Carrot and String" - Mewithoutyou (mp3)

"Bullet to Binary (Pt. 2)" - Mewithoutyou (mp3)

"Fig with Bellyache" - Mewithoutyou (mp3)

17. Girls, Album

This San Francisco collective's unexpected debut is a synthesis of 50s and 60s influences flaunted opportunistically.

"Morning Light" - Girls (mp3)

"Summertime" - Girls (mp3)

"Lauren Marie" - Girls (mp3)

16. Lisa Hannigan, Sea Sew

Since moving away from collaborator Damien Rice, Hannigan's music has taken on a delightful hopping twinge. Her music with Rice was sorrowful and rich. She hasn't lost the mournful beauty, but she added a sustaining optimism on the most consistently rewarding record of 2009.

"Courting Blues" - Lisa Hannigan (mp3)

"Lille" - Lisa Hannigan (mp3)

"I Don't Know" - Lisa Hannigan (mp3)

"Keep It All" - Lisa Hannigan (mp3)

15. Paleo, Pedestrian Crossing

David Andrew Strackany's become a prolific producer, but he's also a brilliant songwriter and shows as much on this album, which he began in 2005. Of Pedestrian Crossing, he writes: "a little bit of a Frankenstein, a product of meticulous, almost scientific, arrangement and editing techniques. For better or worse, I'll never make a record this way ever again."

"Too Poor" - Paleo (mp3)

14. Handsome Furs, Face Control

Dan Boeckner and Alexei Perry are basically New Order but better in every detail. Their second album is every bit as delightful as their first.

"Legal Tender" - Handsome Furs (mp3)

"Evangeline" - Handsome Furs (mp3)

"Talking Hotel Arbat Blues" - Handsome Furs (mp3)

13. The Boy Least Likely To, The Laws of the Playground

Pete Cobbs and Jof Owen's followup to the critically acclaimed The Best Party Ever is pure pop without apologies or insinuations.

"The Boy Least Likely To Is A Machine" - The Boy Least Likely To (mp3)

"The Boy With Two Hearts" - The Boy Least Likely To (mp3)

"I Box Up All The Butterflies" - The Boy Least Likely To (mp3)

12. Volcano Choir, Unmap

Maybe the greatest thing to come out of Wisconsin since Bart Starr, Justin Vernon's collaboration with Collections of Colonies of Bees is another fun jaunt from an artist unafraid of experimentation or collaboration.

"Island, IS" - Volcano Choir (mp3)

"Cool Knowledge" - Volcano Choir (mp3)

"Youology" - Volcano Choir (mp3)

11. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Up From Below

Rollicking, breathless, and multi-instrumental fun to enjoy with your friends and lovers in a safe and orderly setting that holds some kind of underlying fascination or obsession for you. Alex Ebert's voice is a flexible instrument that cycles through country, folk, and rock'n'roll too fast to keep up and still enjoy the music.

"Desert Song" - Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros (mp3)

"Jade" - Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros (mp3)

"Home" - Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros (mp3)

10. Jóhann Jóhannsson, And in the endless pause there came the sound of bees

After releasing last year's masterpiece Fordlândia, Jóhann Jóhannsson proved he could make rewarding and complex music about nearly any subject, given that the album was about a rubber plant. bees has all the austerity you'd expect from a composer of film scores, mingled into a pleasing hybrid form with his command of other genres.

"Inside the Pods" - Jóhann Jóhannsson (mp3)

"Escape" - Jóhann Jóhannsson (mp3)

"End (Snowing)" - Jóhann Jóhannsson (mp3)

9. La Roux, La Roux

Elly Jackson and Ben Langmaid's magical project brings the glory of synth pop into new interstices of how far dance music has come since the 1980s. 

"Fascination" - La Roux (mp3)

"As If By Magic" - La Roux (mp3)

"Bulletproof" - La Roux (mp3)

8. Beach House, Teen Dream

It was too difficult to make a follow-up to the imaginative shoegaze pop of 2008's Devotion, but Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand do one better: they manage to improve the alternately smooth and rough landscapes of their songwriting on Teen Dream.

“10 Mile Stereo” - Beach House (mp3)

"Norway" - Beach House (mp3)

7. Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

Organized around a consistent and penetrable aesthetic that is remarkably joyful.

"Rome" - Phoenix (mp3)

"Girlfriend" - Phoenix (mp3)

"Lisztomania" - Phoenix (mp3)

6. The Antlers, Hospice

Peter Silberman's death project features a massive, swirling unforgettable soundscape. He's among the best lyricists working today, and his use of what seems like "found" sound but really isn't adds to the eerieness of his aesthetic. Hospice is the perfect headphones album and the saddest thing I've ever heard.

"Kettering" - The Antlers (mp3)

"Bear" - The Antlers (mp3)

"Thirteen" - The Antlers (mp3)

5. Miike Snow, Miike Snow

Andrew Wyatt's collaboration with producers Bloodshy and Avant resulted in this masterful first album, replete with incredibly catchy hooks and Wyatt's buoyant, glimmering vocals. A treasure.

"Animal" - Miike Snow (mp3)

"Plastic Jungle" - Miike Snow (mp3)

"Song for No One" - Miike Snow (mp3)

4. AA Bondy, When The Devil's Loose

Formerly of the band Verbana, Bondy's incredible sophomore album is filled with folk music for now, with enduring themes and beautiful melodies. The title track itself is as close to perfect as a song can get.

"False River" - AA Bondy (mp3)

"On the Moon" - AA Bondy (mp3)

"The Coal Hits The Fire" - AA Bondy (mp3)

3. Alela Diane, To Be Still

Haunting singer-songwriter stuff that gets all the little details right. Diane's voice, by itself or in tandem with others, sounds like Karen Dalton if she were actually focused on singing melodically.

"Age Old Blue" - Alela Diane (mp3)

"Take Us Back" - Alela Diane (mp3)

"To Be Still" - Alela Diane (mp3)

2. The-Dream, Love vs. Money

The 31 year old Terius Nash's producing career has recently paired him with the like of Katy Perry. He's vowed to give up his solo career after next year's follow-up to this year's R&B/hip-hop classic. The man who wrote "Umbrella" has a lot more tricks than that in his bag.

"Rockin' That Shit" — The-Dream (mp3)

"Love vs. Money" — The-Dream (mp3)

"Walkin' On the Moon" — The-Dream ft. Kanye West (mp3)

1. These United States, Everything Touches Everything

Jesse Elliott's constantly touring band of D.C. area musicians made an insta-classic with 2008's A Picture of the Two of Us At The Gates To The Garden of Eden. After last year's Crimes, the band brought the energy of their live performances to their songwriting. Instead of a lo-fi masterpiece, they made a studio album worthy of the name.

"I Want You To Keep Everything" - These United States (mp3)

"Everything Touches Everything" - These United States (mp3)

"The Secret Door" - These United States (mp3)

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He tumbls here.

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Reader Comments (10)

ooh i like your list. i keep trying to get into volcano choir & am having trouble, although i think it's due to too much bon iver comparing. also thanks for linking mine up today!

December 10, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersarah

Tricky list. The new Beach House isn't exactly released yet, and Lisa Hannigan is weird to see on a 2009 list, it wasn't released in the US until Feb 2009, but had been out in Ireland and the UK earlier

December 11, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterfulltext

I liked 2008 list better. Maybe 2009 was an off-year for music. La Roux is my major agreement. Sometimes I think "music I heard about in 2009" would be a better list. Florence + The Machine? Marina & the Diamonds? Tegan and Sara? Kid Cudi? Kid Sister? The CockNBullKid? Those would have been on myyyyy list. But then again, I have no blog.

December 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMelisser

Ohhh and Major Lazer should have been on here for video amazingness alone.

December 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMelisser

why does everyone keep leaving casiotone for the painfully alone's "vs.children" off these lists? music really doesn't get much better than that.

December 12, 2009 | Unregistered Commentergreg

as I scrolled down I was really excited to check out some albums I totally missed out on, then I saw your #2, yeesh and now am in total doubt, tried to love that disc so hard and just eff-ing hated it, what the heck twisted your ear to make that mess sound decent? Nice to see some Boy Least Likely support. Puke up the Umbrella Kool-Aid already. music post commentors, yeeeeeeeesh

December 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBP

This list seems somewhat pretentious and predictable on a couple levels, but there are some gems in here that deserve the recognition they have been so rightly shed. 6.5/10

February 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNato

thank you for not including animal collective and grizzly bear. just, thank you.

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