Merry Christmas everyone! And Happy Holidays! My gift to you: A list of the 10 albums that I liked the most in 2009. If something is not on this list, it means I either didn’t hear it or didn’t like it more than these 10 albums. Please note that there are three bands here with the word whale in their name. I think that’s awesome.
1. Hometowns by The Rural Alberta Advantage
The music made by this trio from Alberta, Canada spent far more time in my ears than any other this year. When I stumbled across them over the summer, I wanted to share them with every great fan of music I knew. Here’s what I wrote about them way back on July 6:
2. I And Love And You by The Avett Brothers
This could very well have been number one on my list as well. Paired with legendary producer Rick Rubin, The Avett Brothers delivered an emotional powerhouse of an album that sounds slicker than anything they’ve released thus far (and they’ve been pretty prolific in a short amount of time). From the opening title track (video posted here) to the tempo changes in “Laundry Room” to the sunny upbeat harmonies/shouted bridge of “Slight Figure of Speech” and beyond, this record is a gem. Love it.
3. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix by Phoenix
These pop-songcrafters from Paris are exceedingly good at what they do, and what they do is produce tunes that make you want to shake your booty. The tempo doesn’t slow down much on Wolfgang…, which is a bit of a shift for the band from its earlier material. This batch of songs is so much fun and might not get enough credit for how well constructed it is. I have seen them live twice, once in Austin, TX and once in Columbus, OH, and I can say that if you have the chance, go to one of their shows. I had a fantastic experience both times, and grooved from start to finish. The performance here is from La Blogotheque, and it’s pretty freakin’ sweet.
4. Weathervanes by Freelance Whales
This band really snuck up on me, but once I heard the charming strum of the banjo and ring of xylophone bells, I was hooked. They are somewhat akin to Hellogoodbye, but I think there’s a lot more soul here. And better songwriting. They make use of a glockenspiel, guitars, and a waterphone among other instruments. What I said about them in October:
“Freelance Whales are the kind of band I think people probably love to hate. Their lyrics are heartfelt but incomplete, streams of consciousness that at times are really beautiful and poignant but occasionally trail off to confusing places. Their music is full of electronic beats and humming, organ like keyboards and synthesizers that wail behind guitars and drums and chimes.”
This video is both haunting and melodic, dreamy and stark. It’s a performance of “Broken Horse” at NYC Farm Colony.
5. Sainthood by Tegan and Sara
These twins from Canada went out on a limb with their newest studio release, and they balance beautifully on it. They didn’t so much change their sound as they packaged it differently on Sainthood. There are danceable 80’s-style tunes and solid punk rock anthems. I think my favorite is probably “Someday,” with its punky, energized mix of hopefulness and uncertainty.
Might paint something
I might want to hang here someday.
Might write something
I might want to say to you some day.
Might do something
I’d be proud of someday.
Mark my words,
I might be something someday.
6. The First Days of Spring by Noah And The Whale
This is certainly the year’s best break-up album, penned by lead singer/guitarist Charlie Fink after splitting with talented UK singer and former bandmate Laura Marling between studio releases for the band. It’s full of beautiful orchestral arrangements, plenty of pain and anguish, and finally, a bit joy and hope for the future. It’s like listening to a good friend go through the 7 stages of grief in album form, only not quite as emotionally draining.
The video here is a live performance of “My Door Is Always Open,” which closes out The First Days of Spring quite nicely.
7. Islands Disappear by Said The Whale
Another band that was unknown to me before 2009, and another one that thoroughly impressed. I wrote about them about a month ago.
What’s great about Said The Whale is that they venture into different styles — lazy folk, twee-ish pop, fuzzy guitar rock to name a few — and do so exceptionally.
I hear elements of several bands on Islands Disappear that I have enjoyed throughout the years. I heard a bit of Elbow’s “One Day Like This,” some of The Weakerthans’ “One Great City!” and some of The New Pornographers’ “All For Swinging You Around.” There’s a lovely, melodic, west-coast vibe to a good portion of the songs here, too.”
The video here is for “Camillo (The Magician),” a wonderfully catchy guitar-driven rocker.
8. Merriweather Post Pavilion by Animal Collective
I tried to avoid loving this album, I really did. But it’s just such an awesome evolution for the band and these spacy, thumping, funky tunes are hard to ignore. It’s at No. 8 because at times I think there is almost too much thrown into some of these songs. But the end result of MPP is the feeling of having gone on a psychadelic journey. And that’s an accomplishment. At least I think so.
The wonderfully trippy video for “Summertime Clothes,” the second single off the album.
9. Aim And Ignite by Fun.
I was always a fan of Fun. frontman Nate Ruess’ former band The Format. Here, we get a really fun (imagine that!) reinterpretation of everything that was fun about The Format’s two studio albums. I said “This album should be a fantastic, shining gold nugget of indie pop.” Having heard it now, I can say it did not disappoint.
A live performance of “Be Calm,” which I posted back in August.
10. Intuit by Ramona Falls
This is the side project of Menomena’s Brent Knopf. I got a little cheesy in comparing this album to Maurice Sendak’s “Where The Wild Things Are.” Exhibit A: “Stray sounds off in the distance. Gentle guitar. Atmospheric piano that seems to float in the air and then cut through everything. A building narrative that sounds so impassioned you can’t help but be carried away as the guitar strums and then tickles your eardrums.”
I still can’t help but be mesmerized by much of this album. The video below is for “I Say Fever,” and is bizarre and slightly creepy. But I love it.
Stay tuned for my top songs of 2009!