Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Top 10 Albums of 2009

I know, I know.  You've had enough of the opinions of The Knowledgeable And Qualified.  You're asking yourself, "So what does a fat guy with a blog think about 2009 in music?"  Glad you asked!  Considering my poor track record, these are sure to be remembered for a good week or maybe even less.  Here's what I liked:

10. Dinosaur Jr - Farm.  How, you may ask yourself, can I assure myself that this guy is getting old and complacent?  Here's your first hint!  This album is so much of a piece with the earlier Dino Jr albums that it wouldn't be out of place in any Best of 1989 list, and yet it's in my Top Ten list of 20-freakin'-09.  Well, complacent I may be, but I know what I like, and I like this.  Maybe this is the problem with trying to make a long-term assessment of music at the end of the year.  Be sure to keep an eye out for my self-report card coming out this week, in which I'll tell you what my picks for 2004 were and why I was completely wrong about all of them.  Anyway, I know this isn't the greatest Dino Jr album, but it's a damn good one and it works for me. So yeah, it's my No. 10 album for 2009.

9. Akron/Family - Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free.  Akron/Family's last album, 2007's Love Is Simple, was a near-perfect mess. It was my favorite album of that year, a psychedelic mix of choral singing, folk music, skronky freakouts, and an overwhelming emotional need to reach out and connect with the listener, to bring you along on the woolly acid trip of the lyrics.  Man, I loved that album.  This one has all of the same elements, but they are considerably less integrated.  It seems less like a journey to a destination than a time-killing road trip to nowhere with friends.  Which is fun, and this album is definitely pretty good.  But it won't turn your head inside out, which is definitely a step down for the Akron/Family.  Not bad, but not insane.  I will say that the live show I caught with some friends at the Mess With Texas Fest during SXSW was freakin' insane.  More of that, please.

8. Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion/Fall Be Kind EP.  I originally gave this spot to Tortoise, but after listening to both albums again, I switched them.  I seem to be on my own with this opinion, but I think Animal Collective peaked with Feels.  I originally underrated this one for failing to be Feels.  It doesn't contain the folk elements that infuse Feels with such beauty.  Animal Collective have moved on, and their direction into upbeat pop isn't terrible by any means.  It's just not quite as far up my alley, y'know.  Merriweather Post Pavilion dropped in January, and I was unimpressed then.  By the time Fall Be Kind, an EP that basically contains outtakes from MPP, came out last month, I had come around to the sound.  So I don't think it's the album of the year (as Pitchfork does), but I do like it and think it's a significant album of 2009.  Significant enough to be here in my Top Ten in a way that I ultimately denied Tortoise, that is.

7. Oneida - Rated O.  Oneida's getting weirder, and god bless 'em for it.  On this album - a three-disc set! - Oneida lunges from third-world funk to their more typical redefined krautrock to garage-rock jams to screaming noise-rock to head-space chanting to afro-pop guitars to pure brown-noise drone to 60s-style sitars as punctuation.  Nearly two hours of music total, and it's never uninteresting.  This one's definitely not for Oneida neophytes, though.  Start with Secret Wars or The Wedding, both of which are a little more accessible (a relative term with Oneida) and then move along to Rated O or 2008's Preteen Weaponry. These later albums are more rewarding listening experience, even if they require more patience from the listener.

6. Andrew Bird - Noble Beast.  Although not quite as strong as Bird's previous album Armchair Apocrypha, Noble Beast is still an impressive collection of songs.  It took a little while to grow on me, though.  Where Armchair Apocrypha and 2005's The Mysterious Production Of Eggs had a way of rewriting your expectations in an epic sweep that carried you from moment to moment, Noble Beast is more hermetic.  It is still full of surprises, but they are more coy, waiting for you (or, more likely, your subconscious mind) to do the work of unlocking them.  On the fifth listen, though, I was hooked.  The things that took me by surprise were not what I expected them to be, which is quite alright due to the nature of surprise.  And man, Bird writes a gorgeous hook.  Something to whistle along with, should you happen to possess a set of pipes that allow you to whistle along with the man.

5. The Dexateens - Singlewide. This album dropped on my birthday, and it felt like a present.  Over the last few years, the Dexateens have been moving in a direction that dropped the raging guitars of their early work but kept the folk and country aspects with an added pure guitar pop sheen.  I compared them when this album came out to Big Star and the Band, and I think those remain apt comparisons.  This one is more contemplative than the previous albums, but it culminates in the kicker "Can You Whoop It?," which throws a handful of Southern stereotype jokes at the wall and then states bluntly, "Locks are for the honest/Guns are for the wise/Laws are for the frightened for to line their nest with lies/I live in the space created by your compromise/So can you whoop it?"  Now here's a strange thing: when I visited Tuscaloosa over the summer, I heard rumors that guitarist and founding member John Smith, who wrote a bunch of the songs, had left the band, which was later confirmed by Dexateens lead singer Elliott McPherson.  But the website doesn't acknowledge it, nor has the band made much of a fuss about it.  Frankly, with music this good, I hope that whatever is going on with Smith being out of the band is a temporary thing.

4. Isis - Wavering Radiant.  Does it make me a poseur that I like this album almost as much as Isis's magnum opus Oceanic?  Then so be it.  I've long held that Isis is like Sigur Ros with distortion pedals and the occasional cookie monster vocals.  But Isis is actually quite a bit more psychedelic and varied than Sigur Ros, with a musical palette that includes metal and hardcore along with the post-rock melange of krautrock and space rock that the Icelandic band employs.  Anyway, this is one of the headiest and still heaviest albums of the year, and that's a neat trick.

3. Mastodon - Crack The Skye.  Everybody loves Mastodon, and I'm no different.  This is yet another concept album, but I can't follow the story to this album at all, and I don't care.  The music is amazingly intricate and thoroughly thrilling.  There's two 10+ minute tracks, but the music is far too engrossing to notice the song length.  There's elements of all kinds of genres on this album, but the album is overwhelmingly a) metal and b) greater than the sum of its parts.  This is the sound of a band trying to figure out just how far they can push themselves.

1 (Tie). Vic Chesnutt - At The Cut.  I was thinking about putting this in the No. 1 slot all by its lonesome when I heard the SOB had killed himself on Christmas Eve.  I'm still somewhere between heartbroken and furious.  I know it's wrong to dock the album for this.  I didn't know the guy, but I knew he was in pain.  Anyone who listened to his songs knew he was in pain.  But he was also witty and full of sharp humanism, and I wanted more.  I didn't know about his $70K+ medical debt.  And I'm talking about Chesnutt instead of At The Cut, which is his best album yet. Wryer and more incisive than he's ever been, with music so well-tuned to his songs that it freakin' hurts, At The Cut invites intimacy while asking you if you really deserve it.  In retrospect it sounds like a suicide note, but no more than many of his albums.  Why now?  I didn't know the guy, but I feel like I lost a friend.

1 (Tie). Yo La Tengo - Popular Songs.  I gave it a boost in the worst possible circumstances, but it's not like this album doesn't deserve it.  YLT has broken no new ground with this album, but man, I love this ground and they own it.  Does this make me old and complacent?  Maybe!  I don't care.  This is great stuff.

The rest:

11. Tortoise - Beacons of Ancestorship 
12. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest
13. Sonic Youth - The Eternal
14. The Bats - The Guilty Office
15. Pelican - What We All Come To Need
16. Darcy James Argue's Secret Society - Infernal Machines
17. Sunn 0))) - Monoliths and Dimensions
18. The Clean - Mister Pop
19. Mission of Burma - The Sound, The Speed, The Light
20. A.C. Newman - Get Guilty
21. The Soft Pack - The Muslims
22. The Clientele - Bonfires On The Heath
23. The Mountain Goats - The Life of the World to Come
24. Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca
25. Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse - Dark Night Of The Soul
26. The Fiery Furnaces - I'm Going Away
27. Molly Berg and Stephen Vitiello - The Gorilla Variations
28. Sparklehorse + Fennesz - In the Fishtank 15


Lee Coleman 11:04 PM, January 07, 2010  

Glad that Wavering Radiant and Monoliths and Dimensions made the list. Awesome albums!

Hayden Childs 11:09 AM, January 08, 2010  

They are indeed awesome! Thanks, Lee.

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