Late But Still Loved: Best Albums of 2009

I am 100% an album guy, love the statement of a full-length release that is wholly conceived.  DIY recordings and downloaded singles have become more than ubiquitous.  Their sheer numbers are dizzying, just overwhelming.  For those and other reasons, I find special pleasure in an album that is written, recorded, and produced as a single musical idea.  That doesn’t mean a concept album or manufactured conceit, just wholeness.

And by the way I think 2009 was a fantastic year for the album.

So, maybe more than most people, an album’s internal consistency is among my qualifications for a Best Of list; also some sense of durability; and of course songs I can honestly say I like.  It is not so hard to get caught up in a release heralded as Important.  For instance Bradford Cox does some writing with Deerhunter and Atlas Sound that is clearly in a different place than most musicians.  But not too many songs on this year’s Logos would I ever care to hear again.  Also, strictly chronologically, I include anything that came to my attention in 2009, whether it was released previously as import or not; I just can’t keep up.  Lastly, I think it is critical to work the word, “dystopian” into any meaningful record review. 

We bought and moved our family into a new house on New Year’s Eve or (I swear) I think I could have posted this the first week of the year.  That said, I have only read a couple of friends’ Top 10 lists out of familial curiosity.  Beyond that, I can only assume I missed many releases last year and can only vouch that these are great albums, if not the greatest.

 

 

  

1.  Papercuts

“You Can Have
What You Want”

Warm California dream pop with rousing punches of cadence to surprise the mid-tempo, You Can Have What You Want is equally the soundtrack to a rainy night or the first sunny day of spring.  From the opening bars of organ in “Once We Walked in the Sunlight” to the hymn-like closer “The Wolf,” Jason Quever’s voice floats perfectly in a buoyant, unbroken atmosphere.  “Jet Plane” and “The Void” are subtle highlights, frail and mesmerizing.  Thank goodness for second chances, since I never quite took to Papercuts’ prior release, but You Can Have What You Want is a lovely work that welcomes like a good friend.
 

  

  

  

2.  The Horrors

Primary Colours

What else could The Horrors have deftly incorporated into Primary Colours?  The album is a stirring brew of three decades: 70’s glam, 80’s goth, and 90’s shoegaze.  For someone who cut his teeth in college radio on the shoegaze sounds of Ride and Swervedriver in the early 90’s, I love the many unexpected ways it has been resurrected in the last few years.  Archetypal single “Sea Within a Sea” turns into a crashing, triumphant anthem that punctuates a remarkable sophomore album.

 

 


3.  Blank Dogs

Under and Under

If The Horrors are a tour de force of 80’s pop and goth, Mike Sniper’s Blank Dogs conjures a dystopian dream of those same years.  Each song on Under and Under begins simply enough with a recognizable synthesized melody that could easily be mistaken for New Order or REM, but quickly warps into their miscreant step children.  But these songs, both awful and beautiful, are pop gold:  Danceable, addicting, insistent.
     

 

 


4.  BOAT

Setting the Paces

BOAT, always strangely CAPITALIZED, is another band that crossed my radar with their previous release, Songs That You May Not Like, but whom I fell in love with in 2009.  Setting the Paces is at times whimsical but never silly or juvenile.  Like Pavement, BOAT writes hooks on songs like “Lately,” “Prince of Tacoma,” and “God Save the Man” that are very of-the-moment, almost extemporaneous.  You wish all bands could write songs like this without overthinking the Irony Of It All. 

 

 

  
  
  
5. P.O.S.
 
Never Better
 
Seems like Brother Ali got all the indie rap attention this year, but in 2009 I was more impacted by fellow Minneapolis rhymer Stefon Alexander.  Never Better bristles with conflicting punk and rap aesthetics.  It is alive and rhythmically exhilarating, from the aptly titled, “Drumroll (We’re All Thirsty)” to namesake “Never Better.”  But Alexander also delivers some fantastic lyrics like the exhortation concluding “The Brave and the Snake”:  “Dedicated to the rat race/And to the great escape/And to the greatest days/And to the things we make with our own hands..And to the great escape/And to the great escape/And to the great escape.” 

 

  

  

6. The Antlers

Hospice
 
If I seemed slightly repelled by the concept album in my rambling introduction, can you blame me?  Remember Paradise Theater?  But also recall Dark Side of the Moon and you are much closer to The Antlers’ moving statement on love, rescue, and mental illness, Hospice.  It’s a familiar story arc:  Songwriter experiences life-changing Damascus experience; hermetic protagonist emerges from self-imposed isolation with mysterious musical statement; National Public Radio swoons.  For all that, Hospice is a troubling and beautiful commentary on a portion of live that resides uncomfortably close to death.
  
  

  

   

   

7. Here We Go Magic  

Here We Go Magic
 
Here We Go Magic is a perfect example of an album that cannot be consumed track-by-track.  The first one third of the self-titled album is an amalgam of Paul Simon and Panda Bear.  But Luke Temple’s sequencing on Magic is deft.  He begins to intersperse those international flavors with ambience and drone, then locks out with the whimsical, “Everything’s Big.”  The only meaningful way to hear the album is end-to-end, and I recommend that experience highly.
      

  

  

  

8. Erik Blood

The Way We Live

I would now like to coin a phrase.  You’ll find Seattle’s Erik Blood variously described as “soulgaze” and “shoegazing crooner.”  To me the perfect discriptor, the extension of singer-songwriter, is singer-shoegazer.  From the opening bars of “The Way We Live” it’s clear that Blood fills every produced space with layered guitars and vocals.  But alongside the wall of sound come soft edges and soulful vocals in songs like “Saved You” and “Odds for Sods.”  Blood pairs two genres that by all accounts shouldn’t coexist.  It is a tragedy that The Way We Live is available by download only.  Props to my friend Toby who bird-dogged this amazing performer all year long.

  

  

  

  

9. The Pains of Being
     Pure at Heart

The Pains of Being
Pure at Heart

Gauzy pop about 20-something angst and sex in the library.  Yes, I am too old for these themes but the hooks from POBPAH have been irresistible since the band formed in 2007.  Frequently a bit ribald, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart follows in the footsteps of the Pale Sants and JAMC, with enough percussive energy to drive the melodies.  If you aren’t offended by, “This love is fucking right,” you’ll enjoy the entire debut.  

  

  

 

 

10. The Dutchess 
       and the Duke

Sunrise/Sunset

In addition to one of the year’s great CD layouts, Sunrise/Sunset sports a gritty combination of folk and punk.  Sunrise/Sunset was a late entry for me, but the more I listened, the more I was drawn to the non-nonsense Western ballads.  Songs like “Never Had a Chance” and “New Shadow” are accessible and universal.  Thankfully, The Dutchess and the Duke return to Salt Lake in March, as I missed a couple of their performances last year.

Some other favorites this year:

A.C. Newman – Get Guilty
Dawes – North Hills
Delorean – Ayrton Senna EP
Fanfarlo – Reservoir
Franz Ferdinand – Tonight
Grizzly Bear – Veckatimist
Loney Dear – Dear John
Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Summer Cats – Songs for Tuesdays
Symfoniorkestern – Set Fire to Yourself (For What You Believe In)
The Hidden Cameras – Origin: Orphan
The Postmarks – Memoirs at the End of the World

A few releases I partially downloaded and liked but still haven’t bought because I was out of money:

Afternoon Naps – Parade
Bishop Allen – Grrr…
And You Will Know Us by the Trail of  Dead – Century of Self
Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion
Au Revoir Simone – Still Night, Still Light
Cats on Fire – Our Temperance Movement
Cornershop – Judy Sucks a Lemon for Breakfast
Dan Deacon – Bromst
Hayden – The Place Where We Lived
Jeffrey Lewis and the Junkyard – ‘Em Are I
Solillaquists of Sound – No More Heroes
Tap Tap – On My Way
Tim Cohen – The Two Sides of Tim Cohen
Viva Voce  – Rose City

Disappointments:

Elvis Perkins – In Dearland.  For instruction on how to pen a New Orleans tribute, see Alec Ounsworth’s Mo Beauty

The Soundtrack of Our Lives – Communion.  Yet another testament to the fact that the double-album is unsustainable

Best Live Show:

A Place to Bury Strangers – Urban Lounge, October 22

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3 Responses to “Late But Still Loved: Best Albums of 2009”

  1. Al Zobel Says:

    I, too, miss the album. Not just a collection of songs pressed together, but the attempt on the part of the artist to take you somewhere…a theme.

    Had a conversation with a couple of teens the other day in which one said, almost incredulously, that her mother liked a song and ended up buying the whole CD!! She couldn’t believe it.

  2. Toby Says:

    Kevin, glad I finally got through to you. You should move to Seattle!

  3. Kevin Says:

    Hi Toby I may take you up on that. In the meantime you can e-mail one of your friends at BOAT and ask them to play Salt Lake. The owner of Slowtrain Records here in town says a friend of hers does PR for the band so we just need to get them talking!

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