Well, this should be a surprise to no one. Leaking around Christmas last year, Merriweather Post Pavilion took the drama out of the album of 2009 race before 2009 even began. So immediately striking was its perfection, so instantly classic, that almost half the staff here at Sputnikmusic slapped a 5 on it and said "shit, well what's next?" This allowed for the exploration of personal tastes; whereas some might argue that the staff's top 50 albums list last year was the products of an endless hype train constantly fed in search of the "defining" album of 2008, we found our defining album early (even if we didn't unanimously agree on it), and the result is a list that is intensely personal, a real representation of the eclectic tastes of the staff at Sputnikmusic, and- let's face it- a fucking awesome list.
Is this giving Merriweather Post Pavilion too much credit? Maybe, but at almost a full year since its release, it won't be long before we stop discussing Merriweather's merits and start discussing its legacy. Merriweather Post Pavilion is the album for our time, shooting us with euphoric waves of sound in songs about fear, pressure, doubt, and, above all else, family. After all, we forget that, in being two of the greatest songs of the year, "My Girls" is about the intense desire to be a good family provider and "Brothersport" is an anthem to a brother to move on past a father's death. Even "Summertime Clothes," the most immediately carefree pop tune in an album filled with songs that initially introduce themselves as carefree pop gems, resists the pressure of the outside world by jubilantly dancing to songs from passing cars or by just wanting to walk around with us. This spirit, this wrestling with responsibility vs. just shutting everything out and doing what feels good, permeates throughout the record. The album converts so much negativity into something ultimately beautiful; everywhere we hear Avey and Panda wanting us to kick off our stockings for a while, smile, and say "I like this song." They wonder what life would be like without the inhibitions imposed by all the things outside of us or what could happen if we could just leave our bodies for a night. They don't necessarily give us an answer but they give us a direction. Merriweather Post Pavilion is a slice of music that reminds us of simple pleasures while voicing human doubt in a glorious pop context that makes us believe things might just be ok, at least for a little while. We don't even have to be aware of it. All we have to do is submit and revel in the album's ability to make us feel good.
Hospice is an album that surprisingly manages to stand out within its very cluttered genre due to a very simple reason -- Peter Silberman manages to make grandiose, baroque indie rock sound subtle and intimate, using a pronounced dream pop and ambient influence. Originally devised as a solo project, Silberman recruited two more guys for Hospice, yet the album never loses any of that singer-songwriter flair: it's very much Silberman's work; his feelings and especially his story are etched all over Hospice.
And this is what truly makes Hospice deserving of its spot as the second best album of 2009 -- its story. Accenting the melancholy sound of Hospice is Silberman's tale of a man watching his loved one succumb to death due to bone cancer; a story all the sadder considering that its completely autobiographical. Songs like "Bear" and "Two" and "Sylvia" are excellent on their own right, without having any knowledge or understanding of the lyrical content, but how they work so well with the coherency and story of the album is simply remarkable. As of now, Hospice is just a near-masterpiece -- but as time passes, and this next decade begins, there's a hell of a chance that time might elevate that status.
If you traversed the infinite void of time and space to 1995 a few things would be different: a lower average jeans opening-width to ankle-thickness ratio, a curious absence of worldwide internet connectivity, and (most notably) a billboard-topping record belonging to none other than Hootie and the Blowfish. On the other hand, Raekwon would still be on every critic's year end list with the original Wu-saturated Purple Tape (OB4CL... pt I).
And with good reason... where the original is a difficult piece to follow up from a composition perspective, the final mix turns out well and not only casts a spotlight on each and every verse, but demands applauds for its artistic cohesion amidst the multiple credits. From the heartbeat-come-rapocalypse of "House of Flying Daggers" to the foreboding horns of "Sonny's Missing" and the bubbling clarity of "Pyrex Vision", it's immediately apparent - we're not here merely to revisit the Purple Tape's "North Star" as much as to the journey for the 21st century. The bass hits harder, the symphonic samples are sharper, and the mood pulses between dark...darker... and grit; RZA should be proud of this evolution and passing-of-the-torch per-se.
Everything about Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt. II demands worship and solidifies Raekwon as one of history's best with a continuation that exceeds his original debut in every way imaginable. This is a more mature and intelligent Wu Tang and proves that one truly does improve their verbal skills with age.
Japandroids represent the spontaneity of our youth. Whether it is the burning desire that keeps us driving around aimlessly just to enjoy another persons company or the beaten path to find a summer romance without sacrificing enjoying the life we live, it is all found within Post-Nothing. This two-piece garage rock band out of Vancouver use dense, melodic guitar riffs coupled with enough vocal sing-a-longs to bring Post-Nothing to unimaginable heights considering its lack of complexity, which works undoubtedly in their favor. If one thing stays true, it is that Japandroids are never over thinking their next hook; rather letting the album flow with a gracious, warm smile. While the amount of varied verses may be sparse, their message is loud, powerful, and inspiring. Through "Wet Hair" and "Young Hearts Spark Fire", we find out how we should embrace the little things in life like girls, friends, and Bikini Island. Within Post-Nothing this rambunctious duo show how gratifying a friendship can be, how mundane life should be derived to, and lastly how much fun we should be having in a world of uncertainties.
Axe to Fall represents a marked change in Converge's sound, more than ever before it actually sounds like these guys could really be having a good time recording. Whether it's the insane amount of guest appearances, the more hard-rock approach of a lot of the songs, or the fact they must have rewrote a dug up Tom Waits demo, Axe to Fall is just a ton of fun. That's not to say it isn't heavy as ****, as songs like Worms Will Feed, Axe to Fall and Slave Driver still showcase that signature Converge intensity. It's just now on top of that, it really feels like your little brother might be able to dig this album, which makes Axe to Fall another landmark release in Converge's generally landmarksian catalogue: it can nearly be considered poppy.
What would you even call this? Post Hardcore? Progressive Hardcore? Who cares? Red in Tooth & Claw is a near-perfect blend of technicality, harsh screams, dissonant melodies, and quick musical tangents all delivered in a fun, almost tongue-in-cheek kind of way. This tongue-in-cheek tone even extends into the strange sci-fi lyrics and multiple vocal styles. The end result is a great album that could be forced into one or two genres, but any single deion will definitely be lacking.
It says everything you need to know about Ineffable Mysteries From Sphongleland that it WASN'T a crushing disappointment; no mean feat for an album tasked with following up the best electronic album of the decade. But Shpongle's neat side-steps - a return to their psybient roots, less overt humour, longer and more complex tracks, more ambient moments - meant that it avoided all comparison, allowing it to be seen a brilliant piece of music in its own right. It helped, of course, that it was as unthinkably and effortlessly brilliant as anything in the genre. Their back catalogue, already a thing of wonder, now looks even more spectacular.
Propagandhi made their mark for being about as endearing as a Glasgow Kiss. Fuck this, Fuck that. This sucks, that sucks. They hated everything and they were good at it. They still are. Over 20 years later and Propagandhi are as angry as ever, but Supporting Caste goes about it in a new way. It's what you get when grown-ups get angry. Bellowing out at a coast-to-coast contingency ranging from the Conservatives to Don Cherry, Supporting Caste does it's best to proxy its angst through riffs and licks; from the anthemic 'The Bangers Embrace' to the occasional ballast of 'Dear Coach's Corner', Chris Hannah & co. do their best to hang the guilty with guitar strings. When that fails, they prove they can still write a hell of an argument around their thrash-inclined brand of punk, which, on Supporting Caste, has never been better.
Released just into Q2, Andy Hull and company have effectively and efficiently steamrolled anything else released underneath the indie rock umbrella this year. With a blistering first half that features some of the band's strongest writing of its short career - see the brooding "Pride," the anthemic "I've Got Friends," or the bombastic "Shake It Out" - 'Mean Everything to Nothing' juxtaposes gigantic guitar swells capable of filling the largest arenas with somber, softer numbers, perfectly encapsulating a grandiose, sublimely melodic rock-and-roll record that went all but unparalleled in 2009.
After such a polarizing release as 'Alphabet, Alphabets', one would have to wonder where Trophy Scars would go. Continue along such an eclectic path, or stabilize themselves where there moderate success had landed them? The chose to do neither, and 'Bad Luck' showcases a band tightening up their sound to the bare essentials. A strong fusion of post-hardcore and hard rock epicness, 'Bad Luck' weaves around multiple narratives with deft lyrical ease while providing suitably flowing and dynamic musical accompaniment. While it is not the most striking or impressive album, deeper listens are what truly brings out the nature of 'Bad Luck', and anyone who thinks Trophy Scars went off the deep end probably need to be paying attention to more than when the next dope rap is going to drop.
With Bitte Orca, we find Dirty Projectors as a reborn band, invigorated with pop sensibilities without removing the experimental indie-rock prowess that we saw in past albums such as Rise Above. Using the talents of Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian, Dirty Projectors execute gorgeous vocal melodies while complimenting their quirky, off-beat sound that has become so unique and simply indescribable. Bitte Orca is an unorthodox listen; racking your brain and melting your heart all in the same instant with tracks such as "Stillness Is The Move" and "Remade Horizon." Bitte Orca is a curious journey, and what direction Dirty Projectors will gravitate towards next is anyone?s guess, but for now this album is one of the best around.
Beautiful soundscapes, sparse interludes, tribal percussion, delicate piano, electronic undercurrents and the haunting vocals of Natasha Khan -- this is Two Suns in an over-simplified nutshell. It's a portrait that doesn't nearly do justice to the array of sounds and feeling found throughout this album. Natasha has the ability to channel introspective lyrics through music that can be brooding & layered one moment, and beautiful & minimalist the next while still maintaining a sense of cohesion at all times.
By all rights, The Hazards of Love should have been a failure; anybody walking into a complete 180 of an album with such a head-strong sense of purpose is asking for trouble. And yet, against the odds, it turned out to be their strongest effort yet. The idea of exploiting the link between early metal and England's pastoral folk music might have sounded like a stupid one, but just one listen to the utterly majestic "The Wanting Comes in Waves" should be enough to convince anybody of its potential. The glam stomp of "Won't Want For Love", the Floyd-esque ambience and Wilco referencing steel guitar of "The Drowned", and the unhinged tale of infanticide on "The Rake's Song" were just more reasons why this represents such a huge achievement for the band.
While cynics claim he is obnoxious, there isn't a songwriter as consistently witty & humorous as Say Anything's Max Bemis. The "manorexic" whose "hair cannot commit to one popular genre of music" continues to rearrange song structures, while filling the band's self-titled 4th LP with an abundance of hilarious pop-culture references. Efficiently refining their most outlandish characteristics without sacrificing variety, consistency or any of the band's one-of-a-kind attributes, this is the sextet's most catchy & accessible release to date. From the captivating opener to the infectious refrain of closer "Ahhh? Men", Say Anything have delivered another stellar record that satisfyingly balances mature progression & crowd-pleasing quirkiness.
Most dredg fans were pretty frightened when it came time for the band to release The Pariah, The Parrot, The Delusion. The live materials were quite frankly awful, and the studio videos they posted consisted of Mark or Dino noodling around in the studio. After the poppy Catch Without Arms, it seemed that dredg was headed down a path of self-destruction. Then, the album came out, and I think many dredg fans were pleasantly relieved when the powerful "Pariah" opened the album. More than a handful of other great tracks followed, such as "Quotes" and "Information", the latter encompassing all of the positive qualities of Catch Without Arms in one song. The Pariah, The Parrot, The Delusion was in many ways dredg's attempt to combine masterpiece El Cielo with the pop influence of their latest work. The "Stamps of Origin" brought back those connecting elements that made dredg's first albums so fluid, but there was a greater emphasis on catchy hooks and memorable choruses. While not dredg's best work, the album proves that the band still has a lot of creativity left in them, and they're still looking to the future.
Is this the single finest comeback in hip-hop's history? After Black on Both Sides, Mos drove his own career into the ground, both with albums that were either wildly inconsistent and unwieldy (The New Danger) or plain awful (True Magic), and with a major, deliberate shift toward a second-rate acting career. As 2009 dawned, rap seemed like the last thing on his mind - but then The Ecstatic dropped. Backed by beats from the enormously talented likes of Oh No, Madlib, J Dilla, and Georgia Anne Muldrow, he sounded completely invigorated; invigorated enough to make one of the definitive rap statements of the year. Who could have guessed that would happen?
If not the best album of 2009, Passion Pit's Manners is certainly the most ecstatic. Passion Pit are really just a pop band, which comes out strongest on songs like "Sleepyhead" and "Little Secrets," both of which feature bouncy synth lines and upbeat drum patterns. Their dedication to keeping their music light and catchy makes Manners an excited but effervescent journey. Despite this simplicity, they also manage to layer in gorgeous production values that make the fast songs feel like dazzling kaleidoscopes of electronics and falsetto, and transport the slower songs like "Moth's Wings" and "Let Your Love Grow Tall" to dreamy, pensive anthems that bubble and froth. Manners is the kind of album that can make a person burst out singing and dancing, or just leave one simmering in its awesome glow.
It's been around twenty years since Yo La Tengo formed, and, just now, they might've crafted their best album yet with Popular Songs. Filtering funk, avant-folk, and psychedelia through their already steadily morphing sound, Popular Songs is at once a summarization of the band's storied career as well as featuring some new or fully-realized ideas. It's also, despite the shifting sounds, an extremely cohesive (at 72 minutes) and enjoyable album, as well as one of the best of the year.
Manadala might as well have been that huge gasp of air that Rx Bandits had been holding in for years now. While their eventual switch to a more progressive style may have not been planned from their days as The Pharmaceutical Bandits, their eventual transformation has been patiently incredible. With each album, they moved from a young reggae-ska outfit into a developed, fully matured hybrid of different elements of progressive, ska, reggae, and rock. From the beginning whimpering notes of "My Lonesome Only Friend" to the dramatic polyrhythmic explosion to cap off "Bring Our Children Home Or Everything Is Nothing", Mandala provides a consistent and polished effort, filled with one of the most passionate records that 2009 has seen.
Based on early versions of "What Would I Want? Sky" (not to mention the recent "Brother Sport" single with a 9-minute version of "Bleed"), Fall Be Kind seemed poised to be a continuation of Animal Collective's experiment with repetitious pop, a style that served them well only earlier this year on an album we've crowned as our Album of the Year. And yet, this "EP" (I hesitate to even call it that, such the mini-album success it is) is a larger leap forward than maybe even Merriweather was; it embraces the possibilities behind the shared experience Animal Collective always has been and now will continue to be. This is a band excited to see us excited, even as they lament the lonely tour route through a musical map we can trace back to Feels, evident in the transformation of the disc's clear highlight "What Would I Want? Sky" from an earlier version's anxious trance trip into full on, freak-folk trip-hop. There are no pretenses or effects to further us from the band; Avey Tare rocks the mic and we can understand him! We can sing with him! Animal Collective continue to respond to us as much as they push themselves, and we meet somewhere in the uncharted middle where a band's popularity is relative to the boundaries they push.
Conceptually, Plastique pulls no punches in criticizing capitalistic greed, war, and almost nearly every other questionable societal miscue; but what truly is mesmerizing is Skyrider's ability to pull this all together in one cohesive composition. His experimental compositions combining soul, rock, blues, metal, and electronics really do much to reign in Sole's stream-of-consciousness, near spoken word flow; instead of meandering off into meaningless drivel, his verses instill an apocalyptic dread within you, until the bitter post-metal-esque crescendos of "Black". Seriously a modern marvel of songwriting, Sole and Skyrider have worked wonders incorporating almost all of hip-hop's past, present, and future timeline into one 50 minute package.
There is something very special about Florence Welch if her debut LP 'Lungs' is anything to go by. With her occasionally quirky, but always captivating, vocals fronting an array of instruments, it is impossible not to get drawn in. The rhythms are especially impressive, with the infectious double chorus of 'Drumming Song' a standout. Quality production & well structured songs often build to rousing climaxes, and while the album is a little front-loaded, even the so-so tracks are made interesting by that alluring voice.
Stylistically, Mew has virtually always been fairly light-hearted. "Repeaterbeater" and "Introducing Palace Players" sound like relics from the rock orientated Frengers, but for the most part No More Stories... embraces Mew's uplifting pop sensibilities to their fullest. The most immediately accessible of all Mew's five releases, No More Stories... is not lacking in subtle nuances, particularly pieces such as "Vaccine", "Hawaii", and Tricks of the Trade" and the six minute "Cartoons and Macrame Wounds". A diverse, intricate collection of Mew's finest, No More Stories... is more importantly one of the year's most endearing indie records.
If not for the silly press release that accompanied Lovetune for Vacuum, Anja Plaschg's debut as Soap&Skin couldn't have gone better. The record was superb and the Austrian singer-songwriter was met with praise at home and abroad with its release. The primarily piano based Lovetune for Vacuum focuses on gentle, soothing melodies rather than pop-hooks ("Spiracle" is the exception here) and ranges from the sad and warm "Cry Wolf", to the cold and frightening "Marche Funebre". From time to time Plaschg also explores electronic music, demonstrating a willingness to experiment with a variety of interesting sounds. Essentially, Lovetune for Vacuum is one of the biggest surprises of the year; even with its sometimes gloomy overtones, it's a mesmerizing collection of songs that is a treat to listen to.
The most endearing thing about The xx's debut album is that it doesn't do a whole lot. While most bands are busy cramming every little redundant idea they have into their debuts, overeager to impress and frustratedly and ironically searching for a sense of individualism, this young South London quartet have found a sound they like and are more content to strip it down to its most basic level. With the glistening production oiling the cogs, the band smoothly and sensually bring together heartbeat percussion, icy guitars and emotive, believable guy/girl vocals to create something that is both accessible and moving. However, when the band artistically chop these elements up with a calming and, quiet frankly, ingenious amount of quiet, it becomes a different beast altogether. And that beast is this; a haunting, hypnotic, heart-on-sleeve-hidden-under-sheets trip through late adolescence that is perfect for the self-centred, stargazing sidewalk muser (read: yourself).
If 'Aim and Ignite' can be classified as pop, then it is the best pop album of 2009. Nate Ruess & Co. deliver a thoroughly satisfying LP with many highlights & only a couple of tracks where the interest drops. From infectious harmonies to thoughtful piano ballads, fun. has successfully released an album which is simple, yet intricate; immediate, yet a grower. Best of all are the 2 bookends; the joyous African rhythms of the 7 minute closer & the uplifting theatrical opener which seamlessly uses every musical technique in the book to result in one of the songs of the year!
Typically, UK hip-hop is guilty of trying too hard to sound un-American, a vice that has led to things as depressing as collaborations with third-rate electro acts (Calvin Harris) and third-rate rock acts (Feeder). No such problem for White Noize - the production here is closer to an album like The Infamous than 95% of the UK scene. It's a mid-'90s throwback for the most part, so the production credits should be no surprise - RZA, Godfather Don, and Lord Finesse all appear. Impressively, it's consistent enough that you'll never notice unless you know the beats already. There's a serious commitment that shines through on White Noize - a commitment to making something real, something lasting, something on another level to everything around it.
It might not be as unarguably perfect as The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, but Daisy is still a shit hot album for Brand New. Jesse Lacey is as arresting and tormented as ever on the fourth album from what was once a pop-punk band. Daisy is purposefully alienating- dissonant when it could be harmonic, abrasive where it could be smooth, yet those looking for the emotional resonance that Lacey can deliver with an unhinged shout of a startlingly immediate hook will not be disappointed.
Rarely can one apply the word "hypnotic" to musical fuck yous to the man, but there's no better word to describe DJ Sprinkles' Midtown 120 Blues. A collection of deep house jams that are consistently enthralling despite their intimidating lengths and stubborn minimalism, Midtown 120 Blues is a scathing indictment of the house scene (who knew it was so fucked up?). DJ Sprinkles lays it all out in "Midtown 120 Intro;" house music has turned into "shitty vocal house... pretending to be an oasis from suffering, when suffering is in here, with us." From that point on, it's impossible to resist total immersion in Midtown 120 Blues as DJ Sprinkles applies layer upon layer of keys and dreamy samples to set the atmosphere, beats to set the quality. Hardly a boring moment in the damn thing, Midtown 120 Blues is one of the year's great surprises- a mesmerizing, powerful collection of beats and samples whose anger makes it one of the top records of the year.
In reference to an album by The Killers, our staff reviewer, John Hanson, said that the album in question was "pretty much the most brilliant, retarded piece of music released [that] year." 2009's idiot savant album is HORSE the band's Desperate Living, an album that strings together satires of and tributes to the musical equivalent of B-movies. More than any other HORSE release, Desperate Living takes its black metal snare hits, hardcore breakdowns, electronic soundscaping, pop-punk chord progressions, and general gay wizardry to a transcendent universe where Lord Gold reigns supreme and Xiu Xiu's Jamie Stewart can ride a dinosaur past a million exploding suns.
It’s hard to imagine a better follow-up album than Gaza’s second full-length, as He is Never Coming Back improves on basically every aspect of its predecessor, and then some. Uncompromisingly heavy, HINCB is a headtrip of riffs and breakdowns, continuing along I Don’t Care Where I Go When I Die’s path of sludgy-metalcore goodness while embellishing on and enhancing every characteristic of their sound. HINCB breezes by; its thirty-five minutes seem to last half that. But you won’t just spend thirty-five minutes with this album; you’ll spend hours---it’s that compulsively listenable.
Post-rock refuses to die once again - and with records as strong as Hymn to the Immortal Wind coming out, why should it? Nothing about this album is particularly inventive or unusual, but Mono take a great sound and execute it to perfection; if you really need more than that, you might want to re-evaluate your priorities.
Phil Elverum's Wind's Poem is an eerie footpath going through the woods just outside town. Elverum's familiar quavering voice, lo-fi production style, and characteristic melodies are given a foggy, ominous vibe that renders his music as haunted and moving as it was on The Glow, pt. 2. Wind's Poem taps into a number of musical styles that are fixated on the occult pull of forests (i.e. black metal, dark ambient, folk, the Twin Peaks OST) and transport this album to an uncanny and grainy world that is an enticing as it is foreboding.
Despite being on the cover, Logos is the least personal album in Bradford Cox's catalog. Dealing with themes more universal than introspective (and featuring appearances by guests whom Cox gladly allows to take control), Logos is an ace work of dream pop that's perfect for a lazy morning.
“Thickets” is richly textured masterpiece of spiraling melodies and beautifully laid out songwriting, while “The Sun Is Often Out” towers above the albums second half as a riveting display of melancholy, punctured only by the theme of hope that shines through its seemingly bleak façade. Among it all is also Wolf’s seemingly newfound love for choral accompaniment, as backing choirs imbue the album with a majestic sweep of grandeur and a wailing sense of self-assurance, perhaps most effectively on “Damaris” as a wall of people offer a stirring a cry of “Rise up, Rise Up!”. Given the stunning work that is The Bachelor, it’s a call it seems that Wolf himself has taken up.
Highly revered in their homeland but criminally overlooked anywhere outside Oz, Hilltop Hoods have crafted a brilliant record in 'State of the Art.' With a knack for musical ingenuity and an emphasis on social commentary - be it about their native homeland or worldwide - Pressure, Suffa, and DJ Debris truly excel on this record. Relying on live instrumentals to back the dual vocal split instead of electronics or egregious Auto-Tune that seems to dominate American pop radio, their use of piano in "Chase That Feeling" and "Last Confession" are sublime and complement the tracks beautifully, and there are even some more rockier tracks, too. While the trio's trademark black humor runs rampant (look no further than the boomer/shaker that is "Chris Farley"), most tracks are predicated on the group's social commentary - look no further than album finale "Fifty In Five" - where Suffa single-handedly runs down Australian politicans by name ("Whitlam, Keatine, Hawke had a promise of no children in poverty - wish that could have been honest") or implies their power craze (referring to Abbot and Costello as "right-wing overlords"). While the guest spots of Pharaohe Monch (in "Classic Example") and Trials ("The Light You Burned") are well done, the instrumentation is tighter than ever, DJ Debris' samples are exemplary, and Suffa's mastery at encapsulating fifty years in five minutes makes for one of the more stunning offerings so far this year, especially when he turns his introspection outward: "'Cause when we look back at what we have done, can you believe what we have become?" If there's a must-listen from Oceania this year, make it this record without reservation.
It took four years for Metric to follow up on the widely acclaimed Live it Out, but it's hard to complain, considering how good it is. Fantasies makes a small departure from its predecessors; the rawness of a "Live it Out" or "IOU" has been swept away in favour of a more polished flair, but Metric has only improved their output from previous albums. "Gold Guns Girls" remains as testament to the band's guitar driven rock, but tracks such as the introspective "Help I'm Alive" and "Blindness", as well as the hook-filled "Gimme Sympathy" set the tone, placing far more emphasis on synthesizer melodies. It's a move that overwhelmingly pays off; not only is Fantasies Metric's best record yet, but it's also one of the year's most infectious albums.
Three years ago, Brooklyn-based Grizzly Bear opened a window to their harmony-laced folk prowess with their sophomore release. Yellow House combined a heart-warming, cozy album with this underlying eerie charm to form an immaculate record. Grizzly Bear build off Yellow House immediately with one swift guitar stroke, as "Southern Point" slyly begins the coy and elegant Veckatimest to musical perfect. Since the start of their music career, Grizzly Bear have always been noted for their lush harmonies and polarizing musical sections, and the folk-pop ballad "Two Weeks" and the utterly perfect "While You Wait For The Others" delivers a perfect compliment to their style. Simply put, Veckatimest is a crowning musical achievement for a band still blossoming into their prime.
The album's crowning achievement is the closer, "Man Of A Thousand Faces." A withdrawn, smoky ballad, the song seems always on the cusp of breaking loose into some climax, but it never does; Regina Spektor has finally mastered restraint. In fact, come to think of it, Regina has basically mastered everything else too; it's hard to see her making a wrong move anytime soon. And, listening to Far, it's hard to see why anyone ever doubted her in the first place.
Philadelphia's Towers somehow has figured out a way to imbue the genre of metalcore by layering their approach with a variety of techniques (i.e. ring modulators) and somehow managing to make the most complete musical statement of the year. 'Full Circle' is aggressive, melodic, technical, and brash. The record as a whole seems to have been designed with the vinyl format in mind as the first half of it favors a far more progressively hard sound while the ending of the album embraces a much more melodic and accessible approach.
After ruffling a few feathers on 2007's 'I'm Only A Man', Emery do more than return to form on their 4th LP '...In Shallow Seas We Sail'... They deliver the album of 2009 & one of the finest post-hardcore releases ever! A much more mature & polished outfit than in their formative years, they craft each song with a strong attention to detail. Containing absolutely no filler, each track has multiple hooks, yet there is still a raw & passionate feel to it all. The dueling clean vocals & intricate yet melodic guitar-work is especially impressive.
For better or worse, The Devil You Know was built on the cumulative age of its members. Clocking in at a death-defying 265 at time of release, Heaven & Hell was an album predicated on novelty. Luckily, vanity wasn't a factor, as Ronnie James Dio, Tommy Iommi, Geezer Butler and Vinnie “Not Bill Ward” Appice have crafted one hell of a metal album, one that harkens back to Dio's iconic run with Sabbath in the early 80s by continuing the legacy instead of exploiting it.
After the disappointing Lost in a Moment Lene Marlin returned in 2009 with an album that was not only a return to form, but also an extension of everything that made her great. Twist the Truth is full of the mellow, emotional, acoustic pop that originally made her famous. Her voice is as delicate and expressive as ever, and every track has the ability to stick in your head long after it is over, one need only sit back and let the music drift from the speakers.
A listener first encountering Sholi might grasp for similar artists in an attempt to contextualize Sholi's elusive sound. Minus the Bear's most recent album, Planet of Ice comes to mind when considering the longer tracks on the album, and singer Payam Bavafa's voice certainly resembles Jake Snider's, but the synthesizer and prog influences are no where to be found; the album goes out differently than it came in. Instead of expressionistic musicianship and open-sounding chord voicings, the album winds down on one of Sholi's more harmonically stable and deterministic progressions, only to fizzle out in a smooth ambient fade. It is with these curious contrasts that Sholi makes their mark.
Most of all, what makes Swoon such an enjoyable album to listen to is its youthful exuberance. Though Silversun Pickups tackle the 'difficult second album' in a relatively serious manner, Swoon's prevailing mood is nonchalant and confident. Every song flows quite naturally, and in spite of the sometimes grandiose structuring of a "Panic Switch", "There's No Secrets This Year", or "The Royal We", the album is down to earth and fun to listen to. It's intimate, accessible, and – Pumpkins comparisons aside – fairly unique in today's scene. What more could one ask for?
Why There Are Mountains is a meat and potatoes indie rock album obscured by echo pedals and the fireworks provided by nostalgic vibes. Cymbal Eat Guitars take modern indie's concerns with tonal posturing and undoes that smug sensibility with a profound respect for the modesty of late 90s indie and grandiosity of early 2000s indie. Sunny Day Real Estate, Mineral, Modest Mouse, Karate, and Broken Social Scene are dripping from the sentimental instrumental performances and free-for-all orchestration, which gives Why There Are Mountains a jubilant, elated energy that has been missing from indie since about 2003.
‘The Voiceless,’ one of two tracks to re-appear from the group’s debut EP, another track that hints at erupting into an Explosions In The Sky-like cacophonous crescendo, but instead holds off without really sacrificing anything in the way of grandeur. Following that, and finishing the album on a high, is ‘Eat The City, Eat It Whole’ (Pedants’ Corner: that should be a semi-colon). It’s stylistically different from anything else on the album, beginning with some country and blues-tinged motifs before patiently easing into a familiar mathy groove, the type that litters the album and makes it such a wonderful, coherent listen from start to finish.
16 years after breaking up and this is the album Believer has come back with? I don’t think anyone would have expected anything so solid, technical, aggressive and direct after so long but here it is. Gabriel strips all the pomp from the band’s previous albums and simply delivers an inventive technical thrash album that manages to straddle the line between classic and modern metal. This is an album for all of those people into Coroner, Anacrusis, Atheist or any number of other similar artists.
Finding a happy medium between showing off and smashing face—finding a balance between the aggression of death metal and the technicality of, uh, technical metal—Fed Through the Teeth Machine might be The Red Chord's best album yet. At times both their most dynamic and most streamlined record, Fed Through the Teeth Machine shines as one of 2009s brightest metal releases.
A logical evolution to Gaga's burgeoning reign atop the 21st century pop throne, The Fame Monster is a more sinister take on the fortune emphasized by its predecessor. Directly contrasting The Fame in its proclaimed exploration into the darker side of artistic prosperity, the record re-examines and expands the electronic pop of the past three decades. While more of a transition than a redefinition, Gaga still brings plenty of innovation to the genre, especially for an EP's worth of new material.
I feel that there are a couple albums in the list that are just there to make it different and stand it out (i am not referring to Lady Gaga), but still good to see some albums here I really enjoyed. Rodrigo y Gabriela should have been in this list, and I feel #6 was a overhyped by the staff even though it is a great album. I don't agree with #1 at all, but it doesn't matter.
Really looking forward to the user's list, no offense to the staff or anything, but I always put more weight on the users list because it has far more votes and is more varied in opinions because of it. I know a lot of 'Sputniks' albums will be high, but it's the best place for me to get some albums I may have missed.
Rodrigo and Gabriela wasn't that great. It's solid (3 for me), but more or less just the same old latin noodling the genre is known for.
This is the most diverse staff list ever posted not just to be different, but because it is the product of 10 or more staff top 25 lists weighted. A lot of us didn't even have Animal Collective in our lists, but those that did really liked it... and an album that impactful on so many quality music critics definitely deserves to be number 1 (and 20 ha).
The user list is definitely a great list as well; however, it ends up being no where near as varied as the staff list due to the overall listening habits and genre interest implicit. Seriously, look at the staff lists when the links are available; they are some of the most eclectic I've seen.
This site has seriously come a long way since I registered/ lurked around in 2006... so much that it's definitely now a publication more than a site, and it easily rivals our competitors on metacritic for credibility.
I think this site owns all other music sites/publications. I mean, everyone can post reviews so there can be a lot of white noise -- but the staff, contributors and most regular reviewers are all pretty ace.
Yeah, disappointed at the absence of Maybeshewill since it's my 2nd favourite record of the year, but great list in any case. The MPP description is epic and (obviously) the list is very sputnik which mostly just means it's very good. I am, however, gobsmacked at the absence of Thrice.
Gotta say first year as a contributor I'm moved to agree with all the sputnik love; people here know what they're talking about and the staff represent a hundred different corners of the musical landscape. Sure, it has its favourites (although apparently Beggars doesn't count! Haha) but it's been a very good year.
The staff lists were really varied this year. We all just threw up our lists and let everything fall where they may; Animal Collective was the obvious #1 but-- apart from *which* albums would make the list, and even that was a short list-- there was no telling where they would land. I still have to make my way through 90% of this list. Good job everyone, time for the decade.
A lot of surprise placings on here, and I'm not talking about #50. I'm surprised Manchester Orchestra made it in the top 10; surprised Brand New, Mono, Silversun or fun. couldn't crack the top 25; surprised Dredg is, and Thrice, Mastadon and John Frusciante aren't, on here AT ALL.
Japandroids album was a definite pleasant surprise for me. Top album is no surprise. Fuck Converge. Good list.
I'm a little surprised at all of the Thrice comments. 'Beggars' is indeed a solid album & I think most of the staff thought so. Some had it sneak into their lists, some had it just miss out (yours truly included). But I don't think any would have had it top 5 or even top 10. And that's pretty much what was required to position highly on this years list.