There aren’t enough superlatives to describe what a brilliant year in music 2009 has been. It’s been so good that every time I was blown away by some new album, feeling sure that nothing would be able to usurp it from my number one spot, something even more amazing would come out the next week and install itself as the main contender. It’s been so good it gave me a headache trying to whittle this list down to just 10 albums. That’s a good kind of headache.
So here lies my Top 10 records of 2009. I’m also really interested in hearing everyone else’s perspective of music in 2009, so feel free to post your own list or tear mine apart in the comments section!
10. Tegan and Sara – Sainthood
It’s probably kind of redundant to give my opinion on this when it’s already been covered so extensively on this very site (the review! the interviews! the track breakdowns!). But too much Tegan and Sara is never enough, so I guess I will anyway. The Con was one of my favourite albums of the previous two years, so needless to say I had very high expectations of Sainthood. When I first heard this record I was quite viscerally disappointed, it seemed as though they’d sold out to a more generic, commercial pop/punk sound, if I were cynical (OK, I’m pretty cynical) I’d say a bid for more mainstream popularity. I wondered whether, since I’d exited my teens and entered my twenties in the interim between the two records, perhaps I’d just grown up and over it and over them, as it were. However, first impressions are not always correct and sometimes you just need to give an album time to grow, so I’m pleased to report that I still love me some angsty power-pop sung by cute twin sisters.
Best Tracks: Hell, Northshore, Alligator.
9. Antony and The Johnsons – The Crying Light
No one else sounds like Antony Hegarty. His voice has a delicate quaver to it, yet so much power and range at the same time. There’s always a lot of pathos in his voice but The Crying Light is a more optimistic, uplifted album than its predecessor. Or to go with the nature/environment theme that pervades this album, it feels like you’re in a forest where it’s dark but there’s still sunlight filtering through the leaves shining on things and making them all luminous and sparkly and beautiful. This is an album where you should basically just sit back and let the music wash over you.
Best Tracks: Another World, Epilepsy is Dancing, Kiss My Name.
8. The Pains of Being Pure At Heart – Pains of Being Pure at Heart
The Pains of Being Pure At Heart’s eponymous debut album is a throwback to a simpler, more innocent time in indie rock. Musically it’s all about crashing drums, a drone of gauzy guitars and synth and perfectly catchy choruses. Thematically it’s very much concerned with teenagers and teenager-ish type things like “a wasted summer with no drummer” and being “a teenager in love with Christ and heroin”. Which actually, looking back at my teenage years, is not something that I can really claim to relate to at all, but anyway. Everything about this album puts me in a good mood and makes me feel like summer and dancing.
Best Tracks: Contender, Young Adult Friction, Come Saturday.
7. Vivian Girls – Everything Goes Wrong
Everything Goes Wrong shows a lot of development from Vivian Girls’ debut self-titled album. It’s almost double the length for starters, and the songs are more fleshed out whilst retaining their trademark brief, catchy punk, disaffected lyrics and vocals buried in fuzzed out noise-pop. If you like Vivian Girls, check out the Audiostraddle concert review!
Best Tracks: Before I Start To Cry, Can’t Get Over You, I Have No Fun
6. Metric – Fantasies
Fantasies is definitely the biggest, brightest, most commercial sounding record that Metric have produced to date. However, underneath the glittering synths and huge danceable riffs, there’s still the darkness and complexity that imbues most of Emily Haines’ lyrics. I’ve reviewed Metric’s concert too!
Best Tracks: Help I’m Alive, Sick Muse, Collect Call.
5. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion
Available on: iTunes / Amazon
This album from Animal Collective makes me feel like I am floating on a li-lo in the middle of a pool sipping Jamaican rum punch from a palm-tree shaped inflatable drink holder. It’s a perfect, blissed out summertime record. And that album cover is really trippy.
Best Tracks: My Girls, In the Flowers, Summertime Clothes.
4. Neko Case – Middle Cyclone
I think Neko Case is one of the best songwriters and lyricists currently going around. Middle Cyclone showcases Case at her heartbreaking best: “It was so clear to me, that it was almost invisible, I lie across the path waiting just for a chance to be a spider web trapped in your lashes, for that, I would trade you my empire for ashes.” It also ends with a track called ‘Maruis La Nuit,’ which in my opinion was egregiously overlooked as a choice for the first single, and which consists solely of 31 minutes 39 seconds worth of chirping frogs. My current record of listening to that stands at around 15 minutes…who would have thought frog noises could be so unexpectedly soothing?
Anyway, Neko Case is awesome and so is this album, and she also gives good sound bite: “I really love the Eiffel tower, but I have popsicle sticks. So I’m gonna make my Eiffel tower out of popsicle sticks rather than steel. But I’m still gonna make an Eiffel tower.” Word.
Best Tracks: Don’t Forget Me, Middle Cyclone, This Tornado Loves You.
3. Bat for Lashes – Two Suns
Natasha Khan aka Bat for Lashes has avoided the dreaded ‘sophomore slump’ following up her 2006 debut Fur and Gold with a second album of haunting, melancholy dream pop. Two Suns, told from the perspective of Khan’s blonde-wigged alter-ego ‘Pearl’, weaves a timeless and mystical landscape: “I’ll make a suit of colours To stop the blinding mirrors Sew a cape of rainbow Stifle up the beam With the perfect armour With the perfect dream”, and further confirms that Natasha Khan is the real deal, a Kate Bush for the 21st Century.
Best Tracks: Daniel, Siren Song,Glass
2. Patrick Wolf – The Bachelor
At first glance, Patrick Wolf‘sThe Bachelor appears to be about the rather depressing notion of thinking you will be single and alone forever: “I will never marry, marry at all, no one will wear my silver ring”. In fact it is much more than that, essentially a journey of discovering the strength and power in being an individual. The Bachelor is not inward-looking, though, it’s calling for “revolution”, exhorting people to be activists and empower themselves to “rise up” and “battle the homophobe, but battle without war”.
Wolf also recruited Tilda Swinton to do some spoken word, playing the part of ‘The Voice of Hope’, and as you’d expect, anything involving Patrick Wolf and Tilda Swinton is pretty much a tandem of awesomeness. What I love most about Patrick Wolf’s unique brand of folktronica, and what gives his music so much power and feeling, is that it is completely authentic and uncynical. You can tell that being a songwriter and musician is a vocation for Patrick Wolf, and that if he didn’t happen to be a rock star he’d probably still be wandering the globe with a violin tucked under his arm.
Best Tracks: Damaris, Oblivion, The Sun is Often Out
1. The Antlers – Hospice
The Antlers‘Hospice is a work that manages to be both epic and intricately personal. One interpretation is that it’s a concept album about the tale of a bone marrow cancer patient, told from the perspective of her lover/carer. Also integrated into this is a parallel storyline about Sylvia Plath. Anyone familiar with Plath’s work will be able to recognise thematic similarities between many of her poems such as Tulips, and indeed some of her personal experiences, and this record. Hospice is a nuanced and fully realized portrait that does justice to the difficult themes it tackles. On Sylvia there’s a slow, heartbeat like pulse throughout the whole song that begins with eerie ambient noise before giving way to an anthemic chorus imploring “Sylvia, get your head out of the oven”. It’s a work layered with complex and often contradictory emotions that run the gamut of human feeling: guilt, betrayal, love, loss and perhaps ultimately the uncomfortable realization that relief can sometimes only come, for both patient and carer, in the form of death releasing someone from unbearable pain.
Many of the tracks are composed around a similar formula, using a combination of stuttering synth and driving acoustic guitar strum anchored by a steady drumbeat. It’s a very cohesive album, while the tracks undoubtedly stand up individually, it’s a narrative that really needs to be heard in album form to be fully appreciated. Personally, I recommend putting the record on and sitting down with the beautiful album art and liner notes to fully appreciate Peter Silberman’s lyrics and skillful storytelling. I had this album blasting from my stereo when my friend walked in and instead of making one of her usual derisive remarks about my latest musical obsession merely observed that “this music sounds sick”, which is actually a good indication of how effective Silberman and co. were at evoking an atmosphere perfectly befitting an album entitled Hospice. Basically, this album is devastating in all the right ways. And I think it’s the sign of a great album when a record gets better and better and allows you to discover new things about it with each listen.
So tell us, what’s in your Top 10 list of 2009 records?
Very good list. But no love for Grizzly Bear?
That Grizzly Bear album is so good! I just got back from watching them at a festival and they were rad live. I’m so conflicted about all the great albums I had to leave off my list!
Nice list! I need to check out some of those bands. Besides T&S (obvs), I would include Phoenix (Wolfgang Amadeus), and Iron & Wine (Around the Well).
Wolfgang Amadeus is SUCH a good album. It makes me so happy every time I listen to it.
here we go:
1. 30 Seconds To Mars “This Is War”. Well what can I say? Best record they did so far.
2. Silversun Pickups “Swoon”. I’ve got “Panic Switch” 4 some reason stuck in my head.
3. Dúné “Enter Metropolis”. Better than expected good!
4. The Temper Trap “Condition”. I had 2 wait 4 “Resurrection” more than 6 month!
5. Yeah Yeah Yeahs “It’s Blitz”. Did somebody say shake it?
6. The Sounds “Crossing The Rubicon”. Way 2 go!
7. The Veronicas “Lost Tracks EP”. Go girls!
8. 26 “Births, Deaths & Marriages”. It was already 2008 but they so so deserve it!
9. Tegan & Sara “Sainthood”. Not bad, not bad!
10. Paramore “Brand New Eyes”. I like “The Final Riot!” more than “BNE”
11. Owl City “Ocean Eyes”. Sometimes it felt that way.
12. The Gossip “Music For Men”. Operation fun & sun.
13. Florence & The Machine “Lungs”. U C a buzzer?
14. The Bravery “Stir The Blood”. Freeze dont move!
I am pretty much IN LOVE with Florence & The Machine’s “Drumming Song” right now!
you completly forgot THE XX, that record is by far the best album of the whole 00-years IMO.
Agreed on THE XX. I saw Neko Case live this summer, too, and she definitely deserves her spot on this list.
Dislike The XX. I think I may be the only person who doesn’t like them.
No you aren’t the only person who doesn’t like them. I saw a performance they did on Jools Holland and was underwhelmed. They were quite terrible and out of tune.
Yeah, i like the xx well enough but their album didn’t really grab me. It’s super chilled out and stuff, but I find it a bit bland.
Wow, I only own T&S/Sainthood and Metric/Fantasies… Although I did buy the Neko Case as a gift for someone else… I need to get listening! I also quite enjoyed everything Karen O did this year (It’s Blitz and the Where The Wild Things Are soundtrack)
You should defs ask whoever you gave the Neko to if they’ll lend it to you ha! Agreed about Karen O, she is amazing in every way. Just saw her at a festival over new years and I am in love.
If only! The person I bought it for lives many states away…
4. An Horse- Rearrange Beds.
Loved this debut. I really like Kate as a songwriter. She writes the cutest most open and endearing lyrics.
3. Lady Gaga- The Fame (& Fame Monster).
I know her album came out in 2008 but I didn;t discover it till this year and it has been on constant repeat every since. Love Gaga!
2. Dragonette- Fixin to Thrill.
I am really falling in love with electropop and they give it to me! Just found them a few months ago and I love them, my second favorite band. They remind me of Gaga but more substantial. Good lyrics and instrumentals every song gives you something different. Also loved there first record, Galore.
1. Tegan and Sara- Sainthood
Cause it is TnS, DUH! Can;t go wrong with TnS. And even when you think its wrong it eventually becomes SO right!
Totally agree with what you said about An Horse. You should check out Kate Cooper’s old band Iron On as well if you haven’t, they’ve got some good stuff.
interesting list. i’d add the following, in no particular order
The XX – XX, didn’t get the hype at first but it’s really grown on me
Franz Ferdinand – Tonight, indie rockers meet electronica, great combo
Regina Spektor – Far, not nearly as good as her older stuff, but still interesting enough
The Gossip – Music for Men, catchy poppy fun record
Peaches – I feel cream, what can i say, i love Peaches, think it might be her best record yet
The Dead Weather – Horehound, Jack white+Alison Mosshart, what more does one need?
Sainthood would get the no1 spot on my list…still need to check out Phoenix, Grizzly Bear, Neko Case… there’s too much music out there.
Aside from Tegan and Sara, I don’t think I’ve listened to any of these albums. I think my problem is that I don’t listen to enough bands/artists with animals in their names. My top 5 though:
1. Brand New-Daisy
2. Dear Landlord-Dream Homes
3. Tegan and Sara-Sainthood
4. Polar Bear Club-Chasing Hamburg
5. Big D and The Kid’s Table-Fluent in Stroll
No Fever Ray?????
I was just thinking the same.
Tegan and Sara are okay, but I wouldn’t put Sainthood in the top ten. I love Antony, and Patrick Wolf…although I think The Bachelor is not as great at Wind in the Willows/Magic Position, and shouldn’t be top ten. I would’ve included the xx, It’s Blitz, and most importantly Fever Ray. Karin’s record is sick, and her live show was insane. Fever Ray is for sure one of the top ten records of the decade.
Also, I know they’re really over-played now and they’ve sort of become MGMT-like in their indie-to-mainstream rise in popularity, but Passion Pit had a great debut album with Manners. And everyone was playing Little Secrets and Sleepyhead nonstop for a while this year. So I probably would’ve thrown that in as well.
umm so i was just about to write nearly the exact same comment, about sainthood, patrick wolfs older stuff being so much better, and say i wouldve included yeah yeah yeahs, the xx and fever ray, AND mention passion pit, then i see you have the same name as me… are we the same person?! im genuinely worried i wrote this and forgot.
Annies rule the multiverse. Glad I’m super unique though.
Fever Ray = sickest concert ever. It makes me want to see The Knife that much more, if possible.
By FAR the sickest concert ever. Crystal Castles was probably the craziest concert I’ve been to, but Fever Ray is my favorite. Everyone was so into just watching Karin. I wishhh the Knife still toured, maybe they will after they release their opera, or whatever.
Oh yeah, Passion Pit are awesome.
they have the. best. beats.
I can never really decide on a definitive order for my favourite Patrick Wolf albums because I like them all a lot. Although I think Wind In The Wires is pretty much always number one, and Magic Position is firmly stuck at the bottom. TMP has some great tracks, but I was beyond happy that he didn’t continue with the general overtly pop direction of that album. I find The Bachelor to be far more dark and compelling.
All those other bands you mention definitely do deserve some best-of love as well. There’s been so much good music come out this year it’s insane.
oh aye for sure passion pit. they were amAzing live aswell!
Florence and the Machine are amazing. And Lady Gaga will undoubtedly take me straight back to 2009 when I hear it years from now.
But the album of the decade for me is Brandi Carlile’s Giving Up the Ghost. I haven’t stopped listening to it since I got it. I actually started using the MP3 player my sister got me last summer. And the songs are just as amazing live as on the record.
No particular order:
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz
The XX – xx
Tiesto – Kaleidoscope
Phantogram – Phangtogram EP
Fever Ray – Fever Ray
…and I actually saw them all but Tiesto live in the last three months, so go me!! One of the primary reasons never to leave New York, ever.
Overall, though, I honestly think that 2008 was a much better year for music (Portishead, Ladyhawke, Girl Talk, Crystal Castles to name a few). I hope I’m not alone on this…
Oh, I’ll have to add Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt. II to that list. Not as good as the part one, but still amazing!
i agree with above on the xx! in general i spent much of the year listening to old stuff and have only been catching up on 2009 literally in the past 2 weeks
i love antony and the johnsons but i felt like the latest offering paled in comparison to the 1st 2 albums. basically i can only listen to the 1st two songs on the album which are genius, then the rest makes me cringe, i don’t know why.
also in regards to disappointment re: t+s, to be totally mean i can see how that would occur if you were not really a fan of sara’s songs, so this album for me has two extremes.
p.s. also i usually prefer music played with instruments but i really enjoyed kid sister’s album, that shit is catchy
that’s interesting about antony and the johnsons, i see where you’re coming from. but i think ‘the crying light’ is a pretty different beast to ‘i am a bird now’, and although i love that album i’m glad that antony’s not just repeating himself. and re t&s: yeah you’re right, in the past i think i much preferred tegan’s songs, but lately my preferences have shifted.
i’ll have to check that kid sister album out as well, i also tend to share your bias towards “music played with instruments” ha, although i’ve tried to be a lot more open minded in recent years.
I have never heard anything about The Antlers, but after that fantastic mini review, it’s become critical for me to get it in my hands as soon as possible.
thanks! and I hope you dig the Antlers as much as I do when you manage to get ahold of a copy!
I’m on board with Metric’s Fantasies and T&S’s Sainthood, and these are the rest of my top 10:
Muse, The Resistance
Bertie Blackman, Secrets & Lies
The Dead Weather, Horehound
The xx, xx
Karnivool, Sound Awake
Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Lily Allen, It’s Not Me, It’s You
Passion Pit, Manners
I feel like I really need to go and buy The Antlers now as well! Also I think Isabelle is on the road to a music festival, she’ll be back to reply to y’all in a day or two.
good to see i’m not the only one who liked Lily Allen’s last record, it was my favorite this summer, and she was really good live.
I forgot about Lily Allen, it’s such a fun album!
Yeah I love Lily live too! I get to see her again in January and I’m pretty excited, she puts on such a chilled concert.
why haven’t i listened to patrick wolf’s new album yet? thank you for reminding me isabelle!
yes! please do!
Give Up the Ghost by Brandi Carlile. If you haven’t heard that, you need to.
YES! yes yes yes. My most anticipated album release this year.
I feel like there should be some hip-hop on my list, but so far all I’ve come up with in my head is FAME MONSTER & SAINTHOOD.
NUMBER ONE ALBUM OF THE YEAR – Fever Ray and you also forgot The xx. Both those albums deserve to be on any best of 2009 list.
I dig what Fever Ray does, definitely a cool album. I enjoy The xx, but find them a bit underwhelming.
This comment thread is awesome for discovering artists I haven’t heard yet. Awesome.
“But too much Tegan and Sara is never enough.” THAT is the philosophy by which I live.
The Ocean came on in Forever 21 and I nearly lost my skull.
Ahhh I love Antony and the Johnsons, their version of Knockin on Heavens Door is so beautiful.
Good list, I will have to check out some of these bands.
One of my favourite albums of this year was Yeah, So? by Slow Club.
Yeah that cover is great! In fact, that entire I’m Not There soundtrack is pretty damn killer, even though I have mixed feelings about the film.
I haven’t heard the Slow Club album but I’ll have to check it out.
just got the antlers album…..i’m at a loss for words, definitely a must have in the CD rack!!
yay, so glad someone else is enjoying the antlers!
how could u not? honestly? haha