Ian Hammons

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Top 30 Albums Of 2009 - Part 2

Same deal as the first. It seems that a lot of the albums that I had hoped would make it to the top-10 ended up here this year. Oh well, enjoy!
1Volcano Choir

20. Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver) continues to show his musical diversity as he has tackled many different projects following the incredible "For Emma, Forever Ago". The formation of Volcano Choir shows Vernon take a more experimental approach over the unorthodox yet surprisingly groovy instrumentals of the backing band. This album sounds just like a bunch of musicians having a little fun, but that doesn't mean there aren't some good tracks here. "Seeplymouth" in particular is good example: a repetitive blip-like drone over a somewhat jazzy drum beat opens up the song, and it slowly evolves its way to one hell of a noisy climax. This album isn't wonderful, but it continues to show Vernon isn't afraid to put in front of different types of projects, showing he is more than just 'that guy in the woods'.
2He is Legend
It Hates You

19. He is Legend has continued to put their more pop flavored emo/post-hardcore/whatever you call it behind them in favor of a more gritty sound. While the tracks are hit and miss here, Croom and company hit it right more time than not. The blazing opener of Dichepalous contains the energy of "The Seduction" but with a more refined dirty Southern rock sound that the band stumbled through often on "Suck Out the Poison". There are moments where I swore Croom was channeling a 90's-era James Hetfield better than Hetfield ever could. "Everybody I Know Has Fangs" is another track where you can just feel the dirt flying out of your stereo until a soaring pop chorus ties it all together. If the band continues in this direction, they will only continue to get better at what they do.
3August Burns Red

18. Let's face it: metalcore is pretty much dead. The genre is a perfect example of over saturation, with clone bands writing the same exact records as their predecessors. That's why it was so surprising when August Burns Red, a band with two previously somewhat mediocre records, put out one of the genre's best. This album has everything that is good about the genre: guttural screams, blazing guitar work, and an absolutely skintight rhythm section. ABR have not reinvented the wheel here by any means, but have put forth an extremely solid offering. When metalcore is looked back on in the next decade or so, this album should be one that is remembered along with "Alive or Just Breathing" and a few others as stalwarts of the genre.
No More Stories

17. This album was my first experience with Mew, and I was happily impressed. The band tackles a multitude of sounds from pop, to electronica, to indie and shoegaze. Fan favorite "Repeater Beater" is a perfect example, dance inspired verses that lead to absolutely soaring choruses. My personal favorite "Silas the Magic Car" is a little slower than some of the others, but the slow steady pace gives way to beautiful vocal interplay and perfectly selected instrumentals. Despite the absurd title, Mew gave 2009 a powerful offering with "No More Stories".
5HORSE the Band
Desperate Living

16. I'm not sure what's funnier: that fact that HORSE the Band continues to be one of the most ridiculous bands around, or that they keep writing excellent music. "Desperate Living" is the culmination of the sometimes awkward experimentation found on "A Natural Death". The band has never sounded better here: 80's inspired synths giving way to tightly crafted post-hardcore, nintendo blips and beeps integrated more seamlessly (the "hurry-up" Mario music at 2:17 in "The Failure of All Things" in particular gets me every time). But the dynamics of the songs have improved, as well as Nate's vocal presence, which seems to fit every part immaculately. "Desperate Living" is an album that few will appreciate, but deserves an immense amount of credit.
Crack the Skye

15. Another album that seems to get knocked here quite a bit, but I enjoy. Though it's about as far removed from "Leviathan" as can be, Mastodon's progressive tendencies work very well within the context of the songs. "The Czar" is a great example: spacey guitar tracks lead into a whirlwind of a song that takes the listener many places. The band hasn't lost their harder edge though, "Divinations" in particular opens with an acoustic riff that sounds downright nasty. Though it is sure to polarize longtime fans, "Crack the Skye" shows that Mastodon is capable of writing an epic, and I feel that this will only be a jumping off point for the band in the long run.
The Pariah, The Parrot, The Delusion

14. dredg's 2009 release shows that they are still happy with trying new things in their music. "The Pariah, The Parrot, The Delusion" combines the more 'epic' song structures of "El Cielo" with the pop rock of "Catch Without Arms", creating a hybridization that produces some very good music. "Information" is a U2 sounding cut that works perfectly between the tense verses and explosive choruses, while "Quotes" is a powerful track which goes from a simple quiet/loud verse/chorus structure to an expansive bridge, showing off the qualities which makes dredg work well. Sometimes the album drags too much, but overall, the band put forth another solid addition to their discography.
8Various Artists (Indie)
Dark Was the Night

13. Rarely do we see a compilation that truly deserves a spot on a year's end list, but "Dark Was the Night" truly merits an inclusion. The record beings forth Indie's best and most prominent artists, from Grizzly Bear to Ben Gibbard to the Dirty Projectors. The songs range in style: Sufjan Steven's cover of "You Are the Blood" threatens to implode from its grandiose nature, while Andrew Bird's cover of "The Giant Illinois" is a stark and beautiful tribute to Americana. There are some great originals and collaborations too, and with a cause like the fight against AIDS, its hard to go wrong with this release.

12. It's a bit surprising that Thrice finds themselves out of my year's end top-10, but that shows how many wonderful records came out this year. Thrice didn't necessarily write a bad album, but after "Vheissu" and "The Alchemy Indexes", Beggars feels a little weak in comparison. Regardless, the energy on this album is a much needed bridge to their earlier releases. "The Weight" mixes Kensrue's urgent vocals against simple yet effective instrumentation, while "Wood and Wire" creates a touching layering of vocal textures over a subtle yet moving drum groove and beautiful electric piano tones. "Beggars" wasn't exactly a career changing album, but it continues to show that they are not afraid to change directions for the sake of writing the music they want to.
10Cymbals Eat Guitars
Why There Are Mountains

11. Another wonderful debut album. The Brooklyn group come out swinging with their 90's inspired Indie music that packs a punch so often missing from the genre. Opener "...And the Hazy Sea" straddles between practically screamed choruses and lush piano interludes to utmost perfection. Their willingness to experiment with everything from jazz to pop makes the album sound both hectic and incredibly mature. This is certainly a band to keep an eye on, and I think their forthcoming albums will really tighten up their sound into something special.
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