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.