[Okay, I know it's traditional to have these lists done BEFORE a year ends, and I know most of you who do these have had yrs. done for a while, but this damn thing has had me more obsessed than an Ayn Rand protagonist. The list part was easy, but the blurbs were the part that killed me. Not writing them, mind you, but finding the time. With visiting relatives and trying to spend time with people before they and I return to parts unknown, plus that little turning 21 thing, I'd write a one, forget, write another, forget, until I just sat down the last three mornings/nights and banged the rest out. I'm sure mine and yours vary incredibly, and don't forget this whole thing is totally my opinion. But, for better or worse, here it is:]
My Top 15 Albums of 2009
15. Magrudergrind- Magrudergrind
Magrudergrind have been around for almost a decade, but before this year, it felt as if they'd never released their defining statement. Enter 2009's Magrudergrind, a sludgy, fierce grindcore album produced by Pig Destroyer guitar mastermind Scott Hull. This release expands upon the unchained powerviolence of 2007's Rehashed and their split with Shitstorm, creating a sound that settles somewhere between the punk of Spazz and the piercing, controlled assault of Discordance Axis. Bolstered by smart, funny-yet-relevant sampling and a hip-hop tinged sequel to This Comp Kills Fascists track "Heavy Bombing", this record is a sonic "fuck you" that places Magrudergrind amongst grindcore's finest practicioners, and marks them as one of the premiere groups still performing in the genre today.
14. Dan Deacon- Bromst
So, what was the next step for hyperactive Baltimorean composer Dan Deacon, the man who wrote 2007's sugar-high, relatively uncomplicated Spiderman of the Rings, and who in the past has written songs with such absurd titles as "I'm So Gay With the Boner" and "Shit Slowly Applied to Cock Parts"? If Bromst, his layered, gorgeous, and still patently ridiculous 2009 album is any indication, it's to prove to us that a grad degree in music doesn't mean you still can't act like a kid. The high-energy, minimalist composition on his last album has given way to a much more textured album, featuring excellent live percussion performances and more sonic complexity than was thought possible of a Deacon album. This is still Dan Deacon, however, and whether listening to the melancholy slow-burn of "Snookered" or the ecstatic silliness of "Woof Woof", it's pure electronic bliss. As long as his health permits, (Deacon's high-energy, communal performances tragically sent him to the hospital with back injuries in '09) I've got good money on further twists and turns throughout the years in Dan's ever-expanding catalog.
13. Animal Collective- Merriweather Post Pavilion
I'm gonna be honest here: Despite Pitchfork's protestations to the contrary, this record ain't gonna change the world. It is, however, probably the first Animal Collective record you can play all the way through around your parents without your knowledge of the definition of 'music' being repeatedly drawn into question (although if this video is any indication, old people still hate the looping electronic drone the band has retained: http://vimeo.com/7906930), as well as the first album that can be considered, at least by Animal Collective standards, truly a pop record. This latest AC incarnation is the bubbling, tribal-percussion-aided, Beach Boys-vocaled, electronic slab of joy that it seems like most casual fans were just aching for them to make. While adorable wife-and-kid love song "My Girls" has been dominating the interwaves practically all year, my personal favorite has to be bouncy closer "Brothersport". At first listen I was disappointed by the lack of acoustic guitar and occasional screaming and vocal histrionics I'd come to expect from their last several efforts, but in the end I've come to a conclusion more listeners to the group than ever have come to this year: Animal Collective have made a very, very good album.
12. Khanate- Clean Hands Go Foul
Let's get things out of the way, shall we? This is one fucking ugly record. There is not one happy millisecond, over all four tracks and the entire 60:09 runtime of this album. The blackened, droning doom metal that this band creates really has no parralel; the late Burning Witch offers some sort of reference point in the tortured (and torturous) vocals, and the painfully slow tempos and minute-stretching reverb have some due to Sunn O))). Yet the sheer hatred, the consuming ugliness over the course of Clean Hands really can't be compared to anyone. It's tragic that this is Khanate's final effort, since this is probably the best thing they've yet released. However, such a dark, unforgiving slab of noise is a fitting swan song for a group of this caliber. It deserves a "not for the faint of heart" disclaimer, but has got a lot to offer for those who've got the patience (and earplugs) to handle it.
11. Washed Out- High Times
Your mission: Buy some old disco 8-tracks (and an 8-track player, unless you've got one lying around your dorm room anywhere; I guess I just forgot mine at home). Borrow a friend or relative's Lincoln Towne Car and leave said tapes lying exposed in the car's backseat window for a summer. Collect the tapes, submerge in cooking oil, and insert in your tape player. The method just described is pretty much the only way you'll hear music comparable to the woozy, sedated tracks on Washed Out's High Times, latest in a crop of diverse artists saddled with the "chillwave" title. Whatever you want to call it, once this record gets to you, you'd better believe these songs will get stuck in your head like an 8-track in a car tape deck for months to come.
10. Wormrot- Abuse
When I think "Grindcore Central", I'll be quick to admit that Singapore is not exactly foremost in my mind. However, if these Singaporeans (as well as their skilled compatriots in Magnicide) have anything to say about it, all that could be about to change. Wormrot deliver a gritty, angry, and punk-fueled blast of a record that's a perfect distillation of classic grinders like Extreme Noise Terror, Napalm Death, and even the late, great Insect Warfare (who more than a few writers have drawn comparisons to in reviews of this record). This disc is a perfect representation of what I love about grind, even going so far as to include a brilliant, tongue-in-cheek cover of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' "Rich". After almost 25 years, bands like Wormrot continue to prove that grindcore isn't about to disappear any time soon.
9. ABSU- ABSU
Wanna know a secret? Black metal is (still) awesome. ABSU proves it with this, their fifth (and in my opinion, best) LP to date. Instead of the tried-and-true Satanism of most bands in the genre, drummer/vocalist/lyricist Proscriptor draws from Sumerian and Mesopotamian mythology and ideas, keeping the mystery and occultism while giving us some stories we maybe haven't heard twenty times previous. It's hard to say enough to cover this album; sure, the blistering drums, tortured vocals, and crushing guitar are all here in full force, but so are mellotron accompaniment, sung vocals, acoustic guitar, and even some prog-rock synthesizer, though the album never strays far from the death-sprint pace set on the :02 mark of opener "Between the Absu of Eridu and Erech". What you're left with is a dense, atmospheric, energetic and technically excellent record that will appeal both to genre afficionados and plain ol' metal fans and doesn't lose any of its excitement or force on repeat listens. Also, a track is called "In the Name of Auebothiabaithobeuee", which is what I've decided I'll call my firstborn child, if only someone can clue me in on how to pronounce it.
8. Raekwon- Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... II
A decade ago, the words "Wu-Tang Forever" seemed less than likely to prove true. Two years after having released their baffling disappointing sophomore double album of that same name, the most the Clan had turned out were two underwhelming releases by two of their three worst MCs, U-God and Inspectah Deck, and a Mortal Kombat-style fighting game called Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style. To think now that Raekwon, Ghostface, RZA and company have turned out a sequel to one of the group's best solo records that ACTUALLY lives up to the hype heaped upon it, to think nothing of the fact that it's almost 17 years after the group's formation, is reason enough to stop and take notice. If you're familiar with this album's predecessor, you know exactly what to expect: gritty, Mafioso-style story-raps, heaps of dark, tense orchestral and piano-accented beats, and Rae and co-host Ghostface trading sharp, witty and often politically incorrect verses along with ample help from Clan members and associates. The biggest surprise here, however, is not only that Wu-Tang's resident beatsmith the RZA only supplied a handful of the beats for this album, but that his contributions are hardly the best of the bunch. This album is overflowing with superstar producers and guests, such as Dr. Dre, Pete Rock, the late J Dilla, and Slick Rick, (along with confusing additions like Jadakiss and Beanie Siegel), but the guest assistance bolsters rather than sinks the effort, with Raekwon's lyricism remaining the focus througout. This is an album rap fans have been waiting for for years, and it doesn't disappoint.
7. Real Estate- Real Estate
Full disclosure: I almost missed the boat on Real Estate. The truth is that my total ambivalence about guitarist Matt Mondanile's Ducktails project meant that my expections were extremely low once I heard he was also a member of this group. Luckily, a chance encounter with a track from their (also superb) Reality EP made me sure that I needed this record. The album's lazy, sunny, blue-collar vibe feels like a perfect soundtrack to a suburban New Jersey (where the band hails from) summer: cookouts, cheap beer, old lawnchairs, beach visits and all, rendered in lo-fi, indie-slacker glory. Since the afformentioned EP debuted only a week after this record hit shelves, if things keep up we can expect a lot more Real Estate to come in 2010.
6. Neon Indian- Psychic Chasms
With all of the turmoil in the US this year, it seems fitting something as escapist as the blogger-coined "chillwave" movement enjoyed such relative success. While questionably even a proper subgenre, the term describes thick, lo-fi, 80's-style electronic music, of which this summer and fall saw more than its share. Alan Palomo's Neon Indian project is a perfect distillation of this sound, and one of the pseudo-genre's strongest contributions. Songs such as "Deadbeat Summer" and "Should've Taken Acid With You" hide their outsider longing under upbeat synths and pounding beats which feel borrowed from warped VHS and cassette tapes, creating a pulsing blanket of childhood comfort that I'm eager to wrap myself up in again and again.
5. Mos Def- The Ecstatic
While certainly not hip-hop's most prolific year in recent history, 2009 was the staging area for multiple return-to-form albums from excellent rappers who either disappeared for an inordinate amount of time (see this list's #1 slot) or took an inordinate amount of time to release an album consistent with their former glory (see this entry, entry #8). Mos Def is, to most fans, quickly classifiable in the latter category; while sophomore effort The New Danger holds its own merit on repeat listens, its experimental song structures and chuggy rap-rock beats made it a challenging follow-up to 1998's classic Black on Both Sides. In the years following that record, Mos followed up with the lackluster, abortive True Magic and the equally flat Mos Definite mixtape, making it hard not to be wary of subsequent efforts from the once ridiculously on-point rapper. That's why this record comes as such a revelation; diverse, evocative beats from Madlib, Oh No, Preservation and others, combined with Mos' signature rapping and singing styles, as well as carefully selected guesting by Slick Rick, Black Star partner Talib Kweli, and Stones Throw-signed singer Georgia Anne Muldrow, make for not only Mos' best effort since his solo debut, but one of the freshest hip-hop records in what seems like much too long.
4. Jordaan Mason & the Horse Museum- Divorce Lawyers I Shaved My Head
A word of warning: If you dismiss this record as just some sloppy Neutral Milk Hotel ripoff, you'll inadvertently be bypassing one of the strangest, most inspired and engaging folk records you're likely to have heard all year. Mason and Co. blend NMH's signature horn-accented, confessional folk with the disturbed family tales and vocal stylings of Parenthetical Girls into a unique, unsettling and unforgettable batch of experimental folk songs. Divorce Lawyers is a sprawling narrative record about hermaphrodites, sex, marital problems, horses, shotguns, alternate-reality wars, and, who would've guessed, the Apocalypse. The lyrics and delivery are what really make this album: Mason's not afraid to open the album with the words "My mouth was filled with his ovaries". He's also not skittish to begin another song with the sung proclamation "You fuck like a racehorse", or make the suggestion "You can swallow shotguns if you want to" (from the same song) into a catchy sing-along. Mason's lyrics can be just as sadly beautiful as they are bald or grotesque, such as, "We borrowed their old clothes, and then we undressed / We stole a trampoline and made it our mattress",
and the oddly triumphant lines that lend the album its title:
"Divorce lawyers, I shaved my head / She shaved her head / We are new".
This record leaves plenty of questions unanswered, but if you perservere past all the confused timelines and genders, you're guaranteed to discover one of 2009's true hidden gems.
3. Memory Tapes- Seek Magic
From Memory Cassette/Weird Tapes (get the name now?) recluse Dayve Hawk comes this fantastic dreampop/shoegaze/electronic hybrid of an LP. This is the kind of record that just sucks you into its world; I feel a passenger on the drunken bike ride at the heart of "Bicycle", a witness to the relationship drama of "Stop Talking", lost in whatever the hell is happening in the gorgeous Galaxie-500-esque "Plain Material". The songs employ diverse instrumentation and hazy production that practically build their own worlds in the spaces between your ears. Whatever words you want to heap on it, this record creates the perfect lullaby for a generation of lonely, post-modern college kids. Things may not ever be okay, but at least we've got records like this to hide that fact from us.
2. The Antlers- Hospice
Emotionally, this year, it seems as if there wasn't too much middle ground in indie rock. Either a record was full of escapist bliss or honest, crushing sadness, depending on the artist's coping mechanisms. This record, with its semi-autobiographical lyrics (detailing a failing relationship with a dying cancer patient) and whispy, orchestral musicianship, clearly took the latter route. Yet there's something freeing in the sadness of this album that has compelled me to revisit it time and again.
1. DOOM- Born Like This
MF DOOM is a villain. How else to explain interrupting a bumping hip-hop intro with a silly, cartoonish supervillain skit, or the track "Batty Boyz", where he accuses practically every male superhero in the DC Comics lineup of homosexuality? How about shortening his name to DOOM, for no reason other than he felt like it? Villainous, no question about it; but he's also probably the best thing to happen to hip-hop since the 808. After 4 years of near-silence, one of the beginning of the decade's most prolific (and consistent) rappers returns with an edgy, raw, short (40:28) and inspired collection of tracks that, in true villain style, has divided as many fans as it's gained. Some have dismissed the album's quirks as weaknesses (some of the best songs clock in under two minutes, and some of his best beats feature guest performers rather than himself), but if you keep listening, these oddities end up instead feeling like demented strengths. Also, the aforementioned guests don't hurt either; two of Wu-Tang's finest, long-time partners Ghostface Killah and Raekwon, each leave their mark on "Angelz" and "Yessir!", respectively, while elsewhere Atmosphere's Slug and a relatively unknown female MC named Empress Sharhh, both drop solid rhymes which make coming back to the album easy due to constant new discoveries. DOOM's even crazy enough to sample poet Charles Bukowski on album centerpiece "Cellz", a move which makes clear this is a lot more than just some jokey hip-hop goof-off. The album's darkness is what sets it apart from some of Daniel Dumile's (DOOM's birth name, for those not in the know) other releases; the endlessly tight and constantly referential lyricism has more to say than your average Top 40 rapper could even imagine. Mos Def has even gone far enough to say in an interview "I'd put a million dollars on DOOM against Lil' Wayne", a bet I'd make in a heartbeat, as well. Now that he's back, the self-proclaimed "best MC with no chain you ever heard" shows no signs of stopping, with a Ghostface collab album and a sequel to 2003's amazing Madlib-produced Madvillainy both possible to be released in 2010. I don't know about you, but I'm damn glad the villain's still going to be doing his thing for a long, long time.
Most Anticipated Albums of 2010:
1. Gridlink- Orphan
2. Xiu Xiu- Dear God, I Hate Myself
3. of Montreal- False Priest
4. Los Campesinos!- Romance is Boring
5. Ghostface Killah, Method Man & Raekwon- The Wu-Massacre
Best Songs/Singles of 2009 [No Order]
1.Memory Tapes- "Bicycle"
2. Rainbow Bridge- "Big Wave Rider"
3. Mos Def- "Quiet Dog"
4. The Flaming Lips- "Watching the Planets"
5. Wilco- "Bull Black Nova"
6. Animal Collective- "What Would I Want? Sky"
7. Neon Indian- "Deadbeat Summer"
8. Ghostface Killah- "Stapleton Sex"
9. DOOM- "Gazillion Ear"
10. Dirty Projectors- "Cannibal Resource"
11. Black Moth Super Rainbow- "Iron Lemonade"
12. Atlas Sound ft. Noah Lennox- "Walkabout"
13. Dan Deacon- "Snookered"
14. HEALTH- "Die Slow"
15. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart- "Young Adult Friction"
Top 5 Pop Singles of 2009
1. Lady Gaga- "Bad Romance"
2. Miley Cyrus- "Party in the USA"
3. Jay-Z- "Empire State of Mind"
4. Rihanna- "Russian Roulette"
5. La Roux- "Bulletproof"